Finding Autumn in New York

Admittedly, I grew up in an agrarian idyll— a small town in Vermont, where every autumn the trees blaze with color, the crisp air is scented with apples and woodsmoke, and a touch of frost crystallizes the leaves as they crunch pleasantly underfoot, heralding the coming of winter. Fall was one of my absolute favorite times of year— the excitement of a new school year, rehearsing for annual performances of The Nutcracker Ballet, cozying up to wood stoves with family and friends. Fall in rural New England is a vibrant, nostalgic time, the final triumph of color before the monochrome chiaroscuro of winter sets in.

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(Cathedral of St John the Divine)

When I moved to the city, the first things I sought were those romantic signifiers of the season, but at first all I saw was grey, everywhere I looked— grey skies, grey skyscrapers, dirty grey sidewalks. Manhattan in the fall can feel dreary, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Look in the right places, though, and you’ll see the concrete jungle truly is beautiful in the fall, with leaves and sights and smells that bring all the coziness and romantic nostalgia we’ve come to expect from the season. Below, A field guide to your perfectly warm-and-fuzzy Manhattan fall:

Riverside Park.

Sure, Central Park is big and beautiful, and it can certainly be a glorious place to view the leaves, but it’s right in the middle of the city. Riverside Park is smaller, but it’s close to the water, affording gorgeous views of the Hudson River (head over at sunset for a spectacular display), and the breeze coming off the water feels fresh and decidedly cleaner than the polluted haze of midtown. There are classic lampposts and benches galore, dog parks full of the Upper West Side’s most gorgeous and adorable breeds, and the Stately pre-war architecture of Riverside Drive across the street brings to mind the row houses of Victorian London.

The Union Square Greenmarket.

The ultimate destination for a country girl seeking a touch of home. Farmers from Upstate, New Jersey, and even farther afield truck their goods into the city for this weekly open-air affair, which is open year-round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and features everything “from just-picked fresh fruits and vegetables, to heritage meats and award-winning farmstead cheeses, artisan breads, jams, pickles, a profusion of cut flowers and plants, wine, ciders, maple syrup and much more”, according to their website, grownyc.org. My favorite finds include organic heirloom tomatoes, fresh kale, and fall vegetables like butternut squash and pumpkin just begging to be roasted. 

Trick-or-Treating on West 87th street.

Yes, I know I’m too old to dress in a costume and go door-to-door asking grownups for candy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t step out and enjoy the fun! In my rural hometown, trick-or-treating meant a lot of driving from neighborhood to neighborhood, hiking through forests and up and down long dirt driveways to our neighbors’ houses, but trick-or-treating in the city is a totally different ballgame. Stores stay open late to hand out candy to young future patrons, and some city blocks are totally transformed into a spooky trick-or-treater’s paradise. This year, I ventured out to West 87th Street, which is touted as one of the best spots for trick-or-treating in Manhattan, and I wasn’t disappointed. The block was closed to traffic, allowing children and their (equally well-costumed) parents to roam the streets unharmed, and trees, houses, and even cars were decked out with spiderwebs, skeletal figures, and jack-o’-lanterns galore.

Nutz for Nuts.

Every New Yorker knows the smell of the honey-roasted nut vendors that come out every fall. While ‘Chestnuts on an open fire” are a bit of a hazard in the city, these are absolutely the next best thing. There are Nutz for Nuts locations all over the city, but you can be sure to find them in well-travelled areas like Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center, and outside the Columbia University gates, where the sweet, rich, wholesome scent never fails to make me smile, and a steaming, freshly-roasted wax parcel of honey-roasted peanuts is just the thing to warm my numb fingers on a dark November day.

 The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Where else in the world can you huddle in a freezing mass with thousands of your closest friends to watch giant cartoon-figure balloons float down 6th avenue? The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a totally unique annual NYC event. If you can’t make it to the big city for the 9am start time on Thanksgiving, you can join millions of other Americans who rally their families around the TV or the computer, where it’s covered live. Today, this holiday extravaganza is one of the biggest parade events in the U.S., but do you know how this beloved holiday tradition began? Here are some fun facts about New York’s most famous parade:

  1. It didn’t actually start in New York! The first Thanksgiving parade was actually held in Newark, NJ by a department store called Bamburger’s. In 1924, Macy’s brought the parade to the streets of Manhattan, when its early employees, mostly immigrants, wanted to celebrate their status as new Americans with a European-style festival.
  2. There weren’t always balloons! The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured Macy’s employees dressed in colorful costumes as well as traditional parade floats, live bands, and animals from the Central Park Zoo. The balloons were designed by a marionette artist, Anthony Sarg, who was discovered performing on the streets of New York and was asked to design giant balloons for the parade in 1927. The first balloons were produced by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio.
  3. However, there was always a Santa! The very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured a live Santa Claus, who was crowned “King of the Kiddies” on the Macy’s store balcony in Herald Square as over 250,000 people watched from the streets. The parade’s unprecedented success caused it to be declared an annual event on the spot!

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The famous Mickey Mouse balloon in 1934 (Source: guestofaguest.com)

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The modern version: Kung Fu Panda floats through Herald Square in 2014 (Source: poll.com)

So, now that I’ve given you my autumn checklist, what is yours? What are your favorite sights to see/foods to eat/things to explore in your city in the fall? Respond in the comments!

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