When it comes to day trips, the journey can matter as much as the arrival. One or two hours on a train provides the time to get lost in a summer book, have an unhurried conversation and moon over the passing scenery as everyday anxiety ebbs away. These eight regional getaways have recently been road-tested, no car required (well, maybe a Lyft here and there). On some, you can be home in time for dinner; others will stretch past midnight. Most of them call for stamina and good walking shoes, and all promise a break from the routine, a way to see what adventures lie beyond the five boroughs.
Strike a Pose with The Thing. The Marvel Universe Comes to Life.
“Avengers” superfans! The only East Coast stop for the immersive exhibit, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes, is in Philadelphia through September 2. Original, hand-drawn images of Spider-Man and Black Panther, a disorienting Doctor Strange-themed mirror room, costumes worn by Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America and selfie opportunities with The Thing and The Incredible Hulk, are among the 300 or so artifacts showcased at the Franklin Institute, a 20-minute walk from the 30th Street train station.
Other attractions in the Eastern Seaboard’s second largest city can be handily visited on foot, by bike or mass transit. For killer, hand-hacked lamb tucked in handmade tortillas, head to South Philly Barbacoa (1140 S. Ninth St.), which moved to a corner spot in the Italian Market last year and is open Saturday to Monday. From there, walk 13 minutes to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (1020 South St.), a mind-bending, indoor/outdoor maze of mosaics created by the Philadelphia-based artist Isaiah Zagar. Hand-painted tiles, broken plates, bottles, dolls, bicycle wheels and folk art statues create a flowing canvas that evokes a pantheon of influences, including Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Now venture north to Northern Liberties and Fishtown, cool neighborhoods alive with street art and indie shops. Your trip should involve one last thing: Suraya (1528 Frankford Ave.). The Lebanese restaurant has won local and national accolades for its mezze, like za’atar-scented labneh, smoky baba ganoush and fried kibbe sweetened with raisins. The modern, open space has a long bar as well as outdoor seating in a beautiful, tree-filled garden.
New Jersey Transit trains run regularly, a journey of less than three hours, departing from Pennsylvania Station. (Amtrak is faster but generally more expensive; cheaper options include Bolt Bus and Greyhound). Round-trip, off-peak fare: $33.50.
Sun-bleached sand and rhythmic waves can have a meditative effect at Long Branch, Asbury Park’s unsung neighbor on the Jersey Shore. Since Hurricane Sandy, the broad shelf of beach has been replenished and the boardwalk rebuilt for resiliency. From the train station, it’s a 17-minute walk to Max’s Bar & Grill (25 Matilda Terrace), home of elongated beef-and-pork hot dogs tucked into too-short buns. Founded in 1928 (originally as a boardwalk stand), Max’s reopened last year after an overhaul and has a next-generation feel, with an industrial interior, sizable bar and local beers. The Atlantic Ocean is steps away, where daily beach passes for adults cost $7 on weekends, $5 Monday to Friday.
Can you linger a little longer? Shorefront construction projects signal the city’s changing face, which includes two new local hangouts. The Butcher’s Block (235 West Ave.) is a butcher shop-restaurant-marketplace with dry-aged steaks, wood-fired pizza and a B.Y.O.B. policy. The Whitechapel Projects (15 Second Ave.) is a brewery-art center in an old warehouse complex that now includes a 300-capacity outdoor beer garden with a shipping container bar, a large barbecue grill, cornmeal-crusted clam rolls and a wood-burning pizza oven.
New Jersey Transit trains leave hourly from Pennsylvania Station and arrive at Long Branch station about 90 minutes later. Round-trip, off-peak fare: $32.50.
A University Town Rich with Culture. And Big, Cheap Hoagies.
Even if you didn’t go to Princeton, a sense of nostalgia flares up while roaming the resplendent campus with its Gothic edifices and spires, its greens once crossed by illustrious names like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O’Neill (who both failed to graduate) and Michelle Obama (who did). Free for students and nonstudents alike is the Princeton University Art Museum. Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Elizabeth Catlett are part of the collection, with other galleries devoted to old master paintings and ancient Byzantine, Islamic and African art.
Downtown Princeton flanks the campus and offers other broadening experiences, like Labyrinth Books (122 Nassau St.), with a sea of bargain tables, and Princeton Record Exchange (20 S. Tulane St.), brimming with vinyl and CDs, many priced at $1.99. Also nearby is Small World Coffee, a convivial gathering place, and The Little Chef Pastry Shop (8 S. Tulane St.) which turns out rich, stretchy croissants. For happy hour, step into the handsome, modern Agricola Eatery (11 Witherspoon St.) for $8 cocktails and excellent bar bites like creamy turnip hummus scooped up with charred triangles of flatbread and crisp vegetables. Can you go to Princeton and skip Hoagie Haven (242 Nassau St.), a community linchpin for decades? Yes, but why would you want to? A meaty half-sandwich is about $5 and as long as your forearm, something you can always save for later going back to Penn Station.
