A lot of things can be said about the New York dating scene (mainly that it’s pretty tough out there and also, that dates aren’t cheap!), but if you’re lucky enough to snag someone I’ve learned that there are plenty of great things you can enjoy together on a budget. Since early Fall weather is probably my favorite time of year in the city I’ve been feeling more excited than ever to get out there and get creative come date night (or day) – and naturally, to take you along for the ride. Whether you live here, are planning a visit, or just want to take some notes that may be applied to your own city/town – keep reading to see 20 of my best NYC date ideas under $20. Significant other not included.
1. Rent a Citi Bike ($9.95 per person for a 24 hour pass) and explore the city – there is a 6 mile loop in Central Park that is beautiful or the Promenades along the East and West sides of the city offer stunning river views.
2. Trade dinner and a movie for breakfast and a matinee – 2 true New York bagels (Tal on the Upper East Side is a favorite) will run you around $6. And the Loews Orpheum nearby plays classic films for just $6 a tickets at 2 pm on Sundays in the Fall.
3. Buy a cheap lock and a sharpie from a local hardware store, write your initials and place your love lock on the gate below the Brooklyn Bridge – forever immortalized. Plus the views are worth the walk.
4. Take a ferry to Governor’s Island (just $2/person round trip!) for the day – you’ll have money left over to pack a picnic.
5. Expand your palette and try Indian Cuisine at Milon in the East Village – the portions are big so you can split an entry and BYOB means you can bring your own 6-pack of beer or bottle of wine. Tell them it’s your birthday and they’ll put on quite a show.
6. Get a little competitive at Spin NY where renting a ping pong table (and endless balls) for a half an hour will cost you $20. Loser pays.
7. Indulge your sweet tooth by stopping by one of the cities best candy shops and filling up on your favorite nostalgic treats – Dylan’s Candy Bar is like the Willy Wonka of the Upper East Side.
8. Go window shopping along Fifth Avenue – even if you don’t go into the stores the window displays (Bergdorfs especially) are works of art.
9. Take a stroll along the Highline – start in Chelsea and walk towards the Meatpacking District. When you’re done, split a pizza wedge (1/3 of a pie) from Artichoke Basille for $15.
10. Take the Subway to Williamsburg ($10 for 2, round trip) on Saturday and check out the wares at Brooklyn Flea plus use the remaining $10 for food/drink from Smorgasburg vendors.
11. Visit the Metropolitan Museum and take in the classics, plus pop up to the rooftop for sprawling views of Central Park – and a little secret.. while admission is technically $25 that’s actually only a suggestion – so if you can only pay $10 each that day, you’ll still get in.
12. If you’ve got the time to get in line, grab tickets to a Late Night show (Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are always a hit) for free – and even if the actual show sells out, you’ve got a chance to test out just their monologues for a surefire laugh.
13. Have dessert for dinner at Momofuku Milk Bar where the cereal milk flavored soft serve ice cream and the ‘crack pie’ are legendary.. and will ring in somewhere around $10.
14. Volunteer for the day helping walk dogs from a local shelter – you’ll be doing some good while also getting to spend time with adorable pups – win, win.
15. Find a new favorite at a local a beer tasting – Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village offers six 3 ounce pours for $10 each on Tuesday nights.
16. Play a round of mini golf at Pier 25 with Hudson River views and prices of just $5/person.
17. One of my all time favorite dates – rent a row boat ($12 for the first hour) at the lake in Central Park. So romantic that you’ll be sure to see at least 1 marriage proposal while you’re out there.
18. Sing your hearts out at Karaoke Boho in the West Village – where happy hour well drinks are cheap and hourly room rates are $4/person.
19. Browse one of the cities many outdoor markets (the Union Square Farmer’s Market is open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and go home with a big bouquet of fresh flowers.
20.While the drinks won’t be cheap, the views are incredible at some of New York’s best rooftop bars – try Top of the Strand for a front row seat while the Empire State Building’s lights come on.
