Day Trips and More
Touring Close to Home
The Judge Ben Wiles offers tours on Skaneateles Lake.
Photo by Christine A. Smyczynski
Late summer is the perfect time to be a “tourist at home” and plan some local day trips or nearby overnight getaways. There are countless places you could travel to in and around Western New York. Highlighted below are a handful of places, including ideas for three-day trips close to home, a longer day trip or overnight getaway, and an itinerary for a multi-day driving trip just a few hours from Buffalo.
Located about twenty miles southeast of Buffalo, the quaint village of East Aurora is a great place to spend the day or go for an overnight getaway. The village is rich in history, having once been the home to Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth President of the United States, as well as the birthplace of the Roycroft Arts & Crafts Movement.
East Aurora has a wonderful, walkable Main Street shopping district, with many boutiques and restaurants. Allow time to visit Vidler’s 5 & 10, one of the village’s most beloved landmarks; just look for the red and white awning and the “Vidler on the Roof.” This 16,000-square-foot, two-level store has been family owned since the 1930s. You’ll find loads of interesting items here, including books, toys, clothing, housewares, craft supplies, home décor, and even old-time candies.
If history is more your thing, visit the Millard Fillmore House Museum, a National Historic Landmark open for tours during the summer. Fillmore was one of the town’s early settlers; he arrived there in 1823 to study law and teach school.
Roycroft Arts & Crafts Movement was founded by Elbert Hubbard in 1890. More than 500 craftsmen were part of this self-contained community. Now the fourteen-building campus is a designated National Historic Landmark. Hubbard opened the Roycroft Inn in 1905 to accommodate visitors; today it is fully restored and continues to welcome guests with fine dining and luxurious overnight accommodations.
Outside of the village you may want to check out the Marilla Country Store, which has been in operation since 1851, and the Made in America Store in Elma, which sells products only made in America.
Located along the historic Erie Canal, Lockport boasts the only double set of locks along the entire canal, be sure to watch them in operation. When the canal was first built in 1825, there was originally a flight of five locks going up and a flight of five locks going down to get past the Niagara Escarpment. However, in the early 1900s, one set of five locks was replaced with the double locks to accommodate larger boats; the other set was left as a landmark. Recently, this flight of five was renovated, complete with a replica packet boat, in operation on Saturday summer mornings.
Attractions in Lockport include Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises, offering excursions on the canal. You can also take a tour of the Lockport cave with the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride. To learn about Lockport’s history, visit the Erie Canal Discover Center or the Niagara County History Center.
Adjacent to the locks is the aptly named Flight of Five Winery, located in Lockport’s old City Hall. Also in the same building is Stooges, a great burger restaurant. Other notable restaurants in town include the Shamus and Danny Sheehan’s, both known for fine dining, and Reid’s, which has casual fare. Places to shop include Windsor Village Shops, featuring items made by local artisans and the Tattered Tulip, located north of Lockport, selling antiques and home décor.
If you travel about twenty-five miles east from Lockport along the Erie Canal, you’ll come to the village of Medina, which is a great place to spend several hours. Many of the buildings in the village, which date back to the 1860’s, are made from locally quarried Medina sandstone.
Railroad aficionados will want to visit the Medina Railroad Museum, located in a 1905 wooden freight house. At 300 feet long and 34 feet wide, it’s one of the largest of its kind in the United States. All sorts of railroad memorabilia is on display, including one of the largest HO-scale layouts in the country. Rail excursions are offered from the museum on a limited basis.
Places to eat in Medina include Zambistro, known for upscale Italian cuisine and the Shirt Factory Café, located in the former Newell Shirt Factory Building. When in Medina be sure to visit the Canal Country Artisans, a co-op that features handcrafted items and gifts.
A unique attraction in Medina is the Erie Canal Culvert on Culvert Road, just east of the village. Built in 1825 to avoid the expense and time needed to build a bridge, it is the only place along the Erie Canal where motorists can drive under the canal.
