Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dangerfield's - New York City Nightlife

Dangerfield's is the nightclub version of the comedy club, with a mature crowd and a straight-outta-Vegas atmosphere. The comedians are all veterans of the comedy-club and late-night talk-show circuit.

Creole - New York City Nightlife

Tucked away in El Barrio (also known as east Harlem) is a relatively new and welcome addition to the uptown music scene. Creole is an intimate bar/restaurant that features top-notch jazz, Latin, R&B, and on Sunday, gospel. Sit at the bar or enjoy the music while chowing down on very good Southern/Cajun specialties -- the gumbo might be the best in the city. Entertainment begins at 8:30pm, but you might want to venture in a little early for Creole's fun happy hour from 5 to 7pm.

Comedy Cellar - New York City Nightlife

This intimate subterranean club is the venue of choice for stand-up fans in the know, thanks to the best, most consistently impressive lineups in the business. I'll always love the Comedy Cellar for introducing an uproariously funny unknown comic named Ray Romano to me some years back.

ClubShelter - New York City Nightlife

House-heads flock to this old-school disco. The big draw is the "Saturday Night Shelter Party," when late 1980s house music takes over. The crowd is racially and sexually diverse and dress is not fancy; wear whatever is comfortable for doing some heavy sweating on the dance floor.

City Center - New York City Nightlife

Modern dance usually takes center stage in this Moorish dome-topped performing-arts palace. The companies of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the American Ballet Theatre are often on the calendar. Don't expect cutting edge -- but do expect excellence. Sightlines are terrific from all corners, and a new acoustical shell means the sound is pitch-perfect. Ticket prices range from $25 to $100.

Cielo - New York City Nightlife

At Cielo you'll find the best sound system of any small club in New York. House is big here and they regularly bring in some of the best DJs from around the globe. The renowned Louis Vega is the DJ on Wednesday. There's a sunken dance floor and an authentic, glittering disco ball rotating above. What more could you want?

Church Lounge - New York City Nightlife

The big, superstylish Larry Bogdanow-designed atrium-lobby bar and restaurant at the Tribeca Grand Hotel is a great place to enjoy a top-flight cocktail and rub elbows with the neighborhood's chic locals (which include just about anybody who has business with Miramax). Dress well and call ahead to see what's on tap that evening if you want to experience the height of the action -- around 11pm.

Chumley's - New York City Nightlife

Many bars in New York date their beginnings to Prohibition, but Chumley's still has that speakeasy feel. The crowd doesn't date back nearly as far, however. Come to warm yourself by the fire and indulge in a once-forbidden pleasure: beer. There is a good selection of on-taps and microbrews. The door is unmarked, with a metal grille on the small window; another entrance is at 58 Barrow St., which takes you in through a back courtyard. After a construction accident closed the place in the spring of 2007, the tough old legend announced that it would be reopening in the fall.

Carolines On Broadway - New York City Nightlife

Caroline Hirsch presents today's hottest headliners in her upscale Theater District showroom, which doesn't have a bad seat in the house. You're bound to recognize at least one or two of the established names and hot up-and-comers on the bill in any given week, like Dave Chapelle, Janeane Garofalo, Colin Quinn, Bill Bellamy, Kathy Griffin, Robert Wuhl, Jimmie Walker ("Dyn-o-mite!"), Pauly Shore, or Jay Mohr. Monday is usually New Talent Night, while HOT97 radio hosts up-and-coming black comedians on select Tuesdays.

Carnegie Hall - New York City Nightlife

Perhaps the world's most famous performance space (How do you get there?), Carnegie Hall offers everything from grand classics to the music of Ravi Shankar. The Isaac Stern Auditorium, the 2,804-seat main hall, welcomes visiting orchestras from across the country and the world. Many of the world's premier soloists and ensembles give recitals. The legendary hall is visually and acoustically brilliant; don't miss an opportunity to experience it if there's something on that interests you.

Within the hall, there's also the intimate 268-seat Weill Recital Hall, usually used to showcase chamber music and vocal and instrumental recitals. Carnegie Hall has also, after being occupied by a movie theater for 38 years, reclaimed the ornate underground 650-seat Zankel Concert Hall.

Carnegie Club - New York City Nightlife

Like sister lounge The Campbell Apartment, this swellegant lounge is another architecturally magnificent space, with soaring ceilings and an intimate mezzanine, plus a grand stone fireplace -- a Gothic mood warmed up with plush, contemporary furnishings and a romantic vibe. "Weekends with Sinatra" stars Cary Hoffman and the Stan Rubin Orchestra in a wonderfully evocative -- and surprisingly exact -- cabaret show featuring the music of Frank Sinatra (two shows nightly on Sat; cover $30, plus $15 minimum). There's also live swing on Friday. Reservations are recommended on live-music nights.

Cain - New York City Nightlife

At Cain the theme is Africa -- South Africa to be specific. The front door, if you gain entry, has elephant-trunk handles, there are zebra hides everywhere, and the big game is celebrity-spotting. The DJ's spin energetic house music to keep the hordes moving, but you might be better off sampling one of the club's excellent cocktails in the "premium seating lounge." God knows what it takes to get a seat there.

Cafe Wha? - New York City Nightlife

You'll find a carefree crowd dancing in the aisles of this casual basement club just about any night of the week. From Wednesday through Sunday, the stage features the house's own Wha Band, which does an excellent job of cranking out crowd-pleasing covers of familiar rock-'n'-roll hits from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Monday night is the hugely popular Brazilian Dance Party, while Tuesday night is Classic Funk Night. Expect to be surrounded by lots of Jersey kids and out-of-towners on the weekends, but so what? Reservations are a good idea. The cover runs from free to $10.

Cafe Carlyle - New York City Nightlife

Cabaret doesn't get any better than this. This is where the late, great Bobby Short, held court for over 35 years. The club still attracts rarefied talents like Betty Buckley and Barbara Cook. The room is intimate and as swanky as they come. Expect a high tab -- admission is $65 to $75 with a $30 per-person minimum; with dinner, two people could easily spend $300 -- but if you're looking for the best of the best, look no further. Value-minded cabaret fans can save by reserving standing room (which usually results in a spot at the bar) for just $35. On most Mondays, Woody Allen joins the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band on clarinet to swing Dixie-style ($85 cover).

Bungalow 8 - New York City Nightlife

This is the ultimate in dance-club extravagance. Here drinks might cost as much as a week at your hotel. All the cutthroat tactics learned on The Apprentice or Survivor might not help to gain entry to this palace.

Bubble Lounge - New York City Nightlife

From the first cork that popped, this wine bar dedicated to the bubbly was an effervescent hit. More than 300 champagnes and sparkling wines are served in this glamorous living-room setting, more than 30 of them by the glass, to pair with caviar, foie gras, cheese, and sweets. No jeans, sneakers, or baseball caps. There's live bluesy jazz on Monday and Tuesday.

Brooklyn Academy of Music - New York City Nightlife

BAM is the city's most renowned contemporary-arts institution, presenting cutting-edge theater, opera, dance, and music. Offerings have included historically informed presentations of baroque opera by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants; pop opera from Lou Reed; Marianne Faithfull singing the music of Kurt Weill; dance by Mark Morris and Mikhail Baryshnikov; the Philip Glass ensemble accompanying screenings of Koyaanisqatsi and Lugosi's original Dracula; the Royal Dramatic Theater of Sweden directed by Ingmar Bergman; and many more experimental works by both renowned and lesser-known international artists as well as visiting companies from all over the world.

Of particular note is the Next Wave Festival, September through December, this country's foremost showcase for new experimental works. The BAM Rose Cinemas show first-run independent films, and there's free live music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at BAMcafé, which can range from atmospheric electronica by cornetist Graham Haynes to radical jazz from the Harold Rubin Trio to the tango band Tanguardia! ($10 food minimum).

Brandy's Piano Bar - New York City Nightlife

Though gay, this intimate, old-school piano bar attracts a mixed crowd for the friendly atmosphere and nightly entertainment. The talented waitstaff does most of the singing while waiting for their big break, but enthusiastic patrons regularly join in.

Bowlmor/Pressure - New York City Nightlife

Supercool Bowlmor isn't your daddy's bowling alley: DJs spin, martinis flow, candy-colored balls knock down Day-Glo pins, and strikes and spares are automatically tallied into the wee hours. Bowlmor is a blast. Once you're finished with your 10-pin -- or while you're waiting for your lane -- head upstairs to the rooftop lounge, Pressure, housed in a 16,000-square-foot inflated bubble and boasting designer-mod furnishings, a cocktail menu that includes a luscious chocolate martini (infused with Godiva chocolate liqueur), a fleet of pool tables, and always-on movie screens adding an arty-party flair.

Bowery Ballroom - New York City Nightlife

Run by the same people behind the Mercury Lounge , the Bowery space is bigger, accommodating a crowd of 500 or so, and even better. The stage is big and raised to allow good sightlines from every corner. The sound couldn't be better, and Art Deco details give the place a sophistication that doesn't come easy to general-admission halls. The balcony has its own bar and seating alcoves. This place is a favorite with alt-rockers like Vic Chesnutt, Travis, Steve Earle, Rinocerose, The Delgados, and Toshi Reagon, as well as more established acts (Neil Finn, Patti Smith, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts), who thrive in an intimate setting. Save on the service charge by buying advance tickets at Mercury's box office.

Bongo - New York City Nightlife

This casual, comfortable mid-(20th)century-modern lounge is the place to come for cocktails that are well made and a great value considering their bathtub size. Don't miss the French martini, made with Vox vodka and Lillet -- yum! Even better: Bongo boasts a full raw-bar -- a half-dozen varieties of oysters, cherrystones, and littlenecks, even lobster and caviar -- and an excellent lobster roll. The crowd is hip but, not too trendy. Come early if you want to have space to sit and eat.

Boiler Room - New York City Nightlife

This down-to-earth East Village bar is everybody's favorite gay dive. Despite the mixed guy-girl crowd, it's a serious cruising scene for well-sculpted beautiful boys and a perfectly fine hangout for those who'd rather play pool.

Bohemian Beer Hall & Garden - New York City Nightlife

At one time there were over 800 outdoor German beer gardens in New York. All are now gone except this lone Astoria survivor. A number of European, in particular, excellent Czech beers are available to drink under the stars on a balmy night from late spring to autumn. If you are hungry, there are Eastern European specialties like pork schnitzel and Hungarian goulash to accompany your beer. The Garden features live jazz every Thursday and if you are a member of the Bohemian Benevolent Society of Astoria, you get ten percent off on food. Just something to think about. And even when the garden isn't open, you can still get the hearty Bohemian food (and beer) indoors year-round.

