I’m so happy today to finally be sharing my Upper East Side Guide!
I’ve lived up here since I moved to the city in November of 2010 and I’ve been wanting to round up all of my favorite neighborhood spots for a while now. The thing is, every time I went to write the post it felt like three new places I wanted to try popped up! I definitely still have places that I want to try (the list is never-ending in this city!), so I’ll probably be updating this guide ont he best things to do in Upper East Side as new favorites come along. For now, here are my tried and true favorite spots to eat, drink, shop, explore, and more!
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Spots for Brunch:
JoJo: I mention this place down in the dinner category as well but I especially love brunch here! Whenever you go to any Jean-Georges restaurant (as JoJo is), you have to get a housemade soda -they’re so refreshing. JoJo is housed inside a cozy Upper East Side townhouse, and the decor is minimal but warm and welcoming.
The Writing Room: I love this spot for the decor (gallery walls and book-lined shelves) as much as the yummy and satisfying brunch fare. It’s also cool because the decor pays homage to the restaurant’s former life as Elaine’s (1963-2011), something of a New York City institution which was frequented by many celebs and literary giants (Leonard Bernstein, Norman Mailer, and Mia Farrow were regulars, to name just a few).
Eastfield’s: This is also on my list for a great dinner spot. I love the decor – sleek navy banquettes, chic art on the walls, and an overall relaxed but sophisticated vibe. Aside from that though, I LOVE the delicious seasonal menu (they have a cashew smoothie I’m obsessed with). I wrote a full post about them here.
Quality Eats: This place is so cute! Their branding is adorable, from the menus to the plates and the little matches they have at the door. I’ve had dinner here but I like it more for brunch. Definitely make a res as it’s a very popular spot.
East Pole: This is another spot from the folks behind Eastfields, so again the decor is charming chic and the food is fresh and seasonal. I do like it for dinner but prefer the brunch. You might even spot a celeb or two at this chic spot.
Le Moulin a Cafe: This is my favorite, favorite UES spot. I first discovered it when it was written up in the Times as a truly authentic spot that French ex-pats in the neighborhood flocked to (there’s a French school across the street). The owners are French and they sell French groceries in the front, but I visit mostly for the croissants which are the best I’ve ever had in my life, anywhere. The pain au chocolat are equally incredible. You can grab and go or sit in the front with coffee, or you can be seated in the back for a cozy brunch. The quiche is seriously yummy too.
Sarabeths: Yum. I just love the pancakes here and their five flower juice. There are a few locations in the city but I particularly love the UES one as it feels like you’re in someone’s townhouse.
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Coffee Shops
Sant Ambroeus at Sotheby’s: This is a bit of a hidden gem which is situated in the lobby of Sotheby’s on York Avenue. I love the scones at Sant Ambroeus and they have a nice lunch menu as well!
Ralph’s Coffee: Ralphs is my favorite place to pop in to on a weekend morning – it’s right near Central Park and the decor is so lovely, all dark green banquets and gorgeous floral wallpaper. They have a great scone and chai latte!
Birch: Super tiny, just a great place to pop in for a to-go cup. They have a great iced chai!
Ines: This feels like a little hidden gem as it’s on a random side street that doesn’t get a ton of foot traffic, and the coffee and food are solid. They make a great chai latte (plus I’m a sucker for a striped awning!).
Flora Coffee Bar: This is located on the lower floor of the Met Breuer, making it a good spot to grab a coffee if you’re museum hopping! Hot tip: ask the hostess for a matchbook! They’re not out on display but they’re super cute and the hostess we asked was more than happy to give us one.
Bluestone Lane: I’m slightly hesitant to recommend this because it’s become SUCH a sh*tshow, but I still will because it’s a great coffee shop with good food, and it’s well located if you’re visiting the Cooper Hewitt, Guggenheim, or Met (or all three). It’s also really beautiful as you can see in my full post on it. My only hesitation is it’s become SO crowded, but perhaps early in the day or on weekdays it’s not as bad!
