Itching to get out of the city and slow down for a few days? Look no further than Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region. It’s the ideal weekend getaway from NYC if you love nature, small towns and wine. Don’t worry, the 5-hour drive from the city will put you in chill mode in no time.
The Finger Lakes region includes 11 long, skinny lakes that give it its name, and is home to one of the country’s most prolific wine-producing areas. In addition to wine, it’s also known for having quite the collection of waterfalls. Pretty great claims to fame if you ask me.
We chose to stay in an Airbnb close to downtown Ithaca as our home base for exploring the area. Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, Ithaca’s got that great college-town vibe, a stellar craft beer scene and some top-notch restaurants too.
Tip: Using a car rental service just outside of NYC will save you a ton of money. Take the Metro North to White Plains and rent a car from there. Bonus points for avoiding city traffic, too.
Day 1: Arrive + Explore Downtown Ithaca
After a long car ride, we were more than ready to get settled and head out for lunch or dinner in Ithaca proper. Just a Taste serves tapas and came highly recommended by our Airbnb host, as well as Yelp, and we were not disappointed. A line forms before they’re open and they fill up right away, so get there early. Enjoy their Finger Lakes wine flight to get a taste of what’s to come.
After some seriously delicious tapas, we went for a post-meal walk around downtown and enjoyed the cool wall art. As the evening was winding down, we made our way to one of the bars in the area known for serving up Ithaca’s great craft beer (yes, craft beer is beginning to rival wine in the area). If you have time, you might want to check out Ithaca Beer Co a little south of the city.
Day 2: Taughannock Falls State Park + Finger Lakes Wine Tour by Boat
This morning we woke up early to see Taughannock Falls before heading out for a day of sailing and sipping along Cayuga Lake. Taughannock Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies. You can go down to the bottom or view at the top for free like we did.
Next, we joined up with School’s Out Charters to explore Finger Lakes wineries by boat. We had such a great time on the water, enjoying the beautiful vineyards, and of course, the wine. I highly recommend it.
After a gorgeous ride along the water, we docked and were met by a staff member from Long Point Winery who drove us up the hillside to the vineyard. There we had a wine tasting and delicious lunch overlooking the lake and surrounding countryside. The Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite here.
Back in the boat, we cruised across the lake to Thirsty Owl Wine Company. I really enjoyed their Malbec. And don’t forget to try the ice wine—it’s a treat.
For our last stop, we headed to Sheldrake Point Winery where we enjoyed tasty food pairings with our wines. Their dry rosé is summer perfection.
After a beautiful day of sunshine, wine and sailing Cayuga Lake, we headed to Maxie’s for some New Orleans-style food based on the recommendation of pretty much everyone. We had Po Boys, and while tasty, I think we would have enjoyed our meal more if we weren’t sunburnt, tired and a little too tipsy. 😉
Day 3: Watkins Glen + Drive Back to NYC
Up early with exploration on my mind, we started the day in Collegetown near the Cornell campus where we had bagels and coffee at Collegetown Bagels.
At this point, you could fit in Buttermilk Falls before heading to Watkins Glen. However, I had a special mission this morning: to find the house that my mother lived in when she was two years old.
I patched together details from her memory and some more clues from my grandma, and off we went. Lo and behold, I found the house! I was so happy to stumble across a home that was so special to my family 60 years ago.
Onward to Watkins Glen State Park, a 30-minute drive from Ithaca. While there’s tons of hiking do at Watkins Glen, you can see the pièce de résistance (aka the amazing waterfall that flows through the gorge) in about 15 minutes if you’re in a time crunch. Unfortunately, we had to make sure we returned our rental car on time, so for us, it was a quick, but oh-so-worth-it trip to Watkins Glen.
Relaxed and inspired by nature and countryside, it was time to head back to the city. Sometimes a weekend getaway from NYC is all you need to hit the reset button, and a quick Finger Lakes vacation was just the trick. All in all though, three days felt short considering the driving time, so if you have four days, I’d say take it.
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