Blue Note - New York City Nightlife

The Blue Note has attracted some of the biggest names in jazz to its intimate setting. Those who've played here include just about everyone of note: Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Manhattan Transfer, Dr. John, George Duke, Chick Corea, David Sanborn, Arturo Sandoval, Gato Barbieri, and the superb Ahmad Jamal. The sound system is excellent, and every seat in the house has a sightline to the stage. However, in recent years, the hard edge that once was the Blue Note has faded. Softer, smoother jazz is the domain now, so if that's your thing, enjoy. But be warned: Prices are astronomical. There are two shows per night, and dinner is served.

Black - New York City Nightlife

Formerly known as Exit, this space has been called the "supermall of nightclubs," and for good reason -- it covers 45,000 square feet and is able to accommodate more than 5,000 partiers. Any velvet-rope scene is pure posturing. The main floor is a mammoth atrium with a DJ booth -- usually housing the top talent of the moment spinning tunes -- suspended above. The space was made for crazy carnival acts like Antigravity, a bizarre clubland take on the Flying Wallendas. Upstairs is a warren of ultraplush VIP rooms, each with its own DJ. With a capacity this big, expect clubgoers of all stripes to show up on any given night.

Birdland - New York City Nightlife

This legendary club abandoned its distant uptown roost in 1996 for a more convenient Midtown nest, where it has established itself once again as one of the city's premier jazz spots. While the legend of Parker, Monk, Gillespie, and other bebop pioneers still holds sway, this isn't a crowded, smoky joint of yesteryear. The big room is spacious, comfy, and classy, with an excellent sound system and a top-notch talent roster any night of the week. Expect lots of accomplished big bands and jazz trios, plus occasional appearances by stars like Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. You can't go wrong with the regular Sunday night show, starring Chico O'Farrell's smokin' Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band. At press time, Tuesday was the domain of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Duke's grandson Paul Ellington every other week.

Bill's Place - New York City Nightlife

Imagine hearing great live jazz in your living room. That's about as close as what you will experience at the very intimate and special Bill's Place. Bill is Bill Saxton, a jazz saxophonist extraordinaire and a Harlem legend. Saxton was a Friday night regular for many years at St. Nick's Pub and has played at clubs all over Harlem and downtown. In late 2005 he opened his own club in the parlor level of a brownstone on West 133rd Street. In the 1920s, 133rd Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenue, with a number of speakeasies and jazz joints up and down the block, was the original "swing street"; a 17-year-old Billie Holliday was discovered singing in a club on 133rd Street, and the block was the model that West 52nd emulated and tried to imitate in the 1940s and 1950s. So it's appropriate that Saxton's place is on this historic block -- the jazz heard here is also the real deal. There are no frills at Bill's Place: Come into the parlor, find a seat -- there aren't many, so reservations are a must -- and groove to Saxton's pure bop sound. Alcohol is not served, but soft drinks are available and you can bring your own bottle. Open on Friday and Saturday only. On Friday Saxton and his quartet perform while Saturday is reserved for legends and emerging talent.

Beacon Theatre - New York City Nightlife

This pleasing midsize Upper West Side venue -- a 1928 Art Deco movie palace with an impressive lobby, stairway, and auditorium seating about 2,700 -- hosts mainly pop-music performances, usually for the over-30 crowd. Featured acts have ranged from street-smart pop diva Sheryl Crow to a Hall & Oates reunion to a befuddled Beach Boy Brian Wilson to Grateful Dead heirs apparent Phish to not-yet-deads the Allman Brothers (who play an always-sold-out 2- or 3-week gig each spring giving more than a dozen performances). You'll also find such special events as the bodybuilding "Night of Champions" on the mix-and-match calendar.

Barramundi - New York City Nightlife

This lounge has a friendly staff, and a settled-in feel in a neighborhood overrun by hipster copycats. Come on a weeknight to snare a table in the little corner of heaven out back. A fireplace makes Barramundi almost as appealing on cool nights.

Barracuda - New York City Nightlife

Chelsea is central to gay life -- and gay bars. This trendy, loungey place is a continuing favorite, regularly voted "Best Bar" by HX readers, while Paper singles out the hunky bartenders. There's a sexy bar for cruising out front and a comfy lounge in back. Look for the regular drag shows.

Bargemusic - New York City Nightlife

Many thought Olga Bloom peculiar, if not deranged, when she transformed a 40-year-old barge into a chamber-music concert hall. More than 20 years later, Bargemusic is an internationally renowned recital room boasting more than 100 first-rate chamber-music performances a year. Visiting musicians love the chance to play in such an intimate setting, so the roster regularly includes highly respected international musicians as well as local stars like violinist Cynthia Phelps.

There are three shows per week, on Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30pm and Sunday afternoon at 4pm. The musicians perform on a small stage in a cherry-paneled, fireplace-lit room accommodating 130. The barge may creak a bit and an occasional boat may speed by, but the music rivals what you'll find in almost any other New York concert hall -- and the panoramic view through the glass wall behind the stage can't be beat. Neither can the price: Tickets are just $35 ($25 for students), or $40 for performances by larger ensembles. Reserve well in advance.

Baktun - New York City Nightlife

This club has been hot, hot, hot since the word go. Sleek Baktun was conceived in 2000 as a multimedia lounge, and as such incorporates avant-garde video projections (shown on a clever double-sided video screen) into its raging dance parties, as well as live cybercasts. The music tends toward electronica, with some live acts in the mix. At press time, Saturday's Direct Drive was the key drum 'n' bass party in town.

B.B. King Blues Club & Grill - New York City Nightlife

This 550-seat venue is one of the prime anchors of Times Square's "new" 42nd Street. Despite its name, B.B. King's seldom sticks to the blues; what you're likely to find instead is a bill full of pop, funk, and rock names, mainly from the past. The big-ticket talent runs the gamut from George Clinton and the P. Funk All Stars and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers to Tower of Power to Jimmy Cliff and Delbert McClinton. A few more (relatively) esoteric acts such as Burt Bacharach and surf guitarist Dick Dale take the stage on occasion. Tourist-targeted pricing makes for an expensive night on the town, word is that the food isn't as good as it was in the beginning, and seating policies can be convoluted, but there's no arguing with the quality of the talent. The Sunday gospel lunch is a genuine slice of joy.

Avalon - New York City Nightlife

Housed in the former church where dance-club legend Limelight once reigned supreme, the interior has been updated with VIP balconies that overlook the dance floor. Off the dance floor are many small rooms for commingling, if you are tired of dancing.

Arlene's Grocery - New York City Nightlife

This casual Lower East Side club boasts a friendly bar and a good sound system; unfortunately, music isn't always free anymore, but the quality of the artists is usually pretty high, and the cover usually tops out at $7. Arlene's Grocery primarily serves as a showcase for hot bands looking for a deal or promoting their self-pressed record. The crowd is an easygoing mix of club-hoppers, rock fans looking for a new fix, and industry scouts looking for new blood. Monday nights host the extremely popular "Hard Rock Karaoke," which is exactly what it sounds like.

Apollo Theatre - New York City Nightlife

Built in 1914, this legendary Harlem theater launched or abetted the careers of countless musical icons -- including Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, and Aretha Franklin. And thousands lined the streets in December of 2006 to pay their last respects to the Godfather of Soul on the Apollo stage, the place where he performed some of the greatest shows of all time. This historic venue is in large part responsible for the development and worldwide popularization of black music in America. By the 1970s, it had fallen on hard times, but a 1986 restoration breathed new life into the landmark. In 1992 a major $65-million restoration project was inaugurated and should be completed by 2009. The first phase of that project -- refurbishing the terra-cotta facade, a new box office, and a high-tech marquee retaining the original 1940s style and features -- was unveiled in late 2005. The theater remains open during the renovations and is still internationally renowned for its African-American acts of all musical genres, from hip-hop acts to Wynton Marsalis's "Jazz for Young People" events. Wednesday's "Amateur Night at the Apollo" is a loud, fun-filled night that draws in young talents from all over the country with high hopes of making it big (a very young Lauryn Hill started out here -- and didn't win!).

Amato Opera Theatre - New York City Nightlife

This cozy, off-the-beaten-track venue functions as a showcase for talented young American singers. The intimate 100-plus-seat house celebrates its 60th season in 2007 amid a rising reputation and increasing ticket sales. The staple is full productions of Italian classics -- Verdi's La Traviata, Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Bizet's Carmen, with an occasional Mozart tossed in -- at great prices for regular performances ($30, $25 for seniors and kids). Performances, usually held on Saturday and Sunday, now regularly sell out, so it's a good idea to reserve 3 weeks in advance.

All State Cafe - New York City Nightlife

This subterranean pub is one of Manhattan's undiscovered treasures -- the quintessential neighborhood "snugger." It's easy to miss from the street, and the regulars like it that way. The All State attracts a grown-up neighborhood crowd drawn in by the casual ambience, the great burgers, and an outstanding jukebox. If you're lucky, you'll get the round table by the fire.

92nd Street Y Tisch Center for the Arts - New York City Nightlife

This generously endowed community center offers a phenomenal slate of top-rated cultural happenings, from classical to folk to jazz to world music to cabaret to lyric theater and literary readings. Just because it's the Y, don't think this place is small potatoes: Great classical performers -- Isaac Stern, Janos Starker, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg -- give recitals here. In addition, the full concert calendar often includes luminaries such as Max Roach, John Williams, and Judy Collins; Jazz at the Y from Dick Hyman and guests; the long-standing Chamber Music at the Y series; the classical Music from the Jewish Spirit series; and regular cabaret programs. The lectures-and-literary-readings calendar is unparalleled, with featured speakers ranging from James Carville to Ralph Nader to Katie Couric to Erica Jong to Ken Burns to Elie Wiesel to Alan Dershowitz to A. S. Byatt to . . . the list goes on and on. There's a regular schedule of modern dance, too, through the Harkness Dance Project. Best of all, readings and lectures are usually priced between $20 and $30 for nonmembers, dance is usually $20, and concert tickets generally go for $15 to $50 -- half or a third of what you'd pay at comparable venues. Additionally, a full calendar of entertainment targeted to the culturally aware in their 20s and 30s -- from poetry readings to film screenings to live music, including the debut of a very young Norah Jones -- is offered at the Upper West Side community center Makor.

