New York Travel Guide
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14 Off-the-Beaten-Path Stops on an Upstate New York Road Trip

Hit the road and explore the less-traveled parts of New York State for some truly exceptional sights and experiences.

New York City is certainly the main draw for many visitors to the state, but every corner has something distinctive and special to offer that should not be missed. Interactive museums and galleries, food and drink tours, artistic retreats, hiking trails, or remarkable architecture—it’s easy to find something that piques your interest. All you need to do is get in a car and pick a direction.

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PHOTO: Jay Rosenblatt
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National Comedy Center

WHERE: Jamestown New York

Since opening in 2018, the National Comedy Center has cemented its status as a must-see destination for lovers of comedy. Your experience starts with the creation of your humor profile, which is then downloaded into a chip in your wristband. You are then let loose to interact with more than 50 exhibits. Along the way, you will learn about the history of comedy, hear from its most prominent voices, and step into the shoes of those who produce this unique brand of storytelling. There is something for everyone, from comic strip connoisseurs to stand-up specialists. There’s even a Blue Room in the basement for those who prefer a little extra bite to their comedy.

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PHOTO: Elyse Rozelle
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Lucy-Desi Museum

WHERE: Jamestown, New York

Jamestown’s Lucille Ball has her own museum within walking distance of the Comedy Center that is worth the visit. The museum honors the work of both Ball and her first husband, Desi Arnaz, in reshaping the television landscape of the ’50s. It consists of two spaces: The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, which contains portraits, costumes, TV clips, and even Lucy’s car; and Desilu Studios, which is filled with set recreations, Emmy Awards, and props, and offers a look into how Lucy and Desi changed the way television was produced at the time.

INSIDER TIPCombination tickets for both the Comedy Center and the Lucy-Desi Museum can be purchased online or at either location. It’s highly recommended if you plan on visiting both in one day.

 

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PHOTO: Elyse Rozelle
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Robert H. Jackson Center

WHERE: Jamestown, New York

As a Supreme Court Justice and prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson embodied the ideas of justice, fairness, and equality in all societies. His beliefs informed his many historic decisions on the court, mostly notably in Brown v. Board of Education. Guided tours of the Robert H. Jackson center take visitors on a journey through his life and career and how it all connects to modern-day issues. The tour also includes a little history of the Alonzo Kent Mansion, where the Center is currently located. Be sure to sit in on one of the many events hosted by the center, including documentaries, performances, and lectures.

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PHOTO: Twan Leenders - Roger Tory Peterson Institute
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Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

WHERE: Jamestown, New York

Artist, naturalist, and ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson’s many works are on display and available for research at this small museum and educational institution. Exhibits throughout the building include original sketches and paintings for his field guides as well as video clips from various expeditions. Rotating exhibits highlight other renowned artists and naturalists, such as Ned Smith, Sandra Rothenberg, and Guy Coheleach. Nature lovers will enjoy hiking the wooded trails and watching for the many birds captured in Peterson’s artwork.

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PHOTO: TwainCountryNY
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Mark Twain Country

WHERE: Elmira, New York

Elmira was the home of Mark Twain’s wife, Olivia, and where he wrote some of his most famous works. His study is currently located on the Elmira College campus and is open to visitors throughout the summer months. Next door is Cowles Hall, which houses a Mark Twain exhibit that includes photographs, furniture, and memorabilia from Twain’s summers with Olivia’s family. Venture outside and find statues of both Mark and Olivia before heading to nearby Woodlawn Cemetery to visit their graves and a memorial dedicated to Twain by his daughter, Clara.

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PHOTO: Corning Museum of Glass
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Corning Museum of Glass

WHERE: Corning, New York

The world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of glass is also one of Central New York’s most beloved institutions. The museum contains over 50,000 glass works covering 35 centuries, and the Contemporary Art + Design wing highlights the many ways glassblowers are experimenting with the medium; don’t miss Virtue of Blue, a chandelier made of solar panel butterflies. The current exhibit, New Glass Now, includes 100 works from artists spanning 32 nationalities and 25 countries. Visitors can also attend glassblowing demonstrations and make their own glass at the on-site studio.

INSIDER TIPMake time to explore the museum gift shop, but be sure to check the labels to see where the items have been made before purchasing. Not everything is made locally or in the U.S.

 

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PHOTO: Norman Rockwell Museum
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Rockwell Museum

WHERE: Corning, New York

Located in Corning’s old city hall, the Rockwell Museum explores the idea of America through several diverse lenses. Visitors will find a mix of contemporary and traditional pieces, from paintings to sculptures to photos, all from American artists. Current exhibitions include well-known works from Andy Warhol, a First Nations photography exploration, and a celebration of glassmaking. Children will enjoy activities that include art hunts, touch stations, and the Art Lab, which has rotating interactive exhibits.

INSIDER TIPGuests can purchase a combination ticket for The Rockwell and the Corning Museum of Glass. A free shuttle provides service to both museums and Market Street in downtown Corning.

