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    Rochester, NY

Spotlight: Rochester, NY

This Finger Lakes city is full of surprises, including a museum dedicated entirely to play, great food and nightlife and a 96-foot waterfall in the middle of town.

Why you'll love it: 

Whether it's beautiful parks, lively arts, hiking and biking, unique cuisine, cool festivals or hot jazz, this eclectic city has just what you're looking for. From boat rides on the Erie Canal and star shows at the Science Museum, to pubs, clubs and great entertainment, everyone finds something to love in Rochester.

Spend a day | Spend a weekend | Spend a week | Where to stay | Where to eat | What the locals say | Cool things to know | Getting there

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Three things you can't miss:

George Eastman Museum - Photo Courtesy of Visit Rochester

1. Highland Park. Refresh in Rochester's iconic urban retreat designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Stunning in every season, the 150-acre park includes Lamberton Conservatory, garden memorials and Lily Pond, a natural skating rink in winter. In May, a lilac festival celebrates America's largest collection (over 12,000).

2. George Eastman Museum. Tour the mansion and gardens of the founder of Eastman Kodak. The museum, one of the world's best collections of photography and cinema, presents daily screenings, from silent films to Hollywood classics and early Westerns. Mansion events include concerts on Sunday afternoons.

3. Rochester Museum & Science Center. Immerse yourself in the wonders of science, from ocean depths to the edge of the universe. Walk through a life-size Titanic exhibit, travel the world in a simulator, and see stars in the Strasenburgh Planetarium.

Spend a day:

• Start with a walking tour of Highland Park. Depending on the season, you'll be surrounded by fragrant lilacs, roses, vivid autumn colors or the tropical gardens of the Lamberton Conservatory.

• Head to High Falls, a 96-foot waterfall in the historic Brown's Race neighborhood. The Genesee Brew House near the pedestrian bridge serves pub-style fare on a rooftop patio overlooking the falls, including white hots, a local favorite.

• Tour the mansion and gardens of the George Eastman Museum and see one of the world's best collections of photography and film. Allow 2 to 3 hours--or longer if you want to take in one of the daily film screenings.

• If you have a hearty appetite, make a pilgrimage to the landmark, Nick Tahou Hots. Home of Rochester's famous Garbage Plate, Nick's was featured on the Travel Channel's Man v. Food Nation and rated Best Rochester Plate in 2015 by City Newspaper. 

Spend a weekend: 

Friday night: 
• Get a feel for this lively city on a walk in the East End, with dozens of clubs, restaurants, shops, and galleries, plus theaters and museums. Enjoy a light dinner in the Geva Café before curtain time at the Geva Theatre.

• Or you can take a 20-minute drive to unwind at Ontario Beach Park, in northern Rochester, and watch the sun set over Lake Ontario.

• You can also ease into the weekend on a Sam Patch Erie Canal wine-tasting cruise. Board in Pittsford, nine miles south of Rochester.

• Get an early start with breakfast at the Rochester Public Market (open 5am-3pm). Over 300 vendors include bakers, food trucks, coffee shops and farmers selling fresh regional produce. Browse the stands and pick up snacks for later.

Strong Museum of Play - Photo Courtesy of Strong Museum• Take a morning walk in Highland Park and feast your eyes on gorgeous gardens, an arboretum and the Lamberton Conservatory.

• With or without kids, it's all fun and games at The Strong National Museum of Play. Explore the world's largest toy collection, arcade videos, carousel, train rides, and plenty more. Play guitar hero or rack up a high score on a vintage machine in the new Pinball Playfields. Meet old friends in the Toy Hall of Fame. Grab a burger at the classic Skyliner Diner in the atrium. 

• Bike or walk downtown to High Falls. Nearby, the Genesee Brew House serves salads, appetizers and local hots on the rooftop patio. At dusk, the falls are illuminated with colored lights.  

• Plan a night on the town, in the East End. A top choice for nightlife and entertainment, this neighborhood has dozens of clubs, restaurants, galleries, museums and theaters, including the Eastman Theater, one of America's finest concert halls. Year-round events include the 9-day International Jazz Festival in June, featuring legends and rising stars. 

• Pick up breakfast treats at Savoia Pastry Shoppe, an old-style bakery famous for their sausage bread and pastries as well as a great selection of cupcakes and cookies. Let the heavenly aroma on Clifford Avenue lead you to their door.

