Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to the best things to do in Hyde Park NY. Hyde Park has the distinction of being synonymous with one extremely famous person: our only four-term President, Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hyde Park was where he grew up, and it is where he established his presidential library and museum, both of which are fascinating to visit today.
But in Hyde Park, you can also learn about other relatives, like FDR’s fascinating wife Eleanor, and his equally presidential cousin Teddy. (BULLY!) Finally, Hyde Park is where some of America’s greatest chefs honed their trade at the CIA, which is where we will be dining tonight. Truly there must be something in the water in Hyde Park to nurture all this talent. Let’s head there together and find out why!
Best Things to Do in Hyde Park NY
What To Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today exploring the best things to do in Hyde Park NY. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New York is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
Best Things to Do in Hyde Park NY
Morning: Homes of FDR
No, that’s not a typo, Internet Stranger! FDR had more than one home on the family grounds in Hyde Park, and we’re going to get to visit both of them today. You can find all the most up to date visitor info at the Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site website here. If you really want to see all of the best things to do in Hyde Park, you’ll need to spend two full days here to take in all the attractions. But I think this itinerary gets you to the best parts.
If you’re visiting Hyde Park from NYC, it’s easy to get a cab to the FDR site at the Poughkeepsie train station. Just take the Metro-North train from NYC to Poughkeepsie first. You can’t miss the cab stand just outside! The only way to visit FDR’s homes is to book a tour with a park ranger at the visitor center, so be sure to do that as soon as you arrive.
You’ll learn so much about FDR at the National Historic Site that I couldn’t possibly fit everything into one post. But I can fit in…
Three Fun Facts: FDR
1) How Long Did FDR Have this House?
Basically his entire life! Of course, before he was born, it belonged to his parents, and in fact it was technically his mother’s home for almost all of FDR’s life. She died only four years before he did, so he was only the literal homeowner for those four years. But FDR spent a lot of time here, even though, or perhaps because, it belonged to his mother.
Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother, was apparently a most formidable woman, and she and Eleanor didn’t entirely get along. Apparently SDR was of the opinion that no one was good enough for her Franklin. FDR’s father was much older than Sara, and she had been his second wife.
Franklin had an older half-brother from his father’s first marriage. Some one on the tour asked the park ranger guide what happened to FDR’s older brother, and she said he was just a “rich guy who had a happy life”. Coincidentally, that’s the exact phrase I would like written on my tombstone.
2) What Are the Coolest Things Inside the House?
FDR was a wealthy gentleman with a large family, so there are many beautiful furnishings and fascinating knickknacks in his home. But one thing you won’t see much is ramps. FDR was in a wheelchair for his entire presidency due to polio, but he tried to hide this fact because he wanted to convey an “image of strength”. So he would usually hide his wheelchair and ramps from guests to the home.
My favorite objects in the home are FDR’s collection of anti-British monarchy cartoons from the American Revolution. When King George VI of England and his wife came to visit FDR and Eleanor, FDR’s mom wanted him to hide the cartoons from His Majesty, but instead FDR got all sassy and displayed them prominently. George VI apparently got a real kick out of them and said FDR even had some cartoons that weren’t in the royal collection!
3) What Was That You Said About Homes?
After the ranger tour of FDR’s home, Longwood, head back to the Visitor Center and reserve a spot on a tour of Top Cottage, FDR’s more private little home in the woods. A guide will take the tour group over there in a little van; it’s just a short trip and well worth the experience. You’ll see the path where FDR used to like to go driving–apparently like a maniac. When the King and Queen of England visited, FDR and Eleanor took them here for hot dogs, which the Queen apparently enjoyed. She did not enjoy FDR’s wild driving and refused to get into a car with him again.
One fun fact about this house is that FDR is actually the officially listed architect. He designed the home with small ramps that made it easier for him to get about in his wheelchair. This makes it the first home in the United States designed by a disabled person for a disabled person.
Best Things to Do in Hyde Park
Afternoon: FDR Library and Museum
The FDR Museum is on the same grounds as the FDR Home and Top Cottage, so it’s just a quick walk from the Visitor Center. And it’s certainly one of the best things to do in Hyde Park for anyone interested in American history. After all, FDR was the first president to get a presidential library; he even planned it himself while he was in office. (You’ll never go broke overestimating FDR’s ego.)
There are so many fascinating exhibits in the FDR Museum. After all, he was our only president to serve four terms, so there’s plenty of material. I’ll help you choose what to see with…
Approximately Top 5: FDR Museum
Once you’re at the FDR National Historic Site, you really need to get lunch on the property. Going elsewhere for your meal just wastes too much time. That’s why I suggest picking up a sammie and a soda at the adorable Uncle Sam’s Canteen, which is designed to look like a WWII cafeteria. The food is good for a museum restaurant, and the atmosphere is fun.
Plus you’ll be in and out in a short amount of time, which will allow you to see the best things to do in Hyde Park like FDR’s home, Top Cottage, and the museum in one trip.
