They say it takes 10 years to be considered a real “New Yorker” and after a little over a decade, I finally felt ready to say goodbye to New York City. I’ll always go back for work and to see friends, but I knew that open spaces and fresh air were exactly what I needed. So a little over a year ago, Julia and I headed upstate to Ulster County to look at houses. We ended up falling in love with the last house we saw on our and made an offer the next day. We moved early in December and I haven’t looked back since. Ulster County has been such a welcoming place to live and each season brings something incredible — and another reason to fall in love with this beautiful place.
Located two hours north of NYC, Ulster County is home to 20 towns, 3 villages and dozens of tiny hamlets that make up just over 1,000 square miles. This area felt like home to me immediately because it reminds me of the diverse landscape I grew up with in Virginia. Ulster County has stunning mountains, lakes (including my favorite, Sky Lake), rivers, farm land, wine country, river views and much, much more. From climbing in the Shawangunk Range to hiking in the Mohonk Preserve to kayaking on the Rondout, there’s no shortage of ways to get your fix of outdoor life up here. But if you’re like me and enjoy indoor life as much as the outside, I’ve rounded up my favorite places to eat, stay, shop and visit if you’re in the area. In such a huge area it’s impossible to cover everything (although I managed to write 5k words), but these are the places I personally love and visit on a regular basis now that we call this gorgeous county our home. Thanks so much to everyone who has made us feel so at home here. xo, grace
Illustration by (you can now buy a copy of this map !)
I’ve chosen to break up this guide based upon geographic area, because even though you can easily drive across the county in a day, you wouldn’t be able to do all of these things in one day. This way, if you want to head north and focus on one area (say, Stone Ridge/Kingston or Woodstock/Phoenicia) you’ve got everything you need in one tidy area. I didn’t give each and every city a write-up, because these are the areas I know best. I know a lot of you reading grew up in this area, so feel free to add in your favorite spots in the comments below — or, if you want to add a part 2 to this guide to cover areas I haven’t spent time in yet, drop us a line!
How to Get Here:
Unlike the east side of the Hudson River, Ulster County doesn’t have a train line. But we do have an (almost) hourly bus service via (with stops in New Paltz, Rosendale and Kingston) and you can always take a shuttle or taxi (be warned, it’s a 20-40 min drive depending on location) from the train stops at Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck (Metro North goes to Poughkeepsie, Amtrak goes to Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck and is usually a little more expensive).
Where to Stay:
Except for a few towns, I find that has the best options for staying in Ulster County (). There are some b&bs and hotels here, but none of them are quite as nice as I’d hope. Here are my favorite places to stay:
(Phoenicia, NY): If you live in NYC, this is where you’ll see all of your other fellow New Yorkers of a certain age and style. This hip little motel got a makeover and is now the go-to place to stay when people head to the Catskills. Think IKEA-meets-Brooklyn-chic. They even have a pool and rental bikes.
(West Kill, NY): A bit further up the road is Spruceton Inn, which we did a profile of a while back when they first opened. Spruceton Inn is a bit more “in the woods” than Graham & Co., but they both offer chic, minimal accommodations for people looking to get away from the city for a while.
: I hesitated to put Mohonk Mountain House on this list because I’ve stayed here before and the experience left a lot to be desired. And for a place that costs as much as a luxury hotel, it’s not quite it for me. But… if you want an all-inclusive experience set in the most picturesque location, this is it. Mohonk Mountain House has hundreds of rooms that still feel sort of like they probably did when the hotel first opened in 1879. The food is so-so, but the location is stunning. Private land with soaring views of the valley and amazing trails for hiking and all sorts of winter activities (summer, too) make this a location that’s hard to beat.
**: This historic inn is being renovated by a big-time NYC group, so it’s supposed to be pretty hip and up-to-date when it reopens in 2016. So if you’re planning a trip next year, check out their site to see if it’s open.
There are a few big chain hotels in the area (, etc.) but I highly recommend trying an AirBnB for a really great local experience in the area.
