Summer is here, and you’re already kicking yourself for not putting in for a week or two off with your boss. Now, the calendar is full, and you’re looking at September before you can take a week off.
Now is the time when you have to take your boss’ advice and manage your time wisely. You want to travel. Nah, you need to escape. And, in order to do that, you have to take look at where you can go to get away from your everyday anxieties if only for a day or a weekend.
Our staff has put together their favorite places to go that don’t involve a plane ticket or drawn out itinerary. One of the benefits of living here in the Capital District is that you’re a stone’s throw away from everything.
Michael Hallisey’s pick — Cooperstown
For years, Central New York was called the Leatherstocking Region. Many of the counties within the region didn’t care for the moniker, and, as of a few years ago, it was dropped from tourism marketing.
But, for Cooperstown, the name suits it just fine.
Named after the family of famed American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, Cooperstown sits upon the shores of Otsego Lake as the crown jewel of the region that was once named in homage to his five-book series, “The Leatherstocking Tales,” that included “The Last of the Mohicans.”
But, I honestly don’t think about these facts when I go to visit. The trip down I-88 makes for a wonderful summertime escape, if one’s only afforded a short, one-day jaunt away from the Capital District. The drive past Cobleskill gives you a contrasting view between the Mohawk Valley and the Catskill Plateau. Miles of farmland and a smattering of centuries old houses leave you with the impression of what New York once looked during Cooper’s time. This feeling seldom changes after turning north onto Route 28.
Most who visit Cooperstown are fans of history. A favorite spot of mine is a stop at Wood Bull Antiques, just north of Milford. For me, antique stores are museums whose artifacts are up for sale. Wood Bull Antiques is situated within an expansive, old barn. Multiple floors of momentos from generations past, going as far back to the Victorian Age or further. Upstairs, in a small corner room, reside a bunch of old leather baseball gloves, wool uniforms, masks and various other sports equipment. Certainly fitting for what many associate the town with, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The end of July annually marks the Hall’s Induction Day weekend, where players from the past are once again celebrated by their fans as they are enshrined upon its hallowed grounds. A walk down Main Street will allow you to spy glimpses of the game’s immortals. It’s a good weekend to revisit memories, and establish new ones, too.
Downtown is entrenched in baseball, with memorabilia shops and similarly themed restaurants, but Cooperstown is not all about the game. It can be for the romantic, and lover of the arts.
Step north with your back to the Hall of Fame, and you’ll find yourself standing upon the shores of Otsego Lake. Lush green grass under your feet, sail boats upon the blue water, and if you stopped at one of the sandwich places on Main Street, you have yourself the best place for a mid-day picnic.
Continue west on Lake Street and you’ll encounter The Otesaga Hotel, a luxurious resort with a grand facade that speaks to another time, complete with rocking chairs on a deck looking out on the lake. You will need to call ahead to make a reservation. If you do, you will have to make time to stop at the Fenimore Art Museum. There are several exhibitions this season including the early work of photographer Ansel Adams and lithographs from 19th century painter James Whistler. You’d also be remiss if you fail to take in a show at Glimmerglass.
Perched upon the northern shores of Otsego Lake, Glimmerglass is where one can take in a classic production of a Puccini, an opera or a ballet. If that scene is too highbrow, a jaunt back down Route 33 to Ommegang lends the best setting to enjoy a beer while enjoying some of today’s contemporaries — last week was The String Cheese Incident, while next week, it will be Norah Jones.
A scenic, 90-minute drive leaves just enough distance for a sufficient escape from everyday anxiety.
Kassie Parisi’s pick — Cape Cod
Cape Cod is well known and highly regarded as a favorite summer destination for many people, both nationally and internationally. As with any family-friendly tourist hot spot, there are restaurants, beach, and entertainment favorites that can hold up against hordes of visitors year after year and still be wonderful.
As a life-long visitor however, I’ve found recently through rediscovery that the peninsula’s truest charm comes from the small, sleepy towns that each have a vibe decidedly different from one another, and the little places within those towns.
For example, Dennisport, where I’ve been staying for 22 years, has a tiny bakery called Woolfies hidden away at the end of a maze of summer homes. My family found this place accidentally. Dennisport locals know about it, so there’s always a line out the door, but getting up at 9 a.m. to walk there from your house if you’re around that area is worth it.
Even Provincetown, arguably Cape Cod’s most iconic tourist destination and probably its most metropolitan town, has hidden gems. Right at the beginning of the pier on Ryder Street is a small shack called Mojo’s. Mojo’s is similar to a roadside shack…food is ordered through a window, handed back through a window, and patrons can sit in a small space with picnic tables behind the shack if they want. Everything is made to order, the food is as good as any of the upscale, expensive restaurants 10 feet away, and most people walk right by it without noticing.
