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Spotlight: Jamestown and Chautauqua-Allegheny

The funniest city in the country—dare we say, the world!

Where else can you find two museums dedicated entirely to the art and history of comedy? Beyond this humorous theme, Jamestown, a friendly and historic town in Western New York, and its surrounding area are full of a variety of other fun, with restaurants, nightlife, cultural activities, and outdoor adventures to please the whole family.

Jamestown’s exciting renaissance features the new-in-2018 National Comedy Center as well as classics like the Lucy-Desi Museum and the gorgeous Chautauqua Lake for views, boat rides, and performances and lectures at Chautauqua Institution. The surrounding region provides many opportunities for fun day trips, from exploring nature in some of the state’s most loved parks to winery tours to large-scale sculpture parks, ski resorts with year-round activities, and classic amusement parks.

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Three Things You Can't Miss

National Comedy Center
Credit: Jay Rosenblatt

The National Comedy Center and the Lucy-Desi Museum

The National Comedy Center (pictured) is a state-of-the-art and highly personalized cultural destination celebrating the art of comedy. Laugh and learn about the greats, from Chaplin to Seinfeld and SNL to modern-day memes, via more than 50 interactive exhibits and immersive experiences. Annual festivals feature top stars. At the nearby Lucy-Desi Museum, find costumes, props, unseen footage, and more, all honoring Jamestown’s hometown hero. Visit our National Comedy Center insider's guide.

Chautauqua Institution

Chautauqua Institution

A summer hotbed for culture whether you’re into dance, opera, visual arts, author lectures, poetry, theater, or recreation like golf, tennis, swimming, or sailing. Visitors can stay “on-campus” at the Athenaeum Hotel (and more than 100,000 do each year!). Special programs for kids include day camp, sports instruction, cooking and art classes, and a young writers workshop. The season typically runs from late June to late August.

Panama Rocks Scenic Park
Credit: Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau

Panama Rocks Scenic Park

When visiting this park, you'll be just 14 miles west of Jamestown but you’ll feel like you’re in Jurassic World. Wander through this ancient forest (actually 15 acres of Paleozoic ocean floor) with towering 60-foot-high rock formations, crevices, passageways, and caves. Wear shoes suitable for hiking. Open daily, early May through October.

family fun

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

One of the country’s oldest and largest sculpture parks, Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto is unique in that it’s okay to play and climb on the art. Each of the more than 250 large-scale pieces by more than 100 different artists has been placed with the surrounding scenery in mind. Educational tours and programming are available. Open early May through October.

Midway State Park

Midway State Park

If you have young kids (under age 7), don’t miss a trip to Midway State Park, one of the oldest operating amusement parks in the country, having opened in 1898. Find classic amusements like a fun slide, tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, go-karts, skeeball, and a Herschell Carousel. The park is located on the shores of scenic Chautauqua Lake. Open seasonally.

Allegany-State-Park-ca_0809_363

Allegany State Park (Quaker & Red House Areas)

The largest state park in New York offers year-round activities from biking, hiking, camping, swimming, tennis, volleyball, playgrounds, and boating in warm weather to snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and more than 35 miles of cross-country skiing when it gets colder. Don’t miss the stunning fall foliage or Thunder Rocks, a "rock city" created 360 million years ago.

spend the day

Stand-up Lounge at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York

Get ready for the funniest day of your life by having breakfast at Crown Street Roasting Company, a specialty coffee shop where you can also get a tasty bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a bagel. 

Celebrate the art of humor, from early Vaudeville to Carol Burnett, Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan, and the latest viral memes at the National Comedy Center (pictured). More than 50 immersive exhibits let you battle your friends as to who can keep from laughing the longest, perform live stand-up karaoke, and insert yourself into classic comedic scenes.

