You might have heard or seen the expression “Ithaca Is Gorges’’ and wondered what it means, exactly. Ithaca (and Tompkins County) is home to more than 150 waterfalls, including Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. At 215 feet, it’s more than three stories taller than Niagara Falls (but not as mighty).
Venture out in the area and you’re likely to happen upon a waterfall – or 12. Some of the better-known falls include Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca Falls and Lucifer Falls, the scenic waterfall in Robert H. Treman State Park that drops down from a wooded gorge into a large natural pool. It’s a refreshing place to cool off in the summer, especially after hiking some of the park’s nine miles of trails and taking in some of its 11 additional falls of varying sizes.
Indeed, “Ithaca Is Gorges,’’ and an excellent place to chase waterfalls. But there is much more to see and do in and near this small city on Cayuga Lake, in the beautiful Finger Lakes region.
COVID-19 Note: It’s a good idea to check destination/business websites for the most up-to-date information on hours, capacities, prices, the need for reservations, etc.
PLACES TO STAY
Whatever your overnight style, Ithaca has it: camping, glamping, cottages, cabins, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, vacation home rentals, Air BnBs – something for every taste and budget.
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MORE WAYS TO GET OUTDOORS
Get out on the water! Discover Cayuga Lake, a nonprofit organization, offers public cruises, private charters and special events that highlight the ecology, culture and natural history of the Finger Lakes. Discover Cayuga Lake’s boat, the MV Teal, is based out of Allan H. Treman State Park Marina in Ithaca. A great way to relax after a busy day in Ithaca is a sunset cruise on Cayuga Lake with School’s Out Charters. The company offers private boat charters for family groups up to six people on a 29-foot boat. Reservations are required for both activities. See websites for details.
Have a hankering to fish? Several Ithaca-area guides offer Cayuga Lake fishing charters. And several local companies rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards for the day or several days.
The grounds of the Cornell Botanic Gardens, adjacent to the Cornell campus, are open to the public from dawn to dusk daily. Bring your sneakers or walking shoes: The gardens consist of 25 acres of botanical gardens and 150 acres of the F.R. Newman Arboretum, a place of quiet beauty dedicated to the study of trees and shrubs.
Stewart Park made a splash when it opened in 1921 at the south end of Cayuga Lake. It celebrates its 100th anniversary as a public space this year. The park has expansive flat ground, tall willow trees, an accessible playground, a spray pool, picnic area, tennis courts, municipal golf course and the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary. There is no swimming access, but fishing spots are open to the public. The park is part of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, an eight-mile, multi-use trail that connects with the Ithaca Farmers Market, Ithaca Children’s Garden, Cass Park, Treman Marina and other sites.
How about lunch and window shopping on a nice summer day? That qualifies as outdoors. Head to the Downtown Ithaca Commons area to explore its architecture, check out restaurants, visit art galleries and browse shops offering everything from antiques to clothing to home décor to used books.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Hangar Theatre, as its name suggests, is in the former aircraft hangar from Ithaca’s first municipal airport. It was closed following the construction of the current Tompkins County Airport and for many years was used as a city storage facility. The space was renovated in 1975 and hosted its first performances that year. Since that time the facility has undergone multiple expansions and renovations and is now used year-round. New for the summer season: Hangar Theatre has added a socially distanced outdoor venue where all main stage productions will be held. Visit the website or call for more information.
Kitchen Theatre Company, an intimate theater in downtown Ithaca noted for producing new works, has one play on the schedule so far this season. “Shape,’’ written and directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni, opens June 6 (with performances through June 27) at Washington Park, several blocks from the Kitchen Theatre building. Visit the theater website or call for more information.
The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, on the Cornell University campus, houses more than 35,000 works of fine art in a historic building designed by I.M. Pei. The museum is temporarily closed at this time. Check the museum website for information on reopening.
FUN FOR THE KIDS
The Sciencenter is Ithaca’s interactive science museum for children. There are exhibits on the ocean, animals and astronomy – there’s even a Carl Sagan Planet Walk. The museum is on First Street in Ithaca. Reservations are strongly recommended. Visit the Sciencenter website for details.
The Museum of the Earth, a few miles outside Ithaca on Trumansburg Road, is a natural history museum that allows children to learn about the Earth and its prehistoric past in fun and engaging ways. At this time, visitors must reserve admission tickets in advance. Visit the Museum of the Earth website for more information.
FOOD AND DRINK
Ithaca is a magnet for food lovers. The city has more restaurants per capita than New York City, according to Visit Ithaca, the official tourism site for Ithaca and Tompkins County. You’ll find classic diner and tavern food, brew pubs and bakeries, Italian-American food like your grandmother made and so much more. The adventurous will find a diverse array of restaurants, including Asian, Ethiopian, Mediterranean and Mexican-inspired cuisine. Moosewood, the world-famous vegetarian and vegan restaurant featuring local produce, has operated in Ithaca since 1973. Many restaurants have outdoor seating and offer takeout and curbside pickup.
If you’re in Ithaca on a Saturday, the Ithaca Farmers Market is not to be missed. The market is a vendor-owned cooperative with more than 160 vendors who grow and produce their goods within 30 miles of the city. The market features produce, meats, eggs, poultry and dairy products, baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, maple products, sauces and meals to enjoy at the market or take home. Bring your appetite – and your reusable shopping bags.
You may have heard through the grapevine about the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the first and longest-running wine trail in the country. The trail is comprised of 16 wineries, including a cidery, a meadery, four distilleries and a taproom. Ports of New York Winery is a hidden gem in the city of Ithaca specializing in ports and Old World-style wines. Companies such as Experience the Finger Lakes and School’s Out Charters offer Cayuga Lake wine tours by land and by water. Reservations are required. Visit their websites for details.
Several cities in the United States claim to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. Ithaca has extensive documentation that the ice cream “Sunday” was indeed invented there in 1892.
Today, there are numerous options to satisfy your craving for a cone, sundae or ice cream sandwich. Purity Ice Cream Co. is a traditional favorite. It has been making ice cream in Ithaca since 1936. Cornell University has its own dairy farm and processing plant, which supplies the university with dairy products. The Cornell Dairy Bar, in Stocking Hall on the east end of Tower Road, features all manner of ice cream flavors and treats. Check the Dairy Bar on the Cornell dining website for hours of operation. Sweet Melissa’s, on Seneca Street in Ithaca, opened in 2009 and quickly became known for its eclectic ice cream flavors, like lemon ricotta, strawberry basil and blondie cookies and cream. Cayuga Lake Creamery, on Route 89 in Interlaken, is a pet-friendly destination parlor with picturesque outdoor seating. Everything is homemade, with a focus on local ingredients. The creamery has a second location in the DeWitt Mall in downtown Ithaca. These are just a few of the area’s ice cream options.
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