I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published June 3rd 2010
If you've got a few hours to kill and nowhere in particular to be, there is no place like New York City. Wandering around the five boroughs on foot, especially during the summer months when heavy clothes come off and the streets come alive, is among the most inspiring weekend activities. The curious-minded are bound to happen upon fantastic food, a random street fair, a fashionable boutique, or even an undiscovered park bench or a desolate side street. It's among the best ways to exercise, people watch, and clear your mind.
Most everyone has walked across the Brooklyn Bridge; both tourists and New Yorkers alike adore John Roebling's masterpiece of engineering. But did you know that the Williamsburg Bridge's steel cables were also a Roebling innovation, or that the bridge's creator, Leffert Lefforts Buck, served in the Civil War? History like this and more awaits you as you wander around Manhattan's Lower East Side, meander across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn, and enter another ethnic alcove, Williamsburg.
Begin your tour in the heart of the Lower East Side's shopping district, Orchard Street. Once there, explore its cache of one-of-a-kind boutiques, such as Still Life (77 Orchard between Grand and Broome Streets) for a swanky pair of vintage shades and a new straw hat, both perfect for helping you keep cool while blocking nasty, cancer-causing UV rays. While you're there, check out the store's amazing selection of candles in fragrances from Icelandic Moon Flower to Indian Jasmine.
Your next stop is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Shop (108 Orchard at Delancey Street). Named among New York City's best gift shops by the New York Times, it has a variety of unique items for urban trendsetters. We especially like the ceramic "We Are Happy To Serve You" Greek amphora diner mug, a tribute to the recently deceased designer Leslie Buck (no relation to Leffert Lefforts Buck) and the "I Heart New York" silk-screened dish towel.
Finally, make your way to the Middle Eastern-themed boutique Sheherazade (121 Orchard Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets) for some exotic housewares, including gorgeous Syrian mirrors, Moroccan lanterns, and wooden stools upholstered in colorful Suzani textiles hand woven by Uzbek women.
Before heading over the bridge and into Brooklyn, stock up on some pocket treats. Our favorite stop for such items is Economy Candy (just one block over on 108 Rivington Street). Family owned and operated since 1937, Economy Candy is one-stop-shopping for the sweet-tooth set. Heavy in nostalgic favorites like Necco Wafers, Mary Janes, and gummy bears, Economy Candy has something for everyone with prices that are recession-friendly.
If you take this walk on a weekend, be sure to stop by the Hester Street Fair, a newly opened market located in Seward Park between Essex and Norfolk Streets. Besides hosting a variety of interesting sellers of vintage and handmade items, they have invited some of New York's most sought-after gourmet vendors, including hand-baked pretzels from the East Village's Sigmund Pretzels, farm-fresh omelets and hand-squeezed juices from Too Good Traders, delicious artisan breads from Pain D'Avignon, imported Canadian bagels from Brooklyn's Mile End, chocolates from Roni-Sue, and homemade popsicles in flavors that include avocado, mango, and hibiscus. If all else fails, or if you're limited for cash, try the tasty dumplings across the street at North Dumpling. At 5 for $1 they are among the city's least expensive (and yummiest!) snacks.
After the indulging, head back to nearby Delancey Street to hoof it across the Williamsburg Bridge. The lengthy span offers quite a bit of exercise, terrific views from 300-feet up, and an ever-changing tour of graffiti. You'll be thankful to finally get to Williamsburg, which seems a little sleepy from the bridge entrance. Walk a few blocks north, however, and follow the hipsters. They'll show you to the nearest coffee shop, point you in the direction of Bedford Avenue for some livelier action, and welcome you with open arms.