This past December it was my third time spending the days leading up to Christmas in NYC. On December 18th Billy and I flew from Los Angeles to Windsor Locks, CT (about 15 minutes from my childhood home in Massachusetts) and then on to my parents house. All of my Christmas gifts were shipped there, so I devoted the next day wrapping and packing for New York. The following evening my dad drove us to Union Station in New Haven, CT where we hopped on a 2 hour train ride to Grand Central Terminal. We spent 5 unforgettable days and 4 nights in the city that never sleeps. My parents joined us for the second two nights and for my Birthday. Here are the highlights of our trip—I’m already counting down to next years!
Our vacation began with us checking into the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza which is skyscraper hotel in Midtown East. It sits next to the headquarters of the United Nations. When we arrived we were given a one-bedroom suite on the 35th floor with breathtaking views that overlooked the East River and Long Island City. We stayed in the suite for the first two nights but when my parents came we upgraded to a two-bedroom suite. By the time we checked in it was late and raining so we stayed close and walked a block to Cafe Olympia and brought back snacks and drinks for our fridge and retired back to our room. One thing I loved about the hotel was the executive lounge that served breakfast daily and served hors d’oeuvres each evening. For my Birthday, my family and I had a little celebration in our hotel suite with the most delicious vegan cake from Sweets By Chloe.
We stopped by the new age American Brasserie Lexington Brass in midtown for a late lunch. Everything on the menu is organic and locally sourced using only the finest ingredients. I dined there a few years ago and never forgot how tasty their mac and cheese was, so I ordered it again along with the crispy cauliflower that came in a vegan spicy mayo sauce. I also ordered a Shirley Temple that was delicious—I’m a Shirley Temple connoisseur and this was one of the finest I’ve had.
The Museum of Modern Art is one of the biggest (6 stories) and most famous museums in the world. There is a wide-range of art on display, everything from paintings, sculptures, photography, electronic media, architecture, and design. I’ve always wanted to explore MoMA but when I go to NYC, I put holiday related activities on the top of my list. Because it was raining, we didn’t mind spending the evening inside. Tickets to attend are $25 dollars but on Fridays UNIQLO hosts “free Fridays” where admission is waived between 4pm and 8pm. The highlights were viewing Bruce Nauman’s One Hundred Live and Die (1984). The light installation features four columns of words associated with life and death. They flash on and off and eventually all four columns illuminate to reveal the entire piece. I discovered this on Instagram before I went and knew I had to see it in person. Another highlight was viewing Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It was surreal to be standing in front of one of the world’s most famous and influential paintings.
One of my favorite parts about Christmastime in the city is strolling along 5th Avenue. From the Saks Fifth Avenue LED light show set to music, to the festive window displays—it puts you in the holiday spirit. I learned the window display tradition dates all the way back to 1870 with Macy’s being the retailer to start the trend. We stopped in the 4 B’s: Bloomingdale’s, Bendel’s, Barneys, and Bergdorf‘s. It was sad to say goodbye to Bendel’s which is closing after 123 years. Before heading back to The Plaza once more, we shopped in another favorite store; Ted Baker.
Whenever I’m in New York (it doesn’t matter what time of the year), my trip isn’t complete without visiting The Plaza Hotel. As I wandered around, I thought about my favorite childhood movies that were filmed there; Eloise at The Plaza and Home Alone II. I also reflected on my own memories like tea at the Palm Court. We took photographs of the lavish Christmas tree and later headed downstairs where we continued into the shops and ordered hot cocoa and cookies to end the evening. Because of my love for this iconic hotel, my parents gave me the book Starring The Plaza: Hollywood, Broadway, and High Society Visit the World’s Favorite Hotel for Christmas—I can’t wait to read it.
When we arrived at Grand Central Terminal, we observed the holiday fair going on but we didn’t have time to stop since we needed to check into our hotel. I didn’t want to leave New York without heading there so on our way to Bryant Park we stopped by. The indoor fair is one of the longest-running holiday fairs in New York. Each year the vendors are carefully chosen to present their American made and locally-sourced products. One of my favorite stands was E.A.T Gifts where I found a few Meri Meri decorations to use for my Birthday celebration.
Last year was my first time experiencing Bryant Park’s Winter Village, and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Before we entered, we stood on the steps of the iconic New York Public Library and admired the elegant architecture. The winter village features over 150 vendors selling food, gifts and handmade goods. Once you step inside, the exquisite purple Christmas tree takes center stage and behind it is the famous ice skating rink.
We stopped at The Lodge at Urbanspace where I ordered truffle mac and cheese from Mayhem Smokehouse. It was delicious and had a unique twist compared to the other truffle mac and cheese I’ve had. For dessert I wanted a Chimney Cake from The Stackery. Unfortunately, the line was over an hour long and we didn’t want to wait, so I ended up ordering a hot cocoa from Squish Marshmallows. When you walk up to the counter you can choose from an assortment of marshmallows to place in your cup; gingerbread, peppermint bark, jelly donut, PBJ, banana pudding, and tons more. Being a huge fan of anything Rocky Road I choose that flavor. The hot chocolate was thick and as the marshmallow melted, I tasted pieces of crushed almonds and a rocky road flavor developed. I was so fascinated by the sweetness I looked up the company and found that they deliver their marshmallows nationwide. I’m going to order a few flavors to place in my hot cocoa this winter, and next year I’ll be back for another cup.
