17 Awesome Things to do in Ithaca, NY

Waterhole on hike at Buttermilk Falls

I have been visiting Ithaca, New York for years and continue to find new adventures each time I visit.  Always an adventure. Enjoy:

1. Camp, hike or swim at Robert H Treman State park.

Robert Treman State Park is a large 1,110 acre park near Ithaca New York.  The park is beautiful and has many waterfalls along a 4.5 mile round trip hike.  You can park at the lower end of the park by the campgrounds and swimming area by the Lower Falls.  In the summer the waterfalls empty into a beautifully clean and refreshing swim area.  Jumping off the diving boards, swimming and walking along the rocky falls is fun. We have spent several summers camping in the affordable cabins which of course welcome children and pets, each equipped with 4 cots, a refrigerator and outlet for a lamp or coffee pot and a spot for barbeques and campfires.

Robert Treman State Park cabins
Cabins at Robert Treman State Park
Lower Falls and swim area at Robert Treman State Park
Lower Falls and swim area at Robert Treman State park.

2.  Hike Upper Treman State Park

I consider this a separate trip.  If you don’t have much time or are traveling with non hikers, the trip to upper Treman state park at the western portion of the park  is well worth the visit.  Take Route 13 South from Ithaca to State Route 327.  Follow that road 4 miles to the upper park entrance.   There is an old mill to visit with restrooms and then a 1.3 mile hike around Lucifer Falls.  These falls are beautiful and the trails are well paved and groomed and easy for walking.  Just beware, there is a steep staircase on the North side of the trail.

Upper Treman State Park, Ithaca
Hike along Upper Treman State Park

3. Kayak Lake Cayuga

Lake Cayuga is the longest Finger Lake in upstate New York. I had never kayaked in Ithaca even though I have been visiting this area for over 20 years.  So…I googled kayaking and found a friendly spot called Puddledockers in Ithaca.  For $27 I was assisted into a kayak in the river and sent forward toward Lake Cayuga for a two hour tour. I brought a sandwich and enjoyed the serenity of the lake.  Weather permitting, a perfect way to spend a couple of hours.

Kayak on Lake Cayuga, Ithaca
Kayaking is easy on Lake Cayuga

4. Shop at Wegmans

Being from Long Island, I am so impressed with this grocery store every time I visit.   It has that open warehouse feel of Costco, yet is welcoming with smaller portion sizes and ready made meals.  I love a good cheese and seafood section.  I found a nice sandwich area that had extremely fresh and well made sandwich rolls for my hero that I enjoyed on the kayak ride.  They also make great coffee.

Wegmans in Ithaca
Wegmans Grocery Store in Ithaca, New York

5. Stroll the Commons

The shops on the commons include gift shops with hand made crafts, jewelry and candles.  Cars are not allowed on the 2 blocks in this downtown area that spotlights different festivals on the weekends.  The seats and play areas for kids and adults draw many visitors to linger about.  The restaurants vary from Mexican to Asian, fancy to fun.  There is something for everyone in this area.

Ithaca Commons
Ithaca Commons for shopping and dining

6. Walk around Cornell University

Fraternity houses, established older buildings and modern buildings encompass this vast campus on the hill overlooking Lake Cayuga.  With 21,000 students, finding a place to park is a challenge. You can pay for parking in Collegetown at 114 Dryden Road. Football, baseball, and hockey games are fun to attend.  You can also visit the school of Hospitality which offers the Statler hotel with 153 rooms and restaurant.  Be sure to make a reservation in advance.

My connection to Cornell University includes my dad, David Sanders, who legend tells took a train from Long Island for his freshman year at the young age of 16 to attend college.  He joined the Sigma Nu fraternity.  He then later transferred to SUNY Oneonta to join my mom where they both graduated as education majors – my alma mater.

SIGMA NU 1957 Cornell University
D M Sanders – 2nd photo bottom row

My son is currently in Law School at Cornell so the connection to the University continues.

Cornell University
Cornell University

7. Visit Cornell Botanic Gardens

Formerly known as the Cornell Plantations, these gardens are available to tour for free right next to Cornell University. Especially pretty in the spring and summer, the property is filled with flowers and plants native to New York and well worth a visit.  The stroll around the gardens is perfect for all ages.

In fact, The gardens are so beautiful that my brother who lives near Ithaca celebrated his wedding to Denise in that garden.

Cornell Botanical Gardens
Cornell Botanical Gardens

In addition my sister and her husband had their son baptized in a chapel on campus.  We all have a connection to Cornell now.

