New York City is New York City only because of the Hudson, an unusually deep river that runs 315 miles from the Adirondacks to the Statue of Liberty. The heart of it makes up the Hudson River Valley, for our purposes a narrow 80-mile long region of historic towns and big-time views that begins around Deacon, 65 miles north of New York City. The country’s first art and literature movement were born here, and it has offered the best breather from city exhaustion for New Yorkers ever since New York was a city.
With 80 miles of riverfront to explore, there’s a lot of ground (and water) to cover. Here are our picks for the best things to do, ordered south to north by each side of the river.
Dia Beacon is an unreal modern art collection housed in a 240,000-sq-foot former boxing plant for Nabisco. Its mammoth industrial rooms are particularly evocative for biggest installations like Bruce Nauman’s videos and Richard Serra’s giant rolled-steel plates you can walk through.
Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson
Scrappy Poughkeepsie is chiefly a valley hub, but near the train station and downtown, it’s worth saving a couple hours for the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. The non-profit Walkway Over the Hudson (www.walkway.org) transformed a 1.28-mile abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian park in 2009. It hosts several walks, and is a great spot for the July 4th fireworks show.
FDR’s (mom’s) house
Franklin D Roosevelt’s riverside home– a household run at the time by his mother – is a worthwhile national park stop in Hyde Park. The house, which was the setting of the events in the 2012 Bill Murray film Hyde Park on Hudson, can be toured with guides.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s house
For many visitors, the emerging star of a Hyde Park visit is FDR’s wife, Eleanor, who snuck away and created her own home, the cozier Val-Kill, a few miles inland, which can be toured on a separate ticket.
Hyde Park Drive-In Theater
Across the road from FDR’s mansion, this drive-in classic has been around since 1950, with summer showings that bring big crowds. The screen is 82 feet wide, and the sound is delivered via FM radio. Got to do it.
Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park
The Hudson River Valley is sort of the American Downton Abbey District, with all sorts of mogul and millionaire mansions from the 19th century you can visit. One of the more famous is the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, on a riverside bluff on the north end of Hyde Park.
Red Hook diner
The official name is the ‘Historic’ Village Diner but everyone just calls it the Red Hook diner, five miles north of Rhinebeck. And it’s a classic. Built in the 1920s, and run with love by a local family, the Red Hook fills fast any day of the week. Good for usual diner fare, best at breakfast.
Painter Frederic Church, one of the mid 19th-century landscape-as-art pioneers of the Hudson River School, picked a spot he called the center of the world to build the most unique home of the valley. Set atop a 500-foot hilltop in the 1870s, Olana is a Persian-styled home overlooking a wide stretch of the Hudson, backed to the west with the wall of Catskill mountains. You can’t help but want to paint.
A few miles north of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge from Olana, the town of Hudson has the best shopping of the valley – that is if you’re looking for Sotheby’s-quality (and -priced) antiques from past centuries. It’s more than just that. Central Warren Street is lined with all sorts of 19th-century townhouses you’ll want to buy, plus Brooklynesque cafes, good book shops and at least a half-dozen places to suit your lunch needs.
New Paltz’s Huguenot Street
A short walk from the Main Street buzz is the ‘oldest street in America,’ and apparently it’s true. Huguenot Street has six houses, open for visits, which date from the late 17th-century. The town was first settled by the historically French Protestant group in 1678 and the street reached its current state by 1792.
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