A breath of fresh air and sunlit waters are the first things to greet visitors as they step off the train from Grand Central to Peekskill, New York. Just an hour north from Manhattan, the small town is nestled on the east bank of the Hudson River; with a population of nearly 24,000, the town is only 4.3 square miles of northern Westchester County.
What the city lacks in space it makes up for in eclectic energy. In the early 1990s, while the city was being hit with a rapid population decline, the city changed zoning laws creating a bustling arts district near town center. With cheaper real estate than New York City, artists flocked to Peekskill for both a place to stay and create.
The influence of the arts district resonates all around the city. On Main Street, there are numerous murals and independent art stores. Local coffee houses, like the Bean Runner Cafe, host small art shops on their upper levels, inviting visitors in for an airy atmosphere and a chance to explore. Across the street from the Bean Runner is the Field Library, a small bookstore that sells classics for the meager price of 50 cents.
Along with multiple cafes, Peekskill has more than a dozen restaurants and pubs in the downtown area, making it a foodie center of Westchester County. Near the station, the quaint Taco Dive Bar’s patio is overflowing with residents basking in the afternoon sun. Up on Main Street, RameNesque provides the town with ramen bowls reminiscent of what can be found in New York City.
A block over from Main Street, a restored 1920s movie palace, that acts as the cultural hub of Peekskill, symbolizes the center of town. Now called the Paramount Center for the Arts, it offers residents a range of performing arts — from music and comedy to dramas and independent films.
From the theater it’s a straight shot to the river along along South Street, with small sculptures dotting the way. Where the street meets the water, Riverfront Green Park provides a long strip of green for locals to picnic, fish and enjoy the view of Bear Mountain State Park. In the fall, the chestnut and red oaks of the park color the shores of the Hudson, in full view of the rising estates that sit atop the steep hills of Peekskill.
Adjacent to the train station, a circular sculpture sits framing the Hudson and the mountains in the distance. Titled “Beyond,” Basha Nelson’s 2012 stainless steel design is meant to make visitors pause and contemplate the presence of the moment. Peekskill embodies this stillness throughout the town’s atmosphere and within the water that gently laps against the shore.
Sitting on the rocks beside the Hudson, Peekskill embodies a place of quiet tranquility beyond the big city.