Everyone needs a change of scenery during the summer, and sometimes a daytrip is the way to do it. It can make a staycation seem less humdrum or provide a budget-friendly break from the summer playground-and-sprinkler routine, which can quickly get monotonous for us grown-ups.
Sagamore Hill: Just a hop, skip and a jump away
If you need ideas, try EscapeMaker.com. It’s explore-by-distance tool lets you choose your starting point and how long you want to spend in transit and then gives you a list of ideas, many reachable by train.
Expedia has a similar gas-gauge tool that asks whether you want to use a quarter, half or full tank of gas. The quarter-tank option turns up destinations within 75 miles, about the right distance for a day trip.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s former home, was built to accommodate both visiting dignitaries and his rough-and-tumble children. I visited on an elementary school trip and dragged my mom back several times so I could gawk at the trophies from his safaris and tours of the old West (just remember, those were different times and he did give us the national parks. It’s in Oyster Bay, 35 miles from Park Slope.
Day-trippers have limited access to the North Shore’s town beaches. But if you want a seaside picnic, try Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Beach, near the LIRR. If you have a car, Sunken Meadow State Park is 20 miles further East and Jones Beach is 25 miles straight across the island, both easy drives if traffic is on your side.
Old Bethpage Village is also 35 miles east, in the middle of Nassau County. It recreates 19th century farm village life with preserved buildings and costumed interpreters. It runs special events and reenactments throughout the summer. It’s a sunny, dusty place, but you can rinse the dust off at Jones Beach, a mere 15 miles away by car.
Norwalk is exactly one hour from Park Slope if you avoid rush hour on 95. Its Maritime Aquarium is a rainy day favorite for us. The penguins, river otters, sea lions and a petting tank full of rays are big hits with my 3.5 year old, especially when we catch the feedings. There are IMAX movies and hands-on demos for school-age kids and a water-themed play area for babies and toddlers.
The nearby Stepping Stones Museum is a solid children’s museum, though I think it has more to offer school-age kids and older preschoolers than it does babies and toddlers. Its best feature is an outdoor play area filled with mats and oversized Styrofoam building blocks.
SoNo is a gentrified quarter next to the aquarium with restaurants, bars and coffee houses. The Brewhouse is big and child-friendly with better than average pub food and New England beers on tap.
Beacon, an 85-minute ride of Metro North, offers a nice main street and a riverfront with scenic views and outdoor activities. The big draw is DIA:Beacon a former factory turned modern art museum with several large-scale pieces. Love them or hate them, your kids will be intrigued and they’ll be fodder for conversation over lunch on Main Street.
If you have a car, head to New Paltz, not-quite 90 miles away on the west side of the Hudson. The Walkway over the Hudson offers great views and a paved path. My then 2.5 year old was bored with it last summer but I’d recommend it with babies who will be content in their ergo/stroller, or over-5s who will be glad to zoom along the traffic-free, mile-plus path on a bike or scooter.
Art Along the Hudson is a summer long celebration offering events in different towns, including New Paltz.
But you could be quite happy heading into town, taking a gander at the historic homes on Huguenot Street and having lunch. New Paltz is a crunchy college town with the usual mix of Mexican restaurants and outdoor-gear shops. My favorite place is the Gilded Otter brewpub. It’s big, airy and has a second floor with a large blackboard and a big bucket of chalk. The food is good and the beer is better.
I have the usual New Yorker’s bias against that side of New York Harbor and admit I haven’t explored it well. I will point out that Sesame Place is just under 75 miles away, doable as a day trip if you get an early start (though many parents recommend staying overnight).
If you think your city kid could benefit from some time around cow and tractors, head to the Warren Country Farmers Fair and Hot Air Balloon Festival, which is just what it sounds like. It runs the first week of August in Harmony, NJ also about 75 miles away.