(CNN) — New York City's SoHo (shorthand for South of Houston Street) is synonymous with shopping thanks to its mix of major chains -- Uniqlo, H&M, Victoria's Secret -- and high-end brands such as Marc Jacobs and Prada. But as one of Manhattan's best-known neighborhoods, there's also world-class food, drink and art as long as you know where to look.
So check out some of the best things to do:
Where to eat and drink
Balthazar is where New York meets Paris.
For breakfast, the single best place in SoHo is Balthazar, a French-style bistro where New York's captains of industry have long come to make deals over freshly made croissants. Park on one of the red leather couches with coffee and the newspaper while keeping one eye on the room -- you never know which A-lister might slide into the booth next to you. The line between SoHo and Little Italy is blurry, so take advantage of the neighborhood's walkability with a visit to Lombardi's, widely considered the first pizzeria in the United States. This sit-down establishment has been serving up whole pies (sorry, no slices) since 1905, so settle in with a clam pizza and Italian soda.
To keep on the old-school theme, it's hard to go wrong with a visit to Fanelli Cafe (also called "Fanelli's," depending who you ask), a burger-and-beer joint that's been a haven for artists and musicians such as Bob Dylan. Look for the bright-red "Fanelli" sign and head into the cafe, which has been in business (although not always the alcohol business) since the 1840s. Though the menu has modernized a bit -- they have veggie burgers and craft beer on offer now -- Fanelli still feels like a little slice of that New York City most of us have only seen in movies.
SoHo is also home to some of the city's most modern spots, though. Check out Lure Fishbar for some of New York's freshest sushi and prettiest people in a restaurant designed to look like the inside of a yacht. Finally, stop in for a drink at Pegu Club, a lush homage to a British Officer's Club in Burma, that serves a mix of classic tipples (50-50, Sidecar) and rotating seasonal cocktails with ingredients such as Earl Grey tea and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Balthazar, 80 Spring St., New York, NY 10012, + 1 (212) 965-1414 Lombardi's, 32 Spring St., New York, NY, 10012, +1 (212) 941-7994
Fanelli Cafe, 94 Prince St., New York, NY 10012, +1 (212) 226-9412
Lure Fishbar, 142 Mercer St., New York, NY 10012, +1 (212) 431-7676 Pegu Club, 77 W Houston St., New York, NY 10012, +1 (212) 473-7348
Where to shop (besides the usual places)
Rest your feet in the cafe at Housing Works.
Courtesy Housing Works
SoHo is a shopaholic's dream. But if you want to explore beyond the big glossy brand names, the best place to start is at McNally Jackson, a local indie bookstore and cafe where the paperbacks are likely to be signed by their authors, who popped in one afternoon to browse just like a regular customer.
McNally also carries a healthy stock of graphic notecards, journals and hard-to-find art and design magazines from around the world.
And if that's not enough, there's a McNally sister store -- Goods for the Study -- just a few blocks away. The collection of fountain pens, desk objects and hand-printed stationery make for perfect gifts, or just treat the store like a museum and gape in awe at the beauty of a really well-made stapler. Readers should also stop by Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a nonprofit center that has -- besides the namesake bookstore and cafe -- a popular events calendar that includes book discussions, author Q&As and popular storytelling series The Moth. Profits go to Housing Works, a charity that supports people living with AIDS and homelessness. Hip leather goods and jewelry store Miansai may be a place to gawk at beautiful metal bracelets, but it's also a quiet respite in the heart of a buzzy neighborhood that doubles as a secret tea shop. There's nowhere to sit, so order a vanilla rose chai and window shop while they brew it. Miansai, 33 Crosby St., New York, NY 10013, +1 (212) 858-9710
Where to get your culture fix
The Judd Foundation is a museum and a valuable stretch of downtown real estate.
Courtesy Judd Foundation
For years, New York had an uptown-downtown divide: the big-name museums were all uptown, while small galleries were downtown in SoHo and other neighborhoods.
One example of downtown's art scene is the Judd Foundation, in the textile factory that minimalist artist Donald Judd converted into his living and work space. Today, the building is a museum. Most of the living areas are intact down to the dishes and beds, and you can check out work from not only Judd but from his friends and contemporaries such as Dan Flavin and Frank Stella.
Nearby, the New York Earth Room is a peculiar and beautiful project run by the Dia foundation, probably best known for the sprawling Dia museum upstate in Beacon.
The Earth Room is what it sounds like -- a site-specific installation by Walter De Maria that is literally a mound of dirt in a large room. The free attraction is tucked into a SoHo apartment building, so you'll need to buzz (and walk up a few flights of stairs) to get in, but the room has an eerily calm, meditative quality -- a rarity in downtown NYC.
Fine, it's cheating, but if you want a more traditional art-viewing experience, the New Museum is on the Bowery, just a short walk from SoHo. The museum focuses solely on contemporary art, and you're likely to find video art, experimental work and inclusive perspectives.
Where to sleep
On the outside, the Crosby Street Hotel could be mistaken for just another black-and-steel structure, but inside the mix of bright colors and peppy patterns make it clear you're somewhere special. Along the southern edge of the neighborhood, the James Hotel is the place to be seen in the summer thanks to its rooftop pool and chic indoor garden. And the new kid in town is the 11 Howard hotel (so named for its SoHo-meets-Chinatown address), whose French-food-meets-Scandi-design Le Coucou restaurant is already winning raves.