10/02/2013 AT 08:00 AM EDT
Twenty years ago, Meg Ryan ruled the box office as "America's Sweetheart" with her hit romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle.
Today, she is rarely in front of the camera and does her best not to be recognized, whether summering on Martha's Vineyard or tooling around her downtown Manhattan neighborhood
At 51, the onetime queen of romantic comedies has largely retreated from Hollywood, preferring instead to focus on her life with her 8-year-old daughter, Daisy
, and her boyfriend, rocker John Mellencamp
Living in New York "makes you different," her friend, writer Delia Ephron, tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story. "Los Angeles is just about movies. New York is about so much more than that, and so is Meg."
To see what Meg's life is like now, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday