You want views. Nature. Culture. History. Some good eats and a bit of shopping wouldn’t hurt, either. And you’d rather not travel more than an hour from the city. Some may call your getaway ambitions high maintenance. You call them discerning. And with Peekskill sitting pretty just over 40 miles from Grand Central on Metro-North’s Hudson line, you can also call them realistic.
A once-booming hub for iron stove and plow production, Peekskill is back on the rise from its post-industrial slump. Home to the original CRAYOLA factory, the Hudson Riverside town is now home to a growing artist population. And today, residents see warmth generated by more modern means: Indian Point, a nuclear power plant station that produces up to 30 percent of the electricity used in New York City and Westchester County.
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While Indian Point is technically just south of Peekskill, in Buchanan, its looming presence is hard to ignore from across the water. That said, it’s far from a sticking point—and makes for a striking man-to-nature view for the photographers in the group. And from the right angle, you can convince yourself—or at least your Instagram followers—it’s not there at all.
With an intriguing mix of rural, small-town and not-completely-polished urban charm, Peekskill’s the 5.5 square miles you never knew had it all. Spend a weekend—or even a day—around town, and you can have your homemade (cheese)cake, and eat like a post-hike champ, too.
Peekskill has been actively vying for the hearts, and homes, of artists since the late 1980’s, building coop Peekskill Art Lofts in 2002 to encourage this revitalization. They haven’t gotten all of Bushwick to migrate just yet, but the town’s art scene is nothing short of flourishing.
The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art curates noteworthy exhibitions of international works. The museum—an open space with a second floor mezzanine—is also the organization behind the public art installation map. A self-guided walking tour of sculptures throughout the town. HVCCA is also host to free, family-friendly workshops once a month, often hosted by an artist on display (check the site’s event listings for upcoming programs).
Art extends throughout the town with the Field Library and the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater. Originally built as a 1500-seat movie palace by Publix Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, the Peekskill Paramount Theatre first opened in 1930 and now operates s a multidisciplinary center for the arts.
The few blocks around the Paramount, in the Downtown Historic District, are packed with art for those willing to pop, or ask, around: the BeanRunner Café and The Peekskill Coffee House host rotating exhibits of local artists and the Flat Iron Gallery represents over 100 artists across fine art, jewelry, and gifts. You can tour all of the above and more during the annual Open Studios Weekend.
And while the days of Binney and Smith Company’s CRAYOLA factory may be gone (the building is now Peekskill Chemical Works), a local hat factory remains a center of craft. The Hat Factory is a frequent host of art exhibitions, and the home to a diverse group of artist tenants and Peekskill Clay Studios, a center for clay education and membership-based workspace.
Peekskill is rich in history, from its role in the Revolutionary War, right down to its name. In the mid 17th century, Dutch trader Jan Peeck made the first recorded contact with the Lenape of the area’s native tribal people, then known as the “Sachoes.” Europeans began settling present-day Peekskill—a combination of Peeck and “kil” or “kill,” Dutch for “stream”—in the early 1700s.
Dig into the local history, at the Peekskill Museum, the former home of the Herrick family. Seven large rooms house local relics, from reminders of manufacturers like Fleischmann’s Yeast, to old maps and a 1936 soapbox racer.
Check out the Lincoln Depot Museum that explores President Abraham Lincoln’s relationship to New York, focusing on his stop in Peekskill on his inaugural train ride in 1861.
Indian Point may actually take on a majestic, Emerald City-like air, once you realize you’re in Oz. So the story goes, when a 12-year-old Frank Baum commenced his two years at Peekskill Military Academy, he arrived by steamboat on the Hudson. He asked for directions by the dock and was told to “Follow the yellow brick road.” That yellow brick road, the alleged inspiration for Dorothy’s path, still stands by the water. Skip down what little remains of the bricks to find your way to Dylan’s Wine Cellar.