• Bike or hike along the paved Genesee Riverway Trail that runs 16 miles along the river. Part of the NYS Canal Trail, it starts in Genesee Valley Park and passes three waterfalls, eight pedestrian bridges and 11 parks, with a grand finale at Lake Ontario. You can rent from Tryon Bike for $50 a day.

Memorial Art Gallery - Photo by Visit Rochester

• Travel through 5,000 years of art, ancient to contemporary, at the Memorial Art Gallery and view masterworks from Monet to Warhol. Hear the rare tones of the only full-size Italian Baroque organ in America, every Sunday afternoon. Tour the sculpture park, with impressive public art and follow the interactive Poets Walk that borders it. 

• Take in a Sunday afternoon concert at the mansion of the George Eastman Museum.

• Be sure to see the Great Lake Ontario before you leave town. Take a selfie with the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse on a trip to Ontario Beach Park (also known as Charlotte Beach) for a swim, picnic, stroll along the pier, or a ride on the old carousel.

Spend a week:

Rochester Museum & Science Center - Photo Courtesy of Rochester Museum & Science CenterMonday: 
• Choose from six self-guided walking tours of downtown Rochester available to print before you head out or use with Google Maps app on mobile devices. Find the links at Landmark Walking Tours.

• Explore wonders of the world at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, with 200 fascinating interactive exhibits, shows and collections. Journey across the universe in the planetarium, walk through a life-size Titanic exhibit, and take a virtual world tour.

Save your appetite for a trip to the landmark Nick Tahou Hots, home of the famous Garbage Plate and featured on Food Network's Unwrapped and The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  

• Get breakfast at the Rochester Public Market (open 6am-1pm). Browse the stands for bargains and regional specialties, from ethnic foods to craft-brews and wine.

• Can you imagine a time when a woman's voting was illegal? Visit the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, home of the founder of the women's suffrage movement and the site of her arrest in 1872.

• Whatever your age, you'll feel like a kid at The Strong National Museum of Play. A Today show top tourism pick, The Strong is the only museum in the world dedicated to play. Check out the Lego exhibit, play vintage pinball, explore the world's largest collection of electronic games and see the World Video Game Hall of Fame. There's more to see and do than you can imagine! 

• Catch an evening performance at the Eastman Theater on the campus of the renowned Eastman School of Music.

Genesee Country Village & Museum - Photo by NYS ESDWednesday:
• Start your day with breakfast at Highland Park Diner, a classic 1940s railcar diner.

• Step into the past at Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, 25 miles from Rochester. Costumed interpreters recreate 19th-century village life on 700 acres with heirloom farms and restored historic buildings: simple homes, grand homes, shops, inns, churches and a one-room schoolhouse.

• Bring a blanket and a tasty picnic dinner from Swan Market to the free Wegman's Concerts by the Shore, held every Wednesday night June through August. Check out Ontario Beach Park's many other great events like Big Band Dances in spring and fall.  

Canandaigua Wine Trail - Photo Courtesy of Canandaigua Wine Trail• Spend a perfect day along a picturesque section of the 41-mile Canandaigua Wine Trail that runs from nearby Fairport to Canandaigua to Naples.

Along the way...
   Stop in Fairport, 11 miles southeast of Rochester, to tour the hilltop Casa Larga Vineyards, whose award-winners    include authentic Ice Wines.

   In Canandaigua, visit Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion, a Victorian country estate with a crystal-palace-like greenhouse    and lush gardens with marble statues, fountains and reflecting pools.

   Watch a chef demonstration or taste New York specialties, artisan cheeses, wine, beer and spirits at the New York Wine & Culinary Center beside Canandaigua Lake. Sample small plates or have dinner in the locally sourced restaurant.

   Get back in time to dance aboard the Roc the Belle cruise, sailing from the port of Rochester. On Thursday nights,    there's live music, a cash bar and free pizza-on the Harbor Town Belle, an 80-foot padddlewheeler.

African Penguin at Seneca Park Zoo - Photo by Joe TerritoFriday:
• View exotic animals close-up at the Seneca Park Zoo, a hidden gem with naturalistic habitats for over 90 species, from meerkats to snow leopards. Party animals 21-and-over can reserve tickets for ZooBrew on Friday evenings, billed as the wildest happy hour in town.     

