In addition to its rich history (it’s the oldest continuous settlement of the 13 colonies), our state capital also happens to have thriving arts-and-culture and food-and-drink scenes. And unlike New York City, you won’t have to deal with the crowds and parking nightmares.
Empire State Plaza’s underground concourse has a world-class modern-art collection. Above ground are The Egg performing-arts center and 15 memorials, honoring everything from World War II to missing persons.
Also at the plaza, the New York State Museum is the nation’s oldest and largest state museum — and it’s free! It’s home to such treasures as the Cohoes Mastodon, the original brownstone set from Sesame Street, a fully operating Herschell-Spillman Carousel built in 1912, and the World Trade Center Gallery, featuring 9/11 exhibitions.
Tour the recently restored New York State Capitol building (weekday tours start at noon). This Classical/Romanesque architectural wonder took more than 25 years to build, at a cost of more than $25 million. Examples of the opulence include the Great Western Staircase (aka the Million Dollar Staircase) and the senate chambers, which have walls covered with 23K gold leaf.
Just a seven-minute walk from the Capitol is ama cocina, serving modern Mexican street food in an ultra-cool setting. Its weekend brunch features deliciousness such as jalapeño goat cheese cornbread, blue corn buttermilk pancakes, and churros ‘Mexican’ toast. Try one of the more than 100 kinds of tequila and wash it down with cold-brew coffee on tap. For a more traditional lunch, try Wellington’s, located right outside the capitol at the Renaissance Albany Hotel, which serves small plates, locally sourced American fare, and top-notch craft cocktails.
Across the parking lot from ama cocina is the First Church in Albany. It features the nation’s oldest pulpit, Tiffany windows and was the site of Alexander Hamilton’s memorial. Also nearby is the Palace Theatre, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center.
The Albany Institute of History and Art is home to 35,000 works of art and historical objects documenting Hudson Valley history. The museum also has great family programs, an art room, and a children’s activity space.
Head over to the C.H. Evans Brewing Co. at the Albany Pump Station for some “Albany Ale” before dinner. (The Evans family has been brewing since 1786.) For pub food in a really big and loud setting, stay at the Pump Station. For a more intimate experience, it’s just a one-minute walk to The Olde English Pub, for fish ’n’ chips and a stout in a 1730s brick Colonial.
Hamilton fanatics may want to squeeze in a visit to the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, where Alexander and Eliza were wed. Tours are available seasonally, and the visitor center is open year-round. Be sure to call first: 518.434.0834.