Some towns and villages across our Upstate NY region are perfect in a particular season. You know, flowers in the spring, or a winter carnival or fireworks on the 4th of July. And, there are many other places that seem just about perfect no matter what season you visit in. Here are the 10 of the best four-season communities in the region. Pick a date, any date, and go and enjoy. You will be glad you did!
Note: As usual, in this era of Covid-19, please contact your destination ahead, whether it be a hotel, winery, restaurant. Hours may change, places open and close when they are ordered too, and you might have to make a revisit when the pandemic is in our rear view mirror.
This tiny Otsego County village has really done a remarkable job of transforming it from a summer “baseball season” only destination to one which offers something to visitors all year long.
In winter they host two of Upstate’s great winter events, the Farmers Museum Candlelight Evening as well as the Cooperstown Winter Carnival. Both have been around for many years and continue to grow. The winter festival even features events held right on Otsego Lake which is almost always frozen several feet thick in the winter.
In spring, once the laziest of seasons, we now find the village bustling with families coming here in hopes of beating the summer crowds. This has created a specialty season of its own.
Summer belongs to the baseball fans who have been coming here by the millions since the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors over 75 years ago. There is also one of the largest private baseball camps in America, Cooperstown Dreams Park, just south of the village limits which welcomes thousands of families each summer who travel here from all over the country. The Glimmerglass Opera is a cultural jewel of Cooperstown’s that brings the musically inclined to the stunning music venue on the shores of Otsego Lake.
In the fall, watch out for the leaf peepers. They clog the roads, fill the sidewalks and jam the little stores and farm markets which dot the village limits. And don’t forget, just five miles away is the Fly Creek Cider Mill, one of Upstate’s most popular autumn family destinations.
The dining options are plentiful in Cooperstown. For extremes, make sure you visit the historic Otesaga Hotel and Resort. Just three blocks off Main Street, this stunning hotel, built in 1909, occupies 700 feet of pristine frontage on beautiful Otsego Lake. It has nearly 150 sumptuous rooms and several award-winning restaurants. A long “back porch” is lined up with old-fashioned rocking chairs just waiting for you to sit a while and have a bite to eat or a relaxing cocktail. There is also a huge fire pit that is one of the busiest places at the resort on a chilly night.
At the other extreme is the Cooperstown Diner located on the opposite end of Main Street from the Baseball Hall of Fame. This diner is one of the smallest in Upstate New York, seating just a handful of people at its tables and counter stools at once. This is the unofficial center of socializing for year-round residents and a place known for its fresh hot coffee, homemade desserts and oversized hand- pressed hamburgers.
The famed “Glass Capital of the World” has plenty to see for all ages and in all seasons. From urban art crawls to farmers markets to live music festivals and to Christmas parades and festivals, the Gaffer District (named for the actual art of blowing glass) stays busy on weekends all year long.
There are several interesting points of interest in this district. The Palace Theatre has been located here for over 150 years. With its beginnings in live performances through the advent of silent and talkie movies, the theatre has entertained generations of Corning residents. Located right in the middle of the business district, its iconic old-fashioned hanging marquee with its sparkling “Broadway-style” lighting adds a wonderful touch of nostalgia to Corning.
The Rockwell Museum is located one block off busy Market Street. Housed in the historic 19th century Old City Hal, this museum has one of the best American West collections of paintings and fine art in New York State. Some of the artists showcased here include Frederic Remington, Thomas Hart Benton, George Catlin, and Thomas Moran. Modern artists include Andy Warhol and others. The Rockwell is the only Smithsonian Affiliate museum in the state outside of New York City.
The Corning Museum of Glass is always busy, no matter what season. Of special interest is the live glass blowing demonstrations given daily. Also, this museum has perhaps the most beautiful gift shop of any in the state.
More than three dozen restaurants, coffee shops and bars line Market Street offering up many options for meals and fun during a visit to this historic Upstate community.
