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Easy Day Trips

Chimney Bluffs, 45 miles east of Rochester, along the shores of Lake Ontario. (Photo: Paul Ericson)

The world-famous Niagara Falls and Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estates are a short drive away when you’re visiting Rochester. Our region is home to the picturesque Finger Lakes region (with its 100 wineries), the Genesee River, Lake Ontario and the “Best 100 Miles” of the storied Erie Canal. Here’s where you can go in two hours or less.

Fans of chicken wings and sports have always found a home in Buffalo, but there’s much more to love about the city. The region boasts historic architecture, renowned art museums and one of the great wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. Buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and H.H. Richardson are set amid an elaborate park system created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. There are numerous galleries and other attractions, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, known for its significant collection of 20th-century paintings and sculpture, and Burchfield Penney Art Center’s elegant new home. Niagara Falls is the nation’s oldest state park and a sight to behold in any season.
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Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua is a historic educational center on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York. Thousands of people visit every year for intellectual and spiritual growth and renewal. Founded in 1874 by an Ohio businessman and a Methodist minister, Chautauqua has a rich history of encouraging the open discussion of politics, religion, literature and science. The arts are alive here too, in the form of a symphony orchestra, ballet, conservatory theater and opera company. Visit during the nine-week summer season to study or to take in a performance in the amphitheater. Or just stroll around the peaceful, 750-acre campus; its Victorian buildings, along with charming old rooming houses and inns, are in a national historic district.
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Chimney Bluffs
Some 45 miles east of Rochester, along the shores of Lake Ontario, you’ll find Chimney Bluffs, an undeveloped state park. Geologists say the steep bluffs, towering over the lakeshore, are chopped-off drumlins. They look like waves of chocolate icing whipped up to a point. Relentless Great Lakes winds chisel away at the rocks, but they are highly resistant to erosion, which accounts for their vertical shapes. This is a great place to see Rochester’s seafaring side. Take Route 104 east to Lake Bluff Road north, which turns into Garner Road. Pass the state park entrance and continue to East Bay Road, turning north. You can park in a lot by the road.
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Cooperstown is best known, of course, for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. That is reason enough to visit. But it has many more things to see and do, from opera to microbreweries. The Farmers’ Museum is a hands-on history center devoted to agriculture and rural life. Glimmerglass Opera, performing during the summer, collaborates with the New York City Opera. The area’s natural beauty draws hikers and campers. The town itself, with well-kept Victorian homes and tidy shops, sits on the shores of Otsego Lake; James Fenimore Cooper waxed eloquent about the lake’s “glimmerglass” quality in “The Leatherstocking Tales.”
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Home of the international company that shares its name, the city of Corning draws visitors from all over the world to Corning Museum of Glass. You’ll see live glass-blowing demonstrations, exhibitions of art glass and other attractions that delve into the science, history and art of glass. The Rockwell Museum of Western Art explores American Western and Native American art in a mix of traditional and contemporary exhibits. Take a leisurely drive to antique shops and wineries, or visit three nearby aviation museums. Stretch your legs on a walking tour of town, and then stop for a bite to eat on historic Market Street.
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East Aurora
It was here that Elbert Hubbard fashioned an American version of William Morris’ English crafts complex. The Roycrofters artisans who worked on leather crafts, furniture, copperware and fine books in the Roycroft community here—made a significant mark on the arts and crafts movement in this country. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression closed the campus before renewed interest in the Roycrofters brought it back to life. You can visit the restored 14-building campus, now a national historic landmark, and dine or stay overnight at the Roycroft Inn across the street. Millard Fillmore House, built by the 13th president, and the Roycroft Museum, in a Craftsman bungalow, are open for tours. The village’s hip eateries and bars offer after-hours entertainment.
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Finger Lakes
This hilly lake region of Central New York is a popular weekend getaway destination. If you like to shop for antiques and crafts, sample world-class wines, or just get outdoors, spend a day or two in the Finger Lakes. Best known for its 100 wineries, the area also has a growing number of restaurants and inns. At the southern end of Cayuga Lake, visit the campuses of Ithaca College and Cornell University in Ithaca. Watch a NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International. Stop at the birthplace of women’s rights in Seneca Falls; a national park marks the spot. If you love the outdoors, state parks dot the region, with plenty of places to fish, ski, hike, bike, row and camp. On Keuka Lake, the village of Hammondsport offers restaurants and shops. See the Wineries section for more details.
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What can you expect from a city that has its own currency? Ithaca is unique. Home of Cornell University and Ithaca College, this small city is known for its activist zeal, deep gorges, waterfalls and culture. You’ll find organic, healthy restaurants (including the famed Moosewood), shops that sell artwork and crafts, and numerous bed-and-breakfasts. Wineries of the Finger Lakes are a scenic drive up Cayuga Lake. Great places for hiking include Cornell Plantations, an arboretum and botanical garden; Buttermilk Falls State Park; and Taughannock Falls State Park. Pick up fresh fruit and vegetables at Ithaca Farmers Market and Cornell Orchards, a research and teaching orchard and sales room.
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Ithaca Beer Co.
606 Elmira Road Ithaca, NY
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Letchworth State Park
Entrances in Perry, Castile, Portageville and Mount Morris. Before the north-flowing Genesee River reaches Rochester, it cuts a 17-mile swath through Letchworth, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the East. Sixty-six miles of trails, both paved and natural, wind along the scenic gorge and take hikers near three major waterfalls. Be sure to visit the overlook for the Mount Morris Dam; since 1952, this major structure has prevented flood disasters that once plagued the Rochester area. The park offers winter and summer recreation opportunities, such as ice skating, whitewater rafting, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, biking, kayaking and hot-air ballooning. The 90-year-old museum displays Native American artifacts and tells the story of the park’s creation. Glen Iris Inn offers dining and overnight accommodations. Cabins, camp sites and a lodge also are available.
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Niagara Region
There’s more to Niagara Falls than millions of gallons of water (and the occasional daredevil) spilling over a precipice. While you’re here, take a side trip to Old Fort Niagara. France and Britain controlled Niagara 300 years ago from this imposing structure on the shore of Lake Ontario. The site of historic battles and trade is open year-round. You’ll see musket demonstrations and living-history programs during the summer. The Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University holds nearly 4,000 works of art. Some of the artists might surprise you: Picasso, Roualt, Modigliani, Motherwell and De Kooning are represented. Check out the 100 American Craftsmen Festival on the last weekend in May at the Kenan Center in Lockport. Artists from across North America display and sell their creations. ArtPark in Lewiston is an indoor/outdoor venue offering theater and musical performances, festivals, hiking trails, fishing docks and picnic areas. And don’t miss the Niagara Power Project Visitors Center, known as Power Vista. It is four miles downstream from the falls in the Niagara River Gorge. State-of-the-art interactive exhibits teach about hydroelectricity and its role in the area’s history.
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Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
This picturesque Canadian town is best known as the site of the Shaw Festival, one of the largest repertory theaters in North America. The festival stages the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries in four theaters from April to November. Proud old homes and tree-lined streets attest to the town’s history as a prosperous shipbuilding center. Nineteenth-century commercial buildings and converted residences house busy shops and restaurants. In addition to watching live theater, visitors can tour Niagara-region wineries and historic sites, such as Fort George. The area has plenty of shopping and golf courses, and Niagara Falls is a 20-minute drive.
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Seneca Falls
The women’s rights movement began in 1848 in this central New York village. Today, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park commemorates it. Four historical properties and a visitor center tell the story of how everyday people began the struggle for equal rights for women, including the right to vote. Though not involved at the outset, Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony became the movement’s leading voice for reform. The National Women’s Hall of Fame honors outstanding leaders, including Madeleine Albright, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Lucille Ball, Rosalynn Carter and many others.