2) Special Exhibitions
The FDR Museum regularly hosts special exhibitions on subjects related to FDR. When I was there, they were showing an amazing exhibit on the correspondence between FDR and Churchill during WWII. They developed quite a close friendship, and Churchill’s personal notes on the copy of the speech he gave in Parliament after FDR’s death were my favorite piece in the exhibition.
A close second was FDR’s response to Churchill’s suggestion that the English language should be reduced to 800 words in order to facilitate communication. FDR responded that the history of the world might be quite different if Churchill had told the British that he had nothing to give them but “blood, work, eye water, and face water”.
3) FDR Sphinx
One of the most interesting things about the museum is that you get to learn all about FDR’s four different campaigns. (Yes, this means you get to listen to “Happy Days Are Here Again”, his theme song, just as much as your heart desires.) I didn’t know that FDR was the target of a failed assassination attempt after his first election. Who would even do such a thing? Was it a deranged Herbert Hoover supporter?
Apparently FDR put off deciding whether or not to run for an unprecedented term as long as possible. The White House correspondants decided to play a little joke on FDR by creating this massive Roosevelt-Sphinx creature to show that no one could solve the riddle of what his plans were. Apparently FDR loved it. Let it never be said that he didn’t have a sense of humor about himself.
4) FDR’s Worst Decision
Franklin Roosevelt is usually ranked as one of the top five presidents of all time by historians, but he still made many grave errors. And the FDR Museum doesn’t shy away from discussing those catastrophes. Most would say that Roosevelt’s most horrific decision was the order to place Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps after the Japanese army attacked Pearl Harbor. (It is worth mentioning that Eleanor opposed this decision, and she did manage to convince her husband to release some prisoners.)
These American citizens were imprisoned in these camps without due process or any evidence that they had committed any crime. In fact, many of the young men who were imprisoned ended up serving the US in the 442nd regiment, which was one of the most decorated regiments in US history. I recommend reading the book When the Emperor Was Divine if you’d like to learn more about the subject.
5) FDR’s Death
I can’t imagine what it would have felt like for the country when FDR died partway through his fourth term. No one ever had been or ever will be president for so long. It must have felt a little like a king dying or something. The museum decorates the walls of the room dedicated to discussing his death with photos of crying and grief-stricken Americans.
As you enter the room, the Navy hymn begins to play, to honor FDR’s career in the Navy as a young man. I promptly burst into tears because that song always makes me think of the movie Titanic and how mean Billy Zane was being to Kate Winslet.
6) Hyde Park Brewing
After you’re done at the museum, leave the FDR Historic Site, and walk across the street for a little R and R at the Hyde Park Brewing Company. It’s a great place to indulge in some local craft beer while you wait for your dinner reservation. I recommend the Rough Rider, which is red and slightly sweet. After all, it’s Roosevelt-approved, since it was named for FDR’s cousin Teddy.
Best Things to Do in Hyde Park
Evening: Dinner at The Bocuse Restaurant
Hyde Park’s most famous attraction might be the FDR buildings, but it’s most delicious attraction is certainly the Culinary Institute of America. (The first time I heard of this place, someone called it the CIA, and I was very confused about what Iran-Contra and Edward Snowden might have to do with fine dining. But now all makes sense.)
And while the FDR Historic Site will definitely kick you out before dinner time, the Culinary Institute will welcome you to a delicious meal when night falls! Reservations at these restaurants are highly coveted, so be sure and reserve far in advance. I recommend The Bocuse Restaurant for some French-styles fine dining, but all are excellent.
At Bocuse, you get a three-course prix fixe menu, so start with their specialty: a black truffle soup with a tasty bread hat. This dish brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “I’ll eat my hat!” Eating your hat this way is delicious because the bread falls into the warm soup and gets all gooey and melty. YUM!
Then you can get a little decadent for your main course with a perfectly medium rare Wagyu beef. After all, we’re going for decadence here, and nothing says decadent like eating a cow that was in all likelihood fed a diet of gold straw spun by a miller’s daughter every day of its life before it was brought to your table.
And after truffle and Wagyu, we’re eating the decadence trifecta with a molten chocolate cake that simply oozes lusciousness. After all that, you get to take some little sweets home with you for a snack the next day, on the house! I didn’t realize this, so I left before getting my treats, and the maitre d’ had to chase me down the hall of the CIA just to give it to me. Thanks, Mr. D!
24 Hour Tip
Don’t tip! It’s not permitted because the waiters are all students. I’m usually a big tipper because I like to defy stereotypes about single women tipping poorly, but in this case believe me when I say to leave the tip in your pants.
That’s the Best Things to Do in Hyde Park NY!
What do you think are the best things to do in Hyde Park? Is it a good thing that presidents can no longer serve four terms? And would you be interested in a movie about a great chef…who was also a CIA agent? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with the best things to do in Hyde Park NY.