We appreciate the charms of Woodstock and nearby Phoenicia and Hunter, but if you haven’t traveled beyond these popular upstate destinations, you’re just scratching the surface of what the Catskill Mountains have to offer. When you’re ready to go off the beaten path for great little cafes, uncommon shops, working-class beer bars, accessible art history, and even a hidden gem of a drive-in movie theater (with an outdoor cocktail lounge!), head further north along the Hudson River and explore these tiny towns with big personalities.
Locals believe that the word “Coxsackie,” pronounced “cook-SAH-kee,” is derived from the Native American term for an owl’s hoot, and every summer owl statuettes designed by area artists come to perch in front of local businesses. (It’s also the unfortunate namesake of the icky Coxsackie virus, which was first isolated here in the 1940s.) The main attraction here is a breathtaking view of the Hudson, and a cute little block of old-timey storefronts just steps from a riverfront park.
Mansion + Reed: Stop for coffee, sandwiches, local meats and cheeses, and picnic supplies at Mansion + Reed, a little general store and café run by a pair of twin sisters who moved to Coxsackie from Greenpoint and Houston.
Reed Street Bottle Shop: This friendly spot run by an Brooklyn ex-pat couple, has hand-written tasting notes on all their favorite bottles, which covers most of the store.
Pilothouse Paper: The same post-Brooklyn couple opened a tiny stationery shop across the street. If you love smooth-writing pens, pitch-perfect greeting cards, and gift-worthy office supplies, be prepared to drop your whole shopping budget here.
Coxsackie Farmer’s Market: If you’re traveling midweek, don’t miss the local fruit, vegetable, bread, cheese, and soap vendors that show up every Wednesday at Coxsackie’s scenic Riverfront Park. You’ll definitely want to sample the European-style cheeses from Lime Kiln Farm, which is run by pair of cheesemakers who recently relocated from Tuscany to the Hudson Valley.
Cask and Rasher: The charm of a blue-collar bar and grill, a tap selection to rival the beer-nerdiest Brooklyn bars, and a really solid bar menu with specialties like the fiery Coxsackie Hot Chicken, which is brined, deep fried, brushed with house chili oil, and served with pickled chili peppers and kimchi.
Pro tip: Drive 10 minutes south to Bonfiglio and Bread, a beloved Hudson bread bakery that recently relocated across the river to Athens.
Though it’s just a 10-minute drive from Hudson, across the river via the picturesque Rip Van Winkle Bridge, Catskill still feels like a hidden nook of a town. Here, Main Street is dotted with shops and restaurants, which will all be seeing more foot-traffic with the summer 2018 opening of the LUMBERYARD Contemporary Performing Arts center, located on nearby Water Street.
HiLo: Grab perfect cup of coffee, which will likely be poured by the former head roaster of Brooklyn’s Café Grumpy. Browse the in-house art gallery as you await a Norman Bates sandwich, the house grilled cheese on focaccia toast, which gets its sparkle from a locally-made Indian pickle spread. Come back later for cocktails, like their smoky mezcal-spiked negroni.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site: See how the majesty of the Catskill Mountains has been inspiring artists through the ages, as you wander through historic buildings and gardens where the Hudson River School of landscape painting began.
New York Restaurant: Based on the rather vague name of this cushy farm-to-table spot, you might not guess that they serve the best Polish fare for miles around. Grab a plate of their incredible pierogies, kielbasa, and crave-worthy house-made sauerkraut. Pro-tip: Ask your server to stir a little raspberry puree into a frosty pint of Zywiec for the dreamiest summertime beer cocktail.
Pro Tip: Savor a spicy-crispy hot chicken biscuit and an Instagram-worthy milkshake at Gracie’s, a food-truck turned airy restaurant in Leeds, less than 10 minutes away.
The sleepy hamlet of Oak Hill is home to the very popular Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, but for the other 51 weekends of the year, it’s a just sleepy hamlet on the idyllic Catskill Creek. It’s an easy 25-mile drive from Hudson, but it feels like the tiny, undiscovered country town you always wished you’d stumble upon. Since the shops here are only open for limited hours, it’s worth calling ahead to make sure you get the full experience.
Hort and Pott: At first glance, this is just a very photogenic garden shop in a barn. Take a longer look and spot hand-cast concrete leaf sculptures, rustic and adult-friendly found-wood swings, grapevine wreaths that are thick with foraged moss, and Shibori-inspired textiles (read: Japanese tie-dyed picnic blankets that everyone else in Prospect Park will deeply covet). This one-of-a-kind, ever-evolving shopping destination is worth revisiting every season.
IU Tripp: Inside a colorful, double-porched house, this impeccably preserved 1830s general store combines old with new. Here, indigo cotton circa 1870 is fashioned into lush throw pillows, and reusable vintage Weck jars are reborn as the vessels for house-made scented geranium candles. Under shelves lined with a rainbow of brightly hued antique tableware, you’ll find uncommon Catskills-area goods, like complexly sweet-spicy root beer syrup crafted by a local chef.
Yellow Deli: This giant, wood-paneled café feels like stepping into the canopy level of the rainforest. Embrace your inner hippie with a steamy yerba mate and hearty sandwich on house-made bread. But if you’re not looking to embrace a new religion, maybe don’t accept any after-hours invitations from the kind and welcoming religious group the runs the place. Closed Friday evening and all day Saturday for the Sabbath.
Pro tip: The old-fashioned Greenville Drive-In (pictured at top of post), about 15 minutes away, has a fine schedule of second-run films, a backdrop of mountains and trees behind the screen, and an open-air cocktail-and-beer garden. There is simply no prettier place to watch a movie.
TRAVEL AND LODGING
In the Catskills, you can’t go off the beaten path without a car. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, you can take Amtrak to Hudson, and if you rent a car through Enterprise, they will bring a car to you at the train station.
The area is rich with AirBnBs, including some fan-favorites like the Victorian Jungalow, Circa 1804 Farmhouse, and Owl’s Nest Cabin in Coxsackie, the family-friendly Honey Hollow Farm’s Sweet Farm Stay in Earlton, and The Hygge House Catskill. For more traditional hotels and inns, the Stewart House recently reopened in Athens, the Woodhouse Lodge is a new favorite in Greenville, and Catskill’s Post Cottage is a highly regarded historical bed and breakfast (though keep in mind that they cannot accommodate children). The Dewitt in Oak Hill, pictured above, is another option.