You could easily spend a full day at the National Comedy Center, but if your crew includes folks who love Lucy, don’t miss the nearby Lucy-Desi Museum. Recreate your own Vitameatavegamin commercial, watch unaired scenes, and view props and sets from the classic television show I Love Lucy, starring Jamestown native Lucille Ball.

spend the weekend

Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

Saturday

Walk amid 27 scenic acres at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute (pictured), named for a Jamestown native who was the preeminent naturalist of the 20th Century.

Explore local history, from the Civil War and Underground Railroad to the life of Lucille Ball, at the Fenton History Center, an 1863 Italian-style villa with plush Victorian décor.

After learning about the history of Jamestown, dive into the future of this city at the brand new National Comedy Center. Cutting-edge technology and 50 immersive exhibits let you personalize your experience and explore content tailored to your taste, from satire to slapstick. Try your hand at cartooning or performing stand-up or send your friends “burns.”

Jamestown features great performing arts, from musicals at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre to concerts at the Reg Lenna Arts Center or Northwest Arena, which also has year-round ice-skating. If it’s summer, attend a performance at Chautauqua Institution nearby, which hosts everything from ABBA tribute bands to Yo-Yo Ma.

Panama Rocks Scenic Park - Photo  by Jonathan Weston

Sunday

Get sandwiches from the Corner Cafe and head 14 miles west to Panama Rocks Scenic Park (pictured) for an otherworldly experience. Picnic on the grounds, and then hike through an ancient forest of towering 60-foot-high rock formations, crevices, passageways, and caves.

Visit Axcellent Adventures on the grounds to try your hand at ax-throwing (it’s recommended kids are at least 11 years olds for this activity).

Reward yourself for the hike with Perry’s legendary ice-cream at Lenny's Ice Cream Shack, three miles away on Panama Bear Lake Road. Founded in 1918, Western New York’s family-owned and operated Perry's Ice Cream uses fresh milk and cream from local farms to create a creamy, delicious product beloved for a whole century.

On the way back into Jamestown, visit the Empty Pint, the taproom at Southern Tier Brewing Company, which also offers tacos, sandwiches (grilled cheeses, meatloaf, pastrami, and more), and other pub fare.

spend the week

Display case at Lucy Desi Museum & Center for Comedy

Monday

Treat your senses to the beauty of a morning hike through the woods at the Audubon Nature Center. This 600-acre wildlife sanctuary offers four-season fun with miles of trails, cool nature exhibits, animals, and kid-friendly programs and activities.

Trade the sounds of birds chirping for the sounds of laughter at the National Comedy Center, where you can draw cartoons, make your own memes, and see props and sets from comedy classics. Celebrate America’s past and present comedic stars.

I Love Lucy fans will also want to make sure they visit the Lucy-Desi Museum (pictured) and Lucille Ball Memorial Park, where there are two different sculptures of Jamestown’s most famous daughter.

Zoar Valley whitewater rafting
Credit: Rick Miller

Tuesday

Visit Amish Country to experience the area’s natural beauty and tranquility. From Jamestown, it’s a 16-mile drive along scenic Route 394 to Randolph, the start of New York’s Amish Trail. Between Randolph and Gowanda, more than 100 farmstands and shops sell traditional crafts, quilts, and furniture as well as fresh-baked goods, artisan cheeses, and homegrown fruits and vegetables. As you drive, keep an eye out for slow-moving, horse-drawn buggies.

If it’s spring, switch gears and whitewater raft on the Cattaraugus River through Zoar Valley with either Adventure Calls Outfitters, Inc. or Zoar Valley Canoe & Rafting (pictured).

Red House Lake- Allegany State Park- Looking East, sunrise believed to be vicinity of left hill.

Wednesday

Take a day trip, just a 40-minute drive from Jamestown, to Allegany State Park (pictured), especially gorgeous during the fall foliage season. No matter the time of year, you’ll find plenty to do, including biking, tennis, playgrounds, boating, horseback riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, camping, and children’s activities.

