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!
Clarence Center Coffee Co | 9475 Clarence Center Rd
Steamworks Coffee Roasters | 51 Canal St in Lockport
Orange Cat Coffee Co | 703 Center St in Lewiston
Stop 1: The Guardian of the Water Mural – 51 Main Street in Lockport
We’ll officially kick off our driving tour in the heart of downtown Lockport to check out this street art masterpiece by Augustina Droze, a name you might recognize from some of our other street art guides. This mural celebrates the history of the city of Lockport and features a collage of references to local history— see if you can spot them all!
Stop 2: Lockport Locks – Downtown Lockport
Next, we’ll head over to the historic Lockport Locks, which can be found all along Lockport’s stretch of the Erie Canal. These massive, re-watered locks have manually-operated wooden gates that don’t just look great— they’ve also been restored to be fully functional. A quick drive along the Canal (we recommend driving down Canal Street and/or Market Street) will provide scenic views of the area and take you past a handful of buildings that have been restored to resemble the look and feel of an 1800s Canal town. Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises also provides daily historical cruises along the Erie Canal from May through October, so be sure to check them out once it’s deemed safe.
Bonus: Want to take a longer detour? Try walking, running, biking, or rollerblading a portion of the Erie Canalway Trail, which spans a whopping 400 miles (!!) across New York State.
You can read more about the must see things in Lockport in our article, Summer Day Trip: How to Spend a Day in Lockport, New York.
Stop 3: The Wurlizter Building -908 Niagara Falls Blvd, North Tonawanda
Once you’ve had your fill of exploring the Erie Canal, make your way over to the Tonawandas to check out the famous Wurlitzer Building. The building was once the grounds for the creation of cinema and theatre organs as well as the popular jukebox. For its time, the Wurlitzer plant was the largest of its kind in the world. Today, the building is divided into smaller spaces including Wurlitzer Events banquet space as well as Platter’s Chocolates. Platter’s is a great stop for a sweet tooth craving while you’re exploring the area. Grab the local favorite, sponge candy as well as their orange chocolate specialty and take a tour of the factory once businesses reopen.
Stop 4: Jazzman Mural – 540 Oliver Street in North Tonawanda
Diving deeper into the Tonawandas, you’ll find another mural by local artist Chuck Tingley. “Jazzman,” which is located on the side of North Tonawanda’s DHU Strand Theatre, was created and completed in 2019 as a part of Project 308 Gallery’s Art on Oliver Street Initiative, bringing vibrant colors and new life to their own corner of Western New York.
Bonus: You can also see another mural from the Art on Oliver Street Initiative, titled “Divided Sky” created by Team Razor Wire, just a few blocks down on the side of The Fish Place! Check it out on the corner of Oliver and Robinson Street.
Stop 5: Riviera Theatre – 67 Webster Street in North Tonawanda
Continue down Oliver Street, take a right on Goundry, and a left onto Webster to get to our next destination: The Riviera Theatre. With a flashy marquee greeting visitors at its entrance and a massive mural on the Tremont Street-facing side of the building, the historic theatre originally made a name for itself in Western New York as “Showplace of the Tonawandas” after its opening night in 1926. Today, The Riviera Theatre still houses its Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which was fully restored in 2010 and features 3,000 individual “singing” pipes.
Stop 6: Tonawanda Castle – 69 Delaware Street in Tonawanda
Next up is Tonawanda Castle, another major historical site that’s just a quick 5 minute drive from The Riviera Theatre. Originally completed in 1897 with the intention of serving as an armory, the beautifully restored 114-year-old building now functions as one of the most popular wedding and special events spots in the Tonawandas. Take in the building’s gorgeous Romanesque architecture from the comfort of your car, or hop out and give your legs a stretch to see it up close.
Stop 7: Alix Rice Peace Park – in front of the Northtown Center in Amherst
Located in Amherst near the University at Buffalo’s North Campus, our next stop is far more than just a display of some beautiful street art. The Alix Rice Peace Park is a community skate park that opened in the summer of 2018 after being dedicated to Alix Rice, a local 18-year-old who was fatally struck by a drunk driver in 2011. The park aims to preserve her legacy as a longboard and skateboard enthusiast by providing community members of all ages a place to hang out and skate safely.
While the skate park itself is closed due to COVID-19, if you walk behind the park’s far wall (nearest to the Northtown Center), you’ll find a massive mural that features the beautiful work of local artists— one of Amherst’s best hidden gems, for sure!
Stop 8: Eagle House Restaurant – 5578 Main Street in Williamsville
Take a quick drive over to the Village of Williamsville to get to our next stop: the Eagle House Restaurant. While it might seem like any other restaurant from the outside, it’s actually one of Williamsville’s most historic landmarks as it’s been in service for over 150 continuous years. It even boasts the oldest hotel license in New York State! The food also comes highly recommended, so definitely keep them on your list of new takeout spots to try while quarantining.
Bonus: Want the entire lowdown on historic sites in Williamsville? Check out this walking tour put together by the Williamsville Business Association!
Stop 9: Glen Falls – Glen Park on Main Street in Williamsville
Just a quick drive (or walk) down the street from Eagle House is Glen Park, a must-visit when in the Village of Williamsville. Venture through the park’s scenic walking trail and make your way past Glen Falls, Williamsville’s 27ft waterfall that was once a hotspot for water-powered mills and other factories in years past. Pro tip: grabbing some takeout from a local restaurant and having a picnic in the park would be a great way to spend an afternoon— especially on a beautiful, sunny day!
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.
Creekview Restaurant | 5629 Main Street in Williamsville
Eagle House Restaurant | 5578 Main Street in Williamsville
New York Beer Project | 6933 S Transit Road in Lockport
Dockside Bar & Grill | 153 Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda