When you’re choosing your next road trip destination, what do you look for? Is it an awesome local food scene to sink your teeth into after a long drive? A few cool coffee shops or breweries to kick back at with your drink of choice? Maybe you’re the outdoorsy type, and the thought of adventuring through new hiking trails with spectacular views really lights you up.
If you answered yes to any or all of those hypotheticals, listen up.
Just about 2.5 hours from Buffalo, Ithaca is the (not-so-hidden) gem of the Finger Lakes Region. It’s home to 3 state parks, over 150 waterfalls, and more restaurants per capita than New York City- making it the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or even a quick day trip.
Once you’re ready to venture out, use this city guide to plan your day(s) to ensure that they’re jam-packed with eating, drinking, and exploring the best of Ithaca.
Stop 1: The Morning Essentials: Coffee & Donuts
One Ring Donuts
114 W Green Street | Website
Locally owned and operated, One Ring Donuts is the perfect spot to kick off a day in Ithaca. Their donut recipe is actually made with potatoes (!!) to focus on giving them a fluffy, decadent texture that’s so unique (and delicious, obviously). For friends on specific diets, they regularly offer gluten-free and vegan options, and if their tasty donuts weren’t already Instagrammable enough, they also have a super cute, bright pink donut mural on the side wall of their shop.
430 N Cayuga St | Website
With this one, the name says it all. Gimme Coffee is the place to go when you’re looking to get nice and caffeinated in preparation for a day full of adventuring. It’s such a refreshing combination of cool, hipster vibes and a friendly “everyone knows everyone” atmosphere that’s incredibly inviting from the moment you walk through the door. Pick up one of their flavored lattes and thank me later.
Stop 2: Exploring the City
Ithaca Farmers Market
545 3rd St | Website
Stock up on some fresh, locally sourced produce to take back home at Ithaca’s Farmers Market! Locally operated since 1973, it’s one of the oldest running farmers markets in the country, with tons of food tents, live music, and other fun seasonal activities for all to enjoy.
PS: It also doubles as a wedding venue if you’re in the market for the Finger Lakes wedding venue of your dreams (major heart eye emojis).
171 E M.L.K St / More Info
Can we all agree that any downtown area that’s worth checking out should potentially have a good assortment of shopping, entertainment, food, and just overall fun? Great, now fit all of that into a four-block pedestrian mall, and you’ve got Ithaca Commons.
Boasting 100+ independently-owned boutiques, restaurants, and other attractions, Ithaca Commons is the best place to support the local businesses that make Ithaca great, especially if you’re only in town for a short amount of time. Depending on the time of year you visit, you may even be able to coincide your trip with one of their seasonal events, which include an annual Chowder Cook-Off, a laid-back Summer Concert Series, and their popular Apple Harvest Festival.
Stop 3: Grab a Bite to Eat
The State Diner
428 W State St | Website
Refuel with lunch (or all-day breakfast, we won’t judge!) from The State Diner, a beloved local favorite that’s been in business since 1936. They’ve been lovingly referred to as the neighborhood’s “fanciest greasy spoon,” and have an extensive menu that offers just about all the diner food you could ever want (did we mention the all-day breakfast?). Catering to early risers, night owls, and everyone in between, they’re open daily from 6am-10pm with rotating specials throughout the day.
415 College Ave / 203 N Aurora St / 329 Pine Tree Rd | Website
Don’t let the name fool you- Collegetown Bagels is way more than just your average breakfast food cafe. They’ve got a massive menu with just about every type of bagel sandwich you could possibly want (vegan options included!), along with coffee, smoothies, and a dog-friendly atmosphere that’s perfect for an afternoon pick me up.
Stop 4: Hit Up a State Park and Get Your Hike On
If you visited Ithaca and didn’t hike a gorge trail, did you really visit Ithaca?
In all seriousness, taking advantage of the beautiful state parks Ithaca has to offer is highly recommended- after all, “Ithaca is gorges!” Taughannock Falls State Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park, and Robert H. Treman State Park are all super accessible from the Ithaca area, each with their own unique gorge trails, swimming areas, and waterfalls to explore.
Don’t forget- if you’re visiting multiple State Parks in one day, you only need to pay admission to the first park! Save your receipt from the first park and show it upon entry at the next park you visit.
Stop 5: Happy Hour or Dinner & Drinks
Ithaca Beer Co
122 Ithaca Beer Dr | Website
Take it easy after a day full of playing tourist and head to Ithaca Beer Co. to enjoy a new local brew (or two, or five). They’ve got quite a few unique local beers that are available year-round, and an awesome outdoor kitchen in their beer garden during the summer months. Pair a delicious burger or wood-fired pizza with your beer of choice if you’re looking for a low-key dinner to wrap up your night.
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
On the other hand, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has tons of amazing wineries that are ready for you to enjoy if you’re looking to keep the party going. Spanning the entirety of Cayuga Lake and beyond, the scenic wineries, distilleries, and cideries that make up the Wine Trail have earned over 6,000 awards over the years, along with the area’s reputable title of “The Wine Region of the East.”
You could spend an entire weekend (and probably even longer) just visiting all of the stops that cover the perimeter of Cayuga Lake, but a few noteworthy mentions include: Long Point Winery, Toro Run Winery, and Lucas Vineyards.
Did one of these places close? Send us a note!
This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated.