Whether you arrive in your electric Porsche or by Amtrak with a backpack, entering the small city of Hudson gives an illusion of stepping onto a movie set — Wes Anderson’s, no less.
The city that was initially settled by whalers from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and thrived as a whaling hub in the 18th century has recently earned a reputation as the Brooklyn of upstate New York. Amid hip coffee bars and boutique stores, Queen Anne style mansions and Victorian houses are still erect while derelict buildings are spotted throughout the city, indicating the faint remnants of the seedy history of Hudson. After all, Columbia Street — formerly Diamond Street — was notorious for gambling and prostitution in the early 20th century.
This complete jumble and multi-layers of history are all laid bare in Hudson, strangely looking harmonious together and giving away the history of the rise and fall — and rise again — of the city.
However popular the Hudson Valley has become in recent years, the DNA of the area is bohemian as it has been since the 19th century when the area started attracting the artsy, creative and non-conformist types. While the common description of the area as a popular weekend getaway for “New Yorkers” is vaguely true, one mustn’t forget that the vibe is decidedly more Brooklyn than Park Avenue.
For those who want a quick and casually stylish getaway without a fuss or a mass of people, Hudson ticks many boxes. It’s easily accessible from New York City —2 hours by car or Amtrak— and yet, it feels green, outdoorsy and historic. This deceptive remoteness conveniently comes with stylish hotels and comfortable Scandi-style lodgings; lip-smacking restaurants and bakeries are abundant; art galleries and vintage furniture stores have made the town a shopping destination.
Hudson is small as a city but a big cabinet of curiosities, the kind of place where you need to linger and revisit to uncover and discover things hidden, with an open mind and willingness to explore.
Even though Hudson is no longer sleepy or slow, bear in mind that business hours differ from place to place and many shops only open Thursday through Sunday. Check opening days and hours when planning your trip.
WHAT TO DO IN TOWN:
The city of Hudson provides an ideal base for those wanting to explore the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. It’s packed with a delightful array of antique and furniture shops, boutique stores, art galleries and restaurants despite its compact size. Warren Street is the place to start as it’s the main artery that goes through town.
Go to Finch, a lifestyle shopping destination that was opened by the stylish duo Andrew Arrick and Michael Hofemann. Their many years of experience in luxury fashion houses are reflected in the flawlessly curated furniture — both modern and vintage — artwork, textiles and home goods.
Modern on the Hudson has been selling American, Scandinavian and European Mid-Century furniture since 1996. Even though their pieces are available on 1stdib, it’s worth visiting the actual store while in town.
For those whose sense of aesthetics is closer to the interior of Carl Larsson, which is evocative of the old world, Red Chair On Warren is a store that specializes on Swedish, Belgian and French antiques.
It’s easy to miss the discreet entrance on Warren Street but it’s a treat to be inside The Quiet Botanist. This not-so-ordinary dried flower shop took inspiration from old apothecaries and offers a range of natural skincare products as well as facial treatments.
For a fashion fix, Nikki Chasin is a place for colorful and fun clothing and accessories that embody the Bohemian spirit of the area.
Spotty Dog Books & Ale is a little quirky spot. Housed in an old firehouse, this independent bookstore also serves a variety of locally sourced ale as well as wine and small bites.
WHERE TO EAT:
Start the morning at Breadfolks, a bakery on Warren Street, but be prepared to stand in line for some time unless you get there before the opening time, like I did. Everything at Breadfolks is gooey, sticky and decadent. Think hazelnut croissant with velvety chocolate sauce oozing out with a first bite or the impossibly buttery — and possibly sinful — kouign-amann.
Talbott and Arding is an unmissable stop for cheese enthusiasts but it’s much more than a cheese shop. Started by Kate Arding who began her cheese career at the famed Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and Mona Talbott, a former chef at Chez Panisse, this airy shop also has coffee, pastries and great sandwiches for picnics as well as crackers and charcuterie selection that go with cheese.
Kitty’s Market Café is the first shop you will see as you leave the railway station if you’re traveling by Amtrak. It’s the kind of place that’s good any time of the day. Breakfast sandwiches are hugely popular but their pièce de résistance is rotisserie chicken. A whole bird, half, or quarter can be ordered, alone or with sides. And a sour cherry pop tart or coconut almond carrot cake are also hard to miss. They’re opening a restaurant soon. Watch this space.
Red Dot is one of the oldest restaurants in Hudson even before the city became popular for hip and young urbanites. It has a lovely patio in the back of the restaurant with pretty yellow tables.
