New York City intersections with names get all the attention. Herald Square, Times Square, Columbus Circle, even Union Square – everyone knows to visit them for shopping and noisy excitement. But there’s another intersection without a name that has just as much happening, and can easily keep an entire family entertained all day. That intersection is Central Park South and Fifth Avenue.
Central Park South
Central Park South is a pretty happening avenue. It runs along the southern border of Central Park, which is surrounded by a pretty little stone wall. The sidewalk is crowded with vendors of artwork, photography, personalized calligraphy, and the usual miscellany of items you can buy from street vendors in a large, tourist-oriented city.
Also lined up along Central Park South are horse-drawn carriages. For a sum, you can get a tour around Central Park and its environs from a hansom cab. The tour runs upward of 20 minutes and the driver will point out sights along the way while regaling you with the rather colorful history of New York City.
The Plaza Hotel
The Plaza Hotel is one of NYC's grand old hotels, replete with 19 stories decorated with detailed wrought iron accented in gold, marble lobbies, solid mahogany doors, 1,650 crystal chandeliers, Swiss organdy curtains and all the conspicuous opulence of an era past. It's been made famous by Eloise, a character in a children's picture book who lives in the Plaza and has a grand time of it. Her portrait is in the lobby, and numerous children have giddily sipped tea in the Palm Garden where Eloise had tea on rainy days. It's certainly worth a look-see, even if you haven't got children who have read the book in tow.
Grand Army Plaza
At the corner of Central Park South and 5th Avenue, outside of Central Park, is a small, well-gardened square with a fountain in the middle called Grand Army Plaza. Aside from being a good place to rest or eat lunch, in more sultry weather it is sometimes frequented by street entertainers hoping to earn a buck. Some of them are even entertaining. In the centre of things is a gold statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, a Civil War hero.
The entrance to Central Park at the corner of 5th Avenue is known as Scholar's Gate. Merchant's Gate is at Columbus Circle, Artisan's Gate at 7th Avenue, and Artist's Gate at 6th Avenue, all along Central Park South. The idea was to make every type of citizen arriving from the main city below feel welcome.
Right inside is the Duck Pond, which is aptly named. Adults can relax in the shade and enjoy the surprising beauty of Central Park while children feed the ducks and enjoy scrambling over the rocky outcroppings found scattered through the park.
Central Park itself contains a plethora of opportunities for fun, from a small amusement park to a zoo, an ice skating rink, boat rentals, and the amphitheatre where Public Theater puts on performances, including their highly popular Shakespeare in the Park summer runs. But much of that occurs further north, and will necessitate a pleasant stroll through the park. Fountains, ponds, streams, picturesque bridges, and in good weather, performers, keep the stroll anything from boring.
At the inside of the intersection, where Central Park South meets Fifth Avenue along the park wall, is a large book stand bearing the name The Strand. The Strand is the city's favorite used-book store and a must-visit for the bibliophilic bargain hunter. The Central Park outlet is really just an outpost of the larger store downtown, adding that many feet to its 18 miles of books1.
On the 5th Avenue side of the intersection is a stone plaza with twin fountains bubbling. The plaza around the fountain closest to the park is kept clear, because it is outside CBS Studios. If you arrive at 7.30 in the morning, you'll be offered food and drink, posters, and markers so you can be on the morning broadcast waving a sign reading 'Giggleswick, Yorkshire', or 'Muggles for Magical Integration.' At the very least, you get to see television being made.
The other fountain has café tables around it, because it is in front of the most famous toy store in the United States: FAO Schwartz. FAO Schwartz gained fame by being the toy store where you could try the toys out before buying them. Unfortunately, more people tried than buyed, and the store nearly went out of business in 2000 after 138 years of business. It was rescued and reopened, but there's a lot less toy-testing going on these days. However, you can watch store personnel demonstrated toys and admire others that aren't sold in your local shop. If you'd like to ogle life-sized plush buffalo or dance on a keyboard-shaped floor mat that plays the notes you hit, there's no place like FAO.
The Apple Store
Also on the stone plaza is a big glass box with an apple fogged into it. This is the entrance to the Apple store, located directly below. Even if you're a Linux geek or a loyal PC user, there's no denying that Apple products have style, and so does this store, making it worth a peek. When you enter the glass cube, you can either ride down in a glass elevator or take the fogged stairs. A picture taken from below the staircase, showing only the fuzzy outline of footprints made the finals of a Smithsonian magazine photo contest. However, if you try to duplicate the shot, store personnel will tell you that nobody is permitted below the stairs.
As for entertainment once in the store: some children have been satisfied for hours to sit and play games on the huge-screen demonstration Macs, while adults enjoy browsing the tiny laptops and colorful iPods.
The Apple Store is open 24/7/365, excepting leap years when it's 366.
When you need a pit stop, consider Bergdorf Goodman. There's a good reason why it's less well-known than Macys, and that's because fewer people can afford to shop there. Among NYC's highest-end department stores, Bergdorf's is a good place to window shop, especially if you get a kick out of admiring a pair of gloves only to find out that they're $500. The household floor has sample table settings with more forks than the average diner knows what to do with, and women will be delighted by the rooms full of eye-poppingly priced shoes. All store personnel will smile at you like you're a millionaire which, after all, you might be.
But back to that pit stop: when you enter from 5th Avenue, go down one flight to the cosmetics floor and head straight back to the bathroom. Marble tiles, full-length stall doors, paper towels so thick you can sleep on them, and hand cream next to the sinks – a thoroughly enjoyable experience that beats public toilets any time.
During the Christmas season, Bergdorf's puts up beautiful, themed window displays along 5th Avenue. This is a charming habit practiced also by Macys, Saks 5th Avenue, Barney’s, Bloomingdale's, and Lord and Taylor. Saks 5th, it should be pointed out, is only a few blocks down the avenue.
Up and Down Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue is a good jumping off point for some culture or some shopping. Heading downtown on Fifth Avenue will bring you past the richest collection of high-end designer boutiques in the city. Heading up Fifth Avenue will bring you to Museum Mile, a stretch of museums and cultural centers up the side of Central Park.
If you plan to eat while in the area, either bring your own food, buy from a food cart, or be prepared to shell out large quantities of dough, as most of the restaurants are rather high end.