Summer’s almost here, so whether you’re looking for the thrill of high-speed racing or to chill on a relaxing river cruise; to let the kids splish and splash at a local water park or to lose yourself in thought at an outdoor sculpture park; the Valley is chock full of ways to celebrate the season.
The 4.1-mile track at the Monticello Race Club sits on 175 wooded acres
If your idea of a nice Sunday drive is ripping down I-684 at twice the legal speed limit, take the money you’d have had to shell out on speeding tickets and head instead to the Monticello Motor Club, where (for a pretty penny) you’ll be able to drive high-end exotic cars on a world-class racetrack at speeds up to 140 miles per hour. Although the exclusive members-only club (which boasts Jeff Gordon as one of their own) is closed to the public, it does offer guest programs for motor-sports enthusiasts who just want a little taste of life in the fast lane. “It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience,” says club president and cofounder Ari Straus.
The brand-new facility was built in 2008 at the 175-acre former site of the Monticello airport. “It’s just like a country club, like a private golf course with concierge services, a pro shop, food, family, storage, etc. Except instead of links we have a four-point-one mile curvy racetrack,” explains Straus. “Going fast in a straight line is a quick thrill that passes quickly.” The track — said to be one of the best in the world — was designed by famed race champion Brian Redman and track architect Bruce Hawkins. With some of the longest straights in North America, 450 feet of elevation changes, and more than 20 turns, Monticello’s circuit offers everyone from the professional race car driver to the weekend warrior a fulfilling and exhilarating experience.
While membership in the club is over-the-top expensive (a lifetime “gold” membership costs $125,000, plus annual dues of $9,925), novice speed demons can get in the door with one of two guest options. “Both programs are designed with the beginner in mind, no track experience is necessary,” says Straus. “What you learn is that it’s not about speed, it’s about car control. We put a huge premium on safety.” In the High Performance Driving Experience ($1,350), a one-day group class led by club instructors, students spend some time in the classroom and then put their new skill set to work on the track in a 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. The more comprehensive Taste of the Track program (starting at $1,500) allows guests to live life as a club member for the day, with access to a private instructor, meals, and the club’s fleet of high-end cars — for an additional fee, of course.
Monticello Raceway (Monticello)
Lime Rock Park (Lakeville, Conn.) is a smooth-terrain motorsport racing venue where you can catch a race, take lessons or even cruise the track in your own car on special days.
The Orange County Speedway (Middletown) is celebrating its 62nd year of dirt-track racing with weekly events every Saturday this month.
While many adults prefer to beat the summer heat with a quick dip in a pool or a swim at the beach, kids just wanna have fun. Luckily, our area water parks offer a safe place where they can cool off and have an adventure — twisting through giant water slides, getting sprayed by colorful fountains, and consuming all the kid-favorite snacks that mom and dad can afford.
Splashdown Beach in Fishkill has seen enormous growth over the years, appealing to both thrill-seekers (one watery attraction towers four stories tall), and chill-seekers, who would rather float gently down a lazy river.
While there are still plenty of things for older kids and teens to do, this year, the younger set will love the new Bob the Builder Splash Works spray-and-play area (opening May 28). This colorful attraction contains more than 50 interactive features, including two slides, surprising geysers, and Bob the Builder meet-and-greets.
Further north, Zoom Flume Water Park in East Durham keeps the Catskills cool with water slides that drop hundreds of feet; a splash area for little ones; and the new Riptide Cove wave pool, where you can catch a crest, jump through a wave, or stand in the shallows and let the water lap your legs.
For a unique way to see the upper Valley, consider hopping aboard the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Staffed and maintained by an all-volunteer group of rail enthusiasts, this train follows the former Delaware and Ulster line — which at one time ferried bluestone, fresh milk, and other products into New York City, and brought back hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Catskill Mountain House and other luxury hotels. The “Esopus Scenic Train” travels between Phoenicia and Boiceville, offering stunning views of the mountains, the Esopus Creek, and local wildlife. The 12-mile round-trip excursions take about 90 minutes, and run from Memorial Day weekend through Oct. 30. Two “Twilight Limited” rides (offered on July 9 and Aug. 20) feature live music, refreshments, and a nighttime journey along the route. During the trip, be sure to stop off at the Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia. Housed in the circa 1900 railroad depot, the site details the history of steam travel in the region from the latter part of the 19th century through the 1940s.
