the best time to visit NYC is... anytime! (Manhattan/ Queens/ Brooklyn)

While the NYC tourism balloon typically swells around the holidays and during summer months, after living in New York for some time, we can honestly say that the city offers something unique and special at the turn of each season.  Let’s start with perhaps the most pleasant of them all, spring.

This is the time of the year when the sprouting of tiny little green treebuds immediately brightens the moods of some 8,175,133 New Yorkers at precisely the same time.  The transformation of the city from winter to spring is a mesmerizing experience, and perhaps no better exemplified than with a visit to Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden.

Part of the larger cultural complex that also includes the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden outshines the others with an unforgettable setting that unfolds itself over 15 different climate zones.  While the interior desert and tropical pavilions are cool (and hot), our favorite part of this 52-acre property is its exquisite cherry blossom grove, also the home of the annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Fest.  Usually held on the 3rd or 4th weekend of April, the ode to all things “Land of the Rising Sun” features traditional taiko drummers, Minbu dancers, Manga artists and live J-pop music acts.  Don’t forget to make the requisite trip to the large Japanese Hill and Pond Garden that will be awash in the daintiest blossoms you ever did see!

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is open Tuesday through Friday from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM and on weekends from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM (closed Mondays).  Keep in mind that during the colder months (November through mid-March), the gardens close at 4:30 PM instead of 6:00 PM.  Admission is $10 USD for adults and $5 USD for students with ID.  Children under 12 are FREE!  Set of Drifters tip:  Ask your Brooklynite friends if any of them have access to the Palm House, a renovated glass conservatory that is home to some rather extraordinary special event parties.

Moving on to the pungent vibe of a NYC summer, your Set of Drifters wish to recommend to you the following duo of incredible events that are not to be missed.  First up?  How about MoMA PS1’s summer “Warm Up” series, a live music and DJ dance party that goes off every Saturday from early July through Labor Day?

Located in Long Island City in the borough of Queens, PS1 was originally opened in 1976 (under a different name) as a haven for emerging contemporary artists.  The impressive, yet haunting space (housed in the remains of an old abandoned building), was absorbed by Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (see "sights") in 2000, and subsequently used to showcase their then-current exhibits while it underwent a massive renovation.  Perhaps thanks in part to the successful “Warm Up” series - now in its 15th year - MoMA’s Queens outpost remains today, even more popular than ever.  Expect the best in experimental art, including actor James Franco’s recent “River Phoenix” re-edit of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.

But hey, let’s get back to the party!  Held out in the museum’s courtyard, PS1’s summer dance series truly is the perfect melding of high culture and dance.  With MoMA’s incredible curation of live acts, DJs, and unique sculptural installations, this all-day party is a Set of Drifters MUST!  Just check out this partial list of past musical appearances : Afrika Bambaataa, Scissor Sisters, MU, Josh Wink, GusGus, The Juan Maclean, A Guy Called Gerald, DJ Pierre, and Simian Mobile Disco!

The 2012 season kicks off on July 7th, with Saturday events running from 2:00 PM until 9:00 PM.  Admission for “Warm Up” is $15 USD, though this also includes entrance to all museum exhibitions as well.  During the remainder of the week (and year), MoMA PS1 is open Thursday through Monday from 12:00 PM until 6:00 PM (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays).  A suggested donation of $10 USD for adults and $5 USD for students is recommended.  Make sure to check out their website for more detailed information, including the line-up for this year’s “Warm Up” series.

Elsewhere in the sweaty city, live music can be had for a song in a setting that is as iconic as they come!  Central Park’s wonderful (and mostly FREE) SummerStage series is in its 26th year.  Presenting a truly eclectic mix of musicians, comedians, art films and theater troupes, SummerStage’s 2011 line-up included DJs and live acts as diverse as Florence & The Machine, EPMD, our good buddy Ursula 1000 and even Turkish pop highlights from Istanbulive!  Back in 2005, your Set of Drifters took in a hoppin’ jam by then-up and-comer M.I.A.  (Review:  It was a complete blast!)  A year later, we returned to check out an afternoon of Indian melodies courtesy of DJ Talvin Singh and legendary disco performer Asha Puthli.  M83 plays later this year; expect tickets will be hard to come by.

Check SummerStage’s website for more information, including this summer’s full line-up.  For FREE events, plan early!  You, or your friends, will be waiting in line for awhile.  Set of Drifters tip:  While traipsing through Central Park, don’t miss the popular Alice in Wonderland statue (located near the Conservatory Water), and if you’re up for the challenge, a lilting boat ride past the classic Bethesda Fountain.  (Self-paddled rowboat departures can be made April through October from the Boat House.  Rentals cost $12 USD for the first hour and $3 USD for each additional 15 minutes.  Expect a $30 USD cash deposit required before rowing.)

