I love tourists.
No, really, I do!
Besides being great for the economy, most of them arrive in the city bathed in a sense of child-like wonder. They immerse themselves in their new surroundings, sampling the cultural and culinary delights of New York. Checking things off of their bucket lists and taking more selfies than common decency would otherwise allow. They see shows. They catch ballgames. Some of them even ride the subway!
But, sooner or later, 99.99% of tourists open up their wallets and spend their hard earned dollars on a plastic taxi cab, or a Statue of Liberty snow globe or (God help us) an I <3 NY T-Shirt.
When I see them do this, I can’t help but cringe.
“Wait,” I want to say, “Please don’t buy that tacky, overpriced tchotchke! No New Yorker in their right mind would ever own such a thing. It’s a polished turd!”
(Full disclosure, I actually do own an I <3 NY sweatshirt. It was gifted to me by a tourist.)
“But Cristina!” You groan, “I feel an overpowering urge to take some small piece of this magical place home with me.”
All right, fine. But can you make sure that piece wasn’t made by third world, slave labor?
Could you buy something made by locals, perhaps? Or sold by one of the awesome, small businesses that still dot our urban landscape? Is that so much to ask?
Believe it or not, I think most tourists would actually prefer to buy those kinds of things.
But they’re inundated with cheap, useless dreck. They have no idea where the good stuff is hiding.
But I do. And I’m here to help.
These are my 5 favorite Souvenirs That Don’t Suck and Where to Find Them:
1.) A Tote Bag from The Strand
Let’s get this out of the way right now. The Strand is amazing. It’s one of my favorite places in the city. 18 glorious miles of books housed in a store that somehow manages to be both cavernous and cozy. I have spent many a happy afternoon in this temple of paper and ink, emptying my savings account in pursuit of my next great read. It has always been money well spent.
Now, I admit, I’m a bookworm in the extreme. And maybe some of you aren’t. But fear not. Even if you haven’t cracked a book since high school The Strand is home to one of the best souvenirs you can bring home from New York City- a Strand Tote Bag. It’s durable and washable and sits comfortably on your shoulder no matter how many paper backs you’ve crammed into it. And, what’s more, it’s instantly recognizable. If you want to pass yourself off as a New Yorker while you’re in town sporting one of these is the easiest way to do it. So, go get one. And maybe buy a book while your there? Your brain cells will thank you.
828 Broadway at East 12th Street
2.) Photographs from The 4th Street Photo Gallery
There are so many small businesses worth patronizing in the city. From jewelry shops, to furniture stores, and everything in between. A list of my favorite family run store fronts could easily become an entire blog post unto itself. But I’ve chosen to highlight The 4th Street Photo Gallery
because not only is it an almost fifty year old, non profit institution owned, operated, and supported by local artists, it’s also uniquely New York in a way that precious few places these days are.
While the gallery plays host to a variety of events during the year, you’re welcome to wander in and explore the mountains of black and white pictures at your leisure. Each photograph is the beginning of a story and proprietor Alex Harsley is happy to tell it to you if you have the time to listen.
67 East 4th Street #2
3.) The New York Chocolates at Maribelle Chocolate Shop
Occasionally, I will meet a person who claims to not like chocolate. This is someone who wasn’t hugged enough as a child. So, I hug them. And then I bring them to Mariebelle Chocolate in SoHo and watch their long repressed inner child break free, clamoring into the cacao scented air and grinning broadly. Such is the power of this beautiful place and the glorious confections it houses. Now, some would argue that chocolates can’t really be considered souvenirs because they are designed to be consumed and their impermanence would more properly place them into the “Best Gifts to Bring Home to Your Loved Ones from Your NYC Vacay” category.
I can see the merits of that argument. But I have to politely disagree. Chocolates can be souvenirs. So can wine. Even bagels. If you can have it shipped home or safely transport it yourself then why not? It’s a way to taste the city and revisit your adventures after you’ve left. And the chocolates at Mariebelle are more than just delicious. They are tiny works of art.
I recommend the New York Ganache Collection. Each delectable morsel depicts a different scene from the city so you can eat your way through the landmarks of New York. And while they are expensive, they are also worth it.
484 Broome Street between Wooster and West Broadway
4.) Everything at The Brooklyn Flea
More and more tourists are visiting Brooklyn each year and that’s good news because Brooklyn is awesome. But not enough of the intrepid travelers who venture across the East River make there way to the Brooklyn Flea which is a damn shame. The Brooklyn Flea is a remarkable spectacle of vintage goods, hand made art, delicious treats, and the sort of “only-in-New-York-bric-a-brac” that you actually want to bring home and display on your mantle.
From April through October, the Flea operates two locations, one in Williamsburg that’s open on Saturdays and another in DUMBO that’s open Sundays, The Brooklyn Flea is where locals go to when they’re in the mood to search for hidden treasure amid the labyrinth of carefully curated stalls. The New York Times called The Brooklyn Flea “one of the great urban experiences in New York” and Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, and Fodor’s have all listed The Brooklyn Flea as one of the best markets in the world. What more do you want?
5.) Your Metro Card
Your Metro Card is the perfect souvenir. A souvenir that, by the way, probably won’t be around much longer. It’s an artifact of your travels, of your willingness to explore independently, navigating the subterranean labyrinth of the subway system and learning your way as you go.
It’s also worth noting, there are other little slips of paper and plastic your likely to acquire on your travels that could fall into the same category. Your Ellis Island Ferry tickets? Absolutely worth saving. The receipt from that expensive but insanely delicious meal you had in the Meat Packing District? Destined for a scrapbook. The playbill from the Broadway show you attended, or the ticket stub from your ride on the Coney Island Cyclone, even the take away menu from that little bagel shop you stumbled into on the Lower East Side? All of them are souvenir gold. Think about it. Those things aren’t the ubiquitous baseball caps or keychains of some Times Square tourist trap. They are uniquely yours. They tell the story of your personal New York City Adventure. And that makes them priceless.
Multiple Locations, city wide