Finger Lakes Adventures Part I – Ithaca, NY
When we arrived it was snowing. Soft, fluffy flakes we’re floating all around us like a dream, and the ground was covered in a blanket of white. It looked magical except it wasn’t snow, not really anyway. Soft yes, fluffy yes, but our outdoor temp gauge was reading 80 degrees and the white stuff was floating down from the trees.
“My wife works in the allergy business” commented our neighbor “and this is the busiest season of the year for her” he continued, pointing at the thick white mass of poplar pollen around us.
We’d just pulled into the sweetest little county park (full review coming) ~15 minutes north of Ithaca. It was right on the water, there was a cute little fake lighthouse (which rather endeared me to the place, I admit), and apparently lots of poplar trees (not that I would know, but we were told). And it was gorgeous and green with only 19 RV sites, most of which looked like they were taken by seasonals. Our very friendly neighbor was one of them, having claimed this little park as his “summer home” for over 10 years. He was rightly proud of the place and was giving us the local low-down on both the park and the town. From what we were hearing this was going to be just our kinda place….
Ithaca, City of Pleasure
When we first looked at the Finger Lakes region back in Feb we knew that Ithaca HAD to be one of our stops. It’s a College town which naturally gives it a bustling, young energy plus it’s got quite the interesting history too.
Over 200 years ago this place was not much more than a small muddy village of a few hundred notorious for its “wicked activities” including brawling, alcohol and rowdiness (and thus known by an equally notorious biblical name.) It was re-named Ithaca around 1790, after the Greek island home of Ulysses, grew thanks to the local salt industry and adopted a rather classier outlook. The Ice Cream Sundae was invented there in 1892 (THAT history is pretty interesting too), Cornell University was founded there in 1865, Ithaca College followed in 1892 and the rest is history.
These days it’s everything you’d expect of a classy College town. There’s a lively theater scene, awesome music, quirky downtown shops and no end of trendy food and beverage options (Avocado bagel and wine slushy anyone? Yup, that seems to be the thing here).
In addition Paul had a personal tie to the place. He aaaalmost attended College here to study Physics back in the day, but the young Miami boy made the fatal mistake of visiting in February. One day of snow, ice and sub-freezing temps was all it took to crush that dream! But the place had made an impression on him nonetheless and he was curious to go back in the warmth of summer and explore it again.
So when we made our Finger Lake plans we made Ithaca the very first stop of our NY itinerary. And what an awesome spot it turned out to be!
Corning Museum Of Glass
Before I launch into the many delicious pleasures of Ithaca, there’s one other place I have to talk about first. The city of Corning is located just over 1/3 of the way between Tioga (where we stayed at the COE park) and Ithaca, and it’s well worth a visit either from wherever you’re staying, or as a stop along the way*.
Originally known as the “Crystal City”, this is a city that was built on glass. The Brooklyn Flint Glass Company moved here in 1868 and grew an industry that eventually employed more than 2,500 skilled glass blowers, cutters and engravers. The modern result of this is Corning Inc. (still a central feature of town) and a rather unusual tourist destination, the impressive and unique 18,000 sq ft Corning Museum Of Glass.
Honestly we would likely never have stopped here if it hadn’t been for the barrage of blog comments on our planning post back in Feb telling us we couldn’t miss it on our route. But wow, I am so glad we did!
This amazing attraction contains over 45,000 glass objects and covers 3,500 years of glass-making history from the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to modern-day sculptures. There’s live demonstrations all through the day, classes where you can make your own glass, and a fabulous contemporary art and design wing. We went early in the week from our spot at Ives Run Campground, spent over 4 hours here and could easily have spent a whole day. Thanks to all you blog readers that told us to come and for those of you that haven’t yet made it here, put this one on “your lists”!
*VISIT & PAW NOTES/ You can easily visit the Corning Glass Museum from either Ithaca (NY) or Tioga (PA), or you can simply stop along the way (there’s RV parking at the museum, and plenty of space as long as you get there early). Museum is open 9AM to 8PM (summer hours) and costs $19.50 per adult. See admission info HERE. NO dogs allowed.
Waterfalls & Wine
Buttermilk and wine sounds like some strange sort of witches brew, but the combo was exactly what we set out to do our very first full day in Ithaca.
We wanted a good, brisk dog-friendly hike to see some waterfalls (that’s part of what this region is famous for, after all) followed by a glass of some of the fermented grape stuff (that OTHER thing this region is famous for), preferably all within 20 mins drive. No problem in Ithaca!
We loaded Polly in the car, enjoyed a relaxed stroll at Buttermilk Falls just minutes from downtown followed by a lovely pooch-friendly tasting at Six Mile Creek Winery only a few miles away. As is typical for us, we ended up buying around 8 bottles of wine including a rather wonderful bottle of Rosé, procured just in time for National Rosé Day (being well-informed nomads we observe ALL these important dates, naturally).
But that wasn’t all!
