How to spend an afternoon in the middle of New York State?
July 10, 2021 7:47 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I occasionally need to drive between eastern Connecticut and southwestern Ontario to visit family. We usually break the drive up into two short days, and it's fun to have a half-day activity or attraction in the town where we're spending the night. We've done this a couple of times in the past and we're looking for new ideas. Anywhere in a broad quadrilateral bounded by Rochester, Elmira, Binghamton, and Gloversville might work.

In general, we're looking for something that is a fun and interesting way to spend 2–3 hours in a morning or an afternoon. We have previously made stops at the Corning Museum of Glass (Elmira) and the Women's Rights National Historical Park (Seneca Falls). Since the drives for each day will already be relatively short, we're OK with going a bit out of our way to get to something interesting.

Museum-wise, we enjoy art, history, science, and nature. Large antiques shops/malls are fun. Historic mansions are pretty cool. Outdoor activities are also a good time, though we will occasionally need to make this trip in the winter or in mud season, so it'll be good to have some indoor options as well. Attractions that are open on weekdays are a plus, since some small-town museums tend to have limited hours.

For the purposes of this question, assume that any attractions that were closed due to COVID concerns have re-opened, and that we are fully vaccinated and obeying all travel restrictions that are in place when we make the trip.
posted by Johnny Assay to Travel & Transportation around New York (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Letchworth State Park is well worth a few hours and isn't far from 390. It calls itself the Grand Canyon of the East or something like that, and... nah. It's an impressive gorge though. It's got waterfalls too.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:53 AM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Letchworth State Park is really nice, especially in the fall. They even have cabin rentals.
Buttermilk State Park near Ithaca is a very cool hike, Watkins Glen State Park, and Taughannock Falls State Park, where you can rent a kayak or canoe for an hour or two.
The Arnot Art Museum in Elmira is doable in 1-3 hours, and was open during covid, closed only Sun and Mon but otherwise open 9-5 other days. It is within walking distance of the Chemung County Historical Society and Museum, which is also worth a visit (I do prefer the art museum to the history museum personally, though)
In Rochester, there's the George Eastman (Kodak) Museum.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:56 AM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Rochester and environs: The Strong National Museum of Play

The previously mentioned Eastman. Eastman House (his residence) is also interesting.

Susan B. Anthony House

Sonnenberg Gardens, and indeed Canandaigua itself is lovely to do some walking about.

Down the street from Eastman House and Kodak Museum is the Memorial Art Gallery

ARTISANWorks, which is just fun to walk through.
posted by oflinkey at 8:01 AM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

There are lots of waterfalls in that part of NYS.

Do you know about spiedies? Our lunch stop at Spiedie 'n' Rib Pit in Binghamton is the high point of our drive from PA to the Adirondacks. It's right off exits for both 81 and 88.

1274 Upper, Front St, Binghamton, NY 13901
posted by sevenstars at 8:34 AM on July 10, 2021

I also came in to recommend ARTISANWorks, so consider this a VERY, VERY enthusiastic second. It was the Group Bonding Activity a company I once worked for planned during a company retreat; usually I'm really lukewarm on Group Bonding Activities or company retreats, but I was so excited about this that I actually very nearly missed the bus back to our hotel because I was talking the ear off the owner asking questions.

It was an old warehouse he had converted to an art creation and art display space; there were parts of the warehouse that had been subdivided into studio space for artists to rent out, and then the rest of it had been divvied up into event spaces in all different shapes and sizes, and decorated with all manner of original art and antiques. There was one big banquet room designed to look like an old-timey town square, complete with fake storefronts and shop windows, there were smaller rooms that were meant to look like Victorian gentleman's clubs or ladies' parlors, there was a screening room designed to look like an old drive-in, there was a whole pace that was designed to look like Rick's Bar from Casablanca. And all throughout there were displays of everything from antique cameras to old signs to a complete marionette set from the Federal Theater Project.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's a bit to the east of your concept, but Hancock Shaker Village is a real treasure, and the people there are great. Maybe stop there for your cultural inspiration, and then drive further west for your overnight stay?
posted by mumimor at 9:37 AM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seneca Falls considers itself to be the inspiration for Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life"--there's a museum to visit, and some kind of It's a Wonderful Life festival planned for December 2021.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:08 AM on July 10, 2021

Might be too out of the way in PA but the Kinzua Bridge is really cool and sort of nearby. It was billed as the (an) "eighth wonder of the world" in the 1880s, and now its twisted ruins form a nice lookout above the state park.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:07 AM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Seward House Museum in Auburn is a very pleasant tour experience that includes 19th-century luxury furnishings and art as well as a bloody attempted murder conspiracy. Also there are good restaurants around there.

