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Spotlight on Chelsea: Why I Love This Neighborhood

Since its northern edge lies at 30th Street (some say 34th), Chelsea could be considered the gateway to Midtown Manhattan. But this eclectic neighborhood that borders Hell's Kitchen, the West Village, Meatpacking and Flatiron Districts boasts a web of personalities depending on which corner you stand, and a very different vibe from what you'll encounter in most of Midtown.

You'll discover so much in this pocket of the city. From a hip gallery district to some of New York's most picturesque side streets, Chelsea offers a growing list of reasons to love the neighborhood. Off the cuff, ten came to mind.

1. West Chelsea art galleries

"West Chelsea" has become an internationally recognized gallery district. Since it carries an industrial feel, the Chelsea art district won't seem as neighborhood-y as those blocks between Seventh and Ninth, but you won't mind because of the sheer number of galleries that pepper the blocks (mostly 19th to 28th Streets) west of Tenth Avenue. Every Thursday is art night in Chelsea. Galleries host receptions and are free to the public.

2. The High Line

The Highline Park in Chelsea Neighborhood of NYC

Photo Credit: Tracy Kaler

A freight-line-turned-elevated park, the High Line opened in 2009, giving residents a much-needed public green space in the area. Although rules are strict here – no dogs, no running or biking, to name a few – the innovative landscape design paired with the hovering cityscape is a beautiful sight to see. High Line Park gets crowded and has limited hours, especially during wintertime, so go early or late and be sure to check the website for times.

3. Fantastic Chelsea restaurants

Do you fancy upscale Italian? Try Del Posto. Love comfort food? There's Cookshop or Tipsy Parson. If you're more into new American cuisine, I recommend Red Cat. Other local picks include Da Umberto, Co., Le Singe, and El Quinto Pinto. One thing's certain – you won't run out of delicious places to eat in Chelsea.

4. Brownstones and tree-lined streets

Treelined street with brownstones in Chelsea NYC

Photo Credit: Tracy Kaler

The term picturesque doesn't quite capture some of the street scenes you'll see when wandering through Chelsea. The most beautiful blocks are between Ninth and Tenth on 20th, 21st, and 22nd Streets near the General Theological Seminary. Take your camera and set time aside for oohing and aahing.

5. Unique Chelsea museums

Besides galleries, Chelsea houses several unique museums. The Rubin Museum of Art focuses on Tibetan, Himalayan, and Indian Art, and the Yeshiva University Museum highlights Jewish history and culture. The Van Alen Institute offers exhibitions related to the built environment, while the FIT Museum (at the Fashion Institute of Technology) features style-centric exhibits, often showcasing an individual designer.

6. The Joyce

I've attended numerous performances at the Joyce Theater over the years – think Pilobolus and Savion Glover – and the original Joyce location at 19th and Eighth Avenue (there used to be another in SoHo) continues to bring cutting-edge dance troupes to the stage. The no-frills theater is intimate, but there's not a bad seat in the house. The modest size lends itself to dance, and it remains one of the best auditoriums in New York to watch a performance.

7. Chelsea nightlife

Bars and nightclubs run rampant in Chelsea. The Half King has long been a writers' hangout; the Peter McManus Café is one of the oldest family-owned bars in NYC. The kitschy Trailer Park Lounge serves its famous margaritas along with a list of unusual cocktails; Bathtub Gin's speakeasy vibe is ideal for quaffing gin, as the name implies. Club-goers frequent Chelsea late in the evening – Tao transforms from an upscale eatery to a nightclub after dark, and RetroClubNYC throws back to the 1970s spinning disco tunes as well as hit songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

8. Shopping in Chelsea 

Chelsea Market NYC

Chelsea Market
Photo Credit: By MusikAnimal – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Spend any amount of time in Chelsea and you'll probably find yourself in or near Chelsea Market. The food emporium holds countless shops (and restaurants, too), making it a fantastic resource for all things edible. This mini-mall leases to non-food-focused vendors like Artists & Fleas and Anthropologie. Also in Chelsea is a branch of Barneys New York (ideal for shoppers with a steep budget), Comme des Garcons, and Story for fashion and design lovers, plus Housing Works Thrift Shop and Second Time Around for more affordable finds.

9. The architecture

London Terrace Apartments NYC

London Terrace Apartments
Photo credit: By Beyond My Ken – Own work, GFDL

I don't know anyone who doesn't love the traditional architecture in Chelsea; be it charming brownstones and townhouses or Art Deco apartment complexes like the London Terrace, the cityscape in Chelsea only adds to its character. In recent years, the Chelsea neighborhood has landed several starchitect-designed projects, including 16 Ninth Avenue by Rafael Viñoly, 220 Eleventh Avenue by the late Zaha Hadid, and the sleek Getty by Peter Marino.

10. The community

Of course, all the things to see and do make any neighborhood worth visiting, but it's really the people that set one place apart from the next. Chelsea is recognized for its sizeable LGBTQ population (more than 20 percent) as well as a range of ages and cultures. Luxury towers stand alongside tenements and public housing, so it's not uncommon to find the working class and wealthy coexisting on the same street. Much of Chelsea takes on a neighborhood feel. If you choose to live there, it's likely that you'd know your neighbors, whether they share your floor, building, or block.

About the author

Tracy Kaler

Tracy Kaler is a ballet dancer turned interior designer turned lifestyle and travel writer who blogs at tracysnewyorklife.com. A former Atlantan, you can now find her byline in The Telegraph, IN New York Magazine, TravelMag, National Geographic, Mabuhay Magazine, am New York and others. When she's not glued to her laptop, you'll find her wandering the streets of New York City or off discovering another part of the planet.

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