Waterfront view in the Upper West Side, New York City

City Guide / New York City

New York City Neighborhood Guide: Upper West Side

By Ruthie Fierberg | Oct 25, 2021

If you’re moving to New York City, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of neighborhoods to choose from. The Upper West Side might sound like one small section of New York, but truth be told, it technically covers the West side of Central Park (from Central Park West to Riverside Drive) from 58th Street to 125th Street. The mini-neighborhoods include Lincoln Square (58th to 70th Streets), the heart of the Upper West Side (71st to 96th Streets), Manhattan Valley (96th to 110th Streets), and Morningside Heights (110th to 125th Streets). 

With its multiple subway lines, the West Side has traditionally been the busier side of Manhattan. Active New Yorkers find there’s greater connectivity on the West Side, and going north of Midtown (hence, “Upper”) gets you out of the melee and chaos. The higher you go, the relatively quieter it gets. 

The proximity to the Theatre Disrict and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts at 66th Street means the UWS is made for the cultured. Venture higher into the 70s and 80s on Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus Avenues and you’ll get young couples and families. Move farther towards the River or the Park, and you’ll find older, Manhattan elite. There is also a vibrant Jewish community (young, single professionals to lifelong New Yorkers) in the 80s and 90s. Morningside Heights is anchored to Columbia University at 116th Street and bustles with undergrads, graduate students, and young professionals.

Thinking about moving to the Upper West Side? Here’s our guide to the best restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, outdoor attractions, gyms, nightlife, and transportation in the neighborhood. 

Best restaurants in the area

Around Lincoln Square, it’s always a scene at The Smith, which is a popular brunch and pre-theatre dinner spot. For something more upscale, you might try Bouloud Sud from celebrity chef Daniel Bouloud or Atlantic Grill . For something casual and tasty, try El Mitote.

As you head north, the 70s and 80s along Columbus and Amsterdam are lined with restaurants. You won’t really find a dud, but there is a difference between good and excellent. Land Thai is our favorite for Thai lunch or dinner, whereas Tessa boasts incredible Mediterranean food for brunch and dinner. Fred’s is a top spot for American brunch, lunch, and dinner.

You absolutely must have brunch at Jacob’s Pickles—do not miss the French toast, mac n’ cheese, or biscuits.  H&H Bagels is the destination for a New York bagel in the area. Go for family-style Italian—the best in Manhattan—at Carmine’s, or have seafood dinner at The Mermaid Inn. For a Kosher meat meal, you’ll want New Amsterdam Burger Bar and Talia’s Steakhouse.

Don’t forget dessert! Magnolia Bakery (first made famous by “Sex and the City”) makes banana pudding that is to die for. You also must try ice cream at Van Leeuwen. The cookies at Milk Bar are super sweet (from Corn to Blueberries and Cream to the Compost Cookie), but the ultimate item here is a slice of Classic Birthday Cake. The best cookies in Manhattan? Levain!

Where to get groceries

The most full-service grocery story at the least expensive prices is Trader Joe’s. The UWS houses two locations, one in the 70s and on in the 90s. There are also Whole Foods locations underground at Columbus Circle and up in the 90s. 

Fairway is excellent for all your needs, but especially for fresh meats and seafoods from the onsite butcher. This is also the best and most affordable kosher meat spot.

Higher up is West Side Market at both 97th Street and Broadway and 110th Street and Broadway. This spot is best for produce and prepared foods. 

If you want something true New York, hit up  Jewish deli institution Barney Greengrass or Zabar’s, the gourmet emporium specializing in smoked fish, caviar, coffee, cheese, and Jewish baked goods (like rugeluch). You’ll also find produce stands (more fruits than vegetables) spotted all over street corners. These can be great quality for much less money.

Where to get coffee

The Hungarian Pastry Shop is an NYC staple, serving Hungarian coffee and homemade treats. It has an intellectual, no-frills vibe (see: no WiFi). Every cup at Birch Coffee is hand-roasted in Long Island City. Bluestone Lane came imported from Australia, so don’t miss their flat white. 

Plowshares Coffee Roasters boasts the most carefully crafted pours in the neighborhood. Cafe Lalo (which you may recognize from “You’ve Got Mail”) offers an authentic European brew to go with its Parisian atmosphere. Try one of their scrumptious pies while you’re at it!

Irving Farm New York was the city’s first-ever Kalita brew bar for Japanese-styled pour-over coffee. Of course, you’re never too far from a Starbucks, Dunkin’, or Le Pain Quotidien.

