North Fork of Long Island
While the North Fork of Long Island is known for wineries and apple picking, you shouldn’t sleep on the Christmas tree farms. There are a half dozen options, and many let you cut your own tree after visiting with Santa or zipping around an ice skating rink.
For a quaint experience with a unique spin, I like Darts Christmas Tree Farm in Southold, NY, (an hour and 40 minutes from the Midtown Tunnel). And that’s where I found myself at 9 a.m. on the frigid, damp Friday after Thanksgiving.
The fire pits were already crackling, the Mattitaco food truck was setting up and holiday tunes filled the air. But it’s the “Magical Color Forest” that really makes an impression. This wooded path of vibrant flocked trees brings to mind the 1998 Robin Williams film “What Dreams May Come” — i.e. if you’re looking for Instagram fodder, this is it. At Darts, you can cut your own frasier fir for the set price of $99.95, although some are marked up — namely, the purple flocked tree my toddler really wanted for a cool $225. We went with a traditional, seven-foot beauty, and while we could’ve chopped it ourselves, we called in reinforcements on account of the muddy terrain. Mr. Dart sent over a burly high schooler to help, and in no time the tree was down, wrapped, and expertly tied to the roof of our car. Before we left, we visited the heritage breed chickens (side note: best eggs you will ever have) and picked up a few ornaments inside the charming barn-turned-shop.
Just in case the taco truck isn’t there the day you visit, take solace knowing you can find Francois Payard pastries at Southold General or a grain bowl and oat latte at North Fork Roasting Company — both just a few minutes down Main Road.
— Dawn Spinner Davis
A Christmas tree farm in the Hudson Valley can offer history as well as the experience of cutting your own Christmas tree. Reilly’s Farm in Nassau has existed since 1799 when Nassau was still part of Albany. A little more than two hours north of the city, Reilly’s Farm is located at 149 Clarks Chapel Road with cut your own Christmas trees of Frasier and Balsam Fir for only $25 at various sizes, with precut options also for $40 if you’re short on time and patience during the holiday season.
On the National Register of Historic Places, this particular Christmas tree farm is a bit unique in today’s hustle and bustle world. It feels like you have a starring role in an old fashioned Christmas movie there and it is a great place for making memories to last. My brothers and I go because as my brother pointed out:
“We went because it was close by and because a fresh cut tree holds the needles so much better! Since fresh cut trees do hold their needles better, it makes for easy cleanup after the holidays without having to vacuum up pine needles everywhere.”
Their website also gives us the history of the Christmas tree in America.
Reilly’s offers tools to cut the tree and netting to secure the tree to take home for a small additional fee of $3. There are plenty of other holiday scents and sights with their homemade wreaths, swags, kissing balls, and homemade kettle corn to snack on as well. Reilly’s offers maple syrup made from their trees on the 100-acre working farm; a 12-ounce bottle is only $9 with shipping available, and grass fed beef for the holidays too.
In the village of Nassau you’ll find Tacos Diablos for freshly made Mexican food and Zia’s Pizza with many Italian specialties for hot lunches and dinners on cold days and nights. Hometown Wines and Spirits on the main drag in Nassau offers brandy and cognacs to warm up with at the end of your day.
Cream Ridge, New Jersey
With a teen and a tween in the house our years for family adventures feel limited, so we choose to do a little extra each Christmas season and cut down our own Christmas tree. This year we visited Bullock Farms in Cream Ridge, N.J., located 90 minutes from Astoria, just a short drive from exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike. Upon exiting your car the sight and smells get you; the wood burning fire, the farm dogs wandering (it’s requested that your own dog stay home, however), and the silence of this quiet gem in New Jersey. There were plenty of staff on hand to help from start to finish, but we grabbed a saw and a wagon (both provided by the farm) and started our hunt. There are 5 varieties of trees on the 12-acre farm and it seemed the best selections were 6 feet or shorter. Our chosen tree stood between 6 and 7 feet and cost $75, trees taller than 7 feet cost $85. Save some spending money for the apple cider donuts and the offerings of Screamin’ Hill Brewery or the Christmas gift shops found right on the farm.
After your perfect tree is strapped to the roof of your car by the farmhands, take advantage of nearby holiday attractions like Laurita Winery (15 minutes away and Santa visits on weekends), Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holiday in the Park, or the Jackson Premium Outlets (both 8 minutes, along the way back to the Turnpike). And what’s a trip to New Jersey without a Wawa visit for refueling the car and the bellies; there’s a big and busy one right along the way as well.