Aside from the cold – this really is the most magical time of year in New York. The city is decked out in its holiday best, there are lights everywhere and plenty of occasions to pour a glass of bubbly. I can’t get enough. Which is why I wanted to create a holiday bucket list to be sure that I make time to enjoy as much of the season as possible. Some of the things on my list are beloved traditions at this point while some are things we have still yet to experience in New York and really want to get around to doing this year. Also – a reminder that not everything has to be expensive this season – plenty of the things on my list are super budget friendly, if not free!
Ice skating Dates:
Now that Adam and I both own ice skates, we want to take advantage of all of the fun rinks in the city! My favorite is skating in Central Park – with the city in view around you – but Bryant Park and Rockefeller Rink (if you get there super early or on a weeknight) are also great. Budget tip: Bryant Park is actually free to skate at and so are locker rentals if you bring your own lock, so this is a great cheap date idea.
Lights at Dyker Heights:
Remember that one house in your town that used to go all out with lights and yard decorations for the holidays? Dyker Heights is like that.. but x100. A neighborhood in Brooklyn where for about 4 square blocks – every single house is boasting thousands of Christmas lights, and more Santas and snowmen then you have ever seen in one place. We usually pack a “car picnic” and then drive through the neighborhood while listening to holiday tunes. Festive and totally free!
Dinner at Lucien and Minetta Tavern:
There are some restaurants that just really shine in the winter. Cozy and intimate, all candlelight and linen tablecloths, they make braving the cold for date night well worth it. Lucien in the East Village and Minetta Tavern in the West Village have been on our restaurant bucket list for a long time and I’d love to finally try them both this holiday season.
Hot Toddies, Rockefeller Tree + Fifth Avenue Windows:
This has quickly become one of our favorite holiday traditions. We pick a Sunday evening in December, make a big thermos of hot toddies and then head uptown to see the Rockefeller Tree and the windows on Fifth Avenue. Notoriously crowded and often quite cold – we found that the hot toddies really raise your spirits on the trek and ultimately make the whole thing a lot more fun.
It can be easy to get swept up in all of the consumption of the holidays without pausing to think of those that are having a much tougher time. I hate to think of families that are struggling to get a few gifts under the tree for their kids – so this year, Adam and I starting the yearly tradition of picking up toys for local families. Someday, we plan to continue this with our own little ones, letting them pick out toys for kids in our community that are less fortunate than them. We’re looking into Stockings With Care or Operation Santa – or both!
Jazz Standard Holiday Show:
I love live jazz any time of year, but it feels extra festive around the holidays. Jazz Standard in Gramercy is one of our favorites for big band style jazz and last year we went on January 1st which was such a fun way to kick off the new year.
West Village Wander:
Is there any place prettier than the West Village around Christmas? I love taking a Saturday, hot chocolate in hand and just wandering through the streets and looking at everyone’s decorated doors. Grove Street is a particular favorite.
Classic Movie at the Theater:
Our local movie theater plays classics like It’s A Wonderful Life this time of year and I want to make it a point to catch one – even better if it’s one I’ve never seen!
Bookstores have always been one of my happiest places. My Mom worked in a library when I was a little girl and there’s something about being surrounded by books that I find deeply comforting. A tiny corner to hideaway from the world and explore one that might be completely foreign to you.
Not surprisingly, I’ve got a handful of tried and true favorite bookstores here in New York and almost always seek out bookstores when we travel (I like to buy books when I travel that remind me of that specific place – Little Women from a bookshop in New England for instance or Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ in Paris).
I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite shops around the world and hope that if you have a favorite that’s not on this list in your town (or someplace great that you’ve traveled) you’ll share it with me so that I can add it to my list.
Strand Bookstore (Union Square, NYC) – This is my home court so to speak. For 6 of my 10 years in New York I’ve lived within walking distance to the Strand – and you can bet that if I’m within a few blocks of passing by, I’m going in. So many books on my shelf have come from here and I love that they also will buy books back in good condition – in the case that your tiny apartment no longer holds your collection. It gets packed on the weekends but I love the feeling of New Yorkers (and a good fill of tourists) all jammed in together, excited to get a new book.
