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    Green Lakes State Park

Spotlight: Syracuse, NY

Artisans and tradesmen ventured through its center. Walk its storied neighborhoods and you'll see its beauty. Once a frontier town on the legendary Erie Canal, this city has blossomed into a center for creativity and learning. Whether you're coming for a leisurely weekend or a week's long dive into American culture, all roads lead to Syracuse. 

Why you'll love it

A lively college scene with championship athletics has brought Syracuse national recognition, but it's the city's burgeoning downtown and rich cultural roots that keep people coming back for more. Its art and music scene fill the streets with the buzz of a city, while its location provides an easy retreat into the natural beauty of New York's landscape where rolling vineyards and crystal lakes await. Sprinkle that with astounding architecture and historic storytelling, and you've found a place that would delight any vagabond.   

Jump to: Family fun | Spend a day | Spend a weekend | Spend a week | Where to stay | Where to eat | Cool things to know | Getting there

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 Three things you can't miss

Photo Credit - Daniel Krieger1. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - A motorcyclists BBQ joint turned award-winning restaurant, this Syracuse staple opened its doors downtown in 1988 to serve up some of the best brisket, ribs and barbecue cooking you could ask for. Since that time, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has launched eight more locations, enjoyed features on Food Network and Travel Channel shows and has been named the country's #1 BBQ by Good Morning America. If you haven’t indulged in their BBQ pulled pork, hearty mac & cheese, or anything else on their mouth-watering menu, you haven’t really eaten in Cuse.

2. Armory Square - This is the neighborhood to eat, drink and play. Once the city’s industrial district, Armory Square or simply “the Armory,” experienced a revitalization in the 1980s and has since become the credit The MOSTplace to be for daytime fun and nightlife. Popular spots include Pastabilities, Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge and The MOST, an interactive science museum located in the former Syracuse Armory building. 

3. Erie Canal Museum - Located in the 1850 Weighlock Building where canal boats once stopped as they traveled through Syracuse, this museum brings the adventurous story of the Erie Canal to life. Walk through the weigh chamber which features a full-replica line boat, visit the Victorian-era Canalside garden and enjoy many more creative exhibits. 

Family fun

NYS Fair - Photo Courtesy of The Great New York State FairThe Great New York State Fair - The first state fair in the entire nation, the New York State Fair has been a renowned showcase for the best in agriculture, entertainment, education and technology since it started in 1841. Legendary performers from Frank Sinatra to Neil Young have held the musical stage, its midway rides attract thousands of fairgoers and the food is always news-worthy. This year, you'll find the annual Taste NY Food Truck Competition as well as the new Craft Beer Festival and many more special events. Bring the whole family and get your tickets here.

Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) - The MOST as it’s known, is true to its name. Home to hands-on exhibits, a colorful planetarium and the only domed IMAX® theater in New York State, it’s the MOST fun place for science and learning at any age.Syracuse University

Destiny USA - The sixth largest mall in the United States, this place isn’t just a shopping center--it’s an entertainment, game and food destination for all ages. Filled with interactive, indoor play parks to run, bounce and slide like Billy Beez as well as hands-on adventure centers like WonderWorks, 5 Wits and The Amazing Mirror Maze, it’s a hub of kid-friendly fun. For special discounts, check out their special play pass or shopping pass, because you’re going to want to see it all.

Spend a day

Destiny USA WonderWorks Rope Course - Photo Courtesy of Destiny USA

Syracuse has a long list of must-see places and Destiny USA is undoubtedly one of the top. The sixth largest mall in the country, it’s a fun-for-all-ages entertainment complex that far exceeds your expectations for a shopping center. Tackle hands-on exhibits like the Canyon Climb Adventure ropes course, ride go-karts, explore mirror mazes, and of course, enjoy plenty of outlet shopping.

After, bike the East Shore and West Shore Trails from Onondaga Lake Park. The paths make up 14.5 miles of trail around the lake where you'll get scenic views of the city skyline. Of course, you can hop off at any time to enjoy the playgrounds, picnic areas and lakefront views. Bring your own or rent Syracuse Universitybicycles and skates from Mckie Sports "Cuse Cycle" Rental Shop, located next to the Griffin Visitor Center at the south end of the park.

In the evening, head to Syracuse’s cultural hub: Armory Square. The red brick paths and cobble streets will guide you to galleries, boutiques and music venues that reside in the historic buildings and converted warehouses of the area’s industrial past. 

Spend a weekend

Clinton Square SyracuseClinton Square, a neighborhood laced with 19th century architecture that's buzzing with outdoor events and festivals, is a living example of the city’s storied past. The fountain (which turns into an ice rink in winter) was once part of the Erie Canal, which flowed through the heart of Clinton Square until 1925. Visually beautiful as it is historic, the square is a popular place for visitors and locals alike, so make sure it’s on your agenda for a weekend here.  

