All of my Christmas dreams came true this past year; New York City (NYC) fulfilled every Christmas wish I had as a little girl (I mentioned our trip here too). Well, it did not actually snow on Christmas Day but I was eventually fine without it. The city looked and felt magical…as if I was in a Christmas Wonderland! During our entire stay, I would try to imagine the creator and genius for the Fifth Avenue window displays, or the team of architects for the Empire State Building, or the mastermind for the biggest store in the world. Inspiration ran through my veins and ideas were racing through my mind. At that point, I wanted to learn how to sow so that I could finally wear what I envision in my head sometimes. Maybe in the future I will dedicate time to that vision. The point is, NYC is overall an admirable city. For every tall or gentrified building, extravagant fashion show, dreamy holiday window display, eclectic coffee shop or bar, fresh eatery, or famous bridge, is a hardworking, do-er, hustler, fearless dreamer behind it. It was the perfect time to visit the city, just in time before ringing in the new year.
This is not your typical blog post. Since it is my very first travel guide, I had a hard time deciding on layout, format, etc. And while all of those details matter to me, I knew the longer I waited, the chances of sharing this information would decrease. If only you knew how many times I have created content only to never upload it or hit ‘publish’ because I was paralyzed by the imperfections. I figured the best (or natural) way to discuss details, tips, etc. was to share our day-to-day trip activities.
Side note: Each day begins with all the details followed by peaks and lessons. Hope you enjoy!
Saturday, December 22nd:
We landed at 7p (LaGuardia Airport). After picking up our luggage, we headed straight to our hotel (Courtyard by Marriott) via Uber. The hotel staff did not have our double bedroom ready, instead, they accommodated us into two different rooms with king size beds. This may have had something to do with us arriving a little too late but I was not mad about it (I secretly hoped we stayed in two different rooms because the personal space was nice). Surprisingly, the king size rooms were spacious with immaculate views of the Empire State Building. The private bathroom was big enough for ten people!!! Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the point. Also, this hotel was walking distance to everything so that was a huge plus!
After checking in, we had 15 minutes to get ready because we had 8:30p reservations at Monarch Rooftop (located on the 18th floor of our building). We had just enough time for a quick bite. A little after 9p, my sister and I headed out to watch the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The show was MAGICAL. We were blessed with amazing seats, in the orchestra section, and right in the middle. It started a little after 10p and lasted about 90 minutes (with no intermission). It set the mood for the rest of the trip.
Afterwards, we met Jose and Ana (Jose’s sister) at Times Square. We walked around for a while and absorbed the chaos. It was just before midnight that everyone decided it was a good idea for a late dinner. Unfortunately, after various attempts, we ended up at McDonalds. Out of ALL NYC PLACES!!! I was little frustrated then but currently laughing out loud! I am going to let you in on something, I have not had a McD’s meal in over ten years. Yes, I’ve had their fries and coffee, but that’s it. I was pretty hungry so I settled for a chicken sandwich. Everyone was a little feisty towards the end of the night, LOL! We were hangry, tired, and freezing, and had no place to sit inside the restaurant for the first 15 minutes after getting our food. I think Jose ate most of his food standing up! You can bet we called it a night.
- Christmas Spectacular: It is more affordable to watch it in November. However, if you decide to go in December, catch the last show for budget-friendly tickets. We paid $140 each. We arrived about five minutes before showtime (10p) but it actually began a little late. To my surprise, people were still allowed to enter even after the show began. For more tips, click here.
- Times Square: Although this was my second time visiting Times Square, it still felt like the first time! It was shiny and bright – full of life! I highly recommend staying near Times Square for a first full-blown city experience. There is a lot to see, eat, and shop for!
- Monarch Rooftop: This place had amazing views of the Empire State Building. The food and drinks were pricey and customer service was okay. If you can, just go to soak in an amazing view and capture awesome photos. Also, if you love interior design, this place was so much fun to look at. The couches and lounge chairs were unreal. Apparently, this place stays popping until 4a. We did not party in that manner, but hey, maybe next time.
- McDonald’s Excursion: By all means, I was sincerely grateful for a warm meal, the real lowlight was poor planning. I tried my best to plan our first
daynight. We arrived pretty late so I knew we would have a tight schedule. One of the things I enjoy about traveling is not being on a schedule. My life depends on alarms, reminders, and my planner, so it is nice to unwind during vacation. And even though I had a list of restaurants opened late, I did not anticipate long wait times.
