The Single Best Way to See the Statue of Liberty …
There are three ways to visit the Statue of Liberty. Wander around Liberty Island and gawk up from the ground. Access the pedestal level and Statue of Liberty museum. Or do all that and climb to the crown. Of the 3.5 million people who visit the statue each year, just 87,000 go to the crown. You want to be among those 87,000.
Since 9/11, you have to undergo several security screenings, but that’s actually part of the appeal. As you pass through each checkpoint, you feel like you and your dwindling number of co-conspirators (only a handful of people are allowed up at a time) are being granted entrance to a secret inner sanctum—which, of course, you are.
About the stairs. There are 354 of them, climbing some 300 feet. Spiraling upward in a steep, narrow, dimly lit helix, they are claustrophobic and vertiginous, like something out of Hitchcock. Inside, you see things you have never seen. Elaborate steel buttressing and giant Erector Set bolts hold together the huge sheets of pleated copper that form what from the outside appear to be the statue’s smoothly flowing robes. Every 50 steps or so, there is a small platform you can use to stand aside and rest or let others pass on their way up or down. Use these, especially if the day is hot (water bottles aren’t allowed; if you drop one, you could brain someone below). But all the exertion is a virtue. When you reach the top, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You didn’t take the elevator; you earned your way up.
A postcard-perfect view of New York Harbor and the Island of Manhattan is your reward. Yes, you can get that view elsewhere. But peering through the slats in the crown that frame your vision makes you unmistakably aware that you are seeing all of this from inside the Statue of freakin’ Liberty!
Here’s something you might not expect. At the top, the little perch that is the viewing platform is manned by a National Park Service guide. The last time I was there, the man on duty was sitting on a small folding stool and had a thermos of coffee with him. The guides are there mainly to be sure no one detonates an underwear bomb or has a heart attack from the climb, but they are also a pleasure to chat with. Ask questions about the statue or the most embarrassing things they’ve seen tourists (not you, of course) say or do. Have them take your picture.
At the moment, access to the crown is closed until late 2012 for renovations. That’s good news. You have time to train for the stairs.—Jon Gluck
Three Touristy Restaurants Actually Worth Visiting …
1. Grand Central Oyster Bar: Sit at the eponymous bar, not the counter or, God forbid, the dining room, and order the great oyster pan roast, as close to a taste of ye olde Manhattan as one can get (Grand Central Terminal; 212-490-6650).
2. Keens Steakhouse: The collection of clay “churchwarden” pipes on the dining-room ceiling is itself worth a trip. So is the fabled house mutton chop, which at $48 is a relative bargain and big enough for a family of four (72 W. 36th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-947-3636).
3. Katz’s Delicatessen: You can never go wrong with a pastrami or corned-beef sandwich (ask for the end “deckle” cut), but do not underestimate the fat, garlic-laced knoblewurst (205 E. Houston St., at Ludlow St.; 212-254-2246). — Adam Platt
And Five Oddball Tours You Haven’t Done …
1. Eight of the world’s 37 Vermeer paintings are on permanent view in New York: five at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, three in the Frick Collection. They’re twelve blocks apart. See all of them in a day, and build your own blockbuster.
2. The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House (wyckoffassociation.org), the last Dutch home remaining from the city of New Amsterdam, went up in 1652, built by a Dutch farmer. It’s in a neighborhood called Vlacke Bos, which you may know by its English pronunciation: Flatbush. Candlelight tours are given on the weekends, including a kid-friendly version on Fridays.
3. You’ve been to the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, and maybe even the Queens Zoo. Turns out there’s another one you’ve likely never heard of—the Staten Island Zoo (statenislandzoo.org). It’s home to a world-class lineup of reptiles, especially snakes, plus fruit bats, emus, red pandas, and a huge aquarium.
5. The City Reliquary (cityreliquary.org), located in a former bodega in Williamsburg, does not display Sumerian relics or Richard Serras. Instead, it shows very strange bits of urban ephemera relating solely to New York City: shoe- and spectacles-shaped signage that once hung on every block, fragments from major landmarks now gone, a set of dentures found in Dead Horse Bay. — Christopher Bonanos