THE congested Northeast packs 60 million people into one corner of the country, most of them scurrying around every workday somewhere within the long string of coastal metropolitan areas. But even from this domain of suburbs and skyscrapers, where the Interstates can seem to lead mostly from one clutch of 7-Elevens and parking garages to another, a great summer getaway is never far away. And for the urbanites who long for a quick escape – and their country neighbors, too – it’s not necessary to buy a plane ticket or mortgage the house for gasoline in order to kick back and sample something slower paced and new.
These 25 Northeast getaways will help remind you why so many people moved to this part of the world in the first place.
1. MAINE’S SOUTHERN
Barely more than an hour’s drive from Boston, the Maine coast just north of New Hampshire has something for everybody’s list of favorites. At Cape Neddick, a quintessential New England lighthouse. At Ogunquit, one of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic. A glimpse of the old seacoast life at York Village and York Harbor. Lobster rolls and summer theater, pounding surf and quiet coves, laid-back, family-friendly and gay-friendly – it’s all here. The discovery has been made, and you won’t lack for company. But sit for a while on a bench along the cliff walk called the Marginal Way, snag a waterfront cafe table, or stake out a patch of the wide, white sand, and the sea works all its old, relaxing charm.
2. NEWBURYPORT, MASS.
Newburyport and Plum Island, at the mouth of the Merrimack River, combine shops, boutiques and maritime heritage with breathtaking views and beaches. The sea captains of 200 years ago are gone, but in town, the charm of their stately homes and commercial buildings remains. Plum Island is an 11-mile-long barrier beach connected to the mainland by a narrow road that passes over gorgeous marshes. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1942 to protect bird habitats, takes up three-quarters of the island ( www.fws.gov/northeast/parkerriver; 978-465-5753; $5 per car). The wide, sandy oceanside beach is open to the public, although some areas are restricted during nesting season. Trails, towers and platforms for observation are plentiful. Rangers restrict access to limit the crowds, so on busy summer days, arrive early.
3. LOWELL, MASS.
The role of New England mill towns in the industrial revolution – an absorbing and sometimes heartbreaking story – is explained at the Lowell National Historical Park ( www.nps.gov/lowe; 978-970-5000). Travel through a large, now-picturesque brick mill complex from the 1830s, either by boat on the canals that once supplied power to the mills or by hopping on and off trolleys that run year round. Tours can be self-guided or, if arranged in advance, led by park rangers. A summer performance series at an outdoor pavilion features artists this year including the Indigo Girls, Taj Mahal and Arlo Guthrie.
4. BUZZARDS BAY, MASS.
You could join the spectators who flock to southeastern Massachusetts every summer for the Buzzards Bay Regatta (Aug. 1 to 3 this year; www.buzzardsbayregatta.com), with 450 boats and 1,200 sailors competing. Or you could kayak on the bay, a designated Estuary of National Significance, and experience its beauty firsthand. Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures (508-636-0300; www.ospreyseakayak.com), based in Westport, Mass., offers a variety of guided tours (from $49), including the Westport River, Sunset and Moonlight tours – even a six-hour excursion combining kayaking with wine-tasting and dinner. You can also visit New Bedford ( www.newbedford-ma.gov), the famous whaling port where Herman Melville set the early scenes of “Moby-Dick.” Worth a visit: the New Bedford Whaling Museum ($10), the Greek Revival Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum ($5), and the 13-block New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park on the waterfront ( www.nps.gov/nebe).
5. NEW LONDON, CONN.
A seafarers’ town from the 1600s to the era of nuclear submarines, New London weathered 20th-century decline and is now a stop for cruise ships. It’s also the childhood home of America’s only Nobel prize-winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill. Admire the waterfront statue of O’Neill as a 7-year-old, sketching a ship, or toast his memory at the Dutch Tavern on Green Street, largely unchanged from when it was one of his favorite watering holes. Then tour O’Neill’s boyhood home, the Monte Cristo Cottage (325 Pequot Avenue; www.theoneill.com; $7), which became the setting for both “”Ah, Wilderness!” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” When the tour is done, sample one of the ethnic restaurants in the walkable downtown and shop for artwork at galleries like the Yah-Ta-Hey (279 State Street, 860-443-3204), which sells American Indian art, and By Design, a fine-arts store and gallery (66 Bank Street; 860-447-9170).
