Musings + Essays

Our New York City Bucket List.

By: Jen Shoop

Mr. Magpie and I had the advantage of several months of lead time before our move to D.C. I have never experienced a move like this before — normally, the onset of a new job dictates moving logistics, and they tend to be accordingly harried and slapdash. This go around, we were able to set the terms, which abstracted some of the stress from the situation and enabled us to luxuriate in New York’s attractions prior to our departure. For those dwelling in NY or arranging an upcoming trip, sharing a few of the items on our tick list over the last few months:

+Empire State Building. Had never been and, frankly, it was lovely to be able to take it in under COVID protocols. We purchased timed tickets ahead of time, breezed through the exhibits, and spent about ten minutes circling the observation deck. It wasn’t quite what I had anticipated — “Sleepless in Seattle” and “An Affair to Remember” misled me into thinking you could walk in, jump on a set of elevators, and emerge on the deck? Instead, you must meander through a lot of indoor curations like cattle. When we did get to the top, I was struck less by the majesty of the city and more by the feeling of alienation from a city I thought I knew. Central Park looked so strange from that vantage! Still, an interesting take on the city. Did anyone else feel a little “smeh” about the expereince?

+Bemelman’s Bar at The Carlyle. The ultimate New York spot for a glass of champagne and live piano music. The walls were hand-painted by Ludwig Bemelmans (famed illustrator of the Madeleine series) and it is such a fascinating people-watching spot. (When we went, we overheard some entrepreneurs being pitched by a venture capitalist — yes, you heard that correctly. The VC was trying to win over the entrepreneur! I was desperate to know what the entrepreneurs had done to secure such fawning and attention!) The bar reopened just in time after a long COVID closure. You can secure reservations online. If you go, get dolled up!

+Mets Game at Citi Field. We went on the hottest day of summer and my poor pregnant sister was absolutely baking. We took lots of breaks in the concessions area. I personally think there are more attractive stadiums (Wrigley! Camden Yards!), but I love how easy it is to get out there from the city. Just hop on the 7 and you’re there!

+Sailboats at Central Park Conservatory Water. We made a big day date with friends of ours to sail the model boats in Central Park only to find that they are permanently (or semi-permanently?) closed. Womp womp. Instead, we let the children climb all over the Alice and Wonderland statue close by and then wander around Sheep Meadow.

+Picnic on the Great Lawn. Sheep Meadow is probably the most densely-packed open area for picnics in Central Park, but we grew to prefer the Great Lawn, which is slightly quieter, though then you have to contend with errant balls from the baseball diamonds there. Both do not permit dogs, which was a relief given that my children often wanted to run around shoeless in the grass. The Great Lawn has a spectacular view of the cityscape and is surrounded by gorgeous trees that are unreal in spring and fall especially, but gorgeously lush in the summer, too. We enjoyed a final Father’s Day picnic there, bringing treats from Salumeria Rosi and a bottle of rose. To be honest, this one was a little more difficult to appreciate given that we spent large swathes of nearly every single day at the Great Lawn while in peak COVID quarantine last summer, so it lost its luster a bit for us, but approaching the picnic with intention and gratitude helped me step out of my zone and realize what a magical spot it is, right smack dab in the middle of Manhattan.

+MET Museum. You could spend days here and still have more to see. The Frick is probably my favorite art museum in the city (small and impressive collection — I especially love the Sargents they have!), but we didn’t make it back there. MET is iconic and I thought it would be more interesting for my children. (I was wrong — they were pretty bored. Haha.)

+NY Historical Society. We went for the exhibit on Katherine Graham (CEO of the Washington Post). I mainly like this museum because it was walkable to us and they have small, focused exhibits on super narrow / super niche subjects, though I was underwhelmed by the Graham curation. The first room was a lot of text on walls that could have been read online, and the second room presented outfits worn by celebrities and dignitaries to the famous Black and White ball, which was apparently thrown in Graham’s honor. It was a strange setup for the inaugural exhibit in a new wing of the NYHS dedicated to showcasing pioneering women. I felt as though the design was problematic — half of Graham’s exhibit was about a social ball and the outfits worn, which seemed ill at ease with the general thesis of the previous room (that Graham was a bold businesswoman) and the wing’s purpose in general. I also felt that the exhibit did not explore some of the more interesting themes worth contemplating, i.e., Graham’s father purchased the newspaper with no background in the journalism business and then Graham took over with a commensurate lack of experience in publishing, yet Graham was taken to task for her lack of know-how and her father was not. Such interesting gender dynamics there, and the entire subtext of privilege/inheritance, too. Anyway, there was so much meat on the bone but the exhibit did little to provoke or stimulate conversation. But I digress. I still feel this is an interesting venue for taking in small sips of information.

