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What you'll pay: $750,000
What you'll get: A 1,200-square-foot three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom prewar co-op near the A train
Distance to midtown: 25 minutes on the A, 35 minutes on the 1
The hit musical In the Heights may have raised the namesake neighborhood's profile, but savvy families already knew of its appeal. "When we found our apartment—two decent-size bedrooms in a quiet area near the subway—we hit the trifecta," says Kristen Bonardi Rapp, who moved to Washington Heights with her husband and their daughter, Trixie, now 10, in 2006. A diverse enclave abounding in green spaces and Latin flair, Washington Heights is fast becoming the Upper Upper West Side. "I'm a resident," says Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Perry Payne, "and I must have moved 200 other families here as well."
The neighborhood runs from 155th Street to Dyckman Street, or "approximately Columbia-Presbyterian to the Cloisters," Payne says. "It used to be a no-go for the doctors at the hospital. Now they're sticking around." Five-room prewar apartments with high ceilings and a dining room hover around $750,000, while a classic six on Riverside Drive with river and city views and a renovated kitchen will cost slightly close to a million dollars.
The surge in families moving to the area has exacerbated overcrowding in the schools, though P.S. 187 remains a standout for its strong academics, parental involvement and the fact that teachers stay at the school for years. And the dense population does have its benefits: "I know I can take Trixie down to the playground or over to one of the parks and she'll find someone to strike up a friendship with," Rapp says.
Finding entertainment locally is key, as the commute can be a drag. "To get from where we live to the Met takes roughly an hour," Rapp says. "You're just way the heck uptown." Though retail options are a bit limited, the dining scene continues to improve. 181 Cabrini (854 W 181st St at Cabrini Blvd) is a favorite for bistro fare and brunches, and Italian eatery Saggio (829 W 181st St at Cabrini Blvd) packs in locals. Reflecting the area's ethnic diversity, Coogan's restaurant (4015 Broadway at 169th St) hosts an annual "Salsa, Blues & Shamrocks" 5K race.
Expansive Fort Tryon Park, of course, is hardly a neighborhood secret. Home to the cozily upscale New Leaf Caf and the Cloisters, it sits at the northern end of Washington Heights. To the south lies the smaller James Gordon Bennett Park, situated at the highest point in Manhattan. "In the summer, you can often find us there, because it's shady and cool," Rapp says. The park has plenty of swing sets and a jungle gym, and hosts a fall harvest festival and a Halloween parade.
A crop of new-to-the-area services cater to growing families. At Wiggles and Giggles Playhouse (875 W 181st St at Riverside Dr), tykes can take classes in cooking and art or run around the soft play area. Some stressed parents work off steam at mother-and-baby classes at Hudson Pilates (836 W 181st St at Pinehurst Ave) or relax with a 30-minute facial at the Sava Spa (211 Pinehurst Ave at 186th St). But the area's best amenity might be the warm, friendly atmosphere. "In the summer, families sit in lawn chairs on the sidewalk with a radio, and the old men hang out around a card table and play dominoes," Rapp says. "It feels like a real neighborhood."
Bottom line: The Upper West Side apartment of your dreams exists—just farther north than you thought.