How to do New York City in 48 Hours and on a Budget!

Day 1

With my companion pass about to expire, and being the avid traveler that I am, I could not let it go to waste.  My companion pass, is after all, a major perk of my Delta American Express Platinum Card.  I asked my kids, "Who wants to go somewhere with me in the US and where do you want to go?"  James and Jaelyn said they were not sure and Jacob quickly said New York.  It was settled.  I found a weekend that worked for both of us and our flights were booked. The companion pass had limitations on which flights it allowed. The flight from SFO > JFK that we wanted was allowed but our flight home was not. This would later be a blessing in disguise. We had to take  JFK > SFO home on Sunday was at 7AM. Which meant our three day trip quickly turned to two days. Now how were we going to see New York City in 48 hours? I must brag that we were wildly successful.

The most important thing I did to make this all possible was to buy the unlimited Go City pass for two days for $179 each, download the app, and the research began (click the link and mention my name Julianna Pelham at check out for 10% off.)  I favorited all of the attractions (an app feature) and landmarks we wanted to see. The app also showed me a map of the city where all of my favorites were located so we could plan our day going from one location to the next in accordance to our location in the city.  What an incredible deal this pass was for the amount of things that we did - in fact it saved us almost $400 on attractions between the two of us.  We boarded the redeye late Thursday evening, arriving at JFK on Friday at 9AM EST. Thankfully, because of my Delta AMEX card it has helped increase my Delta Skymiles member status and we were upgraded to more comfortable seats with more leg room so we had ample amount of sleep on the flight.  We only had carry on bags since we were there only two days.  I love how JFK lets you bypass baggage claim if you do not have any luggage to exit the airport.   We took the AirTrain JKF to the Jamica subway station and after a lot of confusion, finally figured out which Subway we needed to take to get to Penn Station.  Coming out of Penn Station blew our minds.  We went from an airport to an underground city and then BAM - we climbed up the stairs from the dark subway station into the light of day, the hustle and bustle of the New York City Streets, massively tall buildings and of course the Empire State Building.  

Our first stop was The Hilton Double Tree Hotel in Times Square South, and to the locals, also Midtown.  I chose this hotel because of its location and proximity to everything we could possibly need and sights to see, but also because with my Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card I had enough points to cover both nights at both of our hotels for our trip.  [As a side note, many of my friends and family ask me how I can afford to travel so much and the reason is, I have learned all of the tricks to earn points so that I never pay for more than half and many times 100% of my hotel stays.  I have also had over 20 one way flights for free - in the last two year, with the Delta Card I referred to above.]  With a quick change of clothes, brush of our teeth, and turning over of our luggage to the hotel, we popped into Vanilla Gorilla for some much needed caffeine.  Coincidently I unknowingly earned Delta Skymiles here from my purchase because I have all of my cards linked to my Delta Skymiles Dining account so if I happen to eat somewhere that is in their network, I get extra miles for it - and in New York I got miles at all but one place we ate.  

Off to the Empire State Building we went!  It was included in our Go City pass and we were able to make reservations through the pass so it was at no additional cost for us to go.  We were at the Empire State Building by 11:45AM.  It was only a 12 min walk from our hotel.  The first picture has our hotel circled in yellow as we were looking down from the top.  The views were spectacular and we loved the most is that we could see a complete 360 degree view outside (not through a window).  We were also astonished by how quickly the Empire State Building was built, the demonstrations of the process of how it was built on our way to the top, and how many models of the Empire State Building there were INSIDE the Empire State Building.  It would be impossible to count them all.

Jacob and I left the Eiffel Tower after about an hour and hopped on the “hop on hop off Big Bus Tour” to our next destination. This was included in our Go City pass. Look for the guys in red shirts trying to sell you something. They need to scan your Go City pass and give you a real ticket for the day before you can hop on.

Upon getting on the bus they will give you a set of ear buds you can plug in and listen to at your leisure as they drive you through the city. This was such a great way to go from point A to point B for us learning all about the history. The bus made its way from the Eiffel Tower down 5th Ave. We passed through the Flat Iron District, made our way down to Washington Park, then through NOHO and the Bowery. Then Lower Manhattan, Little Italy and the Civic Center. Next the Financial District and by confusion we hopped off here not knowing there was a closer stop to our next destination after the Battery. It was only one more block away so we didn’t mind the walk. We are glad we did as we passed by the Trinity Episcopal Church which is one of the oldest in America built in 1697.