13 - New York City Nightlife

This little lounge is a great place to dance the night away. It's stylish but unpretentious, with a steady roster of fun weekly parties. Sunday night's Britpop fest Shout! lives on, as popular as ever -- and with no cover, to boot. The rest of the week runs the gamut from '70s and '80s New Wave and glam nights to progressive house and trance to poetry slams and performance art. If there's a cover, it's usually $5, occasionally $7 or $10. Happy hour offers two-for-one drinks (and no cover) from 4 to 8pm.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bateaux New York - New York City

The most elegant and romantic of New York's evening dinner cruises. Cruises are aboard the Celestial, designed to accommodate 300 guests with two suites, one dance floor, two outdoor strolling decks, a state-of-the-art sound system, and windows galore. Dinner is a three-course sit-down affair, with jackets and ties suggested for men, evening dresses for women. The food isn't what you'd get at Jean-Georges, but Bateaux (sister to egalitarian Spirit Cruises) offers a very nice supper-club-style night on the town, and the views are fabulous. A live quartet entertains with jazz standards and pop vocal tunes.

Brooklyn Bridge - New York City

Its Gothic-inspired stone pylons and intricate steel-cable webs have moved poets like Walt Whitman and Hart Crane to sing the praises of this great span, the first to cross the East River and connect Manhattan to Brooklyn. Begun in 1867 and ultimately completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is now the city's best-known symbol of the age of growth that seized the city during the late 19th century. Walk across the bridge and imagine the awe that New Yorkers of that age felt at seeing two boroughs joined by this span. It's still astounding.

Walking the bridge: Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my all-time favorite New York activities, although there's no doubt that the Lower Manhattan views from the bridge now have a painful resonance as well as a joyous spirit. A wide wood-plank pedestrian walkway is elevated above the traffic, making it a relatively peaceful, and popular, walk. It's a great vantage point from which to contemplate the New York skyline and the East River.

There's a sidewalk entrance on Park Row, just across from City Hall Park (take the 4, 5, or 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall). But why do this walk away from Manhattan, toward the far less impressive Brooklyn skyline? Instead, for Manhattan skyline views, take an A or C train to High Street, one stop into Brooklyn. From there, you'll be on the bridge in no time: Come above ground, then walk through the little park to Cadman Plaza East and head downslope (left) to the stairwell that will take you up to the footpath. (Following Prospect Place under the bridge, turning right onto Cadman Plaza East, will also take you directly to the stairwell.) It's a 20- to 40-minute stroll over the bridge to Manhattan, depending on your pace, the amount of foot traffic, and the number of stops you make to behold the spectacular views (there are benches along the way). The footpath will deposit you right at City Hall Park.

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises - New York City

A New York institution, the Circle Line is famous for its 3-hour tour around the entire 35 miles of Manhattan. This Full Island cruise passes by the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, the United Nations, Yankee Stadium, the George Washington Bridge, and more, including Manhattan's wild northern tip. The panorama is riveting, and the commentary isn't bad. The big boats are basic but fine, with lots of deck room for everybody to enjoy the view. Snacks, soft drinks, coffee, and beer are available onboard for purchase.

If 3 hours is more than you or the kids can handle, go for either the 2-hour Semi-Circle or the Sunset/Harbor Lights cruise, both of which show you the highlights of the skyline. There's also a 1-hour Seaport Liberty version that sticks close to the south end of the island. But of all the tours, the kids might like The Beast best, a thrill-a-minute speedboat ride offered in summer only.

In addition, a number of adults-only Live Music and DJ Cruises sail regularly from the seaport from May through September ($20-$40 per person). Depending on the night of the week, you can groove to the sounds of jazz, Latin, gospel, dance tunes, or blues as you sail along viewing the skyline.

Ellis Island - New York City

One of New York's most moving sights, the restored Ellis Island opened in 1990, slightly north of Liberty Island. Roughly 40% of Americans (myself included) can trace their heritage back to an ancestor who came through here. For the 62 years when it was America's main entry point for immigrants (1892-1954), Ellis Island processed some 12 million people. The greeting was often brusque -- especially in the early years of the century (until 1924), when as many as 12,000 came through in a single day. The statistics can be overwhelming, but the Immigration Museum skillfully relates the story of Ellis Island and immigration in America by placing the emphasis on personal experience.

It's difficult to leave the museum unmoved. Today you enter the Main Building's baggage room, just as the immigrants did, and then climb the stairs to the Registry Room, with its dramatic vaulted tiled ceiling, where millions waited anxiously for medical and legal processing. A step-by-step account of the immigrants' voyage is detailed in the exhibit, with haunting photos and touching oral histories. What might be the most poignant exhibit is Treasures from Home, 1,000 objects and photos donated by descendants of immigrants, including family heirlooms, religious articles, and rare clothing and jewelry. Outside, the American Immigrant Wall of Honor commemorates the names of more than 500,000 immigrants and their families, from Myles Standish and George Washington's great-grandfather to the forefathers of John F. Kennedy, Jay Leno, and Barbra Streisand. You can even research your own family's history at the interactive American Family Immigration History Center. You might also make time to see the award-winning short film Island of Hope, Island of Tears, which plays on a continuous loop in two theaters. Short live theatrical performances depicting the immigrant experience are also often part of the day's events.

Liberty Helicopters - New York City

How about a bird's-eye view of Manhattan? These flight-seeing trips offer a quick thrill -- literally. Five-minute tours from Midtown take in the Midtown skyscrapers and Central Park, while longer tours last 10 or 15 minutes and take in a wider view that includes lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. If you opt for the longest tour, you'll fly far enough uptown to take in the George Washington Bridge and Yankee Stadium. Flights leave every 15 minutes daily from 9am to 9pm, but note that at least a 24-hour advance reservation is required.

New York Botanical Garden - New York City

A National Historic Landmark, the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden was founded in 1891 and today is one of America's foremost public gardens. The setting is spectacular -- a natural terrain of rock outcroppings, a river with cascading waterfalls, hills, ponds, and wetlands.

Highlights of the Botanical Garden include the 27 specialty gardens, an exceptional orchid collection, and 40 acres of uncut forest, as close as New York gets to its virgin state before the arrival of Europeans. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a stunning series of Victorian glass pavilions that recall London's former Crystal Palace, shelters a rich collection of tropical, subtropical, and desert plants as well as seasonal flower shows. There's also a Children's Adventure Garden. Natural exhibits are augmented by year-round educational programs, musical events, bird-watching excursions, lectures, special family programs, and many more activities. Best of all is the annual Holiday Train Show (late Nov to early Jan; call for exact dates), where railway trains and trolleys wind their way through more than 100 replicas of historic New York buildings and attractions -- such as the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Garden's own Enid A. Haupt Conservatory -- all made from plant parts and other natural materials. There are so many ways to see the garden -- tram, golf cart, walking tours -- that it's best to call or check the website for more information.

Getting there: Take Metro-North (tel. 800/METRO-INFO or 212/532-4900; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mnr) from Grand Central Terminal to the New York Botanical Garden station; the ride takes about 20 minutes. By subway, take the D or 4 train to Bedford Park, then take bus Bx26 or walk southeast on Bedford Park Boulevard for 8 long blocks.

New York Hall of Science - New York City

Children of all ages will love this huge hands-on museum, which bills itself as "New York's Only Science Playground." This place is amazing for school-age kids. Exhibits let them be engulfed by a giant soap bubble (shades of Veruca Salt, Mom and Dad?), float on air in an antigravity mirror, compose music by dancing in front of light beams, and explore the more-than-miniature world of microbes. There are even video machines that kids can use to retrieve astronomical images, including pictures taken by the Galileo in orbit around Jupiter. There's a Preschool Discovery Place for the really little ones. But probably best of all is the summertime Outdoor Science Playground for kids 6 and older -- ostensibly lessons in physics, but really just a great excuse to laugh, jump, and play on jungle gyms, slides, seesaws, spinners, and more.

The museum is located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where kids can enjoy even more fun beyond the Hall of Science. Not only are there more than 1,200 acres of park and playgrounds, but there's also a zoo, a carousel, an indoor ice-skating rink, an outdoor pool, and bike and boat rentals. Kids and grown-ups alike will love getting an up-close look at the Unisphere steel globe, which was not really destroyed in Men in Black. The park is also home to the Queens Museum of Art as well as Shea Stadium and the U.S. Open Tennis Center.

New York Waterway - New York City

New York Waterway, the nation's largest privately held ferry service and cruise operator, like Circle Line, also does the 35-mile trip around Manhattan, but does it in 2 hours, taking in all the same sights. They also offer a staggering amount of different sightseeing options, including a very good 90-minute New York Harbor Cruise, a Romantic Twilight Cruise, a Friday Dance Party Cruise, and Baseball Cruises to Yankee games.

Rockefeller Center - New York City

A Streamline Moderne masterpiece, Rockefeller Center is one of New York's central gathering spots for visitors and New Yorkers alike. A prime example of the city's skyscraper spirit and historic sense of optimism, it was erected mainly in the 1930s, when the city was deep in the Depression as well as its most passionate Art Deco phase. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, it's now the world's largest privately owned business-and-entertainment center, with 18 buildings on 21 acres.

For a dramatic approach to the entire complex, start at Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. The builders purposely created the gentle slope of the Promenade, known here as the Channel Gardens because it's flanked to the south by La Maison Française and to the north by the British Building (the Channel, get it?). You'll also find a number of attractive shops along here, including a big branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store, a good stop for elegant gifts. The Promenade leads to the Lower Plaza, home to the famous ice-skating rink in winter and alfresco dining in summer in the shadow of Paul Manship's freshly gilded bronze statue Prometheus. All around, the flags of the United Nations' member countries flap in the breeze. Just behind Prometheus, in December and early January, towers the city's official and majestic Christmas tree.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center (tel. 212/332-7654; www.rockefellercenter.com) is tiny but positively romantic, especially during the holidays, when the giant Christmas tree's multicolored lights twinkle from above. The rink is open from mid-October to mid-March, and you'll skate under the magnificent tree for the month of December. The focal point of this "city within a city" is the building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a 70-story showpiece towering over the plaza. It's still one of the city's most impressive buildings; walk through for a look at the granite-and-marble lobby, lined with monumental sepia-toned murals by José Maria Sert. You can pick up a walking-tour brochure on the center's art and architecture at the main information desk in this building. On the 65th floor, the legendary Rainbow Room is once again open to the public on a limited basis.

NBC television maintains studios throughout the complex. Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O'Brien originate at 30 Rock. NBC's Today show is broadcast live on weekdays from 7 to 10am from the glass-enclosed studio on the southwest corner of 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza; come early if you want a visible spot, and bring your HI MOM! sign.

