A Day Out in New York's Lower East Side and Chinatown

by Stephanie Ogozalek
Average rating of 5/5. (1 Rating)
My rating
  • I love it!
  • I like it a lot!
  • I like it.
  • Just okay.
  • Not for me.

New York City is more than just Manhattan. To most, New York City is The Big Apple, but I like to call Manhattan's Lower East Side and Chinatown the Big Onion. Like an onion, this area appears different on the outside than it does on the inside, and as you explore and peel back the layers you discover the history and soul of this unique part of the city. Today, a visitor might write off these crowded, confusing neighborhoods of named streets, but an afternoon or day trip will uncover a real New York. For the original immigrant communities, these streets were a bastion of hope to the many that crossed oceans looking to start over, and their vibrancy become a sort of forefather of modern day New York City. Over the past 200 years Irish, German, Jewish, Italian and Asian peoples have settled, lived and left these streets, but not before their cultures left a permanent imprint. As you spend some time here you can peel back layers to glimpse the lives of these fascinating hard working people who built the churches and temples which still stand, and for whom the playgrounds, parks and libraries were first built. Recent immigrants continue to call this are home, but today they arrive on airplanes from the Americas and far eastern countries. The hipsters are also coming, via subway from all over the city, lured into the neighborhoods by cheap rent, and they creating yet another layer of the urban landscape.

Reviewers:

Stephanie and her 5-year-old son, Sebastian

Why families love it:

A visit to the Manhattan neighborhoods east of Broadway and south of Delancey are an adventure — even for longtime city residents like me. T he landscape is dotted with Buddhist temples, ancient churches and tremendous synagogues. The streets twist and turn with names instead of numbers, and there is something new around every corner. The area boasts a wealth of independent and ethnic grocers, restaurants of every ilk and mom and pop shops that are almost out of step with the rest of the ever changing city. We love to walk these streets, look at the exotic wares piled out on the sidewalk, try the street food of different cultures and just escape to a different world without ever leaving home.

How to get there:

This area is as far East as you can go in downtown Manhattan and is serviced by just a few subways, but subways are still the best way to get there. The main driving thorough fares are very congested and there isn't a lot of parking. Take the 6 train to Canal Street and walk south east, or take the F train to Delancey Street and walk southwest.

Stephanie's Lower East Side/Chinatown picks:

1. Aji Ichiban

37 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

Kids will likely be intimidated of this store at first because they are immediately presented with bins and bins of all sorts of dried fish, exotic candy and preserved and salted fruit. As soon as they see the bins of gummy candies they will quickly change their mind. 

2. William H Seward Park

Canal Street at Essex Street and East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

This is the first playground built by any city in the United States, so it is no surprise that it began to show its age and needed an overhaul. In 2001 it was totally refurbished with two brand new play structures and summer time sprinklers. The playground is as bright and colorful as its surrounding neighborhood and is well used by local families. 

3. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

108 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

Most historic homes show you how "the other half lives" but not this one. This museum shows how the teeming masses of newly minted Americans lived and worked during the great waves of immigration in 1863 through 1935. Learn how and why they settled on the Lower East Side by experiencing the stories of just a few of the 7,000 residents from 20 different backgrounds. 

4. The Doughnut Plant

379 Grand Steet
New York, NY 10002

As you walk around the Lower East Side, the aroma of Chinese food will fade, allowing the scent of freshly made doughnuts to waft through. Follow that scent to the Doughnut Plant. If you can't figure it out by smell, just look for the doughnut-starved masses waiting on line outside the tiny bakery on Grand Street. You can't miss it. These doughnuts are, simply put, amazing. 

5. The Golden Unicorn

18 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

The Golden Unicorn is one the finest restaurants in Chinatown, but you might think you made a mistake when you enter what appears to be an office building. A quick elevator ride reveals a bustling restaurant spread across two floors. Although the restaurant serves a regular menu, the main attraction here is the dim sum. 

Stephanie Ogozalek is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of New York City with her husband and 5-year-old son.

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