Winter isn’t over yet, but don’t let that stop you from taking a drive somewhere, anywhere, just to get away from the same old routine.
But where’s a good place to go?
Fortunately, our region has plenty of museums and other attractions that offer interesting, fun and educational indoor activities, as well as a few outdoor ones, that are perfect for this time of year.
Rochester offers enough to keep you and your family busy for several days, as my family found out a couple of years ago.
On this trip, we headed to Rochester via scenic Route 104, rather than the Thruway, since it was the closest route to our first stop, the Seneca Park Zoo, on the Genesee River Gorge several miles north of downtown Rochester.
Seneca Park, along with three other parks in Rochester, was designed by renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the Buffalo parks system. The zoo, established in 1894, is one of Rochester’s most popular attractions.
What’s nice about this zoo is that while it’s good size and has a lot of exhibits; it’s not overwhelming so you can easily see everything in a few hours. My kids especially enjoyed the sea lion and polar bear exhibits, where you can watch the animals from an underwater viewing window, as well as from above. We also thought that the African penguins were really cute.
Probably one of the best-known museums in Rochester is the National Museum of Play at the Strong, the first museum in the country devoted to the study of play. It is considered one of the nation’s top children’s museums.
If you have kids you’ll want to bring them to this 282,000-square-foot museum to explore its many interactive exhibits; you can easily spend the entire day here. But, even if you don’t have children, you can still spend hours perusing the extensive collection of dolls, toys and household items that were amassed by museum founder, the late Margaret Woodbury Strong. The museum also is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, honoring classic toys that have been played with for generations.
Another family-friendly museum in Rochester is the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which features three floors of science, regional and Native American history, and interactive exhibits. Current exhibits include Electricity Theater, a live science show, and Flight to Freedom, which chronicles the Underground Railroad in Rochester.
Of course, no visit to Rochester would be complete without a stop at the George Eastman House, one of two National Historic Landmarks in Rochester. This 12-acre estate was the home of George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak and the inventor of the Kodak camera. The 37-room mansion, the largest single family residence ever built in Monroe County, now houses the International Museum of Photography and Film. Millions of photos and artifacts chronicle the history of photography. Current exhibits include an exhibit focusing on the 125th anniversary of the Kodak camera. Upcoming exhibits include Dutch Connection, Feb. 14 to March 2, which features hundreds of colorful spring flowers displayed in the conservatory.
The other National Historic Landmark in the city is the Susan B. Anthony House. Anthony, known for her work in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, lived in this home from 1866 until her death in 1906. Today the home is a museum filled with memorabilia and displays on Women’s Suffrage.
Art lovers will want to check out Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, operated by the University of Rochester; one of the few university art galleries in the country that also serves as the community art museum. The museum’s permanent collection has more than 10,000 objects that highlight 5,000 years of art, including