An Illustrator Walks through New York City

I would best describe myself as an artist with insatiable wanderlust. I visited 30 countries by my 30th birthday, filling up sketchbooks as I bounced from place to place. Most of these trips were done on my own. I found that art has a magical way of bringing people closer together and breaking language barriers (a Parisian once asked me out on a date by doodling the Eiffel Tower), and for me, it’s the best way to bridge my present experiences and my imagination.

sketch of commuters in New York city
Wanderlust meets art. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

Full disclosure: I lived in New York City in my early 20s and have visited countless times since. Yet the city is still a mystery to me. While I have my regular haunts (yes, after 10 years some are still there!), the true joy of NYC is still exploration.

As a visitor (whether it’s your first time or not), the city can be overwhelming in its options. The Moon New York Walks book thoughtfully breaks down the city into six walks, with enough options for food, coffee breaks, museums, historical sites, shopping, and even more food to fill your day.

I chose Walk 2 through NoLita, SoHo, the West Village, and the High Line for nostalgic reasons. This was a neighborhood I frequented often for food, shopping, and dancing, and I wanted to see how it had changed (and also because I noticed the book suggested stopping at Magnolia’s, which I did visit, of course, because BANANA PUDDING. But I’m getting ahead of myself…).

First stop: breakfast! I skipped ahead to The Butcher’s Daughter (19 Kenmare Street, stop 8) to get settled, eat, and do my first NYC sketch. I had a delicious kale Caesar salad-something light, because I knew I had to save room for dessert later.

kale caesar salad next to pens and a book in New York City
First up: a kale Caesar salad at The Butcher’s Daughter. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

I looped back around and strolled down Elizabeth Street to explore the various shops. It was around the holidays so there were several pop-up shops that weren’t listed in the book, including The 5th, an adorable pop-up from Australia. They were making free Australian cappuccinos and coffees, yum!

Thomas Sires (243 Elizabeth Street, stop 3) had an eclectic collection of clothes, toys, and accessories. It’s so well curated, you’ll want to take the time to explore every corner of the shop.

Just next door is Le Labo (233 Elizabeth Street, stop 4), part scientific laboratory, part vintage boutique, that mixes customizable fragrances right in front of your eyes.

I took a shortcut to McNally Jackson Books, and serendipitously stumbled upon Concrete Collaborative (211 Mott Street), a shop where, you guessed it, everything’s concrete! I fell in love with the minimalist concrete planters.

clthing on racks and household accessories on a table in a boutique store in New York City
Find an eclectic collection of clothes, jewelry and even toys at Thomas Sires. Photo © Genevieve Santos.
succulents in concrete planters on a shelf
A gem of a find: concrete planters from Concrete Collaborative. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

Ah, McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street, stop 10). It’s no Strand Bookstore in terms of quantity (what is?), but it wins in ambiance and has a fantastic selection of books. I sat in the café, took out my sketchbook, and gazed up at the ceiling of floating books.

I headed to Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street, stop 27), the sweets shop made famous by Sex and the City and SNL’s Digital Short. Personal opinion, though: skip the cupcakes. It’s all about the banana pudding.

books hanging from the ceiling at mcnally jackson books with a sketch of the scene
McNally Jackson is a winner when it comes to ambiance. Photo © Genevieve Santos.
banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery in new york city
Treat yourself to a serving of banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery. Photo © Genevieve Santos.

At this point I was chasing the sun and its warmth (December in New York, brrr!), and high-tailed it to one of my favorite places in Manhattan, the High Line. A park perched above the city streets and built on the former viaduct section of the New York Central Railroad, the High Line perfectly encompasses New York City: a little bit of old and new, with a diversity of locals and tourists adventuring about. What I love is that you can see the rail tracks between the plants and benches (some of them even roll!).

artist depiction of the high line in New York City
“The High Line perfectly encompasses New York City, a little bit of old and new with a diversity of locals and tourists adventuring about.” Photo © Genevieve Santos.

My favorite section is the gallery over 17th St. and 10th Ave., with a theatre-like window overlooking the street. Since the park’s opening, I’ve lost hours sitting here, observing the chaos down below, and savoring a rare moment of quiet in New York City.

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