Living in Westchester is about so much more than geography or a street address. Within the 500 square miles we call home, we also share advantages, amenities, and a few challenges that come with living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. If the list that follows is all-too-familiar to you, congratulations: It means you’re already either a Westchesterite or were born to be one.
Westchester is the seventh-most-populated county in the state, with nearly one million residents, yet there’s no shortage of open space and natural beauty to enjoy. Our parks system includes 18,000 acres of stunning parks, undulating meadows, beaches, working farms, and forested areas — the equivalent of approximately 28 square miles. That translates into plenty of room to swim, hike, bike, and camp at places like Playland, Kensico Dam Plaza, and Tibbetts Brook Park. That doesn‘t even include such idyllic venues as Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, where you can take quiet countryside walks or horseback ride through forested hills, valleys, trails, and rolling pastoral fields. On the Hudson Waterfront in Sleepy Hollow is Rockwood Hall, another exquisite Rockefeller Property. In fact, we enjoy access to Scenic Riverwalk Parks connecting communities from Yonkers all the way up to Peekskill.
Did you know that the nation’s biggest crafts fair takes place in Tarrytown every spring and fall? Crafts at Lyndhurst is a celebration of all things handmade. Large tents house more than 300 American makers, artists, designers, and craftspeople from across the country, selling their contemporary creations. Thousands of Westchesterites converge to shop the day away, experience craft demonstrations, enjoy kids’ activities and sample gourmet treats.
After decades of immigration and a steady stream of New York City transplants, our region is one of the most diverse suburban areas in the country. Our population is roughly 53% white, 25% Hispanic, 17% black, and 6% Asian. One-third of our residents speak a foreign language, and nearly 88% are U.S. citizens. According to news-and-information website Axios, Westchester’s “Diversity Index” reached 62.5 in 2017. This means that there’s a 62% chance that the person sitting next to you at work, standing on line at Starbucks, or working out with you at the gym is of a different race or ethnicity than you are. That number spiked from 43 in 1990 and 14 in 1960, according to LoHud. So, while we may not be quite as varied as New York City (but what place is?), we’re well on our way.
The Sound Shore, that is. Stretching about 36 miles, The Sound Shore offers a gorgeous coastline teeming with eclectic towns, boat clubs, marinas and ports, private beaches, and even a few waterfront restaurants. The Shore also features the rapidly evolving cities of New Rochelle and Port Chester. Another shore-front jewel is Mamaroneck, which, founded in 1661, is one of Westchester’s oldest towns and is consistently ranked as a best place to live in New York State by real estate websites Niche.com and Movoto.com.
With Colonial roots tracing back to the 16th century, Westchester played a pivotal role in the founding of our country. George Washington not only commanded many of his troops from here, the first steps of his 400-mile march to Virginia and the Siege of Yorktown, which essentially ended the Revolutionary War, were taken from Ashford Avenue and Broadway in Dobbs Ferry. Croton’s Van Cortlandt Manor and Sleepy Hollow’s Phillipsburg Manor were home to two of New York’s most prominent families and draw thousands of students and tourists annually. Farther north, in Katonah, the pastoral John Jay Homestead was the home, as well as the farming, trading, and milling center of Founding Father John Jay.
Westchester offers so much more than suburban raised ranches and picket fences. From 20,000 sq. ft. mansions and pastoral farms to elaborate gingerbread and gothic Victorians and distinguished Colonials, our county abounds with architectural diversity. All this can be yours for a median single-family home price of about 700K (as of Douglas Elliman’s Q3 2019 report). According to the same report, luxury homes in the Westchester market are pricing at a median of about $2.2 million.
Sure, we’ve got chic niche boutiques like LUXE Luxury Labels in Armonk and Fofie & Mia’s in Larchmont, but Westchester shopping also means going big. The Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers has expanded and upgraded its offerings, with the help of a $300 million investment. Celebrating its eighth anniversary in 2019, Ridge Hill in Yonkers offers diverse dining, a LEGOLAND, an Apple Store and an iFly skydiving simulator. With 150 specialty stores, The Westchester experienced a multimillion-dollar facelift, which includes modernized elevators and lobbies, new façades and landscaping, and an interior redesign featuring gray and beige Italian limestone.