Shakespeare & Co (Paris, France) – If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me. That logic applies to both bars and bookstores, but in the case of Shakespeare & Co. you can get your fill of reading. The original opened in 1918 and then passed along its name to the new location, which sits along the banks of the Seine and opened in the 1950s. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Allen Ginsberg to Zadie Smith, generations of American writers have passed through the doors of this tiny English-language bookstore in the City of Light. It’s a must visit before you browse the vintage book sellers along the river.
The Spotted Dog(Hudson, NY) – Less than two hours north of Manhattan, along the quaint main street of Hudson – The Spotted Dog earns a spot on this list because it combines two of my favorite things – books and beer. A full bar with craft beer on tap sits right among the shelves. Adam and I passed an entire rainy afternoon in this sweet little spot and I can’t wait to go back again this Fall.
Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC) – A cute little shop right along upper King Street. There’s a lot of shopping in this stretch that feels touristy but Blue Bicycle has an authentic Southern hospitality in my opinion, with friendly staff and a great selection. Don’t miss grabbing a biscuit at Callie’s afterwards.
Albertine (Upper East Side, NYC) – An extension of the French Embassy, this swoon-worthy bookstore is devoted to French & English books and sits across from Central Park on Fifth Avenue. After a stroll through the park, I suggest popping in just to see the grand ceilings alone and picking up a tres bien livre (very good book).
Daunt (London, England) – This one really has my heart. A travel-focused bookshop set in London’s very posh Marylebone neighborhood, my study abroad University was just a few blocks away from this so I passed many hours between classes by popping into this shop. It’s just beautiful inside and when I finally had a chance to go back a couple of years ago, it was still as charming as ever.
Brattle Bookshop (Boston, MA) – One of the oldest and largest used bookstores in America, this one fits well with Boston’s historic charm. You’ll find plenty of great affordable options plus rare first editions all just a skip away from a stroll through Boston Common.
Rizzoli (Flatiron, NYC) – Another NYC favorite – I couldn’t possibly just pick one.. or two – is conveniently located in the Flatiron district and is a wealth of beautiful coffee table books, new fiction, hobby sections like cooking or photography and a cute kids section. I often pop in on my lunch break just because its so pretty inside.
South Congress Books (Austin, TX) – This place has exactly the sort of quirky charm you expect in Austin’s hip South Congress neighborhood. Pick out a used or vintage book here before heading to grab tacos at nearby Guero’s.
Bookmarc (West Village, NYC) – Okay, okay, one more in New York. Bookmarc is a mainstay in the West Village to me and while it’s small it has a perfectly curated, highly fashionable offering that’s always worth stopping by to see. Plus, they carry Olympia Le Tan clutches (hand-embroidered small box clutches that look like famous book covers) which I will continue to swoon over until I can one day afford.
Today marks 10 years since I arrived in New York City. A decade of me and Manhattan (minus a brief fling I had with Los Angeles of course.. but doesn’t every New Yorker have that one winter that makes them consider rash things like leaving?).
I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love at first sight twice in my life. And the first time was at 17, the moment I stepped out of Penn Station into the glaring lights of Seventh Avenue. I grew up in Pennsylvania which is only a few hours away, but until my late teenage years all I knew of New York was the romanticized ideas I’d inhaled from classics like Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, my favorite shows (Sex & the City, Friends, Will & Grace and Seinfeld) and the glossy pages of Vogue. One look though and I was as good as gone. The same could be said for the second time I fell in love at first sight. But today’s not about him.
I arrived so absolutely bewitched by this city it seemed like the feeling would be impossible to sustain. But then, like true love, it has against all odds gotten better with time. Of course, like any true love we’ve also had some tough times. There were the early (and if we’re being honest, middle) years when I was barely making it. Years marked by cheap pizza and expensive rent for the shoebox sized apartment where I was eating it. The year marked by a painfully broken heart and the subsequent years marked by bad dates and my stubborn inability to turn down a tequila shot. All the times I’ve watched friends hit their breaking point with the city (you can see it coming if you know the signs) and move away. To Nashville.. or New Jersey. Anywhere that doesn’t seem quite as crushing as this place.
But then – I’ve always like the hard way. In fact, when I think of who I was when I arrived and the woman that I am now – I actually credit New York with softening me. With teaching me that it’s okay to cry. Publicly in fact. It’s okay to falter or flat out fail. This city is built on both sweeping success and fantastic failures all mixed up in one. Life goes on. You find your way back to your apartment, sleep it off and try again the next day. Like any good New Yorker would do.
