New York City may lure travelers with its gleaming lights and nonstop excitement, but step outside the five boroughs and a more relaxed agenda awaits in the Empire State.
Art lovers can find immersive outdoor museums and themed gardens, while adventure seekers can go for an Olympic-sized thrill ride or hike well above the tops of the tree canopies. Those looking for the high life can pop into castle-like mansions, while the more chill can kick back at the site of a famous music festival.
And the curious – whether it’s a love for baseball, an appreciation for glass or a penchant for chicken wings – will also find ways to fulfill those desires. After all, the activities here are as varied as the regions, ensuring everyone leaves with a New York state of mind.
Enjoy art sculptures at Storm King Art Center
Storm King Art Center – just about an hour’s drive north of New York City – is as much about its dramatic sculptures as it is about its topography. Nearly 90 works are displayed on the outdoor museum’s 500 acres, spread across woods, fields, meadows and hills – the setting playing as much a role in the site-specific displays as the oversized art pieces themselves.
Take a bike tour through buffalo wing history in Buffalo
The story is the stuff of legends: Anchor Bar co-owner Teressa Bellissimo’s son Dominic was working the bar one Friday night in 1964 when his friends came in, starving.
So Teressa took leftovers from the kitchen and whipped up some snacks, using parts of the chicken usually saved for the stock pot – the wings. After deep-frying, she topped them off with a secret sauce, making her Buffalo restaurant the self-proclaimed home of the original Buffalo wing.
That's the story most commonly told, but it may not be the whole story. Black entrepreneur John Young already had a thriving restaurant on Buffalo’s east side in the 1960s called Wings and Things, featuring his own secret mambo sauce. It was popular among the late-night crowd, and even Buffalo Bills football players.
Though the restaurant is no longer there, Buffalo Bike Tours offers a Wing Ride from May through October to learn about the city’s secret chicken history, with tastings at several local wing spots – and no, Anchor Bar is not one of them.
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Ride a coaster along an Olympic bobsled track in Lake Placid
Fortunately, no Olympic training is required to experience the bobsled track used in both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
In 2020, the nation’s longest mountain coaster, the Cliffside Coaster, debuted at Mt Van Hoevenberg, and now visitors can strap into a vehicle and speed through the twist and turns of the course, while an audio system blasts commentary on what it was like to be an Olympian coasting down that very same cliffside path.
And if that’s not enough of a thrill, the Olympic Sports Complex also offers a bobsled experience along a half-mile track that hits speeds of up to 55mph.
Make your own glass at the Corning Museum of Glass
Situated in the Finger Lakes, the Corning Museum of Glass has put glass in a class of its own. Not only is it the world’s most extensive collection of glass, with more than 50,000 objects spanning 3500 years of history, it’s also the leading library on the material – and one of the best glassworking schools. Visitors can get in on the action with options to make their own glass, whether it’s a glass-blown ornament or a sandblasted sculpture.
Mansion hop along the Gatsby Gold Coast on Long Island’s North Shore
Tucked among the suburban sprawl of Long Island is a world of opulence, if you know where to look. In Huntington, tour Oheka Castle’s French-style estate and gardens (which will be immediately recognizable from several movies and celebrity weddings), then explore the Vanderbilt Mansion’s museum and planetarium in Centerport or marvel at the Guggenheim Estate on the Sands Point Preserve – better known as East Egg from the book The Great Gatsby.
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Spot the converging tides from Montauk Point Lighthouse
If Montauk is truly The End, as it's called, then Montauk Point Lighthouse – the oldest one in New York State, dating back to 1796 – gives a glimpse of what’s beyond. Sitting on the very eastern tip of Long Island, the view from the top encompasses both the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound, showcasing the converging tides of the two bodies of water, a natural phenomenon.
Tour Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum sits in a Central New York town with just one stoplight – which is fitting, as the museum has more than 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts, not to mention all the baseball cards, harkening back a slower pace of life, and the simplicity with which the sport began.
For fans who want to explore their favorite team's history, the museum offers the Starting Nine scavenger hunt, which leads you to the most surprising objects from your team's past.
Get a read on herbs at the Cornell Botanic Gardens
With more than 500 acres of gardens and natural environments in the Cornell Botanic Gardens – all free to visitors – the Ivy League campus has a whole second persona under its private school facade. One delightful find is an herb garden with themed beds, including one organized by literary references in poetry, prose, myth, folklore and drama, like The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Dine on international cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America
There's only one way for the Culinary Institute of America students to practice their craft – by serving it up to eager diners. Set alongside the Hudson River on a 170-acre campus in Hyde Park are restaurants for every taste: the locally sourced American Bounty, the French contemporary Bocuse Restaurant, the Italian regional Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici and comfort food of the Apple Pie Bakery Café.
Wander over Opus 40’s earthwork sculpture in Saugerties
Dubbed the Stonehenge of North America by some, the 6.5-acre earthwork sculpture Opus 40, created by artist Harvey Fite over the course of nearly 40 years, strikes a balance between enchanting and slightly mysterious. Harvested from the local quarry’s bluestone and designed to honor the stonework of ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures, the site – a sculpture park and museum – also hosts concerts, theatrical events and nature walks.
Celebrate women’s rights at national parks
New York State has a strong connection to the women’s suffrage movement. Seneca Falls was the site of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, and the town's Women's Rights National Historical Park is a testament to these American pioneers' hard work and sacrifice.
Other noteworthy sites include the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park, which includes the abolitionist icon's home, church and grave, and Hyde Park’s Val-Kill, aka the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, where guests walk the very grounds the First Lady strolled every day.
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See a frozen Niagara Falls
Mother Nature’s power roars over Niagara Falls as 3160 tons of water flow over the natural wonder every second. (Yes, second.)
The only thing more magical than beholding that strength is seeing it all come to a standstill – or at least the illusion of one. During particular weather events, the surface water and mist falling through the air turn to ice, and the ice chunks collect below, stacking up to 40ft thick. Water is technically still flowing, but it sure makes for some stunning photos.
Sail along the Canadian border through the Thousand Islands
Uncle Sam Boat Tours has been sailing through Canada’s Thousand Islands from Alexandria Bay, New York, for nearly 100 years. The cruises meander along the St Lawrence River between the US and Canada, taking in views of everything from historic castles to modern mansions, with an optional (but highly recommended) stop at the unfinished 120-room Boldt Castle, complete with a drawbridge and Italian garden.
Complete the Fire Tower Challenge in the Adirondacks
On various summits throughout the Adirondacks are 25 fire towers once used by forest rangers to scout out wildfires. No longer in use, they’ve been upcycled into aerial viewpoints for hikers to get an even higher perspective of the sprawling mountain panoramas. And those who check them all off their list will earn a coveted patch.
Find peace, love and music at Woodstock
Now known as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the Catskills site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is actually located about a 90-minute drive southwest of its namesake town, in Bethel. Look back on the tumultuous decade's events at the festival-themed museum, or experience your own musical bliss in the 16,000-person outdoor amphitheater.
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