Contributed by Steve Gordon
Welcome to Ithaca!
This is a short guide consisting of some of my favorite things about Ithaca. I have lived here about 10 years and I don’t know all of the secrets of this wonderful place—but I do know why it is special to me and my family; This is what this guide is all about.
Ithaca is a wonderful place to visit in any season and I hope you enjoy all it has to offer.
My Top 10 Favorite Things to Do in Ithaca in Good Weather
1. HIKE, HIKE, HIKE
There are so many good hikes here, you could go for days. But some great 1-2 hour hikes are all in our local state parks; Treman (my favorite), Buttermilk and Taughannock . My favorite creek trail is Fall Creek, which you can hike for 1-6 hours. It is right in town – starts right at Cornell.
Or “Walk, Walk, Walk”. You will enjoy walking through Cass or Stewart Parks, right on the water and if you like old houses and architecture, walk through any of our Downtown (also some neat Churches), Fall creek, Cayuga Heights (the “upscale” hood) or Cornell Heights neighborhood streets.
2. KAYAK (or boat)
Rent a Kayak at Puddledockers on West Buffalo Street – right on the Channel, and check our beautiful town waterways. Also a great late-afternoon activity.
It’s not pretty, but it floats, ---the old “Haendel”, a large tug which leaves just east of “Noat Yard Grill” restaurant (on old Taughannock Blvd.) and will take you out on the lake for a nice cruise. and I think the sunset/cocktail cruise is a wonderful way to see the southern end of our lake.
In the Lake or in a creek. There are several places to swim but the closest official public beach is at Taughannock Park, up route 89. Walk to the Waterfall, then cool-off in the lake. On the East side, just up route 34-A, there is Myer’s Park in Lansing which is also a good “official” place to swim.
Treman State Park, off route 13, just South of Town is great to hike, picnic and a wonderful swimming hole where you can walk (or try) to walk under a waterfall Buttermilk Falls State Park, slightly closer to town, just off South Route 13, is also a nice place to swim—can get somewhat crowded on a hot summer afternoon.
In Fall Creek, there is a place called “Flat rock” (which is a big flat rock in the middle of the creek) where locals often splash and sun-bathe. It is one of several “unofficial” places where people swim but technically, are not supposed to. I have never seen anyone told to leave this area.
There is also pool-swimming in Cass Park.
We have more restaurant per capita than New York City! See my restaurant list.
(not necessarily good weather)
The most exciting sporting event in Ithaca is Big Red Hockey at Cornell. Call the Cornell box office or go to this website: http://elf.elynah.com/list.php?3 The second best event is Ithaca Bomber Football.
The stadium overlooks Cayuga Lake and the school is annually ranked among the top D3 teams in the country. Next, in my book is Cornell lacrosse, big-time D1 action and always a leading school at this sport.
If you like baseball, Syracuse, one hour away, has one of the prettiest triple AAA ballparks in the nation. Elmira, 40 minutes away, has a college development team that plays in an ancient stadium – Dunn Field – it is a classic!
6. WALK AROUND CORNELL
This may be the prettiest college campus in America and a great place to take a stroll. Park in back of Willard Straight Hall and go inside there and Sibley Hall—Harry Potter time! Walk the quad and at the North end, check out the famous suspension bridge, then head East – around Bebe Lake and into the Plantations, 100’s of acres of absolutely beautiful flora and fauna.
7. WALK THE CASCADILLA CREEK GORGE FROM CORNELL-to DOWNTOWN -- THE COMMONS.
Start at Cornell (or walk-up) it doesn’t matter, about 30-40 minutes in one of the prettiest water-walks you have ever seen. You’ll see numerous waterfalls, interesting geology and surrounded by nature’s “boom box”. Walk around our cute, old downtown and check out the Commons, which is our most trafficked walking/shopping area. Stop in at Ale House for a burger, or Viva Taqueria for a margherita.
The Commons is a lively, funky restaurant and shopping area in downtown that is the heart of the community and continually striving to be as ‘cool’ as Burlington Vermont’s, or Boulder Colorado’s downtown “commons”. Someday.
There are some very interesting ships and most of our best restaurants, movies, and music on Thursday summer nights. Come see the “gathering” of Ithaca’s unique mix of: fun; enthusiastic; odd; students; counter-culture types; professionals; families with dancing kids and just plain “guy next door” people creating some energy in our little urban setting.
For some reason, I love this place – it is a tree house, built by the community. It is a beautiful setting and to me, it represents what Ithaca is all about. Located at the Cayuga Nature Center, up route 89 on the west side of the Lake.