Autumn may bring cooler temps to the Big Apple, but that doesn’t mean the city is ready to roll up its sidewalks.  In fact, with fashion week and other high profile events kicking off in mid-September, the month is often noted as the official kick-off to party season!

One party you probably should not miss - at least once in your life - is the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, a colorful catastrophe of a crowd that, while difficult to maneuver, will impress you with outlandish spectacle and dedication.  Just make sure you hold on to your cohorts!  During this annual October event, it’s quite easy to lose your way, particularly if you are wearing 10” high boots or a mask that makes you look like Wicket the Ewok.  (Stilt-walkers are a common danger.)

Other fall highlights include the previously mentioned Oktoberfest celebrations, the New York Film Festival in October and early November’s New York City Marathon, an exhilarating event no matter if you’re participating in it, or just a spectator cheering others on.

Closing out the year, New York City really pulls out all of the stops!  While your Set of Drifters absolutely condemn spending your New Years in Times Square (UGH!), we wholeheartedly do promote the magic that flows throughout NYC during the month of December leading up to it.  No matter what you think about the commercialization of the holidays each year, no city on the entire planet handles it with more panache - and heart - than New York City.

While circling Rockefeller Center’s ice rink is almost guaranteed to get even the most jaded Scrooge “in the mood,” the crowds ambling to rent stinky skates can be diabolical!  If you simply cannot hack the mania, we’ve got an alternative for you that is equally as festive, and decidedly more creative.  Why not take a stroll up 5th Avenue to check out all of the amazing department and luxury storefront windows?  We advise you to pound the pavement, from about 48th to 61st Street, after the shops have closed.  This way, you can enjoy all of the amazing artistry without the hysteria of last-minute shoppers or bargain hunters running afoot.  Designers, merchandisers and craftsman spend months putting together the windows each year, and we assure you that no matter what the theme of the year may be, you’ll be dutifully impressed by their whimsical work.

Set of Drifters tip:  Now just because we’ve touted NYC as the city for all seasons, there are a few weeks out of the year that you may want to avoid.  For starters, we always recall the second week of August to be shockingly hot and humid.  During these seven days, it is not uncommon to witness people literally going out of their mind from the hellish torture.  On the flipside, by mid-February each year, New Yorkers are usually so sick and tired of chilly temps, and the slushy, dog-pee-laden snowbanks that their usually cheery demeanor sinks easily 10 degrees below freezing!  This mood continues on through March, sometimes even as late as St. Patrick’s Day, until the general population is sure that spring has finally sprung!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden - 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY  11225, (718) 623-7200,

MoMA PS1 - 22-25 Jackson Avenue (at the intersection of 46th Avenue), Long Island City, NY  11101, (718) 784-2084,

Central Park & Summer Stage - 5 Avenue To Central Park West, 59 Street to 110 Street, Manhattan, NY,, or

Greenwich Village Halloween Parade - every October 31st, Greenwich Village, New York, NY,

Rockefeller Center - 30 Rockefeller Plaza (off 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th streets), New York, NY  10020, (212) 332-6868 or (212) 332-7654,

all things transportation

Listen up people.  If you are going to be a true New Yorker, you had better get with the program and learn all about the different modes of transportation available to you.  

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best ways to take a bite out of the Big Apple also happens to be the cheapest - using your own two feet!  Walking from neighborhood to neighborhood allows you the freedom to wander at your own pace wherever the mood may strike.  That being said, whether you are a NYC native, or simple visiting for a couple days, time is of the essence here, and chances are you’ll find yourself rushing around like a crazy person before too long.  Ultimately, with so much on offer, you really have no choice but to travel around as quickly as possible.

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the city’s public benefit corporation responsible for transportation throughout the five boroughs.  Bus and Subway lines run by this company allow commuters to access most parts of the city rather quickly, and at costs that toe the line of reasonable depending on whom you ask.  Here are some hints on navigating the somewhat confusing system:

1. Buy a weekly pass from the MTA if you are going to be visiting NYC for more than three days.  You can use the unlimited ride cards both above ground buses and subterranean trains.  

2. Various Subway lines are color-coded and given either a number or a letter for a name.  Routes that share the same color, but different names generally follow the same direction while in Manhattan, though split off when they head under water into other boroughs.  (Some lines that share the same color may also follow an “Express” track in Manhattan that skips over a number of less popular stops.)  Make sure to read Subway maps carefully, and pay attention to signage and/ or notifications while on the train.  Construction and maintenance often interrupts service on weekends or late nights.  Trust us, you don’t want end up at all the way at Brooklyn Bridge if you had originally planned to get off near Bleecker Street in Nolita!

