It’s finally springtime here in Western New York, but amidst the outbreak of COVID-19, warm weather activities certainly look a little different than usual. (Anyone else savoring every last minute of their one walk a day?) If you’re going a little stir-crazy inside right now, trust us, you’re not alone.
While it’s true that our daily norms have drastically changed, we think there are still some great ways to (safely) spend time exploring the city— which is why we’ve put together a weekly Tour By Car Series for you to enjoy!
Each post will feature a “driving tour” itinerary chock full of interesting spots around the city that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own vehicle or outside while maintaining a safe social distance from others. From historic landmarks and architectural gems to street art masterpieces and popular restaurants offering takeout, we hope that these guides will help provide you with some inspiration in light of all that’s going on right now, and if nothing else, a fun distraction for a few hours. We’ve linked several items to more info, so just click through to learn more.
And this goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: please continue to listen to local and national public health officials, maintain proper social distancing when necessary, and only do what you currently feel comfortable with amidst the outbreak of COVID-19. We’re all in this together, Buffalo!
Pre-Trip: Stock Up on the Essentials
Before you get on the road, you’ll want to grab your favorite “road trip” drink to fuel you. Feel free to take care of this step at home if that’s your jam, but in the interest of supporting local businesses during COVID-19, here’s a quick list of local coffee shops taking to-go orders right now that are fairly accessible on the way to the first stop on our list (depending on wherever you start from, of course).
Pick up a morning/afternoon caffeine boost, and maybe a tasty treat to go with it!
Grindhaus | 160 Allen Street, Buffalo
Caffeology | 23 Allen Street, Buffalo
The Grange Community Kitchen | 22 Main Street, Hamburg
Daily Planet Coffee | 1862 Hertel Ave, Buffalo
Stop 1: Buffalo City Hall – 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo
We’ll officially kick off our “driving tour” at Buffalo’s own City Hall, a massive historical landmark that boasts some of the most impressive architecture in the city. Preservation Buffalo Niagara usually offers free tours of City Hall on weekdays at noon, but until COVID-19 subsides, you’ll just have to take in its beauty from afar.
See if you can spot the nods to Native American culture within the designs on the building’s exterior (hint: check the West-facing side).
Stop 2: Guaranty Building | 140 Pearl St, Buffalo
Scoot out of Niagara Square heading south on Niagara, take a right on Franklin, then a left on Church and at the corner of Pearl Street to your right is the Prudential / Guaranty Building (140 Pearl St, Buffalo). Designed by world famous architect Louis Sullivan, this early skyscraper masterpiece was built in the 1890s. The terra cotta Art Nouveau exterior ornamentation is very distinctive.
Right across Pearl Street on the corner of Church Street is St. Paul’s Cathedral (139 Pearl St, Buffalo). It was built in 1849 – 1851, designed by Richard Upjohn, and according to him, was his finest work. Upjohn also designed New York City’s famed Trinity Church that you might recall from the movie National Treasure.
Stop 3: Rand Building | 14 Lafayette Square, Buffalo
Take a left on Washington and cruise past Lafayette Square to our next destination, The Rand Building. One of the most recognizable buildings on the Buffalo skyline, it’s the third tallest building in the city— the titles of first and second-tallest belong to Seneca One Tower and City Hall, respectively.
Take a good look at the building’s exterior— does it look like anything familiar? Interestingly enough, it’s said that the exterior of the Rand Building may have inspired the look of the Empire State Building, and has even portrayed it in a number of Hollywood films!
Stop 4: Street art along Washington Street
Continue on past Lafayette Square onto Washington Street and you’ll have no trouble spotting “Wildflowers for Buffalo” (465 Washington Street, Buffalo), one of the city’s largest and most popular street art masterpieces. Completed by artist Louise Jones in 2018, the mural is a part of Albright Knox’s ongoing public art initiative.
Driving along Washington Street, you’ll also be able to see a few other murals, including “Under the Sea” (510 Washington St.,Buffalo, Chuck Tingley), “Typewriter” on the side of Western New York Book Arts Center (468 Washington St, Buffalo, Julian Montague & James “Yames” Moffitt), and the vibrantly-colored dragons that guard the back entrance of Misuta Chows (Taka Sudo). Find just the right spot, and you can even view them all at once!