The square’s vivid past comes alive at the Erie Canal Museum, where interactive exhibits give you an up close look at life on the legendary Erie Canal and adventures of the 19th century. Whether you're walking through the museum's full-size replica line boat, exploring the Weigh Chamber where real canal boats once weighed in or soaking in the artistic exhibits, this museum is a journey through time. After, hop over to the original Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to taste the pulled pork and brisket that made them the award-winning BBQ joint they are today.

Sundaycredit Erie Canal Museum
Some throw around the words “Caribbean blue” to describe beautiful waters, but that is truly the only way to explain Green Lakes State Park. Geologic bedrock at the lake’s bottom, combined with dissolved minerals and natural sulfur, create an astounding color in two glacial lakes. See it up close by renting kayaks and canoes at the park boathouse or explore hiking trails that weave through acres of upland forest.

In the evening, head to Eastwood Brewery where you can sample a variety of craft brews without breaking the bank. Their $3 tasting fee gives you four samples of craft beer in a cozy, inviting atmosphere. And while this is a nano-brewery (meaning it's smaller than a micro brewery), we promise they're big on fresh, original flavor.

Spend a week

The Carrier Dome at Syracuse University - Photo Courteys of Carrier DomeMonday
Catch a game at the Carrier Dome and you’ll find a sea of orange, roaring spectators who exude the energy and passion usually reserved for the major leagues. Syracuse Orange, the name of the university’s athletic teams, have won several NCAA championship titles and garner a fun-filled fanbase like no other. Simply said, these games need to be experienced to be understood. Find season tickets here and witness a legendary basketball, football, lacrosse or other Division I game. 

TuesdayCredit Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Among the top zoos in the nation, Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park provides an up close look at the planet’s animals through education and care. Home to over 700 species, you'll discover astounding animals from Asian Elephants to African Lions. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of their adorable newborns such as Red Panda cubs. For more animal fun, check out the zoo's education programs, demonstrations and kids camps that offer a deeper understanding of wildlife and conservation.

Start your morning by exploring the rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops at Clark Reservation State Park. Hiking trails wind through its lush woodland which includes a glacial lake that was the site of a large waterfall at the end of the last Ice Age. Believe it or not, the relief of the ancient fossil waterfall in this deep lake is bigger than that of Niagara Falls! But don’t let the facts intimidate you, there are plenty of easy and intermediate level trails for a leisurely walk through the woods. 

Later, visit the Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center, a new Native American museum that explores the culture of the Haudenosaunee. Known as People of the Long House, this unique group lived in the central New York area, had special ties to Onondaga Lake and are known for creating the game of lacrosse as well as early democracy. Explore the center’s art, exhibits and learn more about the museum's name: Skä•noñh, an Onondaga greeting which means “peace and wellness.” 

Everson Museum of Art - Photo Courtesy of Onondaga County - Visit SyracuseThursday
Visit the Everson Museum of Art, established in 1897 by the same art historian who founded The MET in New York City, the establishment displays a diverse collection of contemporary and modern art from American paintings and photography to videos and graphics. Beyond the permanent and rotating exhibits, the museum also hosts special film screenings and interactive events like outdoor yoga and painting classes. Check their special events page for the latest information and tap into your inner artist. 

From the era of “movie palaces,” the Landmark Theatre is an opulent theatrical venue of the 1920s, where the grand interior only adds to the splendor of its performances. Designed by renowned 20th century credit Daylight Blue Mediaarchitect Thomas Lamb, the theater has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts a variety of performances including Broadway shows like The Lion King and more musical productions. 

Top off the night with a drink at Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge. The plush carpets and leather couches create a cool, sultry vibe to enjoy a long list of wine and whiskey bottles that line the wall at Al’s. So relax with a glass, listen to live music from new bands and you will quickly realize why everyone loves this downtown hangout.

Skaneateles Lake, the cleanest of the Finger Lakes, is the place to find charming downtown boutiques, rolling vineyards and scenic boating. Hit the water with Mid-Lakes Navigation which offers daily sightseeing tours of the lake as well as food cruises and special events. To chart your own course, pick up rental kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and more water toys at the Skaneateles Marina.

You haven’t visited the Finger Lakes until you’ve done a wine tour in the region, and Anyela’s Vineyards is a perfect place to start. Located hillside above the lake, this family owned establishment started its story in Eastern Europe and has since planted its roots on the shores of Skaneateles. Simply walk into the tasting room and spend your Saturday sampling fruitful blends or touring their grape orchards.

