A Guide to the Upper West Side Above 86th Street
Two sprawling public parks. Tree-lined brownstone blocks. And some of the best delis in all of New York. I’m describing the Upper West Side, also my home for nearly a decade. It’s not trendy or cool like downtown or Brooklyn (and that’s okay), but Upper West Side life is easy and carefree – there’s also no shortage of fantastic things to see, do, eat, and drink here. While the UWS begins at Columbus Circle or 59th Street on the south end and extends up into the West 100s, this guide focuses on the section above 86th, also where I live. Use this Upper West Side guide to explore the diverse, relaxed, and very livable slice of the neighborhood north of 86th Street.
The Great Outdoors on the Upper West
Central Park from 86th to 110th
Most tourists hang out in the southern end where many of the park’s top attractions can be found. But the Jackie Onassis Reservoir (the path around it is perfect for a stroll or jog), and the wild North Woods (feel as if you’ve escaped Manhattan for Upstate New York) lie north of 86th Street.
The 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park
You know the place – Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks filmed the final scene of You’ve Got Mail here. Spring, summer, and fall are the best seasons for photo ops among the bouquets of annuals and perennials such as hydrangeas, irises, roses, and snapdragons. Enter the park at 91st Street and walk down the hill on your left until you see the two garden plots between 90th and 91st.
The West Side Community Garden, 123 W 89th St
A group of West Siders grooms and maintains this beautiful pocket park that sits on 89th between Amsterdam and Columbus. The lovely community garden hosts a tulip festival each spring as well as live entertainment in warmer months.
Upper West Side Restaurants and Bars
Lion’s Head Tavern, 995 Amsterdam Ave
For an evening of brews and baseball (the tavern is Manhattan’s Mets Bar), pop into this Amsterdam Avenue watering hole, which prides itself on house-made eats and a laid-back vibe.
Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, 2751 Broadway
No Upper West Side guide is complete without a little Smoke. Live jazz marries delicious food and drink – think Cajun popcorn shrimp, lobster bouillabaisse and buttermilk fried chicken, all prepared with love by chef Patricia Williams. The jazz brunch is a must!
Arco Cafe, 886 Amsterdam Ave
Sardinian dishes cover the menu of this charming cafe. I recommend the grilled Branzino atop broccoli rabe and the fettuccine alla Bolognese. Pair your meal with a glass or bottle of Italian vino.
Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave
If there’s one restaurant that should be included in every Upper West Side guide, it’s Barney Greengrass. It’s been a trusty neighborhood mainstay since 1908, and after eating the smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, and potato latkes, it’s easy to understand why. Go hungry and bring cash. No credit cards are accepted here.
Birch Coffee, 750 Columbus Ave
Caffeine seekers flock to this uptown hangout for the fair-trade coffee that’s roasted across the East River in Long Island City. Birch Coffee fuses freshly brewed java with a tempting selection of baked goods in their inviting uptown space.
Bar Thalia, 2537 Broadway
Drawing an arty Upper West Side crowd, this cozy spot attached to Symphony Space features craft cocktails and light bites. Thalia is a cool bar for readings, live music, wine tastings and private parties.
The Ellington, 2745 Broadway
Duly named after the jazz legend, Ellington’s serves brunch, lunch, and dinner while focusing on comfort food classics such as huevos rancheros, fish tacos, avocado toast, burgers, lobster ravioli, and parmesan truffle fries. Yum.
Upper West Side Shops
Book Culture, 536 W 112th St
A diverse collection of titles attracts scores of New Yorkers to this cute bookshop. Whether you’re on the hunt for a bestseller, old-school favorite or the work of an emerging author, Book Culture has you covered.
Murray’s Sturgeon, 2429 Broadway
A delightful grab-and-go since 1946, Murray’s is the shop for charoset at Rosh Hashanah, latkes at Hanukkah, and matzoh ball soup at Passover, but it’s also the place for Jewish deli fare on any occasion.
Shishi, 2488 Broadway
For one-of-a-kind finds, head to this women’s clothing store where owner Yael Levertov and her team provide no-pressure, friendly service. Shishi is considered one of the city’s best boutiques for affordable fashion.
The Grape Collective, 2669 Broadway
A well-curated assortment of wines from around the globe and knowledgeable and friendly staff are reasons to browse the Grape Collective. Learn more about the art of wine and get the latest news in their magazine by the same name.
Silver Moon Bakery, 2740 Broadway
Leave your diet at the door. Silver Moon bakes 44 types of bread (oh, the baguettes!) along with decadent pastries including croissants, French-style tarts, and decorative cakes for special occasions. Grab your treat to go or savor it in the sidewalk cafe.
I recommend taking public transit to reach the Upper West Side. The 1 train stops at 86th, 96th, 103rd. and 110th; the 2/3 stops at 96th, and the C stops at 86th, 96th, and 103rd, and 110th. Here’s my guide to staying safe in the New York subway.