WHY GO: Budget Travel Magazine once deemed Saugerties one of the Ten Coolest Towns in America, but I’ll also add that it’s one of the most down-to-earth, friendly and community minded, with not just one, but two independent bookstores. (As well as an indie movie theater and a slew of owner-run shops). So, it’s no big surprise that the kindest and most gracious late-night talk show host, Jimmy Fallon, was raised in Saugerties. There’s a beautifully restored lighthouse offering overnight accommodations, a sanctuary for abused and neglected farm animals, a B&B owned by Culinary Institute hot shots, and plenty of great places to eat. Saugerties folks are deeply tied to and proud of their town, with good reason. Come see why.
Things to Do in Saugerties NY
VISIT: Saugerties Lighthouse. You’ve got to hike out ½ mile each way to get to this 1869 Italianate gem (that also serves as a 2-bedroom B&B – $225 per night) right on the Hudson River. Left vacant in 1954 after it was automated, the shambled lighthouse was placed on the National Historic Register in 1979, renovated in the late 1980’s and has been operating as a year-round B&B for nearly 20 years.
On Sunday afternoon, come for a tour, or plan to stay – even in wintertime. Heated by coal stoves, it’s a cozy retreat when the Hudson River flows with ice. You’ve got to hike in with your stuff (a small backpack is perfect – no need to get gussied up), but the effort, for the most fantastic views in Saugerties, is so worth it.
TOUR: Opus 40. If you love eccentric characters with passions expressed as enduring attractions, you’ll love this in-the-woods expanse of bluestone ramps, stairs, pedestals, statues and ledges – all created by one man, Harvey Fite.
Born to a poor family in 1903, Fite moved to upstate NY to enter the ministry, but abandoned holy rolling to become an actor. Too antsy for backstage downtime, Fite realized his talents would be best served in the fine arts, specifically, as a sculptor. In his quest to find a “huge pile of rocks,” Fite stumbled on an abandoned bluestone quarry (from which many New York City sidewalks of the day were sourced), bought the property, built a beautiful home, sculpted statuary from abandoned quarry stone and became a Professor of Art at nearby Bard College.
Using traditional quarryman’s tools – hammers, chisels, drills, crowbars and a boom and pulley system – Fite singlehandedly fashioned a six acre ramped and stair-stepped bluestone terrace, standing a huge monolith he found in a nearby streambed on a pedestal in the center. Fite was 37 years into his planned 40-year “opus” when he fell to his death at the age of 72. Now, Fite’s stepson, Tad Richards and Tad’s wife Pat, are stewards of Opus 40, running it as a non-profit organization. To raise money to maintain the grounds and work, the Richards host concerts and performances, and welcome visitors to explore the property. Sonny Rollins, Richie Havens and Jimmy Cliff have all played on these rocks. This year (2015), Susan Cowsill is slated to appear. It’s a fantastic, one-of-a-kind venue. Open Memorial Day through Columbus Day, Thurs-Sun and Holiday Mondays, 11-5:30, $10 adults, $3 kids. Concerts $40 per person.
TOUR: Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Since it opened in 2001, the CAS has rescued about 3,500 farm animals, many which run underfoot on these 110 acres, like the free-ranging creatures they are now fortunate to be. Guests are invited on weekends to interact with an assortment of animals on 1 ½-hour tours that begin every half hour from 10:30 to 2:30.
You’ll hold chickens, pet sheep, pigs and cows, and learn about the “special needs” animals – like blind horses and rescued veal calves. Should you wish to stay, there’s a very pretty, newly opened B&B in a renovated Civil War era building on site. Tours $12 adults, $8, kids. Rooms with shared bath are $115-$175, suite $295.
STOP IN: Du Bois-Kiersted House – Saugerties Historical Society. This 1727 stone house and barn out back have been newly renovated, though much – like the original wide plank floors and 18th century glass paned windows (some with family inscriptions) has been preserved. The newly reassembled Dutch Barn serves as Art and Cultural Heritage Gallery and is one of the oldest barns in the county. Open Sat 11-2, Sun 1-4.
SHOP: Lucky Chocolates. Rae Stang owns the very delicious Lucky’s, which sells not just “small batch organic chocolates” but also croissants, chili, soups and other delights.
SHOP: Saugerties is drawing young clothing and interior designers who “upcycle” jewelry and furniture from vintage castoffs. Stop into Dig for funky clothes and cool housewares.
SEE: Orpheum Theater. Woman in Gold on the billing with Mall Cop 2? That’s the beauty of this indie-pop movie theater right in town.
Best Restaurants in Saugerties NY
EAT: Sue’s. If you want to find the locals in Saugerties, go to Sue’s on any given night. It might not offer the most innovative or obsessed-over cuisine, but recently renovated Sue’s, on 9w a mile or so from downtown, is packed and quite boisterous every day of the week because it does offer the perfect kind of food and venue for family and group get-togethers. There are actually people who go a few times week for the meatballs alone. Though Momma Costello still cooks her authentic Italian meatballs and other Italian specialties, she’s got a couple of CIA-grad relatives in the kitchen as well. So the fare runs from pizza to Wine Pairing dinners, a very popular, and reasonably priced event showcasing the best of the chefs (e.g. delectable Vegetable Terrine). If you book your Saugerties visit to coincide with one of these Wine Pairing dinners, you will not be an out-of-town outcast. Locals will invite you into their circle like kin.
EAT: Slices. Though deep-seated pizza traditionalists might eschew the light and crispy crusts here, I’m not alone in singing the praises of a slice of Slice’s pie. It is fantastic. One piece makes for a very tasty lunch break.
Where to Stay in Saugerties NY
STAY: Smythe House. Walk into this whimsical 6-guestroom, “anti-Queen Anne” Victorian, to a “sensory orgy.” Countering the ostentatiousness of the Victorian era, the home was built in 1890 in a hodgepodge of styles and to “blend into nature.”
Knickknacks and art abound, reflecting the interests of the globetrotting and spiritually-minded owners David and Justine Smythe: David, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and Justine a graduate of the CIA.
You’ll find Buddhas to 300 year old barn beams in the bedrooms (from a local barn reclamation). And in the backyard, a man-made fish pond, play-sets and tremendous views of the Catskill Mountains.
As this is the only B&B in this area owned and operated by professional chefs, at check-in you’ll receive a special Breakfast Request menu printed with your name. You can choose to have your breakfast any time between 7am and 10am, and from an assortment of made-to-order dishes – omelets, toasts, even a lox and bagel platter.
Room décor is busy, but surprisingly calming. You’ll find a plate of chocolates from Krause’s Chocolates and biscotti from Hudson Valley Dessert Company on arrival. Perhaps most unique are the bathrooms, lovingly restored by David. One sports a jet-age steam shower and clawfoot tub and another features a steam-bed rock wall. Rooms $225-$295 include made to order gourmet breakfast, welcome treats, free wi-fi, parking.
STAY: For a small town, Saugerties has a good number of worthy, and might I say, offbeat, places to stay. You’ll hear roosters crowing and cows mooing morning and night at the Homestead Inn at Catskill Animal Sanctuary (picture above; $115-$175 shared bath , suite $295), watch the Hudson River go right by your back deck at the Saugerties Lighthouse ($225), stay in a grand mansion at Renwick Clifton House B&B ($210-$300), or experience a more traditional stay at Diamond Mills ($220-$650)- perched on a cliff overlooking the Esopus Creek.