It took me much longer in life to finally pay a visit to the Finger Lakes region of New York than I’d care to admit. Thankfully, that oversight was recently corrected when I teamed up with the tourism folks there to showcase what makes their part of the world so special. In all honestly, I was blown away by what I discovered, from gorgeous small towns to adventure experiences and of course the wine and food that has made the Finger Lakes so very famous over the years. To share what I think are some of the best experiences in the region, I thought I’d detail what I think comprises the ideal getaway to this remarkable corner of the country.
Corning Museum of Glass
Let’s face it, at first blush the idea of visiting a glass museum doesn’t sound all that exciting. I get it, I felt the same way until I finally visited this remarkable institution and I realized just how wrong I had been. Established in 1951 as a gift to the world by Corning Glass Works, the massive Museum of Glass would take days to fully experience, from learning about the history of glass through the ages to admiring the modern art in a newly designed gallery. Visiting the Corning Museum of Glass is also very much a hands on experience though, and guests can get creative with glass in any number of ways, including working with a glass artist to produce their very own piece to take home. This is one of the best museums I’ve been to and I know that my first visit won’t be my last.
Town of Corning
Also known as America’s Most Fun Small Town, there’s no doubt that Corning is one of the main reasons why people visit the Finger Lakes region and, after only a few minutes, I could easily see why. The main street running through town is as picture perfect as could be produced in a Hollywood backlot, bursting at the seams with restaurants and cafes, shops and boutiques and artists studios, all finding inspiration in a town that has inspired so many before them. There’s also a lot to do in the town, and the museums should be at the heart of the experience. In addition to the Corning Museum of Glass, the smaller Rockwell Museum features one of the best collections of American art in the world, which is just one reason of many why they’re affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
It’s only if you are really into aviation that you’ll know the name Glenn Curtiss, but even if you don’t know his name you’ve benefited from his contributions to the industry. He gave the first public demonstration of the airplane, invented the seaplane and was the first to prove the commercial potential of a lighter than air machine. Basically, if you’ve been in a plane, then you have Curtiss to thank and he grew up and did much of his work the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. The seaplane flight I enjoyed was especially poignant because it took us over Keuka Lake, where the seaplane was invented. Famous for its amazing wine and food offerings, I learned that the natural beauty of the region is just as notable as those outstanding vintages.
The Wine (and beer, and spirits)
At the heart of the Finger Lakes experience for many are the wineries, breweries and distilleries found all around the lakes. For decades, Finger Lakes wines were produced using native grapes and, for the most part, the results were mixed. But then in the 1960s, mimicking global wine trends, vinifera grapes were introduced and the wineries in the region started producing everything from stellar Rieslings to full bodied reds. Today the results speak for themselves and with more than 140 wineries in the Finger Lakes, visitors can try as many of these vintages for themselves as they want. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing wineries to visit, but for a fun and immersive experience stop by Wagner’s on Seneca Lake. Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery produces a wide selection of amazing wines, but they also have a brewery on site that creates just as tasty ales, porters and IPAs. With a large deck overlooking the vines and lake, it’s the perfect spot to sit back and relax.
One of the great byproducts of any notable wine region is the great food which is normally in abundance. That’s certainly the case in the many small communities surrounding the Finger Lakes and my only regret is that I didn’t have more time to eat my way around the region. More than just 3-star dining, the creative chefs at small restaurants and bistros are creating cuisine that is both fun and delicious. One favorite of many was Hand + Foot located in the heart of Corning. This vintage-chic eatery is all about creating a comforting atmosphere where diners will want to actually talk with one another instead of gaze absentmindedly at a TV or a small screen in their hand – crazy, right? Add in a fierce commitment to providing amazing beer and wine and a menu as creative as I’ve ever seen and you have a restaurant that doesn’t just offer amazing food, but a fun experience as well. Another notable favorite is located in another almost impossibly cute small town, Hammondsport. There in the heart of town you’ll see a line of people snaking out the door of one of the region’s best restaurants, Union Block Italian Bistro. This casual, walk-in only restaurant specializes in homestyle Italian and Mediterranean food. But don’t expect chianti bottles with candles, far from it. The food is intensely creative, served with flair and a level of customer service I’d expect to find in the best restaurants in the world. While unassuming from the outside, this should be a must-patronize restaurant for any visitor to the region. What’s even more amazing? These are two of literally scores of amazing restaurants in the Finger Lakes region, all creating remarkable experiences for their guests.
State parks don’t usually rise to the level where people outside of the region have ever heard of them, but there are a few. One of those legendary parks is Watkins Glen and when I found myself nearby while visiting the Finger Lakes region of New York, I knew I had to visit. Attracting curious visitors for more than 150 years, the unique natural beauty is at the core of that fascination. The centerpiece of the park is a 400-foot deep narrow gorge, cut through rock by a stream creating rapids and more than 19 waterfalls throughout the park. Traipsing along the trail, I was joined by hundreds of other people, all eager to be outside and enjoy the cooler weather found in the park. There’s always a sense of wonder and awe when I see a waterfall, and that was certainly the case in Watkins Glen. I don’t know what it is about them that attracts us, but the draw is undeniable. Add in the fact that you can even walk behind one of them, and it’s a fun way to enjoy the great outdoors in a region of New York famous for its natural beauty.
The Finger Lakes region has been a pastoral getaway for generations, and around that continued interest a series of cozy inns and B&Bs have emerged, including the Pleasant Valley Inn. Most famous for its world-class cuisine, the Inn also features four newly remodeled rooms in what can only be called a refined and relaxing setting. Although not a B&B per se, the Inn does offer guests an incredible breakfast every day, made by the same chefs responsible for the fine dining experience in the main restaurant. Freshly made bagels, quiche, yogurt and more, everything is produced in the kitchens of the Inn and, from my experience, make the perfect start to a fun day of exploration.