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 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.
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!
Orange Cat Coffee Co | 703 Center St in Lewiston
Apple Granny Restaurant | 433 Center St in Lewison
Scripts Cafe | 2 East Ave in Lockport
Steamworks Coffee Roasters | 51 Canal St in Lockport
Stop 1: Old Falls Street – Let’s Fall in Love Mural
We’ll kick off our “driving tour” at the popular “Let’s Fall in Love” Mural on Old Falls Street near the Rainforest Cafe that’s located inside the Sheraton at the Falls Hotel. Created by Casey Willam Milbrand (who you may remember as the artist that created the “Greetings From Buffalo” mural that was included in our first drive-by series article), the mural stretches 150 feet long and over 20 feet tall, making it one of Western New York’s most massive street art masterpieces.
Stop 2: The Giacomo Hotel | 222 1st Street in Niagara Falls
Hook a quick left onto 1st street and you’ll easily spot Niagara Falls’ United Office Building, now known as The Giacomo boutique hotel. The building is one of the most important landmarks within the city of Niagara Falls— and with architecture that features Mayan Revival art deco elements and intricate detailing, it’s also one of the most beautiful.
Fun fact(s): The building was originally completed in 1929 on the eve of The Great Depression, and lasted as Niagara Falls’ tallest building until 2005 when it was surpassed by the Seneca Niagara Casino. Pretty impressive!
Stop 3: Niagara Falls State Park
In case you didn’t know, all New York State Parks are remaining open during COVID-19, with any and all normal parking fees waived until further notice— so a stroll through Niagara Falls State Park is a perfect next stop on our driving tour.
To get there, head back over to Old Falls Street from The Giacomo. Once you hit the Hard Rock Cafe on Prospect Street, you’ll spot a large parking lot and find an easy access entrance to Niagara Falls State Park. Stretching your legs, getting some fresh air, and admiring one of New York State’s most beautiful nature sites can certainly do wonders if you’re going a little stir crazy inside right now— just be sure to follow proper social distancing precautions, of course.
Stop 4: Niagara Falls Art Alley | 425 3rd Street
What was once a dull, vacant lot blocked by a concrete wall between two buildings is now the backdrop for one of Western New York’s most beautiful showcases of street art. Located less than a 5 minute drive from Niagara Falls State Park, Art Alley is the epicenter of street art in Niagara Falls, featuring 19 different murals created by local and national artists alike.
Getting there: the alley is unmistakable from its 3rd Street entrance— just look for a colorful walkway in the road that indicates where pedestrians can enter, and get ready to explore!
Bonus: Want more street art? Chuck Tingley’s gorgeous mural called “The Ascent” can be found at Artpark in Lewiston (near the mainstage theatre entrance), which is just about a 20 minute drive from Niagara Falls. If you’re up for the drive, it would make for a perfect add-on to the beginning or end of the driving tour— or just keep it in mind next time you’re in the Lewiston area!
Stop 5: Niagara Falls City Hall | 745 Main Street in Niagara Falls
Once you’ve gotten your street art fix at Art Alley, head over to Niagara Falls City Hall on Main Street to view some equally gorgeous architecture.
Constructed in 1923 and listed as a National Historic Landmark in 2001, Niagara Falls City Hall features intricate neoclassical architectural detailing throughout its exterior, along with an interesting statue titled “Primitive Inventor of Water Power” and two busts of influential Niagara County figures to greet visitors at the building’s front entrance. Bonus points if you can name who these busts are of!
Stop 6: Niagara Falls Armory | 901 Main Street
For the final architectural stop on our tour, pop over to the Niagara Falls Armory, which is just a few blocks up Main Street from City Hall. You’ll quickly spot the giant, castle-looking historic building and immediately know you’re in the right place.
Another National Historic Landmark in Niagara Falls, the armory features castellated, Victorian-style architecture that was pretty commonly used when constructing armories before the turn of the 20th century. It’s no longer active (so don’t try to venture inside), but it remains looking grand as ever to remind folks of Niagara Falls’ long, storied past that goes beyond just the Falls and the State Park.
Stop 7: Oakwood Cemetery | 763 Portage Road in Niagara Falls
From the armory, take a quick drive down Cedar Ave and you’ll reach the massive stretch of green lawn that makes up Niagara Falls’ historic Oakwood Cemetery. With over 20,000 burial plots covering 18 acres of land, the cemetery is beautiful and peaceful enough for an afternoon stroll, but spooky, for sure.
Oddly enough, there’s a special section of the cemetery dedicated specifically to individuals who were brave (or crazy) enough to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, along with many other special monuments for noteworthy Niagara County residents and explorers alike. If you’d like to scope it out for yourself, the cemetery is remaining open with limited staffing during COVID-19— but feel free to just peacefully take it all in from the comfort of your own car, if that’s more your speed.
Stop 8: Buckhorn Island State Park
Time for another leg stretch! To get to our next destination, you’ll venture out of Niagara Falls, beyond the Niagara River, and over the North Grand Island bridge to get to Buckhorn Island State Park, a massive 895-acre park on Grand Island that’s teeming with all sorts of nature and wildlife. Whether you enjoy a quick stroll by the water or end up venturing into one of the park’s many nature trails for the entire afternoon, you can spend as much or as little time exploring all that the park has to offer.
Pro tip: The park is super dog-friendly if you’ve got a furry friend (or two) along for the ride!
Stops 9 & 10: Niawanda Park & 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 nearby restaurant listed below, or find ones on the way home via our guide to restaurants offering takeout all across WNY.
Adrian’s Custard and Beef | 2352 Grand Island Blvd
Mississippi Mudds | 313 Niagara Street in Tonawanda
Anchor Bar Niagara Falls | 114 Buffalo Ave
Brickyard Pub & BBQ | 432 Center Street in Lewiston
If you’ve got some extra time to kill, we highly recommend finishing off the tour by taking your food to Niawanda Park in Tonawanda if it’s a nice day. The park is just about a 15-minute drive from the Grand Island area, and overlooks the Niagara River— making it the perfect setting for a nice springtime picnic. Pack a blanket and a book and you’re ready to go!