I’m always shocked when I hear of East Coast residents who’ve never visited the Finger Lakes. There’s obviously more buzz surrounding the big apple than Upstate New York, but let’s be real.
There’s so much to do in the Finger Lakes region, and you’re missing out big time if you don’t explore it. Check out these best things to do in the Finger Lakes, and prepare yourself for a full guide to the Finger Lakes region ready at your service. The only question that you’ll have left at the end is, “So, when are we going?”
This post was written by Holly. Holly is a twenty-something year old travel and lifestyle blogger at hollyhabeck.com. She’s also a photographer, internet marketer, explorer, fiancee, dog mama, and Vampire Diaries fanatic.
Why visit the Finger Lakes
If you haven’t ever experienced the Finger Lakes, or if you’ve never heard much about the area, you might not truly understand the wonder of this region. If you live in a big city though, you’ll immediately notice the slower pace of the Finger Lakes region. You’ll find yourself immersed in nature and awestruck by the beauty of each and every place you visit.
There’s an abundance of open fields, beautiful waterfronts, and family farms to admire and enjoy. Not to mention, the Finger Lakes region is extremely well known for its great food and wine. If that doesn’t draw you in, I’m not sure what will.
Where to stay in the Finger Lakes
For something special and romantic, consider staying at the Belhurst Castle along Geneva Lake, one of the lesser known lakes in the region. This 1880s stone castle is widely considered one of the most romantic places to stay in the Finger Lakes. My parents stayed here and loved it.
If you prefer not to drive, it’s easy to avoid driving much by staying in Ithaca and take a wine tour out to the nearby Finger Lakes. Ithaca is a very walkable town with lots of great food and good public transit, perfect for a weekend relaxing in the Finger Lakes. (Keep reading for where to eat!) You can stay on the grounds of Cornell at its hotel school’s 5* hotel or at a reasonable hotel in town.
The best things to do in the Finger Lakes
Art and culture
One of my favorite things to do in this region is visit the local museums. The Finger Lakes is known for wonderful arts and entertainment, so make sure you take advantage of this.
A few of my favorite museums include the Genesee Country Museum, the George Eastman House, and Artisan Works. The Genesee Country Museum is a charming historical village, which I’ve been going to since I was a kid. I’d highly recommend this if you’re a history lover like me!
The George Eastman house is really neat too, obviously because of who George Eastman was, but also because it takes you to downtown Rochester. Artisan Works is also located in Rochester, and it’s a phenomenal, eclectic collection of art and random things that is bound to entertain even people who generally dislike visiting museums.
Another thing to experience is of course the music here in the Finger Lakes. Rochester, NY is home to the world renowned Eastman School of Music. There’s concerts going on there all the time, and it’s a great way to soak in the local culture and art.
Ithaca, NY is also home to Ithaca College, which boasts a wonderful, internationally recognized music program. Grab a seat at one of the many Ithaca College performances, or check out a show at the Hangar Theatre for a real treat.
Editor Wanderlustingk also recommends taking a tour of Cornell’s stunning campus. Cornell’s campus is absolutely beautiful with gorges hidden within the grounds and leafy campus that is beautiful in fall.
Gorges, falls, and hiking
One of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes is to enjoy the outdoors. There’s dozens of great hiking trails in this region, and you absolutely must explore the gorges in Ithaca. (….They’re gorgeous.)
Some of my favorite waterfalls include Taughannock Falls and Buttermilk Falls. Find a swimming hole too while you’re in town, as this is a classic Ithaca activity you won’t want to miss out on!
You of course also want to spend time on the actual lakes while you’re here too, so don’t forget to get out on the water. Rent a kayak, paddle board, etc., and get ready for a wonderful, active afternoon on one of our awesome lakes.
The best restaurants in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region is home to some pretty amazing local breakfast spots. One of the best restaurants in the Finger Lakes, or at least my personal favorite, is Simply Crepes. There’s a few different locations, but the one in Canandaigua makes sense for this guide since you can hit up Canandaigua Lake while you’re there, too. There’s only one bad thing about this eatery — it’s almost impossible to choose between the delicious sweet fruit crepes and the savory selections! They’re both mouth-watering good.
If you’re looking for a casual breakfast, try Ithaca Bakery or Collegetown bagels. Waffle Frolic is another great choice if you’re in Ithaca. After all, who can pass up a waffle bar? Other favorites include Village Bakery, The Owl House, and Steve’s Diner.
Believe it or not, several of the above restaurants above also serve pretty mean lunch selections. Collegetown Bagels was my go-to during college for the perfect quick sandwich. There’s so many options, you’re bound to find something you like.
Aladdin’s Natural Eatery is also great for mediterranean food, and Ithaca Beer Co. is a always a solid option. Magnolia’s is another tasty choice if you want to get away from the countryside for a minute and explore downtown Rochester. It’s especially a neat trip, as President Obama actually at here once when he visited town…there’s even a sandwich named after him!
Hands down, my favorite dinner spot in the Finger Lakes is the John Thomas Steakhouse in Ithaca. I discovered this place in college, and it has haunted me (in the best way possible) ever since. Though this is definitely not a budget friendly option, the food is some of the best I’ve ever eaten and it’s absolutely worth it if you’re in the market for a fancier meal.
Other great dinner spots include The Ale House for burgers, and Mahogany Grill, Tony D’s, Zaza’s, and Mr. Dominic’s on Main for Italian.
The best wineries in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes is known for its many wonderful wineries. As always, the editors at Wanderlustingk remind you to use caution in avoiding drinking and driving by ensuring that there is a designated driver!
Of the Finger Lakes wineries I’ve visited, I’ve never been so impressed as I was at Three Brothers Winery. All I need to say is this…get the wine slushie! You won’t regret it a bit. Other great options include Ventosa, Fox Run Vineyards, Zugibe Vineyards, and Casa Larga.
I’d also recommend taking an actual wine tour while you’re in the area! There’s no better way to really experience all that the Finger Lakes has to offer in terms of wineries as you don’t need to worry about driving!
Check out more of the best wineries in the Finger Lakes in this post on the Seneca Lake wine trail.
Editor Karen’s opinion about the best Finger Lakes wineries
One of my favorite regions of New York State is the Finger Lakes. I’ve visited in many seasons, however there is no more stunning season than fall when all the leaves are turning. One of the hardest decisions is choosing which lake. I’ve visited Keuka as well as Seneca Lake, which provide different experiences.
Hammondsport is perfect for a cozier weekend doing wine tastings in the cute town, however I usually visit Keuka lake for Heron Hill as well as Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery. Konstantin Frank, who earned a Ph.D from Cornell, is part of the reason why the Finger Lakes wine region exists as he experimented until he found European grape plants capable of surviving the winters. Their ancient series is my favorite!
Along Seneca Lake, you’ll find more fun wineries although I especially enjoy the wine of Hermann J. Wiemer Winery, one of the best rated riesling producers in the area. For a snack, stop off at F.L.X. Wienery for locally sourced food with wine (of course). Glenora is also a classic stop-off!