Upper West Side, NYC Neighborhood Guide

The Upper West Side is a beautiful residential neighborhood situated between Central Park and Riverside Park, two of New York City’s most beloved public green spaces. The pace of life on the Upper West Side isn’t quite as hectic as it is in some other parts of the city, and it’s home to several major New York cultural institutions like the American Museum of Natural History, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the New York Historical Society, and the American Folk Art Museum. Columbus Circle, where you’ll find Time Warner Center and the Museum of Arts and Design, is located just to the south of the Upper West Side, while Barnard College and Columbia University are to its immediate north.

Upper West Side Neighborhood History

The Upper West Side’s proximity to the Hudson River meant that through much of the nineteenth century it was an important cog in New York City’s lively shipping industry, with the working piers along its riverfront sites of significant manufacturing processes and economic activities. As Riverside Park and Riverside Drive were designed and built in the late nineteenth century, the character of the area changed, and the Upper West Side steadily became a more desirable place to live. These transformations only increased when Columbia University moved its campus to nearby Morningside Heights at the turn of the century.

The construction of Lincoln Center during the 1950s and 1960s was another boon for the Upper West Side. Today, the neighborhood lives large in the pop-culture imagination, with TV shows and movies as eclectic as SeinfeldAmerican PsychoOnly Murders in the BuildingEnchanted, and a great many more all taking place on the Upper West Side.

Exploring the Upper West Side

The Upper West Side is a wonderful place to explore on foot. Many of the neighborhood’s plentiful apartment buildings make for intriguing architectural objects, while two of New York City’s top outdoor destinations are here. Central Park is always worth a visit, and Riverside Park features walking paths, bike trails, playgrounds, statues, monuments, and breathtaking views.

Perhaps the top attraction found on the Upper West Side is the American Museum of Natural History. Famous and beloved long before the success of Night at the Museum, the American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world. Its permanent collection contains over 35 million artifacts, and all throughout its 40 unique halls visitors can enjoy exhibits devoted to brown bears, dinosaurs, biodiversity, and a whole lot more. If you have time, check out the Hayden Planetarium, too.

Though the American Museum of Natural History gets most of the attention, there are several other fine institutions located throughout the Upper West Side. These include the New York Historical Society, the city’s oldest museum; the American Folk Art Museum, which celebrates the work of self-taught artists; and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

The Upper West Side is located between the Hudson River and Central Park, north of Hell’s Kitchen and south of Morningside Heights. Locals often subdivide the Upper West Side into smaller, sub-neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Manhattan Valley, and Lincoln Square.

Upper West Side Dining

The Upper West Side has never been considered one of New York’s top dining destinations—more due to the top-notch quality of the city’s remarkable restaurant scene than any failing on the part of the neighborhood itself—but that reputation has been changing over the course of the past couple decades. Today, the Upper West Side has great Chinese restaurants, affordable Mexican joints, numerous kosher establishments, and a whole host of popular bistros, diners, Italian restaurants, and pubs.

A cluster of classic Upper West Side restaurants can be found on Amsterdam Avenue not too far from the southern edge of Morningside Park. Whether you’re in the mood for a Latin American stew, Ethiopian entrée, Vietnamese specialty, brunch, burgers, or you just want a place to watch the game over a cold drink, Amsterdam Avenue is a happening corner of the Upper West Side worth checking out.

Upper West Side Shopping

If we expand our definition of the Upper West Side to include Columbus Circle—a bustling intersection at the southwest corner of Central Park—then The Shops at Columbus Circle are one of the neighborhood’s prime shopping destinations. The Shops at Columbus Circle contain Coach, H&M, Michael Kors, Williams Sonoma, and about four-dozen more major brands across genres as diverse as fitness, fashion, and stationery, as well as several dining options.

Other popular Upper West Side stores include Unique Boutique, the vintage-centric thrift shop; Book Culture, a well-regarded bookseller at Columbia University; Magpie, which proudly sells elegant, eco-friendly gifts; and Runaway Poppy, whose selection of art prints, ceramics, and jewelry always yield fantastic finds. For a classic Upper West Side shopping experience, mark your calendar for a Sunday and head to 77th Street and Columbus Avenue to peruse the Grand Bazaar’s quirky mix of local artisanal goods.

Explore the Upper West Side Like a Local

  • One terrific way of going about experiencing the Upper West Side is by taking a guided tour. There are water cruises that’ll take you past the neighborhood as you ride along the Hudson River, while themed tours focus on locations and settings found in pop culture sensations like Seinfeld. And, of course, there are lots of walking and biking tours of Central Park. 
  • If you’ve enjoyed your day exploring the Upper West Side, why not make a night of it, too? The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has almost a dozen distinctive in-house arts organizations, and the number of live performances it stages on a regular basis across its 30 different facilities is staggering. Film, opera, theater, dance, jazz: you never know what you might be able to see here, so check their calendar of events as you plan your Upper West Side excursion.