A Finger Lakes Road Trip

Featured in Travel Society Magazine, Winter 2014.

The U.S. border is often an intimidating barrier for Canadians looking for a quick weekend getaway. But it shouldn’t be. In just over three hours, Torontonians can be driving along winding country roads overlooking long slender lakes, with wineries, microbreweries and quaint Watkins Gleninns at their fingertips.

On a recent family road trip to the Finger Lakes in New York State, we made the town of Canandaigua our home base, and then branched off on day trips to small towns within a 90-minute drive. Here are some highlights.


Canandaigua, population about 10,500, was a perfect landing place for our family, because it’s big enough to house a bountiful selection of inns and B & B’s, cafés, shopping, restaurants and grocery stories.

But also because of its size, it’s less quaint than some of the one-street towns within a half hour’s drive. Downtown, I liked shopped at the massive Simco Galleria, with its eclectic supply of antiques, vintage, repurposed, deco and industrial chachkas, furniture, prints and dishes. My husband and I loved the lattes at Dalai Java: the coffee here is all fair trade organic and the beans roasted by owner Scott Taylor in a yurt in his backyard.

And The Bee Hive Brew Pub was a perfect spot for a quick hamburgers and beer (they have 32 draft and five craft beer, which are brewed in the Twisted Rail Brewing Company connected to the restaurant, with its own tasting room.
At the New York Wine & Culinary Center down near the water, you can take a cooking class in anything from gluten-free baking to pasta making, join a pairing or wine tasting class in their Demonstration Theater, try a wine, beer or spirits tasting, or have a meal in upstairs bistro overlooking the lake. A short walk from the Center are the colourful historic boathouses on the pier, which are fun to explore – and document with paintbrush or camera.

Bristol Mountain and Nearby Naples

aerial adventure park - wi copy

Bristol Mountain’s annual fall festival is a fun local event attracting thousands from all over. This year, events included the Scottish Highland Games – where burly competitors wore kilts and picked up and threw large heavy objects in events like the stone put and caber toss.

You can also take a leisurely chair lift to the top of the mountain, listen to live music and sample everything from butternut squash soup to pulled pork and smoothies at stands set up by local cafés and restaurants from the area.

Still in its first season when we visited, Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventures, which runs from the top of the mountain,  enables you to literally traverse an obstacle course through the trees! We all loved it – and we got through by ziplining (that’s the easy part); walking and even skateboarding along wire tight ropes, hanging from a trapeze and meandering along swinging wooden planks and through tunnels.

The good news is that you’re harnessed in, so if you do fall, you don’t fall far. And the belays that you navigate yourself have every possible safety device, with well-trained, enthusiastic staff on the ground to support you. Kids aged four to seven can do the junior course, while age seven to 80-somethings can navigate the six other 15-element courses, colour-coded by difficulty. Allow up to three hours for the course, and a half hour for ground school.

Tired after a full afternoon amidst the treetops? Three miles away is the Brown Hound Bistro, a lovely 100-year-old house where they offer Sunday brunch, dinner and sell baked goods. You can also eat at the nearby Café Sol, a bright yellow house and former country store whereWatkins Glen2owner Julie Woloson serves up home-cooked comfort food – stuffed pork loin, turkey pot pie, bacon-wrapped filet mignon.

Or, take the short but beautiful drive to Naples: home of Monica’s Pies – famous for 25 different pies, including its famous grape and chicken pies; and Roots Café, a funky family-friendly restaurant with all wines supplied by Inspire Moor Winery next door.  You can also visit the Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill (www.brewandbrats.com) for a sausage and craft beer in a 160-year-old carriage barn.

Watkins Glen

At Watkins Glen State Park on the southern tip of Seneca Lake, be prepared to walk up 800 stairs for its gorge hike, but this place is so beautiful, you’ll barely notice. Over two miles, you’ll pass 19 waterfalls cascading down 200-foot cliffs created by the glen’s stream. On the way back, take the Indian Trail if you want to avoid stairs: instead, you’ll walk along a dirt path, past a cemetery and over a bridge as you head back to the main entrance.

We allowed about two hours for a leisurely hike, and then strolled along the main strip in the village, stopping for a sandwich at the charming Glen Mountain Bakery. Sandwich choices range from vegan to meat-based, and with names like Mother and Child Reunion, how can a family misstep? Then grab a latte and homemade peanut butter cookie for the road.

The Corning Museum of Glass

Only a half hour away is the Corning Museum of Glass, already the largest glass museum in the world  and – with a $64-million expansion slated to open this March – it’s just getting bigger.  The average visit here is 4.5 hours, which many do over two days – valid with the price of Antonia and Felix particip copyone admission.

Two days is what you’ll need if you want to take home a glass ornament, flower, bead or other cool objet d’art that you can make in one of their many glassmaking workshops, since objets d’art can take about 12 hours to slowly cool– although they can be shipped.

The museum has 50,000 pieces of glass spanning 3,500 years – about a third of which are on display at any one time – everything from glass chess set to bowls to chandeliers to a giant hamburger. Our kids loved their Innovation Center, an interactive area where we looked through a periscope that goes through the roof, and saw various Corning landmarks, including the Rockwell Museum and Little Joe Tower. We also got to admire our distorted images through a curved mirror and took turns whispering to each other from opposite ends of a giant glass egg – our voices perfectly audible because of the glass’s curved shape.

The Corning Museum also has up to 30 live shows per day, including some great 15-minute interactive ones, such as the glassbreaking demo that our kids volunteered for, an optical fiber demo and a flameworking demo.
With the expansion, there’ll  be five new galleries, each themed, and one designed for an entire room-size installation. The galleries will be sky-lit, meaning unlike most museums where light is controlled, you will be able to see all the nuances of light cast on the art. Also included in the new space will be a 500-seat theatre for live glassblowing demonstrations.

If You Go

Watkins Glen6
We stayed at Inn on the Main (innonthemain.com), a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast with five rooms (for guests aged 12 and up) and a self-contained apartment in back. Although the apartment doesn’t have the charm of the rest of the inn, and doesn’t come with breakfast, it is perfect for a family – with a small kitchenette, a large master bedroom upstairs with en suite bathroom, and a small bedroom and living room with pullout sofa. The rooms in the main part of the inn are furnished in beautiful antiques, some with fireplaces and Jacuzzis.

Reserve ahead to avoid disappointment. If you’re planning a visit to the Finger Lakes, make reservations ahead – whether for an overnight stay, to book a cooking class at the Culinary Center, to sign up for a glass-making workshop at the Corning Museum or to visit the aerial park at Bristol Mountain. And be forewarned: many restaurants are shut on Tuesdays.

For more information, visit:

Finger Lakes Visitors Connection

The New York Wine & Culinary Center

Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventures

Corning Museum of Glass

 A Finger Lakes Road Trip

A Finger Lakes Road Trip

Travel Society Magazine, Winter 2014
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