Nestled between Central Park and the Hudson River, the Upper West Side is a neighborhood teeming with history, culture, great food, and interesting landmarks. The Upper West Side represents many different cultures, and is the home to world-class museums and performance centers. Despite being primarily residential, the Upper West Side has plenty of unique stores and exquisite restaurants, providing a never-ending abundance of activities for both its residents and visitors.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The area that is now the Upper West Side was first settled by the Lenape Native Americans who took advantage of the neighborhood’s close proximity to the Hudson River and created several trading posts. However, after the Dutch took over New York, the land of Upper West Side was primarily used for the construction of private farms.
The neighborhood became known as the Bloomingdale District, and grew increasingly affluent during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Bloomingdale Road, which is now Broadway, served as the main artery connecting the Upper West Side to lower Manhattan.
In the 1860s and 1870s, both Central Park and Riverside Park were laid out and built. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Upper West Side was bustling with farms, villages, and trading posts along the Hudson.
In the early twentieth century, the first elevated subway line was extended to the Upper West Side, which made it much more easily accessible from lower Manhattan and transformed it into a very desirable neighborhood both residentially and commercially. After the First World War, the neighborhood’s real estate prices were extremely low, and immigrants moved in. During the course of the twentieth century, the white population of the Upper West Side grew immensely, and the neighborhood became the home of the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.
At the end of the twentieth century, real estate developer Donald Trump, who is also running in the presidential election of 2016, struck a deal with the city’s government to build up the southwestern portion of the Upper West Side with a series of skyscrapers, which further gentrified the neighborhood. Despite the development of many new skyscrapers, much of the Upper West Side’s history is still represented by buildings that date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
WHAT TO DO
The Upper West Side is home to some of the city’s most renowned museums. The American Museum of Natural History spans from 77th street to 81st street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. This vast building is home to some of the world’s biggest and oldest dinosaur fossils, and it features exhibits that range from prehistory to modern times. The New-York Historical Society is also located on 77th street and Central Park West, and it contains artifacts and paintings that mainly explore American History.
The Upper West Side is also home to Lincoln Center, which is where many incredible artistic performances take place, such as New York Philharmonic concerts, Alvin Ailey Dance Shows, and the Big Apple Circus, as well as the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet.
Aside from housing a plethora of word class cultural institutions, the Upper West Side also includes the famous Central Park, which is one of the most beautiful man-made parks in the world. Spanning all the way from 59th street to 110th street, this magnificent park houses a multitude of clear lakes, grassy fields, fun playgrounds, and long biking trails. Central Park is perfect for relaxing in the sun, playing recreational sports with friends, or taking delightful nature hikes on the various trails throughout the park.
On weekends, the Upper West Side also hosts a handful of flea markets. The Flea Market at Lincoln Center takes place every Saturday from early afternoon until evening, and it is located at 66th street and Broadway. These outdoor stores sell a variety of interesting food products such as duck jerky, maple cotton candy, and applesauce doughnuts, all of which are both unique and delicious.
Another great outdoor shopping area is the GreenMarket on Sundays that spans from 76th street to 81st street on Columbus Avenue. These tents feature mostly clothing and jewelry, but some vendors sell unique items such as rugs and antiques. In the summer, the Upper West Side also has a ton of Street Fairs on Broadway that feature food from all over the world, such as Italian sausages, Middle Eastern shish kebabs, and Spanish arepas.
WHERE TO EAT
Although the Upper West Side has a reputation for not having any good food, there is definitely an abundance of scrumptious eateries in the area. Gray’s Papaya is a world famous hot dog vendor located on 72nd street and Broadway. This little store sells freshly cooked hot dogs with unlimited condiments at low prices, as well as a variety of tropical juices.
Zabar’s is representative of the Upper West Side’s Jewish roots. This iconic Jewish deli consists of two parts: a supermarket and a cafe. The cafe offers a variety of delicious meals such as Zabar’s world famous potato knishes and a variety of freshly made paninis. The supermarket section also offers a variety of prepared foods from all different cuisines that are prepared fresh every day and can be taken home and heated up, such as salmon, latkes, pork buns, and chicken parmesan, all of which are bursting with flavor.
The Upper West Side is also home to two of the city’s best dessert spots. Levain Bakery is known for its gigantic cookies that come in a variety of flavors, such as chocolate walnut and double chocolate peanut butter. Although spending four dollars on a cookie may seem ridiculous, they are extremely rich and can easily be shared by two people.
Another delicious dessert spot is Beard Papa’s, which is an Asian cream puff bakery. Their delicious pastries are baked fresh every day and can be filled with either their classic cream or the daily flavor, which is usually either chocolate, green tea, or espresso. Beard Papa’s also offers a variety of mochi, which are small scoops of ice cream wrapped in gooey, gelatinous casings.
- Songwriter and frontman of The Beatles, John Lennon, and his wife, artist and political protester, Yoko Ono.
- Pop star, Madonna.
- Actor and comedian, Jerry Seinfeld.
- Actor and producer, Robert De Niro.
- Actress, Meryl Streep.
- Frontman of U2, Bono.
- Comedienne and actress, Tina Fey.
- In the TV show “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) resides on the Upper West Side.
- In the TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” the main character, Ted Mosby, lives on West 85th street.
- In the TV show “Seinfeld,” the main character, played by Jerry Seinfeld, lives on West 81st street.
- The film “Sex and the City” features many iconic landmarks of the Upper West Side such as Zabar’s and Gray’s Papaya.
- The “Night at the Museum” movies are set in the American Museum of Natural History, which is located on the Upper West Side.
Although the Upper West Side is often seen as a boring residential neighborhood, it actually has a lot to offer. It is easily accessible by the 1, 2, 3, A, B, C, and D trains, and the neighborhood is definitely worth checking out. You can immerse yourself in history, nature, and Jewish culture by just taking a quick subway ride uptown.