Supernatural Coffee is where locals hang out when they need a caffeine fix. Coffee cakes, muffins and scones are available to go with a cup of morning cappuccino.
Culture Cream is an ice cream shop for those craving sweets but bear in mind that their products are made of kefir, kombucha and other fermented ingredients, hence, “culture” in the biological sense. Let’s say that it’s an ice-cream store for grown-ups. (My kids wouldn’t even try it when they saw miso et al on the menu.)
The Maker is a place to rely on all throughout the day. The beautiful European style cafe serves excellent coffee, savory dishes as well as superb pastries delivered daily from Bartlett House in Ghent. The cafe offers a solid dinner menu, but for a more proper dining experience, book a table at the adjacent restaurant housed in a beautiful glass conservatory. This is my go-to place when I want something simple but high-quality.
Wunderbar Bistro is where everyone goes when most restaurants are closed on Mondays. This cozy and lively place offers a menu that please everyone.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Maker Hotel is undoubtedly the top choice for those travelers with a penchant for luxury and style. Opened in 2020 by the founders of Fresh, the global beauty company, the hotel comprises three historic buildings. The 11 rooms are arranged coherently and seamlessly throughout a 1800’s carriage house, a Georgian mansion and a Greek Revival building. The inside is dark and sensual with a sense of history imbued with contemporary sophistication. The European-style cafe and restaurant serve excellent culinary options throughout the day. The outdoor swimming pool provides an oasis during warmer months while the plush cozy interior is an ideal shelter to snuggle up when the temperature goes down. Don’t miss the bar or the gym even if you’re not a drinker or a gym-goer — the whimsical design is worth the visit. And the juice bar attached to the gym serves an excellent selection of freshly squeezed juice.
Despite the variety of hotel options in Hudson, not many offer outdoor space. When Amelia opened in 2021 in a lovely Queen Anne-style house, however, it came with 8 rooms and a backyard swimming pool. The service is minimal, as the rooms are accessed with a code but there’s a phone number to call whenever you need something. The lack of fuss in service doesn’t mean lack of quality. Original works by Jean Michel Basquit and Andy Walhol hang on the walls; Matouk linens and Frette towels add luxury to the stay; Nespresso coffee machines, housemade granola and baked goods are available 24/7. The swimming pool is available in the landscaped garden when the temperature goes up, while a fire pit is ready for s’mores for a cozy evening. The communal area and library offer an appealing work space and the hotel often hosts cultural events, lectures and concerts in collaboration with nearby Bard College.
Wm. Farmer and Sons near the train station offers the simplicity and efficiency of staying in an airbnb and the comfort of staying in a boutique hotel. Songs from the 60’s play on the vintage-style Tivoli radio as you walk into your room. The rooms are simply but tastefully decorated with tall poster beds with plush mattresses and antique furniture. Various card and board games are available in each room. The restaurant (open from Thursday to Sunday) that’s also open to non-guests has a small but excellent menu. The train can be heard at night but ear plugs are available in the bathrooms. Nice touch.
Rivertown Lodge is located near the east end of Warren Street. The original building that once housed a movie theater in the 1920’s movie theater and, later on, a motel for 40 years, was reborn as the current hotel. It still has a feel of a motel from the exterior, albeit a stylish one. The decor is minimal and unfussy. The open-planned lobby is homey and welcoming with wood-burning stoves, a communal kitchen, free coffee in the morning and all-day well-stocked pantries with snacks. Pretty retro-style Papillonaire bikes are available for hire to explore around the town.
The options are endless outside the city of Hudson.
Less than 10 minutes from Hudson, the Olana Historic Site, a historic house that was home to Frederic Edwin Church — one of the leading artists of the Hudson River School — is a good place to start. Apart from its historic significance as home to a prominent cultural figure who often hosted cultural luminaries such as Mark Twain, it’s worth visiting the place for the spectacular view of the Hudson River and Catskills, as well as the meditative surroundings.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of hiking trails, scenic trails and skiing opportunities in Catskill Mountains by crossing the Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. For a quick change of scenery in less than an hour, cross the Massachussettes border to explore quaint and properly New England towns such as Lenox or Stockbridge. Art enthusiasts should drive south along the river to visit art centers and museums that are bountiful throughout the Hudson Valley. The Storm King Art Center, Opus 40 and Dia: Beacon are all worth exploring.
In the town of Red Hook, touring the Bard College campus will appeal to those interested in art and architecture. This liberal art college in a bucolic setting has a mix of Gothic buildings and modern structures as well as art installations dotted around the vast campus. See the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry, and Olafur Eliasson’s The Parliament of Reality, a permanent outdoor installation specially created for Bard College.