12 things to do in New York City before you die

Story highlights

Top New York picks for karaoke, pastrami, movie theaters, long walks and more

You know Central Park, but probably don't know about its overlooked northwest section

Want live music? Choices are nearly endless

CNN  — 

The book “100 Things to Do in New York City Before You Die” curates what it calls the most essential activities in the city. In case that feels daunting, we’ve narrowed them down to a doable dozen here.

All are located in Manhattan, unless noted:

1. Sing karaoke at Arlene’s Grocery

You can’t play a guitar like Jimi, you can’t sing like Freddie and yet you dream of being a rock star like Bowie. Especially when you’ve been drinking. Sound familiar?

Since 1996, this former bodega has been one of the primo showcases for local bands in NYC, and on Monday and Friday nights, their famous karaoke band gives accountants, baristas and repressed librarians a taste of the limelight.

Even if you don’t have it in you to take the stage, the drinks are cheap and the people watching ranges from “wow” to “that’s hilarious” to “what a train wreck.”

But no matter the level of talent, the entertainment factor goes to 11.

Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton St.; +1 212 358 1633

2. Walk the High Line

Considered this generation’s Central Park, the 1.45 miles of reclaimed railroad track is testament to community activism and urban beautification efforts.

Initially slated for demolition in 1999 until downtowners Joshua David and Robert Hammond started Friends of the High Line, the park now hosts more than 4.4 million visitors annually, which has actually become a problem. The path is only 30 feet wide in some places, causing a pleasant stroll to sometimes feel like waiting in line. So visit early in the morning or late in the evening, and avoid weekends at all cost.

The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street; +1 212 500 6035

3. Get a ticket at Katz’s Delicatessen

Ever wonder what pastrami is, exactly?

It’s beef brisket cured in brine and covered with a mix of spices that include garlic, paprika and mustard seed. Then it’s steamed until the meat begins to break down. The process was a way of preserving meat before the age of refrigeration.

Today, there are only three NYC delis to get a traditional pastrami sandwich: Carnegie Deli, 2nd Avenue Deli and Katz’s Delicatessen. Each of these granddaddies have their share of history and old-timey charm, but Katz’s undoubtedly delivers the best experience.

Upon entering, you’re given a ticket (which you better not lose!), and then you proceed to the counter to order (your ticket will get marked depending on what you order).

If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll want pastrami on rye with mustard and a cup of matzo ball soup. A mound of pickles is thrown in for free.

After taking that last delicious bite, take a stroll around the place to look at all the photos on the wall, and see if you can find the table where that scene from “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed. P.S. It’s open late!

Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E. Houston St; +1 212 254 2246

4. Watch some noir at Film Forum

There are several good independent movie theaters in New York, but the Forum stands alone as cinema’s obsessive historian.

The atmosphere of the theater itself somehow matches the mood of the carefully curated celluloid that lights up the big screen nightly.

International noir from Jean-Luc Godard and classics by Orson Welles are house specialties, but so are little known gems like “Scarecrow” (starring Gene Hackman) and “Public Enemy” (which made Jimmy Cagney a star).

So the next time you’re wondering what to do on a Friday night, take a chance and catch a movie you’ve probably never heard of.

Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St.; +1 212 727 8110

5. Shop at Bergdorf Goodman

At the corner of 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, where a Vanderbilt mansion once stood, is the city’s temple to high fashion and conspicuous consumption.

Founded in 1899 by Herman Bergdorf, the department store carries all the usual – Prada, Chanel – but it’s also known for identifying and selling the best from upstart designers from around the world.

Splurge on something, even if it’s only a glass of wine in Goodman’s Cafe.

Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave.; +1 212 753 7300

6. Cruise past the Statue of Liberty

All those poor, tired, huddled masses would have headed straight back to the Old Country if they had to endure the lines that typically greet the patriots and tourists looking to visit Liberty Island.

The best way to see America’s First Lady is to take the Circle Line Sightseeing cruise, which departs from Pier 83, down the Hudson River.

It passes this close by Lady Liberty before heading under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. (There are lots of Circle Line cruise options, so make sure you choose the right one. And a good alternative is a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which gets pretty close to Lady Liberty, runs regularly and is free.)

