Seven surefire principles have emerged (additions are welcome):
1. Don't go too often, but when you do, go well. If you haven't in over a year - force yourself.EXAMPLE:
2. In general, it is best to start the day in Up/Midtown and migrate south.
3. Be firm but flexible, i.e. have a well researched agenda from which you're willing to happily depart.
4. Be not ashamed of the museum audio-guide or well chosen guidebook when appropriate. (Consider my favorite.) Locals may mock... until that is, you correct them.
5. Speaking of which, be sure at some point to hang out with actual New Yorkers.
6. Allow the late night conversation with those actual New Yorkers to drift naturally toward how much they pay for rent, thereby ameliorating any sense that you spent too much.
7. Only stay overnight if you're prepared to buy brunch for those you stay with.
Thanks to a visiting brother-in-law with up to the minute NYC music connections, I had a recent chance to put these time tested principles into action. Observe (prices are per person):
12:30pm Depart from Princeton Junction (parking $3, off peak round trip $18).
1:30pm Arrive Penn Station, coffee, relax, walk uptown ($3).
2:30pm Visit Saint Patrick's Cathedral... never gets old (FREE).
3:00pm Walk one block north to visit St. Thomas' Fifth Ave. and compare the two to depressing result (for the Protestant that is) (FREE).
3:15pm Walk around a bit more, then go to MoMA which, starting 4pm on Fridays, is (FREE).
NOTE: In an extravagant display of art world clout, MoMA installed multiple exhibits of Marcel Duchamp's most famous work on each floor. Just walk through the door marked "Men." They're even interactive.6:00pm Pub dinner - always reasonable and not excessively priced ($20). Somewhere off the main drag of Little Italy is also a solid bet.
7:00pm Walk to the brand new Morgan Library which on Friday's 7-9pm is (FREE). Autograph manuscripts of scores of cultural titans, impressive art collection, amazing home.
8:00pm Walk to Greenwich Village for a mindblowing jazz vibraphone C.D. release party in basement of the wonderful Cornelia Street Cafe ($10 cover).
11:00pm Complete the evening at a Greenwich village watering hole ($20).
1:15am TAXI back to Penn Station ($4).
1:41am Take the "drunk train" home. Granted you are not yourself drunk (which we paragons of virtue were not), this yields free entertainment.
Total = approximately $80.
I realize that getting home at 3am is pushing the bounds of the "Day Trip," but who can afford to live by principle #7?