9. CORNING MUSEUM OF GLASS
This is also on the “bad weather” list but this is a fantastic museum in any time. It really has something for everyone – you will be amazed at the incredible scope of the art of everything glass, so beautifully presented at this world-class museum. Food is good here as well. The town of Corning is also super-cute and you should check that out while you are there as well.
10. WATCHING PLAYS AND MUSIC
Ithaca has lots of it. There are four theatres in this little town: Cornell and Ithaca (during the school year), the Kitchen (all but summer) and the Hangar (mostly summer). The Hangar is the coolest, formerly a hangar from Ithaca’s first airport (Amelia Earhart was here!) and they have absolutely excellent plays and musicals. It is located in a park, it is beautiful--Go early, have a picnic and watch some great theatre.
Music is everywhere. In the summer – Taughannock Park, Cornell and a couple of the wineries offer wonderful outdoor music. Grassroots Festival – in nearby Trumansburg in July, has to be one of the best music festivals anywhere! There are some well-known bands but mostly, regional music that you haven’t seen before and it is GREAT!
In all but summer (no air conditioning), we have an elegant, stately, much beloved and continually-being-restored theatre dating back to the 20’s – The State – downtown. They have big-name concerts and some cool less-known but rising groups. It is a special place to watch a concert and always with an enthusiastic, appreciative crowd.
You can also catch music pretty much year round at Maxies Restaurant, Agave, Chapter House, Felicias and several others
Ithaca Farmers Market – we have a great one – right on the water – every weekend in the warm months. Great food, gifts, always music and fun.
Biking is pretty good. There is a Waterfront Trail in Cass Park is very pretty – but only two miles long. Ultimately, it will connect with the rest of the completed trail around Stewart Park and we’ll have a real bike trail!
Best trail biking is Shenadagin Forest near Caroline.
Cross country skiing is awesome here –both Hammond Hill State Forrest (east of Ithaca) and Finger Lakes National Forest (Northeast) are spectacular with lightly groomed trails (unless you are really early – then you’ll be “trail-blazing”).
We have a nice ski hill with a new super chair-lift, Greek Peak which is only 25 minutes away. It is a small hill by Utah, California, Colorado, Vermont standards but you’ll pay less, won’t be waiting in line and will have a great time.
You can ice skate or sled on Rice Road in Taughannock Park. You can also sled near parking lot “C” at Cornell or Cornell Plantations but you have to walk a bit to get to this hill.
Hiking is also good in winter as is snow-shoeing. Best winter hike (again – this is my opinion), Fall Creek Trail, left side of gorge at Monkey Run off route 13.
Cool nearby Towns:
Cute towns to drive to and eat lunch within an hour: Skaneateles, Hammondsport (on Keuka Lake), Corning, Homer and Watkins Glen which is on Seneca Lake. Watkins Glen State Park (right in town) also has, (again- my opinion) the best gorge trail hike in the area and that is saying a lot! The restaurants at waters edge are also good, and fun for lunch or dinner.
Drive Around Cayuga Lake
You can also drive around Cayuga Lake, it would take under two hours without stops but there are some nice stops – start up Lansing on the Eastside so you can end sampling some wineries on the Westside on the way back to Ithaca. You’ll pass through the cute town of Aurora, home of Wells College, Auburn and you should stop in Seneca Falls which has some good restaurants and is home to “Women’s Rights National Historic Park” which is definitely worth a visit. You can also check out the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge nearby which is best during migration seasons (Oct-Nov and Mar-April). Then head back down the lake and see the wineries, Sheldrake Point Winery in Ovid has some nice wines and this is one of the prettiest spots on the lake.
Drive around Seneca Lake
There are more established wineries around this Lake which is 30 minutes from Ithaca. Drive West on 79 W and turn right at 414 when you get to the Lake. You’ll find wineries all the way around.
At the top of the Lake, Geneva is a nice place to have lunch or dinner and down the East side of the Lake to the southern tip is Watkins Glen – home to Formula One Racing, Watkins Glen State Park (GREAT hike) and a a very nice hotel and restaurant: Glen Harbor, right on the water.
Elmira is not “cute” but Mark Twain lived there and is buried there and it is cool to see his grave and also – his study which is at Elmira College. “The Express”, Heisman Winner Ernie Davis who died way-too-young is buried in the same cemetery.
An hour and a half away are the Baseball Hall of Fame and Howe Caverns, if you like caves and bats or bats and caves.
