Ever dreamed of finding a hidden place in New York City? You can tour a rooftop garden atop the Westin New York Grand Central hotel free. The guided tour takes you to a secret garden few have seen.

The Secret Garden

A secret garden high above NYC.

The rooftop garden atop the Westin New York Grand Central

In the Frances Hodgson Burnett book, The Secret Garden, children discover a hidden garden. In New York City, I just found out about a vegetable garden, hidden high in the sky on the 41st floor of the Westin New York Grand Central hotel.

This makes The High Line (also free) seem not so very high at all.

I have always been enchanted by hidden gardens, which may explain why I live in a brownstone. When out-of-town guests first come into my house, they often gasp at the enclosed garden, hidden from the street and accessible only from my house or by ninja squirrels and intrepid cats.

The rooftop garden at the hotel began four years ago, started and cultivated by executive chef Brian Wieler. He has been refining the garden ever since, choosing, herbs and vegetables that can withstand a hostile city environment and that he can incorporate into dishes at the hotel’s restaurant, THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen.

The view from a secret garden high about NYC.

The view from the roof Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

And how much more local can you get than a trip to the roof to harvest basil?

Free Tours of the Secret Garden

Free tours are offered weekly, by reservation with the concierge. The 30-minute tour doesn’t offer stunning view; a parapet wall that protects the raised beds and containers that constitute the garden, doesn’t offer river or park views. But can get a glimpse into a rather secret part of the city.

The 11 beds and four whiskey barrels are filled with organic soil and heirloom plant varieties. Chef Wieler said he has 13 types of tomatoes, served in salads and gazpacho, and the herbs not only flavor dishes, they are used in cocktails. Different lettuces and hot peppers take up the bulk of the remaining space.

As a vegetarian, I was thrilled to see the variety of produce. And the herbs got my mixologist wheels turning.

By not using chemicals, Chef Wieler espouses the Westin ethic of sustainability and clean air: Westin was the first major chain to make all its hotels smoke-free. Its hotels have healthy “SuperFoodsRx” menus and in addition to well-equipped fitness centers, the hotels lend you workout gear in case you forgot yours.

NYC Street Cred

secret garden

A perfectly ripe tomato, destined for a local salad. Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

New Yorkers love to one up each other – yes, you may have seen the hottest show on Broadway but “I saw it in London.” So yes, anyone can pony up the $32 to $90 for the new One World Observatory (except, of course, the dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker who proudly says she has never been to the Statue of Liberty or the top of the Empire State Building) but the free rooftop tours at the Westin are offered only in the summer, and limited to small groups at a time.

And like a great summer tomato, this tour is seasonal, and is over of this year, But keep it in mind for next summer; the spots fill up quickly.

Exclusive AND free? Great combo.

Note: This tour is not handicapped accessible. You have to walk up a flight of stairs and the large rocks on the ground are unstable.