If you're visiting the far western reaches of New York State, chances are you're here to see Niagara Falls. And who could blame you? Despite whatever kitschy associations may have grown around this tourist destination, once you're here you realize none of that matters: The falls are pretty cool, regardless. Of course, if you want to have a soak in a heart-shaped Jacuzzi, be wowed by an IMAX theater, tiptoe through a haunted house, or just use your passport, you can do all of that here, too.
Only a short ride to the south, the city of Buffalo has all sort of surprises beneath its rugged exterior: an astounding assortment of architecture, including a handful of Frank Lloyd Wright designs that have been preserved or reconstructed; a vital regional and international arts scene; walkable neighborhoods lined with galleries, boutiques, and hip little bars; and seriously good food, ranging from top-tier restaurants to old-world taverns serving up some of the best hot dogs and roast beef sandwiches you'll ever have.
As you move away from the big city, the population thins quickly and rolling hills give way to farmland. Out here you'll come across some of the quirkier destinations the state has to offer, with museums dedicated to kazoos, Lucille Ball, and even Jell-O, while nearby Lily Dale is a mecca for mediums and those with a spiritualist bent. In little East Aurora, the legacy of the Roycrofters, a fine crafts collective from the late 19th century, lives on. Heading east, deeper into rural New York, you'll find Letchworth State Park, home to a breathtaking natural gorge and one of the state's best kept secrets. Finally, not far from the Pennsylvania border lies the Chautauqua Institution, a learning vacation retreat that attracts faithful devotees as well as major talents every summer for their lectures and performances.