South Street Seaport, situated at the tip of lower Manhattan, between the East River and the Financial District, has 400 years of history, from its beginnings as an outpost for the Dutch West India Company to its recent rebirth as the upscale Seaport District.
Its cobblestone streets and Federalist-style buildings will instantly remind you of when the area was a round-the-clock commercial hub and home to the Fulton Fish Market, which became one of America’s busiest in the 19th century.
After seeing a period of decline in the 1950s and ’60s, rebuilding in the ’80s and devastation from superstorm Sandy, the newly dubbed Seaport District is being promoted as “a port of discovery where visitors can continuously discover new experiences that cannot be found anywhere else in the city,” according to Saul Scherl of the Howard Hughes Corp., which is revitalizing the area.
But don’t take their word for it — spend a day there and decide for yourself.
We have done the legwork to find out some of the best ways to spend time there, from sunrise to sunset.
Start by grabbing a Brazilian breakfast
After taking the A, C, 2, 3, J, Z, 4, or 5 train to Fulton Street, head to Front Street, where you’ll find a slew of eateries, from pubs to ice cream shops. But head straight to Café Patoro, at 223 Front St., which is a Brazilian coffee and pastry shop with the most delicious pão de queijo (small cheesy rolls) and delectable coffee drinks.
We ordered about one of each of the pão de queijo, including black olive, jalapeño, roasted garlic, pesto, original, maple bacon and more. If you have a sweet tooth in the morning, there are pastries, from muffins to Brazilian carrot cake and more you can order. As for coffee, try the Brigadiero latte, which is similar to a mocha latte but is amazingly rimmed with chocolate and sprinkles.
Otherwise, grab a cup of coffee from Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee across the street or from Periscope Coffee, a coffee cart people swear by, at 158 John St., if your time is limited.
Brush up on your city history at South Street Seaport Museum
The seaport’s long history is celebrated at the South Street Seaport Museum. The museum actually is spread out across a collection of vessels at Pier 16, at a small gallery space at 12 Fulton St., and at the Bowne & Co. Stationers printing office at 209 Water St. All can be accessed by wearing your museum sticker, which is $20 to purchase.
After catching the current exhibit at the main gallery space, head directly over to Bowne & Co. for a fun demonstration of how the business has been printing small batches since 1775. When you step inside, you’ll find a large 19th-century letterpress, which a staff member will set up for a live printing. You can peek into the shop’s workspace, which has many old letterpresses that are still used to this day. Nothing Bowne & Co. produces is digitally created.
If you’ve been enchanted by the analog printmaking process, head next door to the company’s gift shop, where you’ll find all kinds of notebooks, writing tools, stationery, vintage postcards and more for a reasonable price.
Stop and see public art that decorates the streets and shops
On your way to see the ships docked at Pier 16, make sure to check out the whimsical art the Seaport District has on Fulton Street and nearby shops. We found “Add Color (Refugee Boat),” a concept by Yoko Ono, in which the public paints their thoughts, ideas and hopes all over the walls, floor and ceiling at 203 Front St. Nearby, Seascape Sculptures by Wade and Leta, which is on through September, appeared to be growing out of the cobblestones. Check seaportdistrict.nyc to see what is available when you visit.
Enjoy a pre-sail lunch
While the Seaport District has many good restaurants to choose from, we suggest Made Fresh Daily at 226 Front St. As the name suggests, the cute and casual eatery uses all-natural ingredients in its salads, sandwiches, and soups that are made to order. With a sunny nook in the front of the cafe and a wide variety of freshly made food, you really can’t go wrong here. We ordered the buttermilk chicken BLT, but it’s beloved for its breakfast items, biscuits and chive butter, soups and sandwiches.
Head to the pier to tour the vessels
See what the seaport is all about on Pier 16, where four landmarked ships are docked, the Schooner Pioneer, the Tugboat W.O. Decker, and two you can climb aboard with your museum pass — Lightship Ambrose and Ship Wavertree. If you want to take a tugboat ride or a sail in the harbor on the other two boats, it’s $35 to $55 (including museum admission), depending on the tour you want.
Note: There are public restrooms and refreshments for sale under the bridge near the piers and inside an air-conditioned Pier 17.
Spend your afternoon shopping
The Seaport District has been a center of commerce for hundreds of years. Lee Lee’s Forest at 14 Fulton St. is a treasure trove of unique clothing, jewelry and accessories that are mostly made in the U.S. The shop is run by a couple from Syracuse who opened it in 2013 at the former Pier 17 South Street Seaport mall.
Make sure to stop by SJP, Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoe shop at 93 South St., even if you can’t afford a pair. The pink-walled shop is like a museum of pristine heels that would make any fashionista drool. The variety of colors and finishes is rainbow-like and seeing them should be part of the Seaport District experience.
10 Corso Como, the popular dining and shopping concept pioneered by Carla Sozzani in Milan, is inside the Fulton Market Building (one of the first places in the city where goods were traded), where there are unique finds in fashion, art, design and lifestyle, a gallery and an Italian restaurant that features a menu of authentic pasta and meats amid bold, eye-catching décor.
The neighborhood also has designer brands you can stop into, including Guess, Cynthia Rowley, Superdry, Christian Benner Custom and DITA, all of which can be found around Fulton Street and the pedestrian plaza.
Eat dinner outside or at one of the Seaport District’s upscale restaurants
If you’re ready for a dining experience, go to The Fulton at Pier 17, which is Jean George Vongerichten’s newest venture and first seafood restaurant. Try the lobster longevity noodles, the scallops, the sashimi on ice, or the seafood tower.
Almost hidden away from the hubbub at 22 Peck Slip, The Hideaway Seaport offers a more relaxed atmosphere as a gastropub with locally sourced ingredients and a highly rated fish and chips. It’s where you go to grab a burger, a sandwich, something fried or fresh off the boat (like its jumbo Maryland blue crabs).
Treat yourself to some of the city’s best ice cream
Get this — Front Street has both Van Leeuwan Artisan Ice Cream (224) and Big Gay Ice Cream (207). You can’t go wrong with either. We went to Van Leeuwan to skip the lines at Big Gay and got two scoops of their most popular flavors — the honeycomb and the vegan toasted coconut blondie — which left us in a state of euphoria.
Head to a show or grab a drink at Pier 17
Pier 17’s one-and-a-half-acre rooftop event space, which has hosted performances by the likes of Kings of Leon and Amy Schumer, is one of the most spectacular places to see a show, especially in the summer, with the Brooklyn Bridge behind the stage, the Manhattan skyline to your left and the East River to your right. In the winter, you can have fun on its rooftop ice-skating rink, dubbed Winterland Rink, which offers skating lessons, curling and broomball.
Grab drinks before you head home
If you’re not there for a show, still go up to the rooftop, where you’ll find R17, a new lounge and restaurant. The 70-seat bar and lounge is decked out with a blue-and-white marble bar, fireplaces in the winter and outdoor patios in the summer to allow for a relaxing atmosphere for patrons.
If you feel like staying indoors at a more pub-like watering hole or plan on seeing a movie at IPIC, try the Tuck Room at 11 Fulton St. The speak-easy is an intimate and hip alternative to the shinier Pier 17 options with walls of books and antiquities. It has a healthy menu of mixed drinks (we recommend the sangria) and customer favorites range from its chicken dish to its calamari, mac & cheese — which are all shareable.