Outdoor attractions

It doesn’t get better than Central Park, which stretches from its opulent entrance at 59th Street Columbus Circle all the way to 110th Street. Sheep Meadow is the hotspot for sunbathers and frisbee in the warm weather, but the Great Lawn is also a good hang. Take a jaunt around the gorgeous Reservoir, rent a rowboat for a paddle around The Lake, wander around The Ramble, and snap a photo at the famous Strawberry Fields mosaic. You can live here for years and still find more nooks and crannies to explore amid the park’s green space.

If Central Park is a big block in the middle of Manhattan, Riverside is a narrow but beautiful strip that borders the Hudson River. You might also find the plaza at Lincoln Center relaxing—sit by the fountain in the newly redesigned and greenified center in this neighborhood.

Local gyms and workout spots

Keep your workout outdoors! Join a kickball or softball team (ZogSports), snag a tennis court in at the Central Park Tennis Center or a clay court in Riverside Park, or hit up the rings course in Riverside Park at 106th Street. 

For a more traditional gym, you can find Equinox, New York Sports Club, Crunch Fitness, Barry’s, CrossFit, and SoulCycle. Looking for a gym with a pool? The JCC Manhattan is a great option. Take a climb at the Central Rock Gym. Pure Barre offers a variety of barre classes, and Bode NYC offers traditional Bikram yoga, hot pilates, hot HIIT, Yin Nidra, and more. 

Nightlife

Lincoln Center isn’t just a place to mill about and enjoy the weather. The performing arts campus hosts the award-winning New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center Theater, the New York Philharmonic, Film at Lincoln Center, and special events at each venue. Hear some jazz in the big hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center (home of the JALC Orchestra), or go for a more casual evening typically featuring a smaller group at Dizzy’s Club

If you want a grittier jazz scene—more jam session than concert—try Smoke. Symphony Space hosts concerts, readings, screenings, and more.

Second Stage Theater Company (producer of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre) also has an uptown venue. In the summers, catch free theatre at the Delacorte—and outpost of the infamous Public Theater inside Central Park. The theatre is famous for its re-imagined productions of Shakespeare that are free and open to the public via ticket lottery. 

Bar life is bustling on Amsterdam in the 80s—The Gin Mill and Jake’s Dilemma are your usual sports bar types and generally attract a younger crowd. Try Dive 75 for a homey environment with tons of beers on tap. The Ribbon and Cotta are our choices for a classier cocktail or glass of wine and nibbles. 

Things to do

“Things to do” is the reason to live in New York! As you can already tell, there’s no shortage of activity in the neighborhood. The American Museum of Natural History and its Hayden Planetarium are the greatest indoor attractions on the Upper West Side. You can spend hours exploring dinosaur exhibits, sparkling gems, and an obligatory visit to the Whale. 

You may also want to hit up the New York Historical Society or the Museum of Arts and Design. Want some retail therapy? The best area for boutique shopping in the neighborhood is Amsterdam or Columbus in the 70s.

Transportation

The West Side is highly connected with easy access to other parts of NYC. A monthly Metrocard ($127 for 30 days) is the best bang for your buck. The Local 1 train and Express 2/3 run along Broadway from 59th to 110th Streets. At 110th Street, the 1 continues up Broadway, the 2 and 3 diverge east. 

The Local C runs on Central Park West from 125th to 59th Streets (the Express A is its counterpart, making fewer stops on the same route). The Local B runs on Central Park West from 125th to 59th Streets (the Express D is its counterpart). Above 125th and below 59th Streets, the lines diverge. 

Use the same Metrocard for the above-ground bus system. The buses make much more frequent stops, but are the best option going across town from West to East or if you want to avoid stairs. 

Uber, Lyft, and Via all operate widely throughout Manhattan. You can also flag a yellow taxi on any street to go directly from point A to point B (it’s customary to add a 15% to 20% tip). 

Land a great apartment in the Upper West Side

If you like the idea of moving to an apartment in the Upper West Side, Landing offers fully furnished apartments with flexible lease terms, concierge services, seamless transfers, and all the amenities you need to start living in your new home. Browse our available apartments in the Upper West Side, or contact us to learn more about how a Landing membership works.

Still looking for the right NYC neighborhood for you? Browse our other New York City neighborhood guides here!

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About the author

Ruthie Fierberg

Ruthie Fierberg is an independent arts journalist, editor, moderator, on-camera host, producer, and theatrical consultant based in New York City. She is the creator and host of the podcast Why We Theater on the Broadway Podcast Network, which digs into the onstage works we love to create the offstage change we need. Find more at ruthiefierberg.com and follow her IG: @ruthiefierceberg / Twitter: @RuthiesATrain.