How to Explore Inwood in a Day: An Inwood Neighborhood Guide

Inwood may be at the top of Manhattan island, but it’s rarely top of mind when people think of Manhattan neighborhoods. So why are we talking about Inwood on the blog today? Well, to be honest, it is partly because sometimes I want to be a little self-indulgent. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over a year and I want to share with you what I experience on a daily basis. (This blog is called Shiloh in the City after all. 😂) But more importantly, I want to use this Inwood neighborhood guide to show you that Inwood is an interesting place to explore because it’s so different from the rest of Manhattan.

Inwood Neighborhood History

But before we start our day of exploring Inwood, here are some key things to know about the neighborhood. Inwood is a relatively small New York City neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan island. It is bound by the Spuyten Duyvil Creek to the north, the Harlem River to the east, the Hudson River to the west, and Dyckman Street to the south. Close to 40,000 residents live within these borders, with a majority of them being of Dominican descent (According to the 2020 census, 68.7 percent of people in Inwood identify as Latino). But since the bulldozers of gentrification leave no parts of the city untouched, the neighborhood’s racial and income makeup has been changing lately and is expected to accelerate now that Inwood has been rezoned for denser development.

Speaking of development, did you know that Inwood was one the last places in Manhattan to be developed? For most of its history, Inwood was a backwater farming community, remote and cut off from the rest of the city. With the introduction of a railway station in 1847, Inwood attracted a few wealthy merchants who built marvelous summer estates in the area, but that era was short-lived as the railroad discontinued service to the area in 1871. The arrival of the 1 train in 1906 sparked some development in Inwood, but it wasn’t until the A train came into the area in 1932 that Inwood really started to make the transition from tranquil rural town to part of the rest of the city.

Even today, Inwood feels like it’s a little out of place from the rest of Manhattan. It’s relatively low rise with most buildings not topping seven stories; it’s significantly greener than many other neighborhoods; and its street names, for the most part, do not conform to the rest of Manhattan’s grid system.

Now that you’ve had that introduction, let’s get into the part of the Inwood neighborhood guide where we talk about all the fun things you can do in Inwood over the course of a day!

How to Explore Inwood in a Day: The Itinerary

1. Fuel up at Buunni Coffee.

Get some caffeine in your system. You’ve got a long day of exploring ahead of you. Buunni Coffee (4961 Broadway) is a local mini-chain that serves Ethiopian coffee and dishes and has a chill cafe vibe. As an alternative, Inwood Bagels (628 W 207th Street) is another popular option with locals, though they are a tad pricey in my opinion.

2. Meander through Isham Park.

Compared to its behemoth of a neighbor, Inwood Hill Park, across Seaman Avenue, Isham Park may seem quaint, but this well-manicured 20-acre park holds it own. This park was formerly the site of William Isham’s summer estate. After the leather merchant turned banker’s death in 1911, his daughter Julia and other relatives began donating parts of the estate to the city so it could serve as a park. Be sure to admire the flowers planted here and at neighboring Bruce’s Garden, which honors the memory of local Port Authority Officer Bruce Reynolds, who died helping rescue people during the September 11 attacks.

3. Wander around Inwood Hill Park.

I said this when I first moved to the area and I still stand by my words more than a year later: Inwood Hill Park is a shiny emerald in the crown that is Manhattan’s parks. At 196 acres, this park takes up nearly half of the neighborhood’s land and it’s worth every acre. Here you’ll find Manhattan’s last sliver of untouched forests, its only remaining salt marsh, caves once used by the Lenape, remnants of long-gone mansions and revolutionary war forts, and awe-inspiring views of the Hudson River so beautiful it’ll make you tear up. This park is also the hub of the community, as it is home to a dog run, tennis courts, and the neighborhood’s beloved little league teams. 

Note: If you do decide to hike deep into the woods at Inwood Hill Park, please be alert, especially if you hike the trails by yourself. Inwood is a relatively safe area, but don’t go frolicking through the woods like Little Red Riding Hood. Keep your wits about you.

