Tall. Bustling. Cold.
This was my first impression of New York; a city thrumming with an energy unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Trench-coated figures flowed from subterranean stairways, frothing up onto the sidewalks, into and out of shops, clutching lattes and cell phones, hoping to reach their destinations on time. This metropolis was certainly a city, but one with abundant vigor and life despite the brisk December wind. My winter months had always been dominated by a sprinkling of rainy days, some chilly mornings, and the occasional weekend with enough warmth to lay out at the beach in the California sun. I couldn’t fathom an entire winter here, in this land of scarves, subways, and skyscrapers.
Where, I wondered, did New Yorkers go for respite? There was the obvious “escape” of Central Park. But that rectangular void in the heart of the city was too obvious and altogether too overwhelming. It was a good place to get lost, but not a place to really engulf oneself in the culture of New York in winter.
Growing up in a tourist town, I realized the line that certain places and attractions toed. Some spots were beloved by locals but often became overrun with sunscreen-lathered outsiders, while other places were outright shunned by residents. Few places, it seemed, could allow these two breeds to coexist, and I doubted I’d find such a spot in New York. Anywhere I went, it seemed, I would either stick out or be consumed in a materialistic whirlwind of I Heart NY shirts and snow globes.
By the time I stumbled into Rockefeller Center (late in the afternoon, with a snappy wind at my back and sore feet), I had exhausted my search for the quintessential Manhattan spot. I was content to simply gaze down at the ice skaters lazily circling the Center’s rink. As the blood rushed back into my extremities, however, I began to realize that I had struck gold. Here were hardened New York executives, chatting beneath towering office buildings; seasoned city dwellers reining in their shopping bags beneath the grand fountains; and, of course, gawking tourists taking it all in. Many had their heads cranked back as they stared up at the magnificently lush Christmas tree, natives dodging between them, almost smiling at the outsiders’ wonderment. Though the surrounding streets were becoming fraught with traffic and rushing people, darkening slowly as the winter sun sank below the silhouette of each building, Rockefeller Center was brimming with life. It was as if the happiness level spiked in that lively plaza.
From a purely tourist-centered outlook, Rockefeller Center is the perfect hub for an afternoon in New York. Central Park is a few blocks away for those who want to really escape the hustle of Manhattan at rush hour. Culture is aplenty at nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Museum of Modern Art. And, of course, there is the legendary shopping on Fifth Avenue. This dense area clearly has something for everyone, and is sure to delight any time of year, but there’s something just right about Rockefeller Center in December. The lights are out, the tree is up, and everyone–New Yorkers and visitors alike–are willing to enjoy and share the holiday cheer.