What to do in Buffalo, Rochester and Toronto in the winter?
July 4, 2011 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Fun in Rochester/Buffalo/Toronto in the winter ?

I will be in Rochester this winter for a family wedding and decided to make the most of it by also checking out Buffalo and Toronto while we're there. While we will be driving to these various cities, we primarily explore new places on foot and public transit. I would like recommendations on B&Bs, restaurants, urban decay spots, coffee shops and related destinations for urban lovers. Suggestions?
posted by bkpr to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Rochester doesn't have much in the way of picturesque urban decay, but you'll find a high number of cafes around the adjoining Park Avenue, Village Gate, and South Wedge areas, respectively known for college students/yuppies, older affluent urbanites, and younger artsy folk.

In and around Village Gate and the Memorial Art Gallery, there's the established Moon Beans and the recently relocated Dark Horse. On Alexander in the South Wedge there's Boulder Coffee. The Boulder people recently took over several locations of Spin Coffee. There's one of them on Park Avenue. All of these places are easily findable and have websites. You can walk between any of them in about 10 minutes.

Don't miss Java's just outside the Eastman Conservatory downtown — another 10-minute walk. Also downtown, just outside the Little Theatre (the local indie cinema venue), you'll find the Spot, which also has a location in Buffalo (and Toronto?). The Spot occupies a former auto dealership and has a dramatic mezzanine. In the South Wedge, don't miss Hedonist Chocolates, which makes truffles and chocolate bark on the premises. Visiting for the aroma alone is worth the walk.

The George Eastman House has unremarkable food, but the attached Dryden Theater has a very diverse schedule of rare prints and popular favorites. It's one of the best places for film in the country. A tour of the mansion is also a good idea.
posted by Nomyte at 12:28 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no better urban decay spot than Buffalo's Central Terminal. Highly recommended. Access is obviously going to depend on your schedule. But there's plenty else to do in Buffalo, like wlaking the Elmwood Village shopping strip, or the absolute gem Albright-Knox.

Closer to Rochester, in Canandaigua, I just did a tour of Sonnenberg. As far as estate houses go, one of the best I've ever come across. Still in pretty good shape, and the docents leave you alone. Again, depends on your timing.

In Rochester itself, the Eastman House is pretty good, but much depends on what the temporary exhibit is.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:30 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Toronto Suggestions:
Toronto is about 2 hours from Buffalo, so it will be a long day trip for you.
If you want to feel Presidential you can visit Duff's in Toronto or go all out and go in Buffalo.

Back in the day, I saw The Phantom of the Opera at Pantages Theater. Toronto has a very nice Theatre scene.

Buffalo Suggestions:
You will be disappointed with Buffalo's Public Transit system.

Believe it or not, Niagara Falls is interesting in the Winter with the ice. Honestly - even better on the Canadian side.

Of course you must go to the Anchor Bar when in Buffalo.

You can go to a Buffalo Bills game. (NFL)

You can see a Buffalo Sabres game. (NHL)

Understand what "real east coast Italian" means.

Rochester Suggestions:
I hear Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is very good in Rochester.

The George Eastman Kodak house is here if you enjoy photography.

I have not visited Rochester much, but the author of this blog lives there.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 12:34 PM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I forgot to add that Corning is under two hours from Rochester, going south. A prettier American town is hard to imagine, but it's the Museum of Glass which is simply stupendous. World class in every way. One of the best single-topic museums anywhere.

Even if you have zero interest in the subject itself going in, it's still fascinating. Art, history, science, all in a beautiful setting. And the drive there is splendid, too. Plenty in town in terms of little restaurants and and such.

Highly, highly recommended to anyone.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:51 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My friend who lives in Rochester is obsessed with the local Wegman's grocery store. He keeps trying to entice me into visiting him there by, among other things, referring to it as the "museum of food" and going on about how there's a model train that runs through the candy section. There are multiple Wegman's locations in Rochester, but I assume he means this one. It actually sounds kind of amazing.
posted by bubukaba at 12:51 PM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm about 10 years removed from my day to day Rochester experience but here are some old favorites :

High Falls. Pretty with the ice on the Genesee if it's not too cold a day. There used to be a fun place called Jillian 's by the Falls but I think it may be gone.

Nick Tahoe for the garbage plate.

Urban Decay - can't beat the old bus station and area around the train station. Also decaying old amusement park at the end of 590 near the lake

If you're traveling with kids, strong museum of play is nice.
posted by TravellingCari at 12:59 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yes. Seconding Mecca that is Wegmans. I miss it
posted by TravellingCari at 1:00 PM on July 4, 2011

I wouldn't call Seabreeze a decaying old amusement park. It's closed in the winter, but far from decaying.

If you get a chance to check out Artisan Works, I don't think you'll be sorry. It's pretty amazing.
posted by notcreative at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Toronto, I'd suggest lunch at Salad King (340 Young Street, just north of Dundas & the Eaton Centre). Best Thai food I've had (fair warning: I'm a Ryerson alumnus, so I may be biased :).

Visiting the CN Tower may be cliché for Toronto, but the view is impressive (I'm told you can see Rochester on a clear day, but it was never all that clear when I went up).
posted by joeycoleman at 2:47 PM on July 4, 2011

Artisan Works. Forgot the link above.
posted by notcreative at 3:02 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Former Rochester resident here.
...There's the established Moon Beans
That is now Starry Nites Cafe.