And in spite of the trials, New York has offered the life that I spent my teenage years dreaming of. It’s confirmed the notion that hard work is rewarded. It’s insisted that being exactly who I am will be good enough to get me the things I want in life. It’s given me the kind of blissfully good days and adventure-filled nights that I thought could only ever possibly happen in the movies. It’s such a part of me that I can’t imagine my life anywhere else. It turns out, real love can last forever.
Here’s to the another 10, New York. I can’t wait to see where our story takes me next.
Before we left for Paris, I had quite a few people comment on how short of a trip we’d booked. Only 4 days to go to Paris and back? The thing with travel is that you have to make it a priority if you want it to be a part of your life. So although Adam couldn’t take a full week off work in May, we didn’t use that as an excuse to not go anywhere or just go somewhere local, and instead decided to take a short and sweet trip to Paris. Spoiler: it was the one of the best trips of my life. Possibly even more so because it was short. The thrill of jetting off to Europe for just a few days. The whirlwind romance of Paris. Something about it being a shorter trip somehow removed the pressure of having to “see it all” since we knew we couldn’t and instead freed us up to just see and do the things we wanted. No lines at the Mona Lisa, no trek to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Below – exactly how we spent our 4 magical days in the City of Light.
Day One: We landed in the early afternoon due to a flight delay the night before (our only real hiccup of the trip – which cut into the things I had planned for the first day), but we made the most of it and quickly checked into our AirBnb in Le Marais neighborhood and headed out into a rainy Paris. I chose that area as its a young, hip neighborhood with a good balance of things to do alongside quiet little streets (like the Paris equivalent of New York’s West Village). Plus, when we travel we walk as much as possible and this area also made that easy to do.
The first thing we went in search of was food, naturally, and Cafe Charlot didn’t disappoint! A classic bistro feel with outside tables, lots of locals and the most delicious warm goat cheese salad I’ve ever had. Afterwards we headed to Au Petit Fer à Cheval – tucked away on a winding little street, this bar is over 100 years old and has a tiny horseshoe shaped marble bar that makes you feel like Hemingway may stumble in at any moment. If we’d had more time we likely would have popped into the library bar across the street. Next time! Afterwards, we took a stroll along the Seine in the rain until jet lag made it impossible to do anything but go get a good night’s sleep.
Day Two: We started off the first full day with a big appetite and a big agenda. First up was a coffee for Adam and a chai tea for me at Ob La Di, a hip little neighborhood spot, before exploring a few more of the back streets near our AirBnB, stopping every 10 feet to take photos of the grand double door entrances that the Marais area is known for. We had our first proper breakfast at Breizh Cafe (go early! soon after we arrived they were turning away people at the door) where galettes and crepes are on the menu. Next we headed to the nearby Picasso Museum, housed in a gorgeous building that dates back to the 1600s. We decided to skip the Louvre this trip and instead head to just a couple of “specialty museums” and I’m so happy with our decision. The smaller settings made the artwork feel more personal and you could see everything without devoting an entire afternoon to it.
After the Picasso Museum we decided to skip the metro and walk the 45 minutes or so to the Montmartre area. Of course, stopping for a nutella street crepe along the way. Once there, we climbed the famous steep steps all the way up to the Sacré Coeur for a sweeping view of the city below it. The winding streets up on the hill have a few tourist traps, but if you keep walking you’ll find some real, cobblestone gems. We’ve found, it usually simply takes being willing to walk further than the big groups of tourists. Wear comfortable shoes if Montmarte is on your agenda!
We popped into a few shops in the area including Chinemachine, a vintage store where Adam found a cool pair of boots and then stumbled past the Moulin Rouge (which didn’t exactly make me want to go in… but did make me want to watch the movie again). Then we headed to Pink Mamma to put our name in for a reservation and waited at a nearby cafe with a drink until our table was ready. It was worth the wait – this place feels like you’re eating in an Italian grandma’s house. Its 4 stories so you really feel tucked away from other diners within each room and copper pots hang from the open kitchen while there is artwork, wallpaper and plants covering the walls. The meal and drinks were 10/10 delicious and prices were really reasonable for such a hotspot.
After dinner we headed to Lulu White, a little neighborhood bar that had such a fun atmosphere. Blaring oldies and serving up absinthe cocktails, we easily lost a few hours in there before racing across town in an uber and catching the very last Eiffel Tower light show of the evening at 1AM. A perfect Paris night.