- Wrong directions: I believe getting lost is the best way to discover true gems during a vacation, unless you have somewhere to be. My sister and I left the rooftop lounge 45 minutes before the Christmas Spectacular show was scheduled to begin. I was confident we would arrive in 20 minutes by foot. After all, it was down the street from our hotel. Not too bad for a girl who was wearing booties with heels, right? WRONG. We walked about 20 minutes the opposite way. I was devastated. I felt bad for my sister because she too was wearing booties with heels. Guys, I promise I am getting better with directions. Good thing we still made it on time and didn’t miss the show!
Sunday, December 23rd:
We crossed off many “to-do’s” from our list on this day. But first, we packed our stuff because the hotel had a double bedroom ready for us! Everyone was ready to go by 9:30a. We stopped by Juice Press (on the 8th floor) inside the Macy’s store for a quick fix. The walk was super short because we stayed across the street from it. Just in case you are not aware, this is THE largest store in the world! Madness lives inside of it, especially during Christmastime. It was easy to find the juice place, we went up the elevator, and it was there. I think if you enjoy natural juices, you’ll like it.
Afterwards, we walked to the Empire State Building. Call it luck, a miracle, or a blessing, but all of the lines to get in were a complete bliss!!! Let me tell you something, deep down inside, I dreaded going. I was dreading the idea of waiting for hours, but thankfully, it did not turn out to be the case. In fact, I took precise notes of our wait time in each line to prove my point. In the first line (before security), we waited approximately 20 minutes. Once we passed through security, we scanned our tickets and waited in another line where a picture with a backdrop was taken. This second line lasted about five minutes. We proceeded to get in a third line, this time to go up to the 80th floor. Things moved pretty fast at this point, before I knew it, we were on an elevator on our way to the 80th floor. We spent about 15 minutes or so on the 80th floor before we decided to take 10,000 flights of stairs to the 86th floor. Okay, maybe it was about 30 flights, it felt like forever! We spent about 45 minutes on the 86th floor, immersing ourselves in the beauty surrounding us. We took photos…and then took some more photos. I can only imagine the view from the 102nd floor! The line to go back down to the 80th floor went by pretty fast, the staff was super organized! Once we were back on the 80th floor, we did not have an option but to walk through a souvenir store (or maybe there was one but we missed it). Anyway, I ended up buying an adorable Christmas ornament for our tree!
For lunch, we decided to go to Little Italy. We first went to Pepe Rosso (it had good reviews) but were disappointed in their customer service so we left. Not even a hello (*Adele voice*) or a goodbye. After a quick google search, we decided to try The Original Benito One, and HOLY PASTA, it was delicious!!! I love how things work out sometimes!!! Customer service was exceptional and the co-owner was as sweet as can be. It was a little crammed (for a girl from TX), but hey, that’s life in the city!
After lunch, we walked over to Caffe Roma for coffee and fresh cannoli. This place only accepts cash but worth checking out. There are many quaint places to choose from for fresh coffee and cannoli.
After fueling our exhausted bodies with caffeine, we continued roaming through Little Italy. We walked for a very long time before reaching the Brooklyn Bridge. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of eager people visiting the bridge. I do not recommend biking across the bridge around this time of year, unless you do not mind going at 2 MPH and honking/yelling at people to get out of the biking lane. It was pure chaos. I definitely enjoyed biking across the bridge three years ago in September whenever it was less crowded.
Once we left the bridge, we walked to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center, and The Oculus structure. All amazing sights to see at least once! We did not enter the museum. I’ve gone once and my heart couldn’t handle it.
By this time, we (the girls) felt our feet were about to fall off so we went back to the hotel for a little break. Three glasses of Pinot Grigio later and we were ready to explore again! We went to the Meatpacking District for late night cocktails and then back to Times Square to try Joe’s Pizza! It was delicious! This location stays busy but the line and wait time was not too shabby at 11p. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to wait and see if the snow would pull through…it never did.
- Empire State Building: You have to go at least once. We paid $40 each, which only allowed us to access the 86th floor (for a higher price, you can go up to the 102nd floor). As I mentioned above, the lines moved pretty quickly and the incredible views were worth every dollar.
- The Original Benito One: No one, I repeat no one, had one bad thing to say about this Italian restaurant. The service was great, the food tasted delicious, and the environment was inviting and cozy.
- Brooklyn Bridge: Aside from the massive crowds, it was worth catching the sunset. If you decide to go when it’s warmer, I strongly encourage you to rent a bike nearby, and ride across the bridge.