New Jersey Transit trains run often and take anywhere from 62 to 96 minutes. Round-trip, off-peak fare: $35.50.
In Search of Lost Treasure, or Just Eat a Lobster Roll.
Buttery lobster rolls, a not-so-crowded beach and a (very) remote promise of finding a pirate’s buried treasure lure visitors to Milford, a coastal city between Bridgeport and New Haven. From the Milford train station, prepare to walk 1.8 miles to Silver Sands State Park, on Long Island Sound. The journey is along shady streets lined with manicured lawns and leads to shell-studded sands where you can lay down a towel. Take a swim or soak up the view of kayakers and boats navigating the 14-acre Charles Island a half-mile away.
But if you are seeking that treasure — Captain Kidd’s gold doubloons, allegedly stashed there in 1699 — timing is everything. Twice daily during low tide, a rocky sandbar, or tombolo, surfaces in the waters, providing a half-mile walkway to the island. Safety is a serious issue here, the currents rough, so be sure to check tide charts. (And we can only confirm that lifeguards are on duty on summer Saturdays.) There is about a two-hour window to complete the round-trip journey. From May 1 to Aug. 31, the island is managed as a preserve for nesting birds so only the periphery is accessible.
Before leaving town, stop in at Seven Seas (16 New Haven Ave.), a friendly pub with warm lobster rolls that are stuffed with claw and tail meat. Around the corner is a fancier restaurant, Stonebridge (50 Daniel St.), with alfresco seating overlooking the Wepawaug River and a waterfall. It’s lovely for drinks and oysters and also has a respectable lobster roll but the ones at Seven Seas are superior. Both are close to the train station.
New Haven-bound Metro-North trains leave Grand Central Terminal every half-hour or so, reaching Milford in about two hours. Round-trip, off-peak fare: $31.50.
Shelter Island, N.Y.
Porgy Caught in the Morning, in a Basket with Chips by Lunch
Yes, you can get the measure of Shelter Island in a day even though it’s almost three hours from Manhattan. And yes, you can do it without a car. Just don’t expect to see the entire island. The flower-scented roads are not all lined with sidewalks so be vigilant for cars. This is a micro-vacation for those who like to walk, although you can also use your favorite ride-hailing app; surcharges may apply.
At Pennsylvania Station, catch a morning train to Greenport on the Long Island Rail Road (transfer at Ronkonkoma), then board the North Ferry, which runs often and zips to Shelter Island in a few minutes. The Heights is where you’ll dock, the starting point for a mind-clearing idyll. Get coffee and a snack at Marie Eiffel Market (184 N. Ferry Rd) and head 1.3 miles south to Black Cat Books (54 N. Ferry Rd.), open daily and stocked with fairly priced secondhand and rare editions. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to Commander Cody’s Seafood (41 Smith St.), a cash-only fish market and bluesy indoor-outdoor restaurant in an area called the Center. The proprietor is Jimmy Hayward, whose fish traps and parked boats aren’t just for show. He might have caught your porgy that morning and is an ace at skillet-frying chicken until it’s bronzed and crackling. Check ahead on the Facebook page, but lunch and dinner are generally served daily.
Now how about some ice cream? Enter Tuck Shop (75 N. Menantic Rd.) on your map app. The old-timey scoop shop is 1.4 miles northwest and will also point you in the right direction for the water. The nearby Crescent Beach is public and where Andre Balazs’s Sunset Beach (35 Shore Rd.) is nestled, a Mediterranean-style hotel-restaurant-bar with expanded hours after July 4 (lunch and dinner daily except for Tuesday). If the fun doesn’t stop until late, note that the last train from Greenport leaves at 9:11 p.m., meaning you won’t be home until after midnight. But so what? It will be one of the most pleasant, most memorable days of your summer.
Round-trip, off-peak fare: $44.50; the ferry is $4 cash round-trip, more for bicycles and vehicles.
