If you’re a fan of wine, beer, hard cider, gin and stunning scenic backdrops, then a vacation at Seneca Lake in New York is the place for you!
Every summer we take a vacation for a week with my side of the family. We find a place somewhere on the East Coast and usually in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast—in part because we have a soft spot for New England, having spent months in Groton Long Point growing up, and also because geographically it makes sense now that we’re spread out between Maryland and New York.
We’ve been to Cape May, Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Greenwood, and this year we tried some place new: Seneca Lake in New York.
Seneca Lake is part of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, and happened to be the location of my cousin’s wedding earlier this month. Rather than try and drive up and back for a long weekend, we decided to make it our annual vacation destination this year.
I already know how beautiful Upstate New York is, especially in the fall when all the leaves are changing. And I’d heard that it’s the “wine country” of the East.
In my head I pictured the country settings of Baby Boom, a favorite movie of mine when I was in elementary school.
If you don’t remember it, it could be because there are many forgotten ’80s movies.
Or, it could be that it wasn’t a very good movie (Amazon gives it 4+ stars, but IMDb only give a score of 6/10).
My 10-year-old self remembers loving the story, which includes a charming-but-in-need-of-repair farmhouse, a baby that Diane Keaton receives as an inheritance (I know, weird), a paradigm shift from the quintessential mid-’80s “Yuppie” lifestyle in the city, and a start-up making and selling applesauce.
In my head, that farmhouse was nestled in beautiful Upstate New York.
In reality, they were in Vermont—a fact I only just realized when I looked up the IMDb record. Same difference.
Three Reasons To Vacation
At Seneca Lake In New York
1. Local wine (and beer and distilleries and hard cideries).
I mentioned earlier that the Finger Lakes are known for their vineyards, but until we entered Lodi, on the way to Romulus where we were staying, and saw the grapevine-covered landscape for ourselves… Whoa.
In a 10 mile stretch, I’d wager we passed at least 25 wineries, and a handful each of distilleries, breweries and cideries. No joke. The land flanking the lake screamed of Tuscanny, especially as the sun set and cast a warm, golden tone.
My mom, sister and I landed at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates on the Thursday of our vacation. The rest of the week had been filled with wedding stuff and day trips to other local destinations, and suddenly we realized the week was nearly over and we’d yet to set foot in a vineyard!
Three Brothers is really cool set-up, with options for wine (I mean, obviously), but they also have a microbrewery (with beer, hard cider and soda) onsite too. If you arrive before 5 o’clock, you can get a “Tasting Passport,” which gets you five tastings in each of the three wineries, and the microbrewery, for one price.
I’m sure there are plenty of other experiences similar to this, and my thought is that the next visit should be for a girls’ weekend, where all we do is eat great food and drink all the wine (or at least more wine). I also regret the fact that I didn’t get to try any hard cider! I’d image local cider from Upstate New York is probably fantastic.
PRO TIP: Do a little research before you visit and map out the wineries and breweries you want to hit while you’re there. It can be an overwhelming task to manage on the fly (a good bad problem to have)!
2. The views and the weather.
There are tons of lake-front properties for rent around Seneca Lake, and we always try to secure something right on the water for our vacations. It’s so relaxing knowing you only need to walk 30 feet to the water (especially with kids), and amazing to be able to enjoy the views from the house, too.
The beauty of New England—Upstate New York is no exception—is that you enjoy pleasantly warm, low humidity days, and evenings that have a little chill in the air. Even in August. Most houses don’t have air conditioning because they don’t need it, and with the windows open you get to enjoy cool breezes and water sounds. It’s so relaxing! Just remember to bring a sweatshirt and a pair of long pants…
The lakes run north to south, so on either side you get to enjoy a beautiful show from the sun. In our case, the house was west-facing, so we had amazing sunsets every evening. Perfect with a glass of wine after dinner!
PRO TIP: Find a “lake-front” house that’s actually on the lake. There are some properties that are considered lake-front, but have the land split by the road that runs through town (Romulus, in our case), which means you need to cross a 2-lane road to get to the property’s dock and the lake. The views from the house are still brilliant, and uninhibited by other houses. Just makes it less relaxing to stroll out to the water’s edge, and a tad more risky if you have kids in the mix.
3. Day trip potential galore.
Spending a full week in the lake house, reading books, working on puzzles, and drinking local wine would be a perfectly fine (and relaxing) vacation in and of itself. That said, there are so many cool areas to explore within an hour of Seneca Lake in New York, and it’s worth it to carve out a day or two to see them.
Early in the week we visited Ithaca, about 50 minutes from Romumus, where we were staying. The downtown area reminds me of Charlottesville, with a walkable space closed to vehicle traffic, filled with local shops and restaurants in old and restored buildings. We ate outside at Viva Taqueria, and gorged on everything from nachos to fajitas to quesadillas. It was FAN-tastic, the kids loved it too, and I was happy to have leftovers to bring back to our house for lunch the next day.
The neighborhoods surrounding the downtown space are just as charming! Big, historic homes on tree-lined streets, some converted to apartments, others still used as single family homes. The downtown area bleeds into the Cornell University campus, and the college-vibe only adds to the cool culture.
While we were in Ithaca, we stopped by the Cornell Botanical Gardens with my sister and brother-in-law (the farmers). It’s a huge space on the Cornell University campus, with a variety of gardens to walk through—we spent our time in the Mundy Wildflower Garden, which was largely wooded with trails leading up and down hills. A corpse flower bloomed the week we were there, too!
The last place we visited was Watkins Glen State Park. You may recognize the town of Watkins Glen because of its attachment to Nascar (Watkins Glen International is there), something I had no idea about until we drove through on a Saturday around one of the races.
The entrance to Watkins Glen State Park is right downtown, amid all the race-goers, with parking nearby (not free, but not expensive). Once parked, you’re on foot to get into the park unless you want to ride a shuttle—not sure how that works, but noticed it dropping off as we arrived. The park is beautifully kept, and the gorges and waterfalls are breathtaking.
There are a lot of steps. Steps that are wet, steep and narrow. I didn’t notice any warnings about the extent of the climb before we started, so it’s worth it to understand what you’re getting into before you arrive—especially if your group includes elderly family members, small kids, or anyone who has a an injury or disability that might make hundreds of steep, slick steps dangerous.
Those waterfalls and gorges, though! Worth it.
PRO TIP: Make sure to bring water, and wear shoes with decent tread so when you walk up and down the clay-covered wet steps, or across the rock and pebble-filled trails, you don’t slip and hurt yourself. If you have hiking boots, great! Otherwise, sneakers or other shoe with a substantial sole will work. Leave the Old Navy flip-flops at home, as comfortable as they are otherwise. (I learned my lesson with those on wet subway steps in Manhattan one day … not fun.)