Must visit towns in the Finger Lakes
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Best Towns in the Finger Lakes
Searching for the best towns in the Finger Lakes? This upstate New York region is made up of eleven lakes, several of which are anchored by charming small towns and cities that are each unique in their own way. Hikers love Ithaca and Watkins Glen for the rugged gorge trails, Seneca Falls and Geneva are steeped in history, and Hammondsport and Skaneateles are quintessential examples of small town America.
The Finger Lakes region is best known as New York’s wine country. There are four established wine trails and dozens of wineries and breweries, so whichever town you visit, you’re within easy reach of lots of locally made craft beverages.
Note that many attractions in the Finger Lakes are seasonal, so always check before you go. Read on to learn more about the best Finger Lakes town and choose the one that’s right for you.
Lovely Hammondsport was voted “Coolest Small Town in America” for a reason. The village is located at the southern tip of Keuka Lake, a body of water shaped like the letter Y and nicknamed the “Crooked Lake” because of it.
The shallow depth makes it the warmest of all the Finger Lakes, something that locals and visitors take advantage of all summer long by jumping off the dock at Depot Park. Another place to swim is just a mile away at Champlin Beach, which offers charcoal grills and a sand beach.
Live music and cultural and community events take place regularly at Hammondsport’s Village Square bandstand. Surrounding the square are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bed-and-breakfasts, many housed in buildings that date back to the 1800s.
Hammondsport is also the ideal homebase if you’re hitting the Keuka Lake wineries. Pleasant Valley Wine Company is the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes and just minutes from the Village Square. Others, like Rooster Hill Vineyards and Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery offer some of the best views in the region.
This village at the southern end of Seneca Lake truly offers a little something for everyone. Plenty of wineries and breweries are just a short drive away. And right in town is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the region: the gorge trail at Watkins Glen State Park.
In just 1.4 miles, you’ll encounter 19 waterfalls cascading into a surreal rocky landscape. If you’re hiking in the summer, cool off afterwards with a dip in the park’s Olympic-sized outdoor pool.
To get out on the lake, book a guided excursion with Seneca Lake Kayak or take a narrated boat tour from Seneca Harbor Station.
The village is also home to Watkins Glen International, a car racetrack popular for their annual NASCAR races. The Finger Lakes Food and Wine Festival, a two-day event featuring local wineries, restaurants, and live music, is also held each year at the racetrack. The diversity of attractions in Watkins Glen easily makes it among one of the best towns in the Finger Lakes.
On the northern shores of Seneca Lake sits the small city of Geneva. Here you’ll find scenic waterfront walks and exceptional farm-to-table restaurants like F.L.X. Table and Kindred Fare.
Lots of great breweries and wineries are nearby, as well as fascinating historical sites. Take a guided tour at Rose Hill Mansion, an 1839 Greek Revival house that was once part of a working farm. Or attend a performance of music, dance, or theater at the Smith Opera House, a historic venue that’s been bringing performing arts to the public since 1894.
History buffs can pleasantly pass a few days in this former mill town, located on the northeast side of Cayuga Lake. It’s best known as being the site of the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. The 1848 event is commemorated at several sites that make up the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
First, stop at the Visitor Center to view exhibits related to the history of women’s rights and women’s suffrage. Next door, step back in time at Wesleyan Chapel, where the Seneca Falls Convention took place.
Nearby, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home is open seasonally for tours. Stanton lived in Seneca Falls with her family and was one of the driving forces behind the Seneca Falls Convention. You can also stand on the spot where Stanton first met fellow suffragette Susan B. Anthony, commemorated by a bronze statue overlooking the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. For more women’s history, stop at the National Women’s Hall of Fame, located inside the former Seneca Knitting Mill.
Seneca Falls is also believed to be the inspiration for the famous fictional movie town of Bedford Falls. To learn more, stop by It’s a Wonderful Life Museum to see film memorabilia and movie scripts, and to find out why Seneca Falls made such an impression on Frank Capra, the film’s director.
If you’re in the Finger Lakes to take advantage of the many hiking options, make Ithaca, located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, your holiday homebase. Begin your adventures at the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, which runs from downtown Ithaca to the campus of Cornell University. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous waterfalls that reach up to 80 feet in height.
Next, head to Robert H. Treman State Park to hike on trails that lead to scenic vistas like the 115-foot-tall Lucifer Falls. And don’t miss Buttermilk Falls State Park, where hikers can follow a gorge trail that parallels the cascading waters of Buttermilk Creek. If you’re up for another picturesque hike, drive ten miles north to Taughannock Falls State Park, where you’ll find one of the highest waterfalls in the state.
Situated on the east side of Cayuga Lake, the village of Aurora is less than a square mile in size and is largely made up of the Inns of Aurora. The resort consists of five separate inns, each located within historical buildings that have been restored and decorated in unique, vibrant styles.
Guests can take a yoga class at the wellness center, participate in a dinner party or tasting, or take a cooking workshop at the demonstration kitchen. There’s also a world class spa where you can revitalize with hydrotherapy and a wide selection of massages.
Note that the bulk of Cayuga Lake wineries are on the opposite side of the lake from Aurora, so if you’re in town for wine tasting, book a wine cruise with Bianconi Tours. They offer daily departures from Aurora to wineries on the western shore.
The village is also home to the headquarters of Mackenzie-Childs. Fans of their distinctively designed ceramics, dinnerware, and furnishings can visit the campus to shop at their retail store, watch a short video on the company’s history, and take a guided tour of a 19th century farmhouse decorated with signature Mackenzie-Childs patterns.
Visitors are drawn to Skaneateles by its small-town friendliness and walkable downtown streets, which are lined with antique stores, gift shops, and boutiques. Lots of cafes and restaurants offer places to refuel after a day of shopping, including long-standing favorites like Doug’s Fish Fry. Many businesses are housed inside restored historical buildings, lending a bygone era nuance to the town.
Skaneateles sits at the northern tip of a lake by the same name, a lake so pristinely clean that it supplies drinking water to area residents. Get a good look at the crystal clear water by taking a stroll down Skaneateles Pier. And if you’re visiting during the holiday season, don’t miss Dickens Christmas, an annual event that takes place on weekends during the holiday season. Highlights include Christmas carol sing-alongs, horse-and-carriage rides, live music, and a Christmas parade.
Is The Finger Lakes a Great Vacation Spot?
Visitors flock to the Finger Lakes for wine tasting, brewery tours, hiking, kayaking, and swimming. They also explore the small towns and cities that make up the heart of this region.
Choosing the best Finger Lakes towns to visit is no easy task but it does leave visitors with endless options of things to do, even for those who return again and again.
By Michele of From Inwood Out
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