Your Set of Drifters find the N, Q and R trains to be the most confusing, so pay special attention if you plan on riding them.  Of course, if all else fails, just ask a New Yorker.  They aren’t as mean or brusque as they’re portrayed in movies.  In fact, we find New Yorkers pretty friendly overall when it comes to directions.  

3. During rush hour, a ride on NYC’s classic Subways can be either miserable or exhilarating depending on the assortment of unusual characters that will undoubtedly surround you.  It’s best to pack your iPod, or a favorite book, so that you’ll have a buffer between you and the crazy person with a hole in his knee asking you for money, or that stinky man playing a guitar while wearing a matted all-in-one donkey outfit!

4. In the summertime, things get downright nasty while waiting for a train underground.  Visitors not used to the oven-like torture may feel as though they are being boiled alive!  Make sure you have plenty of water available.  And if you get bored, why not count the little black rats that run across the train tracks from station to stain.

Rats?  Yes, of course.  This is New York!  

5. Winter time brings ice and slush filled stairs.  Be careful when entering or exiting any station, and expect delays.  The colder temps also mean that everyone huddling into the train to avoid walking in the snow will be bundled up in multiple layers.  Because of all the extra heft, NYC Subways are never more crowded than this time of year.  To be honest, it’s one of the main reasons we decided to leave this wonderful epicenter of the world for warmer climes!

Of course, transportation in NYC is not all about buses and Subway cars...  If you feel like getting some exercise, another nice way to see the city is on bike!  We would often cycle our summers around Lower Manhattan with nary an obstruction, though speedy daredevils might want to keep an eye out for opening taxicab doors!  “Citi Bike” is a new system that started earlier in 2013 to mirror other sharing programs in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona and Paris.  Originally funded by Citibank, Citi Bikes are available from convenient hubs located in the lower half of Manhattan and the west portions of Brooklyn.  (They’re instantly recognizable by their blue frames.)  While we did not get a chance to use the program during our last visit in 2013, we spied many others doing just that.  Seven-day and 24-hour passes are available to tourists at $25 USD and $10 USD respectively.

One fun cycling day-trip idea is a journey to Staten Island.  Just pop your bike onto the FREE Staten Island Ferry and wait for the quick 30-minute boat ride to deposit you on the other end.  (You’ll see views out to the Statue of Liberty on the way.)  Wheeling through Staten Island is great way to “get lost” in the “forgotten borough” if you don’t know exactly where you are going.  Set of Drifters tip:  There are some great thrift stores on Castleton Avenue!  Great fun and cheap to boot.

Speaking of waterways, one of our favorite modes to travel to and from Manhattan is via water taxi!  While it may cost a little bit extra than the PATH train en route to Hoboken, the experience of traversing the Hudson above water is truly incredible!  (A new service via the East River Ferry has also begun swapping yuppies – and maybe a few leftover hipsters - back and forth from Brooklyn.)  If you ever want to re-energize your love for this incredible city, riding a water taxi is a nice way to do it; the city views from New Jersey or Brooklyn are stunning day and night.  You’ll almost feel as though you’ve taken a mini-vacation even when just traversing from uptown to downtown.

Finally, no mention of transportation in NYC can be complete without a word on taxicabs!  These yellow beauties are virtually everywhere, and unless you are in some remote stretch of the Bronx or Staten Island, you should have little issue in hailing one to your next destination.  The current fleet of cabs - many now with hybrid technology, TV monitors and credit card capability - has never been more comfortable.  Though the drivers?  Well, that’s another story.  Their wild and wacky driving is as heart-pounding as ever.  Make sure you know where you are going so you can tell your driver your preferred route.  While most taxi cab drivers are nice lads (or lasses), every once in a while, you might get a gruff beast.  If you feel as though you’ve been mistreated by any of them, report ‘em!  Their next generation of passengers will thank you.  The Taxi Cab Commissioner’s number is proudly posted inside every car.

Set of Drifters tip:  New to the city and not accustomed to riding everywhere in a taxi?  Make a habit of writing down the cab number every time you hop in.  The ID is the best way to the retrieve items you may have left behind after the cab has moved on to other fares.  (Whoops!  Set of Drifter Brady left a brand new phone in one once!)

Metropolitan Transit Authority -

Citi Bike –

Staten Island Ferry -

East River Ferry -

New York Water Taxi -

New York Taxi Cab & Limousine Commission -