Longer day trip/overnight getaway
Findley Lake in Chautauqua County is the westernmost town in New York State. Located about 90 minutes from Buffalo, on the northern end of three mile long Findley Lake; it is a popular year-round destination where you could easily spend a day or more. Fishing and boating are popular summer activities. In the winter, folks enjoy skiing at nearby Peek n Peak Resort, which also features warm weather activities like golfing, zip lining, Segway tours, and swimming in indoor and outdoor pools. Peek n Peak offers a variety of overnight accommodation, from hotel rooms to whole homes for rent.
Although the actual village of Findley Lake is quite small, there are several retail shops that make the trip to the village worthwhile. The Secret Cubby of Antiques is a huge store that one could easily spend hours browsing in. Our Own Candle Company has a huge selection of home décor, gift items, clothing, and accessories. Across the street, their outlet store has candles and home décor items at discounted prices because of barely noticeable minor imperfections.
Route 5 & 20
If you are looking for a multi-day driving trip that’s not too far away, check out Route 5 & 20, which has been dubbed “An Authentic American Road.” You can explore quaint towns and villages along this route that began thousands of years ago as a Native American footpath. Later, the early pioneers used it as a major east-west route. It remained a major thoroughfare until the New York State Thruway was built in the 1950’s. While it is the road less traveled, it remains popular with those seeking to explore the backroads of the state.
Begin this drive in Avon, which is about an hour east of Buffalo. Stop by Tom Wahl’s to enjoy a burger and mug of root beer in a frosty glass. If you’re craving more upscale dining, check out the Holloway House in Bloomfield, which was originally built in 1808 as a stagecoach stop. There are also several antique shops located in Bloomfield.
You may want to stay overnight in Canandaigua, as there are numerous attractions there, including Sonnenberg Gardens, a 50 acre estate once the summer home of Frederick Thompson, one of the founders of Citibank. The Granger Homestead, which is open for tours, was the home of Gideon Granger, the first postmaster general. You can enjoy the lake by taking a cruise on the Canandaigua Lady or take a walk along the city pier. You can even sample locally produced wines and beers at the New York Wine and Culinary Center or enjoy shopping and dining along Canandaigua’s Main Street, the widest Main Street in the country.
Geneva, on the shores of Seneca Lake, is located 10 miles east of Canandaigua. Attractions here include Rose Hill Mansion, a 20 room Greek Revival mansion built in 1839 that is open for tours. There are many wineries located along Seneca Lake, including one at Belhurst Castle, which also offers upscale dining and overnight accommodations. Another upscale hotel is Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Continue on Routes 5 & 20 to Waterloo, where you can visit the National Memorial Day Museum. The next stop is Seneca Falls, home to the Women’s Rights Movement as well as the inspiration for the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While here visit the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Women’s Rights Historical Park, and the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum.
The next stop along the route is Auburn. If you’re a fan of the outdoors, check out the Bass Pro Shop. History buffs will want to visit the National Historic Landmark Seward House Museum, home to William Seward, who served as Secretary of State under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. Other National Historic Landmarks in Auburn include the Harriett Tubman House and the Willard Memorial Chapel, which has the only complete interior designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The last stop on this drive is the quaint village of Skaneateles, on the northern shores of Skaneateles Lake. Take a scenic boat cruise on the Judge Ben Wiles to enjoy the lake. There are also many gift shops, boutiques, and art galleries to browse through along the main streets of the village.
When hunger strikes, stop by the iconic Doug’s Fish Fry, one of the most popular places to eat in the village; they have been serving fresh seafood since 1982. Overnight accommodations include the Sherwood Inn, which overlooks the lake. If you’re looking for some pampering, stay at the MIrbeau Inn and Spa, which was voted one of the top 10 resorts in New York State by Conde Nast Traveler.
All of these trips, plus several more, are described in greater detail in author Christine Smyczynski’s book, Backroads and Byways of Upstate New York. www.christinesmyczynski.com