The top attraction in town is probably Cornell University, a handsome Ivy League school on 745 acres, which sits high on a hill in so-called "Collegetown," from which it surveys the rest of Ithaca and the splendid stripe of Cayuga Lake that stretches northward. On campus, the top public draw is the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (University Ave.; tel. 607/255-6464; www.museum.cornell.edu; Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; free admission), a modern cement structure designed by I. M. Pei (1973). The museum counts more than 30,000 pieces in its collection, with particular strengths in Asian art (ranging from antiquity to contemporary artists from Japan, China, India, and the Himalayas and Middle East), as well as prints and photographs. The museum hosts interesting traveling exhibitions, but even visitors without strong interests in art shouldn't miss the unsurpassed fifth-floor views of Cayuga Lake and the gentle hillsides surrounding Ithaca. Across the street from the museum is a path that leads down to a suspension bridge over Fall Creek Gorge, one of two beautiful and deep gorges that frame the Cornell campus, and Beebe Lake. The trails around the gorge and lake are popular with sunbathing students who make their way down to the water. Find your way to Ithaca Falls and stand near the cascading falls that rush down tiers of stone 100 feet high and 175 feet wide. The most visible building on campus, McGraw Tower, is known for the Cornell Chimes, an old school tradition played daily by students and alumni (for information about chimes concerts, call tel. 607/255-5330). Cornell campus tours are available by calling tel. 670/254-INFO.
East of Beebe Lake is the university's museum of living plants, Cornell Plantations (1 Plantations Rd., Cornell University; tel. 607/255-2400; www.plantations.cornell.edu; daily 9am-6pm; free admission), a real find and well worth a visit for garden lovers or anyone seeking a bit of solace. The public is welcome to visit the botanical garden, wildflower garden, and Newman Arboretum, which specializes in New York State trees and shrubs, as well as any of the 3,000 acres of natural areas in and around the campus (which contains more than 9 miles of walking trails). Of particular interest are the orderly herb garden with raised theme beds (herbs are grouped according to usage) and a quiet knoll area that contains more than 300 species of rhododendrons. Free "drop-in tours" are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and there are other walks and classes available; check the schedule online for events. Part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the Sapsucker Woods Bird Sanctuary (159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., off Rte. 13, Ithaca; tel. 800/843-BIRD; www.birds.cornell.edu; Mon-Thurs 8am-5pm, Fri 8am-4pm, and Sat 10am-4pm; trails open daily; free admission), housed in a fabulous new building within the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary, home to many different bird species. An observatory, a bird-feeding garden, trails, and a multimedia theater that allows visitors to hear birds in surround sound will appeal to hard-core birders.
Just 7 miles north of Ithaca, in Trumansburg along the west side of Cayuga Lake, is one of the region's most beautiful sights. Tucked in Taughannock Falls State Park (Taughannock Park Rd./Rte. 89 N.; tel. 607/387-6739) is the highest free-falling waterfall in the eastern U.S.; at 215 feet, it is higher even than Niagara Falls. You can drive up to a lookout or hike in from the entrance to the park (the hike is an easy, flat .75-mile walk). The falls are best viewed in spring and fall; in summer there is often very little water and visitors are inevitably disappointed. Summer concerts are held in the park.
Ithaca Festival -- If you're lucky enough to find yourself in Ithaca the first weekend after Memorial Day, you'll stumble upon an event that reveals the community-based soul of this college town, during the lively and friendly annual Ithaca Festival, which has been put on in charming low-key fashion since the late 1970s. The opening parade on Friday is a wacky classic, including adults parading as dancing tofu, kids dressed up like compost piles, and the hilarious Volvo Ballet, complete with tutus wrapped around boxy station wagons. Call tel. 607/273-3646 or visit www.ithacafestival.org for information.
Cayuga Wine Trail
The Cayuga Wine Trail (tel. 800/684-5217; www.cayugawinetrail.com) comprises a grouping of 16 small wineries clustered around Cayuga Lake. As the first wine trail in New York State, it has served as the model for the three other Finger Lakes wine trails. A tour of the wineries on the west side of Cayuga (all but two on the trail) could easily be combined with visits to wineries on the east side of Seneca Lake. Among those welcoming visitors for tours and tastings are (listed in order from south to north on each bank of the lake):
- Long Point Winery, 1485 Lake Rd., Aurora (tel. 315/364-6990; www.longpointwinery.com), is one of the few Finger Lakes wineries that might make better dry reds -- including merlot, cabernet franc, and Syrah -- than whites. The farmhouse tasting room has great long views of Cayuga Lake (Mon-Thurs 10am-5pm, Fri-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5:30pm; closed Jan).
