Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani /

8 Towns In The Finger Lakes With The Best Downtown Areas In 2024

There is no denying that many towns in the Finger Lakes are encircled by heart-warming natural beauty on every side. Think of tree-dappled ridges, shimmering lakes, rolling hills, and sparkling waterfalls. This, however, does not mean the Finger Lakes lacks towns with gasp-inducing townscapes. It may come as a surprise, but many towns in the Finger Lakes are travel-worthy — not because of what lies in their immediate environs — but because of their gorgeous downtown areas. Still in doubt? Starting with Geneva, discover below eight towns in the Finger Lakes with the best downtown areas in 2024.


Downtown Geneva, New York
Downtown Geneva, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Geneva rests on the northern rim of Seneca Lake, the largest of the glacial Finger Lakes. Aside from providing access to what is billed as the Lake Trout Capital of the World, this peach of a town boasts a sweet and beautiful downtown area with more bars and restaurants than many cities its size. If pressed for time and want to explore Geneva’s famed architectural landscape, South Main Street — which features many beautiful, old homes — will fit the bill. The length of South Main Street will take one to a nice view of the lake, where one will enjoy delicious views on every side. Hobart and William Smith Colleges, along the lake's northern tip, are also incredibly beautiful and worth checking out. The famous row houses around Pulteney Park and Main Street, most of which look like those in Boston, will impress the most critical architectural taste. Take in a live performance at the handsomely restored Smith Opera House before indulging in the romance of Belhurst Castle, a space filled with history, charm, and incredible natural beauty.

Watkins Glen

Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, New York
Franklin Street in Watkins Glen, New York. Image credit: Andre Carrotflower via Wikimedia Commons.

Forget about Watkins Glen State Park, known for its mesmerizing symphony of sights. Watkins Glen should be on everyone’s radar, if just for its beautiful downtown area. Downtown Watkins Glen is filled with quaint historic buildings, many of which have been converted into chic boutiques and inviting restaurants. You know Nickel's Pit serves phenomenal pig wings because it is not uncommon to find them sold out. Nickel’s Pit is a vibrant culinary outpost with a sunny, dog-friendly patio on N Franklin Street. However, if you are looking for an eatery that features beautiful views of the lake, work your way to Seneca Harbor Station, an 1876 train station now repurposed into a picturesque waterfront eatery. Cavern Cascade, conveniently close to the heart of Watkins Glen, features stunning waterfalls, rock caves, and scenic trails. If spending the night, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel will be an excellent choice. It was named “Best Waterfront Hotel in the Nation” by USA Today.


The State Theater in downtown Ithaca, New York
The State Theater in downtown Ithaca, New York. Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov /

Ithaca’s beauty often leaves first-time visitors bewildered. Presented with eye-catching features that sway the sight at every turn, a first-time visitor can easily be baffled. Fall Creek and Cascadilla Creek flow through the city, adding a layer of rustic allure to an already beautiful spot. If that is not enough, Cayuga Inlet meanders through the town’s western edge. That said, if Ithaca had only Cornel University, it would probably still be among the best towns in the Finger Lakes. Cornel is a world of attractions, with stand-outs such as the botanical garden, the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, and the world-famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology. With its charming array of shops and galleries, downtown Ithaca is a sensory delight. There is the famous Restaurant Row on Aurora Street, where the culinary fingerprint is like a map of the world. There is The Commons as well, a special stretch that features dozens of art galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Penn Yan

The Historic District in Penn Yan, New York
The Historic District in Penn Yan, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Penn Yan — a dainty town of just about 5,000 residents mostly known for hosting one of the oldest mills in the nation — is a nature-wrapped bastion of farm-to-table Amish restaurants, gorgeous architecture, and locally-owned shops. Art enthusiasts will want to while away the time at venues such as the Arts Center of Yates County — a free-to-enter gallery that will awaken the artist in anyone. Because it cuddles the northern tip of the scenic Keuka Lake, is surrounded by flourishing farmlands, and features a wine trail in its outside patio, Penn Yan will exceed the expectations of any first-time visitor. For some retail therapy, The Windmill Farm & Craft Market, just south of town on State Route 14A, plays host to more than 170 indoor and outdoor shops. The Y-shaped Keuka Lake, one of Upstate New York’s most beautiful waterbodies, can effortlessly steal a whole day. Do not miss Birkett Mills, a Penn Yan landmark that started milling specialty grains in the Finger Lakes well before Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.


