NYC in a nutshell
New York City New York is a bulsting city of 8 million people who live in five boroughs which are composed of distinct neighborhoods. The conference will be in the borough of Manhattan in a neighborhood called Upper West Side (UWS), so names because it lies above the main commercial parts of the city on the west side of the island.
Upper West Side
The UWS is mainly residential, but is also home to several museums, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and it is adjacent to Central Park. It lacks the intensity of Midtown Manhattan in lieu of quiet(er) cafes and baby strollers. Central Park is the main draw, where one can imagine they're in the bucolic, upstate New York countryside.
There are many restaurants, bars, and activities in the neighborhood, use filters on these sites to narrow your search:
A short trip across Central Park, in the Upper East Side, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the broad array of institutions on Museum Mile along 5th Avenue.
Beyond the UWS, Manhattan stretches about 14 miles north-south and is on average about a mile wide. It's the most densely populated area in the U.S., with about 70,000 people per square mile. NYC is the most diverse city in the country, with over 800 languages spoken and a foreign-born population over 35%. In the past decade, NYC has become one of the safest large cities in America.
Houston Street (pronounced "how-ston") kicks off the city's street grid. Above Houston, the numbered streets begin (except in Greenwich Village), below Houston you may need a map to figure out where you are with streets like Mulberry, Prince, Canal, and Bowery. Above 14th Street, the numbered avenues are all present.
Some of the more colorful, less touristy neighborhoods include Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea (with the sublime High Line Park), the Flatiron District, Greenwich Village (West Village), the East Village and Alphabet City, the Lower East Side, TriBeCa (which stands for Triangle Below Canal Street), and Harlem. You'll mostly find restaurants, bars, and night clubs frequented by New Yorkers in these neighborhoods.
The more touristy neighborhoods include Times Square and Midtown, Meatpacking District, SoHo (South of Houston), Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Financial District. By and large, these neighborhoods cater to business professionals, shoppers, or tourists.
(Like astronomers, NYC likes its acronyms: TriBeCa, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita (North of Little Italy), and my favorite, DUMBO, an art-friendly neighborhood in Brooklyn which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass—don't leave off the "Overpass.")
All of these neighborhoods are easily reached via subway and/or by foot. Walking is the best way to get a sense of NYC's neighborhoods, just bring comfortable shoes and a heightened sense of awareness (for car and bike traffic, and for the people around you).
Most of New York's residents live outside Manhattan in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Attractions include the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Brooklyn Heights (America's first suburb), Coney Island, Prospect Park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden, to name a few. If you'd like a ride through New York's harbor, take the Staten Island Ferry. It's free, and travels by (but does not go to) the Statue of Liberty. The ride to Staten Island is about a half hour, where you can exit the ferry and get on the next one back to Manhattan.