Still Running away for the weekend in Ithaca

8.  Hike Buttermilk Falls

These falls are the closest to downtown Ithaca right off the main road on your way to the big stores from Ithaca. The beach by the falls is nice but late August or September when the rivers are low, the falls can be almost non existent at the beach.  The trail to the falls up the gorge is challenging yet well maintained and travelled with steep stairs at the beginning of the hike.

Waterhole on hike at Buttermilk Falls
Waterhole on hike at Buttermilk Falls

9. Hike Taughannock Falls State Park

A 20 minute drive from downtown Ithaca to Trumansburg,  these falls are located a short walk from Lake Cayuga.  The overlook is a nice way to see the falls without actually hiking, but if you do hike there are plenty of spots to jump in the water.  I love this park because the trail along the river is enticing and the falls are one of the biggest in the area.

Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park

10.  Dine at Simeon’s restaurant

One of the best restaurants in Ithaca featuring American cuisine, a two story corner establishment and sidewalk dining.  Upscale and a bit pricey, the food is delicious and delicious.  Oysters are a staple for the happy hour 3-6 Tuesday – Friday and main dishes include specialties like Rabbit, Steak and Sea Bass.  We recently celebrated a birthday and were pleasantly satisfied with our experience.

Simeon's restaurant
Simeon’s restaurant

11.  Try wine tasting in the Finger Lakes

The past 20 years have brought more and more vineyards and wineries to the area.  Ports of New York is fun to visit as it is right there in town.  The ports are tasty, if you like sweet wine.  They also serve two wines, one red and one white.  Cayuga lake and Seneca Lake offer a variety of tasty wines and breathtaking views – well worth a visit.

Ports of New York
Ports of New York, Ithaca

For a wine tasting with a view head north on 89 to the Frontenac Point Vineyard & Estate Winery.  They have nice selection, outdoor seating and a view over Lake Cayuga.

12. Have brunch at the Carriage House Cafe

Cozy and comfy, this charming brunch spot is a must.  The Brie stuffed french toast and omelettes are delicious.  The food is local and organic and the service is top notch.  A great find.

13.  Discover First Dam

After seeing pictures on Pinterest about this place near Cornell University I felt compelled to find and visit it.  This was more difficult that expected.  I googled and drove to several places before actually finding it.  So here is the big secret.  Drive east from downtown Ithaca on Route 79, State Street.  Turn onto Giles Street and park at the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve.  This preserve is a lovely trail along a creek that is flat and very pretty.  To see the First Dam, you need to return to Giles Street, walk across the bridge and climb down the path to the falls.  The building seems haunted and I am sure there are tales to be told there.

First Dam, Cornell University
First Dam, Cornell University

14. Have a beer at College Town Bagels

On the edge of Cornell University, near “College town” is a fun little establishment that serves both bagels and local beers.  I arrived on a Friday afternoon and all the students were piled in and outside the building under an awning.  It is great to be surrounded by youth and the brains of the future.  Here they are.

College Town Bagels, Ithaca
College Town Bagels, Ithaca

15.  Hike locally at Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Starting at Treman Triangle Park, this well established trail winds it way along the gorge passing a number of waterfalls.  The path is easy to walk but does include a number of stairs.  We saw several students jogging along the trail even though leaves could be slippery.  Very pretty and conveniently located near the Commons.

Cascadilla Gorge Trail Ithaca

16.  Visit Sciencenter

If you find yourself visiting and the weather is not cooperating, this museum is amazing and fun.  With over 250 exhibits and even an outdoor science park and miniature golf course, it is a guaranteed fun learning experience, especially if you have kids in tow.

17.  Visit my brother and his family

My brother went upstate New York to college and never came home.  Less traffic than Long Island, he made his home in a small town outside Ithaca over 20 years ago.  I have been visiting him and this area since his son was born and have grown to love it as well.  Part of the love comes from shared memories of family reunions over the years and the other part comes from the beauty of gorges and rivers and lakes in the region.  When I visit his home, I am reminded of my dad.  My dad always used a wheelbarrow to create the best gardens.  So does my brother.  As long as he lives there, I will always have an extended home away from home.

As a young, unexpected widow I seek therapy in nature, being with family and creating new adventures and travels to engage in.  Ithaca is a place I go back to again and again. Read about more adventures on my blog.

Wheelbarrow in Ithaca
Wheelbarrow in Ithaca

things to do in Ithaca New York

17 Awesome things to do in Ithaca New York
Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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