Photograph by T-Design/Shutterstock
Want to work on your fitness, hand-eye coordination, and suntan all at the same time? Then hit one of the Valley’s many public outdoor tennis courts — no whites or costly membership fees required. Many towns and counties have tennis courts and offer summer programs for the whole family. For instance, at Cronomer Hill Park in Newburgh, there are six lighted courts available to the public for free, on a first-come, first-serve basis. During the month of July, the Town of Newburgh offers four-day tennis clinics for kids. Check with your local recreation department to see what programs are offered in your area.
Though joining a club means shelling out some dough, you get what you pay for. At Rhinebeck Tennis Club, for instance, that means a pro-shop, a teaching staff of USPTA registered tennis pros, a service for finding partners, and more. Some, like the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club or Cross Court Tennis in Wappingers, also have pools for member use; Cross Court charges just $25 for the day, which includes court and pool access. Explains Rhinebeck Tennis owner Bob Myerson: “The main difference between a park tennis facility and a club is the ambience. A club is more relaxed and private, quiet and serene. There’s a clubhouse, you can get lunch and sit in the garden. There won’t be bunches of kids running all over the place.” Different strokes for different folks.
Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex (Saugerties)
Four lighted outdoor courts, available for group permit use or first-come, first-serve.
Cronomer Hill Park Sports Complex (Newburgh), 845-615-3830
Six lighted tennis courts. Available for group permit use or first-come, first-serve.
Thomas Bull Memorial Park (Montgomery), 845-457-4916
Six Har-Tru outdoor courts. Open Memorial Day-Labor Day, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Call for fee information.
Lakeside Park (Pawling), 845-855-1131
Twelve clay courts located on the outskirts of Green Mountain Lake. Open June 11-Labor Day. Individual and family park memberships available.
Photograph by Feng Yu/Shutterstock
When you think of fun activities on the Hudson River, many things spring to mind — kayaking, river cruises, fishing, among them. But one of the more often overlooked seasonal satisfactions is crabbing. There are bountiful blue crabs — the exact same kind that creep around the Chesapeake Bay — in our river, and yes, they are edible.
The young crabs are born at the mouth of the Hudson. At that point, “they look like little space aliens,” says Frances Dunwell, the Hudson River Estuary Coordinator for the DEC. Within two months they start to resemble crabs, although they are still not much bigger than a fingernail. Eventually, they’ll reach five to six inches across the back, not including their claws (which are blue when they are alive, but turn orange when cooked). There is no official crabbing season — they live in the estuary all year long — but they do tend to head south in the winter to the saltier waters of New York Bay. Come the warmer months they return to the mid-Hudson region.
“It’s great for kids because it is really easy to catch them,” says Dunwell. “You don’t need a hook. All you need is a string and a chicken drumstick or a rotten chicken neck. They’ll eat fresh food, they’ll eat rotten food, they’ll eat sea grasses. They’ll even eat each other, they’re not picky. You just throw the food onto a muddy bottom, wait a while and pull it in. If you see a crab trailing along you scoop it up with a net.”
So where are the hot spots? “You’ll have the most success in Cornwall Bay or farther south,” says Dunwell. Popular spots, according to Dunwell, include Bear Mountain, Iona island, and the Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point in New Windsor.
If you happen to catch a tagged crab you should return it and call the DEC. (The agency tags them to track their seasonal movement; they may travel as much as 150 miles in a year.) “People love it, it’s like winning the lottery,” says Dunwell. “They can’t wait to report it because they get a special hat. All they have to do is tell us the basic information about the size of the crab and where they caught it.” In return, the DEC will give you a little bio on your crab. Dunwell notes that you should also never take a “she” crab with eggs. These mamas-to-be, referred to as sponge crabs, are highly visible because the eggs are orange and resemble a sponge.
