The Complete Guide to 48 Hours in Ithaca, NY

I spent four amazing years at Ithaca College, which means I also spent the majority of those four years (and a summer) in Ithaca, NY and haven’t stopped telling people about it since. It’s been a while since my last weekend in Ith and I’m seriously missing the small city at the foot of Cayuga Lake.

Every few months, someone asks me what there is to do in Ithaca because it’s close enough to Buffalo that a weekend trip is totally doable. There are plenty of Airbnbs and hotel rooms (as long as you’re not trying to go during graduation or family weekend – check the Cornell and Ithaca College calendars!), and the number of parks and public spaces make for an affordable getaway.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Buttermilk Falls State Park

It’s to the point that I have a giant message that I copy and paste into conversations with friends. There’s a lot on that list, but it’s probably not the most organized way to share all of Ithaca’s must-dos. In its place, I created a 48-hour itinerary for my ideal weekend in Ithaca.

This is by no means a complete collection of everything Ithaca has to offer. It’s also best completed during the summer or fall when it’s not -5°, windy and sleeting. Hopefully, I’ll be following this exact schedule for my next trip to the Finger Lakes later this year!

Friday

Taking a half day on Friday means getting to Ithaca early enough on Friday to fit in a few fun things before calling it a night. Coming from Buffalo, I like taking the Thruway to Exit 41 for Waterloo/Clyde and heading down Route 89 along Cayuga Lake. This way, you have to pass Taughannock Falls State Park before getting to Ithaca.

Park in the lot on the right side of the road and head to the trail to stretch your legs. Take the Gorge Trail for a quick walk (less than a mile) to the base of the falls. You can also start the weekend off strong with the South Rim Trail to the North Rim Trail, which together are just over 3 miles. This route will take you up and around the falls. You’ll also pass the overlook (you can drive there using Taughannock Park Road instead) on this trail for that Instagram-famous view of the falls.

Hopefully, you’ve worked up an appetite by now and are ready for burritos and margaritas at Viva Taqueria. Order from the counter (walk in the front door and turn right) and take your haul (make sure you add chips and salsa) to one of the tables outside to watch as people enjoy dinner at the row of restaurants along Aurora Street. If the weather isn’t as nice, ask the hostess for a table on the full-service side of the restaurant.

After dinner, window shop your way through the Commons and make your way down either West State Street or West Green Street to end up at Liquid State Brewing Company. Liquid State is a newcomer and I haven’t tried it yet, which is why it’s a high priority on my weekend itinerary.

Saturday

I love starting the weekend at Carriage House Cafe in Collegetown. Carriage House was, in fact, once a carriage house; it’s been restored beautifully into a cute, cozy and delicious brunch spot. Like a lot of restaurants in Ithaca, the menu depends on what’s in season.

Since you’re already in Collegetown, head to Cornell University for some Ivy League vibes. Here, you can simply drive through campus and take in the beautiful architecture and views of Ithaca and the surrounding hills. Walk around McGraw Tower (the Cornell Chimes ring three times a day) and duck into Uris Library.

These beautiful structures will look familiar to Buffalonians because they were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, whose namesake designed the buildings within the Richardson Olmstead Complex. Within Uris Library is the A. D. White Library, which gives off serious Harry Potter vibes.

If you’re into art museums, check out the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art next. There’s a little bit of everything here, from African artifacts to modern mixed-media. Even if art isn’t your thing, the view of Cayuga Lake from the top floor is gorgeous.

When the weather’s nice, skip the museum and head straight to the Cornell Botanic Gardens for a nice walk. Start in the gardens surrounding the Nevin Welcome Center before heading to either the Mundy Wildflower Garden or Beebe Lake Loop Trail.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Cornell Botanic Gardens

By now, you’re probably ready for lunch (which, because it’s Saturday in Ithaca will technically be brunch at most restaurants), so drive to Avaga, a farm to table southwestern restaurant in an old train station near Cornell. Go for the frittata; the black bean burger is good too. If you’d rather, check out Agava for dinner. Start with guac and order a couple of wood-fired flatbreads before live music starts.

Get over your mimosa-induced slump with an afternoon pick me up at Gimme! Coffee. I personally think this is the best coffee in Ithaca and their Cayuga Street location is my favorite. Sit inside or out with your coffee, or take it to go and wander down quaint Cascadilla Street until you get to Cascadilla Gorge. This pretty trail is short, making it a nice post-lunch walk.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Drive to the Upper Park Entrance of Robert H. Treman State Park and take the Rim Trail to Lucifer Falls. Cross the bridge and walk back up to the parking lot on the Gorge Trail. You could substitute this hike for Buttermilk Falls State Park just across Route 13. If you want to see falls without any walking (there’s a good reason the tour guides at Ithaca College tell you about “Itha-calves”), check out Ithaca Falls Natural Area at the end of Falls Street.