If you're on Rochester on a Saturday morning, even in winter, go to the Public Market and walk around. Also, agreeing with the Park Ave suggestion, especially if it's December. I'm biased, but the South Wedge neighborhood is great in every season.

Can anybody currently in Rochester tell us if it's possible to access the abandoned subway these days, and if so, how?

Final suggestion: Mt. Hope Cemetery which is not downtown, per se, but within the city limits. Again, fantastic all year round.
posted by knile at 3:56 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Wegmans, especially if you like grocery stores.

And my favorite trip to Niagara was in the deep of winter. Beautiful.
posted by neilbert at 4:29 PM on July 4, 2011

I'll chime back in later, because I'm from Buffalo and live in Toronto and have suggestions - but I wanted to mention that, alas, Salad King is no more.
posted by peagood at 4:39 PM on July 4, 2011

Oh...but wait...they're back, I think. Haven't been yet.
posted by peagood at 4:40 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to feel Presidential you can visit Duff's in Toronto or go all out and go in Buffalo.

What? No. No no nononono. Sheridan and Millersport in Amherst.

Other Buffalo sightseeing: the Darwin-Martin house.

Wegman's is totally the Platonic form of the grocery store.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:55 PM on July 4, 2011

I think the Rochester Subway was still accessible as of February. I'd recommend it and the George Eastman house as well. If you want to visit the subway, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is right over the east entrance, so you can get lunch before or after treking around in the tunnel.
More information here.

ROCwiki is also a great resource in general.

Nthing the Darwin-Martin house, if you're in Buffalo and interested in architecture. Also the Guaranty Building designed by Louis Sullivan.
posted by Wemmick at 7:45 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Darwin Martin house is definitely worth it if you're in Buffalo.

If you go to Niagara Falls, stop at Buzzy's for their amazing chicken wings. (I haven't eaten there since I was a kid, but we used to go there all the time when I was growing up. They really do have great wings.)

You should probably hit Wegman's while you're in town; it's a Rochester institution. I prefer the East Ave Wegman's myself, but a lot of people will probably tell you go to go Pittsford. I grew up going to the East Ave Wegman's, so I'm biased. Try to go on an off time, especially if you go to Pittsford. It is not very fun on the weekends because of the intense crowds.

The Bop Shop in Village Gate is a great place if you love music, particularly vinyl.

The best bagels in Rochester are found at Brownstein's on Monroe, in my opinion.

It's not a B&B, but the Strathallen hotel in downtown Rochester is very nice.

If you like movies and movie theaters, hit the Cinema for a double feature. You can even grab dinner at the Highland Park Diner right across the street first, or pop in for a shake afterwards.

This is making me sad! I'm finishing up my annual week-long trip to Rochester tomorrow and there are so many things I didn't do this time.
posted by k8lin at 9:17 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

B&Bs in Rochester city that I know people have stayed in and enjoyed:
Dartmouth House in the Park Ave/Monroe Ave area.
428 Mt. Vernon(warning, bird noises on load)
posted by knile at 5:57 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

BuffaloChickenWing hit a lot, but I also recommend:

Mighty Taco (a great staple for late night food)

Chippewa, the party district

Fort Niagara

Also, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as President at the Wilcox House in Buffalo after William McKinley was assassinated at the Pan Am Exposition.
posted by glaucon at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2011

Maybe it's because I was there on a winter evening, but five years ago, I found downtown Niagara Falls (USA) to be depressing. Very few places were open though if memory serves, the red sauce place we tried was packed. Kind of eerie. The rest of the town felt deserted.
posted by knile at 5:08 AM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: I would like recommendations on B&Bs, restaurants, urban decay spots, coffee shops and related destinations for urban lovers. Suggestions?

I'm back to say, that as a Buffalo native, there really aren't any/many B&Bs - in winter there, you'll want a nice spot that's convenient to what you want to do. Sadly, that doesn't happen because the hotels are either downtown near the rather-abandoned city part, or in the suburbs near the malls, or near the airport. I love Buffalo, I do - but not for the urban experience though it has gorgeous architecture and some really beautiful places.

However, in Buffalo, in winter, the Albright-Knox is great. I love the Museum of Science, if you're the type to like really old taxidermy exhibits with beautiful hand-lettered signs in gorgeous old cases. It's like stepping back in time. The best wings are actually the BBQ wings from La Nova, or Duff's -- but the Anchor Bar is the place for the wing "experience". The Anchor Bar, however, is in the middle of nowhere, so it's best to drive. In fact, Buffalo's public transit, especially in winter, is terrible. Buffalo's winter, due to the lake-effect snow, is gray and slushy and no fun to navigate - though they're great at clearing the roads.

One great thing to do in Buffalo in winter is to go sledding at Chestnut Ridge, with a proper wooden toboggan on the old chutes that have just been restored. The shelter has good food and hot chocolate, and it's a nice drive out there if it's a clear day.

For urban stuff, the Central Terminal is having an interesting go of events. We generally catch a show at the Sportsman's Tavern if someone like Wayne Hancock or Big Sandy is coming through town. But honestly, in winter, with everything so far-flung, it's not much fun there.
posted by peagood at 5:45 PM on July 8, 2011

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