“The personality of the crab is what makes it so fun,” says Dunwell. “When you catch one, they stare you down, their eyes pop out, their claws go up, they’re ready for a fight. They do something we call a crab dance: they click their pincers and snap their claws above their head.” In addition, you don’t need a license to catch these crustaceans, although there is a limit of 50 crabs per day. “That is another great thing about it,” says Dunwell. “It’s one of the few things in life that is free.”
Cracking Your Crabs
So what’s the best way to eat your catch? Steaming them with Old Bay Seasoning is “still the tried and true way,” says Dunwell. But take note: the New York State Department of Health recommends that people eat no more than six blue crabs a month. Women of childbearing age and children should not eat any.
Photograph by Megan Cannistraro
Sure, you can hop over to the Imax in Nyack if you want to catch a movie on an enormous screen, but at one of our nostalgic, area drive-ins, you can set up a lawn chair, throw around a Frisbee before the show, and in some places, even bring the family pet along. Whether you’re looking for a romantic date-night idea (just remember there’s a movie going on, too), or you want to bring the entire family, nothing says “summer nights” like the drive-in.
Billed as one of the state’s largest, the 60-year-old Hi-Way Drive-In boasts four big-screens showing different double features through the season (which runs until October). Even with recent renovations to the snack bar and restrooms, the cinema still maintains its classic atmosphere. Admission is $8, $3 children 3-11.
The Hollywood Drive-In has offered a family-friendly place to “watch stars under the stars” for almost 70 years. Catch a double feature and grab a bite from the concession stand; snacks include pizza, nachos, grilled goodies, and all the typical sugary treats to keep you awake through the late showing (double check those popcorn holders — the staff places free movie passes in randomly selected boxes). Listen for announcements between movies for fun trivia questions; you could win free sodas, snacks, or season passes. Admission is $8, $4 children 5-11.
Middletown’s Fair Oaks Drive-In features two screens (one larger than the other) and holds up to 800 cars. Double features run nightly during mid-summer, but only on weekends through September. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, free under age four. Thursdays are bargain nights: $5, $3 children.
Why would an outdoor movie theater need Wi-Fi? We’re not sure either, but it’s free at the Warwick Drive-In (845-986-4440). This classic cinema stretches along five rolling acres with three screens showing double features through October. The gate opens 90 minutes before shows start, so there’s plenty of time to kick back and have a snack from the concession. Admission is $8, $5 seniors and children 4-11, free under age four.
Although the Overlook Drive-In can accommodate up to 750 cars, it’s not uncommon to find many people lounging in the grassy field below the massive screen towering about six stories overhead. Pack a blanket, grab an Angus burger from the snack bar, and enjoy a double feature. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, free under age four. Monday night adult admission is reduced to $5.
The Hyde Park Drive-In, which has been running continuously for 52 years, shows double features on one large screen through September. Grab a bite of your favorite fried foods (mozzarella sticks, French fries) and other goodies from the snack bar, or load up on ice cream from Dairy Queen just down the road. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, children under four free. Tuesdays are bargain nights; adult admission is only $5.
Thistle by Tim Prentice, Garrison Art Center
Experience art in the outdoors at one of several Valley locales. The region’s premier sculpture park, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center, features dozens of large-scale works by modern masters like Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, and David Smith set amidst the rolling hills of the Hudson Highlands. This summer, the site reprises its 2010 show, 5+5: New Perspectives, which spotlights recent works by 12 artists. Inside the visitor center you can see The View from Here: Storm King at Fifty, an exhibit that explores the art center’s 50-year history using video installations, photographs, maquettes, and archival documents. New this year: a gallery devoted to the works of noted sculptor Mark di Suvero.
Visitors to Boscobel can take in Current 2011, mounted by the Garrison Art Center. Works created by 11 contemporary artists — including a site-specific sculpture by Martha Posner — are on view throughout the grounds of the historic house museum from May 27 through Oct. 10. (Be sure to check it out especially if you’ve got tickets to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.) Posner’s work is also featured at the art center’s gallery at Garrison Landing.
Storm King Art Center (Mountainville)
Open Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., through Nov. 5 (10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov. 6-15)
Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., through Nov.