Other Lakes to visit that are also very pretty: Skaneatleles, Keuka, Conesius and Cayuta Lake (managed by Cornell) which is hard to find but only about a 30 minute drive form Ithaca.
1.1A. Just A Taste
Always good, but best in summer-- sit on the funky patio in back that feels like the lower east side NYC in the 70’s. It is tapas (only tapas), very tasty and a nice variety of international wines.
2. Gola Osteria
Italian. Delicious traditional and some modern takes as well. Great wine list. Very hard to find - in the old hospital building at 115 S. Quarry St. and the entrance is a bit funky but once you get inside the restaurant, it is very pleasant. Expensive.
3. Le Cafe Cent-Dix
French (obviously). Very good, nice, somewhat cozy atmosphere. Near the Commons at 110 N. Aurora
Mediterranean. Very nice and delicious. Same owners as Cent-dix.
4. Glenwood Pines
This is a local institution – voted ‘best burger’ every year and also has great fish sandwiches – consistent, very casual and a lake view. I am not sure it is the best burger in town (but very good!) but when you take the whole thing in – it is a pretty great place.
5. Ale House
“Pub” type food– always excellent burgers, salads, pizza – VERY GOOD. The other is Ithaca Beer Company on South Route 13. Also – go in summer and sit late, late afternoon on the patio for a splendid view, really great handcrafted beer and very good pub-type food.
East side of Ithaca, near Eastside Plaza.Southwest – great atmosphere – sit on the patio in the summer.
Italian – modern-ish, northern Italian, nice atmosphere and very good. Pizza is thin crust crisp and the pasta is delish.
8. Viva Taqueria
Mexican – Don’t get me wrong, the food is good, but not like the L.A. Mexican that we love. It is Ithaca-ized with tofu burritos alongside chicken and beef tacos. It is good and always busy. They have good margs and they are only $5 for happy hour!
9. Sushi or Sake
Japanese – collegetown. Consistently good sushi and noodle dishes. There is also good sushi near the Ithaca Mall. It has an odd but mostly pleasant
Asian modern atmosphere – Sumo Restaurant in Cayuga Mall.
10. Café Dewitt
Brunch and lunch-great food in a unique setting – a “mall” in an old school house—funky, very “Ithaca” And:
10-A. Asia Cuisine
Possibly the most boring name ever given an Asian Reataurant but the fact remains- the cuisine (including sushi) are consistently good. Downtown "vibe" and this is good Asian, especially the Korean entrees.
11. Ned’s Pizza
Pizza – Great for take-out – no beer or wine. Very casual. Thin crust, fresh ingredients, voted “Best” by Cornell students several years running. Located in Cayuga Heights near the shopping area.
In the middle of the commons. Asian fusion – sophisticated yet not pretentious atmosphere, comfortable, pricey and delicious.
12. Moosewood Restaurant
Here in Ithaca, one of the most famous vegetarian restaurants in the U.S. and if you try it out – it is always good, somewhat upscale. By the way, they often have some kind of fish on the menu as well. I also like that the place it is located in the “Dewitt Mall” which is an old school house.
13. Boat Yard Grill
On the lake-No, you haven’t seen it before although it is Ithaca’s version of the Chart House seafood restaurants and it is probably the most popular restaurant with tourists, and, the lake view is spectacular. Good bar as well and nice appetizers.
Commons-good traditional fare. (Currently under re-construction)
15. Taste of Thai
On The Commons, delicious Thai cuisine, pleasant atmosphere as well.
College Town. Very tasty Indian food. Also has a good, reasonably priced buffet lunch.
Mediterranean – Casual lunch--type place – pleasant, fresh and very tasty Greek fare.
18. The Antlers
A classic-since 1972. On Dryden Road for good "meat and potato" type food in a “homey” atmosphere.
1. Chapter House
(Sadly burned down in 2014 but is under-reconstruction)
On Stewart Avenue is a long time Cornell Student hang-out and it is a cool “dump” with the best beer selection in Ithaca.
Cool atmosphere. "Cornellish" crowd, nice bartenders.
Has music on Fridays and Saturdays – crowded but good service and delicious raw oysters if you are in the mood. Specializes in “Cajun style” cooking and is very popular for dinner and Ithaca’s late night dinner hang-out.
This place reminds me most of a nice NYC bar and also has good food. Service can be spotty.
5. Ithaca Beer Company
On the south side of town, this micro-brewary is very popular and has consistently good beer and tasty food. The outdoor dining with a view of the big field is a pure delight in summer.