Hutch and Waldo – A petite Australian style coffee shop that feels like a downtown cafe transferred to the UES. They also have vegan smoothies!
Best Things to Do in Upper East Side
Carl Schurz Park: The place to go when Central Park feels too crowded. This is a true neighborhood spot. It’s really cute with some beautiful cherry trees that bloom spectacularly in the spring, and a promenade overlooking the East River.
Central Park Conservatory Garden: If you do want to go to Central Park and still attempt to avoid some crowds, head up to 105th Street for the Conservatory Garden. It’s the Park’s only formal gardens and it’s a really beautiful spot. Here’s my latest post on it from springtime, when it blooms spectacularly.
The Frick: This is one of my favorite museums because it’s a small but impressive collection…much more manageable than the Met! The Frick is housed inside a Gilded Age mansion where steel magnate Henry Frick lived with his family. He was a big-time art collector and bequeathed the house and collection to the public. The building itself is just as lovely as the art…the Garden Court with its natural light and fountain is lovely and peaceful.
Sotheby’s: If you’re into art and antiques Sotheby’s can be worth a visit! I don’t frequent the place but sometimes they have interesting things going on, such as (in years past) showhouses, or interesting auctions, and while it may seem intimidating, they’re actually quite welcoming and want people to come in and see what they have going on.
Shakespeare and Co.: One of my favorite bookstores – a good selection, convenient location near the 6 train, and a cafe if you get peckish.
Kitchen Arts and Letters: This bookstore is tucked away in the East 90’s and it’s just too charming, in that it exclusively sells books dedicated to food – so cookbooks, and food writing. How cute is that?
Corner Bookstore: One more bookstore for ya – this one is in Carnegie Hill and it’s super petite and charming. The selection is small but they have a good amount of kids books and I just love it.
Mecox: This is a well-known decor store and a favorite of interior designers. Very stylish and chic items, most of which I could never afford, but it’s still fun to browse!
Heyday: If you want to get a quick facial without spending a whole day at the spa (I mean, I’d LIKE to spend a whole day at the spa, but sometimes you just don’t have the funds), Heyday is your place. They do a great job and use really great natural products, and you’re in and out in 30 or 90 minutes…and best of all they don’t try to sell you products, which is really annoying!
KRB: This store is owned by Kate Rheinstein Brodsky (her home tour on One Kings Lane is the stuff of dreams), and they sell vintage and antique items along with a curated selection of home goods like candles, coffee table books, Christopher Spitzmiller lamps, Kate Schelter watercolors, and more. It’s another favorite of designers and mostly unaffordable but fun to browse. Closed on Sundays.
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Spots for Dinner
Emmy Squared: This is an offshoot of Pizza Loves Emily, an amazing Detroit-style pizza spot in the West Village, and I could not be more excited that they opened up on the Upper East Side. I absolutely LOVE their delicious, flavorful, thick-crust pizza – it’s totally different from any other pizza I’ve had before and to me infinitely yummier! The space is also beautiful with simple decor and a laidback, lively atmosphere. You can also make any pizza gluten-free for those who need! Emmy Squared is located on the corner of 81st and Third Avenue.
Numero 28: Another spot I think has really good pizza and is less of a scene.
Heidi’s House: I LOVE this place! It’s SO tiny and cozy, and the mac and cheese is beyond. Just a perfect cozy neighborhood spot to enjoy a glass of wine and a rich, delicious meal – especially perfect for hiding from the cold. Check their site for the reservation explanation, it’s a little unusual but it works.
BG Bergdorf Goodman: I consider this something of a hidden gem because, while Bergdorf’s itself is clearly not hidden, many may not realize that their restaurant is open for dinner, not just afternoon tea. And while I love the afternoon tea, I have to recommend that you visit for dinner, which is absolutely amazing (though very expensive, be warned). The space is beautifully decorated by Kelly Wearstler, and the food is seriously a cut above. Tip: they close at 7PM so plan for an early dinner!
