The Getaway
Ithaca Is Gorges - Yeah, You’ve Seen That T-Shirt

You get two types of people: those who don't know the difference between Utica and Ithaca, NY, and those who got good enough grades in high school to consider moving to Cornell University. Whichever camp you fall into (and many will fall into the former), Ithaca promises a fantastic getaway. This city, nestled in the middle of the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, is not just a destination but an experience. You're in for a blend of stunning natural beauty, agricultural bounties, a dense collection of first-rate eateries, and a happening cultural calendar befitting a student town. With gorges galore and 150 waterfalls within 10 miles, outdoor adventures are par for the course.

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01 Visit Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls Sunset In Full Fall Colors

Come see the towering Taughannock Falls, which are taller than Niagara Falls. The trail to the waterfall is stroller-friendly, and the mist from the cascade will cool you right down. Drive up to the scenic over the gorge to take awesome photos, or get stuck into more sweaty activities by hiking, swimming, or renting a kayak. Signs provide insight into the geology of the area. You could easily spend a whole day here alone or with friends and family members. Set out to do some leaf peeping, let Rover stretch his legs, give the kids a chance to burn off energy at the playground, have a picnic, or go fishing for rainbow trout. Taughannock Falls State Park is a popular camping destination.

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02 Explore Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk falls, state of New York, USA

You'll find ten waterfalls in the creek here. Buttermilk Falls itself is 165 feet tall, with a natural pool at the bottom that sometimes has a lifeguard on duty. Although signs discourage out-of-season bathing at the multiple swimming holes along the lush, dog-friendly trails, you'll still notice folks taking a dip. The views are just gorgeous, and impressive rock formations add to the experience. Tackle the steep uphill hike, but note that the descent via stairs could prove problematic for those with dodgy knees. The park has cabins and campsites for overnight stays.

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03 Check out Ithaca Falls

Ithaca Falls In Ithaca New York Near Cornell University

You don't have to venture far out of Ithaca to see something spectacular. Dramatic Ithaca Falls is right in the heart of the city, so it's perfect for a quick but memorable visit every now and then. Dogs are welcome, and fishing is fine, but swimming is not allowed, no matter how tempting it may be during hot summer days—the water isn't clean, and the currents are strong. Parking is free, and the out-and-back trail is short. The road and bridge viewpoints are wheelchair-accessible.

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04 Hike the Cascadilla Gorge Trail

This scenic route from downtown Ithaca to Cornell University features multiple waterfalls and was voted Ithaca's favorite gorge. Some elements of the trails' construction date back more than a century. The stairs have handrails, the path is paved, and most sections are open throughout the year. Take in the picturesque cascades with the musical sound of flowing water and chirping birds as a soothing soundtrack. Cascadilla Gorge is a nice spot for fresh air, a gentle workout, birdwatching, and deer spotting. Grab a bite at Collegetown Bagels to round out the experience.

05 Walk through the Historic Covered Bridge in Newfield

Historic timber one lane covered bridge in the Town of Newfield, Tompkins County NY with holiday lights.

The one-lane, 115-foot-long Newfield Covered Bridge is cute as a button. This picturesque wooden structure that crosses the Cayuga Inlet was built in 1851 and is the oldest covered bridge in New York state that still accommodates vehicle traffic. Architects will be as charmed as influencers looking to snap a selfie with the iconic red slats and diamond-shaped windows. Explore the surrounding area on a peaceful walk afterward, and indulge in a yummy picnic supplied by the market next to the bridge.

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06 Visit Cornell University

Overlook of Cornell University Campus from Uris Library

If you've heard of Ithaca before, it's likely due to Cornell University, a world-renowned Ivy League college. Begin at the Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center with its Beebe Lake views, and take a campus tour of this highly selective institution to admire the beautiful buildings and the botanical gardens. The university was founded in 1865, so it's the newest of the Ivies but boasts 51 Nobel laureates and substantial research contributions to various fields.

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07 Discover the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell University excels in the field of ornithology, or the study of birds. Whether you're a fully-fledged member of an Audubon Society or have a casual interest in flying feathered creatures, you'll appreciate the global significance of this lab's contributions to bird research. Visit the tranquil 425-acre Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary (the yellow-bellied woodpecker is in the lab's logo) and walk more than five miles of trails open from sunrise to sunset. For obvious reasons, dogs and bikes aren't allowed here. Look out for events such as guided weekend bird walks, amphibian adventures, and short films, and take a pic of the egg cairn sculpture.

