Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day Trip: Hudson River Loop

For the amount of time I've lived in NYC, I know surprisingly little about the surrounding region. Avid explorers should know all the best spots, locally and regionally. So, we took advantage of the long weekend by embarking on a day trip up Bergen County, through Harriman State Park, down the Hudson River, past Westchester and over a the island borough. Although it was more time in the car than outside, it was a great formula for the perfect winter day trip. Taking on the challenge of taking in sights that are best in the light of day we kicked our trip off early and didn't make it back home till 11 pm. Here's some of the places we explored:

Sugarloaf, NY (1.2 hours from Harlem) - In our research for a small town, high on charm with a thriving arts community, we came across Sugarloaf. The drive from NYC takes you through beautiful Harriman State Park, which is a bit barren this time of year but still offers great natural views. The town itself is a sweet little mountain village full of craftsmen and women. We started our stroll at the intersection of Pine Hill Rd. and King's Hwy and took in some of the shops, including: Luft Gardens, which was our personal favorite and sold vintage and homemade items such as delicious jams, antique movie marquee letters, and old design books; Mountain Herbs; My Sister's Closet which had some warm, wonderful soft hand-knitted clothing; The Candle Shop where we discovered the owner ran track in high school; and The Barnsider Restaurant with awesome spiked apple cider.

West Point, NY (40 minutes east from Sugarloaf) - In my mind West Point has pristine, manicured lawns, stunning, historic buildings overlooking the Hudson River, soldiers training for physical challenges and lovely little plaques placed strategically around the grounds explaining the significance of the sights.  And why not?  All the photos I've seen of the military academy appear to be taken in some sort of magical place with castles looming in the backround and organized chaos in the manner of a football game or training exercise taking place in the foreground.  But alas, we were not allowed to take a self guided tour and could only view the regulated sights including the museum and visitor's center.  A bit of a disappointment but it was en route to our next stop, so we only lost a few minutes of sunlight.

Finding our next stop at Stone Barns

Stone Barns Farm Center for Food and Agriculture (35 minutes from West Point, NY along a scenic curvy road above the Hudson River) - Stone Barns Farm is a non-profit farm and education center which operates an 80-acres of lush, beautiful land. It's open year-round and functions as a working farm, promoting the creation of a healthy and sustainable food system.

Holding our noses in front of the Sheep
Livestock Shelter

The Farm is laid out with both farmers and explorers in mind.  They offer guided tours or suggested self guided "walkabouts," complete with a map and information about how each of the barns, houses, gardens and pastures tie into the overall goal of the sustainable farm.  Their primary education mission, to build connections between the food we eat and farm land, certainly was not lost on me. 
From gorgeously manicured rows of veggies in the Greenhouse, to the open chicken coops the life and vibrancy of the farm took the city out of the girl.  I loved the livestock shelters, full of sheep, turkeys and pigs and wish we had more time to check out the larger pastures and wetlands.   

We only spared a few minutes to sip some coffee at their Blue Hill Cafe and take in the sunset from Chicken Hill before heading off.   

*If the farm sounds too cold or full of animals for your taste, there's also the Rockafeller State Park close by that you can explore by car or foot.  Its said to be some of the best hiking trails in the Hudson Valley and still holds a place on our must see list for our next trip

Mt. Kisco, NY (20 minutes from Stone Barns Farm) - Once our feet thawed and the sun set, we decided to check out another small town on our way home.  After reading about Mt. Kisco's quaint Main Street and relaxed wine bars, we figured it was the perfect place to start our evening.  This north Westchester town is an interesting mix of modern, cookie cutter shops and classic Victorian homes.  I'd read that most of the housing was build during the turn of the century, and included colonials and Tudors as well.  But, the downtown area primarily featured a modern mix of glassy storefronts and A-line rooftops.  There's a sweet charm to the modern village and we decided to settle in for a drink.

Jerome did some reading and found  a popular wine bar, Pour Cafe, which occupies the bottom floor of a two story Victorian downtown.  The interiors were spacious yet cozy and included a lot of dark wood deep red velvet.  It felt like being in a good friends very refined living room.  The huge glasses of wine and well priced munches kept us happy for a while but the heat never quite kicked in and we got tired of shivering at a bar.  So, we decided to make one more stop before landing home.

Denino's Pizzeria Tavern, Staten Island, NY (1.5 hours with several wrong turns, from Mt. Kisco) - Since we don't own a car and usually head out of town when we decide to rent one, we rarely go off the beaten path in NYC.  Off the beaten path means over a 40 minute walk from a subway station.  If there's a bus, I'll take it, if there's a goal at the end of my journey, I'll work for it.  But, I don't usually go out just to wander (which I used to do my first couple of years sad).  So, the borough we've explored the least is Staten Island due to it's lack of transportation. 

I've read about Denino's world famous pizzeria on SI, but never thought I'd get the chance to go there....till now.  We had a little bit of trouble finding the place, or more accurately, finding the bridge that would take us to the island but it was all worth it.  $10 pitchers of beer and thin crust pizza with the perfect sauce and fresh cheese was a great way to end the night.  

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