The view from The Graham & Co.’s pool in Phoenicia
SUNY New Paltz: New Paltz is home to one of New York’s great state schools, . There are great shows and lectures on a regular basis and you can also get a pass to use the school’s pool in the winter if you want to keep in shape. So if you’re staying close to the area for a while and want to see what’s happening on campus, be sure to check out their .
: I went to college in Colonial Williamsburg, so I have a soft spot for historic villages like this one. The buildings are stunning and this is a great spot to head for a nice walk and some history.
: Ulster County is home to an extensive rail trail system, which used to be an active train rail system, now turned into beautiful walking trails. The New Paltz section is fairly flat and easy to walk, especially with dogs (keep them on leash, though!)
: If you’re staying close, New Paltz has a little movie theater that plays current blockbuster films. Not the prettiest place, but if you’re here on a rainy day, it’s a nice option.
and Hiking: If you like to climb or hike, the Mohonk Preserve offers some epic trails and some of the most famous climbing around. Ever seen a bumper sticker that says “THE GUNKS”? That’s this range, the Shawangunk Mountain Range. You do have to pay for a day pass, so keep that in mind.
This is allegedly the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s legendary film, The Shining. It is indeed a bit creepy, but it’s sort of a must-see if you’re in the area. This HUGE hotel (259+ rooms) is an all-inclusive sort of place where you can stay, eat, spa (they have an excellent spa) and do a range of outdoor activities on the property, from snowshoeing and hiking to golf. If it’s not in the budget to stay here (it is indeed pricey), you can get a day pass to use the facilities (they have gorgeous trails and great ski rentals) instead. My ideal day here is to make a spa appointment (which gives you access to the grounds for a full day) and then show up early for a long hike, a dip in the spa and another spin around the lake or hike up to see their amazing views of the valley. The food leaves a lot to be desired, so I like to bring a lunch if I’m going there to hike.
(New Paltz): This B&B is ranked #1 for people traveling with pets. So if you want stay somewhere other than a rental house, but don’t want to leave your fuzzy friends, this is a great option. Be sure to call ahead to ensure your pet is allowed.
The Shawangunk Ridge (Photo by )
Food & Drink
: This award-winning restaurant is a popular date spot and serves great Italian food.
: One of my favorite spots to grab a quiet lunch during the week. Their tea selection is fantastic, as are the giant bowls of chicken soup they serve in the winter.
(and Cafe): This spot reminds me of my favorite college lunch/coffee places, and I mean that in a good way. It always smells like good coffee and a pressed sandwich and everyone who works there is friendly and laid-back.
: House-made ramen and a wide selection of Japanese and Korean-influenced dishes make this one of my favorite spots to pick up take-out. You can eat-in too, though.
: I have yet to eat here, but everyone I know says it’s great. So I’d feel remiss leaving it out. This corner restaurant is always full of families enjoying good, casual pub-style food.
: If you’re a climber, you probably already know this spot. It’s right next to the mountain range and has a huge selection of warm, comforting German food. My cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) has a picture of this restaurant’s menu on his phone all the time, it’s that beloved.
: I don’t drink, but this wine bar is a favorite among friends and has a great selection of bar snacks to eat while you meet with friends for a drink.
: Hello, handmade chocolate. New Paltz is also home to ‘ handmade chocolate, but I prefer Lagusta’s. It’s also next to the New Paltz Rail Trail, which is a great way to walk off a box of chocolates.
: I love a fancy cheese and prepared-food stop. It’s the perfect place to grab snacks for a long walk or day in the woods, and they also have a great selection of Jane’s Ice Cream on hand for casual strolling.
: This is one of my favorite area farm stands, which has a great greenhouse attached, as well. You can get fresh cider donuts, cheese, produce and a great daily pie special, too.
The Village Tea Room in New Paltz
New Paltz isn’t a huge shopping destination for me, but I do like the downtown for great antique store deals.
If patchwork and Dead t-shirts are your thing, is a pretty funny local spot to try.
There’s also an excellent record store called and a great book store called .
