During the lonely times that were the spring of 2020, we put together a Tour By Car Series to help Western New Yorkers step out safely.
While those very isolated days are behind us, there are still plenty of reasons one might want to tour the Buffalo and Western New York area by car, with the added bonus of being able to actually park and venture off our guided path now that restrictions have lightened.
Each post features a “driving tour” itinerary full of interesting spots around the city that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own vehicle or outside. From historic landmarks and architectural gems to street art masterpieces and popular restaurants, we hope these guides help you explore WNY in a unique way.
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, here’s a quick list of local coffee shops 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!
The Grange Community Kitchen | 22 Main Street, Hamburg
Wonder Coffeehouse | 323 Ganson Street, Buffalo
Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery | 580 South Park Ave, Buffalo
Overwinter Coffee | 9 Genesee Street, Buffalo
Stop 1: Erie County Botanical Gardens – 2655 South Park Ave
We’ll officially kick off our driving tour at the Erie County Botanical Gardens, which is located right on the cusp of South Park and Lackawanna. One of Buffalo’s most beloved historic sites, the tri-domed glass building that houses the gardens was originally built between 1897-1899, and is one of just two Victorian-style conservatories in America.
Stop 2: Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica – 767 Ridge Road
Our next destination isn’t too far from the gardens; in fact, you’ll probably be able to see it right up the road! Head down South Park Ave to the beautiful OLV National Shrine & Basilica, a massive architectural gem in Lackawanna that attracts visitors from around the globe.
Originally built in 1926, the church’s interior features breathtaking paintings on its dome ceiling, marble structures throughout, and the Father baker Museum on its lower level.
Bonus: Check out our article on 6 of the Most Beautiful Ceilings in Buffalo That’ll Make You Look Up to read more about the OLV National Shrine & Basilica and discover a few other incredible interiors and ceilings around the city.
Stop 3: Welcome to South Buffalo Mural – 2277 South Park Ave
Heading the opposite way down South Park will take you to our next stop— a fun postcard mural dedicated to the neighborhoods of South Buffalo. Created by local artist Vinny Alejandro, whose name you might recognize from our other street art guides, the mural features elements of South Buffalo history and popular points of interest— see if you can figure out what each image represents!
Stop 4: Buffalo Harbor State Park – 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd
Next, we’ll take about a ten-ish minute drive over to the waterfront to enjoy some views of Lake Erie at Buffalo Harbor State Park. Spanning 190 acres in total, the park encompasses the Port of Buffalo Small Boat Harbor, Gallagher Beach, and Gallagher Pier. Complete with a small sitting/resting area that overlooks a set of historic grain elevators, this would be the perfect spot for a picnic on a nice day!
Bonus: Want to spend more time outside? Tifft Nature Preserve is located right on the other side of Fuhrmann Blvd and has plenty of nature trails to explore.
Stop 5: Ohio Street Bridge
Once you’ve had enough fresh air at the park, head over to Ohio Street to marvel at the historic Ohio Street vertical lift bridge. During its heyday, Great Lake freighters on the Buffalo River used to pass through the bridge to unload at the grain elevator silos, but today it mostly just serves the purpose of leading cars into Buffalo’s Old First Ward neighborhood.
Plans are in the works to give the bridge a whopping $16 million facelift starting in 2021, so be sure to keep an eye out for what’s in store for this historic section of the city over the next few years.
Stop 6: Silo City
For our next stop, you actually won’t need to go anywhere! For a distant view of Buffalo’s Silo City, look on from afar right on the Ohio Street Bridge (or at least in that general area).
Silo City is home to a group of four previously abandoned grain elevators on the final curves of the Buffalo River, right before it meets up with Lake Erie. The area gets its nickname of “Elevator Valley” because it is home to the densest collection of abandoned grain elevators on the planet.
Today, these grain elevators are a huge part of Buffalo’s culture and history as a major Rust Belt city. Explore Buffalo holds fascinating, immersive historical tours of Silo City that give up close and personal views of the grain elevators— be sure to check them out now that they’re open to the public again!
Stop 7: The Old First Ward Mural – Corner of Alabama & Republic Street
To get to our next destination, we’ll cross over the Ohio Street Bridge and into the Old First Ward neighborhood. Keep heading straight, turn right on Republic Street, and once you hit Alabama Street, you’ll see a massive mural on the other side of the train tracks.
Completed by Vinny Alejandro and James “Yames” Moffit back in 2014, this masterpiece is meant to be a testament to the Old First Ward’s ongoing resurgence, with one side celebrating the neighborhood’s history, and the other depicting the present day.
Stop 8: Buffalo RiverWorks – 359 Ganson Street
Next up on our tour is Buffalo RiverWorks, because no tour of the South Buffalo/waterfront neighborhoods could be complete without paying a visit to Buffalo’s beloved Labatt cans. Or as we like to call them: Buffalo’s Mount Rushmore.
Believe it or not, these grain elevators have always been in perfect “six pack” formation prior to their transformation back in 2014, so it’s really just fate (plus a bit of Buffalo creativity) that they ended up being such a popular landmark at the world’s first brewery built in a grain silo.
Stop 9: Greenway Nature Trail & Flatman Sculpture
Finally, we’ll head back over to the waterfront to check out the Greenway Nature Trail, which is located within Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The trail itself spans just over a mile, so if you’re up for an easy walk on a beautiful day, this stop is perfect for you!
At the trail’s southern entrance, you can even check out some public art: “Flat Man” is a 30-foot sculpture created by the late Larry Griffis Jr., creator of the popular Griffis Sculpture Park down near the Southern Tier. In 2017, the sculpture was relocated from the sculpture park to his current home on the Greenway Nature Trail, where he poses for daily pictures and selfies with trail-goers against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Erie.
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 stopping at one of the nearby restaurants listed below!
- Hartman’s Distilling Co | 55 Chicago Street
- Resurgence Brewing | 55 Chicago Street
- Swannie House | 170 Ohio St, Buffalo
- Ballyhoo | 211 South Park Ave, Buffalo
- Juicy Burger Bar | 1 Buffalo Street
This post was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.