When I caught a glimpse of this toy tree in Brooklyn, what surprised me most was that it didn’t surprise me. When you spend nearly a decade living in a city like New York, you begin to expect the unexpected, or rather, expect nothing and simultaneously categorize every possible crazy thing that might happen as expected. Toys aren’t the only things you’ll find hanging in Brooklyn and other boroughs of New York – shoes strewn across telephone wires are seen frequently. But no matter how unsurprised I was, this tree filled with toys is an extraordinary (and somewhat creepy) sight. And out of respect for the people who live near this tree, I’m not going to tell you where it is. I’m sure you’ll find it yourself if you ask around.
The days of visiting New York City and staying solely in Manhattan are over. Although the city’s center borough has earned its fame, there’s a new New York in town: Brooklyn. It’s true that many neighborhoods in Brooklyn have already gentrified rapidly, but there are still far more budget-friendly neighborhoods in the borough than not. The collective desire to keep expenses down still exists in Brooklyn and from that demand stems the economically sensible result: Brooklyn is still a treasure box of unbelievable deals, but this fades every year. So strike while the iron is hot and hop on the train over to the vibrant borough of Brooklyn, where each neighborhood brings something new and the bargains are many, no matter the area.
The Nu Hotel: With four locations in Brooklyn, The Nu Hotel is an increasingly popular choice for budget accommodations in Brooklyn. With attractive and simple design, this boutique hotel is loft-inspired and even offers use of their new 2012 Brooklyn Cruiser bikes. The hotel’s general manager will even guide you on a jog across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday mornings, which for first-timers is a must. To keep the Brooklyn theme going strong, the art on the walls is done by local artists – including some of the rooms featuring murals. From $160. nuhotelbrooklyn.com 85 Smith StreetHotel Le Bleu: Located on the border of Park Slope and Gowanus, this neighborhood is easily walkable with plenty of options for dining, drinking, shopping, recreation, arts and general nightlife. Accented in blue, as it should be, Hotel Le Bleu offers a clean and crisp modern design with complimentary breakfast and parking. For a quick drink and live music nearby, check out The Bell House. From $111. hotellebleu.com 370 Park Avenue
Union Hotel: Union is also located in the well-developed and charming neighborhood of Park Slope on the border of artsy Gowanus. The rooms are admittedly small, but they come with relatively comfortable beds, working air conditioning and a decent breakfast. Minimalist style makes the limited space less stuffy. The Brooklyn Flea, which is still pretty new to the area, is just 10 blocks from this hotel. Although this hotel sees its share of negative Yelp reviews, fans of the place can’t seem to stop raving about the comparatively low price. From $79.
unionhotelbrooklyn.com 611 Degraw Street
Eat and Drink
Tacos Matamoros: If you’re craving incredibly well-reviewed and unbelievably cheap tacos, grab the N or R train to 45th street in Brooklyn (or just take the N or D express to 36th street and walk to save time) to try out the food at Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park, where you can still get a decent taco for $1.25. Types of tacos even include lengua and chorizo and they come garnished with cilantro, radish, chopped onion, lime and their own special sauce. While you’re in the area, check out the park in Sunset Park (mentioned below) and grab a coffee at the Green Fig Bakery Café, which has a great sandwich, baked goods selection and new owners, as of late 2012, who continue to enhance the place.
4508 5th Avenue
Foodswings: Located in Williamsburg, Foodswings is a saving grace for vegans and vegetarians as well as meat-eaters who aren’t afraid of soy. Unlike so many other animal-free restaurants everywhere, especially in NYC, Foodswings is good for budgeting vegetarians craving fast, comfort food staples. You won’t find a lot of fresh veggies here, but you will find a $3.50 vegan corn dog available even late at night. For some handmade imported goods ranging from books and housewares to jewelry, finger puppets and other little treasures, check out the nearby Fuego 718. foodswings.net 295 Grand Street
Christie’s Jamaican Patties: Christie’s Jamaican Patties, which is between the friendly and easily navigated neighborhoods of Park Slope and Prospect Heights, offers widely acclaimed patties with Caribbean flavor. For just $2 a pop, you can get patties in beef, veggie, chicken, meatloaf, coco bread, callaloo loaf and patty coco bread.
christiesjamaicanpatties.com 387 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: If you’re feeling a little blue because of the lack of green in New York, visit Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden for a strong dose of nature’s beauty. Go on a Tuesday and your admission is free. Admission is also free on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon. The Garden has only just recovered from the substantial damage from Hurricane Sandy. The massive effort to restore the prized outdoor space established a strengthened sense of community. For some great drinks and affordable Mexican before or after the Garden, drop into one of my favorite places in Brooklyn, Chavela’s.
bbg.org 1000 Washington Avenue
Sunset Park: For one of the best free views of Manhattan, climb the stairs of Sunset Park and enjoy. With new restaurants, bars and other hang-out spots popping up all over the neighborhood, your journey to the park will help you fit a good walk in after eating and drinking at one of the new neighborhood hotspots. Get to Sunset Park by taking the N or D train (both express) to 36th street.
nycgovparks.org/parks/sunsetpark 41-44 streets
Brooklyn Crab: The newly opened Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook is a go-to spot for multilayered fun. With an 18-hole, mini-golf course and cornhole available for just a $5 entrance fee, Brooklyn Crab also offers a full menu featuring a wide range of crabs and other seafood.
brooklyncrab.com 24 Reed Street
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) isn’t without its flaws, but it does the trick in getting you all around the New York City area via train and bus for a low fee. A single subway ride is $2.25. Although the MTA sadly doesn’t offer 1-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards anymore (formerly referred to as a Fun Pass), you can still get a 7-Day Unlimited Pass for $29, which will save you tons in New York, even over the course of just a couple days if you plan on using the train a lot.
From LaGuardia airport, take the NYC Airporter, a shuttle bus that stops at Grand Central and Penn Station for $13 per trip. Manhattan can also be accessed through the M60 bus and several Q bus lines available from the airport stretch across Queens. For Brooklyn, it’s easiest to take one of the buses to a subway stop – the M60 stops at the Astoria Blvd. N/Q train station. Brooklyn and Manhattan can easily be accessed through the A from John F. Kennedy Airport while Queens can be accessed through the E or J/Z line. The NYC Airporter also makes trips from JFK every 30 minutes for $16.
Alternatively, you can pedal your way through your NYC trip. Bike rentals and bike shares are easy enough to come by in the city for around $40 a day. But more than anything else, New Yorkers take the cheap route and walk. Prepare to walk at least 5-10 miles a day if you’re going to be exploring the city and always wear comfortable shoes. Ladies: if you’re adamant on wearing stilettos, stash them in your purse until you get to your fancy destination.
If you’re trying to save on expensive tickets to museums and art performances, by all means, pay attention to the art in the subways, parks and streets. Too often New Yorkers and travelers alike rush by these artists, dismissing them before giving them a chance. Don’t do that. Watch the boys breakdancing and risking their necks on your subway train. Listen to the musicians playing on the subway platform. Take a minute to look at the art all around you. Brooklyn is bursting with creative people who just want to share their talent. Allow them to share it with you, whether you’re in the park or the train, and do so with an open mind. The spare change or dollars you give to street and subway performers won’t leave much of a dent in your wallet, but it will help to keep them doing what they’re doing: offering their talent to anyone in New York interested enough to slow down.