While the Adirondacks are known as New York’s famed “Vactionland” in the summer, take a special look at beautiful Saranac Lake for some yearlong activities for everyone in the family.
The waterfront activities in the summer, from boating and skiing to tubing and camping, have kept families coming here literally for generations. In the fall there is simply no better place to set camp for your tour of the High Peaks in all their autumnal bliss than right here. Miles of hiking, both recreational and more difficult, cress cross here and are popular during autumn.
The winter months definitely see an uptick in the activity around the village. Several ski slopes are within slaloming distance from here, including the granddaddy of them all, Whiteface Mountain, which is just 15 miles away outside of Lake Placid. The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival began in 1898 and is one of the three oldest such events in America. Thousands attend to witness the remarkable Ica Palace, built from huge chunks of ice pulled from area lakes. The Ice Palace is colorfully lit from within and is the venue for a large fireworks display at the end of the festival.
Spring is the great reawakening of this beautiful region of Upstate and is a perfect time to explore the little village around the region. The famed Hotel Saranac is a perfect place to stay for your spring weekend. This 80-year old landmark, one of the tallest buildings in the Adirondacks, has just reopened after a complete “head to foot” renovation. The hotel still retains all the subdued glamor of the Gilded Age, but now also boasts all the modern amenities that today’s travelers look for. The Hotel Saranac is once again a premier hotel and resort that is very popular for weddings and parties and also as a honeymoon destination for newlyweds.
When visiting in the summer drive a mile north of the village on NY 86 and enjoy an ice cream cone at Donnelly’s. It is one of the oldest roadside ice cream stands in the region (opened in 1953) and serves only twist cones. Thats right, vanilla plus the flavor of the day. Be prepared to stand in line, though. Donnelly’s is so small that only 5 or 6 people can squeeze inside at once. The line that wraps around the property attests to the tastiness of this iconic Adirondack stand.
There is no question that the tiny village of Ellicottville in Cattaraugus County is a rock star in winter. With major ski resorts at your door step, the peak snow months fill this village with tourists from as far away as Canada. But with so many quaint shops lining its streets Ellicottville has also become a four season haven tucked away in the far western corner of New York State.
With a decidedly European feel to it, the village has many specialty shops, brewpubs, sporting goods stores, restaurants and cafes, and entertainment venues to help fill out a full weekend visit.
In the fall be sure and check out Pumpkinville, just five miles south of the village in Great Valley. Here you will find a 200-acre farm and cider mill which grows and sells tens of thousands of pumpkins each year. A great place to bring kids as the venue offers games, rides, play areas and kiddie shows for the youngest guests. Certainly, a busy place in October!
For gaming fun, the Salamanca Allegany Resort and Casino is just 10 miles south of Ellicottville. It is the only gaming resort within 100 miles. And while you are out traveling, Jamestown, the birthplace of Lucille Ball and hoe to the Lucy-Desi Museum, is just 40 minutes west of Ellicottivlle.
So, there is plenty to do in this region, using Ellicottville as your “base camp.” Or just stay in town and have a meal and some fine wine and enjoy the top-class people watching from a sidewalk café.
A fun hub for the village’s socializing crowd is the Ellicottville Brewing Company, established in 1995. Rated as one of the best bars and brewpubs in New York State, they serve up seasonal beer, delicious food and an exciting ambiance for all ages.
For a little more upscale dining experience locals and visitors love Dina’s. With fine foods, a unique Western atmosphere, and one of the best wine lists in this part of New York State.
In the winter there is something going on in virtually every corner of this lakeside city. Winter usually finds some of the nation’s top ice carvers GPS’ing their way to Ithaca to compete for substantial cash prizes at the always fun Ithaca Ice Festival.
Spring brings the return to lakeside activities after a long Upstate winter. Ithaca’s two large universities, Ithaca College and Cornell, bring a wonderful international buzz to the city all year long. Watch for nearly 1,000 runners from all over the world join in at the annual Skunk Cabbage Classic road race which has been held each spring for over 35 years.
