11 Grooviest Things to do in Bethel NY And Greater Sullivan County

What are the grooviest things to do in Bethel NY and greater Sullivan County? Well, the biggie, of course – the The Woodstock Music Festival: “Three days of fun and music, and nothing but fun and music” happened right here. Need we say more? Of course, yes.

Museum at Bethel Woods Sullivan County NY

Boomers will recognize this area of the Catskills, also, as the former “Borscht Belt.”

Summer resorts like The Concord, Grossinger’s, and Kutsher’s (mostly abandoned and in various states of decay, one a Casino, another reimagined as a high end health resort) drew Jewish families from NYC. (This is where the movie, Dirty Dancing, was set).

But lately, a new crop of boutique hotels – less glitzy, more design-forward “of the land” – have been drawing a younger crowd in search of history and great hiking in Catskills Park, with cool shopping and farmer’s market eateries to boot.

Lisa Lyons Morgan Outdoors Livingston Manor NY
Lisa Lyons Morgan Outdoors Livingston Manor NY

Read on for the Maven’s Best in several Sullivan County NY villages. (The Catskills town of Mountain Dale warranted its own post here).

Explore the dreamiest places to go in New York State with your beloved in this Best Romantic Getaways in NY post.

Where is Sullivan County NY?

Sullivan County is in the southern part of New York State, southeast of Binghamton and southwest of Albany. In the lower Hudson Valley region, Sullivan County is separated from Pennsylvania along its southwest boundary by the Delaware River.

The county, which starts about 70 miles northwest of New York City, is in the Catskill Mountains. Its northeastern corner is within the Catskill State Park.

Things to Do in Bethel NY

Site of Woodstock Music Festival Bethel NY
Site of Woodstock Music Festival Bethel NY

GO: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel

Bethel Woods” might not be familiar a familiar name, but I’ll get right down to it. This was Yasgur’s Farm – the site of Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 – now a fantastic museum and once again a live music venue. Bethel Woods is hallowed ground and a touchstone for Boomers who lived through the 60’s, and also for youngsters intrigued by that era.

Bethel Woods Arts Center Bethel NY
Bethel Woods Arts Center Bethel NY

The Museum at Bethel Woods does a masterful job interpreting the turbulence, struggles, and ideals of the 1960’s. This was the decade, after all, that saw the assassination of a president, a senator, and a civil rights leader (John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King), the rise of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and escalation of the Viet Nam War. But it also ushered in the “Summer of Love (’67), Women’s Lib, Flower Power, the moon landing. And, by decade’s end in 1969, Woodstock.

Bethel Woods Museum Exhibits Bethel NY
Bethel Woods Museum Exhibits Bethel NY

Named for small town of Woodstock NY, advance tickets for the music festival, which featured The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Credence Clearwater Revival, and more, sold at a frenetic pace.  Max Yasgur famously offered his alfalfa field in Bethel, and the rest, they say, is history.

Third largest city in New York for three days

Woodstock videos, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY
Woodstock videos, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

Over 400,000 people ultimately made their way up to this rural area of the Catskills – turning Bethel NY into the third largest city in New York for three days. Bumper to bumper Volkswagen vans and cars stretched for over 20 miles, requiring musicians to be flown in.

The bands loved the space . “It was made in heaven, a bowl with a rise for a stage.” Hundreds of thousands of young folks overwhelmed this small community. The logistics were mind-boggling. But local farmers and nearby residents rose to the occasion, making and distributing sandwiches and “breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

Buses and Bugs, Bethel Woods Museum NY
Buses and Bugs, Bethel Woods Museum NY

The weather was fine and then it wasn’t. But pouring rain and mud didn’t dampen enthusiasm. The Grateful Dead played in the dark. Richie Havens made up his song, “Freedom” on the spot. Canned Heat’s “Going up the country, do you want to go,” referenced the great gathering. Though some people got sick, there were only two deaths: one of a drug overdose, and the other, a 17 year old, killed by a tractor as it ran over his sleeping bag.

Magic Bus, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY
Magic Bus, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

The Museum at Bethel Woods is infused with the vibes of Woodstock, with large-screen videos, and movies of the concert shown on several large screens and in a psychedelic “Magic Bus.” Those of us who lived through the era will feel a sense of wistful nostalgia tapping into that spirit of community and engagement.

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY
Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

Things to do in Sullivan County NY: Livingston Manor

This small town, like many in the Southern Catskills NY, has been going through a Brooklynish revival. Cadres of cool kids, partial to farm-to-table fare, hand crafted beer, and home-goods, have been leaving the city behind for a more bucolic life with like-minded folks. These are our favorite shops and attractions:

Catskill Art Society - CAS - Livingston Manor NY
Catskill Art Society – CAS – Livingston Manor NY

GO: Catskill Art Space (CAS)

See the best of local contemporary art in two and a half bright galleries at Catskill Art Space. A great temperature controlled diversion on a freezing or swampy day. Check website for hours open.