- 9/11 Memorial: Even though it makes me incredibly sad to think about this tragic day, I thought it was important to go again so Jose and his sister could see the pools marking where the Twin Towers once stood. It was a real treat being there during nighttime.
- Comfortable shoes: By all means, if you want to look your best, go for it! There are plenty of stores to shop from in case you get tired and want to purchase a different type of shoe.
- Crowds: This is more of a reminder, expect packed streets in and around the tourist attractions. Most people did not have mercy on others simply because they had a stroller or small children. Hats off to those who were pushing those strollers through the fierce crowds!
Monday, December 24th:
Christmas Eve was another day full of adventure and wander. We went to Pax Wholesome Foods for a quick breakfast bite. We were shocked at the prices and quality of the food!!! Highly recommend this place if you are balling on a budget and time. There was even a table waiting for us so we didn’t have to eat standing up, LOL! Afterwards, we walked to the Wollman Rink in Central Park. We decided to go to this rink instead of The Rink at Rockefeller Center because we were told by a few people the rink at Rockefeller wasn’t as enjoyable due to massive crowds and melting ice. And guess what? I LOVED every second of it! The skates were not comfortable, but after a while, I got used to them.
If you love the movie Home Alone as much as I do, then you will probably also have the urge to find actual locations from scenes of the movie, and I did! We found the spot where Kevin meets with The Pigeon Lady to thank her for saving him from the bandits. We wandered through Central Park until we found ourselves in front of The Plaza Hotel. I was pretty bummed we couldn’t go in.
We couldn’t leave the area without admiring the Fifth Avenue Christmas window displays first. Feeling lack of inspiration? Go and check them out! I was blown away by the creativity and intricate details. Next, we entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral and spent a few minutes inside of it. It was nice to see a lot of people visiting it. Time did not allow us to walk through the entire Cathedral so I plan on going again sometime in the future.
Afterwards, we walked to the Rockefeller Center to catch a glimpse of the giant (and famous) Christmas tree. We did not enter the area due to long lines but it was just as beautiful from the outside area.
Last but not least, we visited the Grand Central Terminal. I fell in love with their ceiling! I don’t know what it is with me and ceilings, but if you feel me on that one, then I recommend checking it out. This is another place I will have to visit in the future; there was so much to see!
Afterwards, we left to the hotel to get ready for our dinner reservations at Lincoln Square Steak. We contemplated where to make our Christmas Eve dinner reservations because we had many places to choose from. I am pleased to say we made the right choice of selecting Lincoln Square Steak! We walked in and were greeted by a friendly hostess and live music. The place was dimmed, creating an even more posh atmosphere. The beautifully decorated red walls set the mood for Christmas feels. I think it is the perfect place to celebrate special occasions. Everything was excellent – steak, wine, and dessert. We ended up staying for over four hours chatting and laughing our lives away; it was a special way to end the night.
- Pax Wholesome Foods: I wish we would’ve known about this place sooner. It exceeded my expectations for price, quality, speed, and service.
- Wollman Rink: This was the best time of my life! It costs more to go during the holidays but worth every dollar, ~$30 pp. The skyline was pretty sweet and it was not overly crowded.
- Lincoln Square Steak: I highly recommend this place if you are in the mood for delicious steak and posh vibes.
- Traffic: It was cray-cray! We chose Ubers over taxis, but looking back, I wish we would’ve rode in a taxi at least once for the experience. The lesson here is, do not get frustrated if an Uber driver decides to cancel your trip. Most likely, an inconvenience popped up and decided to pass on the trip to not delay your trip. This happened to us more than once.
Tuesday, December 25th:
Finally, a laid back day in the city. We took our time and did not feel the need to rush anywhere. It was lovely! We began Christmas Day by having brunch at Friedman’s – portions were large and delicious! I ended up having to take leftovers back to the hotel (yep, I like cold food). Next, we visited the New York Stock Exchange. We did not enter the building since the trading floor is closed to the public for security reasons. If you are into the stock market, you’ll probably enjoy strolling through this area the most. Afterwards, we headed towards the Charging Bull. I was amazed at the large crowd surrounding it! I had no idea it was so popular. The line was quite long so we decided to keep walking.