Other opportunities to view art outdoors:
Opus 40 (Saugerties)
Created from the remnants of a bluestone quarry, this six-acre site features fitted-stone terraces, ramps, and fountains hand-carved by sculptor Harvey Fite.
The Fields Sculpture Park at Omi International (Ghent)
Like Storm King, this 300-acre site is home to more than 60 contemporary sculptures by artists from around the globe.
Although many Valley residents can peek out at their back yards and view a menagerie of different species, taking a stroll through one of our local zoos provides a relaxing, educational way to spend a day outdoors with the family.
The Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) in Saugerties has provided refuge for nearly 2,000 abused and neglected animals over the course of a decade. The facility, which offers educational programs and tours of the site, allows you to visit the free-to-roam critters, including cows, pigs, horses, goats, geese, and more.
New this year, the CAS offers even more ways to prevent mistreatment on farms through its Compassionate Cuisine program. On-site cooking and organic gardening lessons, led by certified vegan chef Kevin Archer, are perfect for those who are considering a vegan lifestyle, but are clueless when it comes to making a tasty dish with meat- and dairy-free ingredients. Classes are $60; previous lessons have included vegan sauces, baking, breakfast dishes, and Indian dinners.
Bear Mountain Zoo (Highland Falls)
This location is the temporary home to rescued wild, Valley-native critters while they’re being rehabilitated. Visit eagles, deer, foxes, a bear den, and others.
Trevor Zoo (Millbrook)
Located at the independent Millbrook School, the zoo is open to the public and features domestic animals and exotic creatures from around the world including a variety of endangered species.
Are you ribbing me? No, it’s the real deal at Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh. Here, you can choose Baby Back Ribs, St. Louis-Cut Ribs, or Brontosaurus Beef Ribs. They are all served with the choice of two house-made sides and cornbread
There is perhaps no place quite like the Newburgh waterfront for outdoor dining and nightlife. With all the charm of an old-fashioned boardwalk, yet the sophistication of South Beach, the waterfront is the ideal place for people-watching, putting away a few frou-frou cocktails, or indulging in a first-class meal at one of several different eateries.
This year, two new restaurants are upping the ante on summer fun. The Pizza Shop, the latest venture by the ever-successful Cosimo’s Restaurant Group, is just up the hill on South Water Street. But it is well worth the short walk; not only do you get a different (and stunning) view of the river, but architecture and history buffs can admire the beautifully renovated West Shore Train Station, which houses both the casual new eatery and the Railroad Playhouse. While pizza — especially their signature thin-crust Crispina-style, pan pizza — is the centerpiece of the menu, there are daily entrée specials, gourmet sandwiches, and even a coffee bar. Free Wi-Fi, a deck, and sidewalk dining make this a must-visit this season.
Billy Joe’s Ribworks, in the former 26 Front Street space, opened to much fanfare early this year. When you first enter this soaring space, which is chock full of kitschy Southern-style decorations (think of a very sophisticated Cracker Barrel), you’ll immediately notice the huge windows overlooking the Hudson. This is truly a bustling BBQ joint, from the action at the cool-looking bar to a group doing line dancing in one corner. Acoustic performances during the week, live bands on weekends, and an outdoor bar also pump up the party scene.
But, of course, the main attraction remains ribs, ribs, and more ribs. All the meats are hand-rubbed three times, and here, diehards will be happy to know they can chow down on beef ribs, in addition to the more standard pork fare. An extensive menu and family-friendly prices have already attracted a diverse crowd. Luckily, if you don’t have time to sit on down, a Billy Joe’s outpost will be opening on Route 9 in Wappingers Falls soon.
Of course, the spacious Shadows on the Hudson has already transformed what was once a rag-tag area of Poughkeepsie into the most talked about dining destination in the mid-Hudson Valley. And thankfully, now you don’t have to choose between Poughkeepsie and Newburgh for a night of fun. Why not hop on the colorful new Shadows One Boat — a 33-foot long water taxi that seats 14 passengers and cruises from Shadows down to Billy Joe’s — and back again, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting at noon. The trip takes approximately 18 minutes (on flat water) and costs $30 roundtrip. Hailing a taxi has never been so much fun.