[Travel Tip:  Check the weather before you visit and pack and umbrella!  When we were on the top of the bus it started to pour!  But I remembered my umbrella so we were able to cozy up, stay outside and stay dry.]

By the time we reached our destination around 230pm I had realized that we had not stopped to eat all day and simply had our coffees for breakfast. Luckily there was an awesome street fair outside with every type of food you could possibly want or imagine. Trying to make a healthy choices and something that wouldn’t slow us down we went with beef and chicken skewers. We definitely should have gotten more than we did. We overestimated their size when we made our purchase. But they were worth every penny and bite and held us over until we were able to lay our hands on New York Pizza.

If you know the city then you have probably already figured out our next stop. The North and South Tower Pools, and the 9/11 Museum Memorial.  We opted out of the audio tour, the entry tickets were again included in our Go City Pass. I relived the day with my son as we walked the museum. Until then, I had forgotten that my close friend and roommate at the time had a father who worked at the Pentagon and we spent much of the day panicking with phone lines down not knowing if he was dead or alive. I’m not sure if I’d blocked it out because it was more traumatic for all of us than witnessing on the news live the Second Tower getting hit by a plane.  That is the image that replayed in my memory the most after all of these years. Needless to say, I held back tears as I recalled all of the tragedy from that day. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

As you exit the Museum, it will pop you out into the beautiful Westfield World Trade Center Mall.  This is also the stop the the World Trade Center Subway Station.  

Inside the memorial we read about the Survival Tree that we would have otherwise never noticed before.  It seemed many others easily passed by it as well.  

"In October 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth."


I only have these photos of the One World Observatory from the outside, nothing inside. After the Empire State Building our overall sentiment was that of disappointment. The top of the Observatory was merely a gift shop with a view. There is so much more they could have chosen to do with the space - including more memories of 9/11 or an outside observation deck, but rather it was hard to get a good look down because of the angle of the window and the vents that prevented you from walking right up on close to it.  I do not regret going up - had we not, we wouldn't have know otherwise.  I was glad it was also included in our Go City Pass so we did not have to pay additional for it, but we will not be going back with all of the other options for views.  It wasn’t a bad thing though that we were disappointed because we were already cutting it close on time. We were to set sail on our next adventure, literally, to the Statue of Liberty at 5PM and it was already 4:30PM.

We arrived at the North Cove Marina on the Hudson River and boarded the Shearwater to the Statue of Liberty.  This was one of many highlights of our trip.  Also included in our GoCity pass, was this sailing trip with Manhattan By Sail.  The also include many other sail and cruise options but we are so glad that we chose this one.  It was peaceful and very personable.  It was a small group on a sail boat rather than a large cruise ship with a lot of people.  We all had great views in every direction rather than fighting strangers for the best spot to take those all important Statue of Liberty photos!  We sailed for an hour and a half with beer, wine, champagne, and non alcoholic beverages available for purchase.  They served you in your seat so you did not have to wait in lines like other larger cruise ships and miss out on the views of the city.  

We finished the sailing trip around 6:30PM back where we started in the North Cove Marina along the Hudson River.  We still had not sat for a meal the entire day.  We headed to Greenwich Village for some of the best food in Manhattan.  If we knew the city better we would have know there was a subway station very close to us, but we somehow missed it and ended up walking the two miles.  Our hearts were set on John's of Bleecker.  A legendary, coal-fired pizza joint established in 1929.  We ordered the Mozzarella stick, well deserved after a full day of walking and still much more to come, as well as a medium custom pepperoni and bacon pizza.  It was our first New York Pizza in New York.  We have been blessed with a New Yorker who has a delicious New York pizza restaurant here in San Jose, Bibo's Pizza and were always told it was very authentic.  Needless to say, the two tasted very similar and  John's was just what we needed.  The line to get a seat was long but went by rather quickly.   

After Pizza, just down a block or two was Molly's Cupcakes!  Winner of the first season of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network and it came highly recommended to me by my cousin who had Molly's for their wedding.  We popped in and although I only had room for half of a cupcake after pizza, I purchased six that made it all the way back to California with me and we continued to enjoy them for the next few days.  

