New York is an awesome place to live, but sometimes you want to escape the crowds. Luckily, there are five amazing destinations less than 2 1/2 hours from the city, so you can treat yourself to a weekend getaway...
1. Fire Island (Long Island).
The magical thing about Fire Island is that no cars are allowed, so you walk or bike everywhere, and the whole place feels like summer camp. We stayed with friends last summer in the teeny town of Fair Harbor, which looks like a postcard with its red firehouse, pizza parlor, grocery store, beach and playground. You rent houses--most come with outdoor showers!--and spend the days relaxing at the beaches and having lobster rolls for lunch. Don't worry about having to schlep your stuff to the beach: Everyone, even burly men, pulls Radio Flyer red wagons filled with groceries, beach chairs and kids. Another charming bonus? To hop between the towns, you take a water taxi. Just call the phone number, and the boat comes racing to the dock to scoop you up. What a timeless, wonderful place.
(How to get there: Take a one-hour train ride from Penn Station to Bay Shore, then take the ferry to Fire Island.)
2. Saugerties (Hudson Valley).
The Hudson Valley is peppered with quaint small towns, such as Rhinebeck, Woodstock and Hudson, but my favorite is the little town of Saugerties. You can rent one of the lovely homes in town (on homeaway.com or airbnb.com--check out this place), or reserve one of the two rooms in the Saugerties Lighthouse. I also LOVE the Villa at Saugerties, which is currently closed, but hopefully will re-open again soon. You can go antiquing, pick your own fruits and vegetables, go sailing, walk out to the Saugerties lighthouse (it's beautiful, and you can sit on the deck and dip your feet in the water), go hiking, tour estates and mansions, and watch an airplane show and fly in an open-cockpit bi-plane in nearby Rhinebeck (we did this for Alex's birthday once! It was awesome!). For dinner, try the seasonal food at Miss Lucy's Kitchen in Saugerties (they also have two rooms for rent upstairs).
(How to get there: Rent a car and drive 2.5 hours to Saugerties. You'll want a car for exploring.)
3. Spring Lake (New Jersey).
Spring Lake is a charming town with Victorian houses, between a glistening lake and the salty ocean. Stay at Ashling Cottage B&B, and enjoy homemade muffins and eggs while reading the newspaper or playing Scrabble on their wrap-around porch. Then ride the (free) bikes down the boardwalk and swim in the big ocean waves. For dinner, walk to Main Street for chicken sandwiches and ice-cream sundaes. The town still has enough Jersey-Shore to keep it entertaining: The last time we went, we saw girls on the beach in high heels and a tattooed dude with a pet parrot!
(How to get there: Take the 2-hour train ride from Penn Station to Spring Lake, then walk a few blocks from the station to the B&B. You don't need to rent a car.)
4. North Fork (Long Island).
The North Fork is #1 on my list of places I'd love to visit; I've never been. After seeing Jenna's vacation photos, I've been daydreaming about picking lavender and peaches, canoeing down rivers, building sandcastles on the beach, visiting wineries and eating farm-to-table meals. Have any of you ever been? It looks like an American version of Provence! Three nice hotels are The Greenporter, Red Barn B&B and The North Fork Table & Inn, although most visitors seem to rent houses. (More info here and here.)
(How to get there: Rent a car and drive 2.5 hours to the North Fork of Long Island. If you don't think you'll need a car for exploring, you can take the train or bus to Greenport.)
A weekend getaway to Miami is more adventurous (and obviously splurgier) than staying local, but it's surprisingly easy to get down there and offers a mind-blowing escape in the wintertime. Fly from NYC to Miami (3.5 hours), and stay at The Standard hotel in South Beach. It's one of the most relaxing hotels ever--with lush gardens, ping pong tables, fire pits and a hot tub with a waterfall. The enormous infinity pool is as warm as a bathtub, and slowly slants down as you wade deeper into it, facing Biscayne Bay, until you feel surrounded by water and sky. At the hotel restaurant, try the Greek salad with tofu or the fish sandwich with spicy fries. Bonus: The hotel offers fluffy white robes, so you can spend your weekend in a robe, swimsuit and flip flops--no need to pack much else! The hotel often has off-season or three-night deals, so you can find rooms for a steal. (FYI, no kids under 14 are allowed, so it's best for a romantic getaway.)
(How to get there: Fly direct from NYC to Miami. You won't need a car, and parking at the hotel is expensive anyway. Just take a taxi from the airport to the hotel (about $30-$40) and happily stay put! If you want to venture into South Beach, you can walk, take a taxi or borrow the hotel's tandem bike for a wobbly ride.)
Which of these places would you want to visit most? Which suits your personality best? What other places have you been to around NYC? Alex is always saying we should go to the Delaware Water Gap! I would LOVE to hear your getaway recommendations!
P.S. The complete Cup of Jo Guide to New York City...
(Top image layout by HipHipGinGin for Cup of Jo. Hotel/lighthouse photos courtesy of the hotels and lighthouse; photo of me in Spring Lake by Alex; North Fork photos by Jenna Park and the New York Times; Fire Island photos by Leigh/Marvelous Kiddo)