The Buffalo harbor bustles seven nights a week this time of year, including on Thursdays, when tour boats ply the waters and pleasure boats bob up and down along Canalside, often two or more abreast.
This is the new city waterfront, a vibrant place where you can kick back and marvel at the changing landscape, as construction workers button up the new HarborCenter and add new splashes to the old Memorial Auditorium site.
Ric Hilliman has watched the transformation from behind the wheel of the Spirit of Buffalo, Queen City Ferry and Buffalo River History Tour boats, three vessels that give harbor visitors a taste of life from just offshore.
“When we got here five years ago, nobody was at Canalside after 5,” Hilliman said. “Now, at 9:30 at night, you’ll find people pushing baby strollers. Every day, there are people here from all over the world.”
Which begs the question during the waning weeks of summer: What will you do to experience Western New York from the water – particularly if you don’t own a boat – before you need to pull out the rake, gloves and snow shovel?
That question also goes for those with special needs, as the nonprofit WNY Adaptive Water Sports (WNYAdaptiveWaterSports.org) offers free fishing, sailing, scuba diving and water-ski outings for those of all abilities. For dates and reservations, call 364-8219.
The options are plentiful. Let us count a half-dozen of the places and a half-dozen of the ways:
The growing jewel of the Buffalo waterfront continues to expand offerings as the summers unfold.
Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park (buffalonavalpark.org) was the first attraction to allow people to get out into the Buffalo River, if only a few feet. It costs $10 for adults, and $6 for those older than 60 and ages 6 to 16, to board the Destroyer USS The Sullivans, the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Little Rock and a submarine, the USS Croaker, and learn about the roles the World War II-era vesels played.
Spirit of Buffalo (SpiritofBuffalo.com), a 73-foot schooner, was next to join the party, and now offers public sails for $28 several days a week, a $38 Wine in the Wind Wednesdays cruise and two Saturday pirate cruises for kids.
Hilliman, his wife, Kathy, and their son Rich also have a hand in two other Canalside endeavors. The 31-passenger Queen City Ferry (QueenCityFerry.com) shuttles people between Canalside’s Central Wharf, Riverfest Park in the Old First Ward and Wilkeson Pointe on the outer harbor from noon to 8 p.m. daily; the cost is $8 for adults and $6 for children. Hilliman suggested couples looking for a great date pack a picnic basket and blanket, and spend an hour or two at Wilkeson Pointe, Buffalo’s newest waterfront park, with great views of Lake Erie and its eastern shoreline.
So many ferry boat passengers asked questions about the Buffalo harbor that the Hillimans introduced Buffalo River History Tours (BuffaloRiverHistoryTours.com) on a 49-passenger multihull pontoon boat. One of the four daily tours, at 2:30 p.m., includes a stop at Silo City and is rated the No. 1 activity in Buffalo on tripadvisor.com.
Also at Canalside, Buffalo Harbor Kayak offers kayak, tandem kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals for $15 an hour per person. For more info and to book a $25 group tour, visit bfloharborkayak.com.
Water Bikes of Buffalo (waterbikesofbuffalo.com) offers hydrobikes and on-ground pedal bikes for $15 an hour, and tandem hydrobikes for $30 an hour.
Erie Basin Marina
This marina in the Buffalo harbor has two tried-and-true cruise favorites moored at the mouth of the Buffalo River, the Miss Buffalo II and the Moondance Cat.
The Miss Buffalo offers landmark cruises from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through this month; cost is $16 for adults, $11 ages 4 through 11 and children 3 and under free. Cost is slightly higher for narrated canal and history cruises into early September. Friday evening happy hour cruises for those 21 and older run $18 and Friday and Saturday night sunset cruises fetch $25. To book dates and find discount info, visit BuffaloHarborCruises.com.
The Moondance Cat, a 56-foot-long pontoon boat, looks to give passengers a taste of the tropics on several daily harbor tours running through mid-October and starting at 12:30 p.m.; it costs $23 for the journeys (children 17 and under are half price if they go with two adults), and the Cat offers a cash bar that features margaritas, beer, wine and rum. Reservations are required. For more info, visit moondancecat.com; to book a tour, call 854-7245.
Hands down, the most popular offshore spot in Western New York is the turbulent waters below Niagara Falls, where hundreds of thousands of visitors have set foot annually aboard the Maid of the Mist fleet.
For the first time this summer, the Maid has competition. Hornblower Niagara Cruises (niagaracruises.com) departs from the old Maid dock directly across from the American Falls in Niagara Falls, Ont.; morning fares run $17.95 for adults and afternoon and evening fares cost $19.95; both are $12.25 for kids 5 to 12; children under 5 are free. The new attraction also offers something new below the falls: Illumination or Fireworks cruises that cost $35 for adults and $31.50 for children.