I know Kingston mainly because it’s the town where Max and Daniel moved a few years ago. To me, Kingston reminds me a bit of Brooklyn with its wealth of hip-bearded people with tattoos, great music venues, artist spots and coffee shops. There is so much to do and see here, but here are my go-to spots:
Food & Drink:
: I love Duo for brunch. They have great house-made bread and kimchi and their menu has a nice range of food that’s always good.
: Tacos! I miss great Mexican food and it’s nice to have this spot nearby.
: Brunette is a super chic new wine bar that just opened in Kingston by the water. Owner Tracy Kennard (stay tuned for her home tour soon!) has incredible style and it’s no surprise the space is so beautiful.
: Daniel told us to try Boitson’s deep fried cauliflower “vegan buffalo wings” and they did not disappoint. Boitson’s has a great back deck with a beautiful view if you are in the mood for eating outside.
: I go to Outdated more often than any other place in Kingston because it’s one part antique shop and one part coffee/lunch spot. I love their “Faux-reo” cookies.
: I felt hit-or-miss about this spot until we ate the Korean Tacos. They are DELICIOUS. If you’re visiting in the winter and need to warm up, their huge bowls of noodle soup are a great option.
: Sissy’s doesn’t always get a lot of love, but I’ve popped in here a few times for tea and snacks and it’s always been great. They do a good breakfast wrap, too.
: I haven’t been to Elephant yet, but my friends in town love their tapas menu.
(Saturdays until November): Almost every town in Ulster has its own farmers’ market (or two), but Kingston’s is especially great. The main road downtown is shut down and local vendors line the road. If you happen to like hotdogs, there’s a seller here that has the BEST hotdogs. Maybe more of a summer thing, but worth noting….
: I don’t drink, but this shop is incredibly well designed and all of Julia’s friends loved their rosé selection this summer.
Brunette Wine Bar. Photo by via
: Kelly has the best taste in flowers. I love her shop as much as I love her floral work. If you’re in town and need a cute gift (they carry home accessories, too) this is your perfect stop.
: This place has to be seen to be believed. It’s a 40,000 (!)-square-foot warehouse with every type of amazing vintage or antique find you could think of. It’s a major “dig around” shop (Julia and I went through 6,000 doors in their basement alone to find a new back porch door), but the prices are decent and you can often find some really special pieces. If you’ve got a truck you can haul with, you can get a great deal on old clawfoot tubs and sinks here.
: I got a great deal on a stack of antique cutting boards (a shared favorite of Julia’s and mine) here and their selection is really fantastic. They carry a mix of styles and time periods, so there’s something here for everyone.
: If there was ever a shop just waiting to be used for a Project Runway challenge, this is it. This hole in the wall hardware/supply store has everything from copper sheets and rope to sailing supplies, hardware and old tools and machine bits. I almost always want to leave with some old acrylic bit or a bit of shiny brass.
: This local leather shop carries really beautiful bags and all sorts of leather accessories.
: Jack Decker is one of my favorite local artisans. He does beautiful reproduction (and new) woodwork. We worked with him for several projects on our home and love each one so much.
Hops Petunia in Kingston
: This music venue gets AMAZING shows. It makes me not miss giving up NYC venues for the country. Some of my favorite bands have played here twice already this year.
: This festival is a great celebration of the creative community in Kingston. Artists create work (and murals) in exchange for health and wellness services — a win-win. The festival happens every fall; check their site for up-to-date details.
(Warning, their site plays annoying party music when it launches): This became one of our favorite summer activities this year. $20 an hour for the first hour and $10 an hour after that. It’s a great way to get outside, be near the water and see the city from a different perspective. (You can tandem kayak, too!)
I first fell in love with Woodstock during a vacation upstate in 2006. I felt immediately home there in a way I never expected- but so appreciated. Maybe it’s because I used to host a jam band radio show and make my own hemp belts, but I just feel happy here.
Swimming holes are my favorite thing about the Catskills (which we’re now entering). in Woodstock is my favorite. Plenty of room and quiet on the weekdays — and dog-friendly!
