What to do in Ithaca

I recently went to Ithaca, the lovely city in the Finger Lakes region that I was mostly familiar with  because of two well-known colleges that are housed in the city. My partner and I had quite ambitious plans for our four days in town, but when it came time to drive upstate, the forecast said it would be raining most of the time we were there. To make matters worse, we also lost a day due to our rental car getting two flat tires and needing to stay overnight in I-don’t-know-where, Pennsylvania. But even with these roadblocks (no pun intended), we were able to enjoy ourselves in Ithaca and check out many local attractions there.

Before I get into the places where I spent my time in Ithaca, I want to acknowledge that Ithaca, located in Tompkins County, is built on the land of the Cayuga Nation. Please visit this site to learn more about the Cayuga Nation, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

I’m excited to share with you my top three favorite things we experienced in Ithaca, as well as many other lovely things we also did!

Top Three Favorite Things to Do in Ithaca

Wine Tasting at Six Mile Creek Vineyard

My favorite experience in Ithaca by far was wine tasting at Six Mile Creek Winery. I booked a tasting at the recommendation of a work colleague’s friend who is a local, and I can see why they included the winery in among their top suggestions. We had our tasting with Sage, one of the winemakers on staff, who was very knowledgeable but also a witty conversationalist. The vineyard is taking COVID-19 precautions, so there was a panel barrier between customers and staff for tasting and all employees were masked.

Six Mile Creek tastings allow you to select any six of their wines from a provided list to try out. Sage was very helpful to us, explaining the profile of each wine and how they differ from each other. It also turns out that the Finger Lakes specialize in Riesling due to the region’s ability to grow very acidic grapes. This was great for me, given that Riesling is my favorite type of white wine, and I ended up buying a bottle of it at the end of the tasting. There’s also a beautiful view from the tasting room of the vineyard’s outdoor space.

Hiking at Buttermilk Falls State Park

It’s not really an upstate road trip without some light hiking right? Luckily, Buttermilk Falls State Park is right in Ithaca and just a 10 minute drive from downtown. The name comes from the cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek and flows towards Cayuga Lake. We happened to go to the park after heavy rainfall, so the water was cloudy, however the forestry was beautiful and very welcome after many months in NYC.

We hiked a loop starting from Upper Park, along the Rim Trail and the Gorge Trail. Hot tip: go down the Gorge Trail and up the Rim Trail, unless you like an uphill challenge. I did the opposite and even though I’m sure part of it was due to my lack of athleticism, it was extremely difficult climbing stairs for over half an hour. (My phone calculated that it was 45 stories of stairs.) However, the Gorge Trails is very scenic and lovely for nature photography so don’t skip it!

Shopping at Press Bay Alley and Press Bay Court

On West Green Street, there’s a unique collection of micro businesses in a converted row of storage bays. I know Ithaca is better known for The Commons, which has dozens of great small businesses, but I think Press Bay Alley and Court have amazing lesser-known retailers. Better yet, you can eat, drink, and even get your hair done on the same half-block!

I bought a bottle of craft beer from Lucky Hare Brewing Company and a great latte from The Press Cafe. But the real standout star was Mama Said Hand Pies. Their top-selling NY Cheddar and Potato hand pies were out of this world—crispy on the outside, incredibly savory and buttery on the inside, and served perfectly warm. They also offer ricciarelli, almond cookies with orange zest that are not too sweet. But do not sleep on those hand pies. When I return to Ithaca, I will definitely try the other varieties of pies.

Other Awesome Things We Enjoyed!

Books at Odyssey Bookstore

Odyssey Bookstore is the cutest, coziest bookstore I’ve seen in a while. In non-pandemic times, you can crack open one of their titles in a few of the nooks they have throughout the store. Even though the store is small, there is a great selection of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books—and many of the titles on display were one’s I’ve never heard of, rather than bestsellers. My favorite part? There is a bowl by the shop’s door where they offer little poems written on pieces of paper that you can take with you!

Dinner at The Rook

While planning for this trip, The Rook was the one restaurant that I knew I had to go to while in Ithaca. They currently run a small menu centered around their duck fat fried chicken served in a cute paper bucket. Their sides and cocktails are good, but the chicken is the thing to get here. We ended up taking half of our meal home because we ordered too much, but I assure you that the food travelled back to NYC with us the next morning and was consumed as a snack the moment we returned home.

Soft Serve at Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream

Sweet Melissa’s offers both churned ice cream in pints and soft serve near downtown. While the menu isn’t very big, they offer some fun soft serve flavors. I opted for the Two Berry Twist—which apparently is their classic according to their menu—a flavor that combines red raspberry sherbet and black raspberry frozen yogurt. It was super refreshing and I thought the textural contrast between the frozen yogurt and sherbet worked surprisingly well. My partner enjoyed his vanilla soft serve cone as well.

What started out as a rough road trip ended up being a very pleasant time in upstate New York. I’ll be back in Ithaca in the future for more wine, food, and state park trails! And if you find yourself at enjoying any of these things in Ithaca, let me know!

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