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In early July, Bruna Borelli, along with her husband and two other couples, drove a minivan for 12 hours from Sterling Heights, Mich., to New York City for a vacation.

Before they left, the friends watched the news carefully, making sure that Michigan hadn’t been added to the long and growing list of states whose residents or visitors, heading to New York City, would be asked to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. When the coast was clear, they hit the road.

The stress of visiting the city during the pandemic had its benefits. The group got rooms at Moxy, a chic hotel in Times Square with a miniature golf course, featuring statues of animals in flirty poses, as part of its rooftop bar, for $75 a night. “That’s a really good price, yeah?” said Ms. Borelli, a 30-year-old lawyer.

The group of friends strolled down Fifth Avenue, had a picnic in Central Park, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, and stopped for a photograph at the “Friends” building in the West Village. They went to a different rooftop bar every night. For lunch one day they picked up pastrami sandwiches from Katz’s Delicatessen and ate them on the sidewalk. “That was my first time trying that,” she said. “I loved it.”

Although official tourism numbers are dismal (Krikor Daglian, owner of True Tales of NYC Walking Tours, reopened his business on July 10 but has had no bookings from out-of-towners, he said), some intrepid visitors are trickling in to enjoy the great outdoors of New York City.

Broadway and the museums might be closed, but there is a booming sidewalk dining scene, open streets and verdant parks, exciting architecture on almost every block, and bridges, ferries and bike share systems that connect the boroughs in the fresh air. If you can get here safely (or have a few weeks to quarantine before venturing out), a breezy, somewhat affordable vacation in New York is indeed possible these days.

For some, the city is providing a stand-in for European destinations where Americans are currently not welcome. “We went to Rome and Barcelona on our honeymoon, and eating outdoors and people watching was our favorite part,” said David Zavac, a government employee from Toledo, who plans to bring his young family here once Ohio is taken off the quarantine list. “Now that New York City has that, it’s really appealing.”

Ms. Borelli’s group even managed to experience some New York interiors (wearing masks, of course). “We visited Grand Central Terminal and found all the places that are in so many movies and television shows,” Ms. Borelli said. They took the subway to get around, something many locals haven’t even started to do. “I loved it because I am from a small city in Brazil, so I don’t have the subway there, and in Michigan we also don’t,” she said. “It’s so cheap and easy and nice.”


But New York City during the pandemic is not a destination for the meek. There are closures, mask requirements, shifting quarantine guidelines, and the classic directness of New Yorkers who now, more than ever, want their city to remain as safe as possible. But all of this can be part of the experience.

“In Times Square we took our masks off to take a picture and someone told us to put it back on,” Ms. Borelli said. “I thought it was nice. I wish people would do that in Michigan.”

Helen Nunes, an au pair stationed in Stroudsburg, Pa., was less enchanted with her visit. She drove to the city July 4 weekend to visit a friend in Brooklyn. Friday night they went to an outdoor bar where they drank caipirinhas and ate empanadas. Saturday they took the NYC Ferry to Manhattan and walked around Times Square.

But Ms. Nunes, 28, never felt like she could relax. “You need to wear masks and cover your nose, so it’s hard to walk,” she said. “I kept thinking I would get coronavirus if I touched something. I wanted to sanitize my hands all the time.”

Those who live in neighboring states and towns who had to cancel more far-flung travel plans are also visiting the city, curious to see how it has changed.

Stephanie Pirhala and John Lanning were supposed to visit family in the Carolinas this summer, but decided not to after it was announced that they would have to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Sound Beach, Long Island, where they live. So they decided to visit New York City instead.

They started their getaway at the TWA Hotel, part of John F. Kennedy International Airport, where Mr. Lanning, 39, a court officer, proposed to Ms. Pirhala, 32, a bank analyst, at sunset on the roof overlooking the Manhattan skyline on one side and planes taking off and landing on the other. They were upgraded to the presidential suite because of the special occasion.

The couple then drove into the city where they had brunch outside and walked around to see how New York had adjusted to the pandemic.

“We had been to the city for a concert right before everything shut down, so we were there when things ended and we wanted to be there when it opened again,” Ms. Pirhala said. “Just seeing everyone in masks, it feels like a different world.”

Mr. Lanning said one of the best parts of the trip was supporting local businesses. “The restaurant couldn’t have customers this whole time,” he said, referring to the city’s shutdown last spring. “You don’t want to see places close up after all the suffering.”

This is especially true when your favorite restaurants are involved.

In non-pandemic times, Charles King, a photographer and videographer from Luray, Va., visits New York City at least 30 times a year to shoot weddings and other events. When he’s here, he always makes a point of visiting some of his favorite places, including Shake Shack. Since March, however, Mr. King’s New York gigs have dried up. So in June, when he was asked to livestream a virtual graduation on Long Island and passed through La Guardia Airport, he made a beeline for the Shake Shack there.

“I ordered the Smoke Shack, the one with bacon on it,” he said. “It was my first Shake Shack in months. I had a moment during the pandemic when all I wanted were those crinkle fries.”

When Elle Andrews Patt drove 12 hours from Knoxville, Tenn., to help move her daughter out of her Brooklyn apartment, she kept a low profile, sleeping in her daughter’s apartment and leaving almost as soon as she’d arrived. “This was a very different trip,” she said. “We didn’t want to expose anyone or get exposed by them.”

But the mother and daughter did manage to pick up slices from Tony’s Pizza and bagels from Knickerbocker Bagel, both in Bushwick. “They were open and friendly and recognized us,” Ms. Andrews said. “I am glad they are still there.”

Then there are those who were planning to visit New York, but who have stayed away because of their new turista non grata status.

Jamie Miller of Miami Beach planned to celebrate her anniversary here this summer. The 34-year-old attorney and her husband had booked a suite for two nights at The Mark, a boutique luxury hotel on the Upper East Side. They were looking forward to dining at scenic open-air restaurants like Gitano Garden of Love in SoHo or Bryant Park Grill in Midtown.

But then, coronavirus cases in Florida skyrocketed and the state was put on the quarantine list. The couple canceled the trip. “It’s so sad,” Ms. Miller said. “It’s hot, and Covid is everywhere.”


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