How to see New York in Three Hours

When we decided to spend a whole month in my hometown on the East End of Long Island I was confident that we’d be able to fit in a visit to New York City. I lived in the city my whole adult life since starting my freshman year at NYU in 1990 (so, so long ago), and Chris had been living in New York for several years before we met and then moved to Los Angeles together in 2005. I was really looking forward to getting to see friends and former colleagues, visit museums, enjoy some great food, walk for miles through changing neighborhoods, and show the kids around.

The month ended up passing by so quickly, with visitors coming and going, that I realized a trip into the city just wasn’t going to happen. Once we were at my parents’ house it was hard to think about taking even a couple days away from my siblings and our 5-month-old nephew/cousin when we didn’t know how long it would be before we would see each other again. And to be honest, as much as I love New York and really wanted to get back in and see friends, it was also nice to just stay in one place and relax for a little while.

No complaints about staying here for a month.


Our general plan after Long Island was to go to the DC area before heading back West, and eventually we decided to make overnight stops in New York and Philadelphia on the way. This raised an internal dilemma: as much as I wanted to get in touch with friends, I knew I would have little time to get together, much less see everyone I would have liked to. So instead, I took an all-or-nothing approach and didn’t let anyone know I was in the area until after the fact. It reminded me of when Chris and I eloped, which was the best decision but still not one made lightly, knowing that we were leaving people out. (To bring things full circle, my parents’ organized an awesome lobster bake wedding celebration the following summer at the same beach where Lobsterfest is held.)

Lobsterfest! Our own lobster wedding celebration took place here, long before any of these children were twinkles in their respective parents’ eyes.


So where do you park an RV in New York?  About the closest you can get is Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. When we were in Niagara Falls we experienced some sticker shock at the prices of RV spots and kept driving without a second thought, but we barely blinked when it came to spending $100 a night for basically a parking spot with an electrical outlet. Given the cost of a hotel room in New York, as well as the cost and logistics of traveling into the city from further away, we knew that being able to park our home and leave the dogs in A/C for a few hours while we hopped on a ferry into the city was… well, we were willing to pay what they were charging. (There’s even a small grassy area with tent camping spots, if you really want to see New York on the cheap.)

Close neighbors in Liberty Harbor RV Park.
View of the commuter parking lot on the harbor with the RV park behind it.


We had arrived on Long Island by ferry at Orient Point, so this would be our first time taking the RV through and around New York City. Chris did an incredible job driving on the congested and bumpy roadways and bridges, while making sure we didn’t end up on a parkway by mistake and get stuck under a low bridge. I was extra vigilant about reading every sign along the way, although “follow all the trucks” was a good plan too. We took the Long Island Expressway to the Throgs Neck Bridge to the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.  After surviving all of that, Chris still had to navigate the rig (with towed Explorer) through narrow busy streets and construction in Jersey City.  It was definitely one of the most intense 3 ½ hour drives we’ve made. 

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Crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge between Queens and the Bronx.
There is nothing express about the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Upper Level! Stay to the left!


I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn and was not very familiar with the other side of the Hudson River, aka New Jersey. Liberty Harbor is within easy walking distance to two ferry lines and the PATH train into Manhattan. The RV Park provides comprehensive information about the different transportation options, proximity, costs, and schedules. We didn’t have time to explore but were also right next to Liberty State Park, Liberty Science Center, and a ferry to the inspiration for all these names: the Statue of Liberty. I loved walking around the harbor, with everything from little sailboats and fishing boats to James Bond-worthy yachts; through brownstone-lined streets with neighborhood shops and restaurants; around sleek high-rises and green parks; and along the wide promenade with breathtaking views of Manhattan.

Liberty Harbor, with the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan in view.
Manhattan Yacht Club.


View of the Empire State Building and uptown from Jersey City.

 

Incredible sunset from Morris Canal Park.

Since this wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be our last trip to New York and our time was limited, we decided to keep things simple and stick to Lower Manhattan. We also chose going into the city over visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. From what I’ve read about the time and effort it takes to get through the ticket lines and security, plus the cost of the ferry, we decided to postpone that experience for when the kids are a bit older and can maybe appreciate it more. Instead, I used the Hamilton cast album as a basis to come up with a walking tour itinerary around Colonial New York sites and National Monuments to make a road schooling field trip.

We missed the morning commuting hours for the New York Waterways ferry right next to the RV park, but only had to walk 10 minutes around the harbor for the Liberty Landing Ferry. The passenger load was light at 10:30am, and included a family of German tourists who must have gotten the “stay in Jersey City” travel tip.  

Traveling by ferry into and out of Manhattan is a treat in itself.


There’s nothing quite like approaching Manhattan from the water: taking in the skyline and the building details as you’re propelled closer over the waves; feeling a part of the New York Harbor activity with all the other ferries, tour boats, and sailboats on the Hudson; seeing shipping containers and the Staten Island Ferry framed by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance.