6. BERKSHIRES LANDSCAPE AND
Since art and nature are so inextricably intertwined in the Berkshires, why not start at the highest point? Mount Greylock ( www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/mtgreylock; 413-499-4262) rises 3,491 feet, offering expansive river, valley and mountain views encompassing five states. The 70-mile network of trails throughout the 12,500-acre Mount Greylock reservation is ideal for hiking and biking. It’s an easy switch from mountain trek to art trail. Start at the nearby Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown ( www.clarkart.edu; $12.50 in summer), which recently unveiled the landscape-sensitive Stone Hill Center (home of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center), designed by Tadao Ando. More in the mood for something new or edgy? Then, take a quick drive to North Adams and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as Mass MoCA ( www.massmoca.org) and Kolok Gallery ( www.kolokgallery.com), which shows the work of emerging and international artists.
7. FORT TICONDEROGA
Pay homage to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, the pride of Vermont, with a trip to Fort Ticonderoga ( www.fort-ticonderoga.org; $15), at the once-strategic tip of Lake Champlain in upstate New York. These days, the uniforms are on re-enactors, a fife and drum corps dating back to 1927 and guides who can explain the British chagrin in 1775, when Allen and the ragtag militia of Vermonters snatched the fort. They also acquired 59 cannons that were later hauled across icy hills to Boston and helped persuade the British there to load up their ships and retreat to New York. From the fort, follow Allen back into Vermont and north to the lively city of Burlington, where you can visit his homestead ( www.ethanallenhomestead.org; $5), have dinner on the Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise boat on Lake Champlain ( www.soea.com) and eat Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (36 Church Street) in its original hometown.
New York’s capital city is worth a visit even – or especially – when the governor and the legislators go on vacation, opening space in the restaurants and leaving the government halls to outsize political characters of the past. Touring the ornate Capitol ( www.ogs.state.ny.us/visiting/cultural/tourscapitol.html) and the Executive Mansion (138 Eagle Street; call 518-473-7521 two weeks in advance), expect stories of former governors including Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Al Smith and perhaps even Eliot Spitzer (who, with his wife, Silda, gave the mansion a green makeover). But it was Nelson Rockefeller who really shaped Albany, leading construction in the 1960s of the Empire State Plaza, with its egg-shaped performance hall and world-class modern art collection. Don’t miss the state museum ( www.nysm.nysed.gov) at the plaza’s south end, with its exhibits on birds, fire engines, Harlem and the World Trade Center and its functioning antique carousel made, of course, in New York State.
9. HUDSON VALLEY OPULENCE
The Gilded Age parties are over, but you’re welcome as a weekend guest (albeit a paying one) at many of the grand estates and gardens of Millionaire’s Row on the east side of the Hudson River. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Springwood ( www.nps.gov/hofr; $14) is a mere bungalow in comparison to some of the others open for tours. The flamboyant Vanderbilt Mansion, built by Frederick Vanderbilt in 1898, reflects nouveau-riche decadence ( www.nps.gov/vama; $8). The 79-room Mills Mansion ( www.staatsburgh.org; $5) is said to have been appropriated by Edith Wharton as the setting for “The House of Mirth.” At Montgomery Place( www.hudsonvalley.org/content/view/16/46; $5), the 434-acre Livingston estate, the garden is the star, with formal beds and a “wild” section with a waterfall and pond. Other Hudson Valley gardens stand alone, including the 150-acre Chinese-inspired Innisfree Garden ( www.innisfreegarden.org; $4 weekdays, $5 weekend) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies ( www.ecostudies.org), both in Millbrook.
10. SARANAC LAKE, N.Y.
The Village of Saranac Lake, home of shops, bookstores, restaurants and the charming, historic Hotel Saranac ( www.hotelsaranac.com), gets its greatest fame as the premier jumping-off point for the woods and waters of the Adirondacks. The High Peaks Wilderness Area, with extensive hiking opportunities, begins just outside of town. The lakes are a canoeist’s dream: Upper Saranac, the farthest west from town, is nine miles long; Middle Saranac has island camping and sandy beaches; Lower Saranac attracts families. The annual Adirondack Canoe Classic, a 90-mile race over three days in September, ends in Saranac Lake at pretty Lake Flower, which was created by damming a section of the Saranac River. Rent a canoe yourself, from Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters (518-891-7450) or another outfitter, and paddle away.
11. THE SHAWANGUNK RIDGE
Serious rock climbers and novices alike can find great climbing in the Shawangunk Mountains – and for those who aren’t ready for the ropes and pitons, this can also be a spectator sport. You’ll first notice the climbers, crawling antlike up the cliffs, as you head west to the ridge from New Paltz, N.Y., on Route 44/55. For a less vertiginous Gunks experience, hike at Minnewaska State Park nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/info.asp?parkID=78), where some trails lead to jewel-like lakes, or on the property of the landmark Mohonk Mountain House ( www.mohonk.com).