• Spend a relaxing afternoon on the Erie Canal aboard the Sam Patch, a replica of an 1800s packet boat. Cruises depart from the Port of Pittsford, nine miles south of Rochester. 

• Have dinner beside the Erie Canal at the landmark Richardson's Canal House, also in Pittsford. Richardson's was originally an 1818 tavern.  

• Pick up subs from DiBella's and bike along the Genesee Riverway Trail that runs 16 miles along the river. If you're up for it, you can ride all the way to Lake Ontario. Tryon Bike has rentals for $50 a day.

• Live it up with a night on the town in the East End, where great entertainment includes everything from lively bars and romantic bistros to street festivals, theaters and live music. 

• Make it a Sunday Funday at Seabreeze Amusement Park. Ride the 1920 Jackrabbit coaster or the Screamin' Eagle if you dare! The Log Flume, a super soaker, is one of the steepest in the country. The waterpark has wild slides and a lazy river. Over 100 years old, Seabreeze is still a family favorite and still growing.

• Before heading home, stop at nearby Ontario Beach Park to see the 1822 lighthouse and stretch your legs. Get a heavenly Abbott's frozen custard, popular since 1902, and walk out to the pier to watch the awesome sunset over the boundless lake.

Where to stay:

Holiday Inn Express Irondequoit. Clean, comfortable suburban hotel; rooms and suites. Free Wi-Fi, buffet breakfast and parking. Indoor pool. Pet friendly. Two miles from Lake Ontario, 3 miles from Seneca Park Zoo and 4 miles from Seabreeze Amusement Park.

Ellwanger Estate B&B: Beautifully restored landmark home with a veranda and lush gardens. In the heart of Rochester's Mount Hope cultural district, near Highland Park. 

Woodcliff Hotel & Spa - Photo Courtesy of Woodcliff Hotel & SpaWoodcliff Hotel & Spa: Full-service hotel and spa; 20 minutes from downtown, on a hilltop overlooking the village of Fairport. Restaurant, entertainment, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools. Scenic hiking and bike trails.

Inn on Broadway: Nestled in the heart of downtown, this elegant boutique hotel is a landmark 1929 building and just 0.9 miles from the Amtrak station - perfect for a weekend getaway. Expect down bedding, a fireplace, whirlpool baths plus complimentary breakfast. And don't forget to grab a bite at the Tournedos Steakhouse, your taste buds will thank you.

The Strathallan: With posh guest rooms built for serenity, this downtown hideaway is your retreat into luxury. Dip in the pool or soak in the views at the rooftop bar, and you'll understand why.

Edward Harris House B&B Inn & Cottages: Nestled in the heart of the arts and cultural district and elegantly restored to its 1896 prestige, it's no wonder it was named Top 10 Most Romantic Inns of North America by American Historic Inns. A joy to all who visit, this historic spot also includes two waterside cottages just 15 minutes away from the inn. 

Where to eat:

DiBella's: First opening in 1918, this classic Italian market is famous for original DiBella's subs as well as tasty paninis, wraps, soup and salads.Dogtown: Enjoy classic reds, white hots and footlongs or veggie dogs, served on local French bread with your choice of 18 unique toppings.

Highland Park Diner: Comfort food in a classic 1940s railcar diner. Named one of Rochester's top 15 restaurants by Movoto; listed as a gem by the Rochester Landmark Society.

Rochester Public Market: Open since 1905, over 300 vendors. Farmers selling fresh produce, food trucks with ethnic delicacies, craft-brews, wine and other Finger Lakes delights.

Swan Market: Traditional German food and beer in a family-style seating room where store-made wurst, smoked meats, rye bread and authentic specialties, from sauerbraten to spätzle, make for an authentic meal.


Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - Photo Courtesy of Dino BBQ

Bubble Fusion: Asian Fusion restaurant and tea room offering fresh and healthy quick eats, sushi, salads, bubble tea, exotic smoothies and Instagram-worthy desserts.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: Southern-style barbecue in a former 1905 train station overlooking the Genesee River.

The Gate House: Voted Best Gourmet Burger in town by Rochester's City Paper come here for wood-fired pizza and delicious burgers named after local celebrities.

