Confession: I love the holidays. The music, the cookies, the ornaments, the cookies, the crafting opportunities, the cookies… you get it. Okay, maybe the confession is that I like Christmas cookies.
Anyway, I also like any excuse to get out, celebrate, and love where you live. This was my first stateside Christmas since 2014 and I was delighted with all the Capital Region had going on. For those not in the know, the Capital Region, also sometimes referred to as the Capital District, is the metropolitan area surrounding my hometown of Albany — also know as the capital of a little ‘ol place called the State of New York.
Here’s a little bit of how we got into the Christmas spirit, up in our corner of Upstate New York…
Wreath Making Workshop at Fort Orange General Store
I may or may not wish to move into Fort Orange General Store. Is it so much to ask to live in this carefully curated, heavenly scented retail environment?
Not only does Fort Orange carry a squeal-worthy selection of hand-picked home goods and gifts, many from local artisans, they also facilitate or promote incredible community events throughout the year, such as the Half Moon Market and the Fort Orange Holiday Market. (Needless to say, I loved both.)
On top of that, they host various workshops throughout the year — and there’s yet to be one I don’t want to sign up for. From modern calligraphy to making flower crowns, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon. Their special holiday edition was a wreath making workshop in partnership with Olive and June Floral Co.
Because I am now apparently That Girl that brings their boyfriend to otherwise all-female events, I dragged Ian, fresh off the plane from Thailand, with me for a crafty holiday date night. Yet if Ian had any hesitations about attending, they were very quickly soothed by the insane cheese and charcuterie board and the cranberry Christmas mules that were presented to us upon arrival.
The joke was on me, though. After our fearless leader introduced us to our materials and ran us through the basics of wreath assembly, she unleashed us to get creative and crafty. After assuring Ian that I’m sure he’d do an absolutely adequate job and not to worry about embarrassing me, I looked over about an hour later to see he’d created a literal masterpiece of wreath-age.
The other women in the group were absolutely swooning.
…and I guess mine was okay too.
Well, Ian may have won the Best Wreath award, but we all came away with fresh homemade holiday decor, having connected with two great local businesses, and all the more in the Christmas spirit. (Ian also came away with some gift ideas, apparently — almost everything under the tree from him came from Fort Orange!) Don’t miss their upcoming workshops — I’m hoping to make it to as many as possible.
After we wrapped up wreath-ing, we headed down the road to The Olde English Pub and Pantry, one of the oldest restaurants in Albany, built in 1730 — and also most festive restaurants in the Albany area come December. Close competitor? Wolff’s Biergarten, which looks like it single-handedly keeps a Christmas light factory in business each year. Olde English boasts a real Christmas tree, a ceiling dripping in ornaments, and a festive menu of British favorites, celebrating Albany’s roots.
Cirque Musica at The Palace
We are so lucky to be surrounded by not one but several incredible performing arts centers in the Capital Region. My favorite — perhaps because it’s all of eight minutes from the house I grew up in — is The Palace. This beautiful theater has hosted artists and performers as noted as the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.
This year, The Palace had some super exciting holiday programming, from $5 Christmas movies to The Moscow Ballet’s Nutcracker to my own show of choice, Cirque Musica Wonderland (okay okay, I also went to see Bad Santa for five bucks followed by margaritas at Ama Cocina for one of my Presence Over Presents holiday friend dates — more on those later.)
I’ve been having a blast taking aerial cirque and aerial silks classes from local studio Good Karma, which really piqued my interest in seeing what the professionals could do at The Palace. I loved seeing the theater all decked out for the holidays — and seeing what I might be able to do someday on the silks… or at least attempt to!
Ice Skating at the Empire State Plaza
I knew there’s no way I could let a holiday season in Albany pass without my absolute favorite local winter activity — ice skating at The Empire State Plaza!
I love the dramatic architecture of the Plaza, and can’t believe what a steal this activity is. Skating is free; and rentals for adults cost a whopping $4. If you’re willing to brave the Saturday crowds, you can even get the rentals free. How amazing is that?
Ian and I ran over for an hour on a relatively non-frigid day and loved being outside in the fresh air, watching fearless kids try to challenge us to skate-offs, and enjoying the unique urban landscape.
The Plaza is home to so many amazing events throughout the year, and especially in December. We also stopped by Taste NY Holiday Market earlier in the month, where local vendors peddling hand-crafted beer, wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate, and apple and maple goodies were spread out through the New York State Museum’s galleries.
After we hung up our skates, we rushed up to the Corning Tower Observation Deck to catch a view of the skate rink below. Sadly, the viewing deck is closed on the weekends, but it’s worth a Monday through Friday visit — visits are free, and it’s the tallest building in New York State outside of New York City.
Not too shabby, huh?
The Nutcracker at The Egg
No way was I letting the Christmas season pass without at least one viewing of The Nutcracker. With The Palace, Proctors, and The Egg all boasting various versions, we were spoiled for choice — and ended up at The Saratoga City Ballet’s show at The Egg.
The Egg, the spaceship-like performing arts center you can see in my ice skating snaps, is best known as the location of my senior prom. Er, as a prominent piece of architecture on the New York State Plaza.
With a convenient underground parking structure, this is a super handicap accessible theater and we were thrilled to be able to bring my mom. She ended up throwing shade on the whole thing — “I’m not sure I’m really a ballet person,” was her assessment — but I couldn’t have disagreed more. In fact, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head I’ve been to three local ballet studios in January trying out classes. Consider me inspired.