Where Broadway Hits Begin, No Critics Allowed
Poughkeepsie is the home to Powerhouse Theater, where early stagings of “Hamilton,” “The Humans,” “The Wolves” and “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” were presented. In partnership with Vassar College and New York Stage and Film, the summer program marks its 35th anniversary season this year, and the last for longtime artistic director Johanna Pfaelzer (who will lead the Berkeley Repertory Theatre come fall). Upcoming highlights include a world premiere play, “Lightning (or The Unbuttoning),” by Beth Henley, and the New Works Play Festival, which is free and open to the public. Until July 28, there are matinee choices for day-trippers; trains run late enough for theater fanatics to also catch an evening performance (just prepare for a late night). The station is 10 minutes away by taxi or car service.
Actors and audiences get sustenance near Vassar’s campus at Beech Tree Grill (1-3 Collegeview Ave.), laudable for its fat burger on an English muffin, irresistible fries and grilled salmon. When it’s nice out, schedule time to fit in the elevated Walkway Over the Hudson, a spectacular pedestrian bridge near the train station that runs more than a mile. There are picnic tables on both sides of the river, a scenic setting to unwrap your porchetta or tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches from Rossi & Sons (45 S. Clover St.), an old school downtown deli.
From Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie is a two-hour journey. Round-trip fare (off-peak): $38.50.
Bookstores and Record Stores are Dead. Wait, No, They’re Not.
To be sure, most people drive to Kingston, an easy-to-love city in the Hudson Valley that was once the state capital. Avoid the gridlock and take Metro-North to Poughkeepsie, then catch a Kingston-bound bus that picks up riders at the station.
After about 30 minutes of agrarian scenery, get off when you see Kingston’s historic waterfront district. This revitalized area, called Rondout-West Strand, tumbles down to a creek, a tributary of the Hudson River, where boats are tied up as prettily as anything moored along a canal in rural France. A few doors uphill, Brunette (33 Broadway) which opens at noon Friday and Saturday (11 a.m. Sunday), is a sweet, wallpapered bistro featuring natural wine, hard cider and petite snacks like potato chips dressed with trout roe, crème fraîche and feathery fronds of dill.
Once you’ve exhausted Rondout’s many diversions — including a lot of live music — walk uptown to the Stockade, another centuries-old district. Vintage and vape shops, book, record, guitar and lifestyle stores abound. Bluecashew Kitchen Homestead (37B N. Front St.) is exemplary for anyone into collecting cooking and bar tools. Is it five o’clock yet? That’s when Lis Bar (240 Foxhall Ave.) opens, an intimate new spot in the emerging Midtown Arts District. Cocktails are well-made and small plates are inspired by Poland, with a revelatory chicken cabbage roll studded with prunes and showered with sourdough bread crumbs. There’s a quiet outdoor patio that’s hard to leave, but the bus schedule back to Poughkeepsie (where trains depart hourly for Grand Central) is spotty. For an earlier return home, consider springing for a car service to the station.
The train from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie takes two hours. Round-trip fare (off-peak): $38.50; the bus to Kingston is $4 cash round-trip.
Take an Easygoing Hike to the Tune of Song Birds and a Train Whistle
Garrison is a semi-sleepy hamlet of Philipstown, but it’s not boring, especially when it comes to its natural surroundings. The mouth of the densely wooded footpath to the Arden Point and Glenclyffe hike, part of the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, could not be easier to track down. Take Metro-North’s Hudson Line from Grand Central to Garrison, an 80-minute ride skirting the shimmering river. For the best view, sit on the left side going north. Maneuver through the station’s parking lot to Lower Station Road, and the marked trailhead is hard to miss. Dazzling panoramas of the Hudson River will unfold along the way, with a soundtrack of song birds and the honk of passing trains. The undemanding, double-looped route is under four miles, snaking past a waterfall, downed trees, intriguing ruins and old stone walls. It also has historic significance: the traitor Benedict Arnold escaped this way as he defected to the British after his plot to surrender West Point was discovered.
The fortresslike military academy at West Point is in view from Dolly’s (7 Garrison’s Landing), named for 1969’s “Hello, Dolly!” movie starring Barbra Streisand that was partly filmed in Garrison. The pale yellow, all-day cafe debuted last year, serving fresh pastries and morning coffee, salads and a sublime, grilled cheddar-and-ham sandwich at lunch (there’s dinner too, if you stay in town longer). Local beers and drinks can be enjoyed at the bar or at an outdoor table. Instagram target: A cone of soft serve Ronnybrook ice cream coated in sprinkles. The surroundings are so bucolic and seductive, an interest in Hudson River ephemera might develop. Luckily, Antipodean (29-31 Garrison’s Landing) is right there, selling a trove of vintage prints, relevant books and old maps.
Round-trip, off-peak fare: $30.
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