New York’s capital region boasts more than the Governor’s mansion to attract visiting families.
“And the capital of New York is…” The class fell silent. “Albany!” I shouted in triumph. For the longest time, the only thoughts I had about Albany were from my 4th grade Social Studies class. As far as my Middle-School-Manhattanite mind was concerned, New York City was the real capital of New York, and this whole Albany business was some kind of hush-hush conspiracy. As I grew older, and as the state capitals I had so diligently studied slowly slipped from my mind, Albany began to play a more central role in my life — my understanding of the city was only as deep as the green reflective signs that marked it on the highway to our annual vacations at Lake George and beyond.
On a recent weekend visit to New York’s official capital (I have since abandoned my conspiracy theory), I discovered that Albany has a lot more to offer than I had previously expected. The city has its fair share of cultural attractions, in addition to things that are just fun to do (including my personal favorite, bumper boats). Although I recommend places to visit throughout the article, I can’t lay claim to discovering them myself! I owe much of this article to my Albany hosts.
In both Albany and its satellite regions, there are several attractions that offer an array of activities guaranteed to keep both kids and parents smiling.
FunPlex Fun Park
589 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush, NY 12061
Only five minutes east of Albany, FunPlex is a hit with all ages. Think of it as a giant playground complete with a Bouncy Bounce, Go-Kart speedway, Bumper Boats, and Adventure Mini Golf. The park is pay-per-ride (similar to Coney Island but cheaper), with prices ranging from $2 for 21 hits at the batting cages to $6 to ride the Go-Karts. Families might want to take advantage of the $40 ticket for admission to 10 attractions. If you are worried that your toddler might be too small to ride but still has that need for speed, don’t despair! FunPlex also offers Mini Go-Karts especially for little ones. (Open daily 10am to 11pm, April through October.)
1036 Madison Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
Although no longer showing the screen gems of early Hollywood history (including those of its namesake, the famed Marilyn Monroe), the Madison holds a significant place in Albany’s cinema history. First opened in 1929, it is one of the city’s oldest movie “houses.” Following a difficult period during which the theater was closed for a few years, it has returned strong and now shows flicks as well as being a venue for concert performances, comedy acts and rock shows.
Tri-City Valley Cats
Joe Bruno Stadium
80 Vandenburg Avenue
Troy, NY 12180
Batter-up! What better pick-me-up for when you miss your Mets then going to see the area’s Minor League baseball team, the Tri-City Valley Cats, play in nearby Troy. The games are very family-friendly, with entertainment between every inning. Kids will feel involved in the game as they interact with Troy’s very own star, Uncle Sam, and the team’s Valley Cat mascot. The park hosts different theme nights during the week, and often holds fireworks following the game—win-or-lose. Check the team’s website for a detailed schedule, more information, and ticket sales.
New York State Museum
Cultural Education Center
Albany, NY 12230
This unique museum features a hodge-podge of exhibits and programs for all ages involving science, history, education, art, and more; like a Natural History-Children’s Museum hybrid, except completely New York-centric. Popular permanent exhibits include: Ancient Life of New York: A Billion Years of Earth History; a pre-WWI Carousel; a Cahoes Mastodon; and Black Capital: Harlem in the 20s. (Admission is free; Open daily 9:30am to 5:00pm.)
The Egg: Center for the Performing Arts
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12220
The Egg, Albany’s Center for the Performing Arts, is not only remarkable for the film, music, theater, and dance productions it offers, but also for its construction—the building is truly an aesthetic marvel. The center has family-friendly events, like the story of Cinderella that every child knows, which will be performed by the New York Theatre Ballet in April. Visit The Egg’s website for upcoming events.
Albany’s Own Greenwich Village
Perhaps my favorite stop on my trip was our visit to Lark Street. Known as the “Greenwich Village” of the Albany Capital region, the 19th century brownstone-lined street offers an eclectic array of shopping and dining. The vintage feel of the area has a selection of vintage shops to match, where you can find antiques, retro clothing, and unique jewelry.
For eats, I recommend Bomber’s Burrito Bar (518/463-9636; 258 Lark Street, Albany 12210). Perfect for a lunch– the restaurant offers take-out, delivery and waiter service– this trendy Tex-Mex spot serves the classic Southwestern fare including quesadillas and pulled-pork sandwiches, and also a few of its own inventions. Try the Rasta Fries: French fries prepared with Jamaican jerk-style herbs and spices.
And There’s More: Daytrips!
Another great thing about Albany if you have more time to stay, is its proximity to a variety of popular attractions:
Saratoga has such a wide variety of both indoor and outdoor recreation options for everyone in the family, the most popular being the Saratoga Race Course (518/584-6200; 267 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866). Whether you or not there is betting involved, visitors can surely appreciate the excitement of watching the horses race around the 350-acre track. The track is open only July through September (check website for specific Opening and Closing dates). Elegant attire is a tradition; the dress code must be followed by everyone over 12 and can be found on the web site. While you are in the area, take advantage of the beautiful Saratoga Lake with a boat ride, or for young history buffs, visit the site of the Battle of Saratoga in Saratoga National Historic Park.
Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (607/547-7200; 888/HALL-OF-FAME; 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326), this quaint little town is a perfect day escape. Make sure to stop by the Blue Mingo Grill (607/547-7496) at Sam Smith’s Boatyard on Route 80 for a relaxing lunch on Otsego Lake. Reservations are recommended. Nearby is Howe Caverns (518/296-8900; 25 Discovery Drive, Howes Cave, NY 12092), a damp underground cave whose legendary tour has charmed hundreds of visitors.
The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom
Lake George, NY 12845
Located just outside of the town of Lake George, The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom are two theme parks owned by Six Flags. If you love the Cyclone, make sure to take a ride on The Comet. Not for the faint of heart, this high-thrill ride is rated one of the top wooden coasters in the world. FTF offers several stories specifically on family attractions in the Adirondacks region; visit the site for more details.
The Clark Art Institute
225 South Street
Williamstown, MA 01267
Visit The Clark Art Institute (part of Williams College) and explore Sterling and Francine Clark’s personal and extensive collection of masterpieces dating from the 15th Century through the Post-Impressionist period. One of the more famous works on display in the museum’s permanent collection include Edgar Degas’ “The Dancing Lesson.”
For more information on what to do in Albany (after all, I only had one weekend), visit the Albany County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau online, or call 800/258-3582.
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