Striking American landscapes, quirky antique stores, fabulous hikes and some of the best bakeries you’ll ever find. Welcome to New York State! From one end to the other, the Empire State is crammed with outdoor adventures, cool art, great food and friendly people.
Not sure where to start? Check out these ten top New York State locations and you won’t be disappointed.
1. Hudson, NY
Best for small-town charm
In Columbia County, about 45 minutes from the state capital of Albany, the quaint city of Hudson overflows with vintage storefronts and small-town charm. The strip along Warren Street is known for its fine collection of boutique shops housed in historic buildings, each with a unique twist. Start with Spotty Dog Books and Ales, a not-so-average bookstore with a full bar inside.
Peppered throughout the neighborhood are cute antique shops and a variety of cafes and coffee shops, including Supernatural Coffee + Bakery, home to the best lavender honey latte on the strip.
Outside town are some of the best hiking trails in the Hudson Valley, including the route through the High Falls Conservation Area, a moderate 1.5-mile hike through rocky terrain, with a stunning waterfall at the end.
For accommodations, The Maker is an 11-room luxury boutique hotel with themed rooms designed to reflect the area’s creative population of artists and writers, decorated with antique pieces and bits of history throughout each space. The cafe serves flakey sweet pastries such as twice-baked pistachio croissants from Bartlett House.
The Amelia Hotel, about two blocks from Warren Street, is another fantastic option, with a heated outdoor pool, huge soaking tubs, a beautiful lounge and complimentary beverages and baked goods.
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2. Beacon, NY
Best for fine art and fine dining
A stop at the Dia: Beacon gallery is a must when day-tripping to Beacon, NY. This light-filled, 300,000 sq ft space in a converted factory hosts large-scale conceptual art by Gerard Richter, Louise Bourgeois and Richard Serra. Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden, is a short drive away, bringing together fine art and fresh air.
When you’ve had your fill of creativity, there are plenty of ways to fill your stomach. The most charming place to eat is Roundhouse, a farm-to-table restaurant overlooking a waterfall. Inventive dishes such as Spicy Lobster Mac n’ Cheese pair nicely with a signature cocktail or a glass of wine. After your meal, stroll up the street to the trendy HÅKAN Chocolatier for artisanal chocolate that is well worth the trip. For lunch, dinner or drinks, head to Max’s on Main for pub food and local beer.
Planning tip: Located about 70 miles north of New York City, Beacon is easily reached by car (a 90-minute drive) or it’s a two-hour ride on the Metro-North Railroad. Dia: Beacon and Main Street are just a 10-minute walk from the train station, making this an easy car-free trip.
3. Woodstock, NY
Best for indie boutiques and the outdoors
Although the legendary 1969 music festival actually took place on a dairy farm near the village of Bethel, tie-dye still abounds in Woodstock, a town filled with independent art and the bounteous nature of Catskill Park. It’s the perfect destination to get back to the great outdoors – take a hike up Overlook Mountain and enjoy expansive vistas of red spruces, balsam fir trees and red oaks.
A ban on chain stores keeps this town feeling free-spirited. Tinker Street, Woodstock’s main drag, entices travelers with unique gift stores and cafes. You’ll find a plethora of restaurant choices in town, too, but for an extra special breakfast, you’ll want to take a 20-minute drive to the Phoenicia Diner, an elevated restaurant known for its unbelievable pancakes. It even has its own cookbook and take-home pancake mix should you miss these treats when you return to NYC.
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Best for “gorges” hiking and a college vibe
When it comes to describing this Finger Lakes gem, the slightly corny (but accurate) slogan “Ithaca is gorges” couldn’t be more on point. You’ll find a wide variety of hiking trails here, from easy to challenging, and countless waterfalls at sites such as Taughannock Falls State Park, Ithaca Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park, where there’s a swimming hole next to the waterfall in the summer months.
Treetops – a six-story treehouse behind the Cayuga Nature Center – is an eye-catching sight and travelers of all ages can play inside and explore. There’s also a farmer’s market full of international foodie treats in addition to lots of fresh local produce.