Hiking, climbing and boating are the major attractions in all of these towns. You cannot believe the beauty of this county until you’ve checked out all of the incredible mountains, rivers and valleys it has to offer. The Catskill Mountains are a very special place and you can check out local trails and mountain guides and be sure to visit in Phoenicia if you want to tube down the river in warmer weather! You can also hire , which is a pretty picturesque way to spend the day if you enjoy fishing.
: Julia and I saw a movie at Upstate Films in Woodstock while we were vacationing in West Hurley last year, and that night sealed the deal for me wanting to move here full-time. Everyone there was so nice, the film selection was excellent and it’s got that great community art house feel I like in a movie theater. Also — excellent (and quirky) snack selection. Every year the widely acclaimed Woodstock Film Festival happens here. It’s definitely worth the drive into town.
The Woodstock Drum Circle + : Every Sunday at 4pm in Woodstock, people wander into the main street circle with their own bongos and drums to create a seemingly spontaneous drum circle. The former hippie in me can’t resist how funny and sweet and sincere this is for this town. It’s definitely worth watching — and participating in if you happen to have an instrument with you. The same area also hosts free concerts year-round. If you happen to be in town during one of the (which the Jack Black movie was based on) concerts, don’t miss it!
The , and : Woodstock is an incredible town of artists, makers and musicians. If you’re in town, please check out these amazing societies and museums for a taste of what’s happening in the art scene here.
Upstate Films in Woodstock. Photo via .
The Town Tinker tubing! These buses are everywhere in the summer. Photo via .
: This flea market originally started as an off-shoot of the Graham & Co. and now changes locations throughout Ulster County and even New Jersey! Check out their site to find the next pop-up location to shop their roster of local (and NYC area) vendors.
: I love this friendly country store for candy, maps, trail guides and little odds and ends to keep your weekend getaways fun (think Jenga and great puzzles).
: This shop always feels more like Brooklyn than Woodstock to me, but I can’t resist their great selection of clothing, hiking goods and pretty odds and ends for home. They have a location in Hudson, NY and in Chelsea (Manhattan), too.
: Cedric Martin makes stunning modern furniture. His studio is a great spot to visit and check out his beautiful dining tables (my favs).
: This spot is technically between Woodstock and Phoenicia in Shokan, NY, but it’s a must-visit. They have a cute coffee shop serving excellent coffee drinks (rare in this area) AND an awesome collection of Scandinavian Modern furniture. (They used to have a location in Park Slope, Brooklyn, too!)
: This fun antique shop in Phoenicia always feels a little whacky and quirky, but it’s a great place to pick through pins and see if you can find something special.
: Julia and I bought a banjo (me) and tambourine (her) here during our honeymoon. When in Woodstock, right? It’s a fun place to visit with kids and check out cool instruments (and vinyl records).
Scandinavian Grace. .
(and The Little Bear): I’ve had so many special moments in my life creekside at this cafe. It’s standard (but delicious) American food in a great setting with friendly people. If you’re in the mood for takeout, the Little Bear next door does Chinese food!
: Walking into The Phoenicia Diner in the height of summer feels like walking into Williamsburg. The diner got a hip makeover a few years ago and now it’s chock-full of visitors almost year-round. It’s a great place to grab a meal off-hours (we waited almost two hours this summer for brunch — yikes). My favorite is the tortilla soup — yum.
: The tiny spot behind the Graham & Co. in Phoenicia has good BBQ and fun desserts behind the counter.
: This spot just opened up this year right on the corner in downtown Woodstock. Their comfort-style American food is delicious and it’s a really sweet space, too.
: Great breakfast and lunch from the same people who brought you Yum Yum Noodles in Kingston (also in Woodstock in a smaller corner spot).
: This seems to be everyone’s favorite place in Woodstock, especially if you have children. The food is wonderful and there’s plenty of space for big parties. They do classic farm-to-table food. If the salmon and corn is still on the menu, go for it.