I will never say that the famous places in Cape Cod aren’t worth visiting. Some of the most highly populated beaches have the most beautiful water and views, and if you go to a well-established restaurant like Captain Parkers and order lobster or a beach drink at what used to be Clancy’s, the chances of disappointment are slim. Those places are favorites for a reason. But part of the charm of Cape Cod its soft, quiet vibe. Admittedly, I’ve stayed there every summer since the year I was born, so it’s only natural that it feels like home to me, but the small places, if people go out of their way to find them, have the potential to make vacationers feel not like tourists, or visitors, but like family.
Rob Jonas’ pick — southern coast of Maine
If I had my way, I’d spend every hot, humid summer day in my cooler-than-cool basement, where the temperature is chilly enough to keep perishables fresh minus the refrigerator.
But since this article is about getting away from it all (and basements don’t count), I’m here to extoll the virtues of visiting southern Maine — a trip my wife and I take every year.
Southern Maine — the area between York Beach and Portland — is much like Cape Cod. You have your little shoreline villages chock full of shops, restaurants and beaches, strung together along a main north-south road (Route 1).
Be forewarned, though: finding parking in the heart of these villages can be tough, especially in the summertime. For instance, if you want to walk the famed Marginal Way in Ogunquit (a paved footpath along the shoreline), be prepared to spend upwards of $25 for a spot in a downtown parking lot — that is, if you can find a spot (they get taken quickly and early).
There are plenty of dining options in that part of Maine. A few humble suggestions from yours truly: Allison’s in downtown Kennebunkport (try the peach BBQ hamburger), Jackie’s Too on Perkins Cove in Ogunquit (the only place where I’ll deliberately order a lobster roll) and for a morning meal fix, All Day Breakfast and a Little Lunch on Route 9 just south of downtown Kennebunkport (their pancakes are Billy Fuccillo huge).
Need something to watch, other than whales and the ocean’s waves? Trek up to Portland’s Hadlock Field for a Portland Sea Dogs baseball game. The stadium is compact, quirky and altogether a fun place to take in a Double A-level minor league game. View the “Maine Monster” in left field (Portland’s homage to Boston’s Fenway Park), see the lighthouse pop out of the center field fence every time the Sea Dogs homer or win and say hello to “Slugger,” the Sea Dogs mascot.
Finally, if you need a moose fix (and really, who doesn’t need a moose fix), go to the Maine Wildlife Park north of Portland in the oddly-named town of Gray. There, you’ll see moose, bears and other wildlife native to the state. It’s a bit of a haul from the shoreline, but it’s worth the trip.
So if you need a summer getaway, southern Maine is a great place to go.
Allison Fry’s pick — Saugerties
The Saugerties Lighthouse is probably one of my favorite places to bring a book and enjoy the breeze in the summer.
The lighthouse, which can only be reached by a 10-15 minute walk along a marshy trail, is now a bed and breakfast, but there’s a patio in the back that is open to everyone.
Shaped like the head of a ship, the wooden benches and tables are perfect for a sunny afternoon, and there’s always a gentle wind that helps cut that summer humidity. Complete with stairs down to the rocks for the more adventurous and a dock on the side for when you feel like dipping your toes in the water, nothing is more relaxing than listening to the waves crash below and watching boats sail up and down the Hudson.
If you’re looking to have an afternoon alone, it’s the perfect quiet spot, but it’s also a great place to unwind with friends and maybe have an afternoon picnic. If you’re looking for more to do after, downtown Saugerties is just a moment away, where you can browse through book stores and small shops, and enjoy the lesser known arts scene.
Ali Hibbs’ pick — Shelving Rock Falls
In Texas, where I spent many of my formative years, there is only one natural lake. I have no idea where it is or what it’s called, I only know that I never swam in it. Lake Travis, the lake where I went cliff-diving when I lived in Austin, is nice enough but the water is never clear and the landscape is always a bit brown.
Which is why I’m in love with Lake George. The first time I ever visited Shelving Rock Falls (not the actual falls, but the mountains and lake) at Lake George and could see all the way to the bottom through perfectly clear blue waters and I watched the sun set over the green, mountainous landscape, I spent the rest of that whole summer planning day trips and camping trips and taking every opportunity to bribe my then-boyfriend to go jump off of rocks with me. (It wasn’t hard.)
We liked to take our air mattress and tether it to the rocks from which we were jumping so that we had a little island to swim out to; eventually we discovered a little actual island at the farthest end of the windy gravel road. It’s a relatively hazardous road, if you’re not a cautious driver, and long—it takes the better part of an hour to get there once you’ve entered that area of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which is within the Lake George Wild Forest. The patience it took to make it to that island was always worth it, however; we would pretend it was all ours and behave like island royalty. Over the two summers that we spent driving that road, cooler full of frosty beverages and car full of toys and camping gear, we found all kinds of magical places to play and swim and enjoy the incredible scenery. Our initials are forever carved into a tree near one of our favorite spots.
We always talked about going to the falls themselves and yet I’ve still not been. We’re not together anymore and that’s okay, I still love that place and will always want to spend some of my summer days there. I’m planning a trip as I write this; maybe this will be the year I make it to the waterfall.