How to Spend a Weekend in the Finger Lakes
Objectively, fall is the best time of year. You have crisp mornings, pumpkin spice lattes, and the vibrant foliage. If you don’t like fall, there’s likely something wrong with you. Ok, maybe going to school in upstate New York made me love the magic of fall more than the average person should. Either way, this year, I decided to indulge my nostalgia and planned a road trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York state.
Due to a late drive into Ithaca the previous night, the morning was off to a slow start. Of course, a quick remedy to any sluggish morning is caffeine. Gimme Coffee is fantastic and has been a staple for as long as I’ve known Ithaca. A good selection of single origins and pastries from a local bakery.
With coffee in hand, it’s time to take the day seriously. The first stop is the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. This farmer’s market is open Saturdays and Sundays and is an excellent collection of local artisans showcasing their work. Upstate New York is famous for its apples, so you’re likely to stumble across all different kinds of ciders and apple treats. There are some cash-only vendors there, so beware (there is an ATM, but I’ve seen it out of order occasionally).
After sampling all the market has to offer, time for the next stop, Cornell University. I might be a little biased, but Cornell has one of the most beautiful college campuses around. Perched upon a hill looking over downtown Cayuga lake, riddled with gorges and waterfalls, it’s a great place to take in the fall colors. Every corner is waiting for you to discover another beautiful waterfall or vista.
Aside from nature, there are plenty of other reasons to wander the campus. Try out the Cornell Dairy Bar for some ice cream made right on campus, or perhaps delight your inner child by finding the Harry Potter-esque Uris Library.
After all this wandering around, it’s time for dinner. And by that, I mean beer. Ithaca Beer Co. is another staple in the area. Their Apricot Wheat and Flower Power are the most notable beers, you might even see them in your local grocer. The venue is kind of what you’d expect for a brewery in a rural area, a great outdoor space with games and picnic tables (better suited for warmer weather).
Early start for a long day of hiking, wine, and whiskey tasting. Before we get going though, a quick stop at Collegetown Bagels. This spot is probably one of the most sentimental grub spots during my time at Cornell. Great bagels, sandwiches, coffee, and drinks later in the day (or morning, whatever you’re into). This place borders campus and was the sight of freedom after heading back from classes. Sitting right on a corner with a great outdoor area, it was the best for a pitcher of beer or a snack after class. Unfortunately, after talking with the owners, it sounds like it’ll be moving to a new location after this year, so I’m glad I got to see it one last time.
After coffee and bagels, the drive begins. We head towards Senaca lake, about 30-40 minutes west. On the way, we made a pit-stop for a quick hike at Taughannock Falls. Looking up at this magnificent waterfall, you could see the delicate choreography of the fiery leaves falling through the autumn sky.
The remaining drive to Seneca lake was just as scenic, crossing through rolling hills and country backroads. The Finger Lakes region is teaming with distilleries and vineyards, so the options are endless. We settle on Finger Lakes Distilling for our first stop. We started with a tasting. I got to talk to the owner’s sister. She gave a brief backstory about how her brother started the place a few years back as the first distillery in the area. They have a variety of spirits, ranging the usual gin and whiskey, to liqueurs using fruit from the area. I actually left with a bottle of their Seneca Drum gin because it was too good to pass up. Light, sip-able with notes of cucumber and citrus. Great for a summer day. But it was cold out, so whiskey seemed like a good choice for lunch.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Finger Lakes without a vineyard trip, so onward and upward. We headed just down the street to Silver Springs Winery. Funky vibe and atmosphere at this place. The region is known for its Rieslings, so a few of those snuck into our tasting flights.
To round out the trifecta, it’s brewery time. We head back up the road to Lucky Hare Brewing. A range of beer styles, our flight consisted of an IPA, sour, Belgian tripel, and a stout. Between the live music festival and a lively crowd, it is yet another picturesque location. The beauty of this area really cannot be understated.
As the sun sinks behind the rolling hills and the temperature falls, it’s time to head back to Ithaca. Perfect timing too; after all this drinking, we are feeling a bit peckish. One of my favorite spots is Gorgers, a sandwich shop started by two brothers. I got to know the owners well during my four years in school, much to the dismay of my wallet. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we got back to town.
Ravenous and in need of food, we went to a new pizza joint called Thompson and Bleecker. The pizza was fantastic and the vibe was warm and cozy. A pizza and bottle of wine later, time for some after-dinner cocktails. There was another new spot that opened up recently, The Watershed, and I was eager to check it out. This offered precisely what we wanted. A quiet, casual place for good drink and company. It’s tough to balance visiting your old haunts or experimenting with new places, but we got the best of both worlds so far.
Unfortunately, it’s time to head home. But, in classic Skylar fashion, I manage to find one more brewery to fend off the inevitable drive home. Two hours east in Cooperstown, NY sits Brewery Ommegang. If you’re a beer fan, then you’ve most definitely tried or at least heard of their beer. They do almost exclusively Belgium style beer here and even do limited release specials like their Game of Thrones series. Nestled under a hill, Ommegang uses its beautiful space to host concerts and events.
Sadly, I can only prolong the inevitable. It’s time for a long drive home. At least there were a few hours left to take in the beauty.
There’s nothing quite like fall in the Finger Lakes region. The colors are vibrant, and the small-town feel is tough to beat. I’m partial to Ithaca, but the area is riddled with cute and cozy towns to spend a long weekend. Between the hiking, eating, and drinking, you’re guaranteed to leave enchanted.
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