We exited at the World Financial Center Terminal at Vesey Street, and were off on our walking tour. I’ve always loved the Financial District’s juxtaposition of historical buildings and narrow cobblestone streets crammed in with the relentlessly new. In just a few blocks you can you see both the still-operating tavern where George Washington held a farewell banquet for his troops, and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Below is a map with our major stops marked by stars, including lunch at The White Horse Tavern – Financial District, not to be confused with the original and esteemed White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. The food was unremarkable, but a great deal for a comfortable sit-down meal of a burger and pint of Guinness for $10, and the service was fast and friendly. I’m disappointed that I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally do during the day. We’re out of practice navigating busy city streets and were preoccupied with both checking Google Maps and keeping the kids from stepping in front of a taxi. I didn’t realize until now that I have no photos of the lovely City Hall gardens where we stopped for a view of the Brooklyn Bridge before returning to the ferry.

The Irish Hunger Memorial is an arresting place, located next to the river right by the ferry terminal.
Close up of the Irish Hunger Memorial with the Freedom Tower.


Like everyone else who lived in the city at the time, Chris and I have our own September 11 stories. This was our first time at the 9/11 Memorial, and telling the kids about what happened.
Detail of the 9/11 memorial, with the new Oculus building at the rebuilt World Trade Center train station.


Visiting the Hamilton family plot at Trinity Church. Seeing the graves of Alexander, Elizabeth, Philip, and Angelica was a vivid illustration to the kids that these characters from the musical were real people who lived right here in New York.


The biggest crush of tourists we saw by far was at the Charging Bull statue. The back end of the bull was just as popular for photos…
Rita and Fearless Girl, the statue that now faces Charging Bull.


At the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House, now the National Museum of the American Indian. Next time we’ll actually go into the museum. I don’t have a photo,  but between this building and Charging Bull is Bowling Green, the oldest public park in New York City.


Opened in 1762, Fraunces Tavern is where George Washington hosted a farewell dinner for the officers of the Continental Army in 1783. The tavern is still operating and also houses a museum.
The kids are still disappointed they didn’t get to ride on the fantastic Seaglass Carousel at The Battery.
Castle Clinton National Monument was built as a fort for the War of 1812 and subsequently served as an exhibition hall, theater, beer garden, aquarium, and America’s first immigration entry station before Ellis Island. There are exhibits around the perimeters of the Castle, but the main attractions while we were there were the Statue of Liberty ticket booth and a dance performance.

 

Federal Hall National Monument, across from the New York Stock Exchange, where George Washington took the oath of office. There is an excellent Interpretive Center and exhibits inside about the deep history of this site.
View of Trinity Church from Wall Street.

 

Inside the Oculus, the new World Trade Center transportation hub opened in 2016. The original PATH train terminal was destroyed on September 11.
We are so not commuters.

 

World Financial Center ferry station, with Jersey City in view across the Hudson River.

All in all, it was a great way for the kids to take in some history, earn a couple junior ranger badges, and just enjoy the buzz of walking around New York for a little while. I don’t know that we’ll be back with the RV – getting out of Jersey City was extra fun with delivery trucks double parked on both sides of the one-way street outside the RV park – but it was a memorable experience. I’m still sad that we didn’t get to see friends or explore more, but we love New York and will be back for a longer visit!

Until next time, New York.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post! If you come back to NJ/NYC after July 2018, I can help you find a place to park other than the RV Park in Jersey City. From my house, the commuter bus to NYC is at the end of the block during commuter hours, otherwise there is bus and train service about a ten minute walk away — my house is 12 miles west of midtown Manhattan. My driveway might not work (it’s really narrow), but I bet I could help you figure something out.

    My husband commuted to Jersey City for the past few years, and as a result is well-acquainted with the RV Park in which you stayed. It was hard enough for him to negotiate that traffic in a Prius — I can’t even imagine in an RV! I’m glad you had fun in Lower Manhattan. We did a similar day trip with friends maybe a year and a half ago, also inspired by Hamilton (but we also added Chinatown and Little Italy and did less of the lower Manhattan stuff than you did). It’s funny how little touristy stuff we do in NYC given how close we normally live (we do some, but finding the time and energy is often easier said than done when you aren’t dedicating your time to travel stuff). When we’re back in NJ for a few weeks in November, we’ll do lots.

    Liberty Science Center is cool, by the way, but nowhere near the best science museum I’ve seen (my kids have been there a gazillion times over the years). The exhibits are fun and interactive, but light on actually explaining the underlying science, which to me is kind of the point of a science museum. The Statue of Liberty is definitely worth a trip, and I’m excited to finally get to Ellis Island (I’ve never been there).

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    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you, Sarah! Next time we’re back in the area we’re not sure if it will be with the RV… but will let you know 🙂 It was a really quick trip, but I’m so glad we got to take the kids into the city and be back ourselves for a little bit. I haven’t been to Ellis Island either, will get there someday!

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