The 70-minute NBC Studio Tour (tel. 212/664-3700; www.shopnbc.com) will take you behind the scenes at the Peacock network. The tour changes daily but might include the Today show, NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC, and/or Saturday Night Live sets. Who knows? You may even run into Brian Williams or Meredith Viera in the hall. Tours run every 15-30 minutes Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 5:30pm, Sunday from 9:30am to 4:30pm (later on certain summer days); of course, you'll have a better chance of encountering some real live action on a weekday. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors and children 6 to 12. You can reserve your tickets for either tour in advance (reservations are recommended) or buy them right up to tour time at the NBC Experience store, on Rockefeller Plaza at 49th Street. They also offer a 75-minute Rockefeller Center Tour hourly every day between 10am and 4pm. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and children 6 to 12; two-tour combination packages are available for $23.

Other notable buildings throughout the complex include the International Building, on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets, worth a look for its Atlas statue out front; and the McGraw-Hill Building, on Sixth Avenue between 48th and 49th streets, with its 50-foot sun triangle on the plaza.

The restored Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave., at 50th Street (tel. 212/247-4777; www.radiocity.com), is perhaps the most impressive architectural feat of the complex. Designed by Donald Deskey and opened in 1932, it's one of the largest indoor theaters, with 6,200 seats. But its true grandeur derives from its magnificent Art Deco appointments. The crowning touch is the stage's great proscenium arch, which from the distant seats evokes a faraway sun setting on the horizon of the sea. The men's and women's lounges are also splendid. The theater hosts the annual Christmas Spectacular, starring the Rockettes. The illuminating 1-hour Stage Door Tour is offered Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sunday from 11am to 5pm; tickets are $17 for adults, $10 for children under 12.

Heading for the Top of the Rock -- Giving the Empire State Building some friendly competition when it comes to spectacular views, is the observation deck of 30 Rockefeller Plaza known as the Top of the Rock. The deck, which comprises floors 67 to 70, which had been closed since 1986, reopened in late 2005. The stately deck was constructed in 1933 to resemble the grandeur of a luxury ocean liner, and unlike the Empire State Building, the observation deck here is more spacious and the views, though not quite as high, just as stunning. You might have just as much fun getting up there as you will on the deck itself; the sky-shuttle elevators with glass ceilings project images from the 1930s through the present day as it zooms its way up. Reserved-time tickets help minimize the lines and are available online at www.topoftherocknyc.com. The observation deck is open daily from 8:30am to midnight; admission rates are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $11 for ages 6 to 11, and free for children under 6. For more information, call tel. 877/NYC-ROCK (877/692-7625) or 212/698-2000 or visit www.topoftherocknyc.com.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab - New York City

Not as much of an infomercial as you'd expect. Both kids and adults love this four-level high-tech science-and-technology center, which explores communications and information technology. You can experiment with robotics, explore the human body through medical imaging, edit a music video, mix a hit song, design a video game, and save the day at an environmental command center. The lab also features the first high-definition interactive theater in the United States. Admission is absolutely free; this place is extremely popular, however, so it's wise to make reservations in advance. Reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance by calling tel. 212/833-5414 Monday through Friday between 9am and 2pm. Otherwise, you may not get in, or you may get tickets that require you to return at a different time.

Spirit Cruises - New York City

Spirit Cruises' modern ships are floating cabarets that combine sightseeing in New York Harbor with freshly prepared meals, musical revues, and dancing to live bands. The atmosphere is festive, fun, and relaxed. The buffet meals are nothing special, but they're fine.

South Street Seaport & Museum - New York City

Dating back to the 17th century, this landmark historic district on the East River encompasses 11 square blocks of historic buildings, a maritime museum, several piers, shops, and restaurants.

You can explore most of the Seaport on your own. It's a beautiful but somewhat odd place. The mainly 18th- and 19th-century buildings lining the cobbled streets and alleyways are impeccably restored but nevertheless have a theme-park air about them, no doubt due to the mall-familiar shops housed within. The Seaport's biggest tourist attraction is Pier 17, a historic barge converted into a mall, complete with food court and cheap-jewelry kiosks.

Despite its rampant commercialism, the Seaport is well worth a look. There's a good amount of history to be discovered here, most of it around the South Street Seaport Museum, a fitting tribute to the sea commerce that once thrived here. On weekends the museum dedicates Saturday and Sunday afternoons to family fun with music, art, and other activities for children 4 and older.

In addition to the galleries -- which house paintings and prints, ship models, scrimshaw, and nautical designs, as well as frequently changing exhibitions -- there are a number of historic ships berthed at the pier to explore, including the 1911 four-masted Peking and the 1893 Gloucester fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard. A few of the boats are living museums and restoration works in progress; the 1885 cargo schooner Pioneer (tel. 212/748-8786) offers 2-hour public sails daily from early May through September. Tickets for the early and late voyages (1pm and 9:30pm) are $25 for adults, $20for students/seniors and children 12 and under. Add $5 to the prices for the 4pm and 7pm departures. If you'd rather keep those sea legs on dry land, the museum offers a number of guided walking tours; call or check www.southstseaport.org for details.

Even Pier 17 has its merits. Head up to the third-level deck overlooking the East River, where the long wooden chairs will have you thinking about what it was like to cross the Atlantic on the Normandie. From this level you can see south to the Statue of Liberty, north to the Gothic majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Brooklyn Heights on the opposite shore.

At the gateway to the Seaport, at Fulton and Water streets, is the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, a monument to those who lost their lives when the ocean liner sank on April 15, 1912. It was erected overlooking the East River in 1913 and moved to this spot in 1968, just after the historic district was so designated.

Staten Island Ferry - New York City

In 2006 the Staten Island Ferry celebrated its 100th anniversary. Over the years it has been one of New York's best bargains -- sometimes costing a nickel and most of the time, like now, costing nothing at all. It's New York's best freebie -- especially if you just want to glimpse the Statue of Liberty and not climb her steps. You get an hour-long excursion (round-trip) into the world's biggest harbor. This is not strictly a sightseeing ride but commuter transportation to and from Staten Island. As a result, during business hours, you'll share the boat with working stiffs reading papers and drinking coffee inside, blissfully unaware of the sights outside.

You, however, should go on deck and enjoy the harbor traffic. The old orange-and-green boats usually have open decks along the sides or at the bow and stern; try to catch one of these if you can, since the newer white boats don't have decks. Grab a seat on the right side of the boat for the best view. On the way out of Manhattan, you'll pass the Statue of Liberty (the boat comes closest to Lady Liberty on the way to Staten Island), Ellis Island, and from the left side of the boat, Governor's Island; you'll see the Verrazano Narrows Bridge spanning from Brooklyn to Staten Island in the distance.

When the boat arrives at St. George, Staten Island, if you are required to disembark, follow the boat-loading sign on your right as you get off; you'll circle around to the next loading dock, where there's usually another boat waiting to depart for Manhattan. The skyline views are simply awesome on the return trip. Well worth the time spent.

Statue of Liberty - New York City

For the millions who came by ship to America in the last century -- either as privileged tourists or needy, hopeful immigrants -- Lady Liberty, standing in the Upper Bay, was their first glimpse of America. No monument so embodies the nation's, and the world's, notion of political freedom and economic potential. Even if you don't make it out to Liberty Island, you can get a spine-tingling glimpse from Battery Park, from the New Jersey side of the bay, or during a ride on the Staten Island Ferry . It's always reassuring to see her torch lighting the way.

Proposed by French statesman Edouard de Laboulaye as a gift from France to the United States, commemorating the two nations' friendship and joint notions of liberty, the statue was designed by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi with the engineering help of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (who was responsible for the famed Paris tower) and unveiled on October 28, 1886. Touring tips: Ferries leave daily every half-hour to 45 minutes from 9am to about 3:30pm, with more frequent ferries in the morning and extended hours in summer. Try to go early on a weekday to avoid the crowds that swarm in the afternoon, on weekends, and on holidays.

A stop at Ellis Island is included in the fare, but if you catch the last ferry, you can only visit the statue or Ellis Island, not both.

You can buy ferry tickets in advance via www.statuecruises.com, which will allow you to board without standing in the sometimes-long ticket line; however, there is an additional service charge of $1.75 per ticket. Even if you've already purchased tickets, arrive as much as 30 minutes before your desired ferry time to allow for increased security procedures prior to boarding. The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes.

Once on Liberty Island, you'll start to get an idea of the statue's immensity: She weighs 225 tons and measures 152 feet from foot to flame. Her nose alone is 4 1/2 feet long, and her index finger is 8 feet long.

After September 11, 2001, access to the base of the statue was prohibited, but in the summer of 2004, access, albeit still somewhat limited (you can't climb to the statue's crown), was once again allowed. Now you can explore the Statue of Liberty Museum, peer into the inner structure through a glass ceiling near the base of the statue, and enjoy views from the observation deck on top of a 16-story pedestal.

Times Square - New York City

There's no doubting that Times Square has evolved into something much different than it was well over a decade ago, when it had a deservedly sleazy reputation. There is much debate among New Yorkers about which incarnation was better. For the natives, Times Square is a place we go out of our way to avoid. The crowds, even by New York standards, are stifling; the restaurants, mostly national chains, aren't very good; the shops, also mostly national chains, are unimaginative; and the attractions, like Madame Tussaud's New York wax museum, are kitschy. I suppose it's a little too Vegas for us. Still, you've come all this way; you've got to at least take a peek, if only for the amazing neon spectacle of it.

Most of the Broadway theaters are around Times Square, so plan your visit before or after the show you're going to see. For your pre-theater meal, walk 2 blocks west to Ninth Avenue where you'll find a number of relatively inexpensive, good restaurants. If you are with the kids, the Ferris wheel in the Toys "R" Us store makes a visit to Times Square worthwhile.

Wall Street & the New York Stock Exchange - New York City

Wall Street -- it's an iconic name, and the world's prime hub for bulls and bears everywhere. This narrow 18th-century lane (you'll be surprised at how little it is) is appropriately monumental, lined with neoclassical towers that reach as far skyward as the dreams and greed of investors who built it into the world's most famous financial market.

At the heart of the action is the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the world's largest securities trader, where billions change hands. The NYSE came into being in 1792, when merchants met daily under a nearby buttonwood tree to try to pass off to each other the U.S. bonds that had been sold to fund the Revolutionary War. By 1903, they were trading stocks of publicly held companies in this Corinthian-columned Beaux Arts "temple" designed by George Post. About 3,000 companies are now listed on the exchange, trading nearly 314 billion shares valued at about $16 trillion. Unfortunately, the NYSE is no longer open to the public for tours.