Day Three: After staying up until almost 3AM the night before, we slept in a bit and then headed to Neighbours, a bright and airy cafe nearby in the Marais. Both of our breakfasts were healthy and delicious – until we topped it off by splitting a piece of their famous grilled banana bread. SO good. SO worth it.
From breakfast we walked to the Palais Royale (where these photos were taken), passed by the Louvre, and wandered through the Jardin des Tuileries (and could have spent an entire afternoon just reading and people watching) before heading in the the Musée de l’Orangerie. Home to Monet’s famous water lilies. In stark, rounded rooms, his huge canvas panels curve around you in full panoramic. Standing in front of them was honestly breathtaking and easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever looked at. Don’t miss a short stop here.
After that, we wandered along the Seine all the way to the Eiffel Tower, picking up croissants, baguette sandwiches and a few sweet treats along the way. We basked in the sun and while I know it’s touristy, this was still one of my favorite things we did.
Afterwards, we headed back to our neighborhood, where we popped into Discocaso Record Shop and picked up a few vintage vinyls plus stopped into the classic Ladurée for the best macarons in the world. That night we had dinner at local spot Le Petit Marché where Adam had the duck, I had the ravioli, both of which were mouthwateringly good, and we finished off the decadent meal by splitting creme brûlée (when in Paris, non?).
Day 4: We began our last day in Paris in the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood with breakfast at the classic Cafe de Flore. One of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris, the waiters in their crisp whites once served espresso to Picasso and Hemingway and it honestly felt like not much had changed since then. With a jar of honey, the flakiest croissants and a big pot of tea… I never wanted to leave.
Afterwards we walked to the Notre Dame (still very much standing and worth seeing from afar despite repairs and the fire damage), picked up a vintage book and a few postcards from the infamous Seine-side stands and then popped into the renowned Shakespeare & Company bookstore – there since the 1920s! I always try to buy a book – or 3 – as souvenirs and here I bought a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Only fitting.
Afterwards we crossed over the picturesque little island in the Seine called Ile de St Lois (and would have gotten ice cream at Berthillon had it not been closed on Mondays!) and wandered back to Le Marais. I did a bit of shopping, finding a great silk scarf at a vintage shop and classic stripes at Amor Luxe then we had one last meal at La Paulette before heading off to Charles de Gaulle.
It was such an incredible trip, filled with amazing food, beautiful views and memories that are only making me want to plan a return trip. Until next time Paris!
PS. A few helpful tips: almost everyone speaks English in shops and restaurants but you’ll be met with extra respect and kindness if you at the very least begin with a simple ‘Bonjour’ (good day) or ‘Bonsoir’ (good evening) and finish with a meaningful ‘merci’ (thank you). I took 4 years of French and was able to mostly order food, ask for the check,etc. in French. Even when I fumbled, we found everyone to be incredibly gracious. French are matter of fact – much like New Yorkers – but I really don’t find them to be unnecessarily rude.
Lastly, Adam and I look out for each other at all times when traveling, and never felt unsafe in Paris, but I’ve heard of a good amount of people who have been pick-pocketed there. I 100% believe it was because these people weren’t paying attention to their surroundings (for instance, don’t set your camera bag down while at the Eiffel Tower and then turn around to rummage through your purse…). So I wouldn’t let that stop you from visiting. As with everywhere you go in life – best to be aware of what’s going on around you.
You know how sometimes a place becomes heavily photographed on Instagram and then when you actually go, it’s not quite as nice as everyone’s photos make it out to be? The Palais-Royal isn’t like that. I had actually come to this spot back in 2008 on my first trip to Paris (armed with just a digital camera) and remember loving the grandness of the old French courtyard and gardens set against the graphic pop of these raised columns at varied heights. So I knew I wanted to swing back through on this trip. Although I have to say, I don’t remember what I wore back in 2008 but this may be my favorite outfit I wore on our whole trip.
I actually bought this polka dot midi dress back in March for my girl’s trip to Charleston with my Mom and Sister (it makes me think of a cross between Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), but I knew it was destined to make an appearance in Paris too. I stepped it up a bit with these cute little polka dot flats too which I picked up as a replacement to a similar gingham pair that I wore to shreds over the past couple of years.