I can’t begin to estimate the number of times I’ve stood in front of the Rockefeller Plaza staring at the spectacular Christmas tree. Each year I make a point of braving the crowds of tourists to view it. There’s something about watching the tree lighting ceremony on TV in December and knowing I will soon be there to look at it in person. Once we were ready to leave we stopped in the plaza of Radio City Music Hall and browsed in the gift shops.
The first time Billy and I visited New York City together we stayed at The Park Central Hotel which is right next to Times Square. It was Billy’s first time in the city and I took a photograph of him staring up at the Billboards. I perfectly captured the expression of astonishment on his face and it’s one of my all-time favorite photos (and memories). Last year we had so much on our itinerary we didn’t get there so we made a point of strolling the streets this time. After we left Rockefeller Center, we walked west up 50th street and took a left on 7th Street and headed to the Theater District. As we wandered past the brightly colored billboards, the famous theatres, restaurants, and souvenir shops I thought about how much it’s transformed. One of my favorite TV dramas is HBO’s The Deuce which inspired me to research Times Square during the 1970s and 1980s. As I walked down 7th Ave, I thought about the seedy history hidden in these streets.
After my mom and I left Lotte New York Palace, we explored Eden Fine Art. This 10,000 square feet gallery opened its doors in 1997 and features paintings and sculptures from over 26 international artists. The galleries oversized glass windows stand out on the busy Madison Ave., and the sleek white walls and floors allowed the colorful artwork to pop. Inside there is an array of pieces for sale; photographs, shadow boxes, sculptures, mixed media, paintings, and papercuts. Some of my favorites were Monopoly Holdings 2 $ Bags Beverly Hills, Love me…, and Hot Pink Brigitte.
I had seen photographs from my moms trips over the years and going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been something on my to-do list. In the past when I’d walk by it was closed so I’d marvel at the Neo-Gothic architecture from the street. It was fascinating to learn that building for the Roman Catholic church started in 1858 and took 21 years to complete; it can now hold 2,400 people.
After my mom and I were finished shopping on 5th Avenue, we headed in. A mass was taking place, so we stood in the back along with other sightseers. I glanced around and admired the white marble arches, the 330 foot ceiling, and the stained glass windows. Another interesting aspect was learning that Tiffany & Co. designed the Saint Louis and Saint Michael alters. For anyone that visits NYC, this magnificent place should be on your bucket list.
Billy, my parents, and myself checked out of our hotel and spent the afternoon walking around Midtown. Later that evening we headed to my sister and boyfriend’s new place in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. We had drinks, hors d’oeuvres and got ready for Christmas Eve dinner. We took a Lyft into Soho for our 8pm reservation at Cipriani Downtown. As soon as we entered my eyes went straight to the portraits that lined the walls. My favorite was the large mixed media piece of women in deconstructed jeans with Mickey Mouse detailing. To my left stood a darkened wood bar with an extensive collection of liquors, and a glass box filled with delectable looking sweets. Once we were seated, I ordered the Handmade Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola, along with a Shirley Temple. I had planned on ordering the Crêpes à la Crème but I was too full.
After dinner Billy, and me spilt from the rest of my family and headed to Target in Tribeca to pick up a few things. We later met back up with my family in Brooklyn and made the 2 and 1/2-hour trip back to Massachusetts.
Christmas morning we met downstairs around 10am and relaxed around the tree and opened our presents. Later that day we had my favorite truffle mac and cheese from The Federal and lit a fire in the fireplace. It was wonderful to be able to just relax and enjoy the family and the comforts of my childhood home.
- Plan out your itinerary before you leave. Make a list of what you want to do and see and then leave one day free to do whatever you missed. Here’s A Girl in LA’s travel guide of our must see places.
- If you will be in the city for a few days, it’s cheaper to invest in a metro card to ride the subways.
- Certain areas are more crowded than others during the holidays, like The Rockefeller Tree, Times Square, Central Park—give yourself extra time or visit in the early morning or late at night.
- Make restaurant reservations as soon as you book your trip because lots of restaurants and venues fill up quickly. Tip: if you can’t get a reservation, ask your hotel to make one for you.
- Check the weather before you pack and then recheck once more before you leave. There’s been years where it’s been freezing and I needed to wear multiple layers and then there’s been occasions when it was unseasonably warm. In fact, Christmas Eve of 2015 it was 72 degrees during the day! Don’t forget rain gear too.
- Bring comfortable shoes. I made the mistake of wearing my velvet black thigh-high boots and after walking to Bryant Park I had to return to our room and switch to a more comfortable pair.
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