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Giving thanks for New York

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  • New York is an exciting place to spend Thanksgiving
  • If you attend the Macy's Day Parade, be sure to bundle up and queue early
  • Avoid Black Friday crowds by shopping at eccentric stores
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By Brie Schwartz
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CNN -- On any given day, the hectic pace of New York streets may convince tourists that their eyes are better fixed on the ground ahead than gazing up at the sky.

Super Grover soars above Manhattan

But during Thanksgiving all that changes. The traffic stops and there's something a whole lot more interesting happening overhead.

More than canned cranberry sauce and the Mayflower, the Macy's Day Parade has become one of the most iconic symbols of the Thanksgiving weekend.

It started back in 1924 when European immigrants working at Macy's department store decided to bring some of their hometown traditions to New York.

They boarded glittering floats with 25 animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo to gave some European flair to their Thanksgiving fête.

The Macy's Day Parade now unites more than 50 million families who wake up early to watch the bands march across their TV screens.

Those willing and able to brave the cold and crowds line Manhattan's streets to see the massive balloons up close. If you have mittens and enthusiasm, going to the parade is a worthwhile experience. Here's what you'll need to know:

In order to be amongst the 2.5 million who gather to see Big Bird fly, prepare to leave your cozy accommodations by 6:30 a.m. You can get a good view from Central Park West (from 70th Street to Columbus Circle or from 65th Street to 70th Street on the east side).

You can also watch from Broadway between 38th and 58th Streets. The heart of the parade is at 34th street at Macy's historic Herald Square location, but it will be difficult to see from there. Macy's recommends the area from 61st to 72nd Street for the optimal chance to glimpse the cast of High School Musical shimmy past or Grover giggle in the above.

The vibrant confetti, high energy and brass renditions of pop ballads make the parade an invigorating way to start the day, but it can be an even better way to end your evening before the parade starts.

From 3 p.m to 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve you can take a "behind-the-scenes" tour to see inflation engineers give life to the Macy's balloon characters.

The area from 77th to 81st Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue becomes congested with slow-moving on-lookers, pushing their way towards the tarps where Dora the Explorer and Kermit the Frog lay waiting to be fed with helium.

You'll need to wear your warmest winter attire for this event, but for those travelers who like to be on the move, it may be better than standing in one cramped position for several hours as you watch the parade during the day.

Now that you've seen Ronald McDonald grow, waved to Santa Claus at the parade's conclusion, and consumed enough hot coffee to banish your chills, it's time to seek out a decadent Thanksgiving meal.

For a traditional American experience, just as the Virginian settlers may have wanted it, sample acorn squash and pumpkin cheesecake at Fraunces Tavern (54 Pearl Street), a romantically rustic restaurant that George Washington frequented. Seated on a quaint cobblestone street, this downtown brick mansion house will take you back in time -- even if it's not your own history.

Does a coterie of swanky gourmet foods with a stellar locale whet your appetite? Try Central Park Boathouse's prixe fix menu. After a leisurely stroll up the ever-so-fancy Fifth Avenue (bonus: most of the shops will be closed on Thursday so you won't be tempted to splurge on designer duds) enter the park at 72nd Street and amble past the greens towards this charming eatery.

If you're disappointed that most of Broadway is still on strike, and Central Park Boathouses' yellow fin tuna is too posh for your tastes, take in some dinner-theater at Ellen's Stardust Diner (1650 Broadway). Hear New York's finest fledgling performers, outfitted in retro 50's garb sing to you as you enjoy your burger and fries (a true American meal).

After you've sated your Epicurean side, the most popular activity in New York on Friday will be shopping. Bargain hunters enjoy sifting through the racks at Bloomingdales (504 Broadway) and Barneys (660 Madison Avenue) and scrounging for electronic deals at Best Buy. However, if Thursday's mix of trombones and tourists was hectic enough, avoid the mainstream Black Friday rush and browse the vintage boutiques in the East and West villages instead. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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