Welcome to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood that might feel familiar to you even if you've never visited. It's the New York City of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron movies, Seinfeld, and where the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade begins. Here, you practically expect everyone to make witty conversation and have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. In truth, the area is tonier than its bookish reputation suggests. High real-estate prices have pushed out the mom-and-pop shops, and much of Broadway is occupied by chain stores. Old-timers complain that the neighborhood has lost some of its soul. Perhaps that's true, but it remains culturally and intellectually rich, thanks to Lincoln Center and Columbia University. And with Central and Riverside Parks close by, there's still a sense of living in a picture-perfect corner of Manhattan.
The Upper West Side stretches from 59th Street at the southernmost point to 110th Street, Central Park to the east and the Hudson River to the west. The northern boundary is debatable, sometimes including Morningside Heights up to 125th Street. The area is served by the 1/2/3 subway lines beneath Broadway and the C and B trains on Central Park West. Going north and south is easy by subway, but going across town requires the M96, M86 or M72 buses.
Sandwiched between Riverside Park and Central Park, the Upper West Side is one of the leafiest neighborhoods in the city. A plethora of green spaces is part of what makes the area so attractive. Riverside Park covers 330 acres along the Hudson River, with soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts, dog runs and a bike path that runs the length of Manhattan. Summer ushers in extras such as free kayaking and outdoor movies. The even larger Central Park offers rambling paths, birdwatching, endless picnic spaces and lots of special events. Dogs are allowed off-leash in much of the park before 9am and after 9pm.
Families gravitate to the Upper West Side. Many streets in the neighborhood are quiet, and there's a sense of community. Besides enjoying the parks and playgrounds, families also appreciate indoor amenities like the Museum of Natural History, the children's history museum at the New-York Historical Society, the Children's Museum of Manhattan and Lincoln Center, which offers a variety of family-friendly programs, including young people's concerts at the New York Philharmonic and WeBop at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The Upper West Side has a mix of single (45%) and married (40%) residents, and 14% of them have children. The area is home to people of all ages: 16% are in their 20s, 23% in their 30s, 16% in their 40s, and 32% are over 50. The median income is $73,836.
Nearly half of residents have a commute of 30 minutes or less. Some (30%) travel for 30-45 minutes to get to work; others (20%) travel over 45 minutes. The time is largely dependent on proximity to a subway station and whether that station is an express stop. Getting anywhere on the west side is faster than heading to the east side. Penn Station is about 15 minutes away; Grand Central, 25 minutes. Union Square is some 20 minutes away and the Financial District, 30 minutes.
For the culturati, Lincoln Center is the top reason to move to the Upper West Side. Its complex hosts the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the American Ballet Theater, the New York City Ballet and Lincoln Center Theater. Nearby is the Juilliard School, with regular free recitals and concerts, Jazz at Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle, and several independent movie theaters. Other neighborhood cultural institutions include Symphony Space, Second Stage Theater and the Beacon Theater. Sometimes it feels like the entire New York Times arts section is devoted to this area.
The Upper West Side is not really a dining destination, though Dovetail and Jean-Georges pull a great deal of weight. But it's an enviable place to shop for dinners at home, thanks to legendary grocers like Fairway and Zabar's, plus regular greenmarkets. Pleasingly, specialty stores endure: for cookies, visit Levain; for smoked fish, head to Barney Greengrass; and for bagels, well, there are just too many joints to name. For a rowdy night out, it's better to head south to Hell's Kitchen or Chelsea, or uptown to Harlem. Things are decidedly G-rated here.
Upper West Side History
For much of its history, the Upper West Side could have been called "the boonies." What's now Broadway was a Native American trail that snaked through farms and villages. In the early-19th century, Harsenville sat around 72nd Street and Bloomingdale Village at 100th Street, with country estates dotted between them. In the mid-19th century, some of these estates turned into inns as the area became a popular getaway from the city, which was then far downtown. Construction of train lines and Central Park spurred development here, and soon hotels lined the park. The Museum of Natural History (Central Park West and 79th St) was built in 1877. Elegant apartment buildings and mansions sprung up along Riverside Drive, West End Avenue and Central Park West, luring people who worked in the arts, sports, media and manufacturing. From the Great Depression to the 1970s, residents of the Upper West Side were mostly working- and middle-class; more affluent folks moved to the suburbs. Urban redevelopment projects, including slum clearances and the creation of Lincoln Center in the late 1960s, led to the neighborhood's cultural renaissance in the 1970s and 1980s.
2109 Broadway — The Ansonia, an apartment building that was once home to Babe Ruth (among other Yankees), Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld, writer Theodore Dreiser and composer Igor Stravinsky.
2207 Broadway — The Apthorp. Nora Ephron, Lena Horne, Joseph Heller and Al Pacino have all lived in this sprawling Renaissance Revival building, which occupies an entire block.
1 West 72nd Street — The Dakota, the city's first luxury apartment complex, was built in 1884 by Singer sewing machines heir Edward Clark. Luminaries in the arts have lived there ever since, including Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, and John Lennon, who was murdered at the entrance to the building in 1980.
310 West 80th Street — One of writer Dorothy Parker's many Upper West Side residences.
245 West 103rd Street — The brownstone where Humphrey Bogart grew up. The block was renamed Humphrey Bogart Place in 2006.