For dinner, head to Ithaca Beer Co. If you’re done with nature (or the weather isn’t great) come to the taproom early for a brewery tour before dinner. They’re fun, informational and indoors. There are lots of seasonal ingredients grown nearby on this menu too. Pizza’s a good bet, and so is the burger with fries (made better by the house-made ketchup). I’m partial to pairing them with a Flower Power and Apricot Wheat, but I’ve never had a bad brew here.

Another great dinner option is Coltivare, a farm to table restaurant that’s part of Tompkins Cortland Community College’s culinary program. It’s the priciest option in this itinerary, but I think it’s worth it.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Ithaca Beer Co.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Sunset at Stewart Park

After dinner, head to Stewart Park, right on the southern end of Cayuga Lake. It’s my favorite place to watch the sun set over the hills.

Sunday

Depending on whether or not you’re still full from all the food you ate on Saturday, eat breakfast on Sunday morning at either Waffle Frolic or Collegetown Bagels, both located in the Commons.

During the school year, the line for Waffle Frolic can reach out the door. It’s worth the wait. Your imagination is the limit here, where you can top four different kinds of waffles with everything from bacon and eggs to Nutella and locally-made ice cream.

Collegetown Bagels has, you guessed it, awesome bagels. My go-to CTB breakfast is the pizza bagel on a sesame seed bagel. There’s nothing better after a busy Saturday or late night. There’s also a Collegetown location. That one is open late, so if you want dessert Saturday night, it’s a good option!

For your morning caffeine, walk to Press Cafe in Press Bay Alley. This row of shops was once home to the Ithaca Journal’s offices and printers. The back side of this airy cafe’s building is where you’ll find the “Ithaca is Amusing” mural you may have seen on Instagram.

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Farmers' Market

48 Hours in Ithaca, NY | Insider's Guide | Farmers' Market

A weekend in Ithaca isn’t complete without a trip to the farmers’ market. Stock up on fresh fruits, veggies and flowers along with a good part of Ithaca’s population. Sunday hours start later in the spring and end earlier in the fall, so make sure you check the hours before driving down to Steamboat Landing.

Before you head home, make a quick stop at Purity Ice Cream. One of my favorite features here is the ability to split a single scoop between two flavors. The old-timey feel and homemade ice cream cannot be missed. Unless you plan to stop at Cayuga Lake Creamery, which is another delicious option.

Playing Tourist for a Morning

When my sister Paige comes home from Salem, it’s usually for a holiday. So, when she spent a weekend at home just because this fall, we had to head downtown for a little sightseeing. We packed three tourist-worthy stops into just a couple hours.

Buffalo City Hall Observation Deck

This has been on my Buffalo bucket list for years. We finally made it to the 28th floor of Buffalo City Hall, which offers 360° views of the city, both inside and out. Of course, it was cold on the ground and even colder 350 feet up. But what is a late-fall morning in Buffalo without a brisk breeze? 

The bird’s eye view isn’t the only thing to look at here. The murals in the lobby, ornate Art Deco elevators and location on Niagara Square add to the draw of City Hall. 

View of Buffalo from City Hall Observation Deck
View of Buffalo from City Hall Observation Deck

Public Espresso + Coffee

Paige wanted to see Jaime Schmidt’s new murals, which weren’t a part of the space last time she had free time in town. So, we walked to Hotel @ The Lafayette from City Hall for lunch and coffee. 

PSL at Public Espresso + Coffee

The best part about Public is how immediately you feel at home. Everyone is always so friendly, which is something I really value as a tourist, even in my own city. The amazing grilled cheese and tomato soup didn’t hurt.

Wildflowers for Buffalo

Just a block from Public is another piece of art that I wanted to see, Louise Jones’s Wildflowers for Buffalo. 

Louise Jones's Wildflowers for Buffalo

It seems like every time I blink, Buffalo’s collection of public art is more impressive. To be good tourists, we had to check out one of the newest pieces. The purple coneflowers (which my mom grew dozens of while we were growing up) looked stunning against the blue sky, despite the freezing cold wind.

Root & Bloom: Vegan Comfort Food in the Comfiest Space

I am by no means vegan or even vegetarian, especially when cooking for myself. I do love my Oh She Glows cookbook, but most of the time, I find vegan recipes more complicated and intimidating than their conventional counterparts.

However, if someone else is going to cook without animal products for me, I’m all in. While Paige was home last month I recruited her to go check out Root & Bloom, one of Buffalo’s newest restaurants and its first vegan-only eatery.