Our relationship with the Big Apple seems to be coming full circle. Once defined mostly as a derivative of New York City, Westchester was dominated by sleepy, suburban bedroom communities favored by midcentury salarymen and their housewives. (Mad Men’s Don Draper lived in Ossining.) But now, Millennials and young professionals with families are getting priced out of Manhattan and the outer boroughs. And they’re finding a Brooklynesque state of mind in our diverse and growing cities, excellent public schools, artsy enclaves, and scenic Rivertowns — all at a more affordable price point.
No matter what cuisine you crave or what your tastes may be, Westchester’s annual food events will offer you the very best of it right here in your neighborhood. In June, there is Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Festival, a phenomenally popular weeklong series of events that sees more than 6,000 attendees each year. Relatively new to the scene is Wingfest at Empire City Casino in Yonkers, which has exceeded projected attendance every year it’s been held. Last but certainly not least is the lauded Hudson Valley Restaurant Week. Spanning 114 miles, more than 200 restaurants and a quarter-million participants, the region’s largest food-related event occurs twice a year, in March and November. In 2019, the culinary spectacle was added to the Westchester Magazine galaxy of stellar public events, so expectations for the next Restaurant Week are higher than ever.
Yes, some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions can be found in our metropolitan neighbor to the south. But we have a ton to enjoy right here, as well. Built in 1926, the 1,800-seat Capitol Theatre is a historic performing-arts venue located in Port Chester that has featured many of the nation’s most iconic bands. A National Historic Landmark, Tarrytown’s Music Hall is a late-19th-century theater that hosts acts like Amy Schumer, Lewis Black, The Psychedelic Furs, and Michael McDonald. Based in Pleasantville, the Jacob Burns Film Center hosts 200,000 annual visitors to its art-house theater, while Bedford Playhouse hosts lectures by such international notables as Kerry Kennedy, Glenn Close, and writer-director Paul Schrader. In the summer, thousands of music lovers flock to the Pleasantville Music Festival, the Clearwater Festival in Croton, and the perennially popular Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah.
IAC Applications in Yonkers. Photo courtesy of IAC Applications
Or at least, well-educated. Nearly half of Westchester’s residents – about 47% – hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. This far exceeds the state average of 33 percent and the US average of 28 percent. In addition, 24 percent of us hold advanced degrees. This makes us the most educated county in the nation, after Washington, DC.
HBO’s Divorce. Photo by Craig Blankenhorn
Back in 1919, renowned silent-film director D.W. Griffith set up a film studio on Orienta Point in Mamaroneck, earning it the moniker “Hollywood in the East.” In the century that followed, the county has been living up to that reputation. It’s no surprise that our diverse backdrops, thriving cities, quaint villages, and artsy Rivertowns often double as film and TV locations. Recent productions include The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Divorce, The Affair, Homeland, Madam Secretary, Orange Is the New Black, The Girl on the Train, The Post, Mr. Robot,
As the county’s first pro-sports franchise, the Westchester Knicks are an NBA Development League affiliate of the storied New York Knicks. They take to the court each November, showcasing some of the nation’s best up-and-coming hoops talent. Westchester is also the base for the New York Liberty. Founded in 1997, the Liberty are one of the eight original franchises of the WNBA League. Both play at the County Center in White Plains, offering hardcore basketball fans and families an exciting and more affordable alternative to catching the Knicks at MSG.
The Saw Mill Parkway when it rains. I-287 heading west on a weeknight. The Cross County, feeding into the Hutch and I-684. Each offers its own unique brand of traffic hell. And let’s not even discuss the snowstorm of November 15, 2018, aka, “The Day the Traffic Stood Still.” Sure, it’s exasperating, but it’s the price we pay for being in an amazing place to live and work.
The Westchester County Airport offers flights from six commercial airlines, as well as one of the biggest fleets of corporate jets in the nation. Routes served include nonstop service to Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Toronto, Sarasota, and DC. Numerous interstate highways connect Westchester to all five boroughs of New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York, and beyond. Three Metro-North lines and three Amtrak stations, in Croton-on-Hudson, Yonkers, and New Rochelle, keep us moving by rail. The opening of the Mario Cuomo Bridge – connecting Westchester to Rockland County — serves 138,000 motorists daily and will soon include a path for pedestrians and cyclists.
It might not always feel like it, but Westchester is New York’s third-wealthiest county by median family income, after Nassau and Putnam. We also enjoy the highest per-capita income after Manhattan. Though there are wide variations among median household and family incomes, the current average household income in the county is 131,077. Median income in our peak earning years of 45-64 is $102,543. Not surprisingly, the highest average incomes are found in Scarsdale, Bronxville, Harrison, and Mamaroneck.
