Nestled between the Pennsylvania border and Lake Ontario, New York’s Finger Lakes region is comprised of eleven finger shaped lakes, over 120 wineries and a variety of small towns and cities, which offer arts, culture and farm fresh food to locals and visitors alike. There’s a lot to see and do in this part of New York State. This itinerary packs a lot in to help you discover some of the best of the Southern portion of the Finger Lakes. You’ll visit Corning, Hammondsport, Elmira and Watkins Glen with other stops in between.
As usual with our itineraries, you may want to take more time than we’ve allotted to truly relax and enjoy these adventures. We did this trip in September, so keep in mind that some adventures may not be available over the winter.
Day 1- Corning, New York
Start your morning with coffee at the Soulful Cup on Market Street before heading to the Corning Museum of Glass. You’ll want to allot a few hours or the day to explore over 3,500 years of glass art and artifacts. This museum has a remarkable collection of contemporary glass art. Just walking around is stunning, and there are also interactive experiences.
Watch a live glassblowing demonstration in the Hot Shop and sign up to make your own work of art, whether its an ornament, frame, pendant or another unique keepsake. I made a flower and appreciated the hands-on nature of this crafty adventure.
Head back over to Market Street, passing across the Centerway Walking Bridge. Keep a look out for Little Joe Tower as you cross the bridge, a Corning landmark, before passing through historic Centerway Square. Stop for lunch in Corning’s Gaffer District, named after those master glassmakers who put Corning on the map. There are lots of great independent stores here, as well as restaurants and wine bars.
We dined at Hand + Foot and then stopped in Dimitri’s Confectionery Treats for some candy apples. Dimitri’s candy stores has an impressive selection, including candy pizza. I actually don’t buy a lot on my travels, but found some very smart and cute gifts at Card Carrying Books & Gifts. We had dinner at The Cellar, which has an upscale lounge atmosphere and forty wines by the glass and over 100 by the bottle. It’s a great pick for dinner or an after dinner drink.
On another night in Corning, we also had pizza at Aniello’s Pizza and dined as well at Market Street Brewing Company. We also tried homemade ice cream (one must! ; ), which was wonderful at Dippity Do Dahs.
Spend the night at the Radisson Hotel Corning, which you can walk to from downtown.
Day 2- Mark Twain Country
Head out to Elmira to take flight. At Harris Hill Soaring, you can ride in a glider and explore the National Soaring Museum. Harris Hill is one of the earliest sites for soaring in the US, dating back to the mid-1930’s. It was discovered by German soaring enthusiasts who immigrated to the US and were eager to find a good soaring location. The lift provided by the rolling hills made it ideal. It’s also the site of the first soaring competitions and the reason Elmira was chosen as the site of the National Soaring Museum.
If you are afraid of flying or heights, stick to the ground activities, but if you like to fly, this is a truly cool experience.
Spend the afternoon learning about Mark Twain at Elmira College, where you can visit Mark Twain’s study and stop by Twain’s burial site at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Mark Twain married a woman from Elmira and returned here to summer for over 20 years at the home of his in-laws. It was during those summers that he spent long days in a gazebo-style study penning great classics, including Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Innocents Abroad, and many more. Today, Twain’s study has been relocated to the campus of Elmira College and stepping inside may truly inspire you.
Head into Hammondsport for dinner at Union Block, a casual restaurant serving home-style Southern Italian and Mediterranean-inspired food. The Bistro is situated on the Historic Village Square just half-a-block from Keuka Lake. Union Block was really lively and busy on our visit, which gave us the chance to enjoy some local wine in the Grotto while listening to live music prior to our meal.
Day 3- Hammondsport
Enjoy time on Keuka Lake stand up paddle boarding. The calm waters make this a good place for all levels. I had actually never tried stand up paddle boarding before and did not fall in during this adventure… that’s key! Keuka Watersports rents kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis, and boats.
I am a fan of visiting museums on my travels. I find that even at a really small museum, you can learn a lot, especially if you take a tour or talk to someone working there that may have a passion for the subject. The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is great. It houses Glenn H. Curtiss’ collection of cool old motorcycles, airplanes, vintage automobiles, and bicycles and will make you appreciate this daring early inventor and your modern flights.
Another museum worth visiting is the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, which preserves the legacy of the remarkable vessels that were built in the Finger Lakes with a number of beautiful vintage wooden boats on display. The museum also preserves the tradition and skills of boatbuilding by offering lectures and boatbuilding workshops, as well as renovation projects throughout the year.
Spend tonight at Pleasant Valley Inn in Hammondsport.
Day 4- Hammondsport
Get a true farm to table experience today. Make advanced reservations with Pleasant Valley Inn to pick fresh vegetables at a small, local farm. You’ll need to have stayed a night at the inn to enjoy this experience, but this is a great chance to learn about New York State agriculture and how a smaller farm is operated. You may also be surprised to learn how much work goes into growing some of your favorite vegetables. You can pick your meal and have it cooked up back at Pleasant Valley Inn.
Relax at one of the prettiest vineyards we’ve visited, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. This vineyard is located on the water and has a rich history. Dr. Frank began producing Riesling at the vineyard, along with over 60 wine grape varieties from all over the world, sharing what he learned about what would grow best with neighboring vineyards. This innovative and scientific approach to cultivating grapes continues today with Meaghan Frank, the fourth generation of her family to work at the vineyard. Travelers can enjoy wine tasting here and stunning views.
Spend tonight again at Pleasant Valley Inn in Hammondsport or move on to Watkins Glen.
Day 5- Watkins Glen
Hike the Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park, where over 800 stone steps lead visitors through a wonderland of waterfalls. Nineteen waterfalls within two miles cascade alongside trails, which weave hikers beside, around, over and under falling water.
Enjoy lunch in town at The Wildflower Café, before making a reservation to Drive the Glen. This allows you to drive your own vehicle on the famous Grand Prix circuit at Watkins Glen International, where NASCAR greats have raced. You follow a pace car and stay under 55 mph, so don’t expect to burn rubber, but do expect to get a really unique view of this track and a new appreciation for what drivers experience during competitions.
Race fans have flocked to Watkins Glen even before Watkins Glen International was built in the 1950’s. Learn about this histroy at the International Motor Racing Research Center.
On October 2, 1948, the town of Watkins Glen itself was the setting for the first post World War II road race. Drivers actually raced through the village streets along a 6.6 mile circuit. Take a drive along the historic circuit, which leads you past a variety of scenery, including farmland, lake views, forests and more.
Along the route, make a stop for a beer in family-owned Seneca Lodge, which for more than 50 years has been an institution for motorsports racing fans and drivers alike. Not only did fans watch the historic first race from Seneca Lodge, but started the tradition way back then of celebrating at Seneca Lodge post race. If you’re lucky, owner Brett Brubaker, a treasure trove of history, will be in the bar when you’re there, but just looking around at the old photos and memorabilia is a treat.
Explore Seneca Harbor Park and the waterfront tonight, perhaps having dinner by the water in Watkins Glen.
There are many more adventures to discover in the Southern Finger Lakes. Our recommendations are not over. Check out our itinerary for adventures focused in and around the Finger Lakes National Forest, coming soon!
Watch two episodes covering these adventures and more in the Southern Finger Lakes, part of our fifth season on your local PBS TV station. Check your local listings for dates and times in your area.