With graduations upon us, you may be experiencing an influx of family and friends from out of town. Forget the classic tourist traps and exhausting crowds and show your loved ones the real city – the off-the-beaten-path local spots that showcase the true essence of the city that never sleeps.

Eat and Drink Like a Local in NYC

Roberta's Pizza Bushwick

Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick (Source: Inhabit via Flickr Creative Commons)

  • For a well rounded breakfast, look no further than Greenpoint: Either grab donuts from the famous Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop, or a classic bagel and lox at the newest “old-school” Jewish delicatessen, Frankel’s.
  • Mom and dad will love the unpretentious, homey vibes of Astoria where you can find some moussaka almost as good as mom’s own recipe. Taverna Kyclades is a local favorite with amazing seafood and Greek classics. Expect generous family-style portions – you’ll be sent home with leftovers!
  • They’re going to want pizza. There is no getting around this. You could take them to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn Heights for the famous pizza that’s written up in every tourist guide and blog. They will not be disappointed, but you will also wait on a 45-minute line with 50 other groups of European tourists. Instead, head to Roberta’s in Bushwick. You are also likely to encounter lines here, but with its lovely outdoor garden and tatt’d up patrons, the place feels more local and less like a tourist trap. And the pizza! It’s really good. Can’t go wrong.
  • Be kind to your family and deign to take them to Midtown. Stop by Grand Central and ogle the famous vaulted ceiling, explore the mysteries of the Whispering Walls and then reward yourself and your group with a round of drinks and oysters and the Grand Central Oyster Bar. It’s a NYC throwback that manages to maintain an air of old school New York charm despite its busy, touristy location. If oysters in a train station isn’t your thing and you want to impress your guests at swanky oyster bar, try the John Dory Oyster Bar just north of Madison Square Park.
  • If you’ve got some teenage cousins in your group, head down to St. Mark’s Place for a taste of East Village grunge (and maybe a cheap tattoo or nose ring!) Veselka serves traditional Polish food until the wee hours of the morning, perfect for the munchies after a late night out at Happy Endings or Pianos.
  • Everyone hears about Harlem – its history, music and renaissance – but few mainstream tours venture north of Central Park. Take them for some no-frills, fantastic soul food at Amy Ruth’s and then head on see some the city’s coolest local sites like the Apollo Theater where the Jackson 5 debuted and the Malcom Shabazz Mosque where Malcolm X preached.

No More MoMA! A Local’s Favorite NYC Museums

Hispanic Society Washington Heights

The Hispanic Society in Washington Heights

  • Got a kooky uncle who’s into yoga and meditative breathing? Show him what Tibetan art and culture is really about and visit the Rubin Museum in Chelsea, a small museum with a fantastic collection of Eastern art and folklore. Be sure to check out the calendar. Their special events and performances are always exciting and different.
  • What do grandparents love? Gardens and old stuff. Especially old churches. If you’ve got grandparents in town, take them to the the Cloisters in Washington Heights, where you can enjoy the Met’s collection of Medieval art in small chapels reconstructed from European abbeys. The museum overlooks the Hudson River and features a lovely enclosed garden as well.
  • If you’ve got a younger, more adventurous crowd on your hands, take them to Socrates Sculpture Garden in Long Island City. It’s free! And offers an ever-changing rotation of provocative, unexpected installations and site-specific works of sculpture. The garden also offers an unusual vantage on the city. Not to be missed for those willing to take a long ride on the R train.
  • Museum of the City of New York is true local favorite. If you love New York City and want to show off its history, its quirks and its neighborhoods to your family then you should make a trip to this museum. It’s in a beautiful, old mansion on 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side and also has interesting New York City-centric events and exhibits that will inform and delight you and your guests
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem is a one-of-kind place and not one that tourists normally visit. It’s only in a city like New York and in a neighborhood like Harlem where you will find as innovative and important an intersection of art, culture and people. The museum offers great programming and celebrates the impact of local, national and international black artists.
  • Hispanic Society in Washington Heights is another off-the-beaten-path treasure. The huge Beaux Arts complex houses numerous buildings filled with paintings and artifacts from Spain and Portugal’s Golden Age, including impressive works by El Greco and Goya. Your family may grumble about the long subway ride to 155th Street, but once they’re there, they will appreciate your local saviness. Bonus points: It’s free!

See the Major NYC Sites from a Local’s Perspective

Water Taxis NYC

Save $. Skip the Circle Line and take a water taxi or East River Ferry instead!

  • It’s not exactly low-key, but no trip to New York City is complete without experiencing the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead of walking across the bridge, which is a completely frustrating cluster of selfie sticks and angry cyclists, take your family on a walk across the Manhattan Bridge. It is a far more local and gritty experience and a far less crowded one. Plus, the Manhattan Bridge arguably offers better views because you can actually see the skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge in it.  Enter the bridge walkway from Dumbo and end up in Chinatown for a cheap manicure and then try the soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe.
  • If you’re harboring an itch to see the city by boat, ditch the Circle Line tours for a quick jaunt on the East River Ferry, where you’ll get the same views for a fraction of the price.
  • Lincoln Center is not exactly flying under the radar, but no trip to New York would be complete without seeing the lights of the Metropolitan Opera at night. Try to grab a cheap ticket to the New York City Ballet at will call, or just have dinner at Shun Lee and take a stroll through the courtyard on your way to the subway.

Shop NYC Like a Local

Industry City Store

Industry City Store by WantedDesign (Source: WantedDesignNYC)

  • Industry City in Sunset Park will not be No. 1 on your guests’ list of shopping destinations, but they’ll be glad you took them. It offers a mix of design shops, local food vendors like Brooklyn Brine and Blue Marble Ice Cream, and art galleries all housed in a former industrial warehouse along the Brooklyn waterfront. It is the heart of the Brooklyn maker scene.
  • Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Nevins Streets in Brooklyn is a great shopping stretch for interesting boutiques, galleries and design stores. You won’t find any big box department stores or franchises here, it’s all carefully curated local shops – stuff mom and dad definitely can’t get on Amazon!

Relax and Unwind at NYC’s Best Local Parks and Spas

greenwood cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery (Source: Mitch Waxman via Flickr Creative Commons)

  • If you need a load off after a hard day of touristing, hit up a Spa Castle location in either Midtown Manhattan or Astoria for the massages, saunas and steam rooms.
  • If you prefer European-style baths to the East Asian practices found at Spa Castle, head to the Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village, a wonderful, if unexpected throwback to the neighborhood’s Eastern European heritage and a great activity for families who don’t mind stripping down to their skivvies together.
  • It may be cruel to deny your fam a visit to Central Park, but as a local, you owe it to both yourself and them, to show off the city’s many wonderful green spaces. If it’s a mix of amazing trees and gardens and historical and architectural significance they want, Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park is the place to go. It’s the city’s best-kept secret, full of winding, secluded paths, huge arching trees and stunning examples of Romantic statuary. Plus you’ll find some of the best views of the city from Greenwood’s hilltops.
  • The one drawback of Green-Wood is that you can’t picnic or play ball (it is a cemetery, after all.) Your next best bet for views is Sunset Park which is super close to Green-Wood and offers comparable, if not finer, sunset views and really fun local vibe. If you don’t have the foresight to pack your own picnic, not a prob, grab some tacos at one of the many street vendors around the park. They are some of the best in the city.
  • Another less crowded, more rugged alternative to Central Park is Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights.  It’s quiet, serene and one of the few places in the city that it really feels like you’re in the woods. The views looking out west over the Hudson River are out-of-this world.