Living in the Upper West Side
The Upper West Side is a leafy enclave between 59th street and 116th street, (encompassing Morningside Heights) running from Columbus Circle all the way up to Columbia University, between Central Park and the Hudson River. It is a primarily residential and commercial area. Many of its residents work elsewhere in the city usually either in midtown or downtown.
The apartment buildings along Central Park West are some of the most desirable and expensive locations in the City. The Dakota, the oldest apartment building on the Upper West Side, is the building outside which John Lennon was shot and killed and many famous people still reside in it. Apartments on Riverside Drive often have sweeping views of the water. Two bedroom apartments in desirable locations sell for upwards of two million dollars. Still, along the side streets between Amsterdam and Columbus, there are more affordable options for both renting and buying apartments, and above 106th street, prices drop considerably.
Many people who live on the Upper West Side come from upper middle class and wealthy families. There are also lots of single twenty and thirty-somethings, most of them employed and with at least college degrees. Mixed in, there is a solidly middle class community, people of all ages, some of whom live in rent stabilized apartments that they have had for many years. There is also a sizable international population living on the Upper West Side and the area is racially diverse. Citizens of the Upper West Side are, by and large, very liberal, and some jokingly call this neighborhood "The Peoples' Republic of the Upper West Side."
The Upper West Side is relatively safe. The less safe parts are often around the public housing projects on Amsterdam Avenue.
Parks and Recreation
The Upper West Side is blessed to be sandwiched between Central Park to the East and Riverside Park to the West. Central Park has a beautiful reservoir around which there is a dirt jogging path, as well as a path around the park, which is closed much of the day to traffic. Riverside park has a path, Cherry Lane, that runs almost unbroken past the tip of the park to about 132nd street, and down past the park along the West Side Highway to nearly the tip of Manhattan, which is a great asset to those wanting to exercise or commute by bicycle. Both parks also have many wooden and metal playgrounds on which children play throughout the year, even in the coldest of weather.
There are also a many gyms including the most pricey Equinox gym (4 locations from 59th-92nd streets), relatively expensive New York Sports Clubs (6 locations 59th-106th street). There are also cheaper gym options like the Paris Health Club on 97th and West End Avenue and the West Side YMCA on 64th off Central Park West. Look out too for the many Yoga studios that exist on upper floors of buildings on Broadway and Amsterdam.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
The Lincoln Center for the Arts, which spans from 64th to 62nd Street off Amsterdam, houses the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, and the New York Philharmonic, as well as the New York State Theater. The American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, occupying blocks between Columbus and Central Park West from 77th to 81st Street.
There are a number of movie theaters on the Upper West Side, Sony Lincoln Square (at Broadway and 66th street), which is a Megaplex, as well as Lowes Theater on Broadway and 84th street, both of which show mainstream movies. There are also two art house movie theaters (on Broadway and 61st and Broadway and 62nd Street), and Lincoln Center has occasional film festivals. The Beacon Theater on Broadway and 74th street is a large concert hall where musicians like Steely Dan and Snow Patrol are playing. Second Stage Uptown at Broadway and 77th street has interesting performances. Symphony Space at Broadway and 95th Street, shows old films and has musical performances and literary readings.
There are also many bars on the Upper West Side, ranging from the super swanky to the more neighborhood dives. Amsterdam Avenue between 79th and 84th street is a good place to be. There you have Jakes Dilemma and Bourbon Street (feels like a frat party), The Dead Poet (quieter), and a neighborhood Irish bar (divey and always less crowded than the others). There's also Bar 75 on 75th and Broadway which has board games that patrons can play, the Tavern on 102nd and Broadway which has cheap drinks and many local brews on tap, and plenty of sports bars on both Broadway and Amsterdam covering the whole neighborhood.
Shopping and Eating
Perhaps the Upper West Side is most well-known for its food options, and the central Upper West Side is a food lover's dream. On Broadway and 75th street is Fairway, a huge supermarket with typical supermarket fair as well as bountiful fresh produce, prepared foods, dried goods, at very reasonable prices. Right next door is Citarella, a store that specializes in fresh seafood. The prices are steep but the seafood is always delicious, as are their homemade raviolis. A few blocks up (on Broadway and 80th street) is the famed Zabars, a store specializing in smoked fish, caviar, coffee, and cheese, as well as kitchen equipment and housewares. Right across the street is H&H bagels, which many claim to be the best bagels in all of New York City if not the country. Broadway and 96th street houses Gourmet Garage, a relatively expensive store that has excellent prepared food, lovely produce, and an excellent selection of cheeses. On Broadway farther uptown, on 110th street, West Side Market is an excellent, well-stocked supermarket with good produce and a nice selection of prepared food. Trader Joe's will open within the next three months on 72nd and Broadway, and Whole Foods will open within that time on 98th and Columbus.
Amsterdam Avenue has recently become a mecca for delicious, affordable eating. Gennaro's, on 92nd and Amsterdam offers simple and delicious Italian. Favorite brunch places include Popover Cafe (on 87th and Amsterdam) which serves signature popovers with strawberry butter, and Good Enough to Eat (on 84th and Amsterdam), which invariably has long lines but delicious buttermilk biscuits to make up for it. There are Chinese restaurants open all night including Ollies (at 66th, 84th and 116th and Broadway) and Empire Szechuan (at 100th and Broadway). For the full New York experience, the Upper West Side has a number of clean (if also overpriced) diners including City Diner (at 91st and Broadway, open 24 hrs), and Tom's Restaurant (on 112th and Broadway, and famous for being in the opening sequence of Seinfeld).
At Columbus Circle, there is the Time Warner Center, a fancy indoor mall with everything from a Border and J. Crew to Per Se, one of the fanciest, most expensive, and most critically acclaimed restaurants in NYC.
The Upper West Side is serviced by the 1/2/3 trains that run local and express along Broadway, and the A/B/C/D trains that run express and local along Central Park West. The Upper West Side also has a number of buses that come frequently and often, some with express service. The M5 runs up Riverside Drive. The M104 runs on Broadway. The M7 is the Amsterdam Avenue bus, and the M10 runs along Central Park West. There are also a number of buses that go across town at various arteries (the M65 at 65th street, the M72 at 72nd street, the M96 at 96th street and the M106 at 106th street). Columbus Circle provides a large transportation hub where the A/B/C/D and 1 trains all stop.