|Endless rooms, river views: Rockefeller
State Park Preserve in Tarrytown.
Stop a random local in
Tarrytown and ask for directions to “the Rockefeller
estate,” and you’re likely to be pointed
to Kykuit. Spectacular as that property is with its
lush gardens, Calder and Moore sculptures, and Picasso
tapestries, what you really want to find is the Rockefeller
State Park Preserve. John D. Sr., the Standard Oil baron,
began acquiring Dutch farmland here in the 1890s, and
in this instance, he was a very aggressive force for
exploiting nature for nature’s sake. The preserve
now comprises 1,200 acres of richly varied terrain.
One of the prime attractions is hiking, in part because
you choose the degree of difficulty: flat ground past
open fields of roaming cattle, gently sloping hills
leading up to a spectacular overlook of the Hudson River,
steeper ups and downs through dense woods to gaze at
one of the state’s largest bluebird populations.The
preserve is open year-round, the hiking trails becoming
ideal cross-country-skiing trails each winter. The mostly
shallow Pocantico River has a few small rapids and recreational
fishing holes, and all of its banks are well suited
to picnicking. Opening this fall adjacent to the preserve:
the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an
educational center, and a restaurant called Blue Hill
at Stone Barns, run by the owners of Blue Hill in Greenwich
Village, which will serve organic food grown at the
preserve. And don’t miss the Union Church of Pocantico
Hills, in the tiny hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, with its
refulgent stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall and
rose window by Henri Matisse.
The preserve has more than scenic significance. It’s
said to be the site where characters in “The Legend
of Sleepy Hollow” drifted off to slumber from
the effects of an Indian spell. Speaking of Washington
Irving, Tarrytown runs tours of the Old Dutch Church
Burying Ground year-round; at Halloween, there’s
“Legend Weekend,” with enough headless horsemen
to supply Tim Burton with decades of sequels. When you’ve
had your fill of nature and death, head south for a
complete change of tone: the three-ring circus known
as Stew Leonard’s, equal parts Greenmarket, barbecue
pit, petting zoo, and dairy, in nearby Yonkers.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Rte. 117,
Tarrytown (914-631-1470). Union Church of Pocantico
Hills, Rte. 448, Sleepy Hollow (914-631-8200).
Friends of the Old Dutch Burying Ground, 430
N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow (914-631-1123). “Legend
Weekend,” Philipsburg Manor (914-631-8200).
Stew Leonard’s, 1 Stew Leonard Dr.,
6. THE BRONX
Yes, you could easily assume
that the Bronx Zoo, what with the new Siberian-tiger
exhibit—where kids come face-to-face with the
beautiful beasts through a glass shelter—trumps
every other family outing in the northernmost borough.
But then you’d miss the New York Botanical Garden.
Check out the rain-forest display at the Conservatory,
where you’ll undoubtedly get shpritzed here and
there. The Everett Children’s Adventure Garden
runs ongoing nature labs to examine plants and insects.
Or travel to the Bronx’s Gold Coast along the
Hudson, where there’s always something going on
at beautiful Wave Hill, the 28-acre garden that was
once home to Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and conductor
Arturo Toscanini. Craft workshops are environmentally
oriented, and the Barefoot Dancing sessions on lush
lawns are a showcase for world music. Cross the borough
for dinner in the quiet village of City Island. The
20-year-old Portofino Restaurant has developed a buzz
since new owners took over recently. The northern Italian
cuisine includes a handful of daily fish specials. As
for kids, a co-owner says, “there’s no such
thing as ‘we don’t have it.’
” The kitchen will adjust anything from the menu
to make a kid-friendly meal, including restyling chicken
parmigiana into chicken fingers.
For dessert, head over to Lickety Split, the ice-cream
parlor that’s a local favorite.
Bronx Zoo, Fordham Rd. and Bronx River Pkwy.
(718-367-1010). New York Botanical Garden,
Bronx River Pkwy. (Exit 7W) and Fordham Rd. (718-817-8700).
Wave Hill, 675 W. 249nd St., at Independence
Ave. (718-549-3200). Portofino, 555 City
Island Ave. (718-885-1220; portofinocityisland.com).
Lickety Split, 295 City Island Ave. (718-885-9195).
7. NEW JERSEY
It almost looks like a
mosque from the Jersey Turnpike. Liberty Science Center,
directly across the harbor from the Battery, houses
exhibits that New York museums pass up or miss altogether.
Now on view, for example, is “Bones,” a
show in which kids try on casts and learn how to stay
strong. The Invention Floor is for the engineer in every
child. In the domed six-story-high Imax theater, see
Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees, depicting
her simian behavior research in Africa. Picnic on the
grounds at Liberty State Park, then head a few minutes
away to New Jersey Performing Arts Center for its family
series, which this coming season includes Théātre
Sans Fil from Quebec doing Hansel and Gretel
with puppets and special effects. Also on tap is the
dramatic musical Laura Ingalls Wilder: Growing Up
on the Prairie. For dinner, a popular stop for families
is Seabra’s Rodizio. Kids will love the handheld
wooden cylinder that they control to tell the wait staff
they want more (the green side) or they’ve had
enough (the red side). There are plenty of exotic dishes
for grown-ups—buffalo, ostrich, and alligator—but
the kids will be just as happy with the ribs, filet
mignon, and fries. For dessert, try the Portuguese caramel
Liberty Science Center, Liberty State Park,
251 Phillip St., Jersey City (201-200-1000; lsc.org).
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center
St., Newark (1-888-GO-NJPAC; njpac.org).
