A Dutchess County, NY Weekend With Kids
Dutchess County lies about 2 hours north of the New York City, in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It’s close enough for a day trip but with more than enough to do for a weekend. It’s a no-brainer for families looking to get out of the city for a short break and it makes a nice side trip for families who are visiting the city and interested in exploring more of the region.
Consider this something of a Dutchess sampler: The county has historical and culturals sites, kids’ activities and outdoor opportunities and we have included a bit of each, along with some dining ideas and practical information. Here are the activities we recommend for your next weekend in Dutchess.
• I love Hyde Park and have visited both with and without my now 8YO. The tour of Franklin Roosevelt’s home is short enough to be over before kids get bored. Tiny Traveler wasn’t old enough for Eleanor Roosevelt’s home to interest her and we didn’t do Top Cottage together (but you can read about why it’s my favorite part of Hyde Park).
• The FDR library is big and interactive enough that most kids 8 and up will find something to engage them, though kids with some knowledge of 20th century American History will get more out of it. TT was most interested in FDR’s old family photos, specially rigged car and cluttered White House desk. Eleanor’s manual typewriter was fascinating and I had to explain how it worked.
Note: The library has a Junior Secret Service program and the house has a Junior Park Ranger program. Ask for both when you buy your tickets at the visitors’ center.
• The opulent Vanderbilt Mansion, which was built to let the world know just how much money the family had, is a nice contrast to Hyde Park, which exemplifies discreet “old money.” TT observed the bedrooms modeled on Versaille, the opulent public rooms and oh-so-rich studies and lounges and one-by-one declared them all “ugly.” The Park Ranger talk about the family and this “modest” weekend house is informative, well-done, and short enough for kids to handle it. (Photos top, and bottom left.)
Note: This house and Hyde Park have extensive grounds that are open to the public; The Vanderbilt estate is a particulary good place to ramble around with kids who might have excess energy after all these house tours.
• The Walkway over the Hudson is a repurposed railroad bridge that’s one mile long. It’s a nice easy walk with fabulous river views. Kids can bring scooters, it’s stroller friendly, and both adults and kids can bring bikes.
Bike paths link up to the walkway on both sides of the River. A park below it on the Dutchess side offers a children’s museum, playground and the Ice House Café.
Dutchess Kid Fun
• At age 8 TT is nearly too old for the smallish, well-maintained Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, below the Walkway, but she still enjoyed it. In an hour we were able to sample almost everything she wanted to, and two hours would have been plenty of time to do it all more completely. When she was smaller she would have stayed for hours in the pretend-play areas on the first floor.
• Splashdown beach water park is on our to-do list for this summer. It’s bigger than it looks from the outside, Mommy Poppins gives it a good review and on a hot summer weekend it’s a good reward for kids (and parents) who behaved well on all those park-ranger tours.
• On our two-day Dutchess Sojourn we found 3 playgrounds. None are super new, but all were large and in good shape and kept energetic TT happy.
One, at the opposite end of the waterfront from the Estuary Steward’s dock in Beacon, provided shade and nice river views for me while she played.
A second was in Poughkeepsie’s waterfront park below the Walkway, at the opposite end from the kid’s museum (there is parking at either end, too, if you want to do one but not the other).
The last was tucked away in Rhinebeck. Head west on market Street and less than a half mile from Mill Street you’ll turn left for the Starr Library and Starr Park with its cool climbing structures (but no shade).
• DIA: Beacon is a modern art museum in a former box-printing factory. The high ceilings and large spaces make it ideal for larger scale and three-dimensional pieces of art. They also make it a kid-friendly gallery space. If your child is as candid as mine, expect the post 1960s art to elicit surprising and sometimes funny reactions.
Note: The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in the winter on Thursday as well.
• I was lucky enough to go on a press tour of Bannerman’s Island this spring. It’s an interesting and ambitious project. The island is home to the former Bannerman Munitions warehouse, which now resembles a large ruined castle. Owner Frank Bannerman also had a home on the island—a smaller ruined castle. The island hosts a diverse series of tours, performances and art installations over the summer, some geared toward families and others family friendly. Money raised goes toward restorations and some upgrades.
Note: To get to the island you take the RV Estuary Steward, which leaves from a dock just below the Beacon Metro North Station. Event ticket prices include the boat trip. On select days you can book a boat trip and guided tour or boat-trip and self-guided walk. Three local companies offer kayak tours around the island.
Note, too: The island has no running water or electricity. They’re working on eco-friendly toilets but in the mean time you’ll have to deal with the portable variety.
• We have yet to visit the Old Rhinebeck Aerodome. But it’s also on my bucket list for this summer. It’s vintage-plane air shows draw people from all over on weekends; during the week the museum is open for walking around and looking at early 20th century planes and automobiles.
Beacon and Rhinebeck are walkable towns that offer plenty of dining options along their main streets.
• In Beacon we had freshly made and really cheap chicken and waffles at the no-frills BJs Soul Food on main street.
• Terrapin in Rhinebeck is creative and casual with a focus on local and organic and a good kids menu. The casual café/bar is ideal with kids (save the dining room for date night). City dwellers will know the Bread Alone bakery from its green market stalls. In Rhinebeck try it’s café for sandwiches and breakfast items like French toast, which feature its rustic breads.
Dutchess County Basics:
• Having a car gives you more flexibility, of course, but it’s possible to rely on Metro North Rail Road, shuttle buses and local cabs for some activities. You can bring a bike on the trains if you have a permit. The Beacon and Poughkeepsie stops will put you closest to the places mentioned here.
• Dutchess Tourism is a great resource for lodging options, things we might have missed and for more transportation details.
• We spent a night at the recently renovated Holiday Inn Express just south of Poughkeepsie, a predictable but reliable option with kids. It’s right on Route 9, which makes it super convenient to get to everything you want to see. The free breakfast had ample and healthy choices and it has an outdoor pool in summer.
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