It’s A Wonderful Life at Proctors
It’s been years since I’d been to Proctors, a historic theater in nearby Schenectady. Their programming calendar for the holidays blew me away — they had so much going on, I would have been there twice a week if my schedule and wallet allowed.
In the end, I made it to just one: our close family friend Noreen treated us to It’s A Wonderful Life Live From WVL Theater, a poignant one-set stage adaptation of the beloved film. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were blown away.
The show was actually in one of the smaller side-theaters of Proctors. I hope to return to see something on the main stage — and explore more of Schenectady’s burgeoning dining scene — soon.
Next year, I’d love to combine a show here with a trip to see the Annual Schenectady Festival of Trees, an event I loved as a child. Artists create various creatively themed trees as a fundraiser — it’s a blast.
Capital Holiday Lights In The Park
File this under “Christmas traditions I can’t let go.” I have such fond memories of being a kid and driving through Lights in the Park, a display of megawatt holiday cheer that takes over Washington Park (Albany’s charming answer to Central Park, in my opinion) for the duration of the holiday season.
Admission is $20 a car, so pile in all your friends, crank up your favorite Christmas playlist and bask in the warm glow of nostalgia as you creep through the park.
There’s also a number of special events in the park throughout the season that allow you to get out of your car and enjoy the lights on foot or pedal, from Pet Walk Night (more on that below) to Bike Night at the Lights to Albany Last Run 5K, a fundraising run through the lights.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to stop by The Empire State Plaza and the State Capital to see them decked out in wreaths and Christmas trees. We went on a little photo tour on Christmas Eve while trying to stay up for Christmas Mass at the grand Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception — a first for us protestants in making Olivia’s Catholic boyfriend feel welcome.
Presence Over Presents
This was my mantra for the holiday season — presence over presents. I proposed to friends that instead of exchanging gifts, we take the time to do something festive together instead. It was such a great way to get in quality time during a hectic season, and to cut down on the almost of “stuff” that’s traditionally accumulated in December.
As I mentioned, my friend Kenzie and I went for a movie and margarita night at The Palace.
When my childhood bestie Kristin and her fiancee came to town, we planned a fun and frivolous night in hip Troy. We kicked off with drinks at the brand new — and surprisingly festive — Berlin Lounge, followed by dinner at the forever trendy Peck’s Arcade.
With my new friend Ashley, local girl boss at UrbaneBrow, we went for brunch at new-to-me Umana, now one of my Albany go-tos, followed by a Holiday Sip & Shop Pop Up by Upstate Crate Co. — such an incredible business idea — at Dove + Deer.
(Clearly, my next post needs to be a guide to my favorite bars and restaurants in Albany.)
Ours was a two-part friend date, as the next weekend we returned to Dove + Deer, Albany’s hippest new eatery, for dinner. I think I could eat there once a week and not get sick of it!
After, we strolled down Lark Street for a very special event — a holiday-themed burlesque show from Pop Culture Provocateurs at Fuze Box. It was my first time at the quirky venue, and I hope it won’t be my last.
With my friends Matt, Marc and Laura (Marc and Laura are actually Kristin’s mom and step-dad, who I often refer to here as my second parents!), we finally made it to a tour of Albany Distilling Co.
The $10, one hour tours include a behind-the-scenes look at the production facility, followed by a tasting in The Bottle Shop. After, we stuck around to taste cocktails in the attached ADCo. Bar, which is possibly my favorite discovery of the holiday season — and it’s a tight race. With an insane cocktail menu, a cozy, hidden-away location, and a selection of artisan hot pockets to nibble on, I can’t wait to get back here sometime soon.
We rounded out our day with a meal at Druther’s, a local brewery. Stay tuned for a full post about the Capital Craft Beverage Trail someday — there’s so much in this area for lovers of craft drinks.
My dad and his partner did a whirlwind tour across the Northeast for the holidays, including a quick stop in Albany. We celebrated with a leisurely, celebratory dinner at Wellington’s, the chic restaurant inside the iconic Renaissance Hotel. I ordered off the festive holiday cocktail menu, while my dad went for one of the New York whiskey flights, cleverly presented on a slate board in the outline of the state.
I was so impressed with the place I decided Ian’s Christmas gift was going to be a staycation night at Renaissance — we loved it! More on that soon.
Olivia, John and I closed out the night at a pop up piano bar with seasonal songs at O’Slattery’s. If there’s one thing Albany lacks, it’s a full service karaoke bar — so I’ll take what I can get.
With The Dog
We couldn’t let Prada’s first white Christmas pass without fanfare! I giddily walked Prada through Lights in the Park for the Pet Walk night at Lights in the Park, where I was thrilled to find out there was even a free Santa meet and greet.
Later, when Ian was in town, he too was anxious to get in on the fun. There are actually a surprisingly abundant number of opportunities to get your pet’s photo with Santa over Christmas in the Capital Region — we went with the version at Colonie Center Mall. We weren’t the only ones — we got there right as it opened and there was already packed with a line snaking through the mall! Luckily it was the cutest line ever.
We did the cheapest version, a digital package for $35, but I was caught off-guard when I saw humans were getting in the photos too. I was wearing a tragically non-festive outfit, but literally ran to Sephora to slap on a bit of makeup (ha!) so I could look presentable enough to jump into one photo.
Considering the Lights in the Park version was free and there was essentially no line, it might be a better fit for most people. Yet I have to admit these photos of Prada and her two besties are priceless.
And that was a wrap on a cold, cheer-filled, cozy and chaotic Christmas season in the Capital Region.
Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season wherever you celebrated! Upstate New Yorkers, what can I not miss the rest of the winter?