I grew up on Long Island and spent a lot of my youth seeing the sights of New York City. But I also fell in love with the mountains of upstate NY during family vacations. As a young adult, I spent 6 years living in rural western New York south of Rochester. This prompted me to write this post based on my love of these small upstate New York towns. I hope you fall in love with them through my words and pictures so that you are inspired to visit.
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Upstate New York Towns: Geneseo
An Anglican take on an Iroquois word meaning “beautiful valley”, this Geneseo is aptly named. I first moved here as a college student. The town was easily walkable which was great because I didn’t own a car. However, the view led me to apply to the college. It reminded me of my summer vacations in the mountains at Lake George.
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Part of the State University of New York, Geneseo ranks high as a high quality education for a low price. Not only that but there are 50 undergraduate degree programs and graduate programs in accounting and education. In addition, teacher to student ratio is small. The college started as a teaching college in 1871. As a result brick buildings covered with ivy decorate the campus. Of course since that time the college has added new buildings keeping with the original theme. In addition, they started using geo thermal heating a few years ago to conserve fuels.
Nearby the student union is a gazebo where you can sit and watch the sunset over the valley. Moreover, in fall the leaves on the trees turn vibrant color. Then in winter the the campus becomes a winter wonderland covered with snow. The north side of campus was famous for kids traying down the hill.
Quaint shops fill main street. You can visit Sundance Books run by hippies that went to school here and fell in love with the town. There is the Big Bear Cafe where you can find old timers sitting around drinking coffee at any time of the day shooting the breeze. Then there is the bear statue in the fountain in the center of town. Rumor has it that if a virgin graduates from the college the bear will climb down from the statue and run away. Needless to say, there it remains to this day.
Several bars are within walking distance of the college and main street so no need to find a designated driver. The younger crowds head to the Vital Spot or the In Between, named so because of its location between campus and main street. Both have dancing. If you prefer someplace quieter to mingle with friends there is the Palace Lounge or . My friends and I spent many nights (and afternoons) at the Idle Hour. This was a combination college student/locals hang out. Some weekends they had live bands.
Hungry? Stop in Aunt Cookies Subs or head across the street for Momma Mia’s pizza. Make sure you get blue cheese to dip the crust in.
Upstate New York Towns: Conesus
Fresh out of college and newly married, my husband and I moved to a cottage on Conesus Lake. We rented a three bedroom two bath furnished place right on the lake. It had a dock and a little rowboat. The great room had a huge picture window that we joked was our tv. Before the weather turned cold we would watch people waterskiing, canoeing, fishing, and motorboating. During the fall, the reflection of the leaves in the water was magical. Then in winter when the lake froze over we would watch people snowmobile across the lake. Many of the cottages are available for seasonal rentals.
I returned a few years ago with my current husband and we stumbled upon Deer Run Winery at one end of the lake. Of course we had to go in for a tasting and buy a few souvenirs. You can create your own wine tour by visiting several Finger Lake wineries.
Upstate New York Towns: Leicester/ Mount Morris
These are small towns even by small town standards. I have included them because I have stayed in Leicester many times in the home of my ex-in-laws who are the best family someone could ask for. It is next to Mount Morris which contains the Mount Morris Dam and one entrance to Letchworth State Park. Other than that these towns have only convenient stores with a gas station or a tiny main street. They are worth driving through if you are driving past on 390. It is worth the detour, especially in fall to drive down winding country roads with all the vibrant fall colors.
Planning your Trip to Upstate New York
Here are the average temperatures for the Rochester area so you can use this to figure out what to pack. However, remember that average temperatures are just that, average. I have seen it get down to 40 F at night during the summer and a heat wave of 70F in February so be prepared when packing, and check the weather ahead of time.
To get here you will need to fly into the Frederick Douglass-Greater Rochester International Airport. You will definitely need to rent a car as you will be traveling to remote areas, which is half the fun!
Check Trip advisor or Airbnb for places to stay and seasonal things to do. You can read more about Letchworth State Park and find additional websites in my post Letchworth State Park, New York, a Well Kept Secret. The Finger Lakes Region also boasts many winery trails one being The Seneca Lake Wine Trail. You can pick up many brochures at the airport.
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I hope you enjoyed reading my nostalgic ramblings about upstate New York towns. I hope it inspires you to research the area further and immerse yourself in the culture by making the trip.
Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.