Undiscovered New York: 10 unique NYC sights

It’s been exactly 10 months since our very first feature here at Undiscovered New York. Given the occasion, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of our “greatest hits.” When we first started the Undiscovered New York series, our intention was to provide an insider’s look at the hidden places, history and overlooked spots in this huge city, the very spots many visitors don’t have a chance to visit.

Along the way we’ve taken you through all five boroughs of the city, from the far reaches of The Bronx, to the the rich cultural tapestry of Queens, to the quiet waterways of Staten Island. We’ve revisited some familiar sights with a fresh look and discovered hidden gems begging for exploration.

If you ever wanted a chance to check out the “undiscovered” side of New York, this week you’re in luck. We’re counting down the top 10 unique New York City sights, reviewing our favorite unexplored and lesser-known Big Apple experiences. You may find spots you know and love and a plenty more you’ve never heard of. Ready to go exploring? Let’s take a look.

  • Number 10: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor – New York visitors need not go far from Manhattan to get a unexpected look at this huge city. In fact, just a 25 minute ferry ride away is Staten Island, home to Snug Harbor, a former complex for elderly sailors. In addition to some wildly beautiful harbor views this quirky compound has modern art and a botanic garden complete with its own hedge maze.
  • Number 9: Secret Eating + Drinking – A city the size of New York is bound to have some hidden spaces. In fact, as we discovered, it’s filled with Prohibition-style speakeasies, secret burger joints and unassuming taco spots ready for some clandestine enjoyment. Places secret enough, in fact, that we got a few people angry for giving away their hidden favorites. See what we uncovered.
  • Number 8: East Village + Japan – New York’s East Village is a neighborhood best known for St. Mark’s Place and the youthful rebellion of Punk. But in 2009, the East Village is less the home of mohawked-rockers than ground zero for some first rate Japanese food, shopping and culture. Find out how to experience Tokyo without ever leaving the Big Apple.
  • Number 7: Best NYC Pizza – New York is a pizza-lover’s dream. Nothing better embodies the city’s frantic energy and high culinary standards than the simple New York slice. We investigated some of the best slices from here to Brooklyn and Staten Island (and back again) to crown New York’s pizza champions. See who came out on top.
  • Number 6: Graffiti Culture & 5 Pointz – the 1970’s and 80’s presented New York with a unique confluence of events: as the city fell apart due to massive budget problems, a golden era of hip-hop and street art came of age. We investigated New York’s wild graffiti history, even pointing a spot in Queens where you can see some awesome street art on a massive scale.
  • Number 5: Bronx Little Italy – many New York City visitors know about Manhattan’s Little Italy. But not very many are familiar with Arthur Avenue, a second Little Italy in The Bronx, site for some of the city’s most authentic Italian meats, cheeses and pastries. Italian food lovers will want to check this little-known spot out.
  • Number 4: Staten Island Graveyards – Staten Island is frequently regarded as New York’s “forgotten” Borough, an island that provides a shocking variety of unexpected attractions and great food. We investigated the ghostly boat graveyards just off Staten Island’s coast and then stopped off to visit another more human burial ground dating back to the Revolutionary War.
  • Number 3: Hudson River Valley – there’s a lot more to New York than its bustling metropolis. In fact, just north of the city that never sleeps lies one of the United States’ hidden treasures: the Hudson River Valley. Along the shores of this majestic waterway lie stunning views, contemporary art and regal Presidential mansions.
  • Number 2: Corona Park, Queens – Corona Park, located just South of Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport is quite possibly New York’s most outrageous hidden attraction, albeit one hidden in plain sight. Site of not one but two World’s Fair, Corona Park boast huge deserted stadiums, a 140-foot-tall globe, the temporary home of the United Nations and some of the best Lemon Ice ever.
  • Number 1: 7 Train to Latin America – New York is home to a huge range of immigrants, representing every corner of the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in Queens, a Borough home to a wildly diverse range of cultures, foods and attractions. Along Roosevelt Avenue you’ll find a rich mixture of authentic culture from around South and Central America boasting Mexican taco stands, Cuban food, Ecuadorean street carts and Argentine bakeries. It’s the equivalent of backpacking south of the border for 3 months, all less than an hour from Manhattan by subway.

Undiscovered New York: Take the 7 train to Latin America

A traveler could spend years exploring the vast region of the globe known as “Latin America.” From the picturesque colonial villages and indigenous cultures of Mexico, to the caipirinhas and Amazon rainforest in Brazil, to gauchos and cosmopolitan Buenos Aires in Argentina, Latin America is a region that defies easy categorization. But what if I told you that with a 30 minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, you could visit all of Latin America in a single afternoon?

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating (slightly). But the fact of the matter is that immigration from Latin America to the Big Apple is thriving, and visitors can reap the benefits by taking a mini-tour of Latin America in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. In just two hours along a strip of Roosevelt Avenue, one of the borough’s main thoroughfares, I had the chance to sample delicious Mexican street tacos, visit the shop of an indigenous Amazonian fortune teller and gorge myself on some Argentine sweets at a local bakery.

Tired of New York City pizza? Looking to get some Latin flavor during your trip and save you that flight down to Bogota? Join Undiscovered New York as we tour Roosevelt Avenue, New York’s “mini Latin America.”
What’s to Eat?
Perhaps the biggest attraction along Roosevelt Avenue is the authentic food. What all can you eat? There’s no simple way to answer this question – the amount of food and the countries it comes from is simply mind-boggling. Within a single block you are confronted with street trucks selling Ecuadorian specialties, Cuban lunch counters, cheesy arepas, and Mexican pastries among others. Particularly well-represented are the cuisines of Ecuador and Colombia, with numerous spots selling favorites like seafood stews with hominy, encebollado and fried plantains.

I quickly located a nearby taco stand and ordered myself a soft tortilla stuffed with spicy chorizo. After topping it with some lime and chili sauce I was enjoying some south-of-the-border snacking bliss. But no meal is complete without dessert, right? I stopped in B’Aires, an Argentine-style bakery, where I picked up some pastries stuffed with dulce de leche. Next I visited Vallecito Bakery, a Mexican pastry shop where I sipped on a bottle of lime Jarritos. I’m going to have to go back some other time for the Peruvian ceviche and Uruguayan morcilla. I was too stuffed!

What Else is There to Do?
After you’ve finished polishing off a few authentic tacos or that cup of seafood stew, you’ll probably be looking for something to do. What I found most interesting about this stretch of Roosevelt Avenue was browsing the various shops offering regional crafts and services. Day of the Dead is nearly upon us, and many of the Mexican vendors were selling brightly colored candy skulls, decorations and Pan de Muerto, the holiday’s special bread. I also discovered several shops advertising “Amazonian shaman” fortune tellers. The stores are filled with ritual indigenous trinkets and totems as well as “authentic” Amazon shamans who can tell your future. If shopping or fortune telliing isn’t really your thing, there’s plenty of bars along the strip offering nightly live music from their country of origin.

How to Get There
Though it may seem far away, making your way to Jackson Heights is not as hard as it may seem. Visitors near Times Square or Grand Central Terminal are only a short train ride away. Just grab a purple 7 train heading towards Flushing Main Street in Queens. You’ll be getting off at the 82 St – Jackson Heights. The strip of Roosevelt that runs from 80th to 90th streets is pretty much ground zero, with great restaurants, shops and bars branching off in all directions from the main drag.

Are you ready for some authentic Latin American culture? Vamos!