Take a Day Trip to Historic Hudson Valley
As a little boy growing up in the Bronx, my first-ever class trip was to Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving. There, on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY, my second-grade class toured the grounds of Irving's estate, learned how a 19th-century home operated, and, most inspiring for me, peeked into Irving's office and saw the writing desk that once belonged to the author of "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I remember being enchanted by Irving's funny-creepy stories and not wanting to leave the back porch, with its views of the river.
These days, my family and I live just about a mile from Sunnyside and I'm still a regular visitor to the historic site, maintained by the nonprofit group Historic Hudson Valley. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to visit a number of other nearby sites—less than an hour's drive from Manhattan—that are worth a day trip. I can't promise that every site will inspire a career choice, but you'll immerse yourself and your little ones in colonial history, world-class art, and literature. Here are the standouts, all of them within a few miles of Tarrytown, NY, and the brand-new Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge across the river. For details about hours and admission prices and policies, visit hudsonvalley.org.
Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, is a beautifully landscaped estate, much of which was designed by Washington Irving himself. The creator of the Headless Horseman and other iconic literary characters loved this spot enough to settle here after traveling the world and establishing a career as America's "first man of letters." You'll watch a video about Irving's life, tour the estate and home, and you should spend some time in the exceptional gift shop, where you'll find imaginative crafts and a great collection of books about local history. (After you visit Sunnyside, take a short walk up the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail to see another amazing estate—Lyndhurst, a castle-like mansion and 67-acre park maintained by the National Trust.)
Kykuit, in Pocantico Hills, was home to John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and one of the richest people in history. Here, you'll tour the gorgeously furnished six-story house and see how the other .00005% lived. The highlight of the site is its gardens that feature a collection of 20th-century sculptures that once belonged to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.
Philipsburg Manor, in Sleepy Hollow, transports you back to the year 1750 to see a working farm, mill, and center of local trade. (And, yes, it's in the village of Sleepy Hollow, where the Headless Horseman is still known to gallop by every year as Halloween approaches.) Visitors can participate in hands-on farming activities such as shelling beans or working flax into linen, tour the gristmill with its immense stone, and learn the little-known stories of the enslaved Africans who made the estate run. Across Route 9, you'll find Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Washington Irving is buried—and seasonal lantern-lit evening tours will test even the steeliest nerves.
Union Church of Pocantico Hills is a humble little country church along a winding road near the Rockefeller estate. Oh, but turn into the parking lot and peek inside and you'll notice that this charming little stone building holds Henri Matisse's final work of art—a typically colorful rose window—and a series of stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall, including his massive Good Samaritan.
TALK TO US! I feel lucky to live a short distance from these great historic sites. Tell us about your favorite tourist sites in your own backyard—we just might feature them in an upcoming story!
This Weekend: A new park in Washington State
Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island, about a 90-minute drive from Seattle, will open this Saturday. The 433-acre area is the first state park in Washington in more than a decade. The entire project took 18 years and $35 million; the land was once used for logging and was a fishing resort for about 50 years. In addition to typical activities—picnicking, hiking, and fishing— the newest attraction the park is offering is overnight accommodations in 31 restored cabins along the waterfront. The experience is straight out of 1930s, at the height of the resort's popularity. Think small, quaint porches, rocking chairs, and handmade quilts. The park opening has caused such a stir that the cabins are booked through October. The opening will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 21, and is free to the public. The park is located at 1880 S. West Camano Drive, Camano Island. For information or reservations, call 360/387-1550.
Dubai: What a desert safari is like
When I made plans to visit my parents in the Middle East, I picked up a February 2007 issue of Budget Travel to read its feature on Dubai ("Just Add Money"). The writer claimed that the country’s popular desert safaris were…well…lame. But I wanted to do one anyway. Aside from lizards and camels, you won’t see many animals. In essence, a desert safari involves a jeep drive through enormous mounds of sand (called "dune-bashing"), and a stop at a campsite where you’ll have the opportunity to ride camels, get henna tattoos and be entertained by a belly dancer during dinner. The real draws are the ride and subsequent view. When we got in the car, our driver and guide from Desert Link (011-971/4-283-0504, desertlinkdubai.com) advised us to fasten our seatbelts. As we started barreling through the dunes, at points on the brink of teetering over, Jasim sat sans seatbelt, fiddling with the radio. A guy in our jeep dubbed him "the Master" as he fearlessly drove us through peaks and valleys. Around us, there were miles of sleek fiery orange hills, only crumpled by the tracks of our predecessors. It was thrilling, albeit slightly dangerous. After about 20 minutes, our pack of eight jeeps stopped to watch the sunset. A group of American college kids had brought snowboards and immediately started jetting down the dunes. I knew the $60 was worth it. Desert Link runs half-day and overnight safaris, but the half-day is more than enough time; you’ll even get to stargaze after dinner. Other operators include Net Tours (011-971/4-266-8661, nettoursdubai.com) and Orient Tours (011-971/4-282-8238, orienttours.co.ae). HAVE A COOL TRIP JOURNAL STORY OF YOUR OWN? Share your story and photos or video by creating a MyBudgetTravel account.
This Weekend: Montreal Jazz Festival kicks off
It wouldn't be summer without jazz festivals, and Montreal’s is one of the best and biggest. More than 3,000 musicians—among them, Ravi Coltrane, Leonard Cohen, and Steely Dan—will perform at the 29th annual festival, from June 26 to July 6. There are hundreds of free outdoor shows on 10 stages, and more than 150 shows lined up for the indoor concert series (tickets range from $12 to $140). The festival, held in downtown Montreal, is dedicated this year to the late Oscar Peterson, a jazz piano legend. There are two debuts of note: Woody Allen, with his New Orleans Jazz Band, and Aretha Franklin, whose shows are sold out. Interested in going? There are still hotel packages available. PREVIOUSLY: Montreal Locals Share Travel Tips My Montreal is Better Than Yours
Gear: For summer, a new family-friendly backpack
On a recent visit to the Briggs & Riley Travelware showroom, the Family Backpack caught my eye. The backpack, which hits stores this week, is tailored to parents on the go. It has a front compartment for a portable DVD player, a separate organizer for a cell phone or iPod, an outer side strap for a sippy cup or water bottle, and a side pocket with waterproof lining. A band in the back allows you to slip the entire bag over the handle of any carry-on rolling suitcase. The main compartment features a sleek insulated lunch bag that rests on a collapsible shelf and is held in place by Velcro. The shelf makes it easy to stuff diapers, books, and other items around the lunch bag, but you can also fold it up when you want to maximize the backpack’s interior. At $199, the Family Backpack isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper—and can get more day-to-day use—than the company’s current bestseller, the 22-inch Baseline rolling carry-on. Last year, I visited Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory in Petaluma, Calif., with my then 5-year-old niece. I remember trying to hold my niece’s hand while juggling our picnic lunch and her sweatshirt. A backpack like this would’ve helped to streamline the chaos. If you have any gear recommendations, share them by posting a comment below.