Tourism in Orange County is a substantial $400 million-a-year business … and growing.
Care to guess which destination is attracting more visitors than anywhere else? If that patriotic streak in your heart is causing you to answer the United States Military Academy at West Point, you’d be wrong.
Instead, it’s Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, a collection of 220 stores in Central Valley that’s not only the county’s top draw but is challenging Niagara Falls as the state’s biggest tourist attraction.
Without mincing words, “visitors who go there, go to shop,” says Orange County Director of Tourism Susan Hawvermale. With names like Burberry, Polo, Prada, Armani, Gucci and Lacoste, Woodbury Common is a magnet – not only to the millions that live within a few hours’ driving distance, but also to thousands of tourists who enter the country in New York City. Group tours via buses are a seven-day-a-week phenomenon, with hundreds of other visitors opting to stay overnight in one of the nearby hotels or bed & breakfasts. (Rack rates in Orange are generally one-third to one-half of New York City rates.)
Finding a place to eat that suits individual tastes is challenging only in the sense that there are almost too many choices. Orange County’s restaurant scene is richly varied and one of the more remarkable growth stories of the past decade. Options range from high-end cuisine created by chefs from the legendary Culinary Institute of America to ethnic and family-style dining.
Hawvermale leads an active tourism office, one that uses a variety of media to promote the county and also trades heavily on its status as the geographic linchpin of the Hudson Valley. Since there are eight Orange Counties in the United States, there occasionally is some confusion about which Orange is which. But attach the phrase Hudson Valley to New York’s Orange and confusion evaporates. “Everyone, everywhere recognizes that name,” Hawvermale says.
As important as Woodbury Common and West Point are to the local economy (Hawvermale says tourism is the county’s “unsung industry”), there’s an abundance of other activities for visitors and residents alike when the clock strikes leisure time.
The best source for information about attractions and destinations is
www.orangetourism.org. However, we have assembled a small sampling of places to go and things to do in Orange County.
Photo by Orange County Tourism
Goshen Historic Track Harness Racing Museum
The Brick House, located in Montgomery, is an 18th-century estate filled with Colonial and Victorian furnishings and artifacts. It is open mid-May through October and is the scene of many special events and celebrations.
Goshen Historic Track is a year-round training facility for harness race horses, a museum and the site of a variety of other festivals throughout the year.
Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, with two locations in Cornwall, boasts numerous hiking trails and a live animal collection of native animals.
Photo by Orange County Tourism
Village of Warwick
Museum Village in Monroe is a living history museum with in-period demonstrations of life in a 19th-century village. www.museumvillage.org
Photo by Orange County Tourism
Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh was the site of the Continental Army headquarters and home to George Washington during much of the Revolutionary War. In 1850 the site became the nation’s first public historic site.
The West Point Visitors Center and Museum is open seven days a week, between 9am-5pm.
Eisenhower Hall Theatre at West Point hosts a full slate of top-name shows and entertainers, symphony orchestras and national casts of Broadway shows.
Lycian Centre in Sugar Loaf presents professionally produced theatre, including musicals, drama, dance and children’s theatre. www.lyciancentre.com
Orange County Community College has a variety of year-round programs in all the arts.
The Paramount Theatre in Middletown is home to a wide array of performers in music and dance. It’s also the home to workshops, lectures and exhibits.
Ananda Ashram in Monroe is the country retreat and teaching center for the Yoga Society of New York.
The Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush is a spiritual home to Chan Buddhism. Seminars, retreats and meditative events are a staple.
The National Carmelite Shrine in Middletown is the country’s shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its 60-acre site includes a church, indoor and outdoor shrines, meditative gardens and contemplative settings.
Dozens of working farms in Orange County range from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to you-pick-’em operations. Some are fairly extravagant, catering to customers year-round with special events, festivals and agricultural demonstrations.
Hodgson’s Farm in Walden is one of the year-round operations, running a fall festival replete with a petting zoo, three-acre maize and haunted house. It hosts birthday parties, magic shows and informational field trips.
The Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, home to the county’s famous black dirt growing area, produces more than 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs under certified naturally grown conditions. Rogowski’s also serves breakfast and lunch on the weekends and hosts a monthly prix fixe dinner that’s the talk of the county.
Soons Orchards in New Hampton produces about 30 varieties of apples, plus a plethora of homemade farm products and baked goods.
Many of the local farms also showcase their wares at weekend farmer’s markets, a staple of town’s throughout Orange County. At least a dozen are strategically located, leaving most of the county’s residents no more than a 20-minute drive from the fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods and locally produced cheeses.
The county is also home to about a dozen vineyards, all producing Chardonnays, Cabernets and Pinot Noirs. Washingtonville-based Brotherhood Winery (est. 1839) is the oldest continually operating winery in the nation, and local wines are often featured in some of the region’s finest restaurants.
Golf, fishing, boating, hiking and horseback riding are a few of the more popular outdoor activities in the spring and summer, while winter brings the county’s ski slopes and ice skating rinks to life. Fishing, in fact is a year-round activity at popular lakes in the county. And, of course there’s the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, substantial waterways that accommodate all manner of waterborne adventures.
The county provides boundless opportunities and venues to pursue activities that cater to even the most eclectic tastes. There’s ballooning, bird watching and beekeeping. For the thrill seeker, there’s rock climbing, go-kart racing and whitewater rafting. The county is also home to New Hope Farms in Port Jervis, one of the largest equestrian training centers in the nation. Events are held throughout the year.
Orange is home to a strong selection of public and private golf courses, including the only Jack Nicklaus-designed course in New York State that’s open to the public. Called Mansion Ridge (www.mansionridgegc.com), it’s a challenging, par-72 layout that’s a shade under 7,000 yards. Other public courses of note includ, the Town of Wallkill Golf Club, Winding Hills and Stony Ford. Several superb private clubs play members only.
For information about Orange County Parks, Recreation & Conservation, visit:
During his annual State of the County address delivered to the legislature in March 2011, County Executive Ed Diana suggested that despite trying economic times affecting the country, Orange “remains strong, healthy and ready for the challenges ahead.”
He continued, “This past year saw great accomplishments on behalf of our residents. Our financial house is in order, our public safety efforts are second to none and our commitment to our quality of life remains a top priority.”
Diana drew special attention to the county’s state-of-the-art Emergency Services Center, which he calls “a worthwhile commitment for the safety of our residents,” and noted its “growing reputation as the best Emergency Services Center on the Eastern Seaboard.”