October 11, 2011 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Rochester (and maybe Toronto?) in a few weeks! What are some must-see spots to check out while I'm there?

We're flying in to Rochester, but we will have some access to a vehicle.

Right now, the only thing I have on my list is a trip to Wegman's.

I'm looking for interesting/unusual/regional restaurants, activities, and nightlife locales.

We may be able to swing a day trip to Toronto, if we're lucky, so any Toronto-specific advice is appreciated too.

posted by chara to Travel & Transportation around Rochester, NY (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Pittsford Wegmans is probably best.
The Strong is a great toy and play museum.
The George Eastman House is a can't miss if you enjoy photography.
Go to Nick Tahou's for a garbage plate!
posted by Marky at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went to a pretty cool indie movie theater in Rochester when I was there.
posted by empath at 9:14 AM on October 11, 2011

If you're here on a Saturday, check out the Public Market, voted number one in the country in 2010. Get yourself an empanada from Juan and Maria's, or a pastrami sandwich from the Fare Game Food Co (hidden in the back of the building that houses Java's and Flour City Bread).

For a low-key drink in the evening, check out Chocolate and Vines. Get some interesting beer or wine and ask what the cupcake of the day is, and get a chocolate for good measure. The pumpkin truffle is especially delicious.

During the day, the East End has a lot of little shops and good coffee and people-watching; at night, it becomes a fascinating anthropological study of college dudes and fake tans.

For dinner, check out The Old Toad, a British pub staffed entirely by culinary/hospitality students on exchange from Britain. They have, approximately, a million beers for you to try.

Nthing Strong Museum (even without kids, it's fascinating) and George Eastman. And really, try a garbage plate. If I may recommend my favorite: grilled cheese plate, mustard, onion, no hot sauce.

When will you be here? What sorts of events are you interested in? I might be able to come up with better suggestions if you chime in with more details.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:32 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Pittsford Wegmans as the one to visit.

The "Park Ave area" which runs between Culver rd and Alexander St is nice. There is a lot of little shops and restaurants, and a few bars. Cibon is pretty good, as is Gines or The Frog Pond for breakfast.

East and Alexander is the main spot for nightlife and bars. Some are great, some not so much, but it depends on the type of crowd you like. My favorites are Mex and Monty's Corner .

Also if you like BBQ, Rochester has 2 pretty good spots. The Dinosaur BBQ on Court st. is great, but it can take a while to get a table. Sticky Lips on Culver Rd, is just about as good in my opinion and usually seats faster.
posted by HoldFast at 9:34 AM on October 11, 2011

Niagara Falls? - it's between the two by road and rail.
posted by carter at 9:40 AM on October 11, 2011

Somebody tell me if this one is too long. It's from a message I wrote for a colleague's brother-in-law, whom I've never met, then tried to edit for this space.

I will start with indoor things... Strong Museum of Play/National Toy Hall of Fame seems like a kids' museum, but I've been there and it's FUN. The George Eastman House is part "old house", part "museum", and part "gallery", focusing on photography and film. Near that is the Memorial Art Gallery, which isn't that big or famous, but a nice visit. I never made it out to ArtisanWorks, but it's also supposed to be a very unusual spot to see recent, local art and hang out/browse. Outdoors, if you're there on a Saturday morning, go to the Public Market. It's insane(ly awesome). Mix of local produce & goods, strange non-food offerings like t-shirts and incense, Amish baked goods, Ukranian pastries, and empanadas by Juan & Maria. Downtown, there's waterfalls. Tall ones, called amusingly "High Falls". Impressive, but there's no boats or anything like at Niagara. There are boats like the Sam Patch that go down the Erie Canal. I never went on one. If possible, I'd take that out to the village of Pittsford and shop/eat at Schoen Place and in "downtown" Pittsford, which is tiny and cute and considered by locals to be "upscale". Pittsford is also home to THE BIG WEGMANS. MegaWegs. An amazingly American "supermarket" that used to have a fancy restaurant attached, but now "only" has a tea shop inside, a sushi bar, an impressive cheese shop, and so much more. It's kind of absurd.