Sfoglia: This place is expensive but really, really delish and nice inside. Great if you want to impress a date or for a special occasion!
August: You know when you go to a restaurant and the quality of the food is just a cut above? That’s August. The food is just better than your typical restaurant – fresh, high-quality, delicious. They used to have a location on Bleeker Street which closed and so it does feel like a downtown restaurant (that’s a good thing!). It is expensive but I feel like it’s worth it (whereas believe me, there are plenty of New York City restaurants that are just as expensive but with mediocre food). The decor is also charming!
Arturo’s: The BEST New York style pizza – my go-to for takeout. They also have a restaurant but I haven’t tried it yet.
EJ’s Luncheonette: Solid, good diner if you’re looking for a BLT or a milkshake or any other kind of diner fare.
JG Melon: An UES institution. I love the burgers and fries. Note: they only take cash!
Luke’s Lobster: delish lobster rolls, very casual.
Mei Jin Ramen: Just my go-to spot for ramen in the neighborhood.
Jojo: this is the same chef as ABC Kitchen, and while I do prefer the latter, I think Jojo is a great UES spot. It’s beautiful inside and the menu changes seasonally, which I love. It’s definitely pricy so it could be good for a special occasion. The desserts and appetizers are particular standouts!
Tanoshi Sushi: OH MY GOD. This place is amazing, and it’s the most nondescript little hole in the wall hidden away on York Avenue. It’s omakase so you just sit down and get served whatever is the freshest that night, and wow. It’s just incredible. It will ruin you for other sushi! Sadly it is quite expensive (125 for person, urgh), but totally worth it if you can swing it. Also BYOB. Full disclosure – you can get omakase that’s just as good and less than half the price at Sugarfish in Flatiron, but to me this is the best I’ve found on the UES.
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Sweets:
Two Little Red Hens: The whole cupcake craze spawned some crappy places but TLRH has been around for a long time and is a beloved Upper East Side staple. Not only are the cupcakes delicious and fresh, but the baked goods and coffee are also great and their little cakes would be perfect for a birthday or special occasion. This place is always packed which is just a testament to how well-loved it is. My favorite is the peanut butter chocolate cupcake…so good.
Levain Bakery: I was beyond excited when Levain added an UES location! Their giant, gooey, melty, ridiculously rich and delicious chocolate chip cookies just can’t be beat, and this location has the most charming wall mural depicting UES scenes! It’s not to be missed.
Butterfield Market: the best frozen yogurt! Not too sweet, a little tart, simple, and tastes real – not overly processed like other fro-yo shops.
Van Leeuwen: I can’t believe we got this on the UES! I think of it as such a Lower East Side staple and I couldn’t be happier it’s made its way uptown. The ice cream is fresh and delicious and they have vegan offerings that are actually good!
Ladurée: I’ll always be a fan even though it’s perhaps become a bit overexposed…it’s all just so pretty and Parisian…and the macarons are legit yummy! My favorites are the caramel and pistachio and as with most places, if you go on a weekday it will be exponentially less crowded than on weekends. They have a little seating area inside too.
Orwasher’s: They make jelly donuts to order by injecting fresh jam into sugary doughnuts…need I say more? If, like me, you’re not a jelly doughnut fan, go for a loaf of fresh bread or the black and white cookies which are the best I’ve tried. Full post here.
Emack and Bolio’s: Just great if you want a really gluttonous cone or sundae ( I mean, who doesn’t?).
The Sweet Shop: Be prepared – the owners are a little eccentric but this is the place to go for old-school candy that will make you nostalgic for your childhood (Nerds, anyone?). They also have ice cream sundaes, egg creams and other soda fountain delights. Fair warning that it is wildly overpriced (just being honest), but it’s still fun for a visit.
Serendipity 3: This place is cliche in the manner of Magnolia Bakery but guess what? The food is damn good! And so are the desserts (I have to say I don’t mind a tourist trap if the food is actually good). And it’s housed inside an old townhouse which lends charming New York City character to the zany decor. The ice cream sundae is crazy huge, drippy, and delicious!
