My [Slightly] Off-the-Beaten Path Guide to NYC – Vol. 2

CSIS NYC guideLet’s talk museums….you could literally visit a new museum everyday for probably a month in New York. There are big names, like the Met and MOMA, and smaller obscure museums like the Elevator Museum (yes, it’s a thing).

Here are my two favorites! I only picked two because there is SO much to do in New York that spending all your time in museums is a shame. One is a well-known, household name and the other is lesser known, but quite the gem.

American Museum of Natural History (Cost: Suggested ticket price is $22)

Normally, I tend to shy away from big touristy stops when I’m on vacation, but the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is worth dealing battling the crowds (pro tip: avoid weekends). No matter what the interests of your group or family, AMNH has something interesting for everyone. For the animal lovers, they have halls and halls full of dioramas of animals from all over the world. They even have some pretty impressive dinosaur fossils if you’re more into the prehistoric side of nature.

amnh dinosaurSelfies with dinos are obligatory.

If animals aren’t really your thing, the museum also houses a planetarium and artifacts from countless different Native American, Polynesian, and African cultures. Since AMNH is huge, they also run tours all day of both the museum and specific halls. I do actually really enjoy a guided tour of a museum or hall–I always find you get information you’d never otherwise know just walking through, even if it’s just fun stories about how an exhibit came together. AMNH also puts together great special exhibits. Even though they do cost an extra admission fee, it gives you a chance to see and learn something new and different! We attended the recent exhibit on natural disasters, which has many interactive stations. I learned quite a bit! If you haven’t been, I highly recommend! It’s perfect for a rainy day.

amnh elephants

The Frick Collection (Admission: $20)

If The Frick Collection were located in any other city, I think it would get so much more buzz than it does in NYC. It is unfortunately overshadowed by the bigger name art museums, like MOMA and Guggenheim. The Frick Collection is a smaller art museum located in the Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side, which in and of itself is gorgeous enough to warrant a visit. Henry Frick amassed an impressive collection of art in his home, which was then converted to a public museum in the 1930s after his widow died. Inside, you will find art by Rembrandt, Renoir, and The Greco, just to name a few, inside rooms whose decor is spectacular. You’ll also find rotating special exhibits. Admission includes an audio guide, available in many different languages. I love that they allow you to learn about the art as you go through the rooms at your own pace. If you’d like a more guided live tour, they also offer docent talks in the afternoons. This museum is a perfect break from the hustle of the city. If the price is too far out of your range, you can attend for free on Sundays from 11-1 pm, but as always with free museum times, expect more crowds.


Also, here is a link that I’ve found handy in the past for a guide to free museum times. You can use this to get in free or to avoid times when these museums will definitely be more crowded 🙂

 What are your favorite museums in New York?

NYC Tourist Guide Part 1 – [slightly] off the beaten path

CSIS NYC guideMaybe you’ve been to New York a few times before and seen all the big sights…or maybe you just don’t like doing “touristy” things all the time and like to see something a little different. If so, these guide is for you!

I lived in New York for quite some time before moving to Iowa (where yes, I literally live across from a corn field), so when we plan a trip back to the city, our itinerary looks a little different from perhaps, a first timer’s. There are many, many great tourist traps attractions in New York–unfortunately, they can be super crowded, overpriced, and [highly] overrated (I’m looking at you, Times Square!). This guide is my tips and tricks to make the most of your NYC vacation! This first post includes my tips regarding accommodations, transportation, and events that require planning ahead.

CSIS GantryThere is life on the Queens side of the bridge! View from near our hotel


You can basically spend as little or as much as you want on accommodations in New York. Personally, I’d rather spend my money buying clothes having fun than on the place I only sleep. By no means am I staying at seedy Super 8, but I do have some tips.

  1. Stay outside of Manhattan: we stayed in Long Island City, which is a neighborhood literally right over the bridge from Manhattan. We were only one subway stop away from Manhattan in a 3 star hotel for about $125/night (if you’re specifically wondering where, we stayed here). I guarantee if our hotel were in Manhattan, it would cost twice as much. Try hotels in neighborhoods like Long Island City, Greenpoint, Astoria, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, or Park Slope.
  2. This goes for anywhere you travel, but and are your friends. You can get great “instant deals” on priceline and hipmunk lets you see B&Bs in the area, plus Airbnb properties as well.
  3. If you can, be flexible with travel dates. Hotels will always be more expensive around big events (early November, during the NYC Marathon–expect to pay more) and on weekends.


Subway, subway, subway. There is no more efficient public transit than New York. If you are uncomfortable or unsure of yourself, you should avoid the mayhem that is rush hour. There are many, many apps that can help you get point-to-point directions using the NYC Transit, but my favorite is Citymapper (and it’s free!). You can get an Unlimited Ride card for 1, 3, or 7 days–you’ll probably be schlepping around enough to make this your most sensible option.

You should also plan on walking a lot–miles per day. Bring comfy (but cute!) shoes. You wouldn’t bring your heels for a day of walking around DisneyWorld, right? Same thing–except you’ll be walking more. I would also bring a small cross-body bag, because schlepping around a heavy tote all day is no fun either!

CSIS DUMBOView from the AIANY Architecture Boat Tour

Planning Ahead

There are tons of things to do in New York that you can just walk right in and do, but there are many things you need to plan in advance as well.

  • Show Tapings –if you want to see Jimmy Fallon, for example, you are going to need to look into that about 2 months ahead of time. Ticket releases are announced via Twitter for this show. Whatever it is you’re interested in seeing, look it up WAY earlier than you probably think you need to. Better safe than sorry.
  • Comedy Shows–The ever popular Upright Citizens Brigade’s Improv Shows often sell out a week or so in advance. UCB Stand-up shows are easy to get tickets for, however.
  • Broadway Shows–I actually don’t recommend shows for everyone–it’s an expensive event ($70+ per ticket) and you’re not really into it, I don’t think it’s worth it. That being said, my hubs and I do enjoy theater quite a bit–we saw Finding Neverland and I highly recommend it.
  • Certain Tours–Some tours sell out ahead of time, so it’s worth looking into tours if that’s something you’re into. I recommend the AIANY Architecture Boat Tour and the NBC Tour (returns later this year!).
  • Sporting Events–you can get last minute tickets to baseball games, but you’ll have better seat selection if you look at least a couple weeks ahead of time. On a side note, baseball games are actually one of the more affordable activities you can do! Personally, I am partial to the Yankees!

CSIS yankees

I hope these tips are helpful! Visiting NYC, especially the first time, can be overwhelming  if you don’t have any guidance. I am hoping to make NYC a little more accessible and affordable with these guides 🙂