Now comes the absolute weirdest part of this already too-long piece: I'm going to recommend a visit to the local cemetery. Mount Hope Cemetery is old, huge, and fascinating because of its history but also its geology. There are free hour-long tours on weekends, at least through the autumn. Definitely in spring, too. It's open all the time for visiting. If you're super keen on it, track down a printed guide to it like this one. Here's a listing of famous "residents" though many are boring to non-historians/non-locals/non-Americans. More to read here. The cemetery's nearby sister institution, minus the corpses, is Highland Park, which has a conservatory/arboretum and a castle. (How did I never visit those? Don't ask what I DID do in that park...) Talking about that park reminds me of Genesee Valley Park where one can rent canoes/kayaks. Boat rentals are also available up in Irondequoit and Webster.

Rochester is on Lake Ontario. The neighborhood of Charlotte (rhymes with "you are NOT") is the northernmost part of the city, which touches the lake, and has a park, a lighthouse, and a cheap cheap restaurant with a unique beef sandwich.

Like graffiti? Go tothe Legal Wall. In general, there's lots of fascinating photography to be had, as the city is such a mix of Rust Belt decay, nature, and revitalization.

As somebody who cares too much about beer, particularly local (in general and specifically Rochester) beer scenes, I must also mention the following institutions: Rohrbach Brewery's Railroad Street location (by the Public Market) offers quick tours & tastings. Roc Brewing Company is new to town but has a solid presence. Another newcomer is 3 Heads Brewing, which does Very American BeerGeek beers really well. Sadly they have no particular location, though many independent restaurants/bars/shops have some to offer. In terms of places to enjoy a nice beer, traditionally the best place had been the Old Toad downtown. It is very very British; the servers are students at a UK university and the food and service quality reflect their origin. My home away from home is the Tap and Mallet, which is more American BeerGeek/Gastropub than the Toad. There's a wide range. Don't like beer? Solera Wine Bar is near the Tap and Mallet. Not cheap cheap, but it's cute and fun.

Oh, a word about neighborhoods: Tap & Mallet and Solera are in the Southwedge, where I lived for four years. There's one main street of shops (South Avenue) with Gregory Street which crosses it hosting a few other nice spots too. Another common favorite is Park Avenue, which is mostly residential but has places to eat/drunk and a few cute shops as well.

For more things, poke around on which has reviews & opening hours & the like. Very useful for restaurant searches, though I have course have recommendations, Dinosaur BBQ being the go-to. Sticky Lips (soon to be on Man vs Food!) is a pretty good BBQ alternative if you don't want to deal with the wait of Dino or the atmosphere there isn't your scene. There's also
pretty good Indian and Thai and Ethiopian. Little bit of everything, really. Good "American" options are also at Magnolia's (try the tomato soup, sandwich, pizzas) and Owl House, which is new and gets rave reviews for everything from cocktails to vegan fare. If you eat one place in Rochester, eat there. Rochester has a hot dog restaurant which is hilarious and amazing.

A weekly events listing is Jayceland and the good free weekly newspaper is City. For nightlife, yeah, East & Alexander is the main bar district. High Falls has a more clubby atmosphere, but I don't know of anybody who actually goes there. I'd say skip it unless you really do your research. Depends on what you're looking for, really.
posted by knile at 9:44 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also in Toronto, you might like the Bata Shoe Museum.
posted by carter at 9:45 AM on October 11, 2011

Response by poster: I'll be there from October 27 to November 1st. Does anyone know of any cool Halloween-ish things going on?
posted by chara at 9:48 AM on October 11, 2011

I found this blog - RochesterHalloween.

(I live in Rochester but am an anti-social lump so I don't really know what goes on beyond what everyone else has said here.)
posted by Lucinda at 10:06 AM on October 11, 2011

Unless you plan on staying over night, I'd give Toronto a miss. The QEW can be horribly congested if you don't travel at the right time of day (or there's an accident) and there aren't any really useful alternate routes. It could make for a really long, and not at all fun day.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:07 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to Lux for Halloween!
posted by knile at 10:14 AM on October 11, 2011

The Jello gallery in Le Roy, where it was invented.
Susan B Anthony's house
The Rochester Museum has an Underground Railroad exhibit.
posted by brujita at 10:44 AM on October 11, 2011

I just visited Rochester a couple of weeks ago!

