Waterfront houses along the coast in Alexandria Bay, New York. Editorial credit: Khairil Azhar Junos / Shutterstock.com

7 Most Idyllic Small Towns in Upstate New York

Generally considered everything North and West of New York City, Upstate New York has tranquil beaches, beautiful state parks, and picturesque small towns perfect for a weekend getaway. It also shares Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with Canada, giving way to centuries of history that can be viewed at museums, outposts, and historical centers. The best way to take in these sights is through the many idyllic small towns spread throughout Upstate New York. Whether you're looking to escape busy city life or spend time with family during vacation, you'll surely find the perfect spot to set up camp.


Buildings along a street in Westfield, New York.
Buildings along East Main Street in Westfield, New York. Editorial credit: woodsnorthphoto / Shutterstock.com

Located just off Lake Erie, Westfield is home to some of the best wines in the United States as well as the world's largest Concord grape belt. In September, attend the Grape and Wine Festival, which features activities for both children and adults. For more specific activities, kids take part in face painting, bounce houses, and hay rides while adults enjoy grape stomping, educational displays, and various tastings. If you're visiting sometime other than September, spend the afternoon at Johnson Estate Winery and sample wines paired with delectable cheeses.

If you're not a wine drinker, don't worry, as Westfield offers plenty of other options. Go waterfall spotting at Burr Falls and Bournes Creek Falls, swim at Ripley Beach, or take advantage of the boat launch at the Barcelona Harbor Pier. In the summer, visitors flock to the Farmers and Artisan Market and shop for fresh produce, bath products, and crafts. Only a short drive away is Chautauqua Lake, which is home to the Chautauqua Belle, a historic boat cruise offering dinners and sightseeing. A similar vibe is available at the Midway State Park, which features an old-fashioned Ferris wheel, midway games, and a vintage carousel.


Dock along the Niagara River in Lewiston, New York.
Dock along the Niagara River in Lewiston, New York. Editorial credit: Atomazul / Shutterstock.com

Want to visit Niagara Falls but don't want to get caught up in the insane crowds your entire stay? Consider Lewiston, a small beachside town only 15 minutes away from the US side of the Falls. Situated on the Niagara River, it is only a short way from the Lewiston-Queenston border crossing, offering a direct route into Canada for those wanting to explore Ontario.

Along with being a great rest stop, Lewiston has plenty of opportunities. For example, golfers can tee off at the Niagra Falls Country Club or the Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course. Wine lovers head to The Bella Rose Vineyard, which offers wines, beer, and food. In the summer, attend an open-air concert or live performance at ARTPARK, or come for the August Lewiston Jazz Festival featuring live music, artisanal shopping, and over 30 food vendors. Continue the cultural charm with an insight into Lewiston’s riveting past, including involvement in the War of 1812, the Underground Railroad, and the fur trade on the Great Lakes.

Alexandria Bay

Aerial view of Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, New York.
Aerial view of Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, New York.

Alexandria Bay has it all on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Named the heart of the Thousand Islands, it is within boating distance of dozens of islands home to massive castles. Take a boat tour and see the Boldt Castle and Fountain on Heart Island or the tiny cabin on Just Enough Room Island. Or if you're feeling up to it, experience the Bay from above in a helicopter or hot air balloon. For those who love to explore new trails, visit the Otter Creek Preserve or the Keewaydin State Park.

After taking in the endless outdoor opportunities in and around town, visitors can slow down and catch a show at the Bay Drive-In Theatre, play some mini golf, or race go-karts. Alexandria Bay also has plenty of events and festivals. In December, see Santa at the River Santa festival. In the summer, most people attend the farmers market, admire vintage cars at the Rollin' Street Thunder Festival, listen to the Blues at the Blues in the Bay on Labor Day, and bring their motorcycles to the River Run Bike Ralley in June.

