I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Grab your list and head to the seventh-annual Columbus Circle Holiday Market where dozens of independent vendors have set up temporary red and white stalls and packed them with unique and affordable gifts.
Like its sister market in Union Square, Columbus Circle Holiday Market vendors have been hand selected with the neighborhood in mind. At the southwest corner entrance of Central Park known as "Merchant's Gate" you'll find a vast array of handmade knits, wooden puzzles, ceramics, gingerbread house kits, home décor, kitchen and gourmet food items, men's and ladies accessories and apparel, designer jewelry, children's toys, and much more. Check out gadgets by Dijital Fix, jewelry by Bullfrog Creatives, and T-shirts by Handmade in Brooklyn. Foodies will also be delighted to see more than a few stalls dedicated to local restaurants including Brooklyn's own Pies 'n' Thighs as well as others serving hot beverages and holiday treats. If you're having trouble locating the truffles, head to the market's new concierge service, which is great for out-of-towners or shoppers otherwise unfamiliar with the Upper West Side neighborhood.
Stop by Time Warner Center, located just across Columbus Circle, to see Holiday Under the Stars an ongoing LED, fiber optic, and strobing light show that is set to holiday music. The kids will be mesmerized and everyone will have a chance to warm chilled fingers and toes. All of the stores are open during extended holiday hours and the light show continues until midnight.
If you'd prefer a nearby destination that is less consumer oriented, consider dropping by the Museum of Arts and Design, also situated on Columbus Circle. Robert, the museum restaurant on the ninth floor, not only has fantastic American fare, but the views are gorgeous and it serves dinner until midnight. (Budget-conscious readers' note: The museum hosts a Pay-What-You-Wish Night on Thursdays from 6:00 to 9:00PM.) For more gift ideas, check out the museum gift shop that showcases designer jewelry from more than 200 rotating designers.
Once you've completed your shopping, walk off the holiday pounds early by taking a stroll around Central Park. Wollman Rink is close by, so you can hang out for a while and watch as New Yorkers get their skate on.