Nest, Livingston Manor NY
Nest, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Nest Catskills

Goods, clothing, and jewelry from all over the world. Nest is the second location for Anna Bern, former Design Director for Vogue Magazine, who had another location in Narrowsburg NY.

Upstream Wine, Livingston Manor NY
Upstream Wine, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP/WINE: Upstream Wine and Spirits

Upstream Wine and Spirits offers a beautifully curated wine selection. And, it’s informative, too.

SHOP: Morgan Outdoors * Moved from Livingston Manor to Hurleyville NY in the Catskills

Morgan Outdoors Owner, Lisa Lyons, has a keen eye for ambling aptitude. She can assess your hiking level as soon as you walk through the door, and will size you up and send you on your way with a map to her favorite spots.

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Sullivan County NY. The “gateway into the 287,500 acre Catskill Park” has hundreds of miles of trails for beginners and intermediates as well as for the most strenuous hiker.

Being unfamiliar with the terrain can cost you time, unless someone with local knowledge points you in the right direction. With the proper gear. Morgan Outdoors, purveyor of clothing, footwear, and all the necessities for 4-season outdoor adventures, has it all.

Hiking Poles, Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY
Hiking Poles, Morgan Outdoors, Hurleyville NY

Lyons focuses on the region’s five steel Fire Towers that remain (out of 23), initially built to protect the forest. These structures now offer hikers a 360 view above the treelines. She’s a huge advocate for hiking poles – vastly different than your tree-limb walking sticks – and sells them like crazy in her store. Even if you don’t need anything, Lyons invites you to pop in for a “hand-drawn map” of local trails. They’re free.

Dette Flies, Livingston Manor NY
Dette Flies, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Dette Flies

Walter Dette opened his first fly-fishing shop in 1928. At 90 years old, therefore, Dette Flies is considered the “Oldest Family Owned Fly Shop in the World.” The location has changed seven times since then, and Dette’s is now run by grandson Joe Fox, but this establishment never strayed from its original purpose. Come in to buy flies, tie your own, and/or learn how cast. Dette’s is a perennial destination for “dry fly fishing” accoutrements.

Things To Do In Sullivan County NY: Mountain Dale NY

Bike Rental Mountain Dale NY

DO: Bike Mountain Dale Rail To Trail

Bring your mountain bike or rent one at Cinder Track Bicycles near the trailhead. The eight mile round-trip Mountain Dale Rail Trail, almost to Fallsburg is “flat and soft” – some parts grass, others dirt. It’s a beautiful, shaded ride and stays relatively cool midday summers.

Ambika Boutique

SHOP: Ambika Boutique

Ambika raises Angora Rabbits on her farm outside of town, and every three months she shears them for their extravagant wool. (Ambika claims that the bunnies love their haircuts in the heat of summer). She spins the yarn and knits Angora hats, mittens, and vests that she sells in her own Main Street shop where vintage items are on offer with her new creations.

I tried on the mittens: they are the softest, silkiest, and warmest things I’ve ever slipped my hands into (“8 times as warm as sheep wool”). I would have purchased them on the spot, but, at hundred$ for the pair, they are “an investment.” I’m still mulling.

Witchey Mountain Dale NY

SHOP: Witchey Handmade Herbal Apothecary

Body oils, scented candles, and goddess soaps abound in the lovely Witchey Handmade Herbal Apothecary – an herbal lotions and potions shop. Countless jars containing herbs for tea and tinctures dominate one whole wall. Mom is a fool for rosebud tea, and here, the prices are a steal: $4 per ounce. A small bag full will last her months and cost under $10.

Restaurants in Mountain Dale NY

Ba and Me Mountain Dale NY

EAT: Ba & Me

Fans of Vietnamese food (like me) will be thrilled to find this authentic spot- Ba & Me  – in a small town. Chunks of incredibly tasty spiced chicken sit on a bed of rice noodles and greens in the Five Spice Chicken Bowl: the most popular dish on the menu since the small eatery opened last year. There are Pho’s and Egg Noodle Dishes, but give me that Five Spice Chicken any day. I couldn’t get enough.

High Voltage Cafe Mountain Dale NY

EAT: High Voltage Café and Bar

The Wagu Burger is fantastic, Fish and Chips great, and the local Trout delicious at  farmhouse-chic High Voltage Cafe and Bar. The bar is a local hangout for sure.

The Dale Mountain Dale NY

EAT: The Dale

The Dale is touted for its pizzas, craft beer, cocktails, and backyard garden. Advanced buzz was all about the Chef’s Award Winning Burger (in NYC), and thick crust pies, but the large dark bar has grown into a townie and tourist haunt.

Restaurants in Livingston Manor

Dining Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Dining Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

EAT: The DeBruce Livingston Manor (see below)

The DeBruce was a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for both restaurant and restauranteur. Yep – amazing food in the Catskill wilds.

