Upstate New York is a real delight to visit, featuring many popular tourist destinations, including the Adirondack Mountains, Finger Lakes, and Niagara Falls. These lakeside towns with vibrant centers and deep history set in the surroundings of mesmerizing nature for year-round outdoor activities are the ultimate charming getaway into the state's northwest.
Less than an hour south of Rochester, the quaint upstate New York town with a mystic name is perched scenically on the northern tip of the namesake Finger Lake. Translating as "the chosen spot" from the native language of the original inhabitants, the charming townscape offers an equally chill and active getaway within natural scenery. The Mansion State Historic Park comes veiled in a royal vibe for fresh-air strolls that transport one back to the Victorian era atmosphere. Comprising a 50-acre estate of the historic Sonnenberg Gardens or the "Sunny hill" in German, there is a 40-room mansion built in Queen Anne-style and acres of nine distinct formal gardens that bloom from April through October. The former getaway for the rich from the hustle of New York, the area was also frequented by Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca, who grew up spending summers in a cottage on the lake's shore.
The sleepy, posh town today comes with the popular Canandaigua City Pier for scenic waterside walks and relaxation within the hundreds-mile tranquility of the lake. The renowned New York Kitchen offers tastings, shopping, as well as demos, culinary classes, and a lakeside restaurant with live music. The Mexican Rio Tomatlan restaurant is great for a delicious, quick bite before taking a walk through Kershaw Park or renting a pontoon boat from the Sutter's Marina to attain different views of the town. For history fans, there is the Carriage Museum and the Granger Homestead, while a double-decker paddle wheeler ride on the Canandaigua Lady comprises a reminiscent pastime from when steamboats were used as the region's main transport back in the 19th century.
Home to 13,000 residents, Geneva is a charming town with an exceptional downtown square. Also known as Exchange Street, it is the gathering spot among tourists and locals for the popular bars, innovative eateries, and homey breweries set in-between local shops and renowned restaurants. The nearby narrow Linden Street comprises Geneva's exquisite culinary center that is a delight to visit during weekends when it gets closed off to traffic. The food-galore promenade comprises a great place to mingle and socialize while trying out inspired creations and drinking right on the road.
Set on Seneca Lake's northern edge, the waterfront town offers natural scenery with endless fresh-air recreational opportunities. Just 2.5 miles from the center, the State Park with two marinas is easily accessible via a wonderful trail featuring both urban and natural views along the way. The town's historically-charming architecture includes the Belhurst Castle and Winery with Isabella Spa, and wondrous gardens meandered by trails for scenic strolls or relaxation in a pleasure-filled setting. One can also watch a show at the Smith Opera House or visit the local 1,400-seater Smith Center for the Arts, which comes stacked with regular performances, theatrical spectacles, concerts, and films.
Perched scenically on the southern tip of the "Queen of American Lakes," 32-mile-long Lake George, the town of 3,500, has been the known birthplace of American vacation since the 1800s. Tucked at the feet of the Adirondacks Mountains, Lake George is also encompassed by the Adirondack Park's unspoiled lakeside wilderness. The quaintly glam town comprises a scenic respite from the Big Apple's concoction of sounds into tranquility and one-on-one time with the natural environment. Attracting horseback riders, kayakers, and scuba-divers, there are also over 100 camper-equipped islands on the lake for infinite outdoor pursuits.
The adventurous explorers enjoy "taking a bite" out of the immense, six-million-acre Adirondack Park, which is nearly three times the size of the Yellowstone National Park. The water fans rejoice in swimming, boating, and fishing on the lake, while the winter line-up of activities includes skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. There are also many scenic drives throughout the region, such as the Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, with breathtaking vistas of the Adirondacks and Lake Luzerne on the way. The vibrant downtown core features atmospheric streets lined with shops and restaurants for more delightful pastimes.