Good Vibes Only

Any business that uses “Gazebo” as part of their address probably knows a thing or two about creating a unique atmosphere. Walking off of Elmwood and into the hidden, tree-lined courtyard Root & Bloom calls home feels like stepping into a secret garden. I’m not sure there’s any way to truly capture the airy space in photographs, but I sure tried.

Root & Bloom | Gazebo in Elmwood Village | Vegan Restaurant

Root & Bloom | Gazebo in Elmwood Village | Vegan Restaurant

I just couldn’t get over the layers of the space: macrame, linen and copper on wood, lace against bark, wrought iron over pavers and brick peaking through leaves. I have a feeling that each year will lead to a cozier feel. It just seems like the kind of place where beautiful knick knacks are accepted with open arms.

The staff was friendly and when we stopped in on a Thursday night, the dinner crowd was lingering, continuing to chat over their empty plates. There was absolutely no pressure to move along or order dessert, just conversation and an itty bitty kombucha-fueled buzz.

Root & Bloom | Gazebo in Elmwood Village | Vegan Restaurant

Root & Bloom | Gazebo in Elmwood Village | Vegan Restaurant

The Dinner Menu

Root & Bloom serves both brunch and dinner. We thought about squeezing in Sunday brunch as a family, but a weeknight dinner gave Paige and me an opportunity to wander down Elmwood before and after dinner.

The dinner menu features vegan staples (cashew cheese, tofu and jackfruit) blended into dishes even the most committed carnivore would recognize: tacos, BBQ sliders, and mac and cheese. While everything looked delicious, we both chose the Ricardo: corn tortilla tacos filled with fried avocado, pico de gallo, cabbage, pickled red onions, mango rice and a habanero lime cream drizzle. Paige chose to wash her tacos down with chia citrus water, while I went for Bootleg Bucha’s blueberry lavender variety.

Root & Bloom | Vegan Restaurant | Fried Avocado Tacos

Everything was absolutely delicious, and the serving size made us glad we had parked a few blocks away!

The restaurant’s indoor space will open this fall, so Buffalo can continue to enjoy the creative vegan menu during Buffalo’s colder months. I’ll definitely be going back for more for three reasons:

  1. Brunch (no further explanation needed).
  2. A robust weekend specials menu and the Saturday night Uprooted series.
  3. The gazebo’s Instagramable aesthetic means both 1 and 2 are constantly popping up in my social media feeds!

Amity Coffee Co.: Coffee and Community on Main Street

Spending Mother’s Day in Penn Yan meant being there for Amity Coffee Co.’s opening weekend in the beautiful Main Street space that used to be home to Publick Coffee Bar.

Amity Coffee Co. | Penn Yan, NY

Paige and I loved walking down to Publick when we were visiting, so we were pretty disappointed when it closed earlier this year. Amity taking over the beautiful shop makes for a great way to start weekends in Penn Yan.

From the gorgeous windows facing the street and exposed light bulbs to the marble-topped table and comfy leather chairs, every element of this space has been perfectly crafted. And the coffee is great too.

Amity_Coffee_Co_Penn_Yan_2-min

Amity Coffee Co. | Penn Yan, NY

We ordered a cappuccino and a latte, our usual coffee shop fare. They were delicious, as expected, and paired with friendly service. We enjoyed our drinks tucked into the back corner in deep leather chairs while we chatted about our summer plans and took about a million pictures of the store

On the cloudy Sunday morning we stopped by, families were celebrating Mother’s Day with coffee and pastries, and grabbing drinks to go.

I truly hope visitors keep supporting Amity, because I love having somewhere besides Dunkin’ for my weekend caffeine fix. I know I’ll be back next time I’m in town.

Amity Coffee Co. | Main Street | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. is an English-Style Hidden Gem

Walk in to any number of upstate New York breweries and you’ll be greeted by exposed brick and unfiltered IPAs in chic industrial spaces. When Paige and I wandered into LyonSmith Brewing Co. while walking down Penn Yan’s Water Street on an overcast May day, it felt different.

There’s still exposed brick and the beer is tasty, but LyonSmith really feels like the small, family-owned business it is. The bartender’s dog greeted us as we walked in the door and toys for the kids were within arms reach.

Water Street | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

Paige and I split a tasting (8 tastes for $10), which was more than enough considering we were on our way to the grocery store. If you’re spending an afternoon between LyonSmith and Water Street Wine Bar next door, have one all to yourself.

All the beer is English-style here, which I didn’t (and still don’t, despite the bartender’s best efforts) know a lot about, and is named after people, places and events from England’s history.

