New York’s Napa Valley. That’s how I would describe the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York. This area has been on our bucket list for a while, and we were finally able to visit this year. In this post, I will share everything we did in three days, plus other suggestions for activities.
The Finger Lakes has this name because it features 11 long, narrow, roughly north-south lakes in the heart of upstate New York. It’s a destination for all the seasons and the area is known for producing excellent wine, particularly for world-renowned Rieslings – and there are also breweries, distilleries and hard-cider producers. There are a lot of small towns around the lakes and we stayed in one of the most famous ones: Ithaca, home to Cornell University.
How to get to the Finger Lakes
From New York City, it’s a 4 hour drive to Ithaca. Ithaca itself is a very walkable town, but you will need a car in order to explore the area. We used a rental car company – but I suggest you to also check the prices from apps like Turo and Getaround – they are like Airbnb for cars, no lines and no paperwork, super easy.
Where to stay in Ithaca
We stayed at Hotel Ithaca, and our experience was great. The room was spacious – as well as the bathroom – and our room even had a balcony. This hotel features conference rooms, plus free parking and a fitness center. There’s also a restaurant called Max’s Classic American Grill, which is open for breakfast. We loved our stay and we would definitely stay there again. The hotel is conveniently located near a lot of restaurants and stores.
Restaurants in Finger Lakes
We love to explore restaurants when we travel and it’s not different when we go to someplace in NY State. Unfortunately, in general, we were kind of disappointed with the restaurants we visited, so I will stick to the ones we really liked!
Moosewood – Ithaca
A very famous vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca and in the area. This place has an idealism and political commitment to operate as a “worker-managed – worker-owned” business structure and it became a model that has been adopted by cooperatives globally. Moosewood also has cookbooks – and because of that, the restaurant became internationally recognized for its progressive approach to food and 14 accompanying cookbooks, published between 1974 and 2017, with over 5 million books sold. We were there for lunch and I had the spicy coconut curry ($19), with veggies like squash and zucchini served with rice and Apple Raita, an Indian yogurt sauce, delicious. Thiago had the Black Bean burger ($17), with aioli and cilantro slaw. The food here was so good! Everything was fresh and delicious and I particularly LOVED the burger (of course I had some bites lol).
Revelry Yards – Ithaca
It’s a brewery with pub vibes – featuring up to a dozen craft beers produced in the microbrewery upstairs plus lunch, brunch and dinner. The dinner menu features a lot of shareable plates. We had the mussels with a spicy sauce ($15) and although the sauce was absolutely delicious, we didn’t love the mussels. But, we also had the Fried Brussels ($12) with sweet and spicy sauce plus purple cabbage and it was so good! We also had Fish & Chips ($22) and it was perfect. And, of course, we had beer: we got a flight with 4 beers and it was a very affordable price – $8 – for the amount of beer in each glass.
El Rancho Mexican Restaurant – Watkins Glen
This restaurant was a lovely surprise – we were driving to explore the wineries and we needed a spot to have lunch in between. It was hard to find an option, and we decided to stop by this Mexican Spot. We had tacos – 3 for $12 – and they were really good! The restaurant also serves chips and salsa on the house – and the chips were fresh and crunchy.
Edgar’s Restaurant in the Castle – Geneva
This restaurant is located inside Belhurst Castle, a hotel and winery on the northwestern shore of Seneca Lake. It’s a real stone Castle from 1880s stone castle and making a reservation at the restaurant is an opportunity to visit the place if you are not staying there. The restaurant keeps a lot of original details, like the gate, and the rooms are the castle’s original rooms. As we were still full from our lunch – and our dinner reservation was early – we only had appetizers. We shared the arancini and escargot and we also ordered two soups, which were delicious. They have a pretty extensive menu
Things to do in Finger Lakes
Nature and wineries. These were the highlights of our short trip to Finger Lakes and these were the places we visited:
This place has been on my bucket list for a while – especially after seeing so many pictures on Instagram. I wish we had been in Finger Lakes sooner to see the foliage, but at the time we were there, it was all past peak. But it was beautiful anyway. Taughannock Falls is the tallest free-falling waterfall in the northeastern United States, rising 215 feet, making it 33 feet taller than Niagara Falls. The place attracts half a million visitors every year. One of the highlights of the park is the Taughannock Falls Overlook View Point, where you can get beautiful views of the falls. I suggest parking the car there and then going on a hike to the bottom. From the overlook point, it takes around 42 minutes to get there, and it’s beautiful. If you don’t have the time, you can also drive to the Black Diamond Trail North Trailhead, and then you will walk less.
This is a natural, foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek winds its way down the valley side toward Cayuga Lake. It’s super close to the town – like 6 minutes driving from our hotel and you can already see the cascade when you park your car. There is also a hiking trail – but it was snowing a lot so we only took some pictures and we left.
Mountain Coaster – Greek Peak Mountain Resort
I discovered this place after seeing a video on Instagram. This resort is located 30 min from Ithaca – and it features an Adventure Center with a Mountain Coaster, that you can go by yourself or with someone and you can control the speed. The best news is that they are open year-round. It costs $15 per person! Check my video below. More information here.
Ver essa foto no Instagram
As I mentioned, Finger Lakes is known for producing excellent wine, particularly for world-renowned Rieslings. There are over 100 wineries around the lakes and it can be hard to choose. So, I will share some pieces of advice I got that I think will help you to decide:
- Choose a winery according to your favorite kind of wine.
- Check renowned wine publications.
- Limit your visits to 3 wineries per day.
Based on that, we chose Boundary Breaks Vineyard as one of the wineries we would visit. Their dry riesling No. 239 has been named one of the world’s top wines by Wine Spectator Magazine twice, most recently in 2021. We did a tasting and we also ended up buying some bottles. The cabernet franc, is one of their specialties – and I also LOVED the Riesling Ice Wine – it is a sweet dessert wine. So good! Also, the property is beautiful, with stunning views to the Seneca Lake.
Next, we stopped by Weis Vineyards. This is a boutique winery located near the Keuka Lake and they feature a lot of Rieslings but their Cabernet Franc is also famous. The environment is super nice and you can get great lake views. We also did a tasting and bought some bottles as well.
- Balloon rides – There are some companies that offer balloon rides in Finger Lakes. Unfortunately, the weather was not good while we were there. But, if you have a chance – and budget – maybe you should try. More information.
- Boat tours – Discover Cayuga Lake offers daily boat tours highlighting the ecology, culture, and natural history of the Finger Lakes. More information.
- Ithaca Farmers Market – is a member-run cooperative with more than 130 active members who grow or produce their wares within 30 miles of our Ithaca pavilion. There are three categories of vendors: agriculture, food and artisan. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check cause it runs only on Saturdays.
- Watkins Glen State Park – this park features a beautiful waterfall. I’m so sad I missed it! Just google it and see the images.
Did you like my suggestions? Please feel free to share more tips!
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