Founded in the 19th century, Lake Placid is a consistently popular skiing, hiking, and biking destination for the city dwellers to immerse into a small-town atmosphere with bountiful natural pursuits. Set peacefully in the Adirondack Mountains, the town is bounded by several lakes, along with wildflower fields that bloom seasonally with creamy-white bloodroot, light-pink lady slipper, and crimson columbine. It is also a real paradise for the water fans seeking a tranquil retreat, with activities including swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and scenic relaxation on the banks.
Along with two European towns in Switzerland and Austria, Lake Placid is one of the few locales around the world that hosted the Winter Olympics more than once. Moreover, it is the setting of the 1980 United States' victory in a hockey game against the Soviet Union that went down in history as the "Miracle on Ice." The Lake Placid Olympic Museum covers the hotspot where the American team took that fateful shot to win the gold medal, with exhibits and artifacts celebrating the forever glory of the country. There, one can also learn about the history of speed skating and see displays of sled evolution.
The closest community to Niagara Falls from the American side, the tiny town of Lewiston boasts ample natural charm. It is a mega-popular destination among national and global visitors for the waterfalls, with a free shuttle service right from town to the grand-cascading spectacle between the United States and Canada. Many also come for the renowned art scene, with the 150-acre Artpark and the region's beautiful amphitheater that is ranked among the best in the world. Lewiston also calls for an imminent visit as the host of the state's largest outdoor jazz festival at the end of summer, featuring well-known performers.
Set alongside the Niagara River in between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, one will find many hiking trails to and around the falls, as well as endless fun activities along the water shores. Home to deep history, the town is the site of the first major battle in the War of 1812 and the last stop for the slaves fleeing to Canada. History fans will also enjoy visiting the town's historic church for a 2-in-1 cultural fill. The sacred landmark from 1835 transformed into the Lewiston Museum, teaches about the first European settlement in town and in Western New York.
Set in the popular Finger Lakes region along the namesake lake in Onondaga County, Skaneateles is the perpetual first choice among New Yorkers looking for a lake getaway. The beautiful village exudes natural charm throughout its tiny perimeter and comes to abound with a year-round set of activities for all fitness levels. During summer, there's boating, swimming, and relaxing on the scenic banks of the lake overlooking the sparkling waters. The downtown-full of charming inns and B&Bs also houses a marvelous historic district with unique restaurants that will appease any palette.
The lake's north tip is bounded by fertile soils that seasonally transform the landscape into a lavender field, with sights of grazing fuzzy lambs near the Lockwood Lavender Farm transporting one right to the French countryside. Featuring many wineries in the area, the environment and perfect climate produce cold-weather grapes that are used for wine-making in Eastern Europe. The Charlie Major Nature Trail offers wondrous hikes, while the Last Shot Distillery tasting room is set right off for a whole other kind of adventure. It beckons the drink aficionados with the finest spirits and liqueurs produced in small batches from locally-grown corn, wheat, and other grains.
Perched on Seneca Lake's southern tip along the Chemung River, the charming water-bound Watkins Glen is the perfect getaway for fishers, campers, and other outdoorsy types. The Watkins Glen State Park houses the Gorge Trail with scenic hiking ops, while the Catharine Creek Wildlife Management Area houses the marvel-worthy Sarah's Falls. The summertime festival season transforms the peaceful lake locale into a vibrant cultural scene full of music, fun, and food.
Veiled in magic with waterfalls and creeks full of rainbow trout, Watkins Glen is also part of the renowned Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Featuring some 30 wineries in the surroundings of the lake, one can get a real scenic respite while sipping bold Pinot Gris, fruity Cabernet Franc, or ice wines on a hot summer's day. Watkins Glen also boasts a Formula One race track tied to the town's auto racing history in the 20th century. Other activities include visiting a farm sanctuary and taking a taste test at the town's famed culinary scene with countless great restaurants.
These towns, set scenically bounded by lakes, are the most charming in upstate New York. Each boasting a big character and unique atmosphere, they offer endless outdoor pursuits within breathtaking scenery that will not leave one unfazed.