On any given day in Times Square, there are dozens of double-decker buses that offer essential sightseeing tours of the city, but to truly appreciate the bounty of the Big Apple, you need to move past New York 101. History and surprises lurk everywhere, from the dirt of Central Park and ovens of Little Italy to the humble sidewalks of the Bronx and the Lower East Side.
'GANGSTERS: BIRTH OF ORGANIZED CRIME IN AMERICA'
WHAT Hollywood has done its part to bring the Italian Mafia to life, but nothing gets you closer to the real thing than this tour. Let Eric Ferrara, executive director of the Lower East Side History Project, separate myth from fact as you trace the roots of organized crime. Walk the same streets and alleyways where mob legends Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel held court.
WHEN|WHERE Tuesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Meet at the New Museum, 235 Bowery
INFO $25 ($15 for students and seniors), 347-465-7767, leshp.org
AFTER THE TOUR Walk over to Umberto's Clam House for scungilli salad, zuppa di clams or homemade lobster ravioli. Crazy Joe Gallo was shot dead at the original location (a few blocks away, at Mulberry and Hester streets) while celebrating his 43rd birthday in 1972. 386 Broome St., 212-431-7545, umbertosclamhouse.com.
FORAGING IN CENTRAL PARK
WHAT Fancy yourself a budding Bear Grylls? "Wildman" Steve Brill can teach you survival skills to use if you're ever stranded in the parks of New York. Learn to spot medicinal plants and edible mushrooms, weeds and berries. (The excursion is not without dangers, though: Brill once was arrested in Central Park by city park rangers for eating a dandelion.)
WHEN|WHERE Next outing is March6 at 11:45 a.m. in Central Park (date and time subject to change). Call for meeting location.
INFO $15, 914-835-2153, wildmanstevebrill.com
AFTER THE TOUR Fill up on seared sea scallops, grilled rib eye or roasted chicken at the Loeb Central Park Boathouse restaurant. It's a type of foraging, albeit the sophisticated urbanite way. East 72nd Street and Park Drive North, 212- 517-2233, thecentralparkboathouse.com
BIRTHPLACE OF HIP-HOP TOUR
WHAT Before hip-hop flourished into a global genre, it thrived on street corners and in tiny basements in New York. Join guides GrandMaster Caz (Cold Crush Brothers), Kurtis Blow, Rahiem (Furious Five) or Reggie Reg (Crash Crew) on a luxury motor coach ride through Manhattan and the Bronx as they school you on hip-hop's stamping grounds - sights of famous lyrical battles, video shoots and historic clubs.
WHEN|WHERE Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Call for meeting location.
INFO $68, 212-714-3527, hushhiphoptours.com
AFTER THE TOUR Head to Queens - home to Run-DMC - and visit Hollis Famous Burgers, a combination eatery and hip-hop museum. While you're downing dollar-priced mini-burgers and chicken wings, peruse more than 100 pieces of memorabilia that line the walls. 203-01 Hollis Ave., Hollis, 718-740-6114.
SCOTT'S PIZZA BUS TOUR
WHAT New Yorkers are particular about pizza, and no one has a more well-formed opinion than Scott Wiener. Pizza is his life. On this tour, you'll board a school bus and visit four of the city's most renowned pizzerias for a classic slice. The destinations vary from trip to trip and may include Lombardi's, Patsy's and John's of Bleecker Street. Between bites, Scott tells of the history and many intricacies of this hallowed marriage of dough, tomato sauce and cheese.
WHEN|WHERE Sundays at 11 a.m. Meeting place provided after ticket purchase. Check Web site for details.
INFO $55 adult, $45 children (ages 4-12), scottspizzatours.com
AFTER THE TOUR Save some room for dessert! Established in 1894, Veniero's Pasticceria and Caffé is older than pizza in New York. Complement those savory slices with an espresso or cappuccino and some homemade biscotti and cannoli. 342 E. 11th St., 212-674-7070, venierospastry.com