There’s around 12 other “famous” waterfalls in and around Ithaca some of which re just a short stroll from a parking lot or overlook, while others require a longer walk. ALL are within a hop and a skip from a winery and pretty much everything is dog-friendly. We only had a limited time in the area so we didn’t manage them all (plus we decided to leave the very biggest waterfall (Taughannock) for our next stop), but we did enjoy several other hikes and a “few” extra glasses of wine. Waterfalls and wine…turns out it’s the perfect combo 🙂
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Buttermilk Falls State Park is open all year. An $8 vehicle entry fee (free with Empire Pass) is collected from mid-April to mid-October. Dogs are welcome on all trails! For wineries, check out the interactive Cayuga Lake Winery Trail Map HERE. Dogs are welcome at most of the wineries on the list!
Cornell University And Botanical Gardens
You can’t come to Ithaca and avoid seeing Cornell University. It’s the heart and soul of the place, and the massive campus and imposing red brick buildings dominate the hillside view and are literally impossible to miss. Plus there are lots of cool things to visit on campus including the Johnson Museum of Art and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We drove through a few times, reminiscing back to our youthful college days (did we really look that young and innocent back in the day?), but for our destination visit we chose a greener target.
Located right in the smack middle of campus, the Cornell Botanical Gardens are a 3400-acre feat of natural engineering. And they are a green compliment to some of the most beautiful nature you’ll see. Imagine cliffs and gorges, then shift to fields of flowers and herbs, then sweep yourself into a shaded hobbits forest, and finally stroll along a raging river. Oh and be sure to bring the paws, ‘coz naturally it’s all dog-friendly too. Yup, it’s all that and more in one place!
We took Polly on a cool, sunny summer morning and did a lovely multi-mile hike through it all. Such a wonderful place to visit!!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Cornell Botanical Gardens are free to visit, but if you come by car the parking closest to the gardens is metered ($1.50 per hour) from 7:30AM to 5:30PM. Dogs are welcome everywhere in the gardens! The only place you cannot bring pooch is inside the Nevin Welcome Center.
Ithaca Farmers Market
We’d heard about Ithaca farmers market long before we ever got to this area. It’s touted as one of the top 10 farmers markets in the USA and it’s famed for its unique food offerings. Cambodian food, Thai food, vegan food…you name it, its here. Or so we’d heard. But it’s popular too! If you don’t arrive just at open you may well be joining the queue of cars looking to squeeze in later on. We planned our stay in Ithaca around the Sat market and arrived just a tad later than we should have, but we did eventually park and get in.
And my professional farmers market aficionado review?
It’s cute, supper cute and the cooked food options are delicious (we enjoyed a Khmer Pancake from the Cambodian Food Stall which was excellent), but from a pure farmers market place-to-buy-fresh-veg-and-meat kinda place its not the best I’ve seen. You can get everything here, but the covered area is kinda small so there’s not a huge selection. It can’t compare to say, Eugene OR, Portland OR or San Diego CA Farmers Markets out West.
Still it was well worth the stop, and definitely an experience you should have while you’re here!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Ithaca actually offers 5 farmers markets (Tues through Sun), but the most famous location is the Saturday and Sunday market at Steamboat Landing. NO dogs allowed inside the farmers market pavilion, but you can walk pooch along the riverfront outside the pavillion.
Downtown and The Commons
Being a College Town that boasts not just one, but TWO Colleges, Ithaca is a bustling place. It takes a lot of food to cater to so many hungry students, plus you have to offer the full array from hippy to trendy with plenty of inexpensive options to boot.
The place known as the Commons is where all of this comes together!
Here you’ll find no end of eateries, gourmet coffee and craft beverages from regular burger joints, to organic vegan spots to tapas and wine. Plus there’s a famous second hand book store (Autumn Leaves Bookstore), plenty of spots to hang outside and even a Carl Sagan Planet Walk (this is Cornell, after all). Best of all for the WheelingIt crew? It’s all dog friendly and almost every eatery has an outdoor spot that allows dogs too.
We explored the area with Polly on a weekday morning (a little less crowds) and enjoyed a relaxing walk around the Commons, a tasty lunch and brew at Ithaca Ale House (outside patio is dog-friendly) and a cappuccino coffee from The Shop (which has a tattoo parlor in the back, naturally).
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Roadside parking nearest the commons is metered and it can be tough to snag a spot during busy times. The Green Street Parking Garage is right downtown and by far the easiest option. The Commons is dog-friendly, and there are LOTS of outdoor dog-friendly eateries and cafes around the area.
That pretty much wraps up everything we were able to squeeze into our short 4-day visit in Ithaca. Our only regret? Honestly we wish we’d have planned a longer stay as there was WAY more to do and see than we originally anticipated. Plus we missed at least 25 wineries! Quite a nice spot, especially in the warmth of summer that is 🙂
Useful External Links:
- Visit Ithaca -> Click HERE for a good visitors site
- Corning Museum of Glass -> Click HERE for official website
- Cornell Botanical Garden -> Click HERE for official website
- Cayuga Wine Trail -> Click HERE for a cool, interactive map
- Ithaca Farmers Market -> Click HERE for info and details
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