Seabra’s Rodizio, 1034 McCarter Highway,
Coney Island has the history,
both glittering and tawdry, and the rides, but if it’s
an efficient, clean, multifaceted amusement park that
you want—one that combines rural charms with its
scream-inducing roller coasters—then head slightly
north. Connecticut’s Lake Compounce, between Bristol
and Southington, has been a family destination since
before the Civil War. Much has changed since “the
southern method of cooking lamb” was one of the
park’s main attractions. But catered lakeside
picnics are still welcome, and the water itself remains
pristine, perfect for swimming, gazing at from the sand
beach, or cruising across at a leisurely pace aboard
the Mark Twain, a vintage sternwheeler. The amusement
park offers two classic wooden roller coasters: the
Wildcat, built in 1927, and the Boulder Dash—the
only roller coaster in the world to be built into the
side of a mountain, which is all the more amazing when
you’re whizzing past granite and trees at 65 miles
per hour. The throwback feeling is complete with spins
on the 120-foot Ferris wheel or the bumper cars and
a trip through Ghost Hunt, a haunted house with the
added thrill of being able to “shoot” the
Spirits of a different
sort are plentiful all over the Nutmeg State: Connecticut
offers the railroad hobbyist, or just the kid who loves
a cool train, nearly a dozen choices of places to see
restored reefers, sleepers, and boxcars. The Railroad
Museum of New England, in Naugatuck, offers fascinating
stationary exhibits of everything from cabooses to signal
towers, and each summer, there’s an inevitable
visit from a certain blue British locomotive named Thomas.
The true highlight, though, is the eighteen-mile round-trip
train ride inside beautifully restored 50-year-old passenger
cars. The trip through Litchfield Hills and Mattatuck
State Forest and over the Naugatuck River is especially
pretty in the fall.
About 45 minutes south, in East Haven, is the Shore
Line Trolley Museum, the oldest operating trolley museum
in the United States. There are nearly 100 cars in the
collection, most of them dating to the heyday of trolley
travel in the Northeast, from 1900 to 1930, and many
of them marvels of rattan seating and varnished hardwood
detail. A trolley trip inside one of these gleaming
beauties runs three miles along the original tracks
of a scenic country line that has been in continuous
operation since July 31, 1900. The Yale University campus
in New Haven offers plenty of other things to do as
well: With teens, stroll the Yale Art Gallery, whose
landmark Louis I. Kahn building is undergoing a remarkable
renovation, or take in a show at Yale Repertory Theatre
to catch a glimpse of future Streeps, Turturros, and
Winklers. New Haven also offers a wealth of kid-friendly
food served in historic locations. Louis’ Lunch
is allegedly the first restaurant to ever put a grilled
hamburger between two slices of bread, in 1895. Archie
Moore’s Bar & Restaurant features chicken wings
and apple crisps. There’s also Naples Pizza, where
the menu includes a satisfying spaghetti and meatballs,
as well as the slices that have nourished four generations
Lake Compounce Theme Park, Rte. 229, Southington
(860-583-3300). The Railroad Museum of New England,
Thomaston (860-283-7245); Naugatuck Railroad
The Shore Line Trolley Museum, 17 River St.,
East Haven (203-467-6927). Yale University Art
Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven (203-432-0600;
Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New
Haven (203-432-1234; firstname.lastname@example.org).
|Just add water: Sliding away
at Splish Splash in Riverhead.
It’s nearly impossible
to think of another small city that’s home to
such disparate attractions. There’s the region’s
best NASCAR short-track competition at Riverhead Raceway.
The drivers are dentists, truckers, and students during
the week—which may be why they run as hard as
Tony Stewart on the quarter-mile banked oval each weekend.
Every schoolkid will delight in Riverhead Raceway’s
full-size school-bus demolition derbies. And want your
teenager to put down the PlayStation? Tell him he can
participate in the raceway’s spectator drag-racing
Of course, that depends on whether he has any adrenaline
left after plunging down the 70-degree, 80-foot-long
Cliff Diver water slide at Splish Splash water park.
Or through the Abyss, or Shotgun Falls, or any of the
other two-dozen wet adventures. Splish Splash is a kitschy
36-acre collection of watery wonders both wild and gentle,
including a giant plastic elephant spouting cool sprays
and a kiddie pool with a pirate ship.
For a very different aquatic experience, head over
to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and
Preservation. Next to the Atlantis Marine World Aquarium,
the foundation is the only authorized rescue facility
in New York State for stranded marine mammals and sea
turtles. The rehabilitating creatures are on display
while awaiting their return to open waters. Seal-observation
cruises in Hempstead Bay are available December through
mid-April; ecologists are onboard to explain the habitats
we too often take for granted.
Riverhead also has the great outdoors: Once you’ve
had enough of the Peconic River, the Tanger Factory
Outlet Center awaits, with its 170 stores—from
Liz Claiborne to Reebok, from Oshkosh B’gosh to
Publishers Warehouse. Escape the mall for dinner, though;
for a sense of history, and locally grown corn in season,
try Tweed’s Restaurant & Buffalo Bar, in the beautifully
restored turn-of-the-twentieth-century J. J. Sullivan
Hotel. Though if the animal rescuer is with you, maybe
not: The huge stuffed head of the last bison shot by
Teddy Roosevelt is mounted on the dining-room wall.
Riverhead Raceway, Route 58 (631-842-7223).
Splish Splash, 2549 Splish Splash Dr. (631-727-3600).
Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation,
467 E. Main St. (631-369-9840). Tanger Factory
Outlet Center, 1770 West Maine St., Ste. 200
(800-407-4894; 631-369-2732). Tweed’s Restaurant
& Buffalo Bar, J.J. Sullivan Hotel, 17 E. Main