- Lucas Vineyards, 3862 C.R. 150, Interlaken (tel. 800/682-WINE; www.lucasvineyards.com), Cayuga Lake's oldest winery, is a family-owned operation with a farmhouse tasting room and attractively landscaped gardens with great water views. Don't mind some wines' cutesy names ("Miss Behavin'"; "Miss Chevious -- a Nautie white"; Jan-Apr Mon-Sat 10:30am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm; May-Dec Mon-Sat 10:30am-5:30pm, Sun noon-5:30pm).
- Sheldrake Point Vineyard & Simply Red Lakeside Bistro ★★, 7448 C.R. 153, Ovid (off Rte. 89) (tel. 866/743-5372 or 607/532-9401; www.sheldrakepoint.com), has one of the more appealing compounds on a mid-19th-century farmstead, with a nice lakeside restaurant serving lunch and dinner (May-Oct) and outdoor seating, a professionally run tasting shop, and handsomely designed labels. I quite like their dry Riesling and cabernet franc (Jan-Mar daily noon-5pm; Apr-Dec daily 11am-5:30pm).
- Hosmer Winery, 6999 Rte. 89, Ovid (tel. 607/869-3393; www.hosmerwinery.com), produces some of the finest dry Rieslings in the region. The tasting room and gift shop are the antithesis of slick, but fans of cool-climate whites are in for a treat. Try the Vintner's Reserve Riesling, the award-winning dry and semidry Riesling, and the dry rosé (Apr-Dec Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm; Jan-Mar Fri-Sun noon-4pm, Mon-Thurs by appt.).
- Goose Watch Winery, 5480 Rte. 89, Romulus (tel. 315/549-2599; www.goosewatch.com), has a relaxed tasting room in an old barn and excellent views of the lake, a picnic deck, and boat docking -- not to mention an interesting selection of premium wines, including a number of unusual varietals you may never have heard of, like Diamond, Chambourcin, Lemberger, Villard Blanc, Melody, Rosé of Isabella, and Traminette, as well as pinot gris, viognier, and white port (year-round daily 10am-6pm).
- Swedish Hill Vineyard, 4565 Rte. 414, Romulus (tel. 888/549-WINE or 315/549-8326; www.swedishhill.com), is a family-owned operation that offers a very large selection of wines, including chardonnay, Riesling, port, and brandy (year-round daily 9am-6pm; guided tours May-Oct weekdays 1 and 3pm, weekends noon, 2, and 4pm).
Especially for Kids
Families will enjoy a visit to Sciencenter, 601 First St. (tel. 607/272-0600; www.sciencenter.org), a hands-on science museum with a walk-in camera, outdoor playground, "piano stairs," and other exhibits that will entertain children. It's open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sunday from noon to 5pm (July-Aug, also Mon 10am-5pm; admission $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children 3-17, free for children under 3). The museum's Sagan Planet Walk is an outdoor scale model of the sun and nine planets, built as a memorial to Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan. The walk starts at The Commons in downtown, goes along Willow Avenue and Cayuga Street, and ends at Sciencenter, about 3/4-mile away; kids can get a passport to the solar system stamped at stations along the way and earn free admission to Sciencenter.
The Museum of the Earth (at the Paleontological Research Institution), 1259 Trumansburg Rd. (tel. 607/273-6623; www.museumoftheearth.org), is an 18,000-square-foot interactive exhibit and education facility dedicated to the 3.5-billion-year history of life on Earth. It displays one of the country's largest fossil collections, including the skeleton of the Hyde Park Mastodon and a 500-foot mural, "The Rock of Ages, Sands of Time." It's open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm and Sun 11am-5pm; the rest of the year, Mon and Thurs-Sat 10am-5pm and Sun 11am-5pm. Admission is $8 for adults and teens, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children 3 to 12 (free for children under 3).
Children will enjoy the opportunity to climb high into the forest canopy on the TreeTops observation tower at The Cayuga Nature Center, 1420 Taughannock Blvd. (Rte. 89; tel. 607/273-6260). The falls, trails, and swimming at Taughannock Falls State Park are also popular with kids of all ages.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.