When most Philadelphians hear “New York,” we likely conjure images of Times Square and the taxi-clogged thoroughfares of the city that never sleeps.
But the Big Apple is but a sliver of the Empire State. If you’re looking to explore more of our northern neighbor, endless opportunity abounds in the Finger Lakes region.
About a 4.5-hour drive from Philly, the area is best known as wine country — a reputation well-earned! — but there are also ample attractions steeped in history, culture and artistic expression. The region derives its name from the 11 spindly lakes that jut southward, and whose peaceful tranquility sets the backdrop for the area’s laidback vibe.
Among the many beauties of Finger Lakes is its size; each lake and the surrounding towns offer so much to see and do that return trips to Finger Lakes can give you new vistas and experiences.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Just north of Finger Lakes, on the banks of Lake Ontario, sits Rochester, the third-largest metropolis in the state. Much like Philadelphia, however, Rochester oozes a small-town feel.
Also on parallel with the City of Brotherly Love, history comes to life in Rochester. One of its most-visited tourist attractions is the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, which was home to the iconic suffragette for about 40 years. The handsome three-story brick building sits on an unassuming residential block but, once you enter its doors, you walk back in time to the late 19th century. The home is masterfully restored to the period when Anthony was most politically active and features much of her actual furniture and belongings. Anthony’s storied activist career is told room by room, including the parlor that was the site of her 1872 arrest for voting and the bedroom where she passed away in 1906.
PARLOR IN SUSAN B. ANTHONY HOUSE WHERE SHE WAS ARRESTED IN 1872 FOR VOTING
The house is not just a testament to the past but also an active community partner, with organizers staging educational and enrichment programs for youth and adults. It also became a hub of activity leading up to the 2016 presidential election, when the country was poised to elect its first female president; 15 news outlets from around the globe visited the house for election-related coverage. Hundreds waited hours in line on Election Day to visit Anthony’s gravesite at nearby Mount Hope Cemetery; signs carrying messages of support for Clinton, and thanks to Anthony for her leadership, now hang in the house.
Later this month, the Susan B. Anthony House & Museum and other local partners will celebrate the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage in New York with VoteTilla. From July 17-21, five boats will set off from Seneca Falls destined for Rochester, with scores of accompanying activities and events in Rochester that weekend.
History is also on display at the George Eastman Museum. The National Historic Landmark is the world’s oldest photography museum, offering a very diverse visitor experience. Guests can tour modern photography exhibits, explore rare collections of early photographs and learn about the evolution of photography through the collection of Eastman, the founder of Kodak.
The site is situated within Eastman’s former home, a sprawling mansion that itself tells part of Eastman’s, and Rochester’s, story. The early-20th-cenutry building features gardens and greenhouses, innovations of the time like an elevator and 21 telephone stations. The main room features a pipe organ and a massive taxidermy elephant head, vestiges of Eastman’s lavish lifestyle, which often attracted Rochester’s elite.
What the Eastman Museum provides for adults, The Strong: National Museum of Play offers for youngsters.
The word “museum” belies what happens at The Strong, the only space of its kind in the world dedicated to the concept of “play.” Here, spread across 100,000 square feet, kids can find age-tailored, interactive activities like a full Wegmans supermarket where they can fill up and check out their carts, a Sesame Street playplace and the popular butterfly conservatory. While The Strong provides endless hours of entertainment for kids, adults will find plenty to enjoy as well. Revisit childhood by playing vintage arcade games and perusing the massive collection of toys in an exhibit that traces the history of play. While families will have a ball playing the day away, it’s not uncommon to see adults sans kids getting in touch with their own inner child.
When you’re museumed-out, check in to Strathallan, a TAG-approved hotel and spa concept by Hilton. Modern décor, an on-site steakhouse and Japanese restaurant and a rooftop lounge featuring firepits and fantastic views all enhance your stay in Rochester.
To kick off your night, grab a bite at The Cub Room, whose seasonally inspired menu is largely locally sourced. The Cub Room serves generously portioned and perfectly plated entrées, while the cleverly named cocktails pay homage to the Prohibition era, a theme running throughout the space.
The Cub Room attracts a fun amalgamation of residents of the hip South Wedge neighborhood in which it is situated: in one corner, a large 40th-birthday party, in another a same-sex couple and in another an elderly couple with their grandkids.
South Wedge is a hub of LGBT nightlife, with a number of LGBT-focused and -friendly bars, clubs and restaurants. Nearby Park Avenue is another section brimming with nightlife, and often serves as the host of outdoor festivals throughout warm months. The Rochester Pride Parade will take over Park Avenue July 15, culminating in a festival at Cobb’s Hill Park.
Another outdoor oasis is the Rochester Public Market, a must for visiting foodies. Row upon row of fresh produce and meats, flowers and artisan gifts draw packed crowds on weekends and give visitors a fascinating look at life in Rochester.
Foodie or family, whatever experience you’re looking for, you can find it in Rochester.
About two hours south of Rochester, Ithaca provides an equally exciting, but wholly unique, experience.
Ithaca sits on the tip of Cayuga Lake, and the drive from Rochester will wend you through countryside, farmland and winery after winery (take advantage of one of the many designated-driver services if you choose to indulge!). The natural beauty surrounding the region sets the mood in Ithaca.
Stroll the Cayuga and explore the Ithaca Farmers Market to get a taste of the town. The sprawling market is open April-December and offers international flavors, an experience complemented by live music and lakefront views.
Or lace up your sneakers and hit one of the many trails that cut through Ithaca, providing exercise and excellent ways to see the town’s many waterfalls and gourges.
One of the best vantage points from which to see the picturesque town is La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro & Spa. Relaxation is requisite at La Tourelle: You can kick back in an Adirondack chair on the rolling lawns and take in the treetops and breathtaking views of Cayuga Lake. Pamper yourself in the facility’s spa or indulge at The Bistro, featuring farm-to-table local ingredients.
VIEW OF ITHACA FROM LA TOURELLE
While it’s far too easy to spend your entire stay in Ithaca at La Tourelle, you’ll have to force yourself off the property to explore the town. While Ithica is a college town — home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins County Community College — don’t expect to be overrun by partying youngsters and red Solo cups.
The Downtown Ithaca Commons is a diverse and tranquil gathering space for students, longtime residents and tourists, who explore four blocks of boutiques, bars and bookstores. Free concerts are held in the Commons throughout the summer; on our trip, a street performer led fans and passersby on an impromptu parade through the pedestrian promenade during a rendition of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.”
That camaraderie is exuded throughout Ithaca, including at the new LGBT-owned Watershed.
The space mixes the highlights of a bar with that of a café, with some library and lounge sensibilities mixed in. Postcards for meetings, support groups and events dot the space, suggesting the community-minded nature of Ithaca — further emphasized by Watershed’s commitment to sustainability. Board games and books are available for visitors, as they sip a cocktail or coffee and munch on the small plates.
Ripe for conversation, Watershed is a great place to either start or finish your night out on the town — which is also home to a number of other LGBT-owned establishments.
While Ithaca boasts award-winning restaurants, wineries and breweries, and ample arts and cultural outposts, the town’s charming, cozy feel is itself a winner.