Aerial view of Hammondsport, New York. Image credit: Ak1047 via Wikimedia Commons.

Although it is small; like really tiny, Hammondsport packs a punch and is hands-down among the best towns in the Finger Lakes region. The town is anchored by Pultney Square, a charming village green and national historic district that spans just about 140 square feet. Grab some well-sized cinnamon rolls at Verns Bakery. Explore an aviation museum displaying 20th-century aircraft and motorcycles. Step back in time at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum. And let the sun kiss your skin at Champlin Beach, a pretty sliver of sand (and park) at the south end of Keuka Lake. In the final minutes of daylight, catch a glorious sunset here with a good camera — before wrapping yourself in a clean, cozy room at Park Inn, a genteel property conveniently located right on the main.


Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York
Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Many American towns have nothing on Canandaigua, a story-book town, whose captivating allure will leave a first-time visitor hopelessly smitten. The Chosen Spot, as this New York treasure is known, was the site of one of the most significant trials in the history of the United States. It was here, specifically at the second-floor courtroom on Main Street, that Susan B. Anthony, wearing a new blue silk bonnet, was put on her defense for voting. In 19th-century America, women were not allowed to vote. Canandaigua’s downtown area is a slice of quaintness. It is dotted with many locally owned restaurants, shops, and classy boutiques. The Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, which features more than 20 miles of Finger Lakes wine and food experiences, has something for everyone to explore. There is also the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park, a swoon-worthy spot with wonderful walking paths, a Japanese garden, greenhouses, a cafe, and a gift shop. To experience how life used to be in Colonial America, Granger Homestead & Carriage Museum, with its carriages and barns, is a must-do.

Seneca Falls

Downtown Seneca Falls in early morning
The charming downtown area of Seneca Falls, New York. Editorial credit: debra millet /

For those who love human rights, Seneca Falls is quite an emotional experience. Here is where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, during a historic convention, read the “Declaration of Sentiments,” now regarded as the foundational document for Women's Rights. Start your tour of Seneca Falls with a visit to the Seneca Falls Heritage & Tourism Center. The minutes spent here will be invaluable in mapping out one’s visit and maxing out the experience. Of course, it would be inconceivable to omit the one place this town is famous for: the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Cross the eye-catching It's a Wonderful Life Bridge to the National Women's Hall of Fame, and take the hat off for women trailblazers such as Virginia Apgar, a pioneer in maternal and infant health. Other attractions include the Ludovico Sculpture Trail, which one can excess without breaking a sweat, Van Cleef Lake, Suffrage Park, and the empty but well-maintained Elizabeth Cady Stanton Home.


Skaneateles, New York
Downtown street view at Skaneateles, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Rounding off this list is Skaneateles, known as the “Jewel of the Finger Lakes region.” Although it comes last, it could well be the first. This coy town rests at the northern tip of the beautiful Skaneateles Lake, regarded as the second-cleanest of all lakes in the entire United States. The lake’s water is incredibly pure and is one of a handful that is used unfiltered. Explore the multimillion-dollar lakeside cottages, some of which serve as summer hideouts for jet-setting celebrities. Rent a boat, and sail on the lake's crystalline water; enjoy a round of golf at Skaneateles Country Club, which features well-kept grounds and awesome views; chase waterfalls at the Guppy Falls Trail, enjoy a refreshing dip at Clift Park, spend some quiet, reflective moments at Thayer Park — before resting for the night at The Sherwood Inn, where room windows open out to beautiful views of Skaneateles Lake.

The Takeaway

There is something about the Finger Lakes Region, an untouched American wilderness, where nature is known to enact one of its most dramatic shows. All the eleven lakes are absolutely beautiful; some more than the others — and offer a delightful range of adventure opportunities. The exciting part is that several beautiful towns recline on the shores of these lakes — and are just as beautiful for their downtown areas — as they are for the heart-melting natural beauty that wraps them. If looking for Finger Lakes towns with the best downtown areas, check out the ones we have highlighted here, including Geneva, Watkins Glen, and Ithaca, home to one of the world’s best universities.

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