New York City sometimes feels like the center of the universe (especially to locals), but the Empire State actually has a lot more to offer beyond the 22 square miles that make up the island of Manhattan. From killer surfing and a robust wine region to historic small towns and slopes for winter skiing, you just have to know where to look. To make your trip planning easier, we’ve rounded up the 12 best things every traveler must do in New York, so the next time you book a flight to JFK, you’ll want to rent a car, too, and explore the whole state! Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments.
The Highline is a must see for any visitor to New York City. This old, elevated train track has been renovated into a beautiful city park that weaves through Manhattan’s West Side from 34th Street down to 14th Street. Above the chaos of Manhattan, you’ll be surrounded by flowers and park benches, giving you a sense of calm, even on a crazy New York day. Food vendors park their carts on the High Line so you can always grab a snack or pop into the High Line location of Terroir Wine Bar. End your stroll at The Whitney Museum for a glimpse at some of the best artists in America.
2) Take a Catskills fall foliage road trip
October in Upstate New York means Mother Nature is about to put on one heck of a show. One of the best regions in the country to experience the beautiful change of colors, the Catskils also make for one amazing road trip. Leave the city on the Palisades Parkway and you’ll get your first glimpses of color, plus there are pull-overs where you can see the stunning New York City skyline. Put Hudson, New York—which itself affords some beautiful views of the changing colors—in your GPS and head north. Right before you get there, you’ll find Stuyvesant Falls. A small community surrounds the falls, and just along the water you’ll find plenty of space to picnic. For another boost of autumn, go apple picking. A few great spots are Samascott Orchards, Masker Orchards and Apple Dave’s.
3) Ditch the Hamptons for North Fork
At the end of Long Island, the land splits into a fork. The lower fork turns into the Hamptons and Montauk, while the upper fork is appropriately called the North Fork. As with the Hamptons, there are great beaches and delicious restaurants. There are also fewer crowds, lower hotel rates and a plethora of wine-tasting opportunities. In recent years, locals have increasingly chosen the North Fork over the Hamptons for their sunny summer days outside, choosing to relax and spread out rather than battle hoards of people. You should too!
4) Savor farm-to-table cuisine in the Hudson Valley
The town of Hudson is on fire as far as the food game goes. Weekends are full of farmers’ markets so amazing that city-dwellers leave the concrete jungle and head there to gather goodies for the week ahead. The restaurant scene is surprisingly hot for a small town, too, with spots like Fish & Game putting Hudson on the map. The restaurant’s been a James Beard award semi-finalist several times, won a James Beard award in 2016 for best chef in the Northeast, and Wine Enthusiast listed it in its “America’s 100 best wine restaurants” four years in a row. If that doesn’t lure you in, take a look at the menu featuring dishes like whole roasted dusk for two, grilled Columbia County steelhead trout and lamb ribs.
5) Catch “Amateur Night at the Apollo” in Harlem
This is truly a singular experience—something you will only find on that night at that theater. The legendary Apollo theater has been around since 1914, when it first opened its doors for musical acts. In 1934, they added Amateur Night and it’s still around, every Wednesday. Any and all acts can be seen here, from stand up comedy to kids dance troupes. The audience decides who stays, cheering for the best acts and booing the less popular acts off stage… though no one boos the kids!
6) Take in extraordinary art at Storm King Art Center
Storm King, a 500-acre open air art exhibit Upstate, is a very popular stop for both tourists and locals alike. Located in the Hudson Valley and open since 1960, the center arguably has the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures, so it’s an ideal place to visit on a beautiful summer or fall day. The open hours are a bit funny so be sure to check the website before you go, especially in the winter.
7) Sip lots of vino in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes are a group of 11 long, skinny lakes Upstate, all running north to south, which look like fingers. The region is known for producing delicious wines, most notably excellent Rieslings. There are a handful of wineries surrounding each of the five main lakes: Canandaigua, Keuke, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles. You can also opt to do the wine trail and there are lots of tours if you’re prefer that kind of wine exploration. Of course, if you aren’t into wine, there is plenty to do away from the wineries: Hikes, scrumptious restaurants, boat rides and more await you in the Finger Lakes!
8) Get drenched at Niagara Falls
America’s oldest state park, Niagara Falls is open 365 days a year. In the warmer months, you’ll get to stand up close and personal, getting drenched by the mist coming off the falls. In the winter, you’ll stand in awe at the frozen water calls, covered in snow. It is truly something magical to see! In addition to the falls, there are also plenty of killer hiking trails and scenic overlooks so be sure to explore.
9) Ride the Staten Island Ferry for killer views of Lady Liberty
The iconic river crossing isn’t just for commuters. Take a ride on the big orange commuter boat for great views of Manhattan and a much easier way to see the Statue of Liberty. Rather than fighting crowds on tours to Liberty Island, you’ll be able to relax as the ferry casually passes by the stunning statue, giving you a front row view. Plus, unlike seemingly everything else in Manhattan, the ferry isn’t expensive. In fact, it’s free!
10) Go antiquing at Brooklyn Flea
When the weather is nice, there’s no better place to explore vintage finds, handmade jewelry, and collectibles than the Brooklyn Flea. It’s treasure hunting at its finest. Open since 2008, the weekend flea market has only grown in size, hosting dozens of vendors at any one of their three outdoor locations. Any weekend from April through November, you can hit their Fort Greene location on Saturday and their Williamsburg (main) location on Sunday, while the Park Slope location is open both days.
11) Ride a wave in Montauk
Who knew a top East Coast surf spot was located in New York!? Often called “the end of the world,” Montauk is at the very end of Long Island, past the Hamptons. The beaches there are beautiful and make for a killer spot to spend a summer weekend. The waves at Ditch Plains Beach are great for all skill levels so don’t feel the pressure to show off pro-level tricks. If you aren’t a surfer, we suggest grabbing a bottle of rosé, finding a spot in the sand, and watching the adventurous folk take on the waves.
12) Ski the Adirondacks
At just under 5,000 feet tall, Whiteface Mountain is the fifth tallest in the country. If it sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because Lake Placid has twice hosted the Winter Olympics and with the largest vertical drop in the East (3,430 feet!), Whiteface Mountain presents skiers with challenging slopes and long runs filled with twists and turns.
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