240 miles NW of New York City; 40 miles E of Corning

Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, may be best known as a laid-back college town, but given its stunning setting on the south shore of 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake, and sandwiched between two incredible gorges, it perhaps deserves to be even better known for its natural beauty. Certainly that's not lost on residents, many of whom cruise around town with T-shirts or bumper stickers that read "Ithaca is Gorges." Ithaca is a cosmopolitan town with many of the amenities of a bigger city, such as good restaurants, bars, and theaters, but few of the hassles -- all of which contributed to its once being ranked as the no. 1 "emerging city" in the U.S., by Cities Ranked & Rated. The city and surrounding Tompkins County abound in beautiful natural areas ripe for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities, while wine fans can follow the Cayuga Wine Trail. Some 15 wineries line the southern (and mostly western) section of the lake, where they are easily accessible from Ithaca.