Growing up in New Jersey, just 40 minutes from New York City, I was well into my twenties before I took the time to explore and visit the urban destinations that millions of tourists visited. Until friends from Europe came to visit, I had not taken in the wondrous view from atop the Empire State Building, strolled through Central Park, or visited the Statue of Liberty.
I learned my lesson. I’ve now lived in Dutchess County for nearly two decades, and have been trying to take advantage of all the area has to offer. And there is plenty. From the natural beauty of the Hudson River, numerous walking and cycling trails to top-notch restaurants and wineries, Dutchess boasts many offerings for visitors and residents alike.
“There’s nothing like coming to the Hudson Valley,” said Frank M. Castella Jr., president and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce (www.dcrcoc.org). “And there are hidden gems even our locals don’t know about.”
Accessible from New York City by car, bus and Metro-North Railroad, Dutchess’ natural treasures, historic sites, museums and great food make it a top destination for visitors from around the country and the world. What draws people to visit and live in the area? “I think it’s convenience and beauty,” Castella said.
“We’re so accessible,” added Mary Kay Vrba, president and CEO of Dutchess Tourism Inc. (www.dutchesstourism.com), which oversees tourism and promotes the county. “We really, at the heart of it, have so much to offer.” Dutchess County draws four million visitors per year. Tourism generated $508 million in 2014, the latest data available.
Here are some of the well-known, and lesser-known, destinations that visitors and Dutchess residents alike can enjoy.
* Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park: (www.walkway.org) The once-dilapidated former railroad bridge opened to the public in 2009 after years of upgrades. The world’s longest elevated pedestrian span connects Highland in Ulster County with the City of Poughkeepsie in Dutchess. The one-of-a-kind views of the Hudson River from the walkway draw about 500,000 visitors a year, a combination of tourists and locals who use the span for walking and cycling. It’s a great spot to enjoy a brisk walk over the river.
* The Culinary Institute of America: (www.ciachef.edu) The internationally known CIA, located off Route 9 in Hyde Park just north of Marist College, produces talented chefs, many of whom opt to live and work in the region after completing their studies. The CIA has a number of restaurants, bakeries and cafes to satisfy just about any taste. “We really are special when it comes to good meals and good dining,” Vrba said.
* Dia Beacon: (www.diaart.org) You don’t have to travel to Manhattan to take in great art. Dia Beacon opened 13 years ago in a former Nabisco box printing facility on the banks of the Hudson. Today the museum draws about 75,000 visitors per year and features art from the 1960s to today.
* Harlem Valley rail-trail: (www.hvrt.org) This hidden gem in Dutchess and Columbia counties features two sections that cover 15 paved miles for visitors and residents to enjoy. The trail for walkers and cyclists can be accessed at Metro-North’s Wassaic station and continues into Amenia and Millerton.
* Historic sites: If you are a history buff, Dutchess County offers myriad opportunities to explore the past and its impact on life today. Hyde Park boasts the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library and Museum off Route 9, which offers interactive exhibits and more about the man who led America through the Great Depression and World War II. Not far away off Route 9G is Val-Kill, the home of Eleanor Roosevelt and the only National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady. Also off Route 9 in Hyde Park is the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The Gilded Age home of Frederick W. Vanderbilt is a 54-room mansion. Its grounds, gardens and walking trails with views of the Hudson River are some of the best the area has to offer. For information on national historic sites visit www.nps.gov. A few miles south of the FDR Home, off Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, is Locust Grove (www.lgny.org), an Italianate villa built for famed inventor and artist Samuel Morse. The 200-acre estate includes a visitors’ center and walking trails with Hudson River views.
* Innisfree Garden (www.innisfreegarden.org): This gorgeous garden in Millbrook in eastern Dutchess off Tyrrel Road combines modern aspects with older Chinese and Japanese garden designs to offer a peaceful and eye-opening getaway for visitors and local residents.
* Wine lovers should check out the Dutchess Wine Trail (www.dutchesswinetrail.com) in the eastern end of the county, which features Clinton Vineyards and the Millbrook Vineyards & Winery. The trail takes visitors to vineyards, farms and orchards and away from the hustle and bustle of more populated areas.
* With spring here and summer not far behind, a number of great events are on tap. The Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Balloon Festival is set for July 8 to 10, with hot-air balloon launches planned for a number of locations. Visit www.dcroc.org/balloonfestival for more information. The Dutchess County Fairgrounds (www.dutchessfair.com) off Route 9 in Rhinebeck, which hosts the 2016 fair August 23 to 28, is home to a number of other events throughout the year, from antique-car shows and arts festivals to food and wine showcases.
* There are too many fine restaurants to mention here, but for a complete guide and information on cooking tours in Dutchess County, visit www.dutchesstourism.com. It breaks down the options, from fine dining to coffee shops and everything in between.
* If you’re a baseball fan and want to catch some future major leaguers in action, the Hudson Valley Renegades are the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The season begins in June and ends in early September. Home games are at Dutchess Stadium off Route 9D in Wappingers Falls. (www.hvrenegades.com).
Check out what the area has to offer. You may be surprised how much you’ve been missing.