Looks like the Dryden Theater (part of George Eastman House) will be screening Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist while you're there. The theater has a spooky, vintage look to it - so it's a good place to see those films.

The most exciting thing I did there was wandering around Mt. Hope Cemetery for a day. It's beautiful, but also not the most kept-up place in the world - which makes it a bit creepy, if you're looking for the Halloweenish feel. Also, if you're on foot, the cemetery is a pretty long walk from just about anywhere in the city - but it's (sort of) near a nice little GLBT-oriented coffee shop called Equal Grounds, which makes a good pit stop.

I also found incredible things in the 99-cent bin at The Bop Shop record store, which is housed within a cool local business mall thing (built into an old factory type building) with a bunch of other interesting shops in it.
posted by bubukaba at 11:36 AM on October 11, 2011

Nthing the cemetery, Strong Museum, Eastman House, and the Little Theatre. Also, if you want Halloween stuff, Geva is doing Dracula.

Rochester has been shedding bookstores these past few years, which is annoying, but if you head to the Village Gate (the mall bubukaba mentioned), check out Houghton Books, which frequently has a lot of good (donated) fiction at very inexpensive prices.

I've been on the Sam Patch; it's a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

If you're into antiques, there are a ton of stores in the area, the mother lode being the Shops on West Ridge.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:49 AM on October 11, 2011

Has no one said garbage plate? You must have a garbage plate!
posted by teragram at 12:59 PM on October 11, 2011

D'oh. Garbage plate in the first response. This is what I get for metafiltering instead of paying attention in biostats class...
posted by teragram at 1:01 PM on October 11, 2011

Head to the Finger Lakes and get some wine action.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:15 PM on October 11, 2011

There are some great suggestions here - nthing Strong Museum of Play, even if you aren't traveling with children. There are lots of fun old toys you didn't remember you played with as a kid (you know, like Mother's Helper, a board game that my friend Julie used to have). My husband loved the area with the 80s arcade games that you can play for reals.

If you like browsing/shopping for gifts, Parkleigh is a fun store located on Park Avenue, less than a mile from the Little Theatre (recommended above) and East Avenue.
posted by slmorri at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2011

An older question of yours refers to your creation and consumption of cupcakes. Give Goodness Cakes a visit for their minis or Sugar Mountain for bigguns. Sit for a spell with wine and chocolate at Chocolate and Vines. You do like chocolate, right?Then you must also stop at Hedonist -- they even have a Halloween tasting on the 28th!

My friends and I used to go for haunted hayrides. If you go, buy tickets ahead of time from Wegmans. You will wait a long time. It will be cold. Be VERY discreet if you're packing a little "heat", because they aim to be family-friendly. There will be lots of loud teenagers there. It's fun. Just a very time-consuming wait.
posted by knile at 2:36 AM on October 12, 2011

I'm from Toronto, and am also wondering how you're planning to get back and forth? Because bonobothegreat is correct - you can't get there from here easily. Rochacha to Buffalo is about an hour and a half, and I haven't made it to or from Buffalo on the QEW in under two hours in months even without much traffic or wait at the border, and sometimes longer. The border wait has not been less than twenty minutes on my last few trips, and often longer. So, that would take quite a bite out of your trip.

That said, Buffalo is close and fantastic. Check Artvoice or Gusto for things to do. In Toronto, check out NOW or the Grid.

If you want a nice little drive, Skaneateles in the Finger Lakes is picturesque, and we often toddle down Rts 5 and 20 to get there. There are some pretty gorgeous scenic drives in the area too, with stops at wineries and such or just stopping at little shops and farm stands that sell honey and such. This Farm Sanctuary is also great, if you do go that way.
posted by peagood at 10:40 AM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, folks!

We went to the Pittsford Wegman's *twice* because we were so amazed by it. We literally spent hours there. Super-fantastic!

Also checked out the Eastman House, Parkleigh, Jines for brunch, Anchor Bar for Halloween (and back the next day for more tasty, tasty wings).

Tried to do a haunted hayride, but ran out of time.
posted by chara at 10:54 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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