Butterfield Market: This spot has the best fro-yo that you can get at a little window without having to actually even go inside. There’s always a little line because this is so much better than your typical chain frozen yogurt. It has a tangy, actually yogurt-y flavor and a touch of sweetness without being overly sugary. Super simple and delicious!
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Vegan/Vegetarian/Gluten Free Option:
Candle 79 and Candle Cafe: I’m not one for “healthy” food, but I’ve had brunch here that was absolutely delightful – I haven’t been for dinner yet but I’m told it’s fantastic. Get the cocao-banana smoothie (tastes like a chocolate milkshake but healthy!), and the homestyle pancakes. Note: Candle 79 is vegetarian, organic, and plant-based, while Candle Cafe on 75th street (same owners) is vegan.
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Cocktails
Met Rooftop: The Met rooftop is the perfect place for summer cocktails, with its stunning views overlooking the treetops of Central Park. They usually have a cool outdoor art installation up there as well so while it definitely gets very crowded, it’s still a really fun spot in the warm weather!
2nd Floor Bar and ‘Essen: Perfect for a date, this speakeasy reminds me of a spot you’d find in the West Village. With its dark, moody vibe, creative cocktails, and cozy, tucked-away atmosphere, you’ll swear you’re downtown (but minus the crowds). I can personally attest to the subtlety of this speakeasy’s entrance – I’ve lived here for almost ten years, must’ve walked by it a hundred times, and had no idea it existed! It’s accessed through a nondescript door around the corner from 2nd Ave Deli, which opens onto a flight of stairs that leads you up to the bar. That’s maybe the best thing about it – it’s a speakeasy so it feels special and hidden, but there’s no awkwardness about accessing it (ie, no secret knocks or passwords or walking through another establishment).
Daisy: This cocktail bar is a little fancy and just a fun spot to grab a creative cocktail (which is kind of scarce on the UES).
Jones Wood Foundry: This is one of my favorite Upper East Side bars. It gets lively but not too crazy crowded, and it feels like you’re in a British pub. It’s just cozy and comfortable and a great alternative to the college-y bars that proliferate up here.
Auction House: Auction House has a cozy, intimate vibe, with gilded frames on exposed brick, tufted banquettes, and a marble fireplace lending the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time. My boyfriend used to call it “the vampire bar” because it reminded him of Interview With the Vampire, lol. It feels like a cozy West Village bar transplanted to the Upper East Side…perfect for a date!
Things to Do in Upper East Side – Best Spots for Instagram Pictures
I suspect this is what most people reading here might want to know, if the comments and questions I get on Instagram are any indication! I wish I could be more specific but really there are so many pretty townhouses on the UES and they’re kind of spread out all over. My best advice and what I tell anyone who asks is to check out the streets between Fifth and Madison in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The townhouses between Fifth and Madison are closest to the Park and therefore the most grand and beautiful! A few more specific spots to explore:
East 70th Street is beautiful and Bunny Mellon’s historic townhome is there between Lexington and Park Avenues (though it’s been bought and renovated since her death, it’s still lovely!).
East 78th between Second Avenue and Third Avenue: a group of charming historic rowhouses.
Historic carriage houses on 68th street between Third and Lexington.
East 73rd Street Historic District has some lovely buildings and former carriage houses.
All along 81st Street (that’s where I took this).
Sutton Place between 58th and 59th by the river has some pretty ivy-covered houses and a petite park overlooking the water called Sutton Square.
The Carnegie Hill Historic District, comprising 86th-98th streets from Lexington to Fifth Avenue, has many historic rowhouses and brownstones from the 1800’s and early 1900s – I’ve had the best luck on 92nd, 93rd, and 94th streets!
Hot tip: Most of the street signs in NYC are green. When you see brown street signs, that denotes a Historic District and likely a lot of beautiful historic/landmarked buildings!
I hope this guide on things to do in Upper East Side is helpful for those of you who are looking to explore the city more, or are planning a trip here. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below!