The first time you spend a summer holiday weekend in the city, you might greet its approach with disappointment and some malaise. After all, it seems like everyone has scattered to their respective beach houses, parents’ homes with backyard pools, and lake houses, while you’re stuck wandering across the concrete and asphalt jungle, fragrant with the kind of smells only 95 degree weather can provide.

But actually, holidays in the city can be an absolute joy. In fact, they are a gift. How? Let me explain:

This time last year, the Fourth of July conveniently created a three-day weekend. But I had no plans to flee. It was then I discovered the awesome fact about summer holidays in New York: Almost anyone with money and good taste has fled, leaving people like us a playground of half empty trendy restaurants, beer gardens with open benches, mini golf courses without lines and cocktail speakeasies that are all too happy to open the door and give you a seat.

So, if you’re staying in town this Fourth, I can’t guarantee it will be super empty. This is only one day off, after all, so not quite as many can get out of town. But if you are in town, I want to share with you a list of great places to go that might be more feasible than on a typical summer Saturday. (And make sure to keep your Labor Day weekend free!)

1. Any Trendy Restaurant That Doesn’t Take Reservations

You know the kind. The food (you’ve heard) is delicious. Not like you would know, since every time someone suggests going there, your group shows up and it’s an hour and a half wait. Places like The Breslin, The Meatball Shop, Frankies 457 and Diner in Brooklyn, and The Spotted Pig are infuriating for just this reason. But on summer holidays, you can show up and snag a seat for you and three friends, no problem–I’ve done it.

2. Novelty Summer Activities

It might have been easy to find a mini golf course in suburbia where you grew up. But not in NYC. That’s why when a half decent one opened–along with beach volleyball–on Pier 25, it became way too popular. Instead of waiting interminably for the group in front of you to move on to the next hole, show up early on a summer holiday and enjoy a measure of lazy solitude.


3. The Best Parks

While you’re at it, rent, borrow or bring out your own bike and take it all the places that are usually too crowded to enjoy. Central Park is a good place to start. Or try the bike path by the West Side Highway, ending with a cold beer at The Frying Pan on the water. If you want to get away from the air pollution and cars altogether, take the ferry out to Governors Island and take the bike path around the island, stopping for ice cream or a nap in a hammock. Or snag a deck chair on the High Line across from the water feature, where you can dip your toes when you get too hot and finish with a beer at either The Standard or the High Line’s own beer garden.

4. Rooftop Bars

During the summer everyone wants to get off the frying pan pavement and up high, where you can enjoy a breeze, a view and a fancy cocktail. Make it happen during a summer holiday. I’m partial to The Standard’s roof with its Astroturf and crepe shack, but the list of good rooftop bars is endless, like The Press Lounge at Ink 48 on the West Side, 230 Fifth, Top of the Strand, and The Delancey, just to get you started.