Skip to main content

A Cultural Guide to SoHo: How to Visit Without Really Shopping

(revised and updated) New York's fashionable SoHo is so famously packed with shoppers, especially on the weekend, that it's a wonder there's anything to do there except shop. Groups of shoppers stand on street corners to plot their next strategic move, carefully weighing the virtues of the next store based on variables of proximity, price, and trends. People line up outside the Apple Store on Greene and Prince, often long before the doors open, ready to snap up the new gadget. Along the fashion-intensive blocks of Broadway and at intersections of cross streets, especially at Prince and Spring Streets, so many shoppers clog the sidewalks that it's often difficult to pass through. Many locals put off errands until Monday.



Believe it or not, there's more to SoHo than frenzied shopping. First of all, there's the idea of slow shopping. This activity, best reserved for a weekday, allows the pleasure of visiting favorite stores while enjoying the historic district's beautiful cast iron buildings and the Belgian paving blocks - don't call them cobblestones - that line the streets. And though SoHo has lost much of its star art power to Chelsea, arts-minded visitors should take in the public art such as Richard Haas's 1975 Facade Mural at 112 Prince Street or Francoise Schein's 1986 Subway Map - Floating on a New York Sidewalk, underfoot at 110 Greene Street (below), in addition to stops at Artists Space, the Swiss Institute, the Drawing Center, and Ron Feldman Gallery. See that 5-story cast-iron building under wraps at Spring and Mercer? That's the residence and studio of artist Donald Judd (1928-1994), maintained by the Judd Foundation and now undergoing a major restoration.*



SoHo is home to extraordinary commercial buildings that constitute the largest concentration of cast-iron facades in the world. Their interiors often provide equally stunning designs. Step into the Prada SoHo store at Broadway and Prince. Behind its fanciful Corinthian cast-iron exterior, architect Rem Koolhaas has mimicked the movement of the street on the inside with wonderful waves of steps. The Alessi store, at 130 Greene, sits behind a similar cast-iron design, but opens up to a shimmering white modernistic interior. While not a cast-iron, the old Post Office at 103 Prince Street is currently under renovation and expansion for Apple's SoHo store.




Unlike residential areas where a nice leafy park with benches may be easily found within strolling distance, SoHo has nearly zero exterior places to sit down. Some people will take to the stoops of the cast-irons, although furtively. The best bet is to find a place for coffee or snacks. Try the Nespresso boutique at 92 Prince Street, a place that sells a sleek line of high tech espresso machines with color-coded coffee capsules. Sitting down for a leisurely $4 hit of a favorite brew can inspire a new wave of explorations.

A long-standing local favorite among locals is Housing Works Bookstore Cafe at 126 Crosby, with its high ceilings, mahogany balconies and shelves of books. Relaxing with a coffee and a new book is the definition of unhurried. For lunch or after work, Fanelli's Cafe at the corner Price and Mercer, is a classic choice for a relaxed vibe. They've been practicing their act since 1922.



SoHo's many shops of well-designed clothes and furniture are exquisite, of course, and the merchandise is often thrilling to hold and to buy and to take home. But on regular days, the look of SoHo seems enough, a wonder to behold, especially in the late morning light when the stores and cafes have just started opening.



View A Cultural Guide to SoHo in a larger map

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from June 14, 2011.

Comments

  1. Wonderful post, Teri. I know I say that all the time, but this really resonated with me. I love SoHo, both for the shopping and for everything else. I was sad when art galleries started moving from there to Chelsea--it took me a while to warm up to Chelsea, in fact. Glad to know about the Donald Judd space. Will it be open to the public after renovation?

    Among our favorite shopping in SoHo is the Harney & Sons tea shop on Broome Street. We've been buying their tea online for some time, so to visit the actual shop was a real treat.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks. I really must visit your favorite tea shop. Good recommendation.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thank you for your response! Walking Off the Big Apple is accepting comments. Please be relevant to the content and do not solicit or engage in self-promotion. Thoughtful responses are welcome. Comments are moderated at all times.










Popular posts from this blog

A Daytime Walk on Broadway and the Theater in the Dark

On October 9, the Broadway League announced that the theater season has been postponed through May 2021, leaving Broadway dark for the winter and into the spring of next year. According to the press release, “Broadway performances were initially suspended due to COVID 19 on March 12, 2020. At that time, 31 productions were running, including 8 new shows in previews. Additionally, 8 productions were in rehearsals preparing to open in the spring.”It’s hard to imagine New York without the theater. Even a daytime walk along the way in the Theater District near Times Square will reveal that the theater, in terms of live performances with an audience, has gone dark. Without Broadway, that leaves visitors to Times Square with few options for general amusement. Many stores and restaurants have closed as well. The lights are still up and blazing. When the Empire State Building was left nearly empty during the Great Depression, just a few years after it opened, the building crew kept the lights…

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north. 
One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red. Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.  Still, October is a great time for a walk. Exploring the villages along the Hudson line may be accomplished on foot, and many cater to visitors with signs and maps indicating the village’s…

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video, filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.”

When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months.

I hadn’t ventured into Central Park since before the pandemic. While I’ve b…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.*Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries.I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I would sit in t…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED October 10, 2020. Many favorite local destinations have now reopened. 

Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations   
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity.
• As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER.
• The 9/11 Memorial reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices.
• (update) Libraries: NYPL. The library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.
Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets. 
• The High Line reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entrance only at Gansevoort Street. See High Line website for details. 
The Bronx Zoo reopened July 20 fo…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

Connect the Dots: A Self-Guided Walk to Public Art in Lower Manhattan

Please see the revised and updated post, New York as Outdoor Museum: A Self-Guided Walk to Public Art in Lower Manhattan, June 2012.)

Lower Manhattan, with its tapered narrow geography between the two rivers spilling into New York Harbor, is not only a convenient area to walk but it's rich in public art.

Be sure to include Jean Dubuffet's Group of Four Trees, 1969-72 (left), in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza off of Pine Street, the Louise Nevelson Plaza on Maiden Lane (below), and many of the works in Battery Park City.

The latter area, under the guidance of the Battery Park City Authority, raised a new high standard in the 1980s with its commitment to incorporating public art into the new community. There, be sure to see Jim Dine's Ape and Cat (at the Dance) in Robert F. Wagner. Jr. Park, a blend of charm and danger, and South Cove, a great collaborative work of environmental design.



Also welcome is the Downtown Alliance's public art program, Re:Construction,…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…