Coming up with a condensed list of New York highlights for each month of the year is a little bit like trying to see the city in a day – you know that you're most definitely missing something. But here's my best (highly subjective) attempt to compile the most interesting annual events in the city that never sleeps.
JanuaryNew Yorkers stay warm indoors at the theater, concerts or museums – or head to the Caribbean. But those still in town take advantage of New York Restaurant Week to dine at some of the city's best (and priciest) restaurants for a discounted prix-fixe dinner or lunch – just make sure you reserve your top choices far in advance.
FebruaryWhen the best options are between fashion, dogs or lions, you know it's the dead of winter in New York.
• Though you have to be invited to see the actual fashion shows at New York Fashion Week, it's still fun to hang around Bryant Park and watch the fashionistas arrive and depart.
• You can also ogle the pampered show canines at the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
• Or watch the dancing lions and other colorful floats in the Chinese New Year Parade, held in the largest Chinatown in the country (free).
MarchThough the air's still nippy, New Yorkers take to the street to celebrate.
• Head to a pub to toast the Irish after catching the bands and bagpipe players marching up Fifth Avenue in the St. Patrick's Day Parade (free).
• Don your best Easter bonnet for the often outrageous Annual Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival (free).
April The Tribeca Film Festival, started in 2002 by Robert De Niro, features screenings of films from around the world, including many premieres. Best of all, the directors or stars are usually there for Q&As following the showings.
May As the warm weather (hopefully) starts in spring, so do the street fairs. Nearly every weekend from May through September brings festivals all over the city, with their offerings of freshly grilled corn on the cob, handmade jewelry and very cheap socks (for whatever reason, a summer fair staple). One that breaks the standard street fair mold is the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival in May, which sells grub from local restaurants in addition to the ubiquitous elephant ears.
Also this month
• Join 30,000 others biking around the city's five boroughs (from Lower Manhattan through the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island) in the New York City Five Boro Bike Tour.
• See and smell one of the largest cherry blossom displays outside of Japan at the Sakura Matsuri festival held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which also features more than 60 colorful Japanese-themed events and performances.
June Though a New York summer can be brutally hot and many locals head out of town on the weekends, summer in the city can be a great time to experience a little culture – at no cost.
•Central Park SummerStage has a mixture of free and definitely-not-free concerts, films and readings amidst the splendor of New York's largest green space; Celebrate Brooklyn! features a more low-key lineup with fewer crowds across the East River at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Both run from June through September.
• The River to River Festival brings music and dance events downtown to the South Street Seaport, Battery Park and the World Financial Center from June through September (free).
•Shakespeare in the Park (June through September) always puts on a reliably entertaining – and sometimes star-studded (Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline) – outdoor show, though the first-come first-served tickets (two per person) can be brutally hard to come by (free).
• Bring a blanket to the Bryant Park Film Festival on a Monday between June and August to catch classic movies under the stars (free).
• Enjoy a class of wine while listening to your favorite operas during the Metropolitan Opera in the Parks in June (free).
• If you're hip to jazz, the JVC Jazz Festival presents nearly 200 concerts in June with such stars as Eartha Kitt and Branson Marsalis.
• Finally, Summer Restaurant Week offers prix-fixe discounts to entice you away from all the outdoor fun.
July This month is all about music, movies…and Macy's.
• If you're not lucky enough to be invited to a rooftop party, you'll have to grab a seat early in the day for a good view of Macy's 4th of July Fireworks.
• New York Philharmonic in the Parks sets up their instruments at a different green space throughout the tri-state area every evening for a week (free).
• If classical's not your scene, head to Coney Island for the indie Siren Music Festival (free) or catch local bands and DJs at the Sunday Pool Parties at McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (free).
• In a city where few people have cars, an alternative to the drive-in movie is a "sit-in" – RiverFlicks shows movies at Hudson Piers (one pier geared toward kids and one to adults), while the Brooklyn Bridge Park Summer Film Series screens classic films under the shadow of the famous bridge during July and August (free).
AugustThe time when everyone who actually lives in NYC seems to have split for the beach.
• If you're one of the few stuck in town, the sticky, sultry weather makes it more appealing to try some indoor events, like the New York International Fringe Festival, 10 days of more than 200 performances at small theaters around the city. (Though beware: Not all are air-conditioned.)
• Evening weather is a little more pleasant – the perfect time to catch a dance or world music performance at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (free).
September The locals return from their beach houses and the city's cultural institutions welcome them with open arms.
• Broadway shows go into previews, the Metropolitan Opera begins its fall season and New York Fashion Week shows off next spring's hottest clothes.
• For affordable arts fare, the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center features a varied roster of well-known dance companies as Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham and NYC Ballet mixed in with more obscure performers. Tickets for all performances are a mere $10.
• The New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center opens with film premieres and chats with directors like Wes Anderson and Sidney Lumet.
• The Feast of San Gennaro is either heaven-sent or straight from hell, depending upon your point of view. For 10 days, thousands of people descend upon Little Italy to gorge themselves on zeppolis and fried Oreos while playing carnival games and ogling the last-days-of-summer outfits worn by the boisterous crowd (free, though you won't get away without spending something).
October The city celebrates creativity in many guises this month.
• The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival brings together hundreds of bands for five days at venues all over the city.
• Join in or watch the Village Halloween Parade, where more than 50,000 costumed revelers stroll, dance or play music while traipsing through the streets of downtown Manhattan (free).
• Peek into city sites usually closed to visitors through guided architectural tours at the weekend-long Open House New York (free).
NovemberThe department store windows are decked out, holiday lights shimmer on the buildings and New York really lives large this month.
• The world's largest running event, the ING New York City Marathon, sees more than 35,000 runners traversing all five New York City boroughs as millions of supporters cheer them on (and then toast their stamina at the local bars).
• The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade covers 2 ½ miles and attracts 2.5 million spectators (with 44 million watching around the world) (free).
• NYC's largest Christmas tree lights up Manhattan following the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony (free).
DecemberJust as temperatures typically plunge, New Yorkers take comfort in time-honored traditions.
• And those with a taste for adventure brave the crowds to celebrate the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve (though, truth be told, very few locals are among the spectators!) (free).
Liz Humphreys is the author of USATODAY.com's New York City Guide.