Stop 5: The Electric Tower | 535 Washington Street, Buffalo
Our next stop on Washington Street will probably look pretty familiar to most Buffalonians. Another classic in the Buffalo skyline, the Electric Tower was inspired by the Electric Tower at the 1901 Pan American Exposition whose theme was electric power. It is not only a major office building downtown, but it’s also the location of the popular New Year’s Eve Ball Drop every year! (Which is one of the largest NYE celebrations in the country outside of New York City, btw.)
At night, it’s likely you’ll find the tower illuminated with different holiday colors based on what time of year it is, but for now, it’s the perfect time to take in the building’s Beaux Arts style architecture in broad daylight.
Stop 6: Greetings From Buffalo Mural | 461 Ellicott Street, Buffalo
Hook a right onto Genesee Street and a left onto Ellicott Street and just past Toutant, the popular “Greetings From Buffalo” mural will pop up on the right. Painted by local artist Casey William Milbrand in 2016, the mural is a Buffalo staple for sure— keep it in mind for an Instagram photo-op if you’re ever hosting out-of-town friends or relatives in the future!
Bonus: Want more street art? Swing back over to Washington Street after you’re done at “Greetings From Buffalo” to check out the colorful mural “Optichromie” on the back of Town Ballroom. (666 Washington St, Buffalo), then turn left on E. Tupper to see “Noodle in the Northern Lights” (Jessie and Katey) on the side of Shea’s 710 Main Theatre.
Stop 7: Martin Luther King Jr. Park | Fillmore Avenue & Best Street
Heading over to Buffalo’s East side, the Martin Luther King Jr. Park is just about a ten minute drive from the “Greetings From Buffalo” mural.
Designed by the Olmstead firm, the park spans 50 acres and provides a home to the Buffalo Museum of Science, a large monument dedicated to MLK Jr. himself, a working greenhouse, and a newly opened public playground. There’s plenty of space to spread out and explore, just be sure to follow proper social distancing procedures if you decide to take a stroll to stretch your legs.
Bonus: Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks Conservancy has a self-guided audio tour of the park for those interested in learning more about its history!
Stop 8: Welcome Wall Mural | 751 Fillmore Avenue
Once you’ve had your fill of fresh air at MLK Jr. Park, head a few minutes down Fillmore to the Welcome Wall, one of the most vibrant murals in the city.
Completed by artists Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez for the Albright Knox public art initiative in 2017, the mural celebrates diversity with a collage of the word “welcome” in 13 different languages: Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English, Farsi, French, German, Polish, Seneca, Spanish, Somali, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Stop 9: Buffalo Central Terminal | 495 Paderewski Drive
A quick drive from Fillmore Avenue to Paderewski Drive will bring you to one of the final stops on our tour: Buffalo Central Terminal. Originally opened in 1929, this iconic Buffalo landmark boasts beautiful Art Deco architecture and, of course, a long, storied past. Until the last train left the terminal on October 28th, 1979, the station welcomed over 200 trains and 10,000 visitors daily— which is pretty incredible, if you think about it.
Unfortunately, the building is closed to the public (so don’t try to venture inside). Volunteers from Buffalo’s Central Terminal Restoration Corporation are continually working to restore the building, and generally offer monthly public tours for those looking to get an up close and personal look inside. Keep it on your list of new things to try once everything settles down!
Stop 10: Fuel up before heading home
And with that, our “tour” is complete! Depending on what time of day you started out, it’s likely time to grab lunch or dinner and head home, so consider supporting local by ordering takeout (make sure to call in advance) from a Downtown Buffalo restaurant listed below or check out our guide to restaurants offering take out all across WNY to find one near home as you head back.
Big Ditch Brewing Company | 55 E Huron Street
Deep South Taco | 291 Ellicott Street, Buffalo
Dinosaur BBQ | 301 Franklin Street
Gabriel’s Gate | 145 Allen Street
Allen Burger Venture | 175 Allen Street