Photograph by Jessica Friedlander
When it comes to navigating the high seas, there are two types of mariners: the windjammers and the motor-boaters. The first lot prefers the glorious wind to guide them; steering vessels in a furious squall or with the lightest puff of air is all part of the challenge, after all.
Thankfully, the Valley is home to several places where you can learn to set your sail.
Chelsea Yacht Club
Hudson Cove Yacht Club
West Haverstraw. 201-684-0065
Kingston Sailing Club
Nyack Boat Club
Tivoli Sailing Company
For more information on yacht and sailing clubs, visit the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association at www.hudsonriverbyca.com.
The supreme strawberry is in season in late May and early June. Picking them yourself — look for plump, firm berries — is one of the purest pleasures of summer.
Also check out these festivals:
Beacon Sloop Club Strawberry Festival
June 12, 12-5 p.m. At Beacon Riverfront Park
Klyne Esopus Museum Strawberry Social
June 19 in Ulster Park
Photograph courtesy of HITS-on-the-Hudson
They are upping the ante again this year at HITS-on-the-Hudson (aka Horse Shows in the Sun), the equestrian center in Saugerties. Last summer, the facility introduced the Pfizer Million, a jumpers competition in which world-class riders vie for the grand prize of a cool mil.
This year, the hunter class gets into the act, with a $500,000 Hunter Final, the richest purse offered in that class of show jumping. Both the Pfizer Million and the Hunter Final take place during the weekend of Sept. 11-12; but beginning on May 25, HITS offers horse shows Wednesday-Sunday all summer long. For the $5 admission fee (charged only on weekends, and donated to the Family of Woodstock social services organization), spectators can watch riders of all ages and ability levels — from children and juniors up through the Grand Prix competitors.
The M/V Mystère will take off from Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park
Photograph courtesy of Empire Cruise Lines
After three years of providing historical tours along the Erie Canal, Capt. Jeffrey Pyle, his wife, and his brother — who together own Empire Cruise Lines — began looking for a new home for their vessel, the 60-foot, refurbished M/V Mystère. Pyle sent out inquiries to dozens of ports and regions throughout New England and the Midwest, but without success. Eventually, he contacted City of Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik. “I heard back right away, which was refreshing after dealing with municipalities all along the Eastern Seaboard,” recalls Pyle, a Poughkeepsie native. “If you’d asked me a year ago, would we be in Poughkeepsie, I’d never have thought it.”
Though the boat hails from upstate, everything about Empire Cruise Lines is Hudson Valley-focused, down to the food and drink served onboard. “Whole local flavor is really what we’re going for,” says Pyle. What that means is seasonal, locally sourced brunch, lunch, and dinner menus from two popular Poughkeepsie restaurants, Lola’s Café and Crave — all prepared by Culinary Institute grads. “Food is the center of attention on Empire Cruise Lines, not an afterthought like on most tours,” says Pyle. “It took us four months to settle on menus.” In addition to the high-quality grub, the line will offer beers from Hyde Park Brewery and wines from several Valley wineries, including special blends just for the Mystère.
The boat sets out from Waryas Park, which is within walking distance from both the Poughkeepsie train station and the Walkway Over the Hudson. There are a number of options, including weekend dinner cruises, Sunday brunch cruises, and two-hour weekday afternoon sightseeing tours. The Mystère will also host a number of themed party cruises, starting off with a season-opening Cinco De Mayo fiesta; the boat is also available for private parties.
Hudson River Adventures
Cruises on the Pride of the Hudson from Newburgh to West Point; additional trips to Bannerman Island.
Hudson Highland Cruises, Inc.
The historic 1917 Commander departs from Peekskill, Haverstraw, and West Point and heads north to Garrison Landing.
Hudson River Cruises
The Rip Van Winkle launches from Kingston and heads south to the Hyde Park area. Check out the new $10 Hudson River water taxi service from Kingston to Rhinecliff, which includes a close-up look at the Rondout Lighthouse.
Belleayre Mountain might be best known as a ski haven in the winter, but sun-worshippers can flock to the hilly hot spot to cool off in the summer too. The sandy Belleayre Beach offers swimming (with lifeguards on duty), picnic areas, pedal- or rowboat and kayak rentals, fishing, and a recreational area.
