A Guide to Exploring West Harlem

E.V. Scott

For much of the last century, the uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem has served as a cultural icon and a beacon for artistic expression. Its reputation and history are steeped in an electrifying nightlife—evident in the Apollo Theater and numerous jazz clubs—but West Harlem, which comprises the Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill neighborhoods west of Edgecombe Avenue, has its own distinct vibe and charm.

This area’s serenity sets it apart from the blocks to the east and makes it easy to forget where you are. Home to many historic landmarks and culturally diverse restaurants, West Harlem has no shortage of places to see or to stop in for a bite or a drink. Read on to find more than a dozen spots worth checking out.

Jackie Robinson Park. Courtesy, The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Jackie Robinson Recreation Center

85 Bradhurst Ave.

Located within Jackie Robinson Park, named for the first African American to play Major League Baseball and first to establish a bank in Harlem, this center is a community staple. While indoor activities run by the center, including basketball, pickleball and salsa classes, require membership, there are sometimes free dance classes in the park’s bandshell—a great way to start the weekend. There are also plenty of courts, playgrounds and fields for use in the park.

Tsion Café. Photo: Vincent Tullo

Tsion Café

763 St. Nicholas Ave.

A hike up a long stairway in Jackie Robinson Park followed by a short walk to St. Nicholas makes this tucked-away gem a prime spot to refuel after you’ve exercised in the park. The cozy interior and patio are lovely places to enjoy the delicious Ethiopian food (with Israeli influences; the chef-owner has roots in both countries), great service and friendly staff. A self-guided walking tour of the beautiful brownstone-lined streets nearby serves as an after-dinner treat.

Riverbank State Park. Courtesy, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

Riverbank State Park

679 Riverside Dr.

Though this park is a bit off the beaten path—its main sites on the other side of the Henry Hudson Parkway overlooking the water—it’s easily accessible by a few MTA bus lines and the 1 train. The host of family-friendly activities make the trip worth it. The park’s carousel, pool, roller-skating rink and greenhouse, which offers classes and gardening activities, could turn it into an all-day experience.

Courtesy, Sofrito on the Hudson

Sofrito

679 Riverside Dr.

Within Riverbank State Park, this traditional Puerto Rican restaurant has large, picturesque windows overlooking the Hudson River. It’s known for having a great atmosphere that comes from its views, music, food and drinks. Take in the scenery during a post-meal stroll, especially along the promenade a few steps away.

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling

898 St Nicholas Ave., Saturdays, 10am–3pm

The cantilevered, asymmetrical gray structure that holds this museum stands in bold contrast to the brick and brownstone buildings that surround it. The museum features colorful art and open spaces for children of all ages to enjoy, as well as a story time that begins at 11am. If that feels a bit early for a Saturday, don’t worry; there’s an encore at 1pm.

Courtesy, Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

414 W. 141st St., Friday­s–Sundays, 10am–4pm

Built in Harlem as the summer home of the first United States Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, this country estate has been relocated twice and now sits at the top of St. Nicholas Park. It features a layout and decor meant to be an ostentatious display of Hamilton's wealth, such as the expensive shade of green paint (due to the copper needed to make it) in his study. The memorial is a must-see for history buffs and Hamilton lovers; reserve tours in advance.

The Grange Bar & Eatery. Photo: Rafaela Keunecke

The Grange Bar & Eatery

1635 Amsterdam Ave.

With farm-to-table American fare, farmhouse-style decor and plenty of outdoor seating, the Grange is an ideal choice for an early dinner after sightseeing. The bar also offers late-nights bites, such as burgers and fried oyster sliders, up until midnight.

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Fumo Harlem

1600 Amsterdam Ave.

Serving wood-fired pizzas, a range of pastas and some meaty mains, Fumo is a place to bring your appetite. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, unlimited brunchtime drinks and generous portions.

Clove

1592 Amsterdam Ave.

A couple of doors down from Fumo and not far from other neighborhood go-tos, this Indian restaurant is one of the few of its kind in the area, with vegan and vegetarian options aplenty. It’s a great place to branch out taste-wise: the extensive menu offers a range of breads, biryanis, tandoori dishes and chef’s specialties.

Courtesy, Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum

Trinity Church Cemetery & Mausoleum

770 Riverside Dr.

Sometimes confused with Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Churchyard, where Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton are buried, this uptown site is the final resting place for artist John James Audubon, former New York mayor Ed Koch and a host of other onetime city residents. At a glance, one might mistake its manicured lawns and bountiful greenery for a garden in which to wander, read or even catch a nap. Some visitors might still consider it to be so.

Harlem Public

3612 Broadway

The simple menu of shareable appetizers, sandwiches and burgers seems to be a crowd-pleaser. Lively music, signature cocktails and a nice selection of draft beers make this place a good bet for a good time.

Mamasushi

3569 Broadway

If you’re looking for excitement, this might be the place. The menu includes both traditional Japanese and fusion fare plus a variety of tropical drinks, and there’s a celebratory atmosphere with music, a lively crowd and hookah that is available for purchase.

Ralph Ellison Invisible Man Memorial

Riverside Drive & West 150th Street

Erected in honor of the award-winning writer and Harlem resident who was critical of the area’s conditions when he lived there, the bronze sculpture, though large in stature, is easy to miss. That is unless you happen to visit on a day when it is the site of an impromptu jazz concert. If you get a little lost en route, just follow the music.

Courtesy, L'Artista Italian Kitchen & Bar

L'Artista Italian Kitchen & Bar

142 Hamilton Pl.

Located right by Johnny Hartman Plaza, named for the only singer known to have recorded with jazz musician John Coltrane, L’Artista is known for having live music of its own. Relatively new to the neighborhood, this spot serves seasonal Italian cuisine and provides easy Sunday evening vibes (the time of its regular concert series), perfect for closing out your West Harlem weekend adventure.

Harlem One Stop, a resource for visitors to Upper Manhattan, offers regular tours to Central Harlem, West Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill. Check out their new visitor's guide here.

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