The Natural History Museum and I go way back to 1987, land of school fields trips, dinosaur shaped french fries, and astronaut ice cream obsession. Back then, it was dark, slightly dank, and full of things that I didn’t quite understand were once alive. It smelled like adventure, of far off lands, and the deep dark seas, and even today, I still get a little/a lot giddy whenever I visit.
These days, the museum has undergone a technological renovation, a major dusting off of the larger exhibitions, and the expansion of a new glitzy planetarium wing. The absolute must-see is the Fossils Halls, beautifully presented and explained, full of interactive displays that inform without being too flashy, and of course, the awesome skeletons of dinosaurs looming overhead. The Hall of Biodiversity Hall is a personal favorite, with its majestic Siberian tigers, and rainforest display, while I do like to check and see if the (scary? creepy?) diorama of the sperm whale and giant squid in the Ocean Life hall still inspires the mild terror it used to as a child. Yes. Yes, it does. The older dioramas on the lower floors may seem a bit dusty, but are a wonderful glimpse into how we understood the world before commercial planes, and the internet. As for the planetarium…well, if you’re looking to be wowed after seeing the glass cube from the exterior, you probably won’t be.
If you need a break, the Astor Turret is one of my most favorite spot in New York to sit and just while away some time. Located in the same area as the dinosaur fossils, this room boasts an overhead view of Central Park, some much needed breathing room and a few very comfortable leather benches. Sit, take a load off, and wish for a nice cup of tea and maybe a butler.
Let’s zoom over to the important part. I have a before and after snack for you – nothing fancy or expensive, just tasty enough to be a reward for traipsing around for miles in the museum. Before the museum, hit up Gray’s Papaya right outside the 79th Street train station, home of the 2 hot dog and a drink Recession Special. With the snappiest hot dogs you’ll ever meet, and windows often plastered with timely political commentary, this utilitarian spot is a classic, even if their papaya drink tastes nothing like papaya. I prefer the pina colada drink myself, but I think everyone can get behind not getting sick from street cart dogs. Ewww.
A relative newcomer to the area is Shake Shack, a widening chain of burger places that started from a cart in Madison Square Park in the mind of restauranteur Danny Meyer. None of the subsequent locations are quite as perfectly on task as the original location, but they get it done with a precisely designed beef patty and bun that meld together with every addictive bite. My go to order is the Shack Burger, with either cheese or plain fries depending how much I deserve a cheese reward and an Arnold Palmer. Vegetarians, do not despair, their shroom burger is a lovely fried pocket of portabello and cheese.
Feeling ambitious? Walk across Central Park to Museum Mile, where the Metropolitan Museum and its minions await.
Nearby in Central Park is Strawberry Fields, an oft-photographed memorial to John Lennon, surrounded by various offerings from visitors. A circle of benches provide a little quiet time and some covert people watching while fellow visitors gab and snap away.