Five Day Trips from New
by Lynne R. Christen
No matter how many times I visit the New York City metro area, I am amazed at the sheer number of must-see and must-do adventures around every corner. But sometimes I want a break from all that hustle and bustle. Here are five of my favorite day trips, each within a few hours of the city.
Saluting West Point
Travel time from Manhattan: 90 mins.
A day trip to West Point is a highlight for history and military enthusiasts. Established in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson, it is the oldest military academy in the United States. A visit to the academy is a walk in the paths of such American heroes as Generals Grant, Lee, Pershing, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf, as well as equally iconic leaders of politics, law, medicine, education and business. Today, 4,000 cadets representing every state in the U.S. and several foreign countries attend West Point to earn their place in the revered "Long Gray Line."
Located about 50 miles north of New York City, the campus and central post are situated on 16,000 scenic acres on the west bank of the Hudson River. The views alone are worth the journey.
An early start will put you ahead of the tour buses. Make your first stop the visitors center, where you can see a video about cadet life and arrange for a tour of the academy grounds (heightened security since 9/11 precludes wandering around on your own). The one-hour tour visits the main Cadet Chapel, Trophy Point, Battle Monument and the Plain. Time it right and you can catch a parade or review in progress; schedules for parades, reviews and concerts can be found on the United States Military Academy Web site. Avoid visiting on football Saturdays and around graduation when the crowds are horrendous; there are no tours offered on football days, nor on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year's Day.
Toasting the Long Island Wine Country
Travel time: 2 hours
I love a day trip centered on wine. (Please think of me as an oenophile rather than a wino!) Seventy miles from Manhattan, Long Island Wine Country has 35 wineries open to the public; altogether, there are more than 60 wineries and vineyards spread across 4,000 acres. A moderate marine climate and almost ideal soil conditions contribute to the region's 20 award-winning varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, chenin blanc, sangiovese, syrah and merlot.
So many wines, so little time.
It pays to designate a driver and plan your stops in advance. Visit the Long Island Wine Council for a map of the wineries and information about tours and tastings. A natural first stop is Loughlin Vineyards, in Sayville, where vintner and proprietor Barney Loughlin shares his wealth of knowledge about the historic grounds during tastings. From there, head out to the North Fork of the island, touring and tasting as time and tolerance permit. To "switch forks," hop the ferry that links Greenport, Shelter Island and Sag Harbor, or drive State Route 114 over to the South Fork and resume sniffing, swirling, sipping and savoring. Some of my favorite wineries are Palmer Vineyards, Macari Vineyards, Lenz Winery, Pindar Vineyards and Duck Walk Vineyards; all five are open year-round.
Not into wine? Not to worry, there are plenty of other choices on Long Island for art lovers, beachgoers, golfers, history nuts and nature lovers. But beware: A visit to Long Island may be habit-forming.
Heading South along the Jersey Shore
Travel time: 2.5 hours
Not to be confused with Long Island, N.Y., Long Beach Island is an island off the coast of New Jersey, about 65 miles south of New York City. Don't expect the glitz and glamour of the New York Hamptons; this is a low-key, lazy-day kind of destination. The 18-mile-long barrier island is accessible by only one causeway, so avoid busy summer weekends when traffic jams up with city-dwellers making their escape to the shore. On the island, go north to the Barnegat Lighthouse, known as "Old Barney." It is one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S., and the view from the top is worth the climb up 217 steps. After the climb, grab a picnic lunch from a local seafood dive and then relax under a beach umbrella, lulled by the sound of the surf and the laughing gulls.
If a lazy beach day is not your style, bypass Long Beach Island and continue south for a little over two hours to give Lady Luck a whirl at the casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. Save time for some funky fun with a one-of-a-kind visit to Lucy the Elephant in nearby Margate . Standing six stories high, Lucy was built by a real estate speculator in 1881 to attract buyers to the area. Over the years Lucy became a star. Presidents and royalty came to climb the stairs to her howdah and visit her museum. Now a National Historic Landmark, Lucy boasts being the oldest example of zoomorphic architecture in the United States and the largest "elephant" in the world.
Calling all Foodies
Travel time: 45 mins.
At Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., it is difficult to believe that New York City is less than one hour away. For avid foodies and ecology-conscious families, Stone Barns is nirvana in a pastoral setting.
Stone Barns is a $30 million nonprofit agricultural center that demonstrates the benefits of sustainable agriculture with four-season farming and a pastured livestock program. An extensive education center offers a rich mix of cooking classes and tastings. How-to workshops include favorites like cheese-making, cultivating and cooking with fresh herbs. Family programs get parents and kids up-close-and-personal to farm life with interactive farmer-in-training activities like planting, harvesting, feeding the livestock and gathering eggs. Not to miss: dining at the center's Blue Hill Restaurant, sister to the original award-winning Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village. Plan ahead; due to the popularity of Blue Hill, reservations are a must.
If you are ready for a break from driving, you can reach Stone Barns by train. Take the Metro North commuter train from Grand Central Station to Tarrytown on the Hudson Line. Trains run frequently and the scenic ride is only 35 minutes. For convenience and significant discounts, buy tickets online in advance. On arrival, grab a taxi to Stone Barns or rent a snazzy Zipcar by the hour at the Tarrytown station.
Experience the Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Travel time: 45 mins.
Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are rural villages on the east bank of the Hudson River in the high hills northwest of New York City. According "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a chilling ghost story by Washington Irving, a man was decapitated there during the American Revolutionary War. Rising from his grave, he rides the valley nightly in search of his lost head. One night, the story goes, schoolmaster Ichabod Crane was accosted by the jealous Headless Horseman while returning home from a party. Crane's horse was found wandering the next day, but Crane was never seen again.
For an entertaining tutorial, watch the DVD Hallmark Entertainment classic "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" before you visit. Once you get there, you can visit Irving's resting place in Sleepy Hollow, his home in Tarrytown, and the churchyard he made famous (Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, William Rockefeller and Elizabeth Arden are also buried there). Follow Crane's route from the center of Tarrytown north into Sleepy Hollow; listen to a spooky reading of the legend at the Old Dutch Church; tour the Burying Ground where Crane sought sanctuary from the Headless Horseman. If you dare, stay after dark for a haunted hayride. Or if you've had enough spooky stuff, tour nearby Philipsburg Manor, a 1750s-style farming, milling and trading center, and Kykuit, the home of four generations of Rockefellers.
Note: This day trip could be combined with a short visit to Stone Barns; however the number of enjoyable activities in the area, the time required for workshops at Stone Barns, and the easy proximity to New York City make two separate day trips the better choice.
Saying Goodbye to the City
When it's time to leave the city, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge makes a fitting goodbye. Don comfortable walking shoes, grab a camera and stroll across history with wonderful panoramic views of Manhattan as your backdrop. The pedestrian walkway is above the vehicle traffic lanes. You can easily walk the entire span and back in about an hour, but slow down and savor the views. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are on your right headed toward Brooklyn. Plaques document their history, identify the buildings as you look toward Manhattan, and trace the history of the bridge. Take your walk at sunset and watch the sun paint a masterpiece as it drops below the horizon, then linger a bit as the city lights up by night.
One trip to New York City whets the appetite for more. I predict you will return to discover new day trips and fresh surprises time and time again.