Inwood, the neighborhood at the northern tip of island of Manhattan, is perhaps New York's best spot for a fall walkabout. That's because it's compact, and nearly half the area is composed of parkland. The leaves are turning just in time for you to start exploring.
Certainly the most famous local landmark is The Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Dr., 212-923-3700, open daily, $25 recommended admission). This medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is set high on a hill on the northern edge of Fort Tryon Park and looks like nothing else in New York -- or anywhere else in the country for that matter. It's composed of materials taken from actual medieval cloisters, and the old stone buildings house some of the most important treasures from the period, notably the Unicorn Tapestries.
Walk a short distance down the hill to Broadway, the spine of the neighborhood. Heading north for just over 10 blocks takes you past a few surprising stops, the first being Dyckman Farmhouse (Broadway at 204th St., Friday-Sunday, 212-304-9422, $1 admission). This Dutch colonial farmhouse was built in 1784, and it's been a museum since 1916. Visiting the garden is always free.
So far you're been regaled with the past, but the neighborhood's hip, present-day incarnation can be sampled over a bottle of Lion Stout ($8) at Inwood Local (4957 Broadway, 212-544-8900, inwoodlocal.com), a charming wine and beer garden. Soon you'll come upon Carrot Top Pastries (3921 Broadway, 212-927-4800, carrottoppastries.com) where there's a large coconut tart ($4.50) with your name on it.
At the upper limit of Broadway, look left and you're in the domain of Columbia University, which took over part of the island's tip for sports complexes. The striking forms of architect Steven Holl's recently completed Campbell Sports Center arrest the eye at the corner of 218th Street. Keep going on 218th and you'll see the rest of the Baker Athletic Complex, including the stadium where New York's only Ivy League team plays football. The Columbia Lions take on Penn on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (tickets $15-$25, gocolumbialions.com).
Those colorful leaves you see a couple of blocks in front of you to the west are part of Manhattan's only remaining patch of old-growth forest, in Inwood Hill Park. Though the lower lawn area, especially around the small lake-like estuary known as Spuyten Duyvil Creek, is well-used in summer, it gets less use in the fall. And the most spectacular walk is in the deep woods, along the ridgeline. Keep climbing to the top and follow the paths -- this is as pristine as nature gets in the big city.