Wave Hill - New York City

Formerly a private estate with panoramic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, Wave Hill has, at various times in its history, been home to a British U.N. ambassador as well as Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. Set in a stunningly bucolic neighborhood that doesn't look anything like you'd expect from the Bronx, its 28 gorgeous acres were bequeathed to the city of New York for use as a public garden that is now one of the most beautiful spots in the city. It's a wonderful place to commune with nature, both along wooded paths and in beautifully manicured herb and flower gardens, where all of the plants are clearly labeled by careful horticulturists. Benches are positioned throughout the property for quiet contemplation and spectacular views. It's a great spot for taking in the Hudson River vibe without having to rent a car and travel to Westchester to visit the Rockefeller estate; in 2004 a 28-acre public garden and cultural center opened, making it even more attractive and accessible. Programs range from horticulture and environmental education, landscape history, and forestry to dance performances and concerts.

Getting there: Take the no. 1 subway to 231st Street, then take the Bx7 or Bx10 bus to the 252nd Street stop; or take the A train to 207th Street and pick up the Bx7 to 252nd Street. From the 252nd Street stop, walk west across the parkway bridge and turn left; at 249th Street, turn right. Metro North trains (tel. 212/532-4900) go from Grand Central to the Riverdale station; from there, it's a 5-block walk to Wave Hill.

Yankee Stadium - New York City

Next to the Colosseum in Rome, there aren't many more famous sports arenas in the world than the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees play from April until October (and, since they seem to be in the playoffs most years, mostly through Oct). Depending on who's in town, tickets, which range in price from $12 to $115, can be tough to score. But if you plan in advance, and even if you don't, you should be able to purchase a seat by going through a broker or scalping (be careful of forgeries) the day of a game. If you are not visiting during the baseball season, tours of the stadium, including Monument Park, are held year-round. For more information, see the section "Spectator Sports," later in this chapter. This is your last chance to get to what's left of the 1923-built Yankee Stadium. A new stadium is in the works and scheduled to open in the same area for the 2009 season.

Trinity Church - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

Serving God and mammon, this Wall Street house of worship -- with neo-Gothic flying buttresses, beautiful stained-glass windows, and vaulted ceilings -- was designed by Richard Upjohn and consecrated in 1846. At that time, its 280-foot spire dominated the skyline. Its main doors, embellished with biblical scenes, were inspired in part by Ghiberti's famed doors on Florence's Baptistery. The historic Episcopal church stood strong while office towers crumbled around it on September 11, 2001; however, an electronic organ has temporarily replaced the historic pipe organ, which was severely damaged by dust and debris. The gates to the historic church currently serve as an impromptu memorial to the victims of 9/11, with countless tokens of remembrance left by both locals and visitors alike.

The church runs a brief tour daily at 2pm (a second Sun tour follows the 11:15am Eucharist); groups of five or more should call tel. 212/602-0872 to reserve. There's a small museum at the end of the left aisle displaying documents (including the 1697 church charter from King William III), photographs, replicas of the Hamilton-Burr duel pistols, and other items. Surrounding the church is a churchyard whose monuments read like an American history book: a tribute to martyrs of the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, and many more. Lined with benches, this makes a wonderful picnic spot on warm days.

Also part of Trinity Church is St. Paul's Chapel, at Broadway and Fulton Street, New York's only surviving pre-Revolutionary church, and a transition shelter for homeless men until it was transformed into a relief center after September 11, 2001; it returned to its former duties in mid-2002. Built by Thomas McBean, with a templelike portico and fluted Ionic columns supporting a massive pediment, the chapel resembles London's St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In the small graveyard, 18th- and early-19th-century notables rest in peace and modern businesspeople sit for lunch.

Trinity holds its renowned Noonday Concert series of chamber music and orchestral concerts Monday and Thursday at 1pm; call tel. 212/602-0747 or visit the website for the schedule and to see if concert programming has resumed at St. Paul's.

The Church of the Transfiguration - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

When you come upon this oddly beautiful historic structure amidst modern high-rise condos in the burgeoning Madison Square neighborhood, you will once again be awed at the diversity of New York. Also known as The Little Church Around the Corner, this Episcopalian house of worship with its twists and turns has been compared to a "holy cucumber vine." Built in 1849, the church was granted United States landmark status in 1973. Its history includes sheltering escaped slaves during the Civil War draft riots, being one of the first churches to hand out food for the poor at the start of the Depression, and, most significantly, for its close relationship to the theater. In 1923 the Episcopal Actor's Guild was formed at the church and some of the noted actors involved include Basil Rathbone, Mary Pickford, Tallulah Bankhead, with Charlton Heston, Barnard Hughes, and, most recently Sam Waterston serving as presidents.

Temple Emanu-El - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

Many of New York's most prominent and wealthy families are members of this Reform congregation -- the first to be established in New York City -- housed in the city's most famous synagogue. The largest house of Jewish worship in the world is a majestic blend of Moorish and Romanesque styles, symbolizing the mingling of Eastern and Western cultures. The temple houses a small but remarkable collection of Judaica in the Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum, including a collection of Hanukkah lamps with examples ranging from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Three galleries also tell the story of the congregation Emanu-El from 1845 to the present. Tours are given after morning services Saturday at noon. Inquire for a schedule of lectures, films, music, symposiums, and other events.

St. Patrick's Cathedral - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

This incredible Gothic white-marble-and-stone structure is the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States, as well as the seat of the Archdiocese of New York. Designed by James Renwick, begun in 1859, and consecrated in 1879, St. Patrick's wasn't completed until 1906. Strangely, Irish Catholics picked one of the city's WASPiest neighborhoods for St. Patrick's. After the death of the beloved John Cardinal O'Connor in 2000, Pope John Paul II installed Bishop Edward Egan, whom he elevated to cardinal in 2001. The vast cathedral seats a congregation of 2,200; if you don't want to come for Mass, you can pop in between services to get a look at the impressive interior. The St. Michael and St. Louis altar came from Tiffany & Co. (also located here on Fifth Ave.), while the St. Elizabeth altar -- honoring Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint -- was designed by Paolo Medici of Rome.

Mother A.M.E. Zion Church - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

Another of Harlem's great gospel churches is this African Methodist Episcopal house of worship, the first black church to be founded in New York State. Established on John Street in Lower Manhattan in 1796, Mother A.M.E. was known as the "Freedom Church" for the central role it played in the Underground Railroad. Among the escaped slaves the church hid was Frederick Douglass; other famous congregants have included Sojourner Truth and Paul Robeson. Mother A.M.E. relocated to Harlem in 1914 and moved into this grand edifice in 1925. Rousing Sunday services are at 11am.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

The world's largest Gothic cathedral, St. John the Divine has been a work in progress since 1892. Its sheer size is amazing enough -- a nave that stretches two football fields and a seating capacity of 5,000 -- but keep in mind that there is no steel structural support. The church is being built using traditional Gothic engineering -- blocks of granite and limestone are carved out by master masons and their apprentices -- which may explain why construction is still ongoing, more than 100 years after it began, with no end in sight. In fact, a December 2001 fire destroyed the north transept, which housed the gift shop. But this phoenix rose from the ashes quickly; the cathedral was reopened to visitors within a month, even though the scent of charred wood was still in the air and restoration will not be complete for months to come. That's precisely what makes this place so wonderful: Finishing isn't necessarily the point.

Though it's the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, St. John's embraces an interfaith tradition. Internationalism is a theme found throughout the cathedral's iconography. Each chapel is dedicated to a different national, ethnic, or social group. The genocide memorial in the Missionary chapel -- dedicated to the victims of the Ottoman Empire in Armenia (1915-23), of the Holocaust (1939-45), and in Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1992 -- moved me to tears, as did the FDNY memorial in the Labor chapel. Although it was originally conceived to honor 12 firefighters killed in 1966, hundreds of personal notecards and trinkets of remembrance have evolved it into a moving tribute to the 343 firefighting heroes killed on September 11, 2001.

You can explore the cathedral on your own, or on the Public Tour, offered 6 days a week; also inquire about the periodic (usually twice monthly) Vertical Tour, which takes you on a hike up the 11-flight circular staircase to the top, for spectacular views. At press time, these were still suspended due to the fire. Check the website for updates. St. John the Divine is also known for presenting outstanding workshops, musical events, and important speakers. The free New Year's Eve concert draws thousands of New Yorkers; so, too, does its annual Feast of St. Francis (Blessing of the Animals), held in early October. Call for event information and tickets. To hear the incredible pipe organ in action, attend the weekly Choral Evensong and Organ Meditation service, which highlights one of the nation's most treasured pipe organs, Sunday at 6pm.

Abyssinian Baptist Church - New York City - Temples, Mosques & Churches

The most famous of Harlem's more than 400 houses of worship is this Baptist church, founded downtown in 1808 by African-American and Ethiopian merchants. It was moved uptown to Harlem back in the 1920s by Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., who built it into the largest Protestant congregation -- white or black -- in America. His son, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (for whom the adjoining boulevard was named), carried on his tradition, and also became the first-ever black U.S. congressman. Abyssinian is now the domain of the fiery, activist-minded Rev. Calvin O. Butts, whom the chamber of commerce has declared a "living treasure." The Sunday morning services -- at 9 and 11am -- offer a wonderful opportunity to experience the Harlem gospel tradition.

Washington Square Park - New York City - Parks

You'll be hard-pressed to find much "park" in this mainly concrete square -- a burial ground in the late 18th century -- but it's undeniably the focal point of Greenwich Village. Chess players, skateboarders, street musicians, New York University students, gay and straight couples, the occasional film crew, and not a few homeless people compete for attention throughout the day and most of the night. (If anyone issues a friendly challenge to play you in the ancient and complex Chinese game of Go, don't take them up on it -- you'll lose money.)

In the 1830s, elegant Greek Revival town houses on Washington Square North, known as "The Row" (note especially nos. 21-26), attracted the elite. Stanford White designed Washington Arch (1891-92) to commemorate the centenary of George Washington's inauguration as first president. The arch was refurbished in 2004 and now features exterior lighting.

