This itinerary covers a large swath of central and western New York. It begins with the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes, a series of deep, slender bodies of water formed by glaciers many thousands of years ago at the end of the ice age. The local wine industry, the state's biggest, is deservedly winning accolades for its cool-climate wines, and a tour of the wineries hugging the banks of the lakes is one of the most scenic (and delicious) trips in the state. You'll see more scenic beauty at the spectacular gorges of Watkins Glen and Letchworth, as well as the world-famous Niagara Falls. Start: Ithaca (Cayuga Lake).
Day 1: Ithaca
Hugging the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is an attractive, relaxed college town with a superb setting, and it's a good place to start your tour of the region. In the morning, visit the campus of Ivy League Cornell University, which sits on a hilltop above town. Its Johnson Museum of Art has a particularly strong collection of Asian art and spectacular fifth-floor views of Cayuga Lake. From the museum, you can take a short walk along a path leading to a suspension bridge over deep Fall Creek Gorge. Also part of the university is Cornell Plantations, a wonderful spot for garden lovers. Head down the hill for lunch downtown at either a spot near Ithaca Commons, such as Just a Taste Wine & Tapas Bar, or Moosewood. After lunch, take a stroll around The Commons, the pedestrian zone of shops, galleries, and restaurants.
In the afternoon, families will enjoy a visit to Sciencenter, a hands-on science museum with a walk-in camera, outdoor playground, and "piano stairs." The Sagan Planet Walk is an outdoor scale model of the sun and nine planets, built as a memorial to Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan. Have dinner in town at Maxie's. Alternatively, if you want to see some of southern Cayuga Lake, take the 7-mile drive up Route 89 to Taughannock Falls State Park, with an easy hike to a free-falling waterfall that outdoes even Niagara Falls. You could then head up to Sheldrake Point Winery, along Route 96, for dinner at Simply Red Lakeside Bistro.
Day 2: Wineries of Cayuga & Seneca Lakes
If you didn't visit Taughannock Falls State Park on Day 1 , you can catch it on your way to exploring the wineries that dot Cayuga Lake.
Getting a taste of the Finger Lakes means exactly that: tasting some of the excellent wines that come from this respected viticultural region. Starting out on the west side of Cayuga Lake, you can visit a few of the wineries that belong to the Cayuga Wine Trail and several on the east side of Seneca Lake, part of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Sheldrake Point, Hosmer, and Goose Watch, all about halfway up Route 89 on the west side of the lake, are some of our favorites on Cayuga. Head south along Route 414 past Lodi to visit some of the wineries belonging to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, such as Lamoreaux Landing, Wagner, Standing Stone, and Red Newt. Depending on which wineries you visit and the hour, Sheldrake Point, Wagner, and Red Newt all have restaurants and are good spots for lunch. Spend the night at an inn near Watkins Glen, along either the east or west side of Seneca Lake.
Day 3: Watkins Glen/Keuka Lake
Begin by trekking through Watkins Glen State Park, a 776-acre park with a walking trail that wends through a spectacular gorge formed at the end of the last ice age. Then drive west toward Keuka Lake. You can stop at more wineries along the way, or merely enjoy the drive around perhaps the prettiest of the Finger Lakes. Head north along Route 54, on the east side of the lake, toward Penn Yan. Route 54A, which travels between the two prongs of the lake and south along the west side of the lake, is a gorgeous drive, one of the best in the region. Stop at Esperanza Mansion for lunch and magnificent lake views. After lunch, hit perhaps the most famed winery in the region, Dr. Frank's, and a couple of the other wineries of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, and then head down to the cute town of Hammondsport for shopping and dinner at the Village Tavern Restaurant. Spend the night here, either in one of the rooms owned by Village Tavern or at Black Sheep Inn. You could also base yourself just west, in another adorable Finger Lakes town, Naples (along Rte. 53), where the place for dinner is Brown Hound Bistro.
Day 4: Letchworth Park
Starting in Corning, drive on the New York State Thruway (I-90) west to Route 400 south and take the East Aurora exit. Turn left onto Route 20A east. Follow 20A to Warsaw. Make a right onto Route 19 south to Route 19A, to Denton Corners Road. Turn left on Denton Corners Road and into the park. Letchworth State Park is a gorgeous gash in the earth and has been formed over the millenniums by the Genesee River. You'll find 66 miles of trails here, but it's best to stick to the southern end, where cliffs climb as high as 600 feet. Pack a snack and hike on the Gorge Trail, a 7-mile one-way trek that's moderately difficult, so don't do the whole thing unless you're feeling adventuresome. Then reward yourself with a great all-American dinner at the Glen Iris Inn in Castile. You can even spend the night here.
Days 5 & 6: Buffalo
Head back to I-90 and drive west to Buffalo. This city may just surprise you with its collection of famous architecture. It's worth taking a walking tour of downtown to check out some of these buildings. Start at Market Arcade on Main Street and walk south -- you'll see neoclassical, Beaux Arts, and Art Deco buildings galore. Stop off for lunch at the Ellicott Square building and try some "Beef on Weck" done right by Charlie the Butcher. Then head over to the Darwin D. Martin House, where a painstaking restoration is beautifully showcasing the mastery of the home's architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. If your passion tends more toward painting and sculpture, visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a winner of a gallery that houses some 5,000 works. Finish up the daytime hours with a stroll through Delaware Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of Central Park. Today it's a 350-acre gem. For dinner, drop by the home of the city's original namesake chicken wing, Anchor Bar. Honestly, the wings are nothing special, but when in Buffalo . . .
Then, the area surrounding Buffalo has more than enough cool and quirky museums and sites to keep you occupied for another day. Start off at Graycliff, a stunning Frank Lloyd Wright creation. Then drive over to the tiny, charming town of East Aurora, where Elbert Hubbard started his furniture-building movement and founded the Roycroft Arts and Crafts Community more than 100 years ago. Browse some of the craft shops, then have lunch at the Roycroft Inn. Make a stop at Vidler's 5 & 10, which has been selling candy and knickknacks since 1930. Then drive farther west on I-90 to Route 60 and over to America's largest community of mediums, the Lily Dale Assembly. In summertime, there are public readings, but you can come anytime for a private reading. Don't count on any chairs rattling, but some of these folks are frighteningly good at telling you about anyone who has "passed over." Have dinner and stay overnight back in Buffalo.
Day 7: Niagara Falls
Get back on to I-90 and drive west to check out the beautiful gushing water of Niagara Falls. Some daredevils attempt the falls in a barrel, while others just come to admire the view. We recommend the latter. We also recommend bringing your passport, since you'll want to see the falls from both the American side and the Canadian side. Pick up the discount card Passport to the Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, then walk out onto the newly renovated Observation Tower that stretches into the river. At the bottom of the tower is the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride, a very cool (but very wet) way to see the falls from below. Then visit the Cave of the Winds to walk around the base of the falls. Walk over the border (it's faster than driving, especially in summer), have lunch, and check out the stunning Niagara Falls view from the Canadian side. Then peruse the area of Clifton Hill, Niagara's answer to Disney. Head back to the American side to have dinner at one of the excellent new restaurants in the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and finish off the day by trying your luck on the casino floor.
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.