Road trip beyond the Big Apple to discover New York State's hidden gems – The Guardian

The bright lights and bustle of the big smoke are only the beginning of a New York adventure, with cultural hidden gems, wine country and farm-to-plate restaurants to be found just beyond the city limits.
Standing beneath the bright lights of Times Square, that always-buzzing heart of New York City, it’s hard to believe you’re only 40 minutes by car from a Michelin-starred farm restaurant, where you can dine on fresh, superbly prepared produce grown in the surrounding fields. Or, if you leave Manhattan by car in the morning, by lunchtime you can be in the Catskills, where you can hike to spectacular waterfalls, stroll historic small towns, and, in the winter months, hit the ski slopes. Perhaps even more unexpected: drive just five hours north of NYC and you can be in the Finger Lakes, one of the United States’ best wine regions, where more than 200 wineries, breweries and distilleries are dotted around pristine blue lakes.
New York State boasts a surprisingly diverse array of experiences and because the region is so drivable, exploring beyond the Big Apple couldn’t be easier hire a vehicle in downtown NYC, hit the highway, and off you go. From the southern tip of Manhattan, to the north and south forks of Long Island, with its wineries and glamorous seaside towns, all the way up to Niagara Falls in the State’s north, there’s so much to see. Whether you have a day or a week to spare, we’ve rounded up some of the must-see spots.
New York is home to some of the world’s best restaurants, but they’re not all in Manhattan or Brooklyn. For an unforgettable foodie experience outside of the city, hire a car and drive an hour north to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The restaurant, which has two Michelin stars, is tucked away on a verdant property in the peaceful hamlet of Pocantico Hills, where chef Dan Barber serves up an elegant tasting menu featuring produce grown on the property, all with a focus on sustainability.
While Barber has a Blue Hill restaurant in NYC, his Hudson Valley outpost is a must-visit.
If time or budget doesn’t allow for the fine-dining experience, not to worry – visit the Blue Hill Cafeteria, a much more casual alternative offering wholesome small plates for lunch from Thursday to Sunday, or pizzas in the evenings from Friday to Sunday. In addition to a sumptuous, unforgettable meal, guests can also book a guided tour of the farm and on-site research centre.
On weekends, culture-loving New Yorkers who need a break from the city head to Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor museum just over an hour north of NYC, where large-scale sculptures and installations dot the landscape, offering plenty of Instagrammable moments. Twenty minutes further north from Storm King Art Center is Beacon, a small town with a big arts scene. One of its main drawcards is Dia Beacon, a world-class contemporary art museum housed in a former box factory on the banks of the Hudson River, where large windows fill the space with natural light. After visiting Dia Beacon, be sure to leave plenty of time to wander Beacon’s charming streets, which are packed with cosy coffee shops, restaurants and bars (a sweet treat from Glazed Donuts is a must). The day trip is most easily done by car, but you can also take the train from Grand Central to Beacon, then take a taxi or Uber 20 minutes south to Storm King Art Center.
The Catskills region is New York State’s version of Australia’s Blue Mountains – a stunningly scenic place two-to-three hours north of NYC (depending on which part you visit) that seamlessly blends outdoor activities with a vibrant cultural scene. Windham, Bethel, Woodstock, Margaretville and Roxbury are just a few of the historic towns that dot the region, each with charming main streets and plenty of restaurants, art galleries and accommodation options.
A perfect day in the Catskills might go something like this…get your sweat on in the morning exploring the region’s hiking trails, scenic lookouts and waterfalls, stop into a town for a lunch of fresh, locally-grown ingredients, then wind down with a visit to a local brewery or winery, where you can sip craft brews and wines by the fire.
Experience Niagara Falls on the Maid Of The Mist boat tour.
Everyone should experience the wonder of Niagara Falls at least once in their lifetime, and a road trip from NYC is an unforgettable way to do so (it’s about a seven-hour drive from the Big Apple). Hike through the state park which surrounds the US-side of the Falls before hopping onto the Maid Of The Mist boat tour. The iconic experience departs from the US side and has recently gone fully electric; it’s a must to really feel the power of this natural wonder. There are ample accommodation options around Niagara Falls, but an alternative is to spend the night 25 minutes away in Buffalo, where you can visit museums including iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, see theatre, and, of course, try some of those famously delicious Buffalo wings.
Visitors experiencing the Strong National Museum of Play
90 minutes’ drive east of Niagara (and about five-and-a-half hours’ drive from NYC) you’ll find Rochester, New York State’s third-largest city and a heavyweight when it comes to culture, especially unique museum experiences. The Strong National Museum of Play offers a dizzying array of interactive exhibitions dedicated to the history of play, toys and creativity. The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House is a must for American history buffs; it’s located in the former home of suffragette and anti-slavery activist Susan B. Anthony. The George Eastman Museum is the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography, housed in the one-time home of George Eastman, the late founder of Kodak. Australians should also be sure to visit Living Roots, an urban winery founded by an Australian-American winemaker couple.
Visit Heron Hill Winery in renowned destination, the Finger Lakes.
Travel & Leisure magazine just named the Finger Lakes one of its top 50 destinations in the world to visit in 2022. Once you’re there, you’ll see why it deserves the accolade. The region, about five hours north of New York City, is named for the group of long, narrow lakes at its centre, around which has grown one of the United States’ top wine tourism destinations – more than 200 wineries, breweries and distilleries are dotted around the region and its stunning blue lakes. Summer is the busiest season, but the Finger Lakes area is especially beautiful in autumn (September to November) when the leaves are changing, turning the green hills orange, red and gold. Heart & Hands Winery, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Grist Iron Brewing Company, Two Goats Brewing and Heron Hill Winery (pictured above) are just a handful of the must-visit spots.
The Adirondacks region is an ideal location for snow sports in the winter months.
For nature lovers and those who like to get active, the Adirondacks region is the ultimate playground. It’s home to the Adirondack Park, a forest preserve spanning six million acres (that’s bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and the Great Smokies National Parks combined), more than 3000 lakes and ponds, and dramatic mountain summits (the highest sitting at about 1600 metres tall). The region is a fantastic spot for snow sports in the winter months, while in summer the region is a popular destination for hiking, bird-watching, and water activities such as boating, kayaking and paddle-boarding. Stay in Lake George, Lake Placid or Saranac Lake; lively towns with restaurants serving up local produce, craft breweries and distilleries, and boutiques selling wares from local makers.
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