Genesee Brew House, Restaurant & Bar: Pub-style fare, from burgers and white hots to fresh salads. Enjoy over 16 different beers on tap, brewery tours, the outdoor terrace and rooftop patio with views of High Falls and Genesee River Gorge.

Tournedos Restaurant - Photo Courtesy of Tournedos RestaurantLento: Farm-to-table restaurant known for their seasonally-inspired menu created with fresh produce and pasture-raised meats.

Remington's: New American cuisine, combines traditional techniques and ethnic twists with Old World dishes.

Richardson's Canal House: Landmark tavern on the banks of the Erie Canal in Pittsford. Casual gourmet cuisine with modern flair.

Tournedos Steakhouse: Accolades by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for their wine list, this classic steakhouse located at the Inn on Broadway offers fresh seafood and in-house dry-aged beef.

Cool things to know:

• In 1872 Susan B. Anthony, the first American woman to vote in a presidential election, voted in Rochester. Two weeks later, she was arrested for doing so.  

Lilac Festival - Photo Courtesy of Visit Rochester

• Both Bicycling magazine and the League of American Bicyclists give Rochester high marks as a top bike-friendly city. The city continues to add dedicated bike lanes and markings on roadways, as well as bike racks, shelters, lockers and repair stations.

• While you're enjoying the beauty of Highland Park, you're taking part in a high form of democracy. The ideals of designer, Frederick Law Olmstead, were to include everyone and provide for common human needs: fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Highland Park's annual Lilac Festival draws up to 500,000 visitors from around the world.

• In the 1880s, Frederick Law Olmsted was so impressed by the beautiful Genesee River that he designed an entire park system around it, highlighting each park's unique features. Along with the iconic Highland Park, the river still serves as backdrop to Seneca Park, Maplewood, and Genesee Valley Park.

• Ontario Beach Park is home to the only antique carousel in the country never to have been moved from its original location: a 1905 Dentzel menagerie carousel that was the first model of its kind produced.

• Mickey Rooney began his career in Rochester, and Bette Davis was fired from a local theater stock group. Bud Abbott managed a theater here before pairing up with Lou Costello.

• There's still s'more! The flour for graham crackers was developed here in the 1830s by Sylvester Graham, and marshmallows were first commercially produced here in 1895. You can get great chocolates at Stever's, on Park Avenue for 50 years.

What the locals say:

"Rochester is the City of Festivals and there is never a dull moment! I love all the great restaurants that offer outdoor seating for beautiful days." - Dr. Chelsea Spring, world traveler and beloved DVM with Monroe Veterinary Associates.

"In the Rochester area, you never have to travel far to find a good place to walk. Three of my favorites are the Corn Hill District, the Grove Place District and the Rochester City Skyway." - Sue Freeman, Urban Strolls, footprintpress.com. Sue and Rich Freeman's many guidebooks include Take Your Bike: Family Rides in the Rochester Area and Take A Hike: Family Walks in the Rochester Area.

Susan B. Anthony House and Museum - Photo Courtesy of Visit Rochester

"Rochester has amazing access to public parks and trails. Within 10 minutes of downtown you can explore the waterfalls of Corbett's Glen, the flowering trees of Highland Park and the spectacular views of the Cobbs Hill Reservoir." - Rev. Jennifer Zogg, Pastor (formerly) at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rochester.

"Rochester is rich in diverse arts and cultural attractions. There's something for all ages and interests, and everything is so close by. In a single day, you can walk or bike to a downtown waterfall, explore The Strong (the only collections-based museum in the world devoted to play), take in an award-winning theater or orchestral performance, and visit the home of Susan B. Anthony." - Suzanne Y. Seldes, The Strong's executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Getting there:

By train:
• Take Amtrak to Rochester station (ROC) at 320 Central Ave. Taxi service is available to downtown shopping district and city attractions. 

By car:
• From Albany: 3.5 hours
• From NYC: 5.5 hours 
• From Boston: 6 hours 
• From Buffalo: 1 hour 15 min 
• From Philadelphia: 5 hours 
• From Toronto: 3 hours 
• From Montreal: 5 hours

By plane:
• Greater Rochester International Airport, 1200 Brooks Ave., Rochester, NY

More things to do in the Finger Lakes