6. The Westie
On W. State. Low key, “hidden”, very cool and a favorite of young(er) Cornell and IC academics.
Nice bar, cozy old-oakie look. In College Town - a long-time tradition but under new owners.
Long-time favorite for beer, deep-dish pizza and music on the weekends. College Town.
Downtown – nice atmosphere and in the middle of the "action." Usually not a college hangout, with 70’s music – but very pleasant, nice drinks good appetizers which are half price during happy hour.
Statler Hotel on Cornell campus. It is nice but not exceptional – the best thing is the location (very near football and hockey venues) and the fact that you have esteemed Cornell Hotel School students fussing over you. The restaurant, Taverna Banfi, is also attractive but has inconsistent food.
Things to do in gloomy weather…
One thing about Ithaca is the variety of our weather –it can be sunny and beautiful and could change to gloomy (and not-so-beautiful) the next minute and this can happen in any season. We have five distinct seasons here: Summer, fall, winter, mud, and spring
When the sun is gone and rain clouds appear, there are still things you might enjoy and these are a few of my favorites
1. Waterfall Watching
The wetter, the better. In wet spring the waterfalls are in bloom and we have 3 close-by that are spectacular and you can see them from your car.
2. Ithaca Falls
Directions - Located North of Ithaca Cornell University. Head South from the hotel on route 13. Exit at ramp toward RT-34 N/STEWART PARK/AUBURN - go 0.1 mi. Turn Right on JAMES L GIBBS DR (RT-34) - go 0.1 mi. Turn Right on E SHORE DR(RT-34) - go 0.6 mi
Continue on - go mi, it is at the bridge, on your left.
Directions: To the lower parking area: Go right (south) on Route 13 and follow all the way to the end of the businesses, it will be another ¼ mile on your left.
Go 13 south to Route 89, Taughannock Blvd and go 9.9 miles up the west side of Cayuga Lake, pass by the park entrance and turn left where it says, “Falls Overlook”. Follow directions to falls overlook.
3. Go wine tasting
Experience the wines of the Finger Lakes right here in Ithaca.
Drive North on Route 89 up East side of Lake and start tasting. You’ll see wineries beginning after Taughannock Falls State Park.
4. The Johnson Art Museum
A wonderful small art museum you can enjoy for an hour or two. On the Cornell Campus, at Johnson and University Avenues. Go up the hill from Stewart and follow the signs.
5. Stewart Park
Just drive through for a great view of the lake. If it isn’t raining, get out of the car and swing on the bench swings as you take in the lake. There was also a thriving silent- film studio here but not much to see until it is restored but there is a beautiful turn-of-the century boathouse on the west end of the park that is pretty cool and currently under restoration. After that drive up the east shore drive (rt 34) and enjoy the view of the lake on your left.
Go a little further and have a beer at an old stage stop – Rogues Harbor Inn.
6. Corning Museum of Glass
This is 40 minutes away, in Corning but a world-class museum and spectacular for its collection and presentation.
7. Cinnemopolis. Ithaca is blessed with two independent, non-profit theatres and you can always find a fantastic film at this one plus the popcorn is popped in canola oil and it is good! Located downtown on the commons. Enter the parking garage off Green Street.
The other Independent is Cornell Cinema in the basement of Willard Straight Hall and this is a classic, handsome, old but technologically up-to-date theatre.
8. Cornell Plantations. 4300 acres of beautiful gardens. Northernmost point of Cornell campus. You can drive it if it is raining, or take a beautiful walk if it isn’t (or if you like walking in the rain). Ask the hotel the best way to get there.
Other museums in Town:
Museum of The Earth – up route 96 is a cool museum featuring, you guessed it – geology and paleontology
Children’s Science Center – on Route 13. Fun for adults too
History Center on East State Street at the bottom of the Hill. This place can be very cool with the right exhibits – they have great old photos of Ithaca and Tompkins County.
Best Spectator Sports in Ithaca
1. Cornell Ice Hockey - a wonderful, unique experience.
2. Ithaca Bomber Football - It's NCAA Division Three, but very serious football. Always a full house and enthusiastic crowd. The view of the Lake from Butterfield Stadium is outstanding.
3. Cornell Lacrosse - This is big time lacrosse with a team that is normally a nationally -ranked squad
4. Ithaca College Women's Soccer - a perennial D3 Powerhouse and fun to watch.
5. Cornell Wrestling - also, typically Division One leaders.
6. The windsurfers on Lake Cayuga. You can watch from Stewart Park - normally every afternoon from April to November. These folks can fly!!!