City Guide: Ithaca, NY

City Guide: Ithaca, NY

Here at EscapeMaker, we aim to inspire exploration, education and relaxation via agritourism. We’re constantly searching out scenic spots, farm visits, local eats and more to get all you EscapeMakers out of the city and back to the land. We often put together lists of wineries to visit, trails of farms to check out, must-attend events and festivals, but lately we’ve been receiving requests for specific location guides when chatting it up with all you hungry local travelers at agritourism events and across Greenmarkets. You know where you want to go, and you want a one-stop shop for what to do once you get there. So we’re excited to introduce our EscapeMaker City Guides! What to do, where to stay, and – most importantly – what to eat when you get to your destination. Our first city guide is the great town of Ithaca, located in the Finger Lakes region. Read on for eats, drinks, sites and activities!

FARM: “Farm to Fork Ithaca” is an area program that means serious agritourism business! The farms, farm markets and farm-to-table experiences are beautifully abundant in Ithaca. From apple festivals to Christmas tree farms, vast farmers markets to hands-on baking workshops, the agritourism experiences are all around you. A must-see stop is the Ithaca Farmers Market (named one of America’s 10 Best Farmers Markets by Travel & Leisure). Offering five weekly markets during the growing season, the Steamboat Landing pavilion location hosts the Saturday and Sunday markets and the Thursday Night Markets, while the two satellite markets at Dewitt Park and East Hill Plaza host Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Located in a lush park on the Cayuga Lake waterfront at the historic Steamboat Landing, 85+ vendors set up shop on weekends and Thursdays April – December, and feature a variety of fresh produce, art/crafts, prepared foods and more in the award-winning covered pavilion. Saturdays often include musicians and a lively crowd, and the Night Market on Thursdays tends to showcase local breweries, seasonal events, and activities for the whole family. With the market located in such a gorgeous area, if the weather’s nice, you can rent a bike or a kayak for an extra special experience getting to the market.

Looking for a pick-your-own farm experience? Look no further than Indian Creek Farm! Only three minutes from downtown Ithaca, but a seemingly different world, this farm is RIPE for special visits and exploration. Open all year round, the most abundant crop-picking time comes in the summer and fall. With over 100 crop varieties, you and your family can pick fresh flowers, apples & peaches, stalks of brussel sprouts, pumpkins and more. Wander the grounds, set up a picnic, run around the playground, and enjoy the gorgeous orchards and scenery!

Once you’ve hit the market, check out some of the other agri-amazing experiences scattered in and around Ithaca, like Wide Awake Bakery‘s bread-baking class schedule, Moore Tree Farm (November-December), or the Annual Apple Harvest Festival (September).

Read some of Ithaca’s own farm-to-fork stories, highlighting these superb spots here.

FOOD: As a city that boasts more restaurants per capita than New York City itself, the foodie in you will be utterly delighted to let your taste buds guide you through the food scene.

Established in 2007, Hazelnut Kitchen is an Ithaca staple, which uses 90% local ingredients on its sophisticated, yet comforting seasonally-changing menu. From charred onion soup to house made charcuterie board to hazelnut crusted salmon to a “let the kitchen decide” entree that gives the chef free reign to thoughtfully surprise you with a dish based on the season’s prized ingredients, there’s something for everyone. Hazelnut Kitchen also hosts frequent dinner events with special tasting menus by reservation only. You definitely want to check out this spot!

Soak up the gorgeous Cayuga Lake waterfront while dining al fresco and enjoying live music (every Friday) on the dock at The Boatyard Grill. Just a mile from downtown Ithaca, this hot spot is part of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail with walking access to Cass Park, The Ithaca Children’s Garden, The Ithaca Farmer’s Market and more! Walk, bike, drive or boat to this relaxed and festive dining experience.

There are a number of other farm-to-table restaurants, bakeries and cafes scattered throughout the area like the famous Moosewood Restaurant (named one of the “thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th century” by Bon Appétit magazine), Bar Argos (craft cocktails paired with local food trucks on summer weekends), and Ithaca Bakery (neighborhood favorite since 1910). Check out the full list here.

DRINK: Featured as one of our favorite wine weekend getaways, the Cayuga Wine Trail, which has been around for over 30 years, is the first organized and longest running wine trail. Comprised of fifteen wineries, a cidery, meadery and four distilleries, it’s pretty clear why this stretch heaven is multiple award-winning. These wineries have won over 5,000 national and international medals and six Governor’s Cups.  Between the rolling hills, the waterfalls, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you may need more than a day trip. If you’re looking for a close (and amazing) winery near downtown Ithaca, check out Six Mile Creek Vineyard. Ithaca’s oldest winery & distillery, Six Mile Creek is located in a 19th Century restored Dutch Colonial barn and boasts unparalleled scenery. The 24 acres is as much of a park as it is a vineyard. Sample from the 15+ wines and enjoy a picnic outdoors while learning firsthand just what goes into filling those bottles.