The Maid of the Mist (maidofthemist.com) – near Prospect Point in Niagara Falls State Park on the New York State side – continues to be the better bargain. Adult tickets run $17. The rate for children 6 to 12 is $9.90 and those 5 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased online or at several locations in the state park, and do not have to be used on specific dates or times.
Farther downriver, more competition brews. Whirlpool Jet Boats (whirlpooljet.com) – which runs speedboats out of Niagara-on-the-Lake and from below the Water Street Landing restaurant off the foot of Center Street in the Village of Lewiston – had been the sole such operator on the lower Niagara for 21 years.
Like their rides, ticket prices for each are not for the faint of heart: $61 for adults and $51 for children.
Meanwhile, the Niagara Belle (niagarasunsetcruises.com) this week begins offering dinner and sunset cruises out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and Grand Lady Cruises (grandlady.com) continues to offer lunch and dinner cruises out of its Rich Marina dock at 5 Austin St.; reserve a seat online or by calling 873-4630.
Want to explore the Twin City waters? Waterbike and Boat Adventures (waterbikeadventures.com), 11 Young St. in the City of Tonawanda, rents hydrobikes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for $10 an hour; 18-foot electric boats go for $40 hourly and 26-foot electric pontoon boats rent for $55 hourly. For questions or reservations, call 316-3905.
Longboards Water Sports (longboardsbeach.com/watersports) set up shop last summer at Woodlawn Beach and this summer added Hamburg Beach to its repertoire. The shops offer hourly, three-hour and daily rental rates for kayaks, tandem kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
The Chautauqua Belle (269belle.com), 78 Water St., Mayville, offers a variety of cruises that start at $20 for adults and $10 for children, and include $59 dinner and fireworks cruises this Saturday and Labor Day weekend.
The Summer Wind (thesummerwind.com) is a 130-passenger yacht that runs out of Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron; call 763-7447 for rates and to reserve passage.
Canoeing and kayaking
Kayaking and canoeing continue to grow in popularity in the region because of the vast opportunities here – starting with free opportunities.
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (bnriverkeeper.org) offers free tours under the Get Involved tab on its Web page, and even provides the kayaks. There’s still space available for a Sept. 2 evening tour off the Buffalo waterfront; register online.
Tina Spencer, a state parks environmental education assistant, leads free kayak tours through this month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island and 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park on West Lake Road (Route 18) in Wilson; you’ll need to bring your own kayak. Call 285-0516 for more info.
Businesses that rent kayaks and/or canoes in the region include Buffalo River Canoe and Kayak Outfitters (paddlebuffalo.com) in West Seneca; Canoe and Kayak Rentals (ucanyak.com) in Wilson; Eastern Mountain Sports in the Town of Tonawanda; and Paths, Peaks and Paddles (pathspeakspaddles.com) along Ellicott Creek in the Town of Tonawanda. Paddling.net/launches has a good list of launch sites in the region.
Fishing options abound in both Great Lakes and their tributaries in the region. For ideas on how to book a fishing charter, check out ilovenyfishing.com and the Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Niagara River and Chautauqua Lake sections of nyfisherman.net.
Rowing and sailing
The 100-year-old West Side Rowing Club, at 48 Porter Ave., is the granddaddy for rowing in Western New York and has opportunities year round for children and adults, including indoor training. Rowing begins with Learn-to-Row at age 12 (or entering the sixth grade). Learn more at www.wsrc.org or call 261-5252. Learn more at an open house from noon to 2 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7, said Barbara Zarish Johnson, the club’s recruiting director.
The Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association (learntorowbuffalo.com), 301 Ohio St., also offers learn-to-row and masters programs, among others.
Sail Buffalo Sailing School (sail-buffalo.com) and Seven Seas Sailing Center (sevenseassailing.com), both on the outer harbor, offer sailing lessons to children and adults, as well as stand-up paddleboard classes.
The new kid on the waterfront block is stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP. Jared Callahan, owner of City of Light Fitness (cityoflightfitness.com) launched this popular West Coast sport on the Buffalo waterfront last summer at Canalside and moved to Seven Seas Sailing Center this summer. Several others have set up shop this year, including those mentioned above as well Buffalo Paddle Board Co. (buffalosup.com), started by Kevin Koslowski, at Gallagher Beach, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd. He and Callahan rent SUPs and teach classes.
Meanwhile, Meetup has a paddling group at www.meetup.com/SUP-Buffalo, and Marie Phillips, of Grand Island, has started working with Kozlowski and teaching SUP yoga at Beaver Island State Park and Gallagher Beach. For more info, visit mariephillipsliving.com. Jenny Giblin teaches SUP yoga Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings at Canalside; to book at $25 class, visit bfloharborkayak.com.