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!
The Grange Community Kitchen | 22 Main Street in Hamburg
Wonder Coffeehouse | 323 Ganson Street
Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery | 580 South Park Ave
Overwinter Coffee | 9 Genesee Street
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. Ready to check it out? Take a virtual tour online or check it out in person once things start to get back to normal.
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— with local takeout, of course!
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! Since Buffalo’s Silo City is closed off to the public due to COVID-19, the best place to view it from afar is 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 once they’re back open to the public!
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.
And just a warning: RiverWorks is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, so you’ll just have to enjoy this stop from your car! (Don’t try to walk around or get a closer picture— since RiverWorks is private property, you’ll get kicked out. Learn from my mistakes!)
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 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.
Hartman’s Distilling Co | 55 Chicago Street
Resurgence Brewing | 55 Chicago Street
Black Iron Bystro | 3648 South Park Ave
Juicy Burger Bar | 1 Buffalo Street