This whole part of New York State is highly regarded around the country, a famous commuter's paradise that combines proximity to NYC with stately residential neighborhoods and charming downtown areas. From small towns, to small cities, Westchester is known as the ultimate suburban county, combining quick city access with suburban quaintness.
Top Places to Live in Westchester County, NY
That said, if forced to narrow it down, any conversation about the best places to live in Westchester County would likely include Bronxville, with a vibrant village scene, great schools, and some of the most magnificent homes in the county (not to mention a mere 25-minute train ride to Grand Central); Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, for their riverfront access, cute (and good) restaurants, and thriving arts community; and Mamaroneck, located on the Long Island Sound and offering a distinct small-town feel for its residents.
Other choices for a best places to live might include Pound Ridge, which is much more country than suburb (in fact, there are zero traffic lights here, and many of houses here are actually second homes, for weekend getaways); Hastings-on-the-Hudson, another artsy riverfront community that boasts an almost-trendy downtown (at least if you consider the content of the stores and cafes, and not their exterior design, which remains quaint); and Fleetwood, which offers the convenience of a quick commute to Manhattan with lower rents than many of the surrounding areas.
The "Original" Suburbs
Westchester County was one of the first truly suburban areas to be developed on a large scale in the United States, and possibly in the entire world. Located to the north of New York City, large swaths of the county are characterized by quiet, tree-lined streets flanked by gorgeous old houses, and offering residents easy access to Manhattan by car or railroad.
Today you may choose to live within any of the county's six cities, nineteen towns, or twenty-three villages, and though there are certainly large differences in character and culture among the many communities, with only a few exceptions the housing stock in the area is dominated by private homes, attached multi-family homes, mid-rise apartment buildings and garden apartment complexes.
Apartments in Westchester tend to be near the center of each city's, town's, or village's primary "downtown" commercial area, even when that consists of a few blocks of shops and local eateries and bars. The more urban, densely populated areas of Yonkers (the fourth most populous city of all of New York State), White Plains, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon are where you will find the highest concentration of apartments (versus the single family homes that make up much of the rest of the county).
Many communities have very few rentals (particularly in the northern half of the county), including the high-income enclaves of the towns and villages of Bronxville, Scarsdale, Armonk, and Chappaqua. Though these latter communities are filled mostly with Tudor mansions, Dutch colonials, Georgian revivals, sometimes there are sections of each with garden apartments that allow renters to enjoy the amenities of village living without having to buy one of those majestic houses.
Some of the best public schools in the nation are located in Westchester County, and is one reason that many residents choose to live here while raising a family.
Things to Do
Unlike some of the communities in northern New Jersey, Westchester residents enjoy a quieter lifestyle, with less larger arts and culture centers (the exception being a number of small, local theater companies), and spectator sports. However, that is offset by a larger focus on activities such as antiquing, boating, hiking, canoeing & kayaking, fishing and golfing.
In addition, the county is home to over 50 historical sites, from small churches and graveyards, to large manor houses and estates, including Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate and Lyndhurst, one of the country's finest Gothic Revival mansions. Several gardens and nature centers also exist.
While worth a visit year-round, the months of September and October are a special time to visit Historic Sleepy Hollow, part of the larger town of Tarrytown, where Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set. You can even visit the author's home here, which is now a museum, much of it preserved with his original furnishings.
Families (and children of all ages) enjoy Rye Playland, the only government owned and operated amusement park in the United States. Located on the waterfront of Long Island Sound, the park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and has appeared in a number of movie and televion shows.
Westchester residents who commute into Manhattan and choose to drive to work generally take the Saw Mill River Parkway to the Henry Hudson Parkway to New York Route 9A (if going to the west side of Manhattan), or the New York State Thruway to the Major Deegan Expressway to the FDR Drive (if going in to the east side).
The majority of Westchester commuters rely upon the mass transportation in the form of the Metro North Railroad, which has stations in just about every city and town and village heading north, on the Harlem Line from Mount Vernon West all the way up to Croton Falls, and along the Hudson Line from Ludlow to the northern reaches of Peekskill.
There are a number of public bus lines (the Bee-Line Bus System) for transportation within the county for residents and visitors, as well as car services for hire at just about every train station, but most people use private cars to get around.
For big box retail store shopping, Westchester has several major commercial strips (such as Central Park Avenue, which runs from Yonkers up through Hartsdale and beyond) as well as shopping centers (the Cross County, for one, in Fleetwood) and malls (like the Galleria, and the White Plains Mall).