World-class art, tony real estate, and upscale shopping define this classic—and family-friendly—New York City neighborhood.
The Met Museum gets more than five million annual visitors, making it the most popular of the prestigious art institutions that line Fifth Avenue, a.k.a. Museum Mile. An earlier nickname, Millionaire’s Row, referenced the mansions of Gilded Age barons like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. While both their properties are now museums, this slice of the Upper East Side—70th to 95th streets, Lexington Avenue to Central Park—remains primarily a millionaires' territory of prewar apartments and gracious townhouses. The most picturesque blocks are in the leafy, low-rise enclave of Carnegie Hill (mid-80s to mid-90s), whose residents have fought to maintain its intimate scale, sense of community, and historic Queen Anne and Neo-Grec homes. Prepare for a case of real estate envy—and for scenes among the eclectic indie shops and private schools that could be from a Woody Allen film, which is only fitting, as he was a longtime local.
Guggenheim, New York
One of the world’s most acclaimed art museums, the Guggenheim in New York City is dedicated to modern and contemporary art from the 20th century to the present. The Guggenheim was founded by Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1937, when he created a foundation that would sustain a museum housing his personal collection of art. Throughout the years, the museum acquired other notable art collections, including those of Justin K. Thannhauser and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, and these holdings combined to form the museum’s primary collection. Artists on display include Chagall, Modigliani, Picasso, Degas, Van Gogh, and Monet.
Its clientele has included Harry Truman, Jackie Kennedy, and Cyndi Lauper, but one of the most celebrated locals at Bemelmans Bar, in the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, was Ludwig Bemelmans himself. In 1947 the Madeline author and illustrator lived rent-free upstairs while he painted scenes of Central Park on the bar’s walls. (Years later skilled art restorers used countless slices of wet Wonder Bread to sop up the decades of nicotine buildup on the murals.) Today the bar is a hangout for scenesters of every age.
The Frick Collection
Pittsburgh-born, 19th-century robber baron Henry Clay Frick spent his coal-and-steel millions filling his opulent Fifth Avenue limestone home with this staggeringly well-chosen collection of old masters (kudos to controversial art wrangler Joseph Duveen). Standouts among the holdings: Bellini’s dreamy and exquisitely preserved St. Francis in the Desert, a clutch of hard-to-find Vermeers such as the saucy and suggestive Officer and a Laughing Girl, plus three works by Piero della Francesca—snapped up long before the artist gained his current A-list reputation. The home is largely unchanged since Frick’s day and provides a 3-D snapshot into the lifestyle and habits of an Upper East Side multimillionaire from another era.
Admission: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students; pay what you wish on Sundays 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Closed Mon. Children under 10 are not admitted to the Collection.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of the world's great museums, this Gothic Revival labyrinth tries to be all things to all art lovers—and with its expansion over the past two decades it often succeeds. The museum's breadth makes it dauntingly huge; grab a map and decide to focus on one wing at a time.
If Auntie Mame had a store, it would be this vibrant Upper East Side boutique, which designer Freymann fills with women's and children's clothing, accessories, and gifts gathered on her world travels. In a refreshing change from a city full of white-walled shops, this one is filled with brightly colored clothing and painted in exuberant shades. Freymann specializes in everything you need to live the good life, from straw hats for the beach to silk throws for the bed. Despite the first-class atmosphere, the globe-trotting goods (beaded Masai jewelry, silk tops from India) are affordable even for those who don't fly first class.
Actress Phoebe Cates has created a cozy two-floor space with a signature blue exterior and stocked it with original gifts, jewelry, children's toys, and clothing culled from around the globe. Cates and her staff select eclectic merchandise that is witty and wise, from graphic novels and Orla Kiely dresses to Cates's own line of charms promising the wearer "the moon," "1,000,000 kisses," and "a rich husband."
Tip: A well-preserved, well-edited collection of elegant vintage clothing—including, on one afternoon, the perfect black fifties cocktail dress—is tucked away on the top floor.
“Gem” is the most common word spoken by New Yorkers when discussing Heather and Scott Fratangelo’s unassuming restaurant in the Upper East Side. Serving authentic, heartfelt Italian and Mediterranean fare, Spigolo avoids all pretention in both décor and cuisine. Favorites include the handmade pasta dishes like cavatelli with sweet fennel ragu and fettucine with oyster and shiitake mushrooms. The seven-piece tasting menu is also a hit and ever-changing according to the chef’s daily whims. Outdoor dining is available.
If the diminutive storefront with its gilded signage, flowerpots, and tin ceiling recalls an earlier era, so does the spirit of this indie bookstore, which has inspired neighborhood loyalty since 1978. It offers free gift-wrapping and house accounts and hosts readings by local writers—even an open house each Christmas Eve. A central kids’ nook has a stool and easy-to-reach shelves, while surrounding built-ins stock classics, art, and travel books, as well as bestsellers. Browse, or let the brainiac on duty select your next read; what other bookstore proudly lists staff bios on its website?
92nd Street Y
Members show up regularly for continuing-ed classes or workouts in the 80,000-sq-ft gym, but this is hardly your average community center. The nonprofit Y draws culture hounds from across the city and beyond to thousands of annual events, including conversations with boldface names such as Madeline Albright, Patti Smith, and Woody Allen. On other nights, the Kaufmann Concert Hall puts the spotlight on visiting jazz acts or current-affairs panels. There’s truly something for everyone thanks to eight programming centers, including the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, which continues the legacy of the Y’s German-Jewish founders.