Just a few hours from New York City, the Catskills have long been a place for busy urbanites to escape in search of a winter wonderland. It’s magical in the fall for obvious leaf-related reasons, but I, myself, had never been in the colder months due to foolishly thinking there’s nothing to do but ski, ski some more, then wake up and...ski again. Which is definitely an option! Yet for the athletically challenged (read: lazy) like me, a vacation requires something more along the lines of food, vibes, and extreme coziness.
While the powder is fresh (is that a thing skiers say? help!), there's so much else to explore in the Catskills while we wait for Spring. Here's what to eat, where to stay, and what to do in the Ulster County region, home of Woodstock (ever heard of it?).
WHERE TO STAY
I am o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d with the Shandaken Inn, a truly lovely hotel nestled below the Catskills mountains, with the Esopus Creek running through the property, insane 360° views, and complimentary breakfast that's pretty much worth the entire hotel price. Also, when I arrived, complimentary sticky date Madeleines were on my pillow. Honestly, that’s all it took to sell me. That and the fireplace in my room.
The Shandaken really does feel like a home away from home—guests hang out in a cozy living room playing Scrabble next to the fire, the staff learns everyone's name, and the place never doesn’t smell like breakfast Chef Tim’s incredible cooking.
The Shandaken has 15 rooms (they’re all named after historic resorts/camps in the area), dogs are allowed, and yes, there’s an outdoor pool.
WHERE TO EAT
I am very much the type of person to hoard free food at breakfast so I don’t have to spend money on lunch (classy, I know), but the region is full of so many delicious things to eat, it’s worth spending a little extra.
Exhibit A) Phoenicia Diner
One-hundred percent a spot you don’t want to miss. The vintage diner is basically Instagram bait meets delicious noms, and I had one of the best burgers of my life. At 10:00 am. Normal!
Exhibit B) Woodstock Brewing
You’re only here for a weekend and I refuse to let you have a bad meal. You'll be in excellent hands at this chill spot just down the road from the Shandaken Inn. Their beer menu is extensive, the quesadillas are solid, and there are board games to play while you eat. What more could you possibly want? Oh, $3 drafts? They have that too.
Exhibit C) Peekamoose Restaurant
Please pay attention because this is the best meal you’re going to have this weekend. Peekamoose serves up better food than what you’ll find on any given night in New York City—minus the extra expense, plus a bigger portion. Their homemade gnocchi is a collection of edible pillows, and I highly recommend following it up with the short ribs. The sauce takes three days to make and it shows.
WHAT TO DO
We’ve already established that this trip isn’t about skiing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Great Outdoors (by which I mean some spooky hotel ruins). Hike up Overlook Mountain to see the facade of the once glorious Overlook Mountain House, and then reward yourself with a walk around the town of Woodstock, which has definitely retained its down-to-earth hippie vibes while also attracting a bunch of restauranteurs who opened chic spots to grab a bite.
Places to hit up: Bread Alone bakery (three words: chocolate pound cake), Tinker Toys (which you might think is just for kids but then why, pray tell, did I buy so much stuff for my apartment?), and Candlestock. In case it's not clear from the name, it's a candle shop and it smells like heaven. Oh, and Shindig, in case you, like me, require a second lunch.
But Woodstock isn’t the only place worth exploring. The teeny town of Shandaken is home to Blue Barn Antiques, where you can spend upwards of an hour getting lost in nooks and crannies and come away with a one-of-a-kind vintage frock or a casual dresser if you have room in your car. Oh, and just a half hour from Shandaken is Kaaterskill Falls, the region's highest waterfall. It's a slippery climb, but if I can do it, trust me, so can you.
- Depending on where you are, cell service in the Catskills is pretty spotty. I found that most businesses are well aware of this and have complimentary WiFi, but keep that in mind if you have people you need to be in touch with.
- Speaking of spotty service, if you plan to hike somewhere remote, print out directions like it's 1999. You'll thank me when your GPS is inevitably like "mmm, bye."
- Check the forecast before you go. This sounds obvious but if it's going to snow, you're going to want to make sure you have legit cold weather gear so you don't have to make an annoying mid-weekend trip to Target for boots that don't get soaked through in 5 minutes.
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