: This Catskills legend is worth every bit of hype. Their chocolate cupcakes are my favorite (go early to get those, they sell out!) and their sandwiches are great for summer picnics. They have several locations, but the Woodstock location is my favorite.
: Julia and I have been hunting for the best classic slice in Ulster County since we moved, and this is our favorite after trying every recommended place in the area. Fun to grab before a movie at Upstate Films.
The Bear Cafe. Photo by .
: A beautiful outdoor sculpture park (no pets allowed, fyi).
: The short hike to this lighthouse is a beautiful and the historic lighthouse, built in 1869, is stunning. You can actually stay here, too!
: This local/seasonal restaurant is a favorite of locals and while I haven’t been yet, it’s on my to-do list.
I pass through Rosendale almost every week going to and from the bus we take into the city for work meetings. It’s a sweet town with a major hippie vibe and a lot of beautiful views.
The Rosendale section of the (which goes over the , 150 feet above the Rondout Creek) is a lovely walk any time of year. The view from the trestle is stunning and it’s a perfect way to get a bird’s eye view of the land.
: This community-run theater shows excellent indie movies year-round and is staffed by local volunteers.
(every Sunday): If you’re staying in town and want to grab fresh local produce, this is your place.
The Rosendale Movie Theater Collective
: If you want to check out a collective space full of talented women when you’re in town, give this workshop a call to see if they’re open for visitors. I’ve never visited in person but this is a highly respected space and a great part of Rosendale.
: This local favorite has awesome sandwiches and prepared foods and a great “fancy grocery store” selection if you want to make a nice picnic lunch and head out on a hike.
: This modern restaurant is right across the street from the Trailways bus (that takes you to and from NYC — in fact, you can buy bus tickets at Market Market) and has a nice selection of food. I love their veggie bahn mi, but they do a nice roast chicken, too.
Market Market in Rosendale (Photo by )
: This plant shop is one of my favorites in the area. If you’re looking to take some pretty plants home, this is a great place to check.
I love High Falls. It’s a quiet little hamlet with beautiful waterfalls, an historic lock system and some great shopping and a wonderful museum. It’s also the home of one of the area’s best (non-members can shop there, too!)
: Designer Brad Ford (who also lives in the area part-time) puts together an incredibly beautiful upscale flea market (think BDDW and Remodelista) every year. I’ll be working in Julia’s booth there this coming weekend! The show takes place throughout High Falls, but is mainly on the grounds at .
: This (self-guided) tour of the area’s former canal locks is a cool little snippet of local history.
: This museum is a very special place. It’s dedicated to preserving the history of the original Delaware & Hudson Canal and has an amazing collection of photographs and artifacts from the early settled area.
Field + Supply at the Black Barn in High Falls (Photo via Brad Ford)
Almost every weekend there’s some sort of awesome mix of vendors selling things at The Black Barn. Check out for more info.
: A great new antique shop that carries a nice range of high-end goods.
: A nice mix of home and personal goods with an earth-friendly focus.
: This shop has a solid selection of fresh flowers, gifts, cookbooks, candles and jewelry.
: A comfort food heaven for anyone who loves a biscuit, melted cheese and desserts aplenty. You can get chocolate pudding in a mason jar to go.
: A friendly local cafe with coffee and food. Perfect for stocking up pre-hike.
: I have admittedly not eaten here yet. But I’ve been told I need to get there quickly for their potatoes.
Kitchenette High Falls
Julia and I call this mid-Ulster County area home, and while it may not be as fancy (although Stone Ridge has some majorly posh homes), it’s where my heart is. The people here are so kind, the farms are beautiful and the views from the heart of the Rondout Valley are breathtaking.
: For me, this is the best part of Ulster County. The views are stunning, the sky lake is gorgeous, there are endless trails to hike and plenty of rocks to perch on while you watch birds fly by. You can also bring kayaks and small canoes into Lake Minnewaska if you have a permit! We take our dogs here as often as we can.
: This is a sort of scrambly hike with some loose rocks, but it’s totally worth doing because the Vernooy Falls are a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon by the water.
