Frequently a stopover on the way to the Niagara Falls, the town of Rochester in upstate New York deserves a few days of exploration, especially in fall. The city's history as the birthplace of the Kodak company has paved the way for an under-the-radar but robust art scene, while a wealth of college campuses keep the dining and entertainment options fresh. And in October, there are endless opportunities for foliage peeping. Here's what to do over a weekend in town.
Arts & Culture
Shutterbugs can't miss the George Eastman House, the National Historic Landmark once inhabited by Kodak's founder and home to than 400,000 works. You can spend an entire afternoon here, considering the massive archive of camera technology, films, posters, and manuscripts. The $14 admission fee includes three daily tours, including one focused on the family's personal belongings. (As an avid traveler, Eastman collected treasures from all corners of the earth.) Highly recommended for when the weather cooperates, the garden tour delves into the 10.5-acre estate's planning and design; it was once home to a working farm, stables, and multiple gardens.
For a sense of the impressive talent that Rochester has fostered, pay a visit to Mount Hope Cemetery, where the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass have been laid to rest. Walk among 196 acres of graves, including more than 80 grand mausoleums and even some Egyptian-style obelisks.
Outdoor art awaits by the University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery, where 10 acres of the Centennial Sculpture Park have been dedicated to 30 bonze and stainless steel works. The museum itself holds more than 12,000 works of art, in a great expansion since it first acquired a lappet of lace in 1913. Visitors will find everything from Egyption coffins to Italian Baroque paintings to medieval music recordings here. (General admission is $13.)
For lunch, the views at Genesee Brew House are unbeatable. We suggest stopping by the downstairs bar for a $2 flight of four beers, to help decide what pint you'd like with your meal. (The cream ale is a regional specialty.) Upstairs, grab a seat on the patio and indulge in affordable (less than $10) entrees like the roast beef on weck sandwich. Alternatively, you'd rather get something to-go for your day of sightseeing, head over to Wegmans Food Market. The Rochester flagship store has rows packed takeaway meals.
Happy hour at The Distillery will make the thirsty traveler happy indeed. A pint can cost you all of $3, and appetizers are half off 3-6 p.m. on weeknights and after 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Even on a regular day, cocktails start from just $6.25. If you're making a trip to the Mount Hope Cemetery, there's a location just across the street.
For dinner, head to City Grill, a relatively new establishment in the heart of downtown with an eclectic, modern vibe. The outdoor tables are fantastic for pre-meal cocktails, but if it's busy inside, patrons are welcome to order food there as well. For starters, grilled cheese meatball bites ($9) are a favorite, and you can never go wrong with truffle chips ($9). Make sure you save room for dessert -- whether you go for a s'mores pizza ($7) or a sundae in a super-sized martini glass ($8), the portions are extremely generous.
Fall Foliage Three Ways
The coming weekends are prime time for catching fall colors at their peak, and visitors can look at the leaves by land, water, or even air. Bike enthusiasts can zip along the Erie Canal, which is rimmed with trees along its historic locks. For itinerary ideas, check out Erie Canal Heritage Trail or Erie Canal Trail. (The larger Finger Lakes region is also home to bike paths through vineyards, state parks, and valleys, from a 45-minute Tour of the Bay trail to a 105-minute Cayuga Waterfront trail.)
It’s easy for nautical types to hop on a boat ride for an hour or two. Sam Patch Cruises, which depart from the port of Pittsford just 15 minutes out of the city, begin at $15 per person with a variety of 75- to 90-minute sailings. Aboard the wooden vintage vessel, you’ll pass by a redeveloped canal town, historic bridges, and centuries-old locks on your way to the Eerie Canal.
For elevated views, Balloons Over Letchworth soars above the 20-plus waterfalls and the gorge of Letchworth State Park -- a 14,350-acre haven between the Finger Lakes region and Niagara Falls. Depending on weather conditions, flight time typically ranges from 45 to 60 minutes, at $249 per person. If you crave a little more excitement, $90-$96 gets you a 20-minute glider ride at Harris Hill, giving you the chance to glimpse the towns of Watkins Glen, Elmira, and Corning.
Where to Stay
For something a little different, check into 7 on Strath, a guest house right next to, and operated by, the Strathallan, a DoubleTree by Hilton property. The 1903 mansion is perfect for those who enjoy the intimate, independent feel of a bed and breakfast but still enjoy the amenities of a full-service hotel. Clean and contemporary, all rooms feature a king or queen bed, luxe bathrooms, flatscreen TVs, bathrobes, and lounge chairs. Some suites also boast fireplaces and full kitchens. The starting rates of $149 this month ($100 in low season) already seem reasonable for the digs -- but the also cover complimentary WiFi, washer and dryer access, coffee makers on the ground floor, and continental breakfast at the Srathallan’s restaurant next door. Oh, and did we mention the street-facing porch lounge for people-watching and shooting the breeze?