12. SENECA FALLS, N.Y.
The year when we almost had a female presidential nominee is a good time to discover how the women’s suffrage movement was conceived at the seven-acre interactive Women’s Rights National Historical Park (315-568-2991; www.nps.gov/wori) in Seneca Falls, N.Y. It was here, at Wesleyan Chapel, that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Seneca Falls housewife (who most likely baked cookies) and a mother of three sons, held the first Women’s Rights Convention, in 1848. At the park, you can tour several sites (call ahead to confirm tour schedules): the Wesleyan Chapel, the Declaration of Sentiments Waterwall and the historic homes of the convention’s three organizers – Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock and Jane Hunt (outside viewing only of the Hunt home). On July 19, the park commemorates the 160th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention, featuring a daylong program of special events. Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, will be there.
13. NORTH FORK, LONG ISLAND
Feeling nostalgic for the Hamptons, pre-Hollywood East? Then skip the South Fork and head to the other side of the Peconic Bays, where a lineup of mellow country towns awaits. Sample old-fashioned Main Streets, farm stands, history museums, waterfront restaurants, bucolic beaches and nature preserves, and a stunning 3,000 acres of vineyards – not to mention more than 30 wineries where you can taste and purchase a slew of local cabernets, chardonnays and merlots. To cover it all, make your base at one of the many elegant inns, like the North Fork Table & Inn (631-765-0177; www.northforktableandinn.com; 57225 Main Road, Southold), where a former Amuse chef and a Gramercy Tavern pastry chef feed you in an elegant onsite dining room; or the sleek and modern Greenporter (631-477-0066; www.thegreenporter.com; 326 Front Street), in the historic, walkable whaling town of Greenport.
14. THE THOUSAND ISLANDS
In the 40-mile swath that the St. Lawrence River cuts between upstate New York and Canada from Lake Ontario downstream to Cape Vincent, N.Y., there really are 1,000 islands, of all shapes and many sizes. The area is a favorite spot for fishing and boating; rentals and outfitters are available if you lack your own gear. Classic and antique wooden boats, a signature of the river life, shine at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, N.Y. (750 Mary Street; 315-686-4104; www.abm.org; $15), which holds its annual boat show Aug. 1 to 3. Can’t make it that weekend? Anytime this summer, head to the museum docks to board the 107-foot Gilded Age houseboat La Duchesse, row an elegant rented St. Lawrence skiff or feel the spray during a 45-minute ride on a triple-cockpit runabout speedboat.
15. SANDY HOOK, N.J.
On the beachy, breezy seven-mile stretch of Sandy Hook’s Gateway National Recreation Area (732-872-5970; www.nps.gov/gate), you can bike, bird, fish, hike, climb a historic lighthouse, swim and sunbathe – clothed or not – against an uncluttered backdrop of sea and sky. It’s an easy trip for Manhattanites, who can just hop the Seastreak ferry (800-262-8743; www.seastreak.com; round-trip $43) with a backpack and a bike. Whether you come by sea or by car, you’ll want two wheels to traverse the smooth tar path of this barrier island, which is punctuated by the eerie remains of Fort Hancock. For less athletic entertainments, head next door to the Highlands, where an impressive clutch of restaurants includes Bay Ave. Trattoria (732-872-9800; 122 Bay Avenue) and the Inlet Cafe (732-872-9764; 3 Cornwall Street), which sets tables at the edge of Sandy Hook Bay. Highlands is also an alternate spot to catch a ferry back to New York.
16. REVOLUTIONARY WAR TRAILS
Follow the trail of George Washington’s army in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776 to attack Trenton at a place now called – ta da! – Washington Crossing, and both states have pretty parks there with pocket museums. (Pick up picnic supplies on the Pennsylvania side at Colonial Farms Gourmet Foods, 1108 Taylorsville Road; 215-493-1548.) The next battle was at Princeton, N.J.; check out the battlefield ( www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/princeton.html) and then sidetrack to Palmer Square downtown for store-made ice cream at the Bent Spoon (609-924-2368). About 55 miles to the southwest is Valley Forge, Pa. ( www.nps.gov/vafo), where the troops spent a grim winter and you can spend a far more comfortable day. Take a cellphone tour, dialing at each stop to hear what happened there. From there, it’s back to New Jersey for another battle, at Monmouth ( www.monmouthbattlefield.com), and another hard winter, in Morristown ( www.nps.gov/morr).