A last minute decision lead us on an impromptu road trip to the Finger Lakes – an area of my home state, New York, thus named for the 11 long skinny bodies of water making up the region. Dog in tow, we set out on a two-day adventure of wine tasting, cheese sampling, hiking, and more. We camped along Seneca Lake, not far from the hippie town of Ithaca, and thanks to our hosts, each stop during the visit was packed with fun. At first glance, it’s another sprawling lot of beautiful countryside, but don’t be fooled, there exists an endless list of things to do here.
The Finger Lakes region is probably first known for its wineries. Home to roughly 100 wineries, you can spend days hopping around to each and every one. With two days to explore, we stopped at Damiani Wine Cellars along Seneca Lake and Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery. Cayuga Ridge was my personal favorite for its delicious whites and rustic tasting room ambiance set in an old barn. Take home a bottle of the Cayuga Cuvee White, and if you’re in the mood for lunch, try their restaurant’s copper oven wood-fired pizza.
Sprinkled amongst the wineries are artisan breweries and distilleries for those looking to drink more than wine. I was thoroughly impressed with the beer at Two Goats Brewing where the bar’s deck provides sweeping views of Seneca Lake. If you like ‘em dark, I highly suggest ordering the Amber Logger. We also made a stop at Finger Lakes Distillery where I tried my first Bloody Mary made with whiskey and actually enjoyed sipping on vodka for the first time in a long while. The real winner here though? Go for the honey whiskey. You won’t be sorry.
You may be familiar with the concept of a wine trail, but here in the Finger Lakes region, a cheese trail exists as well. We didn’t skip from one to another, but instead hit up Lively Run Goat Dairy – a creamery specializing in, well, goats’ milk. You can pet the goats, do a cheese tasting, and if you come at 2pm, take a tour of the farm. The cheese varieties range from aged to fresh, and cheddar to blue, but the chèvre varieties alone will have you tasting for days. I suggest trying the Seneca Blue Moon and Finger Lakes Gold, but if you’re in the mood for a treat, order the goats’ milk cheese cake. It comes in small personal sizes, perfect for everyone in your group to get a taste.
The Finger Lakes region is littered with hiking trails. One of the well known spots, and the one I remember visiting growing up, is Watkins Glen. Beware if you have a dog, however, because Watkins Glen doesn’t allow pets. If you have your pup along with, you can do what we did and trek through the famous gorges near Ithaca, NY to Taughannock Falls. Stop up top for a great overlook, and then park your car at the base for $5 and hike up through the gorge to the base of the waterfall. The magnificent shale formations are really awe-inspiring, and the fall itself is the tallest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi.
If you find yourself in need for some urbanity, hop on into the small “city” of Ithaca. It’s an eclectic town full of interesting people, beautiful houses, cool shops, and sustainable-minded health food stores. After walking around, wrap up your evening at the Moosewood restaurant. You may recognize the name from the James Beard awarded cookbooks, but the Moosewood itself was one of the country’s first vegetarian restaurants. The establishment, settled in the 70’s, is an icon in the world of vegetarian eating, and a must if your in the area. The menu changes daily, but there is always a chance for a fresh cold-pressed juice to start you off.
There you have it. The highlights of a weekend road trip to New York state’s Finger Lakes region. If you find yourself in the eastern corridor, do make the drive sometime soon!
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