In my post about the farms you can visit in Westchester, I mentioned that it is easy to get to Philipsburg Manor and Stone Barn Farms without a car, using public transportation. I thought it would be cool to write about some of the other day tips you can take from NYC using public transportation. There's really no reason to be stuck in the city just because you're car-less (or want to save your gas money on, say, the down payment on an apartment). There are plenty of fun family day trips that can be easily accessed using Metro-North trains or busses.
The MTA actually has an entire section of their website dedicated to what they so romantically dub MTA Getaways . You've probably seen this advertised in the subway, but I know I never really looked into it before. Many of the trips you could do any time, but the MTA has also worked with local tours and groups to create specific event packages.
Here are some car-free day trips that are definitely worth a try:
Farms and Pick-Your-Own
An easier way to get some farm action this weekend or next would be the Family Fun Farm Days package. The ride to Beacon, NY is just over an hour on the train where you will be picked up by a shuttle bus that will take you directly to the Beacon Farmers Market. From there it will tote you to two farms, the first a dairy farm where you can visit the cows and goats and sample the delicious artisanal cheeses. After lunch in the revitalized Downtown Beacon, you will be delivered to an orchard for pick-your-own, hayrides, a corn maze and a petting zoo. This trip costs only $24 per adult and includes all the transportation and admissions. Kids are $3.50 and under five years are free. (It says reservations must be made 48 hours in advance so call now for Sunday or try for next weekend.)
But you can take Metro North to Beacon any day to visit Dia:Beacon and enjoy the town. We were there recently and while you can see the museum was not a big hit with MY son, I think other kids might like the big open galleries filled with contemporary art installations more.
The museum is a short walk from the train station and after you do the museum you can take a free shuttle over to Beacon's Main Street which has been (mostly) transformed from a slum into a cute artsy little town. It still has some rough edges, which makes it a little cooler in my book. On the main street you'll find galleries, antique stores and restaurants. Stop at Hudson Beach Glass, a glass-making studio where you might catch the glassblowers in action.
We ate at Homespun Foods which is a great little cafe that serves delicious, fresh sandwiches and salads. They had mac and cheese for Mr Pouty up there and a nice outdoor garden that we ate in. After lunch you can walk over to the new Beacon Creamery which serves locally made ice cream.
Beacon frequently has special events and festivals, either at their riverfront park or in town. The last Sunday in September brings Spirit of Beacon Day, a local street fair celebrating the arts.
The train stops right in the Village of Cold Spring and is only a one hour ride, making this a great no-car day trip. Cold Spring is an adorable town filled with antique shops, cute cafes and a riverfront park. On Saturday mornings visit the Farmers Market which usually has a live band entertaining kids under a tent. There is a trolley that will take you around town for 10 cents, but really the whole thing is very walkable. Just north of town is Little Stony Point which makes a nice, easy hike with a great view of the Hudson River. Walk around the path off to the left when you arrive to find a sandy beach on the river and see if you can find this spooky little cave on your right.
In Cold Spring you can also book a kayak tour with Hudson Valley Outfitters right in the village or visit the beautiful, historic Boscobel Estate which is a 1.5 miles walk or taxi ride away.
We ate at the Cold Spring Cafe which was pretty good, although the servers were very cranky. But there are lots of good restaurants in town. Our friends highly recommended Le Bouchon, a more upscale French restaurant, but it has outdoor seating so I say it's doable with kids.
Serious Toyz sells antique toys and is a fun quick stop. The shop owner is very friendly and will demonstrate some of his favorite old fashioned toys for kids and, wisely, positions coin operated toy machines outside so children frustrated with not actually buying anything can be appeased for small change. But if you want to actually buy something you might do better at Born Lucky, which sells children's clothing as well as books and toys or Merritt Bookstore which is very kid friendly.
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk
Another fun, easy day by train is the Aquarium in Norwalk, CT. The Aquarium is only 5 blocks from the train station and you can buy a discounted ticket from the MTA that includes your transportation, admission to the aquarium and the IMAX.
From the Aquarium it's only a few blocks to the cute SoNo area of Norwalk where you'll find plenty of nice stores and restaurants. We ate at Chocopologie which not only had great chocolate desserts, but the food was excellent as well.
Heading to the Beach
As a kid we used to do this for getting to Jones Beach. In the summer you can take the LIRR to Jones Beach with a connecting shuttle bus or directly to Long Beach. The MTA also offers a package price to take the train to Fire Island that includes the Ferry and the connecting taxi (if needed, depending on which beach you are going to). The down-side, of course, is that it's can be a pain to lug all your beach gear on public transit. The upside is once you are there, it's great and certainly better than not going to the beach at all.
Another beach you can get to on public transit is Sandy Hook in NJ, which can be reached by ferry. For other beach ideas, take a look at our post about the best family beaches near NYC, which also has a link to a New York Magazine article about beaches you can reach without a car.
Find out about all these day trips or look for other family friendly day trips on the Metro North MTA Getaways website.
If you want to go further afield, take a look at Amtrak's special weekend getaway rates to Boston, Philladelphia or Washington, D.C. Phillie is doable as a day trip. Boston or D.C. would be better for the whole weekend. Fares are $32-$49 each way.