Sackets Harbor

Old McDonald's Farm in Sackets Harbor, New York.
Old McDonald's Farm in Sackets Harbor, New York. Editorial credit: debra millet / Shutterstock.com

Located on the Black River Bay portion of Lake Ontario, Sackets Harbor caters to all your on-the-water needs. Visitors have a range of options, such as taking a sailing tour at Sail Ontario, paddleboarding on the lake, or joining the Moby Dick Fishing Charter. Those looking for a more immersive experience can head further to admire the Horse Island Lighthouse or swim at the Westcott Beach State Park.

For the golfers, play a game at the Bedford Creek Golf Course, where the coastal views make any shot enjoyable. After the game, tourists can head back to Main Street to shop the vintage stores, get some lunch at an eatery, try a craft beer at a brewery, or pick up a delicious drink at Chrissy Beanz Bakery.

Sodus Point

Aerial view of Sodus Point in Upstate New York.
Aerial view of Sodus Point in Upstate New York.

Next to Sodus Bay, which connects to Lake Ontario, Sodus Point features towering lighthouses, sandy beaches, and several marinas to cater to your needs. Walk across the water on the pathway out to Sodus Outer Lighthouse, or stay close to land and visit the Sodus Point Lighthouse. Both are a trip to the past, with endless maritime tales to share. Speaking of history, Sodus Point offers many learning opportunities, having been burned to the ground and rebuilt in the War of 1812 and used as a major coal transport point in the 19th century.

Those interested in some outdoor fun can swim and play at Sodus Point Beach Park or picnic at Beechwood State Park. Admire the stunning boats at the yacht club or sign up for the Honey Hole Fishing Charter. On the relaxing side of activities, anglers love to cast a line at Maxwell Bay, which offers year-round fishing opportunities.

Watkins Glenn

View of a hiking trail in the Watkins Glenn State Park in New York.
A scenic hiking trail in Watkins Glenn State Park in Watkins Glenn, New York. Editorial credit: Bob Pool / Shutterstock.com

Watkins Glenn rests along Seneca Lake, which offers perfect opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and ice skating. Visitors head straight to the Watkins Glenn State Park and the Sugar Hill State Forest, which boast acres of untouched wilderness. Or, opt for waterfalls at Rainbow Falls and Eagle Cliff Falls for some picture-worthy scenes. In the summer months, play a round of golf at the Watkins Glenn Golf Course or enjoy the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, offering over a dozen vineyards.

For an in-depth experience of Lake Seneca, one should take Captain Bill's family-friendly lake cruise onto the waters or hop aboard Captain Jim's Wine Cruise, where romance is in the air (and water). Watkins Glenn is also home to Concerts in the Park at LaFayette Park. This series of concerts is fun for all music lovers, with plenty of unique genres and bands performing.

Sylvan Beach

People at Sylvan Beach in New York.
People enjoying the sand and water at Sylvan Beach on Oneida Lake, New York. Editorial credit: Mahmoud Suhail / Shutterstock.com

On the eastern side of Oneida Lake is Sylvan Beach, a beautiful and quaint resort town full of both activities and history. For those who want to spend their vacation relaxing, take advantage of the bass and walleye fishing or rent a kayak and float on the water, soaking up the sun. If you have your own watercraft, there are public boat launches you can use. The lake is also lined with sandy beaches perfect for tanning and lounging, as well as tents at a nearby campground for an overnight experience. Visitors looking to chase an adrenaline rush spend the day at the Lake House Casino for slots, food, and card games.

The town is also located right next to Vienna, a neighboring community home to a farmers market where you can stock up on fresh fruits, veggies, and other artisanal goods. In town, find the perfect trinket to bring home at one of the gift shops, and get a delicious iced coffee to sip on.

Hopefully, you've got a good idea of what Upstate New York offers. With opportunities to be one with nature, practice your skills, escape the city and sleep under the stars, sample fantastic wine, and relax on the beach, visitors will satisfy their desires for the perfect vacation. Moreover, with unique additions like the Lake House Casino in Sylvan Beach and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail in Watkins Glen, there is something for everyone in Upstate New York.

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