SundayBeak n Skiff
You may know Beak & Skiff for their famous 1911 Hard Cider, but those who visit know there are many reasons it was voted #1 Apple Orchard in the Country by USA Today. The farm has grown New York apples for over 100 years, which allows visitors to enjoy everything from apple picking to treats at the Apple Hill Country Store like warm apple pie, cider donuts, local NY cheddar cheese and homemade fudge. And with the 1911 Tasting Room on site, it’s a perfect place to kick back with a glass of hard cider, wine or spirits as the kids enjoy the outdoor play area.

Where to stay

credit Hotel SkylerHotel Skyler 
Once a synagogue, this temple-turned-hotel is now home to plush rooms with an eclectic flare. Their breakfast bar is chock full of artisanal style eats including homemade egg soufflé cups and organic yogurts so you can fuel up to explore everything this college city has to offer. And its location in the historic University Hill neighborhood means it’s walking distance from Syracuse University and the Carrier Dome.

Aloft Syracuse Inner Harbor
A chic, waterfront hotel with a reasonable price tag sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the folks at Aloft are here to prove you wrong. Since opening in 2016, this place has gained praise for its funky interior and practical cost without sacrificing comfort. So dip in the pool, relax at the colorful cocktail lounge and take in your view of Onondaga Lake.

Marriott Syracuse Downtowncredit Tony Secker, Loriant Studio
Few hotels hold the grandeur and lavish history of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, originally built as Hotel Syracuse in 1924. Today, this restored landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers a glimpse into a bygone era from its chandeliers that adorn the Grand Ballroom to its beautiful guest suites with all the modern luxuries you need for a relaxing getaway. It’s also walking distance from Armory Square, the Landmark Theatre as well as downtown shops and restaurants. 

Where to eat

The Gem
If Grease’s Danny and Sandy wanted to share a milkshake in Syracuse, they’d come to The Gem. Founded in 1950, this place is everything you could want from an old fashioned diner, from their classic stainless steel interior to their hearty portions. Order a stack of fluffy pancakes or a juicy burger and you’ll understand why this old school spot has served Syracuse for generations. 

credit Wainwright PhotographyHeid's of Liverpool
Few places evoke American nostalgia quite like Heid’s of Liverpool. One of the oldest restaurants around, this quick-serving hotdog spot has been dishing up franks and classic eats since their doors opened in 1917. A step inside provides a rare view into a bygone era, and their delicious dogs have earned national praise including a special feature on the Travel Channel’s series Man v. Food. Chow down on a coney, a frank, or both and get a taste of the classic digs this city has loved for over 100 years. 

Funk 'N Waffles
The story of this place started years ago at Syracuse University when two college roommates began cooking up waffles for their friends. One night, they threw a party where musicians performed live and free waffles were served--it was a hit. After graduation, they opened a waffle-music hangout in Armory Square and have been dishing up delicious eats and great beats ever since. Check them out to hear music from local artists and enjoy creative food in a chill atmosphere.


Recipient of the “Best of Syracuse” Award for best lunch, this downtown staple is serving up homemade pasta and Italian dishes with a contemporary flare. Whatever deliciousness you order from the menu, make sure you don’t leave without trying their famous hot tomato oil appetizer. 

Lemon Grass 
Its name implies what it brings to the table: fresh and flavorful cuisine. For over 20 years, the owners of Lemon Grass have served innovated Thai food, poured an award-winning list of wines, and created an ambiance of style and warmth. Stop in for your favorite Thai curries or discover a new dish like their Prig Pow, an entrée made of roasted chili paste, garlic peppers and more flavorful ingredients. 

Cool things to know

The Great New York State Fair, which started in Syracuse in 1841, was the first state fair in the entire country and continues to be one of the largest nationwide.

NYS FairSyracuse was named after the original Greek city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Now part of Italy, it is known by its Italian name, Siracusa.

Skaneateles Lake, the cleanest of the Finger Lakes, has supplied Syracuse with fresh drinking water for over 100 years. 

National Geographic's Green Guide named Syracuse "One of America's Top 20 Green Cities" and American Planning Association named University Hill one of America's Top Ten Neighborhoods.

Getting there 

By air
• Whether you're traveling near or far, start your journey by flying into Syracuse Hancock International Airport located at 1000 Col Eileen Collins Blvd, Syracuse, NY 13212

By Train 
• Amtrak to Syracuse Station at 1 Walsh Circle. Taxi service is available from the station to downtown attractions. 

By bus
• Take Trailways or Greyhound to Syracuse Bus Station located at 1 Walsh Circle.

By car
• From NYC: 4 hours
• From Buffalo: 2.5 hours
• From Boston: 5 hours
• From Albany: 2.25 hours
• From Montreal: 4.5 hours

More things to do in the Finger Lakes