An Insider's Guide to Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Bedford Avenue is filled with shops and restaurants that have helped make Williamsburg a must-visit.
Bedford Avenue is filled with shops and restaurants that have helped make Williamsburg a must-visit.

One of the most popular neighborhoods in New York City is Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This trendy area has welcomed some of the best eateries, shops and bars in The Big Apple over the past few years. Here’s our take.

We started our day at McCarren Hotel & Pool on the north side of Williamsburg. This is a lifestyle hotel on north 12th street, across from McCarren Park. We think it’s the perfect place to go for a late-night drink. The rooftop bar, Xanadu, offers views of the city and DJs liven up the scene on Saturday nights. When we visited the hotel, we heard that live bluegrass would be playing on the roof later in the evening. Our overall thoughts: This place would be a great stop for an evening drink and to soak in the Brooklyn scene. If you’re thinking about booking a room, guests should note that there is construction happening next door, as of press time.

Our next suggestion is to stroll down Bedford Avenue. This main street is filled with the shops and restaurants that have helped make Williamsburg a destination. We stopped and had some popular comfort food at Sweet Chick (164 Bedford Avenue). This rustic dining venue attracts a crowd. (It was even bustling on a Wednesday afternoon.) We ordered the fried chicken sandwich, which is served with spicy honey on the side — yum. We also tried the grilled chicken salad, which comes with a spicy kick. This eatery also serves traditional sweet tea and lemonade made with or without a little kick of alcohol. Guests should be prepared to sit close to other patrons, and there is a communal table (along with other seating) and a small bar.

Some popular comfort food can be enjoyed at Sweet Chick on 164 Bedford Avenue.
Some popular comfort food can be enjoyed at Sweet Chick on 164 Bedford Avenue.

The crowd (when we visited) was a mix of Millennials, young families with strollers in tow and solo-visitors at the bar. Looking for a pizza joint? Just continue walking down Bedford and Joe’s Pizza is on the corner at 5th Street. We enjoyed a quick slice of the famous cheese pizza before continuing on our way.

Quick Tip: Along Bedford keep your eye out for popular stops, including Bagelsmith, which serves house-made bagels with two locations in Williamsburg. Also, try and pop into the Bedford cheese shop. This cheese shop has artisanal cheese samples with help from knowledgeable cheese mongers. And take in the general scene. The avenues are filled with street art and people walk around dressed in a range of styles.

Looking for some entertainment? Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Avenue) shows both new and fan favorite movies with a twist. This theater has a gourmet concession stand and tableside food and beverage service in all the theaters. We suggest ordering a cocktail in the bar, Lo-Res, downstairs before the showing in one of the three theaters. We also suggest checking out the themed series like Country Brunchin’. This quarterly show brings together country music, brunch and, of course, movies with a splash of Southern fun.

Bedford Avenue is filled with shops and restaurants that have helped make Williamsburg a must-visit.
The Human Head NYC record shop buys, sells and trades vinyl albums, and offers a wide selection of genres.

When looking for a dose of nostalgia in Williamsburg, check out the Human Head NYC vinyl records shop. The spot (168 Johnson Avenue) buys, sells and trades vinyl albums, and offers a wide selection of genres, including modern selections like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to popular throwbacks like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. Blues, Jazz, Classic Rock and even hard to find labels are here, and if they aren’t, the store attendants are more than happy to help you in your search. Note: This shop is easy to miss, it’s not far down the block.

If a quiet afternoon is more suited to your liking, Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers (218 Bedford Avenue), is an ideal nook to scavenge for a hard-to-find read. The shop specializes in used, rare, and new books focused on contemporary art and architecture, as well as a selection of stock literature, philosophy, and even baby-books. Once you enter the store, there are books ranging from cooking to calligraphy fully displayed along the walls. As we walked toward the back of the shop, a separate children’s section displayed books focused on nursery rhymes and fables. In addition, a door toward the back opens up to an inside shopping area with more stores.

Getting There

Traveling to Williamsburg from Manhattan is pretty simple, as the neighborhood extends roughly from the East River to Bushwick Avenue and falls between McCarren Park to the north and Flushing to the south.

Several subways service the area of Williamsburg, including the L, G, M, Z and J lines. We suggest always checking the MTA website ( before beginning your trip, as service changes are common on weekends. Note: The G does not run in Manhattan. There is also the East River Ferry, which will take passengers to North Williamsburg from the terminal at East 35th Street and F.D.R. Drive in Manhattan.

Note: We don’t suggest driving to the terminal, as there is limited parking. However, the terminal has bike racks. It can also be accessed from the M34, M15 and M16 buses and the 6 subway line at 33rd Street and Park Avenue. If you plan on using the ferry frequently, consider purchasing an all-day pass on the NY Waterway mobile app.

Lastly, private car services such as Uber are popular in Brooklyn; however, finding a city cab can be difficult. Remember: City cabs can be both green and yellow in boroughs.

Live Music Venues

Williamsburg’s live music scene has been growing in size and gaining in stature over the past decade. Here are four venues cited by NYC & Company, New York’s official destination marketing organization.

* Brooklyn Bowl: Locals flock to this bowling alley and nightlife hangout to listen to top-flight live music, bowl and chow down on tasty appetizers, fried chicken, French bread pizza and BBQ wings.

* Music Hall of Williamsburg: With a reputation for organizing a lineup of top-notch artists and up-and-coming bands, this venue has solidified itself as one of Brooklyn’s music hot spots. Its jam-packed performance schedule makes it a great place to grab a drink and enjoy live music anytime. 

* Pete’s Candy Store: The tavern is known for booking mostly unknown and unsigned bands, many of whom have gone on to receive greater recognition. Among its popular live music programming is an open mic night every Sunday from 5–8 p.m.

* Union Pool: Another bar and music venue attracting a vivacious crowd, Union Pool is a good spot to enjoy a night of live music and dancing. Visitors and locals continuously flock to the bar to listen to some of the area’s most talented artists.