Living in New York City is great, but sometimes you need to get out of the concrete jungle in order to experience something different. Luckily, there are many destinations that are both affordable and easy to access from Manhattan. In true New Yorker fashion, the following locations are all accessible to those without car access. (A car in New York? Fuggedaboutit!) Check out our list of some of the least expensive day trips you can’t miss out on during your time in the U.S.!
Fire Island is a beautiful barrier island just off of Long Island. At 32 miles long, it is the longest of four islands that provide a barrier between the South Shore of Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean. It hosts 17 separate car-free communities, each with its own character. You can lay on the beach, try some great seafood, check out the lighthouse on the Fire Island National Seashore or just walk through the different communities
Ocean Beach is the unofficial capitol of the island, and the most popular spot for visitors due to its large downtown area. To get to Fire Island, you’ll need a train and a boat. Take the Long Island Railroad to Patchogue, Sayville, or Bayshore, then catch a ferry from the terminal of boats leaving for the island. Find even more detailed directions here.
The Rockaway Peninsula is located in the borough of Queens, which makes its beaches some of the most easily accessible from the city. Mostly wiped out by Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway Beach is now touted as a model of sustainable redevelopment. It is also NYC’s only legal surfing beach! If you’re ready to soak up some sun and hit the waves, but don’t have much time or money to get out of town, just take the A train toward Rockaway Park – Beach 116th Street to the Beach 90th Street stop, or a scenic ferry ride from Wall Street. While you’re there, check out the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, sister of the Brooklyn Bazaar with just as much to offer. Campfires, karaoke, and live music turn a good beach day into a great weekend. Don’t worry about getting lost – on any hot, sunny weekend you can just follow the crowd.
The Palisades is a section of the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey. Palisades Park in New Jersey offers some of the closest hiking trails to the city. With soaring cliffs on either side of the river, the thirty miles of trails provide some of the most breathtaking views over the Hudson. Riverfront picnic spots, historical landmarks, and two boat basins in the park provide the perfect spots to stop for a snack or contemplate the beauty of it all. Who would have thought such natural beauty could be so easily accessed from the city? Take the 166 New Jersey Transit bus about 30 minutes from Port Authority and breathe in the clear air along the trails.
The closest major city to New York, Philadelphia, is ideal for a day or weekend trip. Once the capital of the U.S., Philadelphia is home to many historic sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Declaration House, and more. The city also has great museums, food and the wonderful Reading Terminal Market. You can get there on the Amtrak train (the express is 1 hour 10 minutes) or spend a little more time, but less money, and get there by local transit or buses. To do this, take New Jersey Transit from NYC to Trenton, NJ, then SEPTA from Trenton to Philadelphia.
Jones Beach State Park is just 20 miles from New York city, but feels a world away. The 6.5 miles of white-sand beaches are an ideal spot to fish, surf, swim, kayak, and sail. The Nikon Theater, a large concert venue on the grounds, hosts performances all summer long. Listen to some live music or a see show to complete the perfect day at the beach. On weekends between the end of May and the beginning of September, you can get there by taking the Long Island Railroad to Freeport, then the N88 bus to Jones Beach.
Just off the southern tip of Manhattan, Governors Island is the closest destination on the list. But don’t let that fool you, because it may be the best spot for a mini-getaway from the hustle and bustle of NYC. It has an interesting history as one of the longest continually operated military installations in the country. Military bases and various historical buildings constructed before the American Revolution can be found across the island. Now, much of the island is devoted to park land, including a hammock grove and the Hills. There are great art exhibits and events throughout the year that take place annually. If you’re around in August, make sure not to miss out on the Jazz Age Lawn Party – a chance to get dressed up in your favorite flapper outfit and dance to music from the Gatsby era! Be sure to check the calendar to plan a visit. Getting there is as simple as catching the ferry from downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Famously known as the location of Washington Irving’s classic spooky story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this small village is the perfect place to go as the leaves start to turn as autumn arrives. Sleepy Hollow is an easy and fun daytrip, particularly in October as the town goes all out to celebrate Halloween! You can visit the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, listen to the story in a dramatic retelling, and take a Haunted Hayride Sleepy Hollow Tour led by the Headless Horseman himself! It’s only 45 minutes to the Philipse Manor station from Grand Central on the Metro North Hudson Line. You can also get there by bus and occasionally by water taxi.
Made up of two state parks located in New York and New Jersey, Harriman – Bear Mountain encompasses 52,000 acres of wilderness with 235 miles of hiking trails. For the adventurers looking for some bragging rights, you can hike a part of the 18 miles of trails that overlap with the famous Appalachian Trail. Lodges and campgrounds provide great spots to plan a weekend camping trip, but you can easily plan a day trip as it’s just a little over an hour from NYC. Take the Short Line bus to Bear Mountain, or Metro North to Suffern, Sloatsburg, Tuxedo, Southfields, Arden, or Harriman.
Beacon, New York is a quaint riverside town along the Hudson River. It has become a weekend hotspot for New Yorkers since the opening of the DIA: Beacon, a fantastic museum of contemporary art. Healthy and hip farm-to-table restaurants and galleries line the downtown streets for a leisurely day of good eats and culture. For a pop-culture junkies, make sure to visit the Pandorica, a Doctor Who-themed cafe! To get there, take the Metro North from Penn Station to Beacon.