Photo By Garret Rowland, courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence
A gallon of organic milk at Whole Foods costs $5.99, while a hair blowout costs about $45. Far more painful to consider is our property taxes. The average property-tax bill in the county in 2017 was $17,179, which is the highest in the US. Unfortunately, this also makes many Westchester homeowners vulnerable to recent federal tax-law changes that cap deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000. Ouch!
The Hackley School. Photo courtesy of Hackley School
On the upside, our kids have access to many of the best schools in the state and country. Overall, 90% of our kids go on to some form of secondary education, with several schools in the county reporting 99% of graduates continuing on to post-secondary schooling. There’s more: 85% of Westchester students graduate high school in four years vs. 76% of New York State students and 64% of New York City students. While our kids reap many educational advantages, many are also subject to the stresses of competition and helicopter parents, bent on getting their kids access – and scholarships – to elite colleges.
Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
Seriously. Consider this: There are only 91 of these hyper-luxe hotels located in 30 countries worldwide, in the most rarified and exotic locales: Kazakhstan, Turkey, Oman, Malaysia… and, of course, White Plains.
Photo courtesy of Westchester Medical Center
When you live in Westchester, there’s no need to travel into Manhattan to benefit from world-class healthcare. Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla is nearing the completion of a new, $230 million, 280,000 sq. ft. Ambulatory Care Pavilion on the same campus as the renowned Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. In recent years, a host of well-known hospital systems have expanded their reach into Westchester with state-of-the-art facilities and top-notch physicians. Montefiore operates nine facilities across Westchester. Our burgeoning healthcare landscape also includes The Hospital for Special Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, ColumbiaDoctors, and Northwell Health.
Photo by Clifford Pickett, courtesy of Lyndhurst
The mighty and majestic Hudson River has engendered our magical Rivertowns, including Irvington, Tarrytown, Ossining, and Croton-on-Hudson. Visitors and residents routinely revel in magnificent sunsets, waterfront parks, and fine dining, as well as activities like boating, kayaking, and canoeing. The Hudson has been called the most beautiful river in America, and it’s true.
Martha Stewart, photo by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons
It stands to reason that all the things that we love about Westchester would draw celebrities and other movers and shakers from all over. From the financial world, there’s billionaire investor George Soros and Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who both maintain Bedford properties. Bedford is also home to legendary American fashion designer Ralph Lauren, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, and Hollywood heavyweights Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Glenn Close, Richard Gere, and husband-wife Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Eric and Lara Trump live in Briarcliff Manor; the Clintons make camp in Chappaqua, and Michael Bloomberg owns a home in North Salem, which is also the site of his daughter Georgina’s horse farm, Gotham North.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Photo by Andre Baranowski
Westchesterites are spoiled by world-class dining in all corners of the county, with Korean, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Vietnamese, and Turkish options, among many others. Ranked the Best Restaurant in America by Eater in 2016, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico offers a four-hour tasting menu, featuring original farm-to-table fare. With panoramic views of the Mario Cuomo and George Washington Bridges, X2O Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers is a glass-walled New American restaurant that’s won many awards. Hudson Farmer and Fish in Sleepy Hollow is a new sensation that offers many innovative interpretations of seafood classics.
A National Historic Landmark, Rye Playland was built in 1928 in the Art Deco style, with a quarter-mile seaside walk and pier, ice-skating rinks, and an array of rides and attractions. Its most iconic ride remains the Dragon Coaster – a wooden rollercoaster that’s 85 feet high at its tallest point and has 3,400 feet of track. While the cars have been modernized for safety, the track itself is the original.
Regeneron in Tarrytown, photo courtesy of Regeneron
Valhalla houses the Hudson Valley’s only biotechnology incubator, BioInc@NYMC, while Ardsley-based Acorda Therapeutics manufactures medicines for people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other nervous system diseases. Based in Tarrytown, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is the state’s largest biotech company. With more than 5,000 employees, the company was ranked by Science magazine as the world’s number-one employer in the biotech-and-pharmaceutical industry. On the high-tech front, Westchester serves as the headquarters for Fortune 500 and publicly traded industry giants like IBM, Mastercard and IAC Applications, a unit of Interactive Corp (IAC), which controls Tinder, OkCupid, and Match.com.