As someone who has spent most of the last two decades in New York City, I can't begin to count the number of times visiting friends and friends of friends have asked me for 'fun things to do in New York City.'
This week, as part of my web video series exploring the local secrets beyond the usual tourist stops, I'm taking on Lower Manhattan to show some of its hidden sides. If you're heading to visit the 9/11 Memorial and are looking for other things to do in the area, try these tips.
Trinity Church's gravestones
New York's most historic church, dating from 1698, faces Wall Street from Broadway. Visitors often pop in to see the stained glass, perhaps peek into the free museum (which includes a cut-out $10 bill so you can pose as Alexander Hamilton).
The Hamilton focus is there because the country's first US Secretary of Treasury - who was shot in a duel by the former Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804 (no, Dick Cheney wasn't the first VP to shoot someone) - is buried outside. But that's not the best part of the cemetery. On the bigger plot, on the north side of the church, there are shady spots to sit, and at the far northeastern corner lies James Leeson, who left a coded message atop his tombstone. According to Kevin Walsh's superb book Forgotten New York, the code was finally cracked nearly a century after his death in 1794. See the video for its (slightly anti-climatic) message.
National Museum of the American Indian
Manhattan got its name from the Lenape word for either 'place of hills' or 'place of inebriation' (the latter is certainly more apt in the past few hundred years), and Broadway itself follows old hunting trails that date centuries before Henry Hudson wandered this way. A great place to learn more about all of the Americas' pre-Columbian inhabitants is this free, relatively quiet museum. Part of the Smithsonian (and open every day), the exhibit of artifacts fills the gorgeous century-old Customs House.
Many equate Native Americans with images seen in old westerns - usually wearing the attire of the Plains Indians, evident in a shirt that may have been worn by Sioux legend Crazy Horse. The 'Infinity of Nations' exhibit gives a fuller picture. I also enjoyed thumbing through Native American newspapers from around the country and seeing works like the painting by Naiche, a Chiricahua Apache 'prisoner-of-war' at Fort Sill, Oklahoma a century ago.
3. Stone Street dining
I'm always shocked how many people eat lunch at unmemorable places on Broadway or chains at South Street Seaport. Locals instead bee-line for the city's first paved street, Stone Street, a small traffic-free winding lane filled with covered tables a few blocks east of Broadway (and south of Wall Street), lined with good food and bars. It gets BUSY on weekday lunches (noon to 1:30pm) and as work winds down (after 4pm). Go then, and share an outside table.