+92nd Street Y — The Y was still doing mainly online programming when we left so I wasn’t able to complete this one on my list, but I have several fantastic memories attending programs and readings here and urge you to check out their in-person offerings once things are back in full swing. I’ll never forget the night my sister and I went for an In Memoriam poetry reading after poet Mary Oliver passed away. The evening was lowkey — the auditorium was not even full! — but was emceed by Maria Shriver and Hillary Clinton unexpectedly stopped by to read one of Oliver’s poems, too. My sister and I were just sitting there, blinking, from two or three rows away. The most powerful moment of the evening, though, was when Oliver’s caregiver stood and received a standing ovation for her tender care for HRH Oliver in the final years of her life. So incredibly moving, and such a powerful reminder of all of the wonderful people that make our worlds go around with little praise or acknowledgement. I still get chills thinking about it! I think Oliver would have appreciated the moment — its fairness, its tender-heartedness, its dignity.

+Jane Carousel, DUMBO — Such a fun day for the little ones. The carousel looks out towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Afterwards, we had pizza and ice cream. There are tons of amazing restaurants (and a new “food hall” with fun/high-end eats) there.

+Well documented, but running around Jackie O. Probably my favorite pastime in the city!

+Despite my grumblings on this front, we did make it down to the turf-covered plaza in front of the Metropolitan Opera. Much to my surprise, the kids loved it. For 15 minutes. But, it was convenient to let them run around before brunch in the area.

+Camp Toy Store — This was a last-minute, last-week-in-NY impulse decision influenced by a girlfriend who had been there the day prior, but Camp just opened up a spectacular new toy store at Columbus Circle and you can buy tickets to avail yourself of their many art stations on the second floor. There are toys to paint, a splatter room, splatter art, tie-dye, etc, etc. My children loved the art stations but I think they loved the toy store itself even more — there’s a little “race track” where kids can test out toys with wheels, a disco room covered in sequins, a car parked in the middle of the store that children can climb into, press buttons, and loads of well-curated toys. They were in heaven! Such a fun activity for a rainy day. I think we could have spent a few hours there.

+Intrepid Museum — We had been once before but I took the children and they absolutely loved this permanently-harbored navy aircraft carrier. One of the floors of the museum is child-centric, and my children could climb into cockpits and space shuttles. They loved it! Strongly recommend, even though climbing up and down the narrow ladders of the boat itself were too difficult for a two and four year old. No worries, though — just checking out the planes on the top deck, the Commander space ship, and that child-centric floor were enough to keep us busy for a good long stretch.

+So, so many great meals out the last few months — highlights for me were aperitivi at Bar Pisellino, burgers from Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, donuts from WildAir (sandwiches are fantastic, but if you can get your hands on their sure-to-sell-out donuts, DO IT), and dinner at Contra (our farewell dinner, and it was so inventive, so memorable, and so NY! If you go, do not miss the soy and caviar dish. One of the most unusual and tasty dishes I’ve had in a long while!). We also ate at a lot of our favorite neighborhood joints (many of them detailed at the bottom of this post), and I especially enjoyed the delicious pork and chive dumplings and spicy beef noodle soup at Vanessa’s, which I think we ordered once a week for the last few months…

+Other activities we’d already completed within the last year that I would add to this list if you’ve not yet done them, all doable under COVID protocols: Storm King Art Center, lunch at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (so worth the trek and expense — absolutely one of my favorite meals we had in NY), Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo (Emory virtually lived there when she was an only child and we lived closer to it, but we made many excursions there with both children, too), High Line (very touristy/crowded pre-pandemic but not bad now, especially if you start your day at the Whitney Museum and then grab something to eat down there before walking up the high line with a coffee), Chelsea Market (there is a great seafood shop in there, The Lobster Place, which we bought most of our seafood from while living in NY, and a great butcher, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, where we bought most of our meat!), Eataly (just so fun, and we also did a lot of our shopping here), Madison Square Park (mini’s school was close to this park; there’s a great playground there, lots of green space to roam around, and a Shake Shack right in the park for a glass of wine / snack of fries), Natural History Museum, Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, and The Ramble (a forested area just north of the Pond — it feels like you are miles from Manhattan tucked away in there!).

I know I missed loads of amazing things to do in NYC, especially outside of Manhattan. Please chime in with recommendations!


+Adore the bodice and neckline on this perfect-for-a-wedding-guest dress.