Take your little ones for a swim lesson at the Belleayre Beach Aqua School, where they’ll learn water safety and age-appropriate skills; or brush up on your backstroke with workshops geared towards all ages.
Those who enjoy spending time at any New York State park (including the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation-owned Belleayre) might want to consider the Empire Passport. For $65, you’ll receive a pass (valid for one year) that provides unlimited day-use vehicle entry to 178 state parks, 55 forest preserve areas, and to certain boat launch sites, arboretums, and park preserves. Visit www.nysparks.com/admission/empire-passport for more information.
Clarence Fahnestock State Park
Swim in Canopus Lake or lounge upon its sandy shores. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy other activities including boating, hunting, fishing, bird-watching, organized hikes (on weekends), and camping alongside scenic ridges.
Harriman State Park
Bear Mountain. 845-786-2701
With 31 lakes and reservoirs (including three sandy beaches: Lakes Sebago, Tiorati, and Welch) and 200 miles of hiking trails, Harriman is the second largest of the New York State parks. Camping, boating, fishing, concessions, and plenty of vantage points for photo ops are also available.
Lake Taghkanic State Park
This park offers two beaches, boat rentals, picnic areas, and a newly renovated recreation hall and showers, and more. Having too much fun to leave? Camping options include sites for tents, trailers, and RVs plus cottages and cabins to rent.
Dutchess County Wilcox Memorial Park
This family-friendly park offers a lifeguard-protected beach open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays), and another lake ideal for fishing. There are also pavilions for parties, a bathhouse, and a snack bar.
Greenwood Lake Beach
Greenwood Lake. 845-986-1124
This public beach offers two swimming areas with lifeguards, picnic spaces, recreational areas, and events — from mini arts festivals to food fêtes — throughout the summer.
On the Hudson:
Croton Point Park
Kingston Point Beach
Saugerties Village Beach
Saugerties. 845-246-2321, ext. 1
(Actually located on the Esopus Creek)
Ulster Landing County Park
Sure, long drives with your nine-iron look cool, but who really wants to walk 150 yards to hit the next shot (or worse, dig through the ferns to see where the first one landed)? For those who prefer putt-putt to divots, we’ve got the answer: miniature golf. Not only are there tons of fun obstacles (fire-breathing dragons, aliens) for your neon-hued orb to bounce and bobble around, but every type of amenity — snack bars, arcades, the occasional 13-foot garden gnome — is well within reach. Is your swing a little sub-par, even for mini-golf? Not to fear: Some of these courses offer real golf tips from the pros, in case you’re determined to make it past the green (and the gnomes).
Castle Fun Center
The aforementioned fire-breathing “dragon” resides here, along with an alligator (not alive, no worries) as part of two 18-hole courses. It also boasts eateries, laser-tag, rock climbing, go-cart racing, and batting cages.
Wappingers Falls. 845-297-1010
The name says it all: This is the center of all things fun. After taking a stab at the 18-hole course, ride the bumper boats and try the virtual reality coaster; play at the arcade and batting cages; and nosh on some grub at the snack bar.
GloPutt Mini Golf
Glow-in-the-dark. ’Nuff said.
Kelder’s Farm & Homegrown Mini Golf
Dubbed “Gnome on the Grange” (featuring Gnome Chomsky, formerly the world’s largest garden gnome), this 10-hole farm-cum-golf course offers snacks right on the green; all fruits and veggies that grow alongside it are yours for the tasting.
Players yell “Boo!” instead of “Fore!” at this monstrous franchise, which showcases scary, out-of-this-world creatures as part of its décor. Participate in contests for “giant prizes” or party it up in one of the two recreation rooms.
Overlook Golf & Recreation
Less mini-golf and more golfing-in-the-miniature, you’ll feel like you’re really playing at Sawgrass (only on a smaller scale). Check out the driving range and even take lessons.
Yummies Ice Cream & Mini Golf Café
All-around fun for the family, hit a few holes, challenge friends to a board game, or sing karaoke.