If you live in the New York Metropolitan area, there’s a good chance you view the Hudson Valley as a region imbued with fantasy and magic. There’s the golden, orange, and red foliage in the fall, the bridges overlooking the Hudson river, the crisp air, and the charming, quaint towns. It’s a paradise of peace and quiet and natural beauty for people surrounded by the constant blaring of sirens, barking dogs, screaming kids, and all the other incessant, cacophonous sounds of the city. Describing the Hudson Valley in one word is simple: pleasant.
The valley itself is sprinkled with cozy small towns like Beacon and Cold Spring, but my favorite by far is Hudson. Just two hours by car from my home in Jersey City (and about the same distance by train) Hudson has become my go-to escape from city life. I go to Hudson to escape the pressure to feel productive and to calmly enjoy fresh air and quiet streets without feeling rushed or like I need to accomplish anything. Trips to Hudson are a mini celebration — no excuse or occasion needed.
The first stop in town (after parking the car) is MOTO Coffee/Machine, which is a clean, white-walled coffee shop perfect for ordering hot lattes to carry around in the crisp weather. While you wait for your drink, the backroom of the shop is worth exploring for the motorcycle gear and vintage bikes. The owner is talkative, friendly, and always willing to answer questions.
After that, simply start wandering. If you’re looking for some direction, there are a few places we always drift toward: John Doe Records and Books, which, alongside its music collection, carries bins full of movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s on VHS. Then there’s NINA Z, where I sometimes can’t resist picking up an item from the shop’s carefully curated collection of stylish vintage clothing.
We don’t go back to Jersey City without first stopping at Talbott & Arding. The tiny cheese shop is reason alone to visit Hudson. Staffed by the friendliest cheesemongers (who are always generous with their samples), the shop’s provisions are heavenly: soft, chewy macaroons; melt-in-your-mouth caramels; and the most divine collection of cheeses. We typically leave with a paper bag full of supplies for an epic cheese plate later that evening.
If you drink alcohol, it’s crucial that you dedicate part of your day to taking a mini-tour of Hudson’s various bars (especially if you took the train or if you work in time to sober up before driving home).
A favorite is Spotty Dog Books & Ale, which combines a bookstore with a short wooden bar serving craft beer and wine. Here, you can have a drink while you browse books (I’m definitely a little more willing to splurge on books I don’t need when I’m a tad tipsy) or sit at the bar with your beverage surrounded by the comfort of books. If you prefer to drink in relative peace, this is the place for you. The atmosphere is serene, the noise level low.
But it wouldn’t be a trip to Hudson with a stop at Back Bar. Located in the back of an antiques shop, I once confused this discreet spot for a mechanic’s shop. You, too, might walk right by it if you’re unfamiliar with the neighborhood. Back Bar is hidden behind a gate, and the building itself is at the end of a short, grass-lined path. Once you actually get to the door, you walk down another dimly lit, narrow hallway until you get to the bar itself, which is bathed in warm orange and red lights with a distinctly smokey smell in the air from the wood-fire oven. Beware: Back Bar’s cocktails are strong, but the bar also serves Malaysian-inspired bites and dim sum on Saturdays and Sundays to temper the alcohol.
Once you get hungry for a full meal, there are a few options to consider. Le Gamin Country is on Warren Street, in the center of downtown Hudson. The vibe is rustic and the dining room is decorated with old Coke bottles and vintage street signs. The food, however, is French, as is the furniture (wicker chairs akin to those you might find at Parisian cafe). Le Gamin Country’s menu includes crepes, croque-monsieur, niçoise salad, and a very easy to drink rosé. A more modern option is the chic Wm. Farmer and Sons. The simple menu offers fried chicken and pecan waffles, not to mention a cocktail menu that includes whiskey flights.
It’s worth mentioning that art and artists permeate this town. The first feature of Hudson that I fell in love with is the two blocks dedicated almost entirely to upscale and vintage furniture stores. The stores show off sleek Art Deco-style desks, gilded arm chairs, and chic, modern lamps. Each one is a work of art with a price tag well beyond the means of the average daytripper, but taking a stroll past these stores is like walking through an outdoor museum. It’s worth the detour if you have even the slightest interest in art and design.
The elegant furniture stores are one sign that Hudson is a town popular among (and populated by) the wealthy. Another is the ornate brownstones that have a stately Victorian appearance — somehow both dilapidated and sophisticated. These homes are just a taste of Hudson’s time capsule-like atmosphere: One-room shops selling expensive vintage trinkets like rings, salt shaker sets from the ’20s, and whale figurines, sit next door to abandoned apartment buildings where the first floor windows are papered over. Across the street, a shiny new makeup and skincare store takes up half a block.
This mix of the old and new might come off as strange or depressing anywhere else, but here, it adds to the charm of Hudson — the town is clearly adapting to the modern era while holding on to its old-fashioned persona.
A vintage store called The Second Show adds to Hudson’s bohemian, antique atmosphere. I’ve never bought anything there, but I stop in every time I’m in Hudson. The Second Show is packed to the gills with lost and abandoned heirlooms, relics from families who moved away long ago, and found objects that have a distinctly haunted air. There are typewriters, fur coats, World War II posters, ’70s-era mint green drinking chalices, suitcases, rotary phones, cash registers, and bowls full of costume jewelry, belt buckles, and bottle openers. Browsing The Second Show is like stepping into a jumbled past — many eras and many forgotten lives are retained within its walls.
There is much to do and discover in Hudson, but what really sold me on this little town after my first couple of visits is its warmth — despite the fact that it’s not a place I visit in the warmer months. Hudson is a little bubble where nothing stressful can touch me and the living is easy. After a trip to Hudson, I return to the city with a recharged battery, ready to face the realities of regular life with renewed vigor. It’s true what they say: The Hudson Valley is magical. The best place to be touched by its spells is Hudson.