Grab a bite to eat at College Town Bagels, and head to Cornell University’s campus to visit the AD White Library – a stunning space with more than 90,000 books, ceiling-high bookshelves and intricately designed metal walkaways.
If you’re looking for a cozy, modern, centrally located hotel, Hotel Ithaca is affordable and within walking distance of some great things to do. For something a little more rustic, check out Firelight Camps; it’s right near Buttermilk Falls, with comfortable full-size beds (and in some cases electricity and heat) in safari-style tents in the woods.
Planning tip: Buses from Greyhound and other companies connect Ithaca to NYC in around five hours. It’s easier and faster to fly into Ithaca Tompkins International Airport, or you can drive in just over four hours.
5. The Hamptons
Best for beaches and great eats
If you’re into food, then the Hamptons needs to be on your list. Thanks to countless farm stands, gourmet markets and seafood shops with fresh, high-quality goods, you’ll always be well-fed in this affluent section of Long Island.
Each area of the Hamptons has something unique to offer, from Montauk with its long beach, state park and lighthouse to Bridgehampton with its famous shops – seek out Bridgehampton Candy Kitchen, renowned for its ripe-banana ice cream – and incredible restaurants, such as Elaia Estiatorio, known for its fresh fish and homemade spreads.
Montauk is low-key and easygoing, at the tip of the Hamptons, so you can see all of the south fork while traveling here. In town, make sure to visit Duryea’s restaurant in the summer, and try your best to time it for sunset – the views are incredible, and staff provide fresh, clean blankets for snuggling up as the night progresses and cools down. If you’re hungry, try their incredible lobster Cobb salad, loaded with lobster meat.
Planning tip: To stay, check out the Montauk Beach House. The rooms are beautifully decorated with giant mirrors, soaking tubs and comfy beds, while the common area has a bar and two huge pools, all within walking distance of the beach.
6. Lake Placid
Best for winter fun
Lake Placid, located in the lovely Adirondacks, is an absolute blast, especially in the winter. This was the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics, and the village still holds onto those ties in some really unique ways – for example, you can ride in a bobsled, spouting out lines from the movie Cool Runnings as you race down the icy track at top speeds. There’s also a mountain coaster that goes along a former bobsled trail, currently the longest of its kind in North America.
Visitors can ride the Cloudsplitter Gondola to the top of an active ski jump in the Whiteface ski area and watch future Olympian hopefuls practicing at terrifying heights. Check out the tobogganing shoot before heading over to Mirror Lake for ice skating.
Right across the street is the Dancing Bear, a lovely breakfast spot located inside the High Peaks Resort. Mirror Lake Inn has amazing rooms and a gorgeous indoor pool with a grotto and a hot tub big enough to fit multiple groups of people, so you can enjoy it without being on top of each other. The big new arrival in town is the Grand Adirondack Hotel, a stylish revamp of a historic Main Street hotel.
Planning tip: A few flights run from Boston and New York’s JFK airport to Adirondack Regional Airport, 17 miles northwest of Lake Placid, but most visitors drive (NYC is five hours away). Alternatively, take the Amtrak train to Westport, connecting to a bus to Lake Placid.
Best for sports fans and spicy wings
Now there might be a little bias here: Buffalo is my hometown, and to say I love it is an understatement. Located in the western part of the state, the “city of good neighbors” went through a serious glow-up phase over the last 10 years, and it’s filled with historic architecture, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House and the art deco Buffalo Central Terminal.
Go zip-lining over the city at Buffalo Riverworks, or enjoy margaritas at Casa Azul or Breezy Burrito Bar in Elmwood Village, which is filled with local boutique shops and hosts one of the best farmers markets in the area – the Elmwood Village Farmers’ Market, held on Saturdays on Bidwell Parkway. Formerly a rundown waterfront, the Canalside district has ice bikes to rent in the winter and a bike ferry that goes to the outer harbor, where you can see the Buffalo Main Lighthouse.
