After 18 years of living in New York State, I’ve learned quite a bit about the country’s fourth-most populous state. From where to go and what to do, to what to eat and how to get around, here are some tips from a local on how to make the most of your visit to the Empire State.
If there is only one thing you take away from this article, it should be that New York State is not the same as New York City. This is especially important to residents outside of New York City, such as those in the Catskills, Western, and “Upstate” New York areas. New York State is extremely diverse in terms of population, politics, geography, and gastronomy, so don’t equate the city with the state, and do yourself a favor and see as much as possible.
That depends entirely on who you ask and New York State residents will probably never stop battling about where exactly “Upstate” starts. It’s essentially a loosely defined area that begins somewhere above Westchester County (the county immediately north of New York City) and the Adirondacks. For anyone who’s spent time in the Midwest, “going Upstate'' is kind of like “going up north.”
With over 180 state parks, 150 mountain biking trails, and 700 shared-use and single-use trails, New York State was made for adventurers. The 750-mile Empire State Trail is a recently built trail that begins in Lower Manhattan, runs north to Albany, then splits west to Buffalo and north to Rouses Point, right on the Canadian border. You can cycle the 360-mile Erie Canalway, hike the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks (the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States), or visit the Autism Nature Trail – the first of its kind in the country.
As a large and diverse state, you’ll find plenty to do at any time of year. In summer, go swimming along Long Island’s beaches, bike up the Hudson River and go boating in Thousand Islands. Come winter, it’s time for seasonal adventures like snowmobiling, snow-tubing, and skiing on more than fifty downhill and cross-country ski trails. Hiking (which is especially great during fall foliage season), brewery hopping, and museum visits are available year-round so it’s impossible to run out of things to do.
While most businesses do accept credit cards around the state, small street vendors (such as hotdog or pretzel carts in New York City) may only take cash. The same applies if you’re traveling through small towns and rural areas, where you’ll encounter farm stands offering locally-produced goodies like cheese, milk, jam, honey, wine, maple syrup, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of these stands only accept cash because, instead of a person receiving your payment, there might only be a small honesty box for you to slip money inside. Speaking of
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New York is one of 23 states where recreational marijuana is now legal. Travelers aged 21 and older may possess up to three ounces of cannabis (24 grams of concentrated cannabis) and consumption is permitted in most public spaces where smoking and vaping are allowed. Limitations still apply and you might feel more comfortable saving your dispensary haul for the end of the day – nodding off on the subway isn’t going to do you any favors. Get a bite of the Big Apple high life and revel in some post-hike hashish at these cannabis-friendly Airbnbs in New York State.
With major hotel companies announcing new brands left and right, it's hard to keep up with all of them. But of all the announcements coming out in the last few years, few have been as exciting as Hilton's new Tempo by Hilton, designed to cater to "active, ambitious travelers."
It's been just a year since Japan reopened its borders to international travel after the pandemic. But tourism has rebounded in ways almost no one could have predicted, setting up a potentially record-breaking 2024.
The Danish chef Mads Refslund first began working on Ilis, his new restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 2016. After years of high-profile jobs at places like Manhattan’s Acme and Shou Sugi Ban House in the Hamptons, Refslund, a co-founder of Noma, wanted a permanent space where he could create an immersive culinary experience. The open kitchen, and its live fire grill, is at the center of the 4,800-square foot room on Green Street. The space has 17-foot ceilings with wooden beams and exposed brick walls; custom rosewood tables and leather banquettes frame the perimeter (though a few counter seats provide the best vantage of a meal coming together). “This is about transparency,” Refslund says. The name Ilis is a portmanteau of sorts, with meaning “fire” in Danish and meaning “ice.” It’s a nod to the dichotomous spirit of the restaurant — serious cooking with laid-back dinner party vibes. The menu allows guests to choose from a selection of primary ingredients, say New England scallops or Pennsylvania wild duck, and, in some cases, style of preparation (raw or grilled, for example). The seasonal cuisine is informed by Refslund’s Scandinavian upbringing, as well as his travels to Japan and Mexico City. But, the chef says, “hopefully, it will just become a New York restaurant,” a reflection of the city he now calls home.
Born in California, Alex Brightman is a two-time Tony nominee and writer living in New York City. He loves watching baseball and basketball when he's not on stage. Right now you can see him as Richard Dreyfuss in “The Shark is Broken” on Broadway.
“Fire Island is a very special place, especially for queer people,” Jimi Urquiaga, a.k.a. Missleidy Rodriguez, told me. While that might seem like a statement of the obvious, Urquiaga has experienced the island from an atypical vantage point: for the past two summers, they've been packing up their life in New York City as a costume designer, producer, creative director and drag queen to come work at the Pines’ plant shop, CAMP. Urquiaga called me on their break, sitting behind a desk at the plant shop, with a view overlooking the bay. “So that’s the fantasy,” they said with a laugh after describing their surroundings.
In my latest column where I profile creatives and highlight their travel style, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yulia Ziskel, who is a violinist for the New York Philharmonic and has been a member of the first violin section since 2001.
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