08 Admire art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

On Cornell's campus, you'll find the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art housed in a brutalist building designed by illustrious architect I.M. Pei. The town and valley views from the fifth floor are striking. Floors have themes such as Asian art, Ancient art, and contemporary pieces. Plan to spend at least an hour here examining and reading up on the artifacts, sculptures, and temporary exhibits. Entry is free, but you'll have to pay for parking if necessary.

The Johnson Museum, an art museum located on the northwest corner of the Arts Quad on the main campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock.com

09 Enjoy the Ithaca Farmers Market

For fifty-plus years, the Ithaca Farmers' Market has been a celebration of community and local makers and farmers. Carve out time on your weekend and sample the wares from unique vendors, including raw honey, apple cider donuts, and Solaz's satisfying breakfast burritos. Buy gifts and souvenirs in the form of adorable hats, wooden toys, paintings, pottery, and other locally crafted bits and bobs. When you're all shopped out, sit down and enjoy the live music near the docks. The market operates every weekend from April to December along the Cayuga inlet.

10 Tour local wineries and cideries

Explore the region's wine and cider trails. Many of the wineries specialize in riesling, thanks to a climate similar to the Rhine in Germany. Six Mile Creek's Vineyard's vistas are stunning, and the healthy but scrumptious couscous salad at South Hill Cider pairs well with weekend yoga classes in the summer.

11 Stay in unique accommodations

If you're keen on waking and laking, "The Inns of Aurora Resort" provides luxury Finger Lakes lodging, complete with a wonderful spa, cozy fireplaces, a nature loop, and a sleepy village setting for pure relaxation. Great for a special occasion or romantic getaway. Then there's the "Argos Inn," a boutique hotel with historical charm in spades and rainfall showers and heated bathroom floors for extra comfort. This Neoclassical mansion is just half a mile from Cornell. If you're after a glamping experience, "Firelight Camps" will hook you up with spacious, clean tents, a private porch for chilling out, and free breakfast. Feel like company? Gather around the communal fire pit to make s'mores or start chatting with fellow fresh produce pickers in the veggie garden.

12 Visit the Sciencenter

Ithaca's Sciencenter gets rave reviews from parents and children alike. The building's colorful exterior is a taste of what's to come. Hands-on exhibits bring STEM concepts to life for young and inquiring minds, and the outdoor science park is tons of fun, too. Set aside at least three hours to get the most out of Sciencenter's entertainment zones, whatever the weather. Live animals, mini golf, board games, and more await. And best of all, the environment feels safe, and entry is affordable.

13 Indulge in the local dining scene

So you're in Ithaca and find your stomach grumbling. No worries in this department. The city's culinary scene is diverse and won't leave you disappointed. Try Moosewood Restaurant for divine vegetarian and vegan dishes made from high-quality local ingredients. The brand's cookbooks are famous and shone a spotlight on plant-based food well before it became trendy. Hearty lasagnas, flavorsome corn and mushroom bisques, and black bean burgers hit the spot. For dinner, head over to "Le Café Cent-Dix" for French takes on roast chicken and steak fries or "Gola Osteria" for sophisticated Italian food.

14 Attend local festivals and events

Ithaca is a culturally vibrant college town (shout out to Ithaca College, btw) that hosts events like the artsy "Ithaca Festival Spring Craft Fair," where dozens of regional creators showcase metalwork, textiles, and other intricate products and small-batch foods. During the Fall, the "Apple Harvest Festival" fills the town with sweet vibes and Apple-inspired goodies. "Porchfest," a neighborhood music festival, also takes place in the Fall and sees over 150 performers flexing their vocal muscles on porches in Fall Creek and Northside.

15 Stroll through Downtown Ithaca and The Commons

Ithaca Commons, an award-winning pedestrian-friendly district downtown, attracts folks from far and wide with its upscale restaurants, amazing public art, indie and boutique stores, theaters, and historic architecture. This is the culturally rich hub of the city where galleries, buskers, and eateries come together to delight residents and tourists. No trip to Ithaca is complete without strolling through the alleys here.

Ithaca Commons, a two-block pedestrian mall in the business improvement district known as Downtown Ithaca. Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com
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