If you’re here in the fall, definitely try to grab tickets to a Buffalo Bills NFL game. The tailgate party is an experience like no other, and the Bills’ fanbase is known for taking tailgating a little too far…in the best way. It’s unclear who started the whole tradition of breaking tables, but it’s become so popular that they even do a baby-friendly version. During a wildcard Bills game in Houston, folding tables were completely sold out at Walmart stores in town!
The food in Buffalo is unbelievable. Try Toutant for gourmet southern cuisine, Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange for fresh seafood, East Aurora’s Bar-Bill and Amherst’s Wingnutz for wings, and Jay’s Artisan Pizzeria and La Nova for pizzas. For hotels, be sure to check out the Curtiss Hotel, which has an incredible pool and rooftop bar.
Detour: While you’re in Buffalo, it makes sense to tack on a detour to Niagara Falls. The famous cascade is less than an hour’s drive north from downtown Buffalo.
Best for laid-back lake views
The fourth-largest of the Finger Lakes, Canandaigua is picturesque and peaceful. The lakefront city of Canandaigua is filled with charm and entertainment, with a main strip full of pastel Queen Anne homes, stone churches and storefronts showcasing weathered vintage signage.
I highly recommend staying at Lake House Canandaigua – it’s the perfect way to enjoy beautiful views of the lake, within walking distance of the colorful boathouses at the Canandaigua City Pier. In summer, check out Roseland Wake Park to learn a new water sport…minus the boat.
For food, Rio Tomatlan has the most delicious tacos and guacamole, as well as amazing cocktails like the Cachonda, made with tequila, triple sec, house-made hibiscus syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice – ask for it spicy!
Be sure to stop by Cheshire Farms Creamery to grab a box of cinnamon buns to go (pop them in the trunk of your car so you don’t eat them all on the way home). The creamery is also known for its ice cream, featuring natural flavors such as fresh Concord grape, made from grapes harvested here in the fall.
9. Sleepy Hollow
Best for a spooky vibe
Sleepy Hollow, about an hour from New York City, is the perfect place to visit in the fall. The town has a spooky tie to Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and fully embraces the lore of this creepy tale – so much so that the town changed its name from North Tarrytown in the late 1990s.
Explore the Old Dutch Church, visit the Headless Horseman Bridge and grab a photo with the Headless Horseman statue before delving into more of what the area has to offer, such as the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse, once a half-mile offshore but accessible today via a footbridge.
I highly recommend staying at the Tarrytown House Estate, ideally in the King’s Mansion. Its rooms are amazing, covered in art, with a terrace leading out to views of the Hudson (and the lights of New York City on a clear night). Grab dinner at the hotel’s Cantonese and pan-Asian restaurant, Goosefeather, owned by celebrity chef Dale Talde.
Planning tip: Tarrytown Station has regular train connections with NYC via the Hudson Line of the Metro-North Railroad, a journey of less than an hour.
10. Lake George
Best for fall colors
Located in the vast Adirondacks region, Lake George is such a special place, especially in the fall, when the region overflows with brightly colored red, orange and yellow foliage. Enjoy the kitschy souvenir shops that dot the main strip through downtown, or grab a scoop (or two) at the aptly named Scoop’s Ice Cream Parlor.
You can’t go wrong at any of the town’s restaurants. Cate’s Italian Garden has classics such as fried calamari and lasagna, the Algonquin Restaurant (just north at Bolton Landing) has a killer lobster roll, and the Log Jam has generous portions of pub-style comfort food, steak and lamb chops.
The Sagamore Hotel is the place to stay, no competition. The hotel is just stunning, with gorgeous views, especially if you splurge for a suite with a terrace. You can spend all night on that balcony, overlooking views of Lake George that seriously feel like Hawaii, not New York. Amenities aren’t bad either, including two outdoor pools, an indoor pool, a hot tub and easy access to Lake George, where you can float on inner tubes or go for a swim.
Detour: Drive a little off the beaten path to find Adirondack ATV Tours, close to the town of Whitehall, where you can head out with a group on an ATV tour, and go racing through mud, dirt and hills and over jumps – after a safety briefing, of course.