For many years, my exposure to the state of New York was limited to the view from inside an air-conditioned car heading north from Ohio to my summer camp in Maine. My family’s annual drive through the Empire State became somewhat of a joke over time, as my brother and I held contests to see who could sleep the longest through the seemingly never-ending pattern of rolling hills, rocky Adirondacks, rest stops, and tiny towns. To our teenaged eyes, New York State was beautiful but boring.
I’m a little older now, and the appeal of the New York that lies beyond the Big Apple has become more obvious. It’s one of our country’s most populous states, and it offers a similarly expansive variety of sights and experiences for locals and tourists alike. I spoke with Sascha Zuger — who, as the author of the Moon New York State Handbook, has seen the state from top to bottom — to find out her favorite spots. She shares her recommended locations after the jump.
I think the charm of browsing through the mom-and-pop shops and cafés of the Hudson Valley and Catskill villages is tough to top. In Rhinebeck (of recent Chelsea Clinton nuptials), stroll through the farmers’ market, filled with organic meats and greens, wildflowers, hand-crafted raw milk cheeses, gourmet chutneys (created in an 1850s farmhouse) and artisan breads. Visit the village green of the iconic artist colony of Woodstock on a Sunday evening to join a drum circle alongside a resident hippie or stray belly dancer.
There is little that can beat taking in the view of the lovely Finger Lakes region from the sipping stool of a vineyard’s tasting table — unless you count taking in that same view from an 800-lb. sailplane as it soars overhead. The Harris Hill Soaring Center in Elmira offers public glider rides every weekend through October 31, and its junior program gives local kids the chance to earn a pilot’s license early by helping out around the club. Another area highlight: Pulling molten glass into petals in the art studio at the Corning Museum of Glass.
My preconceived prejudice against the Hamptons — likely earned from various news stories and reality shows spotlighting privilege gone bad — was totally altered when I visited the Hampton Ocean Resort. A family-owned beachfront gem, the resort won me over with cushy towels, personalized service, and sweet, friendly staff members (as well as the Dove chocolate bars they brought right to my beach chair). Tip: Online rates can be found at discounts up to 65%.
Niagara’s obvious draw is its natural beauty, though most would find re-enacting Jim and Pam’s famous Maid of the Mist cruise (from a recent episode of The Office) somewhat lacking (or worse, downright cheesy). Fortunately, three of the Niagara region’s state parks have given a nod to city folk with ConTENTment Camping. The service offers Hemingway-inspired safari-style tents preset with all the essentials, including cots. An a la carte rental menu adds coffeemakers, coolers and bikes to the mix, so you can enjoy a more comfortable camping experience away from the throngs of tourists.