: This local farmstand has a petting zoo and in-ground jumping pillow (picture a bouncy castle set into the ground) that’s great fun for big and little kids.
: This hilltop artist community has one of the most beautiful churches in the area with a view that can’t be beat. If you have a rental car, I highly recommend heading up here for the view at sunset or sunrise.
: This very special orchard is run by an Italian fashion photographer and an Italian-American stylist. So everything is pretty much a gorgeous photoshoot in the making. The family lives on the property part-time and has a full-time farmer that keeps the orchard running (you can come pick apples or check out their honeybees, pigs and chickens) and maple syrup production happening. On the weekends (from late summer until late fall), you can visit, hang out, order a fresh brick-oven pizza (they have a pizza oven!), doughnuts (made by one of the owner’s mother’s all the way from Italy!) and drinks and enjoy the weather in between picking apples and wandering around their lovely property.
: Part of the same rail trail system that goes throughout the county, this rail trail is primarily wooded and is a nice way to enjoy the calmness of nature, especially in the winter.
Lake Minnewaska (via )
The modern barn at
: If I’m being 100% honest, this is our favorite local restaurant. It’s a classic deli/ice cream stand that is packed with locals every afternoon. We love to stop by during the week for soft-serve or great french fries.
: This is my favorite farm stand in the area. Good people, and hot lunch if you want to grab something to go. They also have soft-serve in the back! They also have an excellent plant nursery in the back.
: Saunderskill is another local farm stand run by a local family with fresh produce, hot food (they have a sweet “make your own” oatmeal bar in the mornings and decent bagels) and a beautiful view. They also have a plant nursery attached.
: If my grandmother owned a deli, it would be like this one. Homespun, sweet and with good, down-home food, this is a real local’s spot. Their Mexican night (which seems to be a trend right now in the county) is pretty good — but we like their brunch (free beignets!) best.
: What this restaurant lacks in decor, it makes up for with heart. The chef, Salah Alygad, used to work at the UN and knows his way around a comfy meal. We love his stuffed chicken breasts and au gratin potatoes. Real “stick to your ribs” kind of food. One note: a lot of the water in this county has a strong sulfur smell. Some restaurants have sprung for a water system to get rid of the smell, some haven’t. This one hasn’t. So if it smells weird when you walk in, that’s why…
: A great casual spot for breakfast (though they recently started serving dinner, I haven’t tried it yet).
: This restaurant is from the same group that owns Oriole9 and Yum Yum Noodle Bar. I think they do brunch/breakfast best.
: This new restaurant is still getting its footing, but it’s located inside of the old Accord train station (with a caboose!) so I’m hoping it will come together and find its voice here.
(Ellenville): Our good friend Larry buys all sorts of delicious bread here. Southern Ulster County has a large population of so this bakery has a long history of traditional recipes and breads being made in-house.
(Warning: another annoying website with auto-music): This is a favorite of friends down here and they’re known for fresh, farm-to-table meals.
: This tiny family-run Italian restaurant is next to a giant Shoprite — not exactly a romantic location. But we love their pizza. If you’re staying further south in Ulster County, this is a nice spot to great a pie.
Our beloved Cherries Deli in Stone Ridge (photo via )
(Accord): If I could only ever shop at one place in this county, it would be this shop. Ron Sharkey is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and in addition to an excellent eye for antiques, he has fair pricing. Really fair. It’s rare to find those things together, so it’s no wonder that we visit every single weekend. Just tell Ron that Design*Droits-Humains sent you ;)
: Matt and Megan design some of the most gorgeous modern furniture and lighting. I feel so lucky that we have them in our area. They just opened a beautiful showroom in Accord that is open most weekends.
: This is a very special place that archives and collects seeds for plants and veggies, with packages designed by local artists. You can find their seeds throughout local shops, like Davenport Farmers’ Market.
Ron Sharkey in front of Downtown Antiques in Accord
[If you want an even more in-depth guide, the friendly folks at do a great job of profiling local businesses and makers.]