The first time I went to NYC, my sweet best friend gave me an awesome recommendation list. One of the recommendations was to hop on The Staten Island Ferry to enjoy a free ride across the harbor to catch an amazing glimpse of the NYC skyline and Statue of Liberty. It was so incredible that I knew we had to add this to our to-do list. But first, coffee. We grabbed our favorite holiday Starbucks latte before heading to the ferry station. Once we arrived to the station to depart, we did not have to wait very long before we boarded. The ride lasted about 25 minutes and was smooth sailing all the way through.
We did not explore Staten Island since we were committed to attending Christmas mass later that evening. After mass, we explored every part of the city that exclaimed “Merry Christmas!!!” We ended the night by watching a favorite childhood movie – The Lion King.
- New York Stock Exchange: As mentioned above, if you are into the stock market, I think you will find this sightseeing experience rewarding. The reviews for this place are mixed. I was laughing at one that said, “Not much to see…run along and get a slice of pizza.” And then you have those in tune with the stock market and say, “Exciting place if you are aware of Wall Street.” You decide.
- The Staten Island Ferry: It does not cost a thing so why not? Go and ride across the harbor. I promise you will not regret this experience. The skyline views are incredible and you will catch a pretty good glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Christmas mass was beautiful. If you have the opportunity to attend mass, go for it! Just try to sit towards the front because tourists are coming in and out so it can be a little hard to concentrate.
- Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show: For the past 94 years, Saks has transformed their flagship store into a light show extravaganza. This past year’s theme was Theater Of Dreams, which paid tribute to one of NYC’s iconic treasures – broadway. As packed as the streets were, I am glad we watched the show! It was a beautiful sight to see.
- Rockefeller Center: Christmas Day would not have been Christmas Day without going to the Rockefeller Center. Streets were insanely packed but what’s new? This comes with the territory of visiting during the holidays!
Wednesday, December 26th:
After checking out of the hotel, we walked straight to Chelsea Market located in the Meatpacking District. A couple of days before, we spotted what looked like a legit Mexican restaurant. But not just any Mexican restaurant, a Mexican seafood restaurant called Los Mariscos. We imagined every delicious dish possible, and if there was even a slight chance this place would live up to our imaginations, we knew we had to check it out before leaving the East Coast. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into before stepping foot into this place. They served everything we imagined and beyond – tostadas de ceviche, aguachiles, fish tacos on homemade corn tortillas, and micheladas! Too bad we stuffed our faces because we quickly discovered Chelsea Market was the holy grail for food! The longest line for food we witnessed was the one for Los Tacos! Unfortunately, we had to pass since we were practically waddling from full bellies.
We wandered through a few of the shops and ended up on The High Line. This place was known to be a freight rail line to deliver meat to the Meatpacking District back in the day. It is now a public park that runs 1.45mi long on an elevated rail structure. You can learn more about the park here. I can see myself visiting it again during the warmer months.
Last but definitely not least, our last stop in the city was the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Sounds fancy, huh? Well, it is. If you have never heard of such place before, do not worry, I was on the same boat as you. This is why I am here…to share my experiences and spread the good news! First of all, I had no idea what to expect when I first saw the place. I just knew I wanted to grab a cup of coffee. Second, I had no idea how special this place was, there are only four locations in the world! It was literally a club for coffee lovers. I was fascinated by every inch of this work of art.
- Chelsea Market: Did you know the Oreo cookie was born here? Yep, this used to be the National Biscuit Company, today known as Nabisco. Please do yourself a favor and visit, especially if you love to eat, drink and shop. With over 45 restaurants and retailers, it’ll be easy to find something you love and adore.
- Los Mariscos: If you appreciate authentic Mexican seafood then this is the place for you! I had a fish taco and aguachiles – both to die for! We arrived as soon as they opened and it was probably the best choice we made because the place filled up pretty quickly!
- Dickson’s Farmstand Meats: You must eat something, anything from here! I love the fact every single piece of meat is sourced responsibly. I felt comfortable eating their house-made hot dog (I didn’t have the courage to eat NYC street food).
- Starbucks Reserve Roastery: So glad I convinced the crew to come here! We were so fascinated by every aspect that we probably spent over an hour browsing the space. Did you know two more locations are scheduled to open, one in Tokyo and the other in Chicago?!? I’ve already made it a personal goal to visit all locations at some point in my life: Seattle, Shanghai, Milano, and the two mentioned above.
This wraps up the long-awaited NYC guide! I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions about anything mentioned here, please feel free to reach out. Also, if you wish to visit the city during the holidays, then I really hope you are able to go. It truly is a magical city.