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  How to Navigate an Iconic Travel and Holiday Shopping Destination

Black Friday… Cyber Monday.. all these terms to get you to shop! And with the news that Americans spent record retail dollars this past weekend, it looks like we’ll be seeing more encouragement to buy those holiday gifts.

Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be crazy. With access to the internet, you can do research in advance. And if you plan ahead (ha!), you  don’t have to rush through every store – start early.

The crowds can be annoying, but in some places, that is part of the charm – for instance, people watching on adorned and decked out Fifth Ave in New York – one of the most classic shopping and tourist destinations in the U.S., is especially vibrant this time of year.

The great thing about Fifth Ave is that there is something for every pocketbook, even though you may doubt it spotting a $700 pair of shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. That comes with the territory – New York is fashion forward, and designer driven. The best strip of Fifth for shopping is in the 30s up to 60th St.

If you have the kids, or are a kid at heart – there’s no place like FAO Schwarz…whether you buy anything or not, it is a fun place to visit. I am failing as a travel guide if I always tell you things you probably know, like that FAO Schwarz is a great place to visit, but I want  to show you inside.

What you may not know is that almost everywhere you turn in this mega toy store are demonstrations of toys that you and your kids (or not) can try. You can get hands on with remote control gadgets…

or toys to take out to Central Park.

How about this remote control floating in the air Nemo? The aisles are filled with kids just having fun with the products. Go right when it opens to avoid mobs.

FAO has toys you might not see anywhere else… and there’s a lot of them in  50,000 square feet…

The LEGO area is always cool…. and the kids love the candy area on steroids.

Right nearby is the Apple Store (under construction when I was there.) It is always an exciting and busy place, this is a store that belongs in a city that never sleeps – it is open 24 hours for your “shopping convenience.”

For the fashion focused – Bergdorf Goodman is the place. The window displays alone are reason to visit. But even though it is fun to browse, it is more for the ladies who lunch. A lot of designer labels at expensive prices. In my opinion, you don’t have to spend so much to still look chic. But this IS New York, and the place was packed with fashionistas when I was there.

Saks Fifth Ave is along the same lines as Bergdorf…

Henri Bendel was my personal favorite, and is also on Fifth Ave. BUT  – was I the last one to know Bendel doesn’t do clothes anymore?  Plenty of good stuff at that, but I miss the clothes. You will find beautiful jewelry, accessories, make up, and handbags… upscale, but you can still find items that are not outlandish. Be careful walking through the cosmetics department – you will be hounded to sample everything from overzealous salespeople.

For a more affordable holiday shopping destination, go to Zara and H and M. I love Zara – runway fashions at bargain prices. This is a European brand, so there are some interesting finds…and it’s better quality than most cheaper brands. Avoid Abercrombie and Fitch!!! It always smells like they pump aftershave through the doors…and is usually packed with Europeans and is way too crowded.

Pop in for a drink at the nearby Plaza Hotel at Fifth Ave and Central Park… or for a more casual lunch try my favorite quick cafe – Mangia on W 57th. And to really get you in the spirit, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is right off Fifth Ave… a holiday tradition for years.

Wow. Just thinking about spending the day here transported me. Seriously, I know Christmas spirit can’t be found shopping, but all the festivities really put you in the mood. I hope your holiday season is happy and bright.