Fear not, beer lovers: the city of Ithaca is not exclusive to grapes. The area is also brimming with hoppin’ breweries and cideries. From neighborhood staple since 1998 Ithaca Beer Co. to family-run Black Duck Cidery, you can sip yourself happy with a couple of cold ones if that’s more your scene.

Looking for a bar? Pop into the Watershed, a must-visit neighborhood gathering spot that offers regional beers on tap, locally roasted coffees, craft cocktails and a built in library for immersing yourself in the culture of Ithaca. Need a coffee fix? Call to schedule a visit at Copper Horse Coffee Roasters, the one-room operation where you can witness the entire process from bean to cup. Taste and learn from the team behind the “Best American Espresso” in 2015.

Image by Brad Marzolf

OUTDOOR: Ithaca is known for its breathtaking waterfalls and gorges covering the area. There are over 150 waterfalls within 10 square miles. Hike, bike, paddle, swim, or simply soak in the seemingly endless connected streams and natural falls that run throughout Ithaca. Whether you’re hiking through one of the nearby state parks or meandering around Downtown Ithaca, you can’t miss these gorgeous sites!

Can’t get enough fresh Finger Lakes water? Check out Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes, for tons of water activities and relaxation. From there, continue soaking up the great outdoors with a trip to the Cornell Botanic Garden. This free admission haven contains over 4,300 acres of landscaped gardens. Perfect for walks, picnics and meditation, it’s the perfect way to spend some time in the sun.

CULTURE: Visit the award-winning Downtown Ithaca Commons, a four-block pedestrian-only shopping area filled with 100+ local shops, farm-to-table restaurants, street vendors & street entertainers. Close to Cornell University and Ithaca College, this area is buzzing with energy year-round. Grab a craft beer at the Ithaca Ale House; join in the seasonal events like Apple Harvest Festival in the fall and the Ithaca Ice Fest in the winter; chow down on a gourmet waffle at Waffle Frolic; and hunt for hidden treasures at antique shops, art galleries and boutiques lining the area.

LODGING: Ithaca is surrounded by fine hotels, cozy B&Bs, and inns galore. Right in Downtown Ithaca, book your stay at the gorgeous Argos Inn. Housed in a stunning renovated historic mansion, the inn is both luxurious and cozy, sophisticated and inviting, and filled with treasures at every turn. From the collection of original art (both local and renowned) to the swanky and innovative Bar Argos to the warmer-weather patio featuring live musicians and local food trucks, this special establishment will not disappoint.

Barely off the beaten path – and certainly worth the 11 miles distance from Ithaca – Juniper Hill B&B is not just a place to rest your head, it is an experience filled with nature, art, architecture and history! Relax by the fire in the common area, enjoy the onsite gardens and galleries, and learn firsthand what the local B&B owners think are must-do experiences in the area.

Spend your nights nestled in the hills of the Finger Lakes in between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes at the Inn Btween Farm Bed & Breakfast. Located just 10 minutes outside of Ithaca, this 1848 Greek revival farmhouse has cozy rooms, homemade breakfast made from the farm’s own eggs, produce, jams, granola and more. A quiet retreat while exploring Ithaca, visitors can hike, kayak or swim in the pond, go for a bike ride, snow shoe or visit with the friendly farm animals. Pro tip: if you want your Finger Lakes weekend all set up for you, book one of our vacation packages, which includes a stay at the Inn Btween B&B for $449. Check out all the details here.

And for those of you with an adventurous desire to spend a weekend glamping – and we do mean glamping – you absolutely must check out Firelight Camps. Set up on the grounds of La Tourelle Resort and Spa in Ithaca, these elevated and stylish platform tents are complete with hardwood floors, king or queen bed and safari-inspired furniture. Each tent includes a private balcony for morning meditations with coffee, afternoons with a good book, or evening toasts with a cocktail. Enjoy the nearby spa, wander the grounds and trails around the campsite, gather and make new friends over coffee, s’mores and picnics.

GETTING THERE: Big Red BulletGreyhoundOurBus and Shortline Bus / Coach USA operate buses into Ithaca from a variety of cities, including daily service to/from NYC, just a 4 hour ride. You can also check out daily arrivals from the Newark airport.


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