I loved the absence of really bitter, hoppy pale ales. There was not a single beer that I wouldn’t drink a pint of. My personal favorites were the Harvest Apple Graff, which tasted like apple juice, and the very cinnamon-y Stingy Jack’s Puimcin Ale.

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

I’m not the only one impressed by the beers here. LyonSmith took home a gold medal in the strong ales category for their Rylie Pale Ale at the 2016 Tap-NY festival.

The decor reflected the English-style beer, with US vs UK darts, foosball and a map that invited visitors to let everyone know how far they had traveled for a taste of LyonSmith’s brews. I probably won’t be in Penn Yan on a Thursday any time soon, but there’s a board game night every Thursday and outside food is welcome, which I think sounds pretty fun!

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

LyonSmith Brewing Co. | Penn Yan, NY

If you’re looking for Instagramable spaces with trendy beers, skip this stop on your Finger Lakes brewery tour. But if you want to spend your time drinking something a little different, I recommend trying LyonSmith Brewing Co. I know I’ll be heading back this summer for a taste of their warm-weather seasonals!

Brunchin’ at Fairport’s FairPour

This weekend, Fairport is celebrating Canal Days with lots of kettlecorn, food trucks, vendors and live music. Cody, Morgan and I joined Patrick and Shannon to make another siblings weekend out of the event. Saturday we wandered through the tents along Main Street. Sunday, we brunched at FairPour and people watched as families enjoyed the festivities.

Canal Days in Fairport, NY 2018

Located in the historic Fairport Box Factory, FairPour serves everything you could possibly want at Sunday brunch. Coffee, espresso, tea, mimosas, craft beer on tap, egg sandwiches, crepes, paninis and muffins are all on the menu.

Between the five of us, we ordered something off of almost every section of the menu. I settled on a nitro cold brew, cold pressed mimosa and The OG Sammy with prosciutto. Everything was delicious, and it tasted even better sitting on the patio at cute bistro tables.

Sunday Brunch at FairPour in Fairport

Sunday Brunch at FairPour in Fairport

FairPour uses Glen Edith Coffee Roaster’s beans in their cold brew, which was smooth and cold, perfect for a warm morning. The mimosa was fresh and fruity, made with fresh pressed juice and Prosecco. The OG Sammy was delicious, with an egg fried over medium, smoked Gouda, basil pesto, hot sauce, spinach and prosciutto, all on an English muffin.

Sunday Brunch at FairPour in Fairport

Sunday Brunch at FairPour in Fairport

We can also vouch for the breakfast wrap, Bonaparte crepe and beer selection!

After brunch, we did some last minute shopping, picking up pretty prints from Jess Kreiser and nautical t-shirts from The Starboard Rail, before heading home, just barely beating the rain.

A Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca

It’s hard to forget a place as beautiful, diverse and delicious as Ithaca.

I hadn’t made the drive down Cayuga Lake in a year and after spending four years making that drive after weekends in Rochester and school breaks at home, I really, truly missed it. There’s something special about winding through wine country, passing Taughannock Falls, being able to tune in to 103.7 and finally seeing the Towers through the trees.

Needless to say, I was looking for an excuse to make that drive. This past weekend, I spent six hours in the car for five hours in the 607 and it was completely worth it.

Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca, NY | Taughannock Falls

Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca, NY | Taughannock Falls

Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca, NY | Taughannock Falls

My first stop was Taughannock Falls. I only had time for the Gorge Trail, but the morning’s rain accentuated the green within the gorge and filled the falls. Dreary weather also meant I had the trail almost completely to myself.

Next up was the always delicious Gimme! Coffee, which was packed with people on laptops and chatting out front. I love coffee shops’ sense of community and I think Gimme! is one of the first places I really experienced it. Plus, the coffee is delicious.

Coffee in hand, I walked down Cascadilla Avenue, the cutest, greenest, friendliest path there ever was. How have I not wandered along the creek this way before? My end goal was Collegetown Bagels, of course.

Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca, NY | Gimme! Coffee

One pizza bagel later and I was ready to take on the real reason for spending six hours in the car. The smart, soil-savvy people of GreenTree had invited me back for an afternoon of local farmers and soil selling strategy. If that sounds bizarre to you, it’s okay. This small team of people completely welcomed me as a summer intern my senior year at Ithaca and I learned a ton because of it, about marketing, running a business and dirt.

Rainy Day Trip to Ithaca, NY | GreenTree Farm to Garden Days

My little taste of Ithaca only made me miss the things I didn’t have time for more, so I’m counting down the days until I’m there again. Hopefully, I’ll be joined by some of my favorite Itha-people next time.