Union Square Park - New York City - Parks

Here's a delightful place to spend an afternoon. Reclaimed from drug dealers and abject ruin in the late 1980s, Union Square Park is now one of the city's best assets and home of the New York's most famous greenmarket. The seemingly endless subway work should no longer be disturbing the peace by the time you're here. This patch of green remains, with or without the construction, the focal point of the newly fashionable Flatiron and Gramercy Park neighborhoods. Don't miss the grand equestrian statue of George Washington at the south end or the bronze statue (by Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty) of the Marquis de Lafayette at the eastern end, gracefully glancing toward France. A cafe is open at the north end of the park in warm weather.

Riverside Park - New York City - Parks

I spent much of my time in my early years in New York in Riverside Park (tel. 212/408-0264; www.nycgovparks.org) staring at the New Jersey skyline, jogging along the wind-swept Hudson river, playing hoops at the courts on 77th Street (when I still could jump), taking strolls along the promenade on hot summer nights, and watching the comings or goings of the unusual community that lives in the boats at the 79th Street Boat Basin. This underrated beauty designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who designed Central Park, stretches 4 miles from 72nd Street to 158th Street. The serpentine route along the Hudson River offers a variety of lovely river vistas, 14 playgrounds, two tennis courts, softball and soccer fields, a skate park, beach volleyball, the aforementioned Boat Basin, two cafes -- the Boat Basin Café at 79th Street (tel. 212/496-5542) and Hurley's Hudson Beach Café at 105th Street (tel. 917/370-3448), open April through September only -- and monuments such as the Eleanor Roosevelt statue at 72nd Street, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 90th Street, and Grant's Tomb at 122nd Street (tel. 212/666-1640) Open daily 9am to 5pm. But here's the best part: On a hot summer day, when Central Park is teeming with joggers, sunbathers, and in-line skaters, Riverside Park, just a few blocks from Central Park's western fringe, is comparatively serene. The Riverside Park Fund (tel. 212/870-3070; www.riversideparkfund.org) has an excellent website with a comprehensive list of events and gives history with illustrations of the parkland. They also sell a map of the park for $2.

Bryant Park - New York City - Parks

Another success story in the push for urban redevelopment, Bryant Park is the latest incarnation of a 4-acre site that was, at various times in its history, a graveyard and a reservoir. Named for poet and New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant (look for his statue on the east end), the park actually rests atop the New York Public Library's many miles of underground stacks. Another statue is also notable: a squat and evocative stone portrait of Gertrude Stein, one of the few outdoor sculptures of women in the city.

This simple green swath, just east of Times Square, is welcome relief from Midtown's concrete, taxi-choked jungle, and good weather attracts brown-baggers from neighboring office buildings. Just behind the library is Bryant Park Grill (tel. 212/840-6500), a gorgeous, airy bistro with spectacular views but merely decent New American food. Still, brunch is a good bet, and the grill's two summer alfresco restaurants -- The Terrace, on the Grill's roof, and the casual Cafe, with small tables beneath a canopy of trees -- are extremely pleasant on a nice day.

Le Carrousel complements the park's French classical style. It's not as big as the Central Park Carousel but utterly charming nonetheless, with 14 different animals that revolve to the sounds of French cabaret music. Le Carrousel is open all year, weather permitting, 11am to 7pm, and costs $1.75 to ride.

A new addition to Bryant Park in 2005 was a welcome one -- another skating rink, this one known as The Pond. Skating on The Pond is free but, unfortunately, the rink is only open from the middle of October until the middle of January, though, at press time, there were rumors that The Pond's season might be extended in 2007-08

Additionally, the park plays host to New York's Seventh on Sixth fashion shows, set up in billowy white tents (open to the trade only) in the spring and fall.

Battery Park - New York City - Parks

As you traverse Manhattan's concrete canyons, it's sometimes easy to forget that you're actually on an island. But here, at Manhattan's southernmost tip, you get the very real sense that just out past Liberty, Ellis, and Staten islands is the vast Atlantic Ocean.

The 21-acre park is named for the cannons built to defend residents after the American Revolution. Castle Clinton National Monument (the place to purchase tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry) was built as a fort before the War of 1812, though it was never used as such.

Battery Park is a park of monuments and memorials, many paying tribute to tragedy and death. Here you will find the East Coast Memorial, dedicated to 4,601 serviceman who died in Atlantic coastal waters during World War II; the New York Korean War Veterans Memorial; the American Merchant Mariner's Memorial, dedicated to Merchant Mariner's lost at sea; the Salvation Army Memorial; the Hope Garden dedicated to those who live with HIV or have died from AIDS; the Irish Hunger Memorial, a tribute to those who died during the potato famine in Ireland; and the 22-ton bronze sphere by Fritz Koenig that was recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center, where it stood on the plaza between the two Twin Towers as a symbol of global peace, also stands here -- severely damaged but still whole. Mingling throughout these memorials you will find the requisite T-shirt vendors, hot-dog carts and Wall Streeters eating deli sandwiches on the many park benches. Pull up your own bench for a good view out across the harbor.

Socrates Sculpture Park - New York City - In Queens

This former riverside landfill is now the best exhibition space for large-scale outdoor sculpture in the city. No velvet ropes and motion sensors here -- interaction with the artwork is encouraged. It's well worth a look, especially on a lovely day. Check the website for the current exhibition schedule -- or just let yourself be happily surprised. The park also offers outdoor movie screenings and free tai chi and yoga classes in the summer.

Queens Museum of Art - New York City - In Queens

One way to see New York in the shortest time (albeit without the street life) is to visit the Panorama, created for the 1939 World's Fair, an enormous building-for-building architectural model of New York City complete with an airplane that takes off from LaGuardia Airport. The 9,335-square-foot Gotham City is the largest model of its kind in the world, with 895,000 individual structures built on a scale of 1 inch=100 feet. A red-white-and-blue ribbon is draped mournfully over the Twin Towers, which still stand in this Big Apple.

Also on permanent display is a collection of Tiffany glass manufactured at Tiffany Studios in Queens between 1893 and 1938. The "Contemporary Currents" series features rotating exhibits focusing on the works of a single artist, often with an international theme (suitable to New York's most diverse borough). History buffs should take note of the museum's NYC Building, which housed the United Nation's General Assembly from 1946 to 1952. Art exhibitions, tours, lectures, films, and performances are part of the program, making this a very strong museum on all fronts.

P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center - New York City - In Queens

If you're interested in contemporary art that's too cutting-edge for most museums, don't miss this MoMA affiliate museum. Originally a public school (hence the name), this is the world's largest institution exhibiting contemporary art from America and abroad. You can expect to see a kaleidoscopic array of works from artists ranging from Jack Smith to Julian Schnabel; the museum is particularly well known for large-scale exhibitions by artists such as James Turrell. In 2005 the museum featured a well-received and popular exhibit entitled "Greater New York," featuring works by more than 160 New York-based artists who have come into prominence since the year 2000.

Louis Armstrong House Museum - New York City - In Queens

What is it about celebrities' homes that we find so fascinating? Is it that we get to see how they lived away from the glare of the cameras; how they functioned on a daily basis just like the rest of us? Armstrong was an international celebrity and could have lived anywhere, yet this unassuming, bi-level house in the working-class neighborhood of Corona, Queens, was the great Satchmo's home from 1943 until his death in 1971. It was bought and designed by his fourth wife, Lucille, who lived in it until her death in 1983. No one has lived in the house since, and in 2003 the house, a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark, opened its doors to the public as a museum. The 40-minute tour takes you through the small, impeccably preserved home and explains the significance of each room to both Louis and Lucille. My favorite is Armstrong's den, where he kept his reel-to-reel tape recordings, cataloging everything he taped -- music, conversations, and compositions, some of which are displayed on his desk. The house also includes a small exhibit with some of his memorabilia, including two of his trumpets, and a gift shop, where many of his CDs are for sale along with other Satchmo-centric items. If you have any interest in jazz and in Armstrong, this is a must-see.

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum - New York City - In Queens

No place in the city is more Zen than this marvelous indoor/outdoor garden museum showcasing the work of Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-88). The museum showcases the beautifully curated collection of the artist's masterworks in stone, metal, wood, and clay; you'll even see theater sets, furniture, and models for gardens and playgrounds that Noguchi designed. A new gallery highlights the artist's work in interior design.

American Museum of the Moving Image - New York City - In Queens

Head here if you truly love movies. Unlike Manhattan's Museum of Television & Radio, which is more of a library, this is a thought-provoking museum examining how moving images -- film, video, and digital -- are made, marketed, and shown; it encourages you to consider their impact on society as well. It's housed in part of the Kaufman Astoria Studios, which once were host to W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, and more recently have been used by Martin Scorsese (The Age of Innocence), Woody Allen (Radio Days), Bill Cosby (his Cosby TV series), and Sesame Street.

The museum's core exhibit, Behind the Screen, is a thoroughly engaging two-floor installation that takes you step-by-step through the process of making, marketing, and exhibiting moving images. There are more than 1,000 artifacts on hand, from technological gadgetry to costumes, and interactive exhibits where you can try your own hand at sound-effects editing or create your own animated shorts, among other simulations. Special-effects benchmarks -- from the mechanical mouth of Jaws to the blending of past and present in Forrest Gump -- are explored and explained. And in a nod to Hollywood nostalgia, memorabilia that wasn't swept up by the Planet Hollywood chain is displayed, including a Hopalong Cassidy lunch box, an E.T. doll, celebrity coloring books, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis hand puppets. Also on display are sets from Seinfeld. Even better are the daily hands-on demonstrations, where you can watch film editors, animators, and the like at work.

"Insiders' Hour" tours are offered Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Additionally, the museum hosts free film and video screenings, often accompanied by artist appearances, lectures, or discussions. Seminars often feature film and TV pros discussing their craft; past guests have included Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, Chuck Jones, and Atom Egoyan, so it's worth checking if someone's on while you're in town.

Prospect Park - New York City - In Brooklyn

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their great success with Central Park, this 562 acres of woodland, meadows, bluffs, and ponds is considered by many to be their masterpiece and the pièce de résistance of Brooklyn.

The best approach is from Grand Army Plaza, presided over by the monumental Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch (1892) honoring Union veterans. For the best view of the lush landscape, follow the path to Meadowport Arch, and proceed through to the Long Meadow, following the path that loops around it (it's about an hour's walk). Other park highlights include the 1857 Italianate mansion Litchfield Villa on Prospect Park West; the Friends' Cemetery Quaker burial ground (where Montgomery Clift is eternally prone -- sorry, it's fenced off to browsers); the wonderful 1906 Beaux Arts boathouse; the 1912 carousel, with white wooden horses salvaged from a famous Coney Island merry-go-round (open Apr-Oct; rides 50¢); and Lefferts Homestead Children's Historic House Museum (tel. 718/789-2822), a 1783 Dutch farmhouse with a museum of period furniture and exhibits geared toward kids (open Apr-Nov Thurs-Sun noon-5pm; Dec-March open Sat and Sun, noon to 4pm.) There's a map at the park entrance that you can use to get your bearings.