Circle Line Sightseeing, Pier 83, W. 42nd St.; +1 212 563 3200

7. Rock out at the Bowery Ballroom

Ever hear of The Go! Team? How about Joan Baez or Soul Asylum? If not, then chances are you’re not cool. Don’t worry, though!

A quick fix is only a gig away at this tiny concert venue where bands from all over the world come to jam.

The bar upstairs is a great place to amp up with friends before heading downstairs to get electrified by music not meant to be consumed by mass-market audiences.

Obviously you should do some homework and see a band that interests you, but any night rocking out at the Ballroom will be a night to remember.

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St.+1 212 533 2111

8. Explore the northwest area of Central Park

Ask any New Yorker for a short list of must-sees in Central Park and they’ll likely rattle off destinations like Strawberry Fields and Bethesda Fountain.

But ask Central Park’s historian, Sara Cedar Millar, for her favorite spot and she’ll send you up north to the now defunct bridle paths.

The area has a distinct topography (complete with waterfall), making it a favorite among naturalists and joggers alike.

Central Park; +1 212 310 6600

9. National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Considering the unspeakable depravity that led to the creation of “ground zero,” the feeling of reverence, endurance, perseverance and peace that now greets visitors is truly astounding.

More than 11 million people have come here from all over the world since it opened in 2011, and in so doing, paid tribute to the indomitable human spirit. The site is solemn, but it’s also a place of wonder and learning, with the considerable effort of those who designed and built the memorial evident at every turn.

The two massive reflecting pools that cascade water down into the footprints of the two felled towers are equal parts moving and beautiful. Bronze panels surrounding the pools bear the names of everyone who died in the attacks, and are arranged with delicate significance.

The museum, located seven stories underground at the base of the original Twin Towers, curates a powerful and extensive exhibit that includes crushed fire trucks, salvaged steel tridents that once held up the towers, photographs and biographies of all those who perished in the attacks, including those of the terrorists, lest the world forgets who was responsible.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Liberty Street; +1 212, 312 8800

10. Listen to live jazz in Greenwich Village

What, you think John Coltrane is really dead? There are three known cures for jazz know-nothings in NYC: Smalls, the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note.

The latter two venues have been around for the better part of a century, but all three attract the very best talent and have atmospheres that make for one of those late nights to remember.

Go alone or with a pal, and hear firsthand the city’s one true soundtrack.

Smalls, 183 W. 10th St.; +1 212 252 5091

Village Vanguard, 178 7th Ave.; +1 212 255 4037

Blue Note, 131 W. 3rd St.; +1 212 475 8592

11. Disappear inside the Met

New York is lousy with esoteric museums – what, you’ve never heard of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on East 84th Street? – but it’s a different story inside the baroque colossus that occupies the east frontage of Central Park between 82nd and 83rd streets.

Its famed treasures are too numerous to list here, but with an operating budget of more than $250 million a year, it’s the only museum in the world that rivals Paris’ Louvre. Properly exploring the museum in one day is impossible, but arrive early and consider opting for the amazingly insightful audio tour.

Don’t miss these treasures:

• The Musicians by Caravaggio

• Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock

• Marble statue of the emperor Caracalla

• The dining room of Kirtlington Park

• The Egyptian room

The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1000 Fifth Ave.; +1 212 535 7710

12. Catch a Yankees game

If you’re not from New York – and even if you are – there’s a good chance you’re not a fan of baseball’s greatest-ever team.

Nevertheless, a trip to the house that Babe Ruth built should come before a trip to Cooperstown [location of the National Baseball Hall of Fame] for any lover of America’s national pastime.

Regular stadium seating tickets range from $100 all the way up to a ridiculous $200, though the $78 for the bleacher is a good option if you don’t mind being cut off in the 5th inning (concession stands everywhere else serve until the 7th inning) and have a tolerance for vulgar chants.

Make sure you stay to the end to hear Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” provided the home team wins!

Yankee Stadium, 1 E. 161st St., Bronx; +1 718 293 4300

Excerpted from “100 Things To Do In New York City Before You Die” by James Heidenry (Reedy Press, $16)