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As you walk down the streets of Nyack, you may think you’ve stepped into a classic American oil painting. You’ll stroll past rows of Victorian houses and brick storefronts, lampposts adorned in American flags and photos of sepia-colored war veterans. On Main Street, you’ll find art deco storefronts with panoramic windows of curved glass that evoke visions of Stetson hats and tie tacks that were once for sale in long-forgotten shops. In the distance, you’ll notice the imposing albatross of the Mario Cuomo Bridge, its steel webbing and blinking lights bouncing off of the Hudson River below it, ever a reminder of the vibrant shipping community that once existed a century ago.

In the center of the town stands the birthplace of famed American artist Edward Hopper. Born in 1882 (ten years after Nyack’s incorporation), Hopper just might be the ideal patron saint of this historic Hudson River community. His work classically portrayed the early 20th century American life as something that was endearing yet lonely, nostalgic yet ghostly. This sentiment haunted river towns like Nyack for many years, as their Victorian architecture stood fossilized and forgotten.

But those days are gone.

Something new is taking place in Nyack today. There is a vibrancy in this Rockland County town, with streets that beg you to take that first exit over the bridge and have a look around. There is music, and lots of it. There is more food than you’ll need on any one trip. The town is an exciting mix of local history, newly transplanted professionals and an immigrant community that, together, has created an entirely new culture.

Today, you’ll get swept up in Edison bulbs, graffiti art, taco bars and small batch coffee. You’ll experience some spectacular views, delicious food and beautiful artwork. It’s time to go see more of the town we all know, but don’t really know at all.

See the sights

Call it what you want –the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge – it’s all the same to us. But this landmark connector of counties is ever-present in Nyack, looming like a goliath beyond the brick buildings. The bridge is the longest shared bike and pedestrian path in the nation, featuring a three-and-a-half-mile walkway along the exterior of the bridge itself. Admittedly, this path is better suited for warmer weather, but whenever you can visit, a stunning mid-Hudson view is guaranteed.

For the art fans among us, we recommend the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center. This modest Victorian home is the birthplace of the legendary artist and a registered historical site. View a collection of his paintings and sketches, sneak a peak at his childhood room (squeaky floor boards and all) and go on a walking tour to see where many of his paintings were done.

We’re fans of the uniquely charming shops throughout Nyack’s commercial district. Pickwick Bookshop is a classic old-fashioned bookstore, and the kind of place where you just might uncover that rare first edition or hidden gem. Hickory Dickory Dock is torn straight from the pages of Pinocchio, with handmade wooden treasures set against a wall of cuckoo clocks.

History fans will find many interesting sights throughout the town. From Underground Railroad locations to famous architectural points (check out the historic Nyack Post Office and its Classical Revival architecture), there is so much history to uncover here.

Take a trip to Nyack’s waterfront Memorial Park and have a seat at the “Bench by the Road.” This monument was inspired by world renown author Toni Morrison, a Nyack resident who once said: “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

The monument honors the victims of slavery in the United States, with a special nod to Cynthia Hesdra, who was born a slave and later resided in Nyack. In 2015, with Morrison’s encouragement, Nyack created that memorial and invited Morrison to attend the unveiling ceremony. It’s now one of several “benches by the road” throughout the country.

Dine around the world in a single block

Main Street is the place to be, especially for a stunningly diverse mix of food. A single block in Nyack provides cuisine from the Dominican Republic, France, Japan, Italy, Vietnam and Greece.

Casa del Sol is a particularly popular spot, offering its guests delicious classic Mexican cuisine with a number of floral guitars and tuxedo skeletons for good measure. Hosting live music every Friday and Saturday (Thursday is open mic night), this restaurant is a local favorite.

Head across the street to Punta Cana Latin Fusion for moFongo, churrasco skirt steak and long-cooked pork shoulder. While it’s not an ideal vegetarian hangout, pescetarians will find plenty to eat. There’s also a full bar of colorful mixed drinks which pair perfectly with Friday night’s live Latin music and salsa dancing.

The fanciest bet in Nyack is the Hudson House. A former jail-turned-elegant-eatery, this fine dining restaurant delivers an upscale menu with options like hanger steak, duck breast and Scottish salmon. The walls are adorned with a painted Hudson River vista along with charming uplighting and tin ceiling designs. It’s a lovely way to end an evening.

But really, there are countless diverse gastronomic options in Nyack. Head two blocks in any direction and you’ll find Boxer Donut & Espresso Bar, The Breakfast and Burger Club and Prohibition River – need we say more?

Get your groove on

Music is a fixture in Nyack. Nearly a dozen schools and recording studios are located in the downtown area alone. Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, UP Lounge & Restaurant and many other restaurants, cocktail bars and beer halls offer live music most nights, making Nyack a hub for live music and nightlife in the Hudson Valley area. (Truth be told, we’re a little jealous.)

The Rock Shop Nyack is a particularly interesting and special music store in the area. While you may not be shopping for a banjo or electric bass during your day trip to Nyack, it’s still worth popping in and looking around. The owners here can often be found performing unprompted Metallica solos and engaging in fascinating conversations about their personal interactions with the likes of John Lennon and Gene Simmons. During our chat, they mentioned an upcoming move a block away, so keep that in mind on your next visit.

Along with these aforementioned musically-focused hangouts, Nyack is also home to the Long Island Drum Center, Main Street Beat and a great many other locations for vinyl shopping and music supplies. Music enthusiasts on both sides of the guitar pick will find plenty to do in the unassuming Rockland community.

Make a day of it

You’ve probably passed this charming local town a thousand times. For once, exit the highway and drive on in. From beautiful river views to delicious meals, live music to a little bit of art along the way, you owe it to yourself to learn more about this historic and vibrant town. Tell them Edward Hopper sent you.

This article was published in the January/February 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.

Creative Director at Connect to Northern Westchester

Justin is an award-winning designer and photographer. He was the owner and creative director at Future Boy Design, producing work for clients such as National Parks Service, Vintage Cinemas, The Tarrytown Music Hall, and others. His work has appeared in Bloomberg TV, South by Southwest (SXSW), Edible Magazine, Westchester Magazine, Refinery 29, the Art Directors Club, AIGA and more.

Justin is a two-time winner of the International Design Awards, American Photography and Latin America Fotografia. Vice News has called Justin Negard as “one of the best artists working today.”

He is the author of two books, On Design, which discusses principles and the business of design, and Bogotà which is a photographic journey through the Colombian capital.

Additionally, Justin has served as Creative Director at CityMouse Inc., an NYC-based design firm which provides accessible design for people with disabilities, and has been awarded by the City of New York, MIT Media Lab and South By Southwest.

He lives in Katonah with his wonderfully patient wife, son and daughter.