Travel

This Overlooked Town Is a Hidden Gem in the Hudson Valley

A misunderstood treasure awaits just outside the city.

A decade ago I was packing my bags for New York City just as the perfect neighborhood bar finally opened in my quiet hometown. And ever since, I’ve had FOMO for the very place I grew up, watching as its once-forbidden streets bloomed with genuinely cool cafes, breweries, restaurants, and boutiques with alarming speed.

A quick Google search paints the Hudson Valley’s Newburgh as a city of crime and economic struggle. It’s the former home to Founding Fathers and current hotbed for think pieces about gentrification. But come here yourself and your thinking will be challenged. “Newburgh Strong” is baked into community efforts by and for life-long residents to ensure Newburgh’s future thrives in spite of the haters—and the current pandemic.

No doubt that Newburgh, a town of just 29,000 residents, is still struggling with its problems, but there is something special happening here too, and it’s giving Hudson and Kingston a run for their weekend-getaway money. The Hudson Highlands’ shades of red and orange in the fall evoke Bob Ross paintings. The OG Italian and Hispanic bakeries dotting Broadway remain true to their recipes. Creative arts and non-profit groups like Newburgh Community Photo Project and Greater Newburgh Parks Conservancy are thriving. And it’s all happening an hour north of Manhattan.

Most people come to Newburgh expecting it to be something different than it is, and most are pleasantly surprised.

“It’s about where you come from,” says Michele Basch, owner of Wherehouse, about the varying preconceived notions new visitors bring to the city. A former city council nominee and chairperson for Newburgh's Architectural Review Commission, board members like her help protect Newburgh’s architectural authenticity as a stop-gap from buildings being flipped, sold, and gouge-priced. “I’ve seen a lot of new faces, a lot of artists and new interests.”

Newburgh’s a city that’s increasingly easy to love, and to visit is to witness a small town in the midst of a renaissance. Here’s what’s hiding in plain sight right near the city.

Stay in an old Victorian townhouse

Newburgh is made up of picturesque 19th-century buildings that vary block to block: from colorful Victorian townhouses to Greek revival churches and classic colonial remnants of the Revolutionary War. Newburgh’s East End Historic District is full of these stunners, and walking distance to the Hudson River waterfront and bustling Liberty Street and Broadway, where you can dine, shop, and tour history along the same corridor.
 
While there are plenty of motel and hotel options due to Newburgh’s convenient Tri-State location (I-84, 9W and NYS-87 all intersect here), splurge on a Victorian townhouse stay, which average $125+ per night. Just make sure to review COVID-19 travel restrictions before you book.

Eat, drink, shop, and play on Liberty Street

Liberty Street is poppin’ with window shopping, historical landmarks, diverse bars, and restaurants. New Jersey transplant Michael Carter and Newburgh native Christina Silvestris saw the area’s promise, both opening storefronts in 2017. Their bespoke art gallery-style shops include curated home goods available in-store and online. 

“[I’m] making connections with customers and brands online,” says Carter who runs M. Lewis Boutique now as an online marketplace. This is echoed at Silvestris’ shop, Field Trip, which started from her growing apothecary brand. 

Shopping small here is a way of life, when Hudson Valley tourists and neighbors like Amal Ishak of women’s boutique Cream Newburgh are year-round patrons and business-idea exchangers. 

This is also a place where you can experience a taste of the Hudson Valley’s past and future. To experience old-school Newburgh, real ones know to hit up Torino Bakery for fresh-baked morning rolls, coffee, and homemade Italian cookies. Then, class it up with dinner to-go from Cosimo's, a longtime family-favorite Italian trattoria on Union Avenue.

Newburgh Flour Shop is iconic for cakes and pastries, but opt for the sleeper-hit bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich: sunny side up egg and melted cheddar nestled in a soft poppy brioche-like bun with a layer of tomato jam. 

Ms. Fairfax is a brunch favorite for a modern take on the staples: diner-style eggs, avocado toast, pancakes, and BLTs. Take your order to their back patio for an urban oasis: spacious wooden picnic tables, overhead garden lights, and beautiful vines draping the brick walls around you. It’s the kind of relaxed, hearty start to the day you’ll need. 

On the other side of Broadway, New Orleans native Sterling Knight and her team are cooking Cajun-Creole dinner at Mama Roux, one of the more exciting newcomers to Liberty Street. Mama’s fried chicken basket, wedge salad, apple beignets, and a strong cocktail will set you straight. 

Consider a nightcap at The Wherehouse, which plans to expand their indoor/outdoor space for winter-themed events, or ask Carlos next door at Palate Wines for his favorite bottle of bubbly. In between rounds,  don’t forget to enjoy an al fresco break nearby at Washington’s Headquarters—where the first president plotted key events of the Revolution—or along Water Street if the weather holds out.

Mohonk Preserve gives you a full panorama of the valley. | Photo Spirit / shutterstock

Explore the surrounding valley

Being in Upstate New York means making the most of the seasons, and Newburgh’s perimeters are brimming with beautiful things to see and do.  

Head 30 minutes north to the village of New Paltz, which offers quintessential small-town Main Street vibes surrounded by stunning mountains. Outdoors lovers flock to Mohonk Preserve for endless choose-your-own nature adventures: including hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating. Just plan ahead: day passes must be purchased online in advance, and the Preserve closes at sunset. 

You can also recreate all-day camp experiences at nearby Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a 22-mile rail trail and linear park, or take self-guided tours of ice caves at Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale, favorites of locals like Victoria Curry of New Paltzing, who serves up all-weather inspo on her feed. 

Head back into town to the corner of Main and Church Street to see New Paltz’s vibrant and inimitable spirit on display with LGBTQIA flags and BLM signs that welcome all— from book lovers at Barner Books and family-friendly Water Street Market to beer nerds at Arrowood Outpost.

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Alisha Miranda is a contributor for Thrillist.