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A Family Weekend in the Finger Lakes

A Family Weekend in the Finger Lakes

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway with the kids, consider the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, a region just south of Lake Ontario. It’s an easy drive from Brooklyn, depending on how far you go, but do try to take an extra day or two to take it all in. In addition to scenic bodies of water across 80 miles of countryside, the area provides an abundance of things to do with the kids that won’t break the bank. 

A Short Ride from Brooklyn

Drive up and plan to make Syracuse (4-½ hours from Brooklyn), a lovely city along the Erie Canal, or Rochester (nearly 6 hours from Rochester), the state’s third-largest city, your base, staying in family-friendly hotels.

If you love the outdoors, you have hiking in an area bursting with opportunities to hike. If you love history, you will walk in the footsteps of many incredible suffragettes’ steps who changed the course of women’s history forever. There are children’s museums, history museums, towns with shops and restaurants to explore, boat rides, and best of all, the hotels and restaurants are very affordable. If your kids are patient, plan to visit a few wineries. The Finger Lakes is New York State’s largest wine producing region, with over 100 wineries and vineyards located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes.

Start Your Weekend in Syracuse

In Syracuse, a good base for all stops in Auburn and Fayetteville, stay at Marriott Syracuse Downtown, a historic hotel that opened in 1924, with much of its look and feel having been preserved. Its lobby is decorated with chandeliers, traditional moldings on the walls, and murals depicting the city’s vibrant history. The hotel is now being renovated by the Hotel Syracuse Restoration Company, but the rooms have been updated and are spacious. They each have a seating area and cozy bed, and are accompanied with a coffee maker, TV built into the wall and beautiful views.  With three executive chefs working on the property, it’s easy to want to eat onsite at Eleven Waters, The Cavalier Room or Shaughnessy’s. Popular and affordable off site restaurants for families include the popular eatery Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (if you’ve been to the Brooklyn location, you know it’s worth a visit!), Doug’s Fish Fry, and Empire Farmstead Brewery.

Plan to take a long stroll through the town, which is kind of a throwback to old times. Much of its history has been preserved and the architecture has a quaint and historic feel. Kids will love exploring the Erie Canal Museum, the only remaining canal boat station in America. Try to take in a show at the beautiful and legendary Landmark Theatre and head to Camillus Erie Canal Park Cruise for a boat ride through the scenic Erie Canal. Parents should definitely take time to do a tasting at Anyela’s Vineyards and Beak & Skiff Farm Winery.

For a dose of women’s history, visit Matilda Joslyn Gage House in Fayetteville (a 15-minute ride from Syracuse). Gage created the foundation for the radical feminism campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, which led to many modern ideas of women’s equality. Less than an hour away from Fayetteville is the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, another heroic figure who conducted the Underground Railroad for eight years and delivered 170 slaves to freedom. A short ride away (20 minutes) sits a quiet town called Seneca Falls, where on July 19th, 1848, 300 women and 42 men including Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and big supporter of women’s rights, signaled to the world the real beginning of the movement, holding the first Convention for Women’s Rights.

Then Head to Rochester

Rochester is a town with a very Brooklynesque feeling, full of interesting restaurants, shops, and places to walk around. It’s also quite beautiful, and the town has a lot of important history, as well.

Stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester/University & Medical Center, located in the heart of the town’s College Town complex, adjacent to the University of Rochester, Medical Center and Campus. It’s convenient and comfortable, offering free parking, good service, cleanliness, and onsite dining. If you have time while in town, be sure to hit Rochester’s Public Market, open on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays and spend a morning exploring the wares of local vendors offering their fresh produce, ethnic delicacies, coffee, homemade breakfast sandwiches, empanadas, and more. Any trip to the Finger Lakes with kids must include the Strong National Museum of Play, an interactive children’s museum where kids can spend hours upon hours in hands-on activities and displays of toys, dolls and games, the George Eastman Museum, and Seabreeze Amusement Park.

Take time to visit Casa Larga Vineyards, located just outside of Rochester, to sample their wines Since 1974, the Colaruotolo family has been committed to producing wines that are celebrated widely in the area. Two kid-friendly restaurants include The Cub Room on South Atlantic Avenue, an industrial-style tavern featuring upscale seasonal cuisine and interesting cocktails, and Richardson’s, offering healthy portions and space for kids to run around the Erie Canal.

Be sure to visit National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House, where Susan B. Anthony fought tirelessly for social justice campaigning, writing, organizing and strategizing and was famously arrested in her downstairs parlor for simply taking a group of women to the polls. Also be sure to head to Susan B. Anthony Square to see the delightful statue of Frederick Douglass and Anthony having tea because they were very good friends in real life and helped change history together.

The one thing that you will agree on after a visit to the Finger Lakes is that it’s a region for both you and the kids. Everyone will come home happy.

Disclosure: CVB’s Visit Syracuse, Visit Rochester and Cayuga County Tourism were responsible for the cost of this writer’s trip, but all opinions are her own.

Holly Rosen Fink is a marketing consultant and writer living in Larchmont, New York.