On the east side is the Prospect Park Zoo (tel. 718/399-7339), a modern children's zoo where kids can walk among wallabies, explore a prairie-dog town, and more. Admission is $6 for adults, $2.25 for seniors, $2 for children 3 to 12. From April through October, it's open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm (to 5:30pm weekends and holidays); November through March, open daily from 10am to 4:30pm.

New York Transit Museum - New York City - In Brooklyn

Housed in a real (decommissioned) subway station, this recently renovated underground museum is a wonderful place to spend an hour or so. The museum is small but very well done, with good multimedia exhibits exploring the history of the subway from the first shovelful of dirt scooped up at groundbreaking (Mar 24, 1900) to the present. Kids and parents alike will enjoy the interactive elements and the vintage subway cars, old wooden turnstiles, and beautiful station mosaics of yesteryear. A new exhibit dedicated to surface transportation is On the Streets: New York's Trolleys and Buses. All in all, a minor but remarkable tribute to an important development in the city's history.

New York Aquarium - New York City - In Brooklyn

Because of the long subway ride (about an hour from midtown Manhattan) and its proximity to Coney Island, it's best to combine the two attractions, preferably in the summer. This surprisingly good aquarium is home to hundreds of sea creatures. Taking center stage are Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins and California sea lions that perform daily during summer at the Aquatheater. Also basking in the spotlight are gangly Pacific octopuses, sharks, and a brand-new sea-horse exhibit. Black-footed penguins, California sea otters, and a variety of seals live at the Sea Cliffs exhibit, a re-creation of a Pacific coastal habitat. But my absolute favorites are the beautiful white Beluga whales, which exude buckets of aquatic charm. Children love the hands-on exhibits at Discovery Cove. There's an indoor oceanview cafeteria and an outdoor snack bar, plus picnic tables.

Coney Island - New York City - In Brooklyn

Sure, Coney Island is just a shell of what it was in its heyday in the early 20th century. But it's that shell and what remains that make it such an intriguing attraction. The almost mythical Parachute Jump, recently refurbished, though long inoperable, stands as a monument to Coney Island. But this is not a dead amusement park; Astroland, home of the famed Cyclone roller coaster, has some great rides for children and adults; though 2007 will be its last season. The new owners will keep the Cyclone, however, and the Wonder Wheel, next door at Deno's, will still be in operation. The best amusement of all, however, is the people-watching. Maybe because it is at the extreme edge of New York City, but Coney Island attracts more than its share of the odd, freaky, and funky. It's here where Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs holds its annual hot-dog-eating contest on July 4 at noon; where the wholly entertaining Mermaid Parade spoofs the old bathing-beauty parades (late June); and where members of the Polar Bear Swim Club show their masochistic gusto by taking a plunge into the icy ocean on January 1. The best time to visit is between Memorial Day and mid-September, when the rides and amusement park are open. Bring your bathing suit and test the waters.

If you are here in the summer, or even if you are not, I recommend a visit to Coney Island just to see it and you can always visit the nearby Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Ave. (tel. 718/372-5159; www.coneyisland.com). Open Saturdays and Sundays year round, here you will find relics from Coney Island's heyday as the premier amusement park in the world. Check out an original "steeplechase horse," vintage bumper cars, or fun-house distortion mirrors. And for a mere 99¢, even if all you want to do is use the clean bathroom, the museum is a bargain.

Brooklyn Tabernacle - New York City - In Brooklyn

Under the direction of passionate orator Pastor Jim Cymbala and his choral-director wife, Carol, this nondenominational Christian revival church has grown into one of the largest -- with a congregation of nearly 10,000 from all walks of city life -- and most renowned inner-city churches in the nation. Folks come from all over the world to see the 275-voice, four-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, one of the nation's most celebrated gospel choirs.

Brooklyn Tabernacle relocated from Flatbush Avenue to 392 Fulton St., on Fulton Mall in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, in mid-2002. The gloriously renovated 1918 building is the fourth-largest theatrical space in the five boroughs, and seats nearly 4,000 for each service. Still, come early for a prime seat, especially when the choir sings (at the noon and 4pm Sun services).

Brooklyn Museum of Art - New York City - In Brooklyn

One of the nation's premier art institutions, the Brooklyn Museum of Art rocketed into public consciousness in 1999 with the controversial "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection," which drew international media attention and record crowds who came to see just what an artist -- and a few conservative politicians -- could make out of a little elephant dung.

Indeed, the museum is known for its consistently remarkable temporary exhibitions as well as its excellent permanent collection. The museum's grand Beaux Arts building, designed by McKim, Mead & White (1897), befits its outstanding holdings, most notably the Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern collection of sculpture, wall reliefs, and mummies. The decorative-arts collection includes 28 American period rooms from 1675 to 1928 (the extravagant Moorish-style smoking room from John D. Rockefeller's 54th St. mansion is my favorite). Other highlights are the African and Asian arts galleries, dozens of works by Rodin, a good costumes and textiles collection, and a diverse collection of both American and European painting and sculpture that includes works by Homer, O'Keeffe, Monet, Cézanne, and Degas.

Spring 2007 brought the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which will feature permanent and rotating exhibitions of art made by women. One of the prizes of the collection is Judy Chicago's famous "The Dinner Party."

Brooklyn Botanic Garden - New York City - In Brooklyn

Down the street from the Brooklyn Museum of Art is the most popular botanic garden in the city. This peaceful 52-acre sanctuary is at its most spectacular in May when the thousands of deep pink blossoms of cherry trees are abloom. Well worth seeing is the spectacular Cranford Rose Garden, one of the largest and finest in the country; the Shakespeare Garden, an English garden featuring plants mentioned in his writings; a Children's Garden; the Osborne Garden, a 3-acre formal garden; the Fragrance Garden, designed for the blind but appreciated by all noses; and the extraordinary Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. The renowned C. V. Starr Bonsai Museum is home to the world's oldest and largest collection of bonsai, while the impressive $2.5-million Steinhardt Conservatory holds the garden's extensive indoor plant collection.

Empire State Building - New York City - Architectural Highlights

It took 60,000 tons of steel, 10 million bricks, 2.5 million feet of electrical wire, 120 miles of pipe, and 7 million man-hours to build. King Kong climbed it in 1933 -- and again in 2005. A plane slammed into it in 1945. The World Trade Center superseded it in 1970 as the island's tallest building. And in 1997, a gunman ascended it to stage a deadly shooting. On that horrific day of September 11, 2001, it once again regained its status as New York City's tallest building, after 31 years of taking second place. And through it all, the Empire State Building has remained one of the city's favorite landmarks and its signature high-rise. Completed in 1931, the limestone-and-stainless-steel streamline Deco dazzler climbs 102 stories (1,454 ft.) and now harbors the offices of fashion firms, and, in its upper reaches, a jumble of high-tech broadcast equipment.

The Empire State Building is a 102-story contemporary Art Deco style skyscraper, declared by the American Society of Civil Engineers to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Always a conversation piece, the Empire State Building glows every night, bathed in colored floodlights to commemorate events of significance -- red, white, and blue for Independence Day; green for St. Patrick's Day; red, black, and green for Martin Luther King Day; blue and white for Hanukkah; even lavender and white for Gay Pride Day (you can find a complete lighting schedule online). The familiar silver spire can be seen from all over the city.

The best views, and what keeps the nearly three million visitors coming every year, are the ones from the 86th- and 102nd-floor observatories. The lower one is best -- you can walk out on a windy deck and look through coin-operated viewers (bring quarters!) over what, on a clear day, can be as much as an 80-mile visible radius. The citywide panorama is magnificent. One surprise is the flurry of rooftop activity, an aspect of city life that thrives unnoticed from our everyday sidewalk vantage point. The higher observation deck is glass-enclosed and cramped.

Light fog can create an admirably moody effect, but it goes without saying that a clear day is best. Dusk brings the most remarkable views and the biggest crowds. Consider going in the morning, when the light is still low on the horizon, keeping glare to a minimum. Starry nights are pure magic.

In your haste to go up, don't rush through the three-story-high marble lobby without pausing to admire its features, which include a wonderful Streamline mural.

Empire State Building Ticket Buying -- Lines can be horrible at the concourse-level ticket booth, so be prepared to wait -- or consider purchasing advance tickets online using a credit card at www.esbnyc.com. You'll pay slightly more -- tickets were priced $2 higher on the website at press time -- but it's well worth it, especially if you're visiting during busy seasons, when the line can be shockingly long. You're not required to choose a time or date for your tickets in advance; they can be used on any regular open day. However, order them well before you leave home, because only regular mail is free. Expect them to take 7 to 10 days to reach you (longer if you live outside of the U.S.). Overnight delivery adds $15 to your total order. With tickets in hand, you're allowed to proceed directly to the second floor -- past everyone who didn't plan as well as you did!

Now you can call in advance to get an estimate of your wait in line along with the visibility from the observatory. Dial tel. 877/692-8439 for the service.

Remember: Advance purchase of a CityPass will get you admission to the Empire State Building plus five other attractions.

Woolworth Building - New York City - Architectural Highlights

This soaring "Cathedral of Commerce" cost Frank W. Woolworth $14 million worth of nickels and dimes in 1913. Designed by Cass Gilbert, it was the world's tallest edifice until 1930, when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building. At its opening, Pres. Woodrow Wilson pressed a button from the White House that illuminated the building's 80,000 electric light bulbs. The neo-Gothic architecture is rife with spires, gargoyles, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, 16th-century-style stone-as-lace traceries, castle-like turrets, and a churchlike interior. Housing financial institutions and high-tech companies, the grand tower is still dedicated to the almighty dollar.

Step into the lofty marble entrance arcade to view the gleaming mosaic Byzantine-style ceiling and gold-leafed neo-Gothic cornices. The corbels (carved figures under the crossbeams) in the lobby include whimsical portraits of the building's engineer Gunvald Aus measuring a girder (above the staircase to the left of the main door), Gilbert holding a model of the building, and Woolworth counting coins (both above the left-hand corridor of elevators). Stand near the security guard's podium and crane your neck for a glimpse at Paul Jennewein's murals Commerce and Labor, half hidden up on the mezzanine. Cross Broadway for the best overview of the exterior.

