Rochester: It's Got It
Updated: May 13, 2022
I recently had a few people (who are new-ish to Rochester) tell me that they didn't think there was much to do here... You know that's the wrong thing to say to me! I have come to prove them wrong! Here is your one-stop-shop to (some of) my favorite local haunts (not including restaurants). I've also added a few day trips & weekend trips that are within a few hours of Rochester.
Note: If it's bolded and underlined, that means I've added a link to the person/place, so you can learn more!
Free & Outdoors
The old water towers offer a constantly-changing public art display of murals and other graffiti. Different every time. And when the more accessible tower dries out, throwing stones inside it and listening to the echoes is amazing and otherworldly. Sunsets from the lookout are also beautiful - one of the best places for a view of the Rochester skyline. The woods around the water towers - called Washington Grove - are also lovely and peaceful for an easy stroll. Here is a slideshow of a few of my pictures, through all seasons:
Another great public art project - this one requires a bit more effort, as their are gorgeous murals located all over the city. Some of my favorites are in the Swillburg, South Wedge, & Susan B. Anthony neighborhoods, in & around the Public Market, and the El Camino Trail. The easiest way to find them all is by using their interactive map. Below is a small selection of them:
Genesee River Gorge, Lower Falls, & High Falls
There are multiple ways to enjoy the falls and the Genesee River gorge... High Falls and Lower Falls both have easily accessible viewing platforms and bridges from which you can see the water. The Genesee River Trail offers a number of cool views. And you can walk down into the gorge near Seth Green Park on St. Paul Blvd.
Parks, Parks, Parks
There are too many! There really is a lot to explore outside in the Rochester area, for example...
Birdsong Fairy Trail in Mendon Ponds Park (so many fairy houses!)
Oxford Street magnolias
Lock 62 Trail in Pittsford (old Erie Canal lock)
Linear Park (aka Channing Philbrick Park) in Fairport
The Promenade at Erie Harbor & the river walkway
MLK Jr. Park (formerly Manhattan Square Park)
the downtown Public Market (ok, not a park, but a very fun and cool outdoor space!)
There are a ton of beach (& pier) options. I know many people have their favorites. A couple of my go-to's are Ontario Beach Park (aka Charlotte Beach - this is where I collect beach glass!), Irondequoit Bay Outlet Pier & Beach, Webster Park, and the "Secret Sidewalk" off of Beach Ave.
Indoors with a Fee
Not a complete list, by far, and I don't have photos of all the places listed, but here are a few great options (with links).
Memorial Art Gallery - Always something great here! Visit the website to see what traveling exhibits are currently on display. Plus, in any weather it's fun to explore all of the outdoor art on the grounds, like Tom Otterness' "Creation Myth" statues.
Eastman Museum - The museum itself is interesting if you've never been, plus they have special exhibits like The Dutch Connection flower show in the spring, and Gingerbread Houses in November! Also, the gardens surrounding the museum are beautiful. And in the summers they have outdoor concerts.
ARTISANWorks - A super eccentric art space - you just have to go to really understand it! Multiple rooms and floors of art everywhere you look.
Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park - Beautiful all year round, but especially nice to visit a warm, indoor garden during the winter. There are also fish in the ponds, and many wandering turtles, tiny quail, and a duck.
Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) - My favorite exhibit is always the summer 6x6 show with hundreds of artworks from around the world, all 6" x 6" big. But they definitely have other very cool shows throughout the year.
RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium - A 65-foot dome theater (with super comfy seating - chairs lean way back so you can look up) showing all kinds of different star shows, as well as feature films about Earth and the cosmos.
Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at Strong Museum - Another warm, indoor garden! This time with butterflies. Depending on what colors you're wearing, they might even land on you. Of course the Strong Museum is also an amazing place to visit with kids, or if they happen to have a traveling exhibit that appeals to adults too!
Susan B. Anthony House - Once you've seen her gravesite at Mt. Hope Cemetery (see above), you can visit her home to learn lots more about her amazing life, and all of her Rochester connections. While you're there, make sure you visit the Susan B. and Frederick Douglass "Let's Have Tea" statues in the nearby park.
Seneca Park Zoo - Not indoors, but there is a fee, and some of the animals can be viewed from inside. They've made a lot of improvements over the past few years, so most of the animals have a lot of space to roam, which is nice.
Wild Wings - Also not entirely indoors, but so worth a visit! While you're in Mendon Ponds Park on the Birdsong Fairy Trail, check out this birds of prey sanctuary - they have some amazing animals.
See a Show or a Game
Sports: Rochester Red Wings (baseball) is the only team I care about, but there's also: Rochester NY FC (soccer), Rochester Amerks (hockey), Rochester RazorSharks (basketball), Rochester Knighthawks (lacrosse), and of course the nearby Buffalo Bills (football).
There are SO many places within an hour or two of Rochester. Here are a few that I really enjoy, and have been or want to go back to over and over.
Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott - gorgeous views, good hiking, & otherworldly looking.
Sodus Point Beach - nice, quiet beach, and almost never has a lot of seaweed.
Lazy Acre Alpaca Farm in Bloomfield - feed the cute alpacas!
Letchworth State Park in Castile - the "Grand Canyon of the East."
Lakeview Village Shoppes in Olcott - quaint specialty shops on the boardwalk.
Holley Canal Falls Park in Holley - beautiful man-made waterfall which is overflow from the nearby Erie Canal.
Niagara Falls is of course a must, if you haven't already been. If you're able to, the views are much more impressive from the Canadian side (but breathtaking from the US side too, if you can't get over there). The Maid of the Mist boat ride and the Cave of the Winds walk are amazing.
And finally, it's well worth the drive to go to Auburn for the Harriet Tubman Home and the Seward House, and to Seneca Falls for the National Women's Hall of Fame, and the Women's Rights National Historical Park.
Similarly, there are a lot of places you can get to very easily for a weekend visit. One of my favorites is Ithaca, with their many waterfalls, and Cornell attractions like museums, galleries, the library, and the botanical gardens, to name a few. Another very new find for me was Green Lakes State Park, which is a bit past Syracuse, in Fayetteville (probably doable as a day trip, but a bit far). The lakes are an unusually blue-green color, and crystal clear.
As for the Finger Lakes, there's really no way to "cover" them, as that could be multiple posts just on it's own! Definitely good for day trips or weekend visits. So, you'll just have to check out this link for more! The few photos I've included here are from Canadice Lake, the smallest of the Finger Lakes.
I haven't visited Buffalo enough to explore a lot, but I want to.. Albright-Knox Art Gallery (I've been there - beautiful), great restaurants, and a lot of cool public, outdoor art too... so I hear! Toronto is also quite close - easier to get to, but with all the "we have everything you could possibly want-ness" of NYC.
I know the moment I post this I'm going to think of so many more things I want to add... like, oh - all the festivals and other seasonal attractions! Fringe Fest, Lilac Festival, Corn Hill Arts Festival, Jazz Fest, ROC Holiday Village, Food Truck Rodeos, Clothesline Art Festival, Party in the Park, the "Haunted Housel" skeleton house in Canandaigua, Powers Farm Market, Landmark Society's Inside Downtown Tour, Writers & Books' Rochester Reads community read, and more more more.
City News is a great publication and website to pay attention to and learn about what's happening right now. Getting on the mailing lists of some of your favorite places can help keep you informed. And I poke around on social media and see what other folks are up to - Gives me ideas for what I need to check out.
I hope this helps inspire you to go exploring!
(Most photos included here are mine - please do not share photos without permission. But feel free to share the blog post itself!)