Skaneateles is a pretty lake and has a little arts/antiques/boutiques strip that is fun to browse around. They have a very nice public library. You could definitely kill a day poking around the shops or renting a canoe.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:00 PM on July 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Roberson Museum in Binghamton is a science museum AND a historic house. You could check out the historic carousels in the area too, if you haven’t already.
posted by wintersweet at 12:44 PM on July 10, 2021

The Genesee Country Village and Museum is a few miles west of Rochester and therefore slightly outside your quadrilateral but it’s so close to the Thruway that I’m going to throw it out there. Residences and shops from all over Western New York were moved to Mumford to make a historical village, where costumed interpreters give historical context to the restored and furnished buildings. I recommend going on a weekend where there is a special event like the Civil War Reenactment or a baseball game, it is more lively when there are crowds.
posted by slmorri at 1:37 PM on July 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

The erie canal museum in Syracuse
posted by brujita at 5:39 PM on July 10, 2021

The Ganondagan State Historic Site includes the Seneca Art & Culture Center ("tells the story of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) contributions to art, culture, and society"), trails, and a full-sized Seneca Bark Longhouse.

Stone Quarry Hill Art Park is an outdoor museum of large-scale sculptures (if you've ever been to Storm King, it's like that but smaller -- very doable in an afternoon).

The Eastman House (George Eastman's 1905 mansion) is indeed really interesting -- it's deeply, deeply weird and definitely worth seeing along with the museum.

Cooperstown is just barely within your geographic range -- they've got the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Fenimore Art Museum, and the Farmers Museum.

Howe Caverns might be just barely within your range, too. It's a fun tour of some really impressive caverns. I highly recommend visiting in the late fall / early spring when there aren't many tourists.
posted by ourobouros at 7:39 PM on July 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also in Auburn, and very close to Seward House Museum mentioned above is the Harriet Tubman Home.

And in Seneca Falls the Women's Rights National Historical Park.

And then there's Ithaca, here's a list of museums. There are also several huge waterfalls, gorges, state parks, a big lake. And great restaurants, including Moosewood if you're into vegetarian cooking and cookbooks.
posted by mareli at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2021

How about a driving tour of central New York's Dead Malls? The site lists a whopping eight malls in the Syracuse area alone. Those empty parking lots and sign-free stained-concrete buildings tell so many stories about the area's prosperity in the '60s through the '80s and the following downward spiral.
posted by morspin at 10:52 AM on July 11, 2021

Do you enjoy wine/wine tasting?

A few suggestions:

Ventosa Vineyards - north end of Seneca Lake/Geneva. Tastings and a lovely deck where you can enjoy a bottle or a meal.

Forge Cellars: east side of Seneca Lake, nearer Watkins Glen. A really interesting (geeky) presentation on the local climate, geology, and vineyards - they specialize in single vineyard Rieslings - with a tasting flight of 5 of their Rieslings and one red.

A pair of vineyards next door to one another, east side of Keuka Lake: Weis Vineyards or Facebook page - winemaker is from a German wine making family. And Domaine LeSuerre, wine maker is French.

Inspire Moore Winery and Roots Cafe in Naples just south of Canandaigua Lake. A personal favorite. If you're interested enough to seek this one out, go for the "tasting for two" option - one tasting of the regular wines and one tasting of the reserves.

I'm showing my area of interest. There are also brewing companies, and more recently distilleries, in the region that similarly offer tastings. Some with dining options.

[Small edit, because I like commas.]
posted by jaruwaan at 12:51 PM on July 11, 2021

My friend’s site might give you some off-the-beaten-path ideas: Exploring Upstate
posted by stefnet at 4:34 PM on July 11, 2021

If you enjoy the outdoors at all, Letchworth State Park is worth the trip.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:48 PM on July 11, 2021

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