The Finger Lakes sprawl across western New York State, making them a great destination to explore by car. There is good wine, beer and food, the scenery is lovely and the towns have some neat activities that kids and parents will both enjoy. Oh, and you’ll find good, local ice cream everywhere!
These three towns are a good jumping off point for exploring. Here is what we liked about them.
The Town: Ithaca
Where to Stay: There is a Hilton Garden Inn around the corner from the Commons, right in the center of town. It has a small indoor pool and is convenient to anything you want to do. If you prefer something with local character you there are inns, B&Bs and cottages to rent in town and on the outskirts.
Why You Go: We spent a good amount of time on the Cornell University campus. We visited the Plantations, a botanical garden that was appealing even in dreary March, and the Johnson Art Museum, which has a small eclectic collection and great views of Cayuga Lake from the top floor. The Dairy Bar in the agriculture school sells fresh, very rich student-made ice cream, as well as yogurt, cheese, and chocolate milk.
There are a myriad of parks nearby for walking and hiking; Taughanok Falls is popular with families with its short, flat trail and impressive waterfall. My daughter, 6 ½ at the time, loved the Ithaca Children’s Garden, a free-range playground that has a small garden and market in the summer months. She swung from ropes, climbed on hay bales and used planks to make bridges over mud puddles (come expecting to get dirty and wet).
What to Eat: Ithaca has a strong farm-to-fork movement and it’s easy to find good food. We had a delicious, seasonal, kid-friendly dinner at the NorthStar House. We also liked the Ithaca Beer Co. taproom for its innovative brews and food that was simple, good and locally sourced, even on the kids’ menu. In warm months there’s a patio with a huge field kids can run around on.
Must Try Ice Cream: The fountain drinks at Life’s So Sweet are creative and great for sharing.
The Town: Corning
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Radisson, which felt due for a fashion makeover. But it has comfortable rooms and an indoor pool for the kids. It’s walking distance from anything you’ll want to do in town.
Why You Go: The absolute must-do activity is the Corning Museum of Glass. One wing explores the science of glass; the other looks at artistic glass making around the world and through the centuries. The combination makes for a genuinely unique museum. The glass-blowing demonstrations are magical. Reserve a spot to make your own glass souvenir; kids can fuse glass and adults can try blowing. It’s not expensive for what it is and we were impressed by how well our nightlight, clock and Christmas ornament projects turned out.
What to Eat: We visited Corning on a Sunday and several recommended places were closed. Old World Cafe had fresh sandwiches and hummus. Tables were few and full so we ate outside in the square next door. Market Street Brewing Co and the upscale Three Birds were on our radar for their good-looking menus and local beer and wine selections, but we didn’t get to them.
Must Try Ice Cream: Dippity Do Dah bakes its own waffle cones and gets it milk from a local dairy co-op. Try staples like chocolate and mint chip or seasonal options like eggnog and maple bacon.
The Town: Watkins Glen
Where to Stay: The Harbor Hotel is a splurge but worth it. Sitting by the outdoor fire pit, looking out over Seneca Lake, sipping a glass of local Riesling while my daughter ran around a large patio made me feel truly away from it all. It has an indoor pool, lovely rooms and is right in town.
Why You Go: The main attraction in Watkins Glen is The Glen race track; the tiny town overflows when there are auto races on. On quieter weekends there is hiking, horseback riding, cheese tasting and wine-tasting all within a few minutes of town. Lakewood Vineyards, about 10 minutes outside of town, has a kids’ play corner and outdoor playground to keep little ones busy while you sample their very nice white wines.
What to Eat: Most places are casual and kid friendly. We had well-above-average pub fare at the Wild Ginger Café (back tables are quieter). Had we stayed another night we would have headed for Seneca Harbor Station, a seafood joint in a converted train station with nice lake views.
Must-Try Ice Cream: Best cones on this trip came from The Colonial Inn. My honey vanilla was creamy, rich and not too sweet.
This is just a jumping off point for exploring the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Hope you get to see it soon!