The drive to the Finger Lakes is a calming experience in and of itself. After you leave the hustle and bustle of New York City, with each mile the grass seems to get a little greener, the sky a little bluer and the clouds a little fluffier. In a few hours you will find yourself amid the gentle surroundings of the Finger Lakes, an area marked by wine, beauty, landscapes and folklore.
Each of the eleven thin, delicate lakes are named in honor of Iroquois tribes native to this area, and legend has it that they were formed when God placed his hand print upon what he thought to be some of the most beautiful land ever created. The region as a whole is indeed beautiful, but winding between them during your exploration, you’ll find each one to be uniquely remarkable.
As you’ll find along your journey, The Finger Lakes region is not only visually stunning, it’s full of wineries that would give those in California a run for their money, museums dedicated to preserving the area’s rich history and fabulous restaurants and hotels given the AAA approval.
AAA-recommended Finger Lakes attractions
Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
One of the dozens of New York State Parks in the Finger Lakes region, Watkins Glen is one of the most well-known and most popular, most likely due to how unique and visually stunning the landscape is. Visitors can hike along the Gorge Trail as it twists along a two-mile stream, bridging over 200-foot cliffs and sneaking behind some of the 19 waterfalls. Camping, swimming and picnic facilities are also available, as are guided tours. Watkins Glen State Park opens for the season in mid-May.
Pleasant Valley Wine Company
The Finger Lakes area is one of the largest and well-respected wine producing regions in the eastern U.S., and no trip here would be complete without a stop at the area’s oldest winery, established in 1860. The site of the Pleasant Valley Wine Company – also known as the Great Western Winery – is home to a historic winery comprised of stone buildings and hillside caverns, as well as the Great Western Winery Visitors Center, which serves as a museum archiving the vineyard’s 140-year past. Tours and tastings take place daily in the warmer months.
Glenn H. Curtiss Museum
Named in tribute to the early-20th century aviation pioneer, motorcycle manufacturer and Hammondsport native, the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum features impressive collections of early aircrafts, motorcycles, bicycles and automobiles. A visit to the museum’s Restoration Shop allows visitors to meet craftsmen and engage with them while they work on current refurbishment projects. AAA members save $1 on regular adult admission.
Corning Museum of Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass houses and preserves one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of glass artifacts in the world. Collections include works dating back 3,500 years and that survey the history of various cultures including the Romans, ancient Egyptians and early Europeans. Museum-goers desiring a little more action can attend the daily glassmaking demonstrations, and those looking to get hands-on should book ahead for a slot in the museum’s “Make Your Own Glass” series of classes. AAA members save 15% on an adult day pass when purchased at the door.
The Rockwell Museum
This museum of American history is an emblem of history itself, housed in the restored former Corning City Hall building, built in the late 19th-century. The museum’s historical lens focuses on the American move westward, a time preserved through the eyes of period artists and celebrated by the organization with its 300-piece permanent collection, much of which is fine art. Special attention is given to the historical impact of Native Americans during this time period, and the museum collection includes a vast compilation of Native American artifacts.
National Museum of Play at the Strong
This museum has its priorities right: it celebrates the history, exploration and art of play with institutions like the International Center for the History of Electronic Games and the National Toy Hall of Fame. Kids can explore Sesame Street and the world of the Berenstain Bears, play shop at the kiddie-sized Wegmans Super Kids Market or take a ride on the carousel or kiddie train. The museum is also home to an aquarium and indoor butterfly garden. AAA members save $1 off admission on each person in their party.
Museum of the Earth
The educational arm of the Paleontological Research Institution, the Museum of the Earth encourages visitors of all ages to explore the planet’s history all the way back to prehistoric times through art displays, fossil collections and hands-on exhibits. Displays include skeletons of a prehistoric whale and mastodon and a giant timeline mural that guides museum-goers through 540 million years of evolution. Visitors to the Prep Lab will observe paleontologists at work, while those to the Fossil Lab will love digging up their own piece of history.
Onondaga Historical Association Museum
Serving to preserve and celebrate the history of Onondaga County, this museum includes paintings, artifacts and displays representing centuries of history. The museum’s Research Center is also available for visitors to conduct their own area-related or genealogical research.
