The City and Niagara Falls, New York’s two icons, are oft the bookends of a single seven-hour road trip. Many rush through, hitting a rest-stop or two, bypassing large swaths of picturesque countryside and rolling hills dotted with top flight wineries and cultural institutions.
A few of those sights can be found in the southern Finger Lakes and in and around Rochester, the state’s third largest city. And all can be visited without diverting too much from the quickest shot across the state.
The Harris Hill Soaring Corporation offers visitors a chance to soar over picturesque Chemung Valley region. © Michael Grosberg/Lonely Planet
National Soaring Museum & Harris Hill Soaring Co.
Elmira, New York
Not far from the New York–Pennsylvania border is a fascinating aviation museum. The National Soaring Museum showcases an old-fashioned, but one-of-a-kind collection of model-sized and replica gliders which detail the evolution of motorless flight and the technology and science behind it.
Once visitors have gotten a little theory and history under their belts, a club right next door will help put it all into practice. The Harris Hill Soaring Corporation located at the top of a windswept hill overlooking the treetops of Chemung Valley between Elmira and Corning and is one of the country’s longest-operating clubs. For $96, and weather permitting, you can pop on over for a 20-minute ride as a passenger in one of these fiberglass pods with wings. Harris Hill Soaring Co. is open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day (weekends April to October).
The Corning Museum of Glass houses an extensive collection that will show visitors a different side of glass. © John Greim/ Getty Images
Corning Museum of Glass
Corning, New York
From 3,000-year old Mesopotamian artifacts to Venetian-era decorative plates that, to the casual observer, look like delicately carved marble, the Corning Museum of Glass offers visitors a new way to look at glass. Its collection is the largest in the world and highlights the history, science and craft of glass-making.
The architecturally cutting-edge museum is located on an 11-acre campus and is a short drive from Corning’s charming Main St. The contemporary art and design wing, itself innovatively built with over 900 skylights, houses pieces of fine art the country’s most prestigious institutions would covet.
Be sure to check out the live demonstrations in the hot glass amphitheater or try your hand in making your own. And if so inspired, you can always enroll in its school, which is–unsurprisingly–the premiere glass blowing school in the world.
The Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum gives visitors a chance to look back on the evolution of aerial transportation. © Michael Grosberg/Lonely Planet
Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum
From the outside, the Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum in Hammondsport, NY looks like any ordinary warehouse building, save for the 1940s-era C-46 airplane parked at the street corner.
The massive undivided space, originally built for wine storage, resembles the haphazardly organized garage of an eccentric collector obsessed with 20th century modes of transportation. Curtiss was the first American to successfully launch and land without crashing a pre-announced and witnessed flight. It happened near Hammondsport where Curtiss lived, a small town at the southern tip of Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes.
Curtiss, with only an eighth-grade education, became known as the father of naval aviation (the museum hosts a seaplane festival in mid-September) and is largely credited with trying to commercialize flight.
A serial entrepreneur and inventor, Curtiss built and manufactured bikes, motorbikes (recording the fastest land speed record in 1907), dirigibles, speed boats and later motor homes.
New York Wine & Culinary Center
Situated in the state’s premiere wine-growing region on the northern shore of beautiful Canandaigua Lake, the New York Wine & Culinary Center is the only place in New York where you can do beer, wine, and spirits tastings under a single roof.
The Finger Lakes’ wineries are renowned for their Riesling, but there are also many nearby craft breweries and distilleries worth visiting; in fact, the microclimates around the lakes make the region ideal for growing hops.
After getting suitably buzzed and educated in one of the classrooms for aspiring sommeliers, chefs, waiters and the curious public, head upstairs for a meal at the Upstairs Bistro, staffed by the center’s students and overlooking gardens where some of the restaurant’s ingredients are sourced. Nearly 90 percent of the food is from local farms.
The Strong Museum proves you're never too old to play with toys. © Courtesy of the Strong, Rochester, New York
The Strong National Museum of Play
For those young-at-heart, a visit to downtown Rochester’s Strong National Museum of Play may have you regressing to a childlike state like Tom Hanks in the film Big.
Of course, actual kids will enjoy themselves as well. The Strong, housed in a large, modernist building, is part interactive children’s museum, part archival history institution, and treats ‘play’ in all its forms with respect and a sly sense of fun.
Every November, the museum solicits nominations for its National Toy Hall of Fame: the paper airplane, whiffle ball and Clue were inducted in 2017. Backstage, there are endless rows of sliding cabinets that contain over 440,000 toys, from dolls to jigsaw puzzles and everything in between.
The collection, with prominent video and electronic game exhibitions, includes curious artifacts like the Daddy Saddle, basically a horse’s saddle meant for a father’s back.
George Eastman played a pivotal role in the advancement of camera technology. © Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
George Eastman Museum
Once ubiquitous, like travel agencies or RadioShack stores, Kodak shops once dotted city streets and suburban malls.
Smartphones and digital technology have long rendered the advertising slogan ‘Kodak moments’ passé. But for anyone curious about the origins of photography, there’s no better place than Rochester’s George Eastman Museum housed in a grand 35,000 square foot colonial revival mansion.
Eastman, the founder of Kodak, and once one of the five wealthiest people in the world, built the home–now a National Historic landmark–as living quarters for himself and his mother in the 1920s.
The museum, founded in 1947, includes idyllic gardens, four greenhouses and an archive of hundreds of thousands of photographs, camera technology artifacts and thousands of films. Schedule a visit during one of its year-round film festivals or a Sunday afternoon when students from the Eastman School of Music perform.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.