The Fall Creek Gorge on the Cornell campus in Ithaca has several waterfalls. Triphammer Falls is a 80ft cascading fall.
The summer means a return to the water. Watch for many of the several of waterfront restaurants, bistros and pubs to open up their outside decks for partying. The BoatYard Grill is popular with residents, students and vacationers alike. The view from the restaurant, which overlooks the Cayuga Inlet leading out to Cayuga Lake, is one of the best in the city.
One of America’s largest outdoor urban pedestrian areas, The Ithaca Commons, is host to stores, cafes, bars, one-of-a-kind retail shops and some great festivals. In the summer be sure and stop at Purity Ice Cream for a cone or shake. The ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca in 1892 and Purity, which has been open in downtown Ithaca since 1936, serves up one of the best.
In the fall, it’s time for the venerable Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, over three decades old and now one of Upstate’s largest, becomes a magnet for autumn lovers who come by the carload (and busload). Thousands attend this fun weekend festival.
This town of 16,000 boasts a whole variety of different cities in one.
It is an artist’s haven, a nature lover’s destination, a college town (University of Niagara), a historic location (the final stop for hundreds of fleeing slaves heading to Canada), a wine destination with nearly a dozen fine NYS wineries close by; a religious mecca (the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima attracts thousands of visitors each year); a powerful powerhouse (the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant here is the largest hydropower generator in North America); it’s an important gateway (the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is the fourth busiest bridge from the United States into Canada), and, well, you get the idea. This is a fascinating little city on the water’s edge just a few miles up from the excitement and tumult of mighty Niagara Falls.
Lewiston is home to dozens of fine restaurants, including several serving up international cuisine. One of the most popular eateries is The Silo. This is a large silo that held the coal which powered the river steamships from a hundred years ago. Abandoned in the 1950s, the structure is now a well-known restaurant landmark. A wrap around deck on the silo affords diners a wonderful panorama of the waterfront activities.
So, Lewiston a four-season city? Sure. Oh, and one other great little piece of Lewiston trivia. The village is the birthplace of the cocktail.
Legend has it that the owner of Hustler’s Tavern here played “both sides of the fence” in the War of 1812. Because of this, her tavern was about the only structure left standing when the village was burned to the ground. When the Americans won the war, they celebrated by bringing the tavern any game fowl they could find to be cooked up and served to the soldiers. The owner, Catherine Hustler, plucked the tail feathers from the cocks and placed them in the stiff drinks she served up to the victorious army. She called the drinks “cocktails.”
There is no prettier community in the spring than the Catskill destination of Woodstock. The mountains are coming alive with leaves and the grass and fields along the rivers and streams are lush green at this time. The village has many weekend events during this season to “lure you back” after a long winter.
In the summertime little Woodstock, population about 6,000, doubles in size (or even more). Parking spots are few and far between as fun seekers come here for outdoor concerts, shopping, dining, and other little adventures, including swimming holes. Woodstock boasts several great coffee and beverage shops, like The Tea Shop of Woodstock. They sell exotic teas of all kinds and stock a full supply of accessories for the kitchen. Book lovers will enjoy wandering the little book stores, many which schedule readings by local authors (not a hard thing to do since Woodstock is a writer’s colony). The Golden Notebook on Tinker Street has been a staple here since 1978.
Many use Woodstock has a base for their fall exploring during the Catskill’s legendary autumn, and the village is well placed in the heart of Catskill ski territory. Yes, no matter what the season, Woodstock lives up to its nickname: “The Most Famous Small Town in the World.”
One of Upstate New York’s most popular and historic “small towns.” In every season.
In the winter, the downtown is filled with shoppers, skiers on their way to and from the ski slopes in the Adirondacks, and lots of first-time visitors. One of the great food festivals in the state is held here in February. ChowderFest features dozens of restaurants out in the chilly air selling small cups of homemade chowder to benefit charity. You want regular chowder? You can find it. You want rattlesnake chowder? You can find it. The public judging gets pretty intense as there are just so many flavors to choose from. Tens of thousands of visitors pour into town for this fun family festival.
