As a resident of New York City for more than 20 years, our History Buff TravelingMom can tell you that NYC is much more than Manhattan! Queens has changed a lot since Archie Bunker lived here in All in the Family. The City’s largest borough is now known for its museums, breweries and trendy restaurants.
Queens for a Day in New York City
Long Island City is described by some as a small town in a large city. Others describe it as Manhattan’s suburb because of its convenient commute to Midtown on the 7 train. But what is Long Island City and why would you want to visit there?
A Geography Lesson
For those unfamiliar with the New York City area, the geography of Long Island is confusing at first. Long Island is an actual island that extends 118 miles from New York Harbor on Manhattan’s east side until its furthest tip, Montauk Point.
Technically, Long Island consists of four counties: Kings, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk. Although the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens are officially on Long Island, only Nassau and Suffolk counties are considered by locals to be Long Island.
Long Island City (or LIC), contradictory to its name, is a neighborhood that is located on the westernmost side of Queens. It was once an independent city, hence its name. Then in 1898, it decided to throw in with the other boroughs and become part of greater NYC.
NYC is changing all the time and LIC is no exception. The area was once known for large-scale bakeries and factories. Over the years the old factories have been replaced or repurposed into residential apartment complexes. Many iconic symbols, like the Pepsi-Cola sign, have been preserved as a nod to its past.
Once the home of street art icon, 5 Pointz, the area became a haven for artists in the 90’s because of its low housing prices. Many artists stayed and now the area is known for having the highest concentration of art galleries and art institutions of any neighborhood in the city.
Although much has changed, the neighborhood is still home to the largest fortune cookie factory in the country. Wonton Foods produces four million cookies a day. The fortunes that come in each cookie are lucky indeed. At least they were lucky for the 110 people who played those numbers in the May 2005 drawing for the Powerball lottery and won $100,000 each!
But the main reason to visit LIC now is because it may be your last chance to see vestiges of an old NYC neighborhood before it is gone.
What to do in the Area
Queens Food Tours
A food tour is a great way to get to know a neighborhood and its people. What people eat is a reflection of how they live. Queens Food Tours was started by a couple of Queens natives who established the tour to celebrate new and the traditional cuisine.
On a rainy Saturday, our guide Richard started us off on the three hour eating-walking tour with a history lesson of the neighborhood. With empty stomachs and big umbrellas we headed to the first of five stops with anticipation. All the restaurants we visited are small locally owned businesses and each have their own unique story.
Manducatis Rustica reminded us that the neighborhood once had a strong immigrant presence. This family-run restaurant has been in business for over 30 years and the Cerbone family remain active members of the community.
What I love best about food tours are the people you meet. It’s a wonderful opportunity for visitors to meet NYC locals and people from around the world while doing something they love, eating.
The tour includes a good blend of sweets and savories that result in a full and satisfied tummy at the end of the afternoon. You do not need to be a “foodie” to enjoy this tour. All the foods are family friendly – in other words, no overly adventurous flavors or textures to worry about. We did try Scotch eggs, which is something you don’t see often and I’ve always wanted to try.
No alcoholic beverages are included, but there is really no time unless you are a very fast drinker. There are local breweries and watering holes as well as shops to explore in the neighborhood when the tour is over.
This world-class museum is housed in what was the City’s first public school. It initially started as a studio, performance and exhibition space to support visiting artists from the U.S. and beyond. It’s best known for displaying the most experimental art in the world. TravelingMom Tip: you might want to check out the exhibits online beforehand. It’s best to visit with an open mind and be prepared for a lot of questions from your children.
Gantry Plaza State Park
Elevator Historical Society Museum
Keep your expectations low, but if you are fascinated by elevators, why not? Visiting is on weekdays by appointment only. Visit their website at ElevatorHistory.org.