The creative upstate retreat of New Paltz, NY, has always hosted summering city slickers and SUNY students. But since the pandemic, New Paltz is being rediscovered as a full-time destination by scores of transplants. The Post’s Sunday Editor, Margi Conklin, is one of them.
On a pristine Labor Day six years ago, my husband Chris and I cycled through the quaint upstate town of New Paltz.
Afterwards, we stopped at a pub, our pints of beer goldening in the sun. “Let’s buy a house here,” I blurted out.
Chris raised his eyebrows.
“Really? I’d love that.”
Wait, had it been the alcohol talking? Soon there was no turning back, Chris already searching properties around New Paltz, a convenient 90-minute commute from our New York City home. We found an affordable old farmhouse and placed a bid.
Margi Conklin (right), husband Chris Yates (left) and faithful pooch Mabel hiking at Awosting Falls near New Paltz.Margi Conklin.
When I started to worry about the work the property required, Chris reassured me.
“We need some green space to escape into. Let’s call it ‘The Bunker.’ ”
For four years, we enjoyed our house as weekenders. Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 hit. Our jokingly named “bunker” became the real thing.
While the pandemic raged, we sheltered upstate, grateful for some outdoor space. But then I started noticing other things: Namely, the town of New Paltz itself.
This historic community, founded by 12 French Huguenots in 1677, boasts a unique blend of nature and culture. With its four-year SUNY students (7,800) and modest local population (7,300), the village has one of the youngest median ages (22) in the country.
“Fifty percent of our population is young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students,” said Harry Lipstein, founder of New Paltz’s innovative Denizen Theatre. “They are artistic and creative, leading to a unique cross-pollination between the generations.”
Melanie Cronin who, with artist husband Ryan, runs the Cronin Gallery in Water Street Market, agreed. “You can find a kid standing in line with a tattooed face and a company CEO right behind him,” she said. “New Paltz has never worried about being cool. People here can feel comfortable no matter who they are.”
“It’s become more vibrant,” said Cronin, 48. “COVID has given more life to our cultural scene.”
This summer, the Denizen hosted play readings to packed audiences in the market courtyard. In October, it will stage its first in-person production since the pandemic, “Apples In Winter,” in which a mother bakes an actual apple pie on stage, the last meal for her son on death row. It stars Jennifer Delora, a former Miss Ulster County.
Lipstein said many of his performers and crew come from the area.
“It’s no coincidence that Robert de Niro lives in [nearby] Gardiner. Like Provence, which attracted van Gogh and Monet, you find that same magnetism in the Hudson Valley. There’s lots of artistic talent in them there hills.” (Former mayoral candidate and presidential hopeful Andrew Yang is also a resident.)
Meanwhile, new restaurants catering to town and gown have recently exploded, including Main Street eateries Apizza!, serving wood-fired pies, and Burger Box, offering grass-fed beef and craft wine and beer. You can also taste local brews at Arrowood Outpost housed in a stone grotto on Church Street.
Apple picking season will soon bring even more visitors to the area. Twin Star Orchards (N. Ohioville Road) is my absolute favorite. Set among 200 perfect acres of apple trees, you can enjoy pizzas, burgers and free tastings of their ciders. The mind-blowing “Raw” variety was inspired by Basque country cider.
Olivia Yi, who helps father Peter run the cidery, said the Raw “is a magical product, with a fermented, high-acid flavor. It’s really alive.”
The same could be said of my adopted hometown of New Paltz. A vibrant community that welcomes anyone, “We feel like it’s the center of the universe,” Cronin said. “You can’t beat the enthusiasm here.”
New Paltz highlights
This Victorian castle resort founded in 1869 sits in a valley beside an exquisite lake, where you can canoe, kayak and paddleboard. A full-service spa makes it the ultimate in luxe relaxation.
After a long hike, lounge by your own personal log fire outside this charming pub, and enjoy a quinoa burger with a local ale.
Since 1947, this Main Street sports bar has been the New Paltz hangout. Everything on their copious menu is delicious and generously portioned. (The Tommy I’s crab cake melt is a fave.)
Designed as a European-style promenade, this pedestrian avenue of restaurants, bars, boutiques, antique stores, the Cronin art gallery and more is a treasure trove of delights.
Book a tour inside the beautiful stone houses built by Huguenot settlers in the 18th century, a designated National Historic Landmark. (The Boos & Brews Haunted Tour is particularly fun.) And the gift shop is a must at Christmastime.