How to See New York City Like a Local

New York City is a big tourist hot spot- but if you only hit the big tourist traps, it can leave you feeling quite underwhelmed.  We already explored the common tourist mistakes people make in NYC, and which major NYC tourist attractions you can most likely skip, but we want to make sure you know what to do instead. So this post will teach you how to explore New York City like a local!

These Shoes are Made For Walking

New Yorkers walk.  A lot.  So pack your most comfortable pair of shoes and get ready to hit the pavement.   There’s so much to see in NYC and while we love the subway- you miss out on a lot of great views underground.  So if you want to explore New York City like a local- get ready to walk!

Pack Scooters for the Kids

ScootersLet’s be honest.  Walking miles a day with kids is not high on anyone’s list of fun things to do.  Kids get tired and crabby, then they start to shuffle their feet until they’re moving at such an unbelievably slow pace you wonder if you’re even moving at all.  You drag them along, begging them to keep up until at some point they stop completely and have a meltdown in the middle of the sidewalk.  The hustle and bustle of the big city doesn’t stop for exhausted kids.  People will step over them while you try to pry them off the sidewalk.  Or you could do what most New Yorkers do…  bring along scooters!  Three wheeled scooters are super popular with kids and parents in NYC because they allow kids to keep up with with the pace and distance of walking in the city.  We used to bring our boys’ razor scooters into the city but we finally caved and bought them the three wheeled version for extra stability.  Sure they take up some room in our carry-on bags, but it’s entirely worth it to be able to walk the city while the kids have fun scooting along!  Overly exhausted meltdowns averted!

Take the Subway

I know- I just told you to walk.  And you should walk as much as you can.  But New York City is huge and if you want to see lots of it, you’ll need to hop on the subway at times.  Get out of the touristy areas by catching the subway and exploring someplace new. While many people visit NYC and stay in Manhattan, don’t be afraid to take the subway over to Brooklyn or up into the Bronx.  You’ll find more local restaurants, shops, galleries, and parks- and less tourists!

Skip Starbucks

Sure, there’s  a Starbucks on literally every corner in Manhattan.  And sure you have your favorite drink that you can order with your eyes closed (because you haven’t had your coffee yet!) but don’t do it.  There are so many local NYC coffee shops and local chains that have amazing coffee.  If you want to explore NYC like a local, duck into one of the local coffee shops for your morning latte.  Ground Central is hands down our favorite latte in the city and we’ll walk out of our way to hit one of their locations in Manhattan.  We’ll also make a detour for Gregory’s Coffee.  Both are great places to grab a cup and head back out, but both places also have a great local vibe and sometimes it’s fun to sit down and enjoy the NYC coffee shop scene for a bit!  Other popular local coffee shops include Lenox Coffee Roaster, Birch Coffee, Third Rail Coffee, Bluebottle, and Black Fox Coffee.  Yes- we kip the Starbucks and grab a local latte!


Go to BrunchEgg Shop

New Yorkers love brunch. As in, they really, truly love brunch.  There are tons of adorable brunch locations all over the city.  They’re not the big name restaurants that tourists flock to, but they’re often little hole in the wall places that are packed with locals every weekend.  Do a little research on local brunch spots in NYC and when you walk up to a place, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Our favorite brunch spot in NYC is The Egg Shop.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside at all- but the inside is simply adorable and the food is fantastic!

Stop in Local Galleries

NYC is full of big, popular art museums.  And they’re all worth going to at least once.  But NYC also has a thriving gallery scene with hundreds of smaller art galleries that feature both established and up an coming artists in smaller, cozier gallery settings.  So if you want to see the NYC art scene but don’t want to be among the swarm of tourists at the MET or the Guggenheim, scope out local galleries. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem, Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, Clearing in Brooklyn and Half Gallery on the Upper East Side are just a couple of popular galleries that have a more local vibe than the big art museums.


Have Lunch in the Turnstyle Underground Market

Want to check out a secret spot that has amazing food and an awesome local vibe?  The Underground Market is located down in the subway at 8th Avenue and 57th Street.  It’s full of ethnic street food stalls, all sorts of dessert stalls, and quirky shops where you can buy everything from stationary to fresh flowers.  The Underground Market is the only place you can go to a Bolivian Llama Party- and if that isn’t uniquely New York, I don’t know what is!


Hang Out in the Parks

NYC has amazing parks.  Obviously Central Park is the most popular.  But Bryant Square Park, Union Square Park and Washington Square Park are all amazing in their own right and locals love to hang out while reading the paper and sipping their coffee.  There’s always something going on in the parks.  Sit down with a cup of coffee and just take it all in!  You’re sure to see things you won’t see anywhere other than NYC!


Take the Kids to the Playground

New York City kids love their playgrounds- and it’s easy to see why.  NYC has some of the most amazing playgrounds.  With most families living in small apartments, kids in the city need space to roam and be free- so there’s no shortage of playgrounds in NYC.  Every neighborhood has small local playgrounds (we always stop if we’ve been walking for awhile just to let our boys run off some steam) but they also have some really unique playgrounds that are worth making a special trip for if you’re traveling with kids.  It’s also nice to chat with local parents (or nannies on weekdays during work hours) about other great places to stop with kids.  You’ll even learn things only locals know such as always have a bathing suit and/or towel with you in the summer because most parks have water features and bringing a square of cardboard to Billy Johnson Playground makes the long granite slide a lot faster!  Our boys spent an entire trip scoping out the 12 Best Playgrounds in NYC so if your kids want to explore like locals too- be sure to check it out!


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Thanks for letting us know what you think!

  1. The scooter idea is brilliant. I wish we’d thought of that when we brought ours to the city. I would add Caffe Reggio to the list of coffee shops.

  2. This sounds incredible! I have never travelled but have always had a fascination with New York. I hope one day to see it up close, but until then, I appreciate your post about it!! Then I can imagine how wonderful it is!

  3. This post just makes me completely homesick for new york even though ive never been there! The most exciting part is that underground lunch! :)x thanks for sharing ❤️

    Jes •

  4. Having been to NYC a bunch of times, I already did all the touristy stuff, so these are great recommendations of what else I can do. The underground market sounds really cool, I’ll make sure to check it out next time I go.

  5. We are planning to go to NYC this year. My husband is originally from NY but our kids have never been. My husband went by himself 2 years ago. I’ve never heard of the Turnstyle Underground Market but I’ll put it on our to do list now. Thank you for your post. Raheela

    • Your kids will LOVE it! Be sure to check out our best playgrounds in NYC before you take them! So many awesome places for them to play!!

    • So many awesome independent coffee shops to check out in NYC. I’m working on a post about independent coffee shops in Detroit right now so stay tuned!

  6. Great tips! You got them downpack! Living in NYC the subway is a part of the regular routine! Love and hate it lol. Brunch is def a regular event on the weekends and also museums!!

  7. This is absolutely a must read travel guide for everyone who want to visit NYC and do and see more than just the typical tourist sights! Great tips!

    Laura //