You’ll also find history lining the shelves of many Peekskill shops. Ford Piano has been rebuilding and restoring pianos for 116 years. Stop by the company’s factory/showroom to see their work in progress. Coop stocks a sweet mix of charming gifts and antiques. Get lost in an eclectic collection of used books and vinyl at Bruised Apple (Bargain Bonus: There’s a bookshelf of $1 books, boxes of $1 records, and 50-cent postcards fashioned from raunchy paperback covers). Thrifters will enjoy the local Quirkshop.
Food & Drink
Bring your appetite. With a solid and growing list of seasonal-minded restaurants showcasing the region’s bounty, Peekskill is one of those places that makes you wish there were more meals in a day (or more Restaurant Weeks in a year).
Start the day off with a cuppa in what’s known as the town’s “living room.” Peekskill Coffee House is homey but spacious, with plenty of mismatched seats for social butterflies and worker bees alike. Find eclectic, “global soul food” and noteworthy pie in a 19th-century mill building with a charming garden at Zeph’s Restaurant. Down by the waterfront, wholesaler-retailer Homestyle Desserts Bakery offers an array of cakes (it all started with cheesecake) and pastries, including its signature “Cannoli Chips and Dip,” crispy pastry triangles and a whole lot of chocolate-chipped cannoli filling dip.
There’s always a “brew of the moment” and “brew of the week” on the menu, but order a latte for a unique work of art. Down by the waterfront, just steps away from the train station (what better way is there to kill waiting time?), Peekskill Brewery elevates pub food to new locavore-friendly heights. Enjoy snacks like a pot of pickles with rye bread and butter and grab a sampler of house brews, including a cask-style stout, in the brewery-side taproom. You can also dig into a full meal, say poutine and the house burger, by the bar, or make your way to the second floor dining room, where a second bar and full brunch-to-dinner menu awaits.
Find a more petite blend of bar and restaurant at The Birdsall House, where a craft beer-centric bar meets delicious cuisine with a distinctly local bent. The crowds go wild for Birdsall’s burger, but if the tasty whole trout we tried is any indication, pescetarians have a lot to look forward to. Check out the restaurant’s site to time your visit with live music or a special beer dinner, and to learn more about weekend gardening workshops and other events. Wander down the block to The Quiet Man Public House for an all-ages (well, over 21) sort of local scene and more live music. Or skip the restaurant scene altogether and pack-your-own, with a visit to the town Farmer’s Market , one of the oldest in the Hudson Valley.
With all that eating—not to mention a striking view of the Bear Mountain Range—your body will be begging for the great outdoors. Enjoy a stroll along the Riverfront Green Park, or get on the water with Hudson River Expeditions. The kayak pros offer river tours and instruction, taking off from their center a couple miles (or $5 taxi ride) outside of town. While Bear Mountain is an easy day ride away, the breathtaking, 1538-acre Blue Mountain Reservation is right in town, with miles of fresh air for hikers and bikers, including the unpaved, 12-mile Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway, and challenging hikes to the top of peaks Mt. Spitzenberg and Blue Mountain. For the half pipe-addicted, or those looking to try something new, 2nd Nature offers beginners skateboard lessons at their skate park at 9am on Saturdays.
Where to Stay
A small, friendly staff, and clean, comfortable rooms welcome you at Inn on the Hudson. While a continental breakfast leaves something to be desired (but it’s also complimentary), the on-site bar and grille and proximity to both the train station and town center keep things wonderfully convenient. The inn offers guests sweeping views of the Hudson. While you’re situated across from the highway, the hotel’s perch a little ways uphill keeps this from being a deterrence.
Getting There & Around
Take the Metro North Hudson line to Peekskill (learn more about riding the MTA with two wheels here). Most attractions are walking distance, or a short cab ride, but you may find the Bee Line buses helpful, especially for visiting the Blue Mountain Reservation (bus lines 17 and 14 will drop you off right by the park entrance).
Photos: Premshree Pillai, Mike Thomas, Jaclyn Einis, joseph a, Hourman, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Inn on the Hudson
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Other than zipping by in a car, I haven’t been to Peekskill in decades. This write-up has put it high on my list of things to do “locally.” Thanks.
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