When my children were younger, we used to spend entire days exploring New York City. We would leave our house early in the morning and immerse ourselves in the energy of our environment, taking advantage of the parks, beaches, museums, and other attractions our magnificent home city has to offer families.

But there were times when we wanted to escape the excitement and energy all together, even if just for a weekend, and discover something a little bit more laid back. On these occasions, we explored the surrounding areas.

Since then we’ve amassed quite a list of favorite weekend retreats. Some are a short drive away from New York City, and with careful planning around rush hour, you can easily avoid getting stuck in traffic and prolonging the commute. Here is a short list of some easy-to-get-to escapes, whether you are a city dweller or you’re just visiting for a while.

Princeton, New Jersey

Known best for Princeton University, which was established in 1746, this area is far more than a college town. It is rich in arts and culture, with a number of museums to visit.

The Princeton Doll and Toy Museum, which houses a collection of antique dolls and toys from the 1600s to today, is one of my favorites. Though my boys think some of the dolls are a bit creepy, I enjoy noting the level of detail in the older dolls and the way in which toys have changed over the centuries.

The Grounds for Sculpture is another spot I like visiting. When I go, I try to sign up for one of the educational walks around the park, or one of the art workshops designed for kids big and small.

In terms of accommodations, the Residence Inn at Carnegie Center is a great option for families, since the rooms are spacious, it serves free breakfasts, and it is close to downtown Princeton.

Touring the Princeton University campus

There are a lot of cute shops and some great restaurants in the city center. We like to stop into Winberie’s Restaurant for burgers every time we visit. I also recommend making time for The Bent Spoon, an artisan bakery and ice cream shop where there is no such thing as a small scoop. (Please note, this latter business is cash-only.)

Princeton is 1.5-hour drive from New York City. Once you arrive you can park your car and easily navigate the area by foot.

Dutchess County, New York

We first ventured out to Dutchess County in search of orchards and maple syrup. What we discovered along the way was how captivating the drive along the Hudson Valley is, especially when the colors of fall foliage are in full display.

There is so much to do in this area, including tours, museum visits, hiking, and hot air balloon festivals. Beacon and Poughkeepsie are two of the biggest cities in the county. Old towns, such as Rhinebeck, also are worth a closer look.

My family particularly has enjoyed exploring the area’s orchards; here we have picked everything from peaches to pumpkins to apples (depending on the time of year). When it comes to maple syrup, the place to go is Madava Farms, the makers of Crown Maple syrup. Our kids have enjoyed the tour and all the maple syrup-flavored baked goods, and my husband and I have loved the tastings and friendly atmosphere. The farm also has several hiking trails, making this a fun place for a day-long visit.

Dutchess County is 1.5-hour drive from New York City and many of the small towns in the area are easy to explore by foot.

Viewfinder Tip: Buses and trains are great transportation options for weekend getaways from New York City. In many cases kids travel at a discount or for free.

Hershey, Pennsylvania

When we visit Hershey, Pennsylvania, we don’t relax much because we are enjoying the rides in Hersheypark (yes, that’s really how they spell it). But Hershey itself is a fun town to explore, and if you love chocolate, you will feel like you’re in heaven the entire time you are there.

The park is a huge attraction, as are Chocolate World (where you can taste chocolates from different parts of the world) and The Hershey Story, a museum on the life of Milton Hershey, the man who started it all.

What also makes this area a wonderful weekend retreat is the hotel and spa experience at The Hotel Hershey. The hotel features three in-house restaurants and several shops. It is the official Hersheypark hotel, offering guests free shuttle service to and from the park, as well as other perks and savings at the park.

A must when visiting the hotel is one of their Chocolate Spa treatments, where all the stress just melts away (get it?). During your visit at the spa, you can go all-out with a Whipped Cocoa Bath, where you relax your body in a tub full of whipped chocolate milk, or keep it simple with a Sweet Hands and Feet manicure and pedicure treatment that includes a chocolate feet mask and a chocolate sugar exfoliation treatment.

Hershey is a little more than 2.5 hours from New York City. You will need a car to get around town, but keep the windows down so you can enjoy the smell of chocolate that fills the air! 

What are your favorite weekend escapes?