Outside of the park in Salamanca, visit the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, with a cultural center and permanent exhibits such as a Log Cabin Room, a Longhouse Room, and an exhibit giving thanks to the birds, animals, and plant life on Earth.

Continue 30 minutes east to Rock City Park, a stunning geological wonder of huge rock formations. Enjoy the natural beauty on the 45-minute hike through winding crevices.

Long Point State Park on Chautauqua Lake, Day use state park offering a marina,kayak rentals & beach for swimming, Bemus Point, NY, Chauatuqua- Allegany Region

Thursday

Explore the charming village of Bemus Point. You’ll find some of the best ice cream in the area as well as great shops and restaurants at Bemus Point Market. Visit Long Point State Park (pictured) where, depending on the season, you can swim, hike amid spectacular fall foliage, or cross-country ski. Swimmers will want to wear water shoes due to sharp mussel shells. Fish for bass, pike, or Chautauqua’s famously huge muskellunge (muskies).

On the way back to Jamestown, stop into the Empty Pint Taproom at Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood. This family-friendly spot has sandwiches, tacos, salads, and of course about a dozen beers on tap, including fun seasonal and limited-run brews like "Hey There Hop Stuff" and Citrus Punch.

Holiday Valley Mountain Coaster

Friday

Drive an hour to Griffis Sculpture Park, where you’ll find more than 250 large-scale outdoor sculptures that the kids (or grown-ups) can even climb on—if the desire arises.

Nearby at Holiday Valley Resort, ride the Sky Flyer mountain coaster (pictured) with 15 curves, 12 waves, one jump, and a large circle/spiral, and explore on the Sky High aerial adventure course. Of course, if it’s winter, you can spend the whole day skiing or snowboarding.

Stop in the charming town of Ellicottville for lunch, dinner, and some brews at popular Ellicottville Brewing Company.

Dunkirk Lighthouse

Saturday

Head up to Lake Erie and climb the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum (pictured). The 1875 lighthouse is open to tour from May to October. Point Gratiot Park nearby is a great free beach on the lake with swimming, beach-glass hunting, pavilions with grills, and more.

Try a few of the wineries in this rich grape-growing region of Lake Erie Wine Country, including Five & 20 Spirits/Mazza Chautauqua CellarsMerritt Estate Winery, and Noble Vineyards. Visit the Grape Discovery Center, where kids can participate in non-alcoholic grape juice tastings.

Sailboat at Chautauqua Institution

Sunday

If Chautauqua Institution is in season (typically late June to late August), take in a lecture or performance, get a sailing lesson (pictured), play golf, stroll through the art galleries, dine at the Athenaeum Hotel, or try any of more than 20 other activities along Chautauqua Lake. On Sundays, there is free gate entrance and free parking until 2 pm.

Book a historical tour on the Chautauqua Belle, an authentic Mississippi River-style sternwheel steamboat, built in the 1970s. You’ll hear stories of the surrounding area from the late 1800s while cruising Chautauqua Lake for 90 to 105 minutes.

Make it a Sunday Funday if you have young kids with the vintage carousel, go-karts, and bumper boats at Midway State Park on Chautauqua Lake.

Hotels and Stay

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getting there

By Train

Travel Amtrak from Toronto, Albany, or New York City to Buffalo’s Exchange Street station (BFX) downtown. Then take a bus to Jamestown or rent a car and drive.

By Plane

Buffalo Niagara Airport International Airport (BUF): 1 hr, 30 mins
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE): 2 hr, 30 mins
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT): 3 hrs

By Bus

Service from Downtown Buffalo and Amtrak Station to Jamestown on Coach USA Erie Line.

By Car

• From Buffalo: 1 hr, 30 mins
• From Cleveland: 2 hrs, 15 mins
• From Toronto: 3 hrs
• From New York City: 6 hrs
• From Albany: 5 hrs, 30 mins
• From Philadelphia: 6 hrs

Bonus Tip

Find more ideas and information at Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau and Up Close Jamestown.