For nearly three decades, starting in the 1930s, the High Line — called the West Side Elevated Line back then — functioned as a busy industrial railway, and to expedite the loading of goods, it ran right through several warehouses and factories in the area.
In the 1960s, as manufacturing in the city waned and trucking took over most of the commercial transport duties, the railway became increasingly underused, and by the 1980s the hulking elevated structure was abandoned by all except the occasional urban explorer and an absolute riot of wild plants and flowers.
The whole thing was nearly torn down — then-Mayor Giuliani actually signed a demolition order right before leaving office in 2001 — but a couple of visionaries, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, fell in love with the secret garden and began a years-long campaign to turn the space into a public park, partially funded and maintained by a non-profit organization called Friends of the High Line.
David and Hammond realized their dream, the first section of the High Line opened in 2009, and the mile-and-a-half-long park not only became one of the city's most popular attractions, hosting some eight million visitors a year, but it also sparked an astonishing transformation of the entire neighborhood. The whole skyline there, from the Whitney Museum at the park's southern terminus to the enormous Hudson Yard complex up north, didn't exist less than 15 years ago.
And the best news is this: even if you've been up there dozens of times since it first opened, and even with the occasionally enormous crowds, the High Line still has the ability to surprise and delight. Go on a weekday afternoon or evening if you can, stroll from one end to the other, take your time, smell the flowers, sit and relax, enjoy a snack, and marvel anew at one of the great wonders of our beautiful city.
For inspiration, here's a quick guide to walking today's High Line, with an emphasis on all the new art and eating options along the way, but with an appreciation of the park's timeless, simple pleasures as well.
The High Line runs from Gansevoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, up through West Chelsea and Hudson Yards to 34th Street near 11th Avenue across from the Javits Center. There are more than dozen access points along the route, including four with elevators. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
And soon you'll be able to get to the High Line from Moynihan Train Hall, and the Manhattan West complex, via a new bridge suspended high over the traffic of Dwyer Avenue, which connects to the also-new steel bridge along 30th Street leading directly to the park.
Update: The High Line-Moynihan Train Hall Connector opened on June 22nd, 2023.
There are hundreds of different perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees on the High Line, and the whole thing is essentially a pathway through a long garden, divided into zones, with lots of seating and cool little nooks throughout. There used to be a lawn area around 23rd Street, but in 2011 it was reseeded with flowers and grasses native to the Great Plains and it's currently growing into what they're calling The Prairie.
Organized activities such as guided tours, mindful walks, wellness classes, community-building events and special performances are all part of the High Line happenings as well.
HIGH LINE ART & ARCHITECTURE
The High Line sits within one of NYC's vital centers of art and culture, a neighborhood that includes the Whitney Museum on Gansevoort Street, the Chelsea gallery district from 19th to 28th Streets, and the Shed at Hudson Yards. It makes sense, then, that the park would commission works of art all along the route.
The most dramatic exhibition space is called the High Line Plinth, which is located on the Spur jutting out over 10th Avenue. The Plinth is designed for massive pieces that can be seen for many blocks in either direction, and the current commission does the job perfectly, Pamela Rosenkranz's striking, neon pink sculpture Old Tree.
Other works up on the High Line now include Nina Chanel Abney's bright, playful mural at around 22nd Street called NYC Love, which features a shout out to two subway lines; Faheem Majeed's provocative Freedom's Stand right near the Shed at 30th Street, a homage to Black newspapers; and Julia Philips's clever Observer, Observed, which works like a typical pair of "see the sights" public binoculars, but simultaneously broadcasts the user's eyes on a giant LED screen looking down 26th Street.
One of the most amazing consequences of the High Line was the rush to develop statement-making luxury residential properties right up against the park. This began almost immediately upon the park's completion, and is exemplified by two buildings in particular: Zaha Hadid's only residential building in the city, a curvilinear space-age beauty at 28th Street, and the bulging barrel building, which is actually called Lantern House, by Thomas Heatherwick (who also designed the Vessel up at Hudson Yards) at around 18th Street.
FOOD ALONG THE WAY
There are tons of sit-down restaurants within a block of the High Line all along the route. You can get Neapolitan-style pizzas and excellent ice cream sundaes at Mels at 15th Street, terrific tapas at Tia Pol at 22nd Street, seafood galore at Mermaid Inn near 24th Street, and just about everything you can imagine at José Andrés's Spanish food funhouse Mercado Little Spain at 30th Street, which features three restaurants, ten specialized food kiosks, and lots of seating inside and out.
Two unique food halls opened near the High Line over the winter. Market 57, at the sprawling, Google-funded Pier 57 over the river at 15th Street, houses an outpost of one of the city's best Thai restaurants, Zaab Zaab, an outstanding vegan Ethiopian spot called Ras Plant Based, meaty sandwiches from Due Madri, aka The Butcher Girls, and South Asian-inspired ice cream scoops from the peerless Malai.
The new Olly Olly Market at 26th Street has terrific oddball vibes and great Mexican street food at Ploo, scallion pancake burritos at Forsythe Fire Escape, and Korean yubu at DdoBar. And the old stalwart Chelsea Market at 15th Street continues to add interesting food options, including the incredible ALF Bakery from Amadou Ly (get all of your picnic pastries and baguette sandwiches here), dishes from Syria, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and more at the refugee and immigrant run Eat Offbeat, and "a taste" of the Lower East Side's legendary Economy Candy, which is small but overflowing with sugary delights.
Finally, if you just want to grab something quick before heading up to the High Line, there's a new branch of the mini-chain Maman Bakery at Horatio Street (among other delicious things, they sell some of my favorite cookies in the city), a new Shake Shack right underneath the southern entrance to the park, and, if you're coming from the north, a Daily Provisions at Manhattan West where you can get sandwiches, coffee, hot food, and stellar crullers.
Or you can stop by one of the vendors up on the High Line itself, like Palenque, specializing in Colombian arepas and empanadas, Coney Shack, with Southeast Asian-inspired tacos and hot dogs, and refreshing paletas (popsicles) from the La Newyorkina carts.
GETTING THERE VIA THE MTA
Many subway lines take you close to the High Line, including the A/C to 14th Street, 23rd Street, and 34th Street - Penn Station; the L to 14th Street - 8th Avenue; and the 7 to 34th Street - Hudson Yards. The LIRR to Penn Station is another great public transportation option.
Many subway lines take you close to the High Line!