Central Park Running and NYC Travel Tips (Updated)

I wrote this post in April 2012 and updated it February 12, 2017, after we spent four days in NYC. I’m not positive the five-year-old dining and hotel recommendations below still stand, but I can vouch for the new recommendations added based on our trip last week. If you’re interested in running the 2017 New York City marathon on November 5, hurry! The deadline to apply is February 17, and the drawing takes place March 2.

My infrequent visits to NYC always start with a run in Central Park. Nowhere else in the city feels as welcome and familiar yet at the same time ripe for discovery.

Sometimes I’ll just cruise around the 6-mile perimeter loop, deviating from the pavement of the east and west sides of Park Drive where a dirt bridle path runs along it. Other times, I’ll ramble through the pathways of The Ramble and the various meadows. Usually I do at least one lap around the 1.5-mile Reservoir Track, my favorite place for a speed workout. Each time I notice something new: an obelisk here, a castle there. My eyes scan almost every breed of dog being walked while my ears pick up conversations in languages from around the globe.

Running the Reservoir Track

And here’s how it looked in February 2017, one day after a big blizzard nearly shut down the city! I enjoyed a glorious, albeit freezing-cold, run on a blue-sky day, with fresh snow on the reservoir track.

The first time I came here, I was 35, a small-town Californian dazzled to be in New York at last. It was Christmastime, a light snow turned the tree branches white, and I ran as hard as I could when I first stepped on the Reservoir Track to warm my chilled extremities. Nearly eight years later, when we returned last week (April 2012) for Spring Break, pink tree blossoms and Easter Egg-colored tulips added swatches of color to the greenery.

Trees blossoming throughout The Ramble

If you visit NYC and want advice on where to run in the park, where the nearest bathroom is, or whether there’s a 5K or 10K scheduled for the weekend (as one almost always is), just stop by the New York Road Runners kiosk next to the Fred Lebow statue at the East 90th Street entrance. Lebow, a runner and longtime president of the New York Road Runners club, founded the New York City marathon and last ran it in 1992, in celebration of his 60th birthday, after he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 1994.

New York Marathon founder Fred Lebow, immortalized watching his stop watch, next to the NYRR kiosk.

And here’s how Fred looked last week after the blizzard. I imagined him telling me, “Put your phone away, run hard, seize the day and never take your health for granted”—and so I did.

For more info on running in the park, visit the NYRR site or this Central Park guide.

And here are a few New York City travel tips from our visits:

The view from the Top of the Rock


From 2017: We’re glad we chose The W Hotel on Lexington at 49th, in Midtown; it was a good deal price-wise and featured nice modern rooms, a well-equipped and roomy fitness center, and a convenient location. It was almost exactly one mile to run from the hotel to the southeast corner of Central Park.

From 2012: I’ve stayed in a variety of hotels in NYC over the years and would recommend the one we chose this week as the best deal for families. The Hotel Beacon is on the Upper West Side at 75th and Broadway, easy access to the park and subway and close to great restaurants on Amsterdam and Columbus. We got a two-bedroom suite with a kitchenette that comfortably housed the four of us (the kids shared a pull-out sofa bed), and having the small kitchen to prepare simple meals was a relief from eating every meal out. The Hotel Beacon is right across the street from the Fairway, a fantastic gourmet supermarket.

Morgan on the High Line

Urban hikes: Walk from Central Park to Rockefeller Center and go to the Top of the Rock observation deck. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll catch Tina Fey outside filming an episode of 30 Rock. On another day, pass the dozens and dozens of ethnic restaurants along 9th Avenue through Hell’s Kitchen and go to 10th Avenue and 30th Street, the north end of the High Line. Then walk the length of the High Line, a one-mile path and urban garden along a former raised railway. It’s an ingenious example of urban renewal.

And no trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the World Trade Center memorial (you need to reserve a time to visit through the 9/11 Memorial website). It’s a stunning, humbling experience to see the footprints of the former twin towers, about an acre each, transformed into reflecting pools with cascades rimmed by the names of all those victims. In the midst of this vast memorial stands the Survivor Tree, the only living thing found by workers clearing the rubble in the month following 9/11. The pear tree was nursed back to life at a nursery, only to be uprooted during a wind storm in 2010, but then it was brought back to health again and finally planted in the middle of the plaza. Several anchors prop up the tree, suggesting frailty, but new green leaves on its branches show that it’s thriving.

The Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial


From 2017: We had three excellent dinners out, and one so-so, each at a different price point.

Most expensive and chichi but worth it: Gotham Bar and Grill, 12th Street in Greenwich Village. This place opened in 1984 but, surprisingly, it still earns and deserves its ratings as a New York favorite top restaurant. I had to-die-for pork; Morgan splurged on lobster. We will be eating beans out of cans for the rest of the week to make up for the cost, and I will be going vegetarian for several weeks to make up for a too-meat-heavy week.

Great Midtown meal: Crave Fishbar, near the W Hotel on 2nd Ave. Cozy, pub-like interior belies a sophisticated menu with (allegedly) sustainable seafood and fantastic raw bar. I feasted on a cheese plate and swordfish with a magnificent wild mushroom assortment.