I realized recently that I hadn’t shared any of my favorite New York neighborhoods with you since I’d moved back and with dozens of neighborhoods and hundreds of streets (and we’re just talking Manhattan) to get through – I figured I’d better start. The Lower East Side has always been one of my favorite places to indulge in this city. A decidedly young crowd, the neighborhood maintains its grit while still managing to offer some of my can’t miss spots. Below, the best of the best from the heart of the area. Have your own LES favorites or planning a trip of your own and want some more recommendations? Feel free to share or ask away!
1. Schiller’s Liquor Bar: A long standing favorite, Schiller’s rustic meets modern decor and perpetually cool crowd stand alongside a finely edited menu of cocktails and oysters. I’ve never been before roughly 5 pm but if you are an early riser I hear they serve Stumptown coffee and dollar donuts.
2. Economy Candy: Not much larger than a closet but totally worth the crowds. If you can squeeze in – you’ve entered candy heaven. From international varieties you otherwise can’t find in the US to every forgotten candy of your youth – you’ll be hard pressed to leave this place empty handed.
3. Pixie Market: My guide wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of shopping, right? Pixie Market is one of those places you say you’ll just stop in to browse, but inevitably end up leaving armed with an entirely new outfit – often for less than $100. My favorites are their killer selection of matching sets. (If you’re not in NYC shop them here)
4. Little Muenster: I distinctly remember my pilgrim voyage when this nothing-but-grilled-cheese shop opened a few years back. Between its no frills menu of delicious cheesy creations, cheap beer and cheese grater chandelier – this is your spot if you’re looking for a quick stop in before hitting the bars.
5. Arlene’s Grocery: Just across the way from Little Muenster, this longstanding bar could fool tourists into assuming it’s nothing more than a (somewhat rundown) supermarket – mainly because it actually used to be a bodega before they transformed it. Now, its a often crowded, always fun live music mainstay in the area. Extra points if you manage to get yourself on stage for their high stakes karaoke.
6. The Derby: The newest to join the LES pack, recently opened The Derby boasts ‘biscuits and bourbon’ – what’s not to love? Equally suited for brunch as it is a night cap – come if you want to try chicken and waffles, stay if you’re in a whiskey on the rocks kinda mood.
7. The Meatball Shop: The epitome of ‘do one thing and do it well’ – The Meatball Shop takes on a home cooked favorite and nails it. Its a choose your own adventure sort of menu with plentiful options for sauces and sides. Trust the endless crowds outside (and the fact that they’ve now expanded to 3 locations straddling 2 boroughs) – you won’t regret it.
Abbot Kinney – named so for the developer & conservationist responsible for the area – is a small stretch of shops and restaurants a few minutes East of Venice Beach, California. With a focus on independent designers and farm to table fare the area is akin to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg – albeit with a surfer vibe. It was one of the very first areas we explored after moving to West LA and continues to be a favorite spot to wander on weekends. If you live in Southern California and haven’t been then I urge you to add it to your list and if you’re visiting from out of town it’s certainly worth a day of your trip (you can tack on the Venice canals and a visit to the nearby eclectic stretch of beach to round things out). Below a few of my favorite stops along the way.
– One of the few ‘chain’ restaurants/stores along Abbot Kinney, Lemonade is a Southern California outpost that earns a spot on my list for it’s seasonally fresh menu and relaxed cafe vibes. Don’t forget dessert.
– one of the prettiest stationary shops I’ve ever come across, if you like beautiful cards, gift wrap and office accessories (think Rifle Paper Co. meets Kate Spade) then this is a must visit.
– the second outpost of this upscale boutique, perfect for window shopping (or dropping a pretty penny) you’ll find brands like Alexander Wang and Rebecca Minkoff mingling with their own signature brand
– a lifestyle boutique (there’s even a Firefly Kids next door for little ones) this well curated shop offers a great selection of housewares, clothing, accessories and more – I especially love their selection of books and candles
– Gjelina Take Away (or GTA) offers the great taste of always packed Gjelina next door, without the formalities. Wait in line outside for a slice of wood oven baked pizza and eat it while people watching out on the street.
6. Toms Flagship Store
– even if the boardwalk friendly shoes aren’t your vibe (although you’ll find elevated styles here you may not see anywhere else), this store also boasts a full coffee bar & cafe, backyard seating area, and even monthly movie nights. A great spot to rest your feet a minute (and well, at least try on a pair of new shoes).