We’re spoiled for choice with beaches, obviously. A fine stretch of sand is never far away on Long Island. But let’s say someone loves being near the water, but wants something different for their next summer weekend. Wish granted. A relaxing waterfront getaway in beautiful surroundings doesn’t have to be anywhere near an ocean. Case in point: The Thousand Islands, the gorgeous upstate region with vineyards, cute shops, art museums and performing arts venues, all centered on the St. Lawrence River. For those who have never seen the river (and it’s pretty remarkable how many Long Islanders have not), it’s somehow just as captivating when it’s foggy and misty as when the sun is shining and the water sparkles.
To be more specific about a hideaway with the magic of a water view without sand all over the car or jellyfish: the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, right on the river in the historic town of Clayton. It’s a Four Diamond AAA-rated boutique property—for the record, this is not a common distinction in upstate New York—with an indoor pool and, way better, a fabulous waterfront patio with fire pits. Clayton itself was recently named one of the coolest small towns in America.
Where to eat and drink: NY strip steak, red snapper and duck breast are always sizzling at the hotel’s upscale Seaway Grille, where diners can enjoy their meal al fresco. Toast the trip with Pleasant Valley Brut Champagne, which is produced right in Keuka Lake, NY in the Fingerlakes Region, and has hints of peaches and pears. No need for guests to refrain from polishing off the bottle if they like since they only need to step upstairs to their room.
Off property, Bella’s, a waterfront bistro overlooking the islands around Clayton, is a mainstay of locals. The environment is casual and service snappy, in a good way. Think padded, comfy chairs and freshly-laundered blankets to grab just in case there’s a little chill coming off the water. Diners who have tickets to the opera, which is right down the street from Bella’s, are never late to their shows.
The Saint Lawrence Chateau, two miles away from the hotel, is a top spot for discerning foodies. The 80-year-old castle-esque building upon a bluff was a nunnery in a previous life. Conveniently, the Chateau sits alongside the Saint Lawrence Spirits Distillery, the only craft spirit producer that uses water from the St. Lawrence River to make its products. The grains, botanicals and other ingredients are all grown locally at Lucky Star Ranch.
What to do: Walk across the hotel patio to the brick-lined Riverwalk toward downtown. Continue past the train depot-inspired Riverside Drive Park and visit the many nautical-themed gift, apparel and jewelry boutiques and art galleries. The aforementioned Saint Lawrence Spirits just opened a downtown tasting room only a block away from the hotel. Just a few doors down is the Coyote Moon Vineyards lounge, named New York State Winery of the Year in 2016. Performances at the community-restored historic Clayton Opera House are surprisingly impressive, and unlike The Met, any attire is just fine. Or walk to the other side of town (a whole six blocks) to the Antique Boat Museum. Everything in Clayton is within walking distance of the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel.
Those missing the sand between their toes can always head to Cedar Point State Park, a 10-minute drive from the hotel, for a sandy, sheltered swimming beach. They can also take a dip at the new Clayton Harbor Municipal Marina.
How to plan: The Thousand Islands is not close. We’re talking six hours without any traffic (a remote possibility) from Garden City. But, especially for those who have never been up that way, it really is pretty and has a restorative vibe that is special enough to warrant the drive. When booking a stay, be on the lookout for seasonal themed dinner packages, which could include five-to seven-course meals, locally grown fare and beverage pairings, wild game feasts or romantic dining experiences. Other packages match accommodations with perks such as private antique boat rides or admission to different attractions. Ask for a water view room to see the cruise ships and ocean-going freighters going up and down the river.