Welcome to SoHo, the neighborhood justsouth of Houston Street in Lower Manhattan. SoHo has a split personality. In the morning, when the sun slants on Belgian-block streets and charming storefronts yawn open, it feels a bit like Europe. As if in a photo shoot, stylish locals casually emerge from cast-iron buildings to grab coffee. Bikes flow down Prince Street and buttery aromas waft from French bakeries. But by midday, SoHo's narrow sidewalks are so clogged with bodies—tourists, shoppers, workers and street vendors—that it instead resembles Times Square. The art studio scene of the 1970s is pretty much gone, though a handful of artists remain by the grace of rent control. In its place are globe-trotting socialites, expensive cocktails, and Bloomingdales. Whatever the hour, there's one commonality: SoHo is a place to be.
SoHo is roughly bounded by Canal Street to the south, West Houston Street to the north, Lafayette Street to the east, and the Hudson River to the west. It's a convenient and connected location, with lots of subway options: the N/R, B/D/F/M, C/E, 1 and 6 trains. The M21 bus goes across town on Houston Street and the M5 goes down Broadway and up Sixth Avenue. There are also plenty of bike-sharing stations courtesy of CitiBike.
SoHo doesn't have many parks, but the scruffy Vesuvio Playground on Thompson Street between Spring and Prince Streets is very popular, offering basketball courts, a small pool and a playground. Leafier green spaces are just outside the neighborhood. A few blocks north in Greenwich Village is Washington Square Park, with a recently-refurbished playground and dog run. To the west, Hudson River Park has those and other amenities, including sunny lawns, an island-long bike path, and a sports fields on Pier 40 at the end of Houston Street.
This isn't the best neighborhood for families. Though it's relatively quiet at night, daytime crowds verge on unpleasant. Given its narrow, clogged sidewalks, it's not a fun place to push a stroller. There are a few kid-friendly places, such as the Scholastic Store and Citababes indoor gym, but families would likely prefer more low-key areas like the West Village or Tribeca.
The majority of SoHo residents are single and childless. Nearly 40% are married and 12.9% have children. Residents in their 30s make up 24% of the population, and 45% of dwellers are over 40. The median household income is $63,845.
Most residents have a commute of 30 minutes or less, with 11.4% traveling less than 10 minutes, 25.1% on the road for 10 to 20 minutes, and 28% trekking 20 to 30 minutes. Grand Central is a straight 15-minute shot on the 6 train, and Union Square is a quick 10 minutes out on the R. The financial district is about 15 minutes away.
SoHo is primarily a shopping district. The main streets are Prince, Spring, Broadway and West Broadway, all filled with major chain stores such as Apple, Bloomingdales, Uniqlo, Prada and Gap. The cobbled back streets have fashionable boutiques and quirky specialty stores, including local favorites like the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and Opening Ceremony. Modern home and furniture design stores abound, useful for filling the airy lofts above. Alessi, Design Within Reach, Ochre, Dwell Studio and Jonathan Adler sit within a few blocks of each other. Mixed among the storefronts are plenty of fine food and drink stops for the harried shopper, ranging from the enduringly stylish Balthazar to old-school pub Fanelli's.
Though SoHo is no longer the arts hub it was in the 1960s and 1970s, a few remnants remain. You can get a sense of the old neighborhood at Donald Judd's loft and studio on Spring Street, which has been preserved and recently opened to visitors. The nonprofit Drawing Center perseveres on Wooster Street, offering exhibitions and school programs. Galleries like the Artists Space, Team and Spencer Brownstone keep the neighborhood current.
The area that's now SoHo was mostly hilly farmland until the late 1700s. A Native American trail that ran the length of Manhattan passed through it, later becoming Broadway. Some of the land was owned by former slaves freed by the Dutch West India Company, making it the first free African-American settlement on Manhattan island.
The hills were eventually leveled and the soil used to fill in the polluted canal and marshland to the south of the area. Once it became suitable for development, the area was quickly built up, lined with red-brick Federal townhouses for the wealthy. In the mid-19th century, the neighborhood transitioned from a residential tract to a commercial and entertainment district. Broadway was lined with stores, hotels, theaters and music halls, while the cobbled side streets became a red-light district. Between 1860 and 1865, the neighborhood's population dropped by 25%, due to its increasingly sordid character and an influx of manufacturing businesses. Old buildings were demolished and replaced with factories and warehouses constructed with cast iron, and SoHo became a center for the textile and dry-goods industries. As the city pushed northward at the turn of the 20th century, major businesses moved out of SoHo and were replaced by smaller, less-fashionable ones. The beautiful cast-iron buildings sat largely forgotten until the 1960s, when artists moved in and used the large lofts as studios. The artists were able to get the warehouse zoning laws modified in a way that allowed both them and the remaining industry to use the buildings, and the area became a hive of contemporary art. A large part of the neighborhood between West Broadway and Crosby was designated the SoHo-Cast Iron historic district in 1973. This revitalization spurred growth, which drew high-end boutiques and priced out artists.
27 Greene Street — Artist Chuck Close had a studio here.
101 Spring Street — Donald Judd's loft and studio.
80 Wooster Street — Former Fluxus Foundation creative co-op, where artists suc as Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol performed or showed their work.
141 Prince Street — Rupert Murdoch and designer Elie Tahari have each lived in lofts here.
30 Crosby Street — Formerly home to several famous residents, including Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz and Courtney Love.
158 Mercer Street — Notable residents have included Jon Bon Jovi, hotelier André Balazs and Fabien Baron.