Filed under: Family Friendly, museums, New York, restaurant, theater, top-feature
Fun for the Family in Rochester, New York
Recently, my travels took me to the offbeat and unlikely upstate New York stop of Rochester. Few tourists get far beyond the reach of New York City, and who can blame them – it’s got a little something for everybody. But those looking for a change of pace should head North and West, as the rest of New York state couldn’t be more different. It’s rolling green hills, clear streams, and lots of hospitality. And you’ll get exactly that in Rochester, New York’s third largest city.
I left Rochester a bit fuller than when I arrived. It was such a pleasant surprise to find the city is a foodie paradise! A few of my personal favorites (all family friendly):
- Java’s (map) and Spot (map): These are two cafes on East Ave in downtown Rochester. Despite going to both more than once, I wasn’t able to work out who had the better coffee. Spot has some fantastic sandwiches, and if you go to Java’s your little ones will not be able to resist the cookies with innovative flavors, like green tea and coconut. So yum!
- Garbage Plate at Nick Tahou’s Hots (map): Ok, so maybe this isn’t family friendly, but I feel compelled to mention it because it’s something of a legend in Rochester. It’s basically a plate with everything piled on it – hot dogs, macaroni salad, onions, french fries… A safer alternative would be to have a “white hot”, which is a white hot dog. I’d never seen one until now – but don’t worry, you can find dogs in their normal color as well.
- Wegmans (map): Yes, I’m recommending you to go eat at a grocery store. But it’s not just any grocery story; the Wegman’s in Pittsford is a true experience. Plus, everyone can get what they want – Indian, Asia, Thai, Pizza, Grill – there’s everything here.
- Abbotts (map): the ice cream place in Rochester. The original is from a “shack” just off Lake Ontario, which you can still visit, though the ice cream (which is technically frozen custard) tastes the same in all their shops.
You could spend several days just trying to get through all of Rochester’s museums – not to mention the city’s zoo, parks, and other attractions. I’m going to narrow it down to two must see spots:
- Strong National Museum of Play (map): This has to have been my number one fave of my entire Rochester experience. The museum is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, where they recognize toys of outstanding significance; part of the criteria is longevity, so parents will find lots of old favorites here. For children, the hands on exhibits are really something – I was blown away by the replica Wegman’s where the kids can fill their cart and checkout, and get a receipt. There’s also a doll collection that borders on the obscene, it is enormous. Very very cool place – a must.
- George Eastman House (map): While much of the historical significant of George Eastman and his legacy that he left in the world of photography will be lost on youngsters, everyone can admire some of the amazing photography, including very famous pictures and the camera that took them. It is very, very cool. And the gift shop is the perfect place to inspire a young (or old) wannabe photographer. Don’t miss a walk through the gardens either.
Theater and Film
Rochester also has a lot of theater options available, so be sure to clear an empty evening in your diary for an extra bit of culture. Two recommended theaters, very different experiences but both worthwhile:
- Little Theater (map): This art deco gem is on the national register of historic places, and has an excellent rotation of arthouse films, both foreign and independent. Plus it’s an adorable venue – appropriately named, though I like to think of it as cosy, not small.
- Eastman Theater (map): This is the largest theater in Rochester, and it’s undergoing renovations – I took a sneak peek, and wow – it is gorgeous! This reminds me of some of the old world theaters you’ll find in Europe – you know, the ones with oversized chandeliers and an array of gorgeous paintings on the walls. George Eastman’s seat is still here, of course, though you can’t sit in it – it’s reserved for the current chairman at Kodak. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is a bad seat in the house.
I didn’t time my trip very well, so I just missed the recent festival. However, people both in and around Rochester raved about a few specific events, so I’d be remiss not to mention them:
- Lilac Festival (May): People have been coming to see the lilacs in Highland Park since 1892, so if you happen to be around (and like lilacs), you might want to come see what the fuss is all about. You can even buy lilac perfume while you’re here.
- International Jazz Festival (June): This is now a serious stop on the international jazz circuit, and I’ve heard many say it’s now one of the best jazz festivals in North America. They close off a large portion of the city (some of the most fun streets, and apparently the vibe is just incredible. I am so upset I missed it, but look forward to catching it again some other time.
While you may love Rochester, you can easily daytrip from there. Some options:
- Buffalo: From the hip and trendy Elmwood Village to the fabulous architecture downtown, Buffalo is only about 90 minutes away.
- Niagara Falls: Just a little bit past Buffalo is the majestic Niagara Falls. The American side doesn’t have the best view, and you’ll need a passport to walk (or drive) across, though walking is easier given the lack of cheap, easy parking on the Canadian side.
- Canandaigua: Not more than an hour south you hit wine country. A relaxed, laid back atmosphere with loads of character, Canandaigua and its neighboring cities have everything you need for some family fun.
Photo credit: ceejayoz
Disclosure: This trip was in part sponsored by Visit Rochester, but the opinions are solely of the author.
AJava's Cafe16 Gibbs St, Rochester, NY, 14604-2505, USView Details and Book
BSpot Coffee Rochester Cafe200 East Avenue, Rochester, NYView Details and Book
CNick Tahou Hots320 Main St W, Rochester, NY, United States, 14608View Details and Book
DWegmans - Pittsford3195 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NYView Details and Book
EAbbott's Frozen Custard4791 Lake Ave, Rochester, NY, 14612-2154, USView Details and Book
FStrong National Museum of Play1 Manhattan Square Drive, Rochester, NYView Details and Book
GGeorge Eastman House900 East Avenue, Rochester, NYView Details and Book
HLittle Theatre240 East Avenue, Rochester, NYView Details and Book
IEastman Theatre26 Gibbs Street, Rochester, NYView Details and Book