At this point it was about 8:30PM and we had been going non stop since our redeye landed at 9AM.  When took the nearest subway back to our hotel to collect our bags they were holding for us and check into our room.  Because of my Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card we were upgraded to a room with a view and were given $18 per person per day in food/beverage credits to during our stay.  We brought up our things and both laid down on the bed exhausted as the clock turned to 9PM... but we had GOALS!  There is so much to see in this amazing city and we had only one day left to explore.  We decided the night was young and we put our shoes back on and hit the streets.  

The next stop on our GoCity pass was the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.  Claimed to be the best in the world and I was impressed.  I do believe it was better than the wax museum I went to in Hollywood.  Thankfully, it was only about a ten minute walk from our hotel, the Hilton DoubleTree Time Square South because it was already past nine and the last entry was at 10PM.  

The wax museum had an awesome Marvel Movie Experience inside as well and without my son's persistence to watch it, I would have skipped over it.  I am glad we didn't.  

Since we were in Time Square we decided to walk the streets at 10:30 that Friday night.  The men on bikes with carriages were hustling for business as the Broadway shows wrapped up and everyone was exiting the theaters.  That alone was a sight to see.  

We walked down the very busy and BRIGHT 7th Ave.  There were vendors lining the streets with their hand made souvenirs.  What a sight to see in person.  Our feet and legs were tired.  We decided to walk back to the hotel on 8th Ave and 36th Street so we hung a left on 43rd Street, walked back down 8th to finally give our legs a rest.  

You would have thought our night would have been over then and there, but the DoubleTree had a roof top bar and I had $36 in food and beverage credits to spend.  I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see and take photos of the New York buildings from a roof top bar at night.  A storm came in so it was pouring down rain, thundering and lighting but well worth the espresso martinis and getting a little wet over.

At that point, I thought for sure that I was heading down to the room for the night.  I had a massive blister on one of my toes, but Jacob was still awake and hungry!  So, what the hell, there were plenty of 24/7 cafes in New York and one called Tick Tock just down the street of course.  The food was just as you would expect from a late night diner.  Our eyes were much larger than our stomach's so we over order at 2 o' clock in the morning.  The Bonus:  I unknowingly received both Bilt Points AND Delta SkyMiles for that meal by paying with my Bilt Card and having it registered with SkyMiles Dining adding to more free travel in the future!  I love when I get points and Miles by eating out without planning it!  


Day 2

We finally crashed at 3AM on Saturday morning and were awoken by house keeping at 11AM. This was checkout time but because one of the Benefits of the American Express Hilton Surpass Card is Gold Member Status, we were able to get complimentary late check out.  But we had wasted enough time sleeping so it was time to get up, pack up and start another full day.  

We checked our bags at the front desk upon check out to hold for us until we were ready to leave the city.  As I mentioned earlier, our flight was scheduled for 7AM Sunday morning, so we were checking out there and staying close to the airport.  We got coffee at the Vanilla Gorilla once more (more Delta SkyMiles points) and Day Two officially began.  

Our first intended destination was the top of the Edge.  A 360 degree view of New York, 100 stories high with a glass floor.  It is the highest outdoor deck on the western hemisphere.  It was not too far from our hotel so we made the walk from 8th Ave and 36th Street to Hudson Yards where is was located.  Be sure to avoid as much as you can of the Garment District and Hells Kitchen, especially if walking alone.  They are highly populated with transients and not the safest when walking at night.  We did walk through it for a couple blocks in the middle of the day and then when we noticed where we were, we turned further South into Hudson Yards.  

The Edge was busy.  We used our GoCity to get tickets to the top but it was very busy and they were booked for the next several hours.  By then it was already 1PM an we had a tour scheduled at 2PM.  We elected to schedule our time slot for the Edge later in the evening at 5PM and head to Little Italy our tour of the Basilica of Saint Patrick's Cathedral and the Catacombs.  

We made our way the Big Bus stop 11, right there in Hudson Yards, however there was not anyone working at the stop to give us our ticket and we decided it may not get us to our tour in time.  We needed to be there 15 min early.  I called us a Lyft, and we were in a car for the first time since arriving in New York.  I used my Bilt MasterCard to get 5x points per dollar for our ride.