 

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PHOTO: Elyse Rozelle
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Watkins Glen State Park

WHERE: Watkins Glen, New York

Waterfalls are the highlight of Watkins Glen State Park. There are 19 to explore over the course of a three-mile hike; Rainbow Falls and Central Cascade are highlights. Part of the trail, called Cavern Cascade, brings visitors behind a waterfall and up Spiral Tunnel, a spiral staircase cut right into the rock. There are several ways to hike the park, ranging from easy to challenging. The south entrance includes campsites and an Olympic-sized swimming pool for those who plan to do more than hike the trails. Come early to avoid the crowds, and make sure to wear sturdy footwear and waterproof clothing.

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PHOTO: Watkins Glen International
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Watkins Glen International Speedway

WHERE: Watkins Glen, New York

Beloved by racing fans of all kinds, Watkins Glen International hosts professional races from NASCAR to IndyCar as well as the occasional music concert. The circuit was built in 1956 and has remained relatively unchanged since 1971. There isn’t a bad spot in The Glen to watch a race, whether you prefer sitting in the stands or laying a blanket or chair out on the grassy hills. For those interested in more than just watching a race, Drive the Glen allows visitors to drive their own cars around the Grand Prix Course for three laps behind a pace car.

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Women’s Rights National Historical Park

WHERE: Seneca Falls, New York

Seneca Falls is a small town in the northern Finger Lakes region that’s overflowing with history. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park is among its biggest draws. Start at the Visitor’s Center and wander through the exhibits before listening in on the ranger-guided talks about the Women’s Rights Convention of 1848, the first of its kind. Next door is the Wesleyan Chapel, where the convention was held and which contains plaques detailing the history of the space and its restoration. In between the two buildings is Declaration Park, which contains a bluestone water feature inscribed with the Declaration of Sentiments and a mural of the convention’s organizers and supporters. Also nearby are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and M’Clintock Houses, where several of the organizers lived and drafted the Declaration.

INSIDER TIPAugust 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so expect Seneca Falls to be a little more crowded than usual this summer.

 

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PHOTO: Colvaire
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Finger Lakes Food and Drink Trails

WHERE: Finger Lakes Region, New York

The Finger Lakes region has long been a playground for wine connoisseurs. An explosion of breweries, distilleries, and creameries has turned it into a treasure trove for food and drink enthusiasts of all kinds. There are more than a dozen companies that offer tours catered to your needs and tastes. Not sure where to begin? Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have the greatest variety of options. Still overwhelmed by the choices available? A quick visit to the Finger Lakes Wine Country or Finger Lakes Tourism websites will point you towards a variety of trails as well as nearby activities and events.

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PHOTO: Elyse Rozelle
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Antique Boat Museum

WHERE: Clayton, New York

Located on four acres of stunning waterfront property along the St. Lawrence River, the Antique Boat Museum will appeal to nautical interests of all kinds. More than 100 boats are on display, covering a wide range of years, styles, and purposes. Visitors can tour the elegant La Duchesse, a two-story houseboat commissioned in 1903 that served as both summer home and guesthouse. Skiff boats are available to take out onto the water when the weather is good. The museum hosts several events and boat shows as well as sailing and boatbuilding classes throughout the season.

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PHOTO: Boldt Castle
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Boldt and Singer Castles

WHERE: Alexandria Bay and Chippewa Bay, New York

No visit to the 1000 Islands is complete without seeing at least one of its castles. Boldt Castle on Heart Island is the more famous of the two. George Boldt, proprietor of the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, had it built for his wife. Construction was halted several years later after she died, and the castle remained vacant for over 70 years. Visitors can explore the partially-rehabilitated castle as well as several other structures around the island. Singer Castle on Dark Island was a longtime summer retreat for Frederick Bourne, fourth president of Singer Sewing Machine Company. Guests can take a guided tour and see how the castle would have looked 100 years ago. Want to feel like royalty? You can stay overnight in the Royal Suite and have the entire island to yourself.

INSIDER TIPCall ahead to confirm which shuttles are traveling to the castles. High water levels will sometimes cause the docks to flood, which can mean route changes and cancellations for some boats.

 

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PHOTO: artconcept/Shutterstock
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1000 Islands Boat Cruises

WHERE: Alexandria Bay and Clayton, New York

Want to experience the 1000 Islands in a more condensed format? Consider a boat cruise to catch all of the highlights. Uncle Sam Boat Tours has been in operation since 1926 and offers a wide range of options, including trips to Boldt and Singer Castles, a ride through Millionaire’s Row, and a hop over the border to the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River (don’t worry; you don’t need to bring your passport). Uncle Sam also offers food, beer, and wine cruises during the summer months. Clayton Island Tours provides a similar array of choices in addition to Rock Island Lighthouse tours and visits to Grindstone Island.

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PHOTO: Elyse Rozelle
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Where to Stay

Not sure where to stay after a day of exploring? Chautauqua Harbor Hotel is located right on the edge of Chautauqua Lake and is a ten-minute drive to downtown Jamestown. Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel sits at the southern tip of Seneca Lake and serves as a good base for exploring the Finger Lakes region. 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel looks out onto the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, a short drive from Alexandria Bay. All of them have excellent dining options, a range of amenities, and a variety of getaway packages unique to their locations. Ask for a water-facing room when you book.