Catskill Brewery, Livingston Manor NY
Catskill Brewery, Livingston Manor NY

BEER/TASTING: Catskill Brewery

Known for its craft lagers, wood aged brews, and fantastic sours, Catskill Brewery credits “excellent town water” that “doesn’t have to be treated much at all.” Like all microbreweries, names of beers recount local places and legends. To whit – “Freak Tractor – a 100% Belgian Blond – references the vehicle that ran over and killed a teen-ager at Woodstock.

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY
Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

EAT: Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor

This Sullivan County NY counter service sandwich shop slash market – Main Street Farm – would not look out of place in Brooklyn. It’s a mash up of a rustic/funky NYC deli and farm-share. Pierced and sunny staff offers menu advice to multi-culti locals who’ve moved up, or have summer homes here, along with a growing number of visitors. There are terrific vegan options as well as organic, humanely raised meats.

Cabernet Frank's
Cabernet Frank’s

NIGHTLIFE: Cabernet Frank’s, Parksville

Food is secondary to the beer, wine, and music at this “Borscht Belt BBQ” spot in an otherwise lonely, but possibly up and coming downtown. You’ll find Cabernet Frank’s off Exit 98: Route 17 – the original Borscht Belt highway.

Where to Stay in Sullivan County NY

DeBruce Grounds, Livingston Manor NY
DeBruce Grounds, Livingston Manor NY

STAY: The DeBruce

Built in 1880 as an inn, and then a boarding house, The DeBruce has not roamed far from its origins – except stylistically. A cool-bean 14-room boutique hotel, owned by hospitality maestros, Sims and Kirstin Foster, the DeBruce is emblematic of a new kind of Catskill Hotel: less mass market resort, more high-end, mid-century-modern getaway.

The place is very much geared toward travelers who appreciate fine design and excellent food. Soon after opening, the DeBruce was recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the Best New Hotels in the World.

First Impressions of The DeBruce

The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY
The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY

Though the DeBruce is set on 600 acres, encompassing Willowemoc Creek, 5 miles of hiking trails, a “practice fly-fishing pond,” and a pool, you’d never know it at first. The building, nearly flush on a main road, comes up suddenly.

Porch - The DeBruce - Livingston Manor NY
Porch – The DeBruce – Livingston Manor NY

Walk up to the inviting porch, with requisite quasi-Adirondack-style rocking chairs and into the main “living room” – reminiscent of a Catskill summer camp gathering area, if your camp’s great room had been peppered with Knoll and Herman Miller furniture.

Living Room DeBruce Livingston Manor NY
Living Room The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY

A smaller game room, with fireplace, offers a cozier hangout option, especially in bad weather. When the skies are sunny and bright, most guests can be found by the pool, fishing in the pond or river, or getting their forest bathing in on the trails.

Guest Rooms at DeBruce

Guest Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Guest Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

Rooms are small, but rustic-modern-luxe with sheer white curtains, original pitted wood floors, platform beds, slotted wood headboards and pillow-dreamy duvets. Cobalt colored bottles of Saratoga Spring water sit bedside, and large hourglasses are tagged with the words  “nap time.” This is certainly a place to de-stress.

Bathroom, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Bathroom, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

Private bathrooms nearly double the size of the room and are magazine-worthy. Mine was actually in two sections – one very spa-like with soaking tub on herringbone pattern mosaic floor. The other with toilet and tiled shower.

Food at The DeBruce

Dining Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Dining Room, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

This is what it’s all about here. There are two dining rooms, actually. One, the Club Room, downstairs, is a more reasonably priced, casual option.

Club Room The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Club Room The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

Upstairs, in a glass walled room overlooking the hills, pool, pond, and river, you can partake in the excellent 9-course tasting menu, which is included in the room price.

Breakfast The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY
Breakfast The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY

A made to order breakfast, which is also complimentary for guests, features locally sourced favorites like Oats and Yogurt, Duck Hash, and French Omelets.

Amenities at The DeBruce

Outdoor Pool, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY
Outdoor Pool, The DeBruce, Livingston Manor NY

Outdoor pool (with lockers just inside).

Fly Fishing Lessons – via Dette – at extra cost, includes gear, waders, rods.

STAY: More Inns in Sullivan County NY

Hospitality maestros, Sims and Kirstin Foster, also own the equally cool Arnold House, North Branch Inn, and 9 River Road.


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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1 thought on “11 Grooviest Things to do in Bethel NY And Greater Sullivan County”

  1. If you are looking for unique things to do in or hidden places in upstate New York?
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    Free Tours in the World Peace Buddhist Temple, hike nature trails, outdoor cafe coffee shop.
    Kids, families & pets on a leash welcome!
    Located at 47 Sweeney Road, Glen Spey, NY 12737, just 4 miles from iconic Hawk’s Nest Highway – New York State 97 – Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. KadampaNewYork(dot)org

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