It started with lunch. Or I should say my son Aidan’s desire to have lunch at the CIA (that’s Culinary Institute of America, not the government spying branch), in Hyde Park, NY. We’ve visited before and my junior foodie was suitably impressed – even getting one of our waiters at the French Bocuse restaurant to take us into the kitchen and have the chef sign a menu on our last visit.
Although I’m happy to visit the scenic campus, it’s almost a 2-hr drive from most of the New York Metro area, including, our home in New Jersey, to the beautiful Hudson River location, turning a long lunch into a 6-hr roadtrip trip. So instead of just lunching, we chose to make it a two-day getaway to explore the Mid-Hudson Valley. And I’m happy to say there was more to experience in the area than we could have possibly done in the time we had — all of it great, including art, history, and the longest pedestrian bridge in the world! AND we had the dog with us, who had a grand time as well.
How’d we do it? Read on:
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) occupies a scenic spot on the banks of the Hudson River, and has three reservations only restaurants — American Bounty, French Bocuse, and Italian Caterina Medici (which occupies its own Italian villa-esque building) — plus the Apple Pie Bakery for light meals and to go items. The three main restaurants are dress up affairs, and there are no kids menus, but what makes it great for food-loving kids are the staff: every student must rotate through the kitchen AND dining room of every restaurant before they graduate. So you have culinary students waiting on you and cooking for you (under the watchful eye of their professional teachers), and they’ll bend over backwards to please. We lucked out and arrived in time for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, so three courses only set us back $20.15 each (at other times we’ve had other reasonably priced prix fixe as well.). And the food was exceptional: Aidan had grilled octopus, gnocchi with wild mushrooms (the lightest we’ve ever encountered), and lamb chops he declared “exquisite!”
But possibly best of all was meeting graduate student Madison. She took Aidan into the kitchen and also promised to be available for any questions he might have about culinary school.
Round out your visit with a stop at the book store, which stocks cookbooks and kitchen utensils, and/or a guided tour of the campus.
Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum National Park
OK, I have a confession to make: I’ve never been to a presidential library, birthplace, or museum before this one. But I have to say I think I started with the best one: this 300 acre property on the Hudson River is fascinating and gorgeous (plus dog friendly, too — FDR’s dog Fala is mentioned throughout the park).
The library is great for kids, with interactive exhibits tracing history from the depression through World War II and also FDR and Eleanor’s lives during and after the presidency. Aidan was fascinated and very emotionally moved for much of it.
Ask for the free Junior Secret Service book when you arrive — it’s the museum’s version of the Junior Ranger program. Even though Aidan didn’t complete it, the wonderful Sal at the front desk still swore him in and gave him a badge for showing so much interest in the exhibits. Also here is FDR’s historic home — visits are by guided tour only and carry a separate admission. We didn’t have time to go in this trip, but we did walk around the exterior.
Bonus: Since this is part of the National Park System, 4th Graders and their families enjoy free admission.
Did you know that longest pedestrian bridge in the WORLD is located in Poughkeepsie? Nope, me neither until we visited the mid-Hudson Valley. This is a truly beautiful walk — and an easy 1.2 miles in each direction. Both the dog and Aidan loved the views and the river breezes. If your kids start to get tired, just turn back when you’re ready. This is a free walkway, so it’s easy to leave when you want.
This was a hard sell to the 12-yr-old who wasn’t in a museum mood. But the vast spaces, quirky contemporary art, and unique setting won him over. Highlights for our family included Dan Flavin’s light installations and Sol LeWitt’s detailed line drawings that fill several rooms floor to ceiling. Note that there’s plenty of room to spread out here, but it might be tough to keep little kids from touching the art. One of the employees told me they recommend that families come on “Community Free Day,” which takes place the second Saturday of each month; there’s no admission then and there are programs for kids. (Storm King Art Center is very close by and would make a perfect addition to an art outing in the area, or an outdoor alternative to DIA if you don’t think your kids are up for it.)
Where Else to Eat and Sleep
The Mid-Hudson Valley is chock-a-block with B&Bs, but I was hard pressed to find one that welcomed both kids AND pets. In fact, there was only one, and they wanted $800 a night for a private cottage and wouldn’t have allowed Aidan to use the pool or have breakfast in the main building! Umm, no thanks.
So we hit the highway and stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Poughkeepsie, which welcomed Pepper, gave us a hearty free breakfast, and where Aidan pretty much had the spacious and clean pool to himself, all for about $150.
The CIA is obviously a huge draw here, but the Mill House Brewing Company in downtown Poughkeepsie is a top spot for a casual lunch or dinner. They brew their own beers, craft awesome cocktails, make their own sausage, have a great kids menu, and offered up some of the most tempting desserts I’ve seen in a long while, including a churro ice cream sandwich and an apple pie sundae.