Good place for a pre-theater meal near Times Square: The Glass House Tavern on West 47th. Morgan and Colly had tickets to Hamilton, lucky them! In fact, that was the impetus for this trip; Colly is obsessed with the show, so a ticket to it was her big Christmas present. (I decided to save many hundreds of dollars and skip it, so it was a father-daughter date.) Before the show, we ate here, and I had my one and only disappointing meal (braised lamb). I also wasn’t crazy about the dark interior. But, Morgan and Colly’s fillets were excellent and generous, and the appetizers did not disappoint.

Affordable and great for big families, near Washington Square Park and NYU: OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria at 5th Ave and 8th Street. We had a big gathering with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew and nephew’s wife. Finding a table for 8 that we all can afford might have been challenging, but OTTO Enoteca turned out to be perfect, with generous appetizers, excellent homemade pastas and tasty (but not amazing) thin-crust pizzas. I appreciated the attentive service and generous wine pours, too. We splurged on dessert, and it wasn’t just the wine talking—those desserts were amazing.

Our extended-family dinner at OTTO pizzeria.

From 2012: Three of my favorite dining experiences: The Mermaid Inn seafood and raw shellfish bar on the Upper West Side, Blossom vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Chelsea, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner in Midtown, aka “the singing waitress place.” The food at Ellen’s is mediocre diner fare, but it’s a hoot to hear the wait staff sing show tunes.

A wannabe Broadway star sings at Ellen’s Stardust Diner

This post only captures a fraction of what we did during this memorable family vacation. I know we’ll return in the years ahead because we love exploring the city—for a few days, at least. Admittedly, the crowds grow tiresome and the feet start to ache.

It’s crazy, in spite of all the things we’ve done in NYC—all the museums and must-see sights—we still haven’t been to the Met or the Statue of Liberty! Someday … (Update: See below!)

My kids wanted to play in Central Park instead of go to The Met.



The four of us on the High Line – 2012

Here’s how my beautiful girl Colly, now almost age 19, looks mid-blizzard as we stood outside of NBC Studios in Rockefeller Plaza last week.

Now that Colly is a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, she very much wanted to go to museums. We spent one day at MoMA and another at The Met. If I had to pick just one, I’d definitely choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spend two days there if possible. It’s huge, awe-inspiring and spans all of history. MoMA was certainly cool to see again, however. 

Here’s how MoMA’s sculpture garden looks with fresh snow.

We had a wonderful time with our grown-up girl, on her break from college. Sadly, Kyle couldn’t come with us on this trip because he’s in school.

Call for comments: What are your favorite places to stay and eat, things to do, and routes to run in New York City?


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9 Responses to Central Park Running and NYC Travel Tips (Updated)

  1. Dave April 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Great blog, as always, and I’m envious of the NYC trip! The last time Jan and I were in NYC we stayed at the Palace, and if you’re doing mostly mid-town stuff, it’s great! We’ll definitely check out the Hotel Beacon, next time, since we’re always looking for mini-apartments for more extended-stay situations. Thanks for that!
    As far as my “favorite” NYC runs…I wish I could repeat my favorite NYC running experience, but it was completely accidental. About 15 years ago I was staying for a few days with a friend who lived on West End Ave, near 90th and one morning I went out for a Central Park run from there. I ran around the reservoir, then headed south, just picking one random trail after another. I had intended to be out for about an hour, but I was feeling good and waited until the 75 minute mark before deciding to head on out of the park to Central Park West, then head back up to my friend’s apartment. Only when I emerged from the park on Central Park South across from the Plaza hotel, did I realize that I had gotten COMPLETELY (180 degrees) turned around! This is one of maybe three times in my entire life that my typically-good sense of direction failed me. Then I had a good 35+ blocks to run to get back to where I was staying. My “about an hour” run turned into three hours, and still stands as my favorite NYC running experience.

  2. David Lavender February 12, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    So jealous! But glad a good time was had by all the siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews!


  3. Dave Sloane February 13, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    About five years ago, I posted my favorite NYC run from many years ago. Your 2017 trip sounds great and it took me back to the several trips I took to NYC while my daughter was at Pratt. Since she was living in Brooklyn, my running routes shifted out of Manhattan and over to Brooklyn. I had several great runs in and around Prospect park and this great old cemetery (which is featured in numerous films), Greenwood Park. You’re not technically supposed to run in the cemetery, but my daughter was dating an anarchist at the time and he encouraged me!

  4. Sabrina February 13, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Your family is adorable, and I LOVE NYC.

  5. Ryan February 14, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    I stay at either the Viceroy Central Park or Le Parker Meridien. I LOVE running at rush hour when the sidewalks fill up. Run around a few blocks while south of the park, then loop the park while exploring every “trail” you pass. I like to head back south on the sidewalks along 5th for more great people watching-dodging. I’m with you, love NYC – for a few days. By then I’m just starved to get away from the East Coast, back to a land where people say “Thank You” when you hold a door for them.

  6. Ben February 14, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    While the Park is the most enjoyable, particularly stringing together the off pavement 10k loop as much as possible, the West Side Highway is a great place to start and end if you want to run directly in to the Park and are not staying close. Especially in the spring it’s fun to connect the lower West Side, run past Chelsea Piers, and all the way up to and in to the Park. Or, you can keep going along the WSH really far north up to the GW bridge and further. It’s really peaceful the further north you go.

  7. Sean grove February 16, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    In NYC now for work, and went out for 10 miles this morning. Now the reservoir track is just mud, puddles, and a little slush. Would’ve been more fun with snow. But still awesome to run through this city!


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