In the summer it is obvious. As the saying goes, “Saratoga is the August place to be.” Huge throngs fill the stands and the grounds of the historic Saratoga Race Course for the best racing season in the East. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center attracts national music acts, dance performances and philharmonic orchestras.
The fall brings its crazy quilt of blazing colors and the spring brings about thousands of tulips, flowering trees and bushes in the beautiful, landscaped grounds in the city’s several parks.
A fun, beautiful and historic four-season town.
Although this is Upstate New York’s third largest city (behind New York City and Buffalo), it is not hard to catch a small-town vibe here in the winter. Evening ice skating in Manhattan Square Park in downtown is a perfectly lovely way to spend a frosty night with the whole family. In fact, start your afternoon off with a visit to the Strong National Museum of Play and its Toy Hall of Fame located right on the square. The city routinely gets “kissed” by the notorious lake effect snowstorms off the Great Lakes so winter sports are very popular here just outside the city’s boundaries. Both Brantling and Bristol Mountain ski resorts are only an hour from Downtown Rochester.
In the spring, the Rochester Lilac Festival brings thousands of visitors to one of the largest floral festivals in the country. The scent from the 1,200 rich, lavender lilac blooms fills the air each year in May.
Summertime hosts the Corn Hill Arts Festival, now 50 years old. Corn Hill is Rochester’s oldest neighborhood and the streets come alive with hundreds of works of art on display to the backdrop of a rainbow of live musicians and singers. You can sit and enjoy the festival at a comfortable beer and wine garden in the neighborhood too.
Autumn might be the busiest of all the seasons in “The Flower City.” With everything from the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes nearby, the fall foliage tours here are among the best in the state. Don’t forget to take a ride on the Colonial Belle, a 149-passenger boat which goes through downtown Rochester for regularly scheduled foliage tours. Book early–these canal boat dinner cruises are very popular.
For beer lovers, don’t miss the Genesee Brew House. Home to one of Upstate’s iconic beers, Genny Founded in 1878, the brew house is located in a 100-year old Genesee packaging plant at the original brewery. The building holds several floors of museum space, gift shops, a classic brew pub with great food and a rooftop viewing area which overlooks the iconic “high falls” of the Genesee Rover (the falls are colorfully lit at night).
It is almost impossible to pick the prettiest of the many Finger Lakes towns. But, if such a poll was taken, Skaneateles would surely either win or be near the top.
The village has a busy main street lined with specialty shops, high end brand name stores, restaurants, cafes and more. The business district has a magical backdrop to this quaint setting, the clear blue waters of Skaneateles Lake. The lake has mansions on each shore, an active boating scene, a pretty park with benches and a band gazebo, and a long pier which allows you to walk far out above the lake to enjoy a 360-view of the surroundings.
The western end of the three block Main Street is anchored by the historic Sherwood Inn, now over 225 years old. The majestic inn has some of the best dining facilities in town, the rooms are gorgeous, the service superb and the food, from breakfast to dinner, is fabulous.
At a different end of the scale, try Doug’s Fish Fry. Not your ordinary fish shack, this is actually a food destination to many. Serving fish fry dinners and fish sandwiches in a non-glitzy setting, this has become a bit of a Skaneateles landmark. Doug’s opened in 1982, and expect long wait times during the summer tourist season.
At Christmas time the village hosts what may be the best Charles Dickens Victorian Stroll in the state. Dozens of actors in period garb stroll the sidewalks, engaging the large crowds of holiday shoppers, and join together in the lakeside gazebo to spontaneously break out in Olde English holiday carols. Be careful, though, because if you should run into Ebenezer Scrooge (and you will) you will be asked to “pay your rent, sonny!”
Fun in all seasons, Skaneateles is one of Upstate’s great gems.
More on NYup.com: