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!
Daily Planet Coffee | 1862 Hertel Ave
Ashker’s | 1002 Elmwood Ave
Stop 1: Heart 716 Mural | 545 Elmwood Ave
We’ll kick off our driving tour at the Elmwood Village’s newest mural, which was unveiled on the side of the building that houses Thirsty Buffalo and Ujima Theatre Company at the beginning of this year. Sure, it’s less intricate than many of the other street art masterpieces that dot the streets of Buffalo— but that simplicity is exactly why we love it so much.
Bonus: Want more street art? Check out our Complete Guide to Street Art on Elmwood Ave to extend your driving tour!
Stop 2: Shea’s Elmwood Theater’s original site | 529 Elmwood Ave
Take a few steps over to the corner of Elmwood Ave and West Utica Street, and you’ll be faced with a seemingly uninteresting KeyBank building. While you’re not totally wrong, what you’ll also be looking at is what was once the location of the grand Shea’s Elmwood Theater, which was built in 1914 and unfortunately demolished in 1965.
In its heyday, the historic theater contained seating for 1,600 patrons and boasted perhaps the city’s steepest balconies (over 3 stories high!) of its time. Looking at the bank’s empty parking lot, it’s hard to believe it was all here!
Stop 3: Admire the Victorian Homes of the Elmwood Village
Keep heading south on Elmwood, take a right on Bryant, and another right on Richmond; it’ll position you perfectly to admire some of the Elmwood Village’s iconic Victorian-style homes, right in the heart of one of Buffalo’s most historic neighborhoods.
Each massively beautiful home certainly has its own story to tell, and while you could certainly just take in their beauty, we recommend checking out Explore Buffalo’s walking tour of the area for the full effect. It does a great job laying out which homes are must-sees in the area, and even provides some interesting facts along the way.
Stop 4: The Hotel Henry | 444 Forest Ave
Depending on where exactly your architectural journey from stop 3 takes you, traveling to our next stop should be a fairly quick drive. Head past the Elmwood Village’s popular strip of bars and restaurants and up to Buffalo’s own Hotel Henry, a National Historic Landmark and architectural gem housed within The Richard Olmsted Campus. And in case you weren’t aware, this impressive landmark has quite an interesting backstory— it was once home to Buffalo State’s Asylum for the Insane.
Interested in learning more or exploring the campus? Private and public tours generally take visitors through a few still-abandoned buildings on the complex and through one of the Hotel Henry’s newly renovated corridors. Keep it on your list of things to check out once businesses start opening back up!
Stop 5: Delaware Park
Time to stretch those legs! Delaware Park is without a doubt one of Buffalo’s most beloved public outdoor parks, and spanning 350 acres in total, there’s plenty of green space to spread out on and walking trails full of nature to explore. Plus, it’s incredibly pet-friendly, so feel free to let your fur babies tag along!
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 6: Japanese Garden of Buffalo in Delaware Park
Don’t head out of Delaware Park just yet! Tucked away behind the Buffalo History Museum is perhaps one of the city’s best hidden gems— Delaware Park’s very own Japanese Garden.
Now, you might be wondering why and how exactly Buffalo has its own Japanese Garden. Back in 1962, the city of Buffalo joined the United States Sister City International Initiative, and was paired with Kanazawa, Japan, a partnership that eventually led to the installation of the Japanese Garden of Buffalo in 1996. Lush trees, plants, unique stone lanterns, and more were provided by the city of Kanazawa, and the garden has remained beautifully maintained for all to enjoy in its current location ever since.
Bonus: It’s currently cherry blossom season! And though the annual Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival has been canceled due to COVID-19, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy is currently working on a way for the public to view the beauty of Buffalo’s cherry blossoms virtually. Check out our post on How to Enjoy Buffalo’s Cherry Blossoms Virtually During Quarantine and stay tuned for more information!
Stop 7: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex
If you’re local to the area, you’re probably already very familiar with the name Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s because Buffalo is lucky enough to house seven of the legendary architect’s works right here in our own city, one of them being the iconic Martin House Complex located within Buffalo’s historic Parkside neighborhood.
Originally constructed between 1903-1905 for Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin, the Martin House Complex is a massive architectural feat that features six interconnected buildings defined as a unified composition. Over the years, three of the original five interconnected buildings on the property were demolished due to damage, but reconstructive and restorative efforts are continually ongoing to keep the property well-maintained and looking beautiful as ever for the public to enjoy. Be sure to check out an incredibly interesting tour of the complex after COVID-19 subsides— you’ll be glad you did! To learn more a bout Frank Lloyd Wrights gems in Buffalo check out our article, Architectural Digest’s Must-Visit Frank Lloyd Wright Gems in WNY.
Bonus: Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous Prairie School architectural-style Walter Davidson House is also close by, located near Delaware Park’s northernmost side— but it’s maintained as a private residence, so be sure to be respectful and admire from a distance.
Stop 8: North Park Theatre
Take a drive up Parkside and once you hit Hertel, take a left to get to our next destination: North Buffalo’s historic North Park Theatre. Located on Hertel Ave between Norwalk and North Park, this local favorite was originally opened in 1920 and remains fully functioning to this day.
Fun fact: Though the theatre opened in 1920, its stunning Art Deco marquee wasn’t actually added until 1941 by Buffalo sign company Flexlume Signs— a company that’s also still in business today!
Stop 9: Street Art in Hertel Alley
Our final stop brings us to one of our favorite spots to scope out street art in the city. It’s no secret that Hertel Ave remains the epicenter of the city’s most vibrant public art, but what you may not know is there’s a whole other alley tucked between a few side streets with even more street art to explore!
The Hertel Alley Gallery, which was created during last year’s Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, runs parallel to Hertel from Treymore to Colvin, remaining a fairly secluded hidden gem in North Buffalo— but rest assured, it’s accessible for the public to enjoy.
Bonus: Use our Guide to Street Art on Hertel Ave to view the full range of street art Hertel has to offer!
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 nearby restaurant listed below, or find ones on the way home via our guide to restaurants offering takeout all across WNY.
Lloyd Taco Factory | 1503 Hertel Ave
Wellington Pub | 1541 Hertel Ave
Breezy Burrito Bar | 1000 Elmwood Ave
100 Acres at Hotel Henry | 444 Forest Ave
daniela. | 387 Forest Ave