Housed in a restored early 20th century mansion on the estate of famed photography and film pioneer George Eastman, this museum’s collection holds several million items in its 50 rooms, all chronicling the history and evolution of the photography and cinema disciplines and their corresponding technological innovations. Visitors can also stroll through the property’s many gardens or attend a film screening in the museum’s 500-seat theater, and those looking to get hands-on and willing to extend their visit across a few days should register in advance for one of the museum’s workshops on photographic processes. AAA members save $1 per adult admission.
Rochester Museum and Science Center
This museum aims at making science education and technological exploration fun for visitors of all ages through its 200 interactive exhibits. Options include exploring engineering in the Inventor Center, riding a simulator through a virtual reality, or attending a live show at the Electricity Theater. Also on the museum property is the Strasenburgh Planetarium, which features star and laser light shows and where visitors can view the night sky through the technologically advanced telescope.
Hotels in the Finger Lakes
Geneva on the Lake
Overlooking Seneca Lake from its northern tip is Geneva on the Lake. The hotel’s architecture conjures images of an Italian villa with its stunningly and impeccably groomed formal gardens. The interior design includes Italian marble and tapestries and each suite is ornately decorated, some featuring canopy beds while others have wood burning fireplaces. A garden with perfectly trimmed topiary hedges separates the hotel from a 70-foot pool that overlooks the lake.
The Rosewood Inn, a pink, Victorian Tudor-style Bed & Breakfast, with its elegant-chic décor, candlelit meals and afternoon lemonade on the porch, invites guests to take a step back to a simpler era, offering them a respite from the busyness of modern life. Visitors can chose from one of the inn’s seven cozy bedrooms and are welcomed to a daily community breakfast in the antique wood-paneled dining room.
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Set overlooking Seneca Lake from its southern-most tip, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel offers upscale lodging for visitors to the Finger Lakes region. Guests sleep on luxury bedding, have access to an indoor pool and fitness center and enjoy 24-hour room service. They can also enlist the assistance of a concierge to help plan their visits to local wineries, outdoor attractions and other regional activities.
Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars
Each room at the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars has a balcony or patio, perfect for relaxing with a glass of the winery’s best vintage after a long day of traveling. Visitors looking for a true country experience can choose to stay in the property’s Vineyard Cottage, a quaint and cozy two-bedroom escape with a wrap around porch located just steps from the vineyard. Getaway packages that include vineyard tours, wine tastings and meals at the property’s restaurant, Veraisons, are just the thing for those looking to get lost in the country for a few days.
Dining in the Finger Lakes
With its Western-inspired, rustic exterior and biker-bar vibes, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que feels more Texas than upstate New York. The extensive barbeque menu includes chicken, beef and pork selections and live music gives the restaurant an upbeat ambiance. It’s not formal, but it’s ideal for a hearty meal and to unwind in a fun atmosphere after a day of traveling.
Three Birds Restaurant
The menu at Three Birds Restaurant features classic American favorites, such as the signature Toasted Corn and Chesapeake Crab Cakes and selections from the Butcher’s Block, featuring various steak cuts and accompanying sauces. Ingredients are sourced from the finest and freshest sources available. Diners can also choose to enjoy fare from a lighter bar menu and enjoy a drink in the restaurant’s martini bar.
Seneca Harbor Station
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Seneca Harbor Station’s dining room is built within a former 19th-century train station. While the original hardwood floor remains, time has traded ticket windows for a mahogany bar and tracks for windowed walls and a covered deck that offer views of the sunset over Seneca Lake.
There’s nothing like enjoying farm-to-table cuisine sourced from local purveyors and paired perfectly with wine made from regional grapes while gazing out over vineyards and Seneca Lake to truly immerse a diner in the Finger Lakes experience. Menu options at Veraisons include cheese and charcuterie boards as well as vegetarian and vegan entrees, all elegantly plated and served in the dining room or outside terrace.
If you make a quick stop at Ithaca Bakery for a pastry, you’ll soon discover their menu offers much more than bread and scones. The fresh-made soups, deli sandwiches and Grab & Go salads are healthy options for meals on the road during the next leg of your journey.
Did we miss any great Finger Lakes attractions or destinations? Let us know in the comments below.