Every time we head to Chinatown, Justin has a minor anxiety attack. The crowded streets and the slow foot traffic drive him crazy, but we still find ourselves there with remarkable regularity. It’s impossible to stay away from this section of Lower Manhattan because it simply has so much to offer. And we’re not just there to eat, either. Here are some things you can (and should) do in Chinatown:
1. Buy produce
Produce vendors line the streets of Chinatown. Most people come here for the exotic fruits they can’t find elsewhere, like jackfruit and dragonfruit. But Chinatown is a great place to buy a majority of your produce. The vendors are linked to a network of small family farms, like home gardens in south Florida and small wholesalers that function independently of large supermarket chains. In order to avoid refrigeration and storage costs, vendors only sell what’s in season. The short supply chain gives you the freshest produce at the best price. We mentioned this briefly in our post on Canal Street, but here’s a reminder: don’t sample the goods without permission! Vendors are looking for serious buyers only. If you’re concerned about whether the fruit will be to your liking, ask if you can try it. In some extreme cases, they may charge you $0.25 for the sample, but that’s often waived if you decide to purchase.
2. Visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
The history of Chinese immigration to the United States is a complicated one. MOCA does a fantastic job of highlighting the trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs in Chinese American history. Personal stories from Chinese Americans in an interactive format make the material uniquely approachable, whether you’re of Chinese descent or not. Walk into a reproduction of a historic Chinatown shop. See hand-made pottery items from the 18th century. Learn about Hazel Lee, the first Chinese American female pilot to fly for the United States military. Immigration is still a highly contentious issue, and MOCA provides an avenue to learn about struggles with heritage and identity within immigrant communities.
Pro Tip: MOCA offers free gallery admission the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays.
215 Centre St
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm
3. Enjoy amazing rooftop views of the city
Hotel 50 Bowery is a fairly new addition to Chinatown, and it boasts some of the best rooftop views in New York City. Chef Dale Talde (of Top Chef fame), David Massoni, and John Bush of Three Kings Restaurant Group operate The Crown, which is located on the 21st floor of the hotel. Its location in Lower Manhattan offers you views of many landmarks, including a clear view of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Enjoy a drink outdoors, weather permitting, or sit inside where large windows still let you take in the magnificent view.
Thursday-Friday: 2pm to 2am
4. Get a massage
New York City is home to luxury spas, medical spas and everything in between. And while I would thoroughly enjoy a day at the luxurious Peninsula Spa, it’s a splurge that’s difficult to justify. But that doesn’t mean getting a massage to #treatyoself is out of reach. In New York City where $150-$250 for a 60-minute massage is fairly commonplace, Chinatown happens to have some of the most affordable rates around. We’ve enjoyed stellar service at Zu Yuan Spa, where the rates start as low as $10 for a 10-minute foot massage, but there are several options in the area that offer similar prices and levels of service.
5. Get in on the latest dessert trends
Chinatown has many tiny storefronts that sell simple noodle or rice dishes for a really great price. There are also larger restaurants that specialize in regional cuisines. And of course, there’s the dim sum behemoths. But Chinatown is also home to many trendy desserts. Here you’ll find the Japanese fish-shaped cake filled with soft serve from Taiyaki. You’ll also find the Hong Kong egg waffles filled with ice cream from Eggloo. And if you want a vegan rainbow latte, you’ll find it at the Good Sort. (FYI, at the Good Sort, come for the latte but stay for the congee. Trust us.) Want your ice cream with cereal? Find it at Milk & Cream Cereal Bar. Indulge your wildest dessert dreams here.
P.S. You may notice that most of these pictures aren’t ours. That’s because Justin is mostly allergic to trendy food. If you share his aversion, then pay The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory a visit. It’s a family-operated store that has been around for almost 40 years and offers classic Chinatown flavors like lychee and pandan.