New York City is easily one of the world’s art capitals-- it's hard to imagine that there’s any better spot for taking in the best of the best in paintings, sculpture and architecture than the Big Apple. But with the Hudson Valley just a short trip from the city that never sleeps, we had no reason not to take to the road in our FIAT 500X to see what the quaint towns along the Hudson River had to offer when it came to creative art.
The drive out to Hudson Valley itself is perfect for a morning drive. We hopped on Route 218 and made our way to our first destination via Storm King Highway, a three-mile stretch of road that winds around the mountains of Storm King State Park. The FIAT 500X took the tight turns like a champ as we climbed 420 feet above the Hudson. We couldn't pass up taking a breather to check out the timeless panoramic views of the river with Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill in the distance. We clearly weren't the first people besides Henry Hudson himself to enjoy this perfect overlook.
A pin on a map didn't do our first destination justice. Nestled in the rolling hills of the lower Hudson Valley, the Storm King Art Center is 500 contiguous acres of seriously impressive contemporary art, earning it a reputation as one of the world’s best sculpture parks. Explore the lovely natural surroundings and stumble upon sculptures that range from enchanting to intriguingly abstract. Lucky for us, the firey decidious trees could have been an exhibit on their own.
A little bit of roadtrippin’ serendipity meant we were able to catch Lynda Benglis:Water Sources, an exhibition from artist Lynda Benglis. She drew inspiration from the marshes and lakes of her Louisianan bayou upbringing to create enormous fountains and sculptures using everything from ordinary mediums like wax and clay to non-traditional materials like polyurethane foam. If you have the chance to see this exhibition, consider checking it out on a moonlit tour, when her phosphorescent pieces literally shine!
It was hard to leave this art mecca in the middle of the mountains behind, but the road was calling our names – specifically Route 9W. This long highway runs right along the Hudson River through valley towns like Cold Spring, New York. While we didn't get a chance to rifle through Cold Spring's quaint antique shops, the place was bustling with weekenders, here to enjoy the hilly hiking trails, historical buildings and lively downtown riverside promenade. Navigating Cold Spring is as intuitive as any truly historic small town: walk towards the water on Main St. and smell your way to a number of amazing brunch and coffee shops!
We rode north along (then over) the river towards Newburgh, where we planned to test the waters of this self-proclaimed “artist-friendly” city that inspired George Washington himself to make some big decisions. Today, New Yorkers walk in his footsteps for riverside festivals and open studio tours at places like Space Create.
We hit the Ann Street Gallery to get a taste of Newburgh's art revolution. Located in the once luxurious Hotel Newburgh, this gallery is now part of the Safe Harbors redevelopment project -- a housing program for 128 residents living with mental health diagnoses and physical disabilities. Safe Harbors is the same awesome organization that was responsible for getting Space Create off the ground!
Stroll down to the Newburgh waterfront and you could catch sight of anything from a jetski brigade to an art festival. Stop in at Blu Pointe and chow down on an artisanal cheese board or throw back a Bartlett Flip (a daring mixture of gin, lychee, peach nectar, rosemary clove syrup and egg whites). For more casual digs, head to Billy Joe's Ribworks, a southern style joint named after a fictitious talking goat. It's pretty on-point for the offbeat art scene!
But fabled chatty animals aside, you’ll also find rich history among the city’s cafes, studios and restaurants. At Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, we tucked into the exact same fieldstone farmhouse where our first president gave the axe to ideas like monarchies in America and military control of the government. Set right on the Hudson River, this historical site is furnished to look like our nation’s forefather just stepped out for some fresh air; a tour can make you forget that it was over 200 years ago when Washington was brewing up a revolution here.
Hopping back on 9W, we ran took the FIAT 500X for a spin through premium Hudson Valley roadway, cruising smoothly through mountain road flanked on either side by apple orchards. A side trip down River Road proved to be the perfect detour for some unbeatable riverside stops and brought us into our bittersweet arrival in Saugerties, New York.
Once in Saugerties, we bee lined it for the Dutch Ale House. The ale house is a new microbrewery famous for the world's most logical invention: the bacon, egg and cheese...burger. Much to our dismay, we missed their karaoke, but caught wind that the area's famous Saugerties Lighthouse was just a short distance away! We packed up the remnants of our hearty meal and set out for a sunset on the waterfront...saving the ales for another night on the river.
The Saugerties Lighthouse seems to make every list of "America's coolest lighthouses" or "lighthouses to sleep in" or "Hudson river landmarks". This 1869 landmark and architectural gem is a short hike through a wooded path. Home to a bed & breakfast where guests snooze under needlepoint quilts and enjoy morning coffee near a wood-burning stove, the lighthouse books up months in advance.
We were able to nab a room nearby at the Smythe House, owned by David and Justine Smythe, an unlikely inn-keeping duo of husband and wife who met at the CIA academy and went on to become co-owners of a retreat center in Costa Rica. They bought this old Victorian home three decades ago before converting it into a bed and breakfast chock full of old world charm.
All in all, the towns up and down the river were the rare mix of inspiring and homey. Perhaps Washington owes a bit of his genius to his environment. When it came to closing the book on the day's journey, even our dog, June, didn't want it to end! The Hudson Valley proved to be the perfect storm of awesome mountain and river vistas and artist culture.
Photos by Erik Fuller