This cozy village lies on the shores of a lake with the same Iroquois name (pronounced “skan-ee-AT-las”). Some 65 miles from Rochester, it’s a charming place to visit at any time of year. Enjoy the Skaneateles Antique and Classic Boat Show in late July. Dickens’ Christmas, on four weekends after Thanksgiving, brings out carolers, sleigh rides and roasted chestnuts. Skaneateles also is the northeastern gateway to the Finger Lakes wine region, and it sits along Route 20, one of the best antiquing routes around. If you find yourself rolling through in August, take advantage of the chamber music festival. Since 1980, world-renowned classical musicians have taken the stage at this monthlong event. Among the stars: violin prodigy and Grammy winner Hilary Hahn, Met soprano Korliss Uecker, pianist Diane Walsh and baritone Sanford Sylvan. Bring a picnic and a blanket for outdoor concerts at Brook Farm on Saturday nights. Enjoy weeknight shows at the First Presbyterian Church, tucked into the center of town across from the lake.

Sodus Point
Catch a Great Lakes breeze in Sodus Point, Wayne County, a hopping port on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Settled in 1794, Sodus Bay was once a major Great Lakes shipping port. Today it’s a popular gathering spot for boating enthusiasts. History buffs will find unique cobblestone homes, War of 1812 and Shaker community sites, and a lighthouse museum. Nearby Chimney Bluffs State Park draws visitors by foot and water. Besides boating, year-round outdoor sports include cross-country skiing, ice skating, freshwater fishing, biking, golfing and snowmobiling.

If your passions run toward Division I basketball, arts and crafts design or the Erie Canal, spend the day in New York’s central city. Syracuse played a leading role in the arts and crafts movement in the early 20th century; the Stickley brothers made their famous oak furniture here, and modern-day craftsmen carry on the spirit of the movement through a variety of media. (The company still operates a factory in Manlius.) With more than 30,000 screaming fans clad in orange, see the Division I Syracuse Orange play in the Carrier Dome on campus. The Erie Canal Museum, housed in the canal’s only remaining weighlock building, has hands-on exhibits and collections related to the famous waterway. The attached Syracuse Heritage Area Visitor Center provides lots of leads for further exploration. If you are in town Aug. 27 to Sept. 7, go to the 163rd annual run of the New York State Fair. Last year, nearly 1 million people took in the show.

The Abbey of the Genesee
Rochesterians seeking a meditative place to reflect and regroup have found a destination in the Abbey of the Genesee. It is located in Piffard, near Geneseo in Livingston County. Visitors can join the community’s Trappist monks for liturgical prayer in the Abbey Church or take a more solitary path. Stay for a day or a week; individual and group retreats are available. Be of a quiet mind; long periods of serious silence await. The grounds and wooded areas are perfect for walks and contemplation. The brothers have made delicious Monks’ Bread in their bakery (not open for tours) since 1951. They also bake brownies and fruitcakes. All are available for sale at the abbey, online and at stores in Rochester. Buy some goodies fresh from the oven before you leave.

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