You don't need our help to locate the Jumbotrons and cheap T-shirts. But to fully experience New York's electric heart, it's best to follow the locals.
1. Sweets spot
Not to be confused with chewy coconut macaroons, the light-as-air sandwich cookies at 2-year-old Macaron Café come in a crayon-box assortment of colors and flavors, from dark chocolate to pistachio. Co-owner Cécile Cannone's floral varieties—lavender, poppy, violet, and rose—serve as an edible homage to the French wildflower fields where she spent her childhood summers. 161 W. 36th St., macaroncafe.com, macarons $2.25.
2. Coffee central
The folks behind this indie upstart put plenty of thought into their Midtown café's decor, from the chandeliers and floral wallpaper to the large communal table that anchors the seating area. But like all good java joints, at Culture Espresso, below, it's what's in the cup that counts: in this case, espresso from PT's and Intelligentsia, and house-made vanilla-bean syrup. 72 W. 38th St., cultureespresso.com, espresso $2.50.
3. Happy-hour hangout
An authentic oasis among the faux-fancy hotel bars and faux-Irish pubs one block west, Jimmy's Corner is a veritable shrine to the history of boxing. The walls are plastered with framed photos of the greats (including shots of owner and pro trainer Jimmy Glenn with Muhammad Ali); the service is just this side of surly; and the mellow crowd welcomes heavy- and lightweights alike. 140 W. 44th St., 212/221-9510, pints from $3.
4. Updated lunch counter
Think of it as the urban cousin of a Route 66 diner. At Schnipper's Quality Kitchen, opened in 2009 by brothers Jonathan and Andrew Schnipper, the menu is heavy on all-American favorites like burgers (pictured), fries, and milkshakes. The setting, however, is pure big-city bustle. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the new New York Times building, one of Manhattan's tallest skyscrapers. 620 8th Ave., schnippers.com, burger $5.50.
5. Afternoon activity
Leave it to NYC's party-bowling pioneer to create an entertainment complex that embraces the over-the-top spirit of Times Square. The newest location of Bowlmor Lanes, which opened in November in the former New York Times headquarters, has three bars, a nightclub, and 50 lanes, each dedicated to a city-centric theme: Central Park, Chinatown, and the subway, to name a few. 222 W. 44th St., bowlmor.com.
6. Broadway relic
The 93-year-old Drama Book Shop, below, is the best kind of New York institution. It started as a simple card table selling play scripts in a theater lobby in 1917 and moved to its current spot in 2001, keeping its no-fuss presentation and single-minded focus on the performing arts. The only sign of changing times is the selection of quirky souvenirs, such as Oscar Wilde action figures, that now shares shelf space with sheet music, librettos, and scripts. 250 W. 40th St., dramabookshop.com.
7. Design deals
On nearly every episode of Project Runway, contestants have turned to one source for their supplies: the massive Garment District textiles shop Mood Fabrics. Even sewing novices have good reason to stop in—to play with Swatch, the owner's Boston terrier and the store's in-house model. The personable pup, above, is often in costume and kindly agreed to dress up for our shoot as Times Square's cheekiest icon, the Naked Cowboy. 225 W. 37th St., 3rd Fl., moodfabrics.com, tote $7.