4. Have lunch at a parkside restaurant.

After walking all over Inwood Hill Park, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to travel deep into the neighborhood for lunch. Luckily for you there are great places to eat that border the park. If you’re at the park’s northern edge, have lunch at Inwood Farm (600 W 218th Street). You can get something light from its cafe or have a proper meal from its lunch menu. I recommend trying the country-fried mushroom dish. If you’re at the southern edge of the park near Dyckman Street, have lunch at The Hudson (348 Dyckman Street) or MamaSushi (237 Dyckman Street).

5a. Visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.

See the home of Inwood’s most famous family, the Dyckmans. This two-story colonial farmhouse dates back to 1784, but the Dyckman family’s history in this area starts in 1661, when Jan Dyckman immigrants from Westphalia in modern Germany and purchases land in the area to farm. By the time they leave the area in the 1860s, the Dyckmans are one of the biggest landowners in the area, holding 340 acres of land. In an astonishing stroke of fate, two Dyckman descendants, Mary Alice Dyckman Dean and Fannie Fredericka Dyckman Welch, re-acquire the family farmhouse in 1915, restore it, and turn it into a colonial life museum now run by the NYC Parks Department. This video by local historian Cole Thompson will tell you more about Dyckman family.

If you’re inspired to learn more about Inwood’s history after your visit to the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum (4881 Broadway), stop by New Heights Realty (634 W 207th Street) to pick up a copy of “Lost Inwood,” a neighborhood history compilation by Cole Thompson and Don Rice. (And peep the going rate for homes in the neighborhood while you’re there. Last affordable spot in Manhattan, my foot.)

5b. Visit the Met Cloisters.

If the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum isn’t open —they are currently only opened Wednesday through Saturday— go to the Met Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Drive) in the adjacent Fort Tryon Park. Technically the Cloisters are in Washington Heights, but it’s only a subway stop or two away and Inwood Hill Park and Fort Tryon Park are practically connected. Neighborhood borders are a political construct anyway. 😝

Anyway, the Cloisters are branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses its collection of medieval art. Here you’ll find pieces like stained glass windows, tomb effigies of saints, and the famous Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. Be sure to take some time to admire the buildings themselves as well; they were constructed from remnants of actual medieval cloisters and other holy sites in Europe.

6. Have dinner at a Dominican restaurant.

Because you can’t come to Inwood and not have Dominican food. As I mentioned earlier, Inwood is a predominately Dominican community. In fact, as of 2018, Inwood and neighboring Washington Heights have been designated Little Dominican Republic by the city to acknowledge the Dominican community’s cultural significance to the area. According to Little Dominican Republic’s website, Dominicans began moving to Inwood and Washington Heights (and New York in general) in large numbers from the mid-1960s onward in response to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship and the onset of the Dominican Republic’s Civil War of 1965, as well as the passage of the US Hart–Cellar Immigration Act, which eased the US’ previously restrictive immigration quotas for people from non-white countries.

Mull over this history as you have dinner at Elsa La Reina del Chicharron (4840 Broadway), Floridita (3856 10th Avenue), or Mamajuana Café (247 Dyckman Street).

7. Stroll along Sherman Creek.

Named after the Sherman family who lived in a fisherman’s shack by the waterfront in the 1800s, Sherman’s Creek is a waterfront park on the banks of the Harlem River. This area has had a long history of being a waterfront playground. According to the Hidden Waters Blog, from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, rowing and boat clubs had their boathouses here and held races on the waters. Later on, with the development of the Harlem River Drive, Sherman’s Creek became a dumping ground, but through the efforts of the New York Restoration Project, it was restored by the turn of the twenty-first century. Today, you can relax in this multi-sectioned park while you take in the view of the Bronx across the Harlem River, admire the flowers in the Children’s Garden, and take photos of the colorful Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse.

Thanks for allowing me to show you how to spend a full day exploring Inwood. I hope this Inwood neighborhood guide inspires you to visit this verdant, homey community.

Inwood locals, what else would you recommend someone do if they were to spend a day in the neighborhood? I know that this Inwood neighborhood guide left out a lot of good restaurant recommendations, so leave your favorites in the comment section, or check out From Inwood Out’s pretty comprehensive list of the best restaurants in Inwood.

But before you go, if you liked this neighborhood guide on things to do in Inwood and you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!

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