United Nations - New York City - Architectural Highlights

In the midst of New York City is this working monument to world peace. The U.N. headquarters occupies 18 acres of international territory -- neither the city nor the United States has jurisdiction here -- along the East River from 42nd to 48th streets. Designed by an international team of architects (led by American Wallace K. Harrison and including Le Corbusier) and finished in 1952, the complex along the East River weds the 39-story glass slab Secretariat with the free-form General Assembly on beautifully landscaped grounds donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. One hundred eighty nations use the facilities to arbitrate worldwide disputes.

Guided tours leave every half-hour or so and last 45 minutes to an hour. Your guide will take you to the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council Chamber and introduce the history and activities of the United Nations and its related organizations. Along the tour you'll see donated objects and artwork, including charred artifacts that survived the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stained-glass windows by Chagall, a replica of the first Sputnik, and a colorful mosaic called The Golden Rule, based on a Norman Rockwell drawing, which was a gift from the United States in 1985.

If you take the time to wander the beautifully landscaped grounds, you'll be rewarded with lovely views and some surprises. The mammoth monument Good Defeats Evil, donated by the Soviet Union in 1990, fashioned a contemporary St. George slaying a dragon from parts of a Russian ballistic missile and an American Pershing missile.

For an unusual treat, try a multiethnic meal while visiting the U.N. at the Delegates' Dining Room (tel. 212/963-7625).

New York Public Library - New York City - Architectural Highlights

The New York Public Library, adjacent to Bryant Park and designed by Carrère & Hastings (1911), is one of the country's finest examples of Beaux Arts architecture, a majestic structure of white Vermont marble with Corinthian columns and allegorical statues. Before climbing the broad flight of steps to the Fifth Avenue entrance, note the famous lion sculptures -- Fortitude on the right, and Patience on the left -- so dubbed by whip-smart former mayor Fiorello La Guardia. At Christmastime they don natty wreaths to keep warm.

This library is actually the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, only one of the research libraries in the New York Public Library system. The interior is one of the finest in the city and features Astor Hall, with high arched marble ceilings and grand staircases. Thanks to restoration and modernization, the stupendous Main Reading Rooms have been returned to their stately glory and moved into the computer age (goodbye, card catalogs!). After a $5-million restoration, what was once known only as Room 117, a Beaux Arts masterpiece with incredible views of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is now known as the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. Here you will find possibly the finest and most extensive collection of maps in the world.

Even if you don't stop in to peruse the periodicals, you may want to check out one of the excellent rotating exhibitions. Call or check the website to see what's on while you're in town. There's also a full calendar of lecture programs, with past speakers ranging from Tom Stoppard to Cokie Roberts; popular speakers often sell out, so it's a good idea to purchase tickets in advance.

Grand Central Terminal - New York City - Architectural Highlights

Even if you're not catching one of the subway lines or Metro-North commuter trains that rumble through Grand Central Terminal, come for a visit; it's one of the most magnificent public places in the country. And even if you arrive and leave by subway, be sure to exit the station, walking a couple of blocks south, to about 40th Street, before you turn around to admire Jules-Alexis Coutan's neoclassical sculpture Transportation hovering over the south entrance, with a majestic Mercury, the Roman god of commerce and travel, as its central figure.

The greatest visual impact comes when you enter the vast majestic main concourse. The high windows allow sunlight to penetrate the space, glinting off the half-acre Tennessee marble floor. The brass clock over the central kiosk gleams, as do the gold- and nickel-plated chandeliers piercing the side archways. The masterful sky ceiling, a brilliant greenish blue, depicts the constellations of the winter sky above New York. They're lit with 59 stars, surrounded by dazzling 24-carat gold and emitting light fed through fiber-optic cables, their intensities roughly replicating the magnitude of the actual stars as seen from Earth. Look carefully and you'll see a patch near one corner left unrestored as a reminder of the neglect once visited on this splendid overhead masterpiece. On the east end of the main concourse is a grand marble staircase.

This dramatic Beaux Arts splendor serves as a hub of social activity as well. Excellent-quality retail shops and restaurants have taken over the mezzanine and lower levels. The highlights of the west mezzanine are Michael Jordan's-The Steak House, a gorgeous Art Deco space that allows you to dine within view of the sky ceiling as well as the gorgeously restored Campbell Apartment, which serves cocktails. Off the main concourse at street level, there's a nice mix of specialty shops and national retailers, as well as the truly grand Grand Central Market for gourmet foods. The New York Transit Museum Store, in the shuttle passage, houses city transit-related exhibitions and a terrific gift shop that's worth a look for transit buffs. The lower dining concourse houses a stellar food court and the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant.

The Municipal Art Society (tel. 212/935-3960; www.mas.org) offers a walking tour of Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday at 12:30pm, which meets at the information booth on the Grand Concourse (for a $10 "suggested donation").

Flatiron Building - New York City - Architectural Highlights

This triangular masterpiece was one of the first skyscrapers. Its wedge shape is the only way the building could fill the triangular property created by the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, and that happy coincidence created one of the city's most distinctive buildings. Built in 1902 and fronted with limestone and terra cotta (not iron), the Flatiron measures only 6 feet across at its narrow end. So called for its resemblance to the laundry appliance, it was originally named the Fuller Building, then later "Burnham's Folly" because folks were certain that architect Daniel Burnham's 21-story structure would fall down. It didn't. There's no observation deck, and the building mainly houses publishing offices, but there are a few shops on the ground floor. The building's existence has served to name the neighborhood around it -- the Flatiron District, home to a bevy of smart restaurants and shops.

Chrysler Building - New York City - Architectural Highlights

Built as Chrysler Corporation headquarters in 1930 (they moved out decades ago), this is perhaps the 20th century's most romantic architectural achievement, especially at night when the lights in its triangular openings play off its steely crown. As you admire its facade, be sure to note the gargoyles reaching out from the upper floors, looking for all the world like streamline-Gothic hood ornaments.

There's a fascinating tale behind this building. While it was under construction, its architect, William Van Alen, hid his final plans for the spire that now tops it. Working at a furious pace in the last days of construction, the workers assembled in secrecy the elegant pointy top -- and then they raised it right through what people had assumed was going to be the roof, and for a brief moment it was the world's tallest building (a distinction stolen by the Empire State Building a few months later). Its exterior chrome sculptures are magnificent and spooky. The observation deck closed long ago, but you can visit its lavish ground-floor interior, which is Art Deco to the max. The ceiling mural depicting airplanes and other marvels of the first decades of the 20th century evince the bright promise of technology. The elevators are works of art, masterfully covered in exotic woods (especially note the lotus-shaped marquetry on the doors).

Friday, April 4, 2008

Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria - New York City - Museums

This Midtown branch of the Whitney Museum of American Art features an airy sculpture court and a petite gallery that hosts changing exhibits, usually the works of living contemporary artists. Well worth peeking into if you happen to be in the neighborhood. Free gallery talks are offered Wednesday and Friday at 1pm.

Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria

Whitney Museum of American Art - New York City - Museums

What is arguably the finest collection of 20th-century American art in the world belongs to the Whitney thanks to the efforts of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. A sculptor herself, Whitney organized exhibitions by American artists shunned by traditional academies, assembled a sizable personal collection, and founded the museum in 1930 in Greenwich Village.

Today's museum is an imposing presence on Madison Avenue -- an inverted three-tiered pyramid of concrete and gray granite with seven seemingly random windows designed by Marcel Breuer, a leader of the Bauhaus movement. The permanent collection consists of an intelligent selection of major works by Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Georgia O'Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and other significant artists. A second-floor space is devoted exclusively to works from its permanent collection from 1900 to 1950, while the rest is dedicated to rotating exhibits.

Shows are usually well-curated and more edgy than what you'd see at MoMA or the Guggenheim (though not as left-of-mainstream as what you'll find at the New Museum). Topics range from topical surveys, such as "American Art in the Age of Technology" and "The Warhol Look: Glamour Style Fashion" to in-depth retrospectives of famous or lesser-known movements (such as Fluxus, the movement that spawned Yoko Ono, among others) and artists (Mark Rothko, Keith Haring, Duane Hanson, Bob Thompson). Free gallery tours are offered daily, and music, screenings, and lectures fill the calendar. The Whitney is also notable for having the best museum restaurant in town: Sarabeth's at the Whitney, worth a visit in its own right.

The Jewish Museum - New York City - Museums

Housed in a Gothic-style mansion renovated in 1993 by AIA Gold Medal winner Kevin Roche, this wonderful museum now has the world-class space it deserves to showcase its remarkable collections, which chronicle 4,000 years of Jewish history. The two-floor permanent exhibit, "Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey," tells the story of the Jewish experience from ancient times through today, and is the museum's centerpiece. Artifacts include daily objects that might have served the authors of the books of Genesis, Psalms, and Job, and a great assemblage of intricate torahs. A wonderful collection of classic TV and radio programs is available for viewing through the Goodkind Resource Center (as any fan of television's golden age knows, its finest comic moments were Jewish comedy). The scope of the exhibit is phenomenal, and its story an enlightening -- and intense -- one. A random-access audio guide is geared to families (free with admission). In addition to the in-house shop, don't miss the Jewish Museum Design Shop, housed in the adjacent brownstone.

The Frick Collection - New York City - Museums

Henry Clay Frick could afford to be an avid collector of European art after amassing a fortune as a pioneer in the coke and steel industries at the turn of the 20th century. To house his treasures and himself, he hired architects Carrère & Hastings to build this 18th-century French-style mansion (1914), one of the most beautiful remaining on Fifth Avenue.

Most appealing about the Frick is its intimate size and setting. This is a living testament to New York's vanished Gilded Age -- the interior still feels like a private home (albeit a really, really rich guy's home) graced with beautiful paintings, rather than a museum. Come here to see the classics by some of the world's most famous painters: Titian, Bellini, Rembrandt, Turner, Vermeer, El Greco, and Goya, to name only a few. A highlight of the collection is the Fragonard Room, graced with the sensual rococo series "The Progress of Love." The portrait of Montesquieu by Whistler is also stunning. Included in the price of admission, the AcousticGuide audio tour is particularly useful because it allows you to follow your own path rather than a proscribed route. A free 22-minute video presentation is screened in the Music Room every half-hour from 10am to 4:30pm (from 1:30 on Sun); starting with this helps to set the tone for what you'll see.

In addition, free chamber music concerts are held twice a month, generally every other Sunday at 5pm in fall and winter and select Thursdays at 5:45pm in warm weather, and once-a-month lectures are offered select Wednesdays at 5:30pm; call or visit the website for the current schedule and ticket information.