+Going to be doing a utility-oriented post about lots of finds like this for our new home, but wanted to share this clever broom set-up: you buy the handle and can screw on tons of attachments. I’m strangely excited about the deck brush attachment, which I plan to use on our flagstone porch before we have company.

+Speaking of the new digs: currently itching to buy everything but biding my time and knowing that working slowly (and with the help of an interior designer in certain areas) will be the best strategy. Still, I have been angsty about getting the family room sorted. We are planning to buy a sectional and then I keep gravitating towards an upholstered ottoman as a coffee table. I think I’m crazy because I know it will get stained in a second, and you’ll need to use trays to keep items on top of it, but then again I just love the look…

+This dress looks supremely easy to wear on an everyday basis in the sweltering and humid D.C. area temps.

+Smocked blue floral — right up my alley.

+Such a whimsical little dress-up set for a little one.

+This pleated tennis skirt is just perfect. More great tennis and golf finds here.

+OO this striped Radziwill bag!!!

+Are you good at negotiating? The comments on this post are SO interesting.

+So many of us ordered this iPhone case — which color did you get? I snagged pink, but I used to have the white/gray.

+This Dagne Dover backpack is on sale!

+This $129 dress serves up major Reformation / Faithfull vibes. So pretty.

+This $93 dress also serves up major Ref vibes — adorable!

+Love the colors of these New Balance sneaks.

+Recent Amazon finds.

+My dream dress. I first saw this in a blue and white stripe and have not forgotten it. Just adore everything about it.

+Super pretty cardigan.

+Did a double take on this printed pink dress, which would work with a bump. Looks like something by Nicholas!

+Questions I answer (happily!) often.

+Into these sea-inspired finds.

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12 thoughts on “Our New York City Bucket List.

  1. Highly recommend an upholstered ottoman. We’ve had one in our family room for 12 years and it still looks great. It’s upholstered in a really durable leather which might work well for you. Looks better with age, spills clean right up, has held up to three kids and lots of abuse.

    1. Hi Melissa!

      Any memory of where you got it from (although, at 12 years old I completely understand if not!)? I think this is exactly what I need with a 1 year old 🙂

  2. Love this list! Haven’t been to nyc since my middle (now nearly 4) was 10 months! I think I need my youngest to be 3 maybe 4 to really see it all! My father actually served on the intrepid so that’s top of my list to visit so great to hear it’s kid friendly!

  3. Oooh bookmarking this list! I haven’t been to NYC for years now, and I feel overdue for a visit.

    I remember many years ago watching an opera at Central Park (Madame Butterfly) and having a picnic on the lawn. It was crowded, hot, and humid, but still a memorable evening!

    1. Wow — sounds magical!!! We also managed to squeeze in one of the free opera sessions in CP a few years ago and it was definitely a golden moment. Felt like magic!


  4. This is such a great list! I will be in New York for 3 days later this week and am so looking forward to it. It will always have a piece of my heart! I’m so glad you called out Wildair and Contra, as they’re two of my very favorite spots. A few years ago, I had the benefit of working for a company that was working closely with the chefs, and managed to have a few memorable meals at both spots. They’re special!

    Speaking of the Frick, have you visited the collection in its temporary home at the Breuer building on Madison? (Formerly Met Breuer, and before that the Whitney!) It was interesting to visit the works in that space, though for me, nothing will top its original space on 5th Ave.

    Also, my mom has been urging me for years to read Katharine Graham’s memoir, Personal History. I even picked up a copy at Politics & Prose on a trip to DC 5ish years ago, and now I seem to have misplaced it, ugh! What I know of her story is definitely fascinating, though, and I would love to make time to read it one day.

    Finally … that gingham seersucker Madewell dress is also on sale on their own site right now! I was eyeing it recently 🙂


    1. I’ve had that same memoir on my bookshelf for years too, but always pass over it for a newer, buzzier book of the moment. This is a great reminder to finally dive in!

    2. !! Thanks for the tip on the Madewell dress. It looks so loose and comfortable for hot days.

      I’m also intrigued by Graham — my dad is a huge fan of hers, and though I don’t think the exhibit did her justice, am intrigued to learn more. Maybe I’ll add that one to my list, too. I love memoir as a general proposition — its own kind of fiction!


    3. Ahh, I FULLY agree with what you said about memoirs being their own kind of fiction! I really love that genre for that exact reason.

      Speaking of memoirs, I just finished Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart and loved it SO much … the way she writes about food is so great, and even though our experiences have been quite different, I could identify with a lot of the elements of her relationship with her mom. It’s a great, great read and definitely lives up to the hype!


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