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Not Your Typical Tourist: Alternative Guide Books to New York City

Planning a vacation in the Big Apple, you already know all the tourist spots: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, shopping on 5th Avenue. And these are worth seeing, once or twice. But if you’ve already done all that, or just aren’t interested because you know there are so many other things to do—and other neighborhoods beyond midtown and downtown Manhattan—let these atypical guide books lead the way.

Not For Tourists Guide to New York City: Even though it’s smaller and has a stylish black cover, you might still get pegged as a tourist if you walk around with your nose in this guide book. However, this little black book is more about living in NYC than it is about being a tourist. It covers 35 neighborhoods in detail, with maps and lists of local businesses: coffee shops, movie theaters, grocery stores, farmers markets, bike shops, drug stores. This way, you can get a feel for a variety of neighborhoods where New Yorkers go about their daily lives; plus, you can find out where to buy food to cook and get a bottle of wine to drink at “home,” and generally settle into your rental apartment. If you’re not staying in Manhattan, note that there are Brooklyn and Queens guides too. Beyond that, though, Not For Tourists can’t help you.

Clean Plates: When you want to eat out and avoid the tourist traps or mediocre spots, you’ll need some kind of guide. There are just too many restaurants in the city to know where to start. For those of you who are interested in healthy, local, organic, and simply high-quality food, this book will tell you where to go. The Clean Plates food critics and nutritionist have filtered through the massive restaurant scene to bring you options to meet your dietary restrictions (gluten free, vegetarian), health concerns (avoiding artificial sweeteners), and sustainable lifestyle. Suggested eateries range from fast food to fine dining, and you can choose between the Manhattan and Brooklyn guides (or try to work your way through both).

Forgotten New York: This book by Kevin Walsh is a celebration of the obscure, historical, and way-off-the-beaten-path spots of NYC. The fact that the first section of the book is about the Bronx tells you that it’s not for typical tourists. It’s for savvy, adventurous, curious folks who are intrigued by details that others don’t usually even notice, and who are willing to walk down alleyways and far away from subway stops to learn more about New York’s quirky history. Using this guide book, you can track down colonial cemeteries, bizarre sculptures, rusting ruins, and practically unheard-of museums in all five boroughs.

Zinester’s Guide to NYC: You don’t have to know what a “zine” is to make use of this book by Ayun Halliday and her zine-making friends. You just have to be open to activities that are quirky, DIY, budget, participatory, irreverent, and non-touristy. The most lighthearted of all these alternative guide books, the Zinester’s Guide suggests attending events with names like Nerd Nite, the No Pants Subway Ride, and Elephant Walk; and visiting unusual spots including a troll museum, a ship graveyard, and a room full of soil. It’s also the only guide book that can tell you things like where to spot rats on the subway tracks, where to find black-and-white photo booths, and where to see the best bathroom graffiti. And at the bottom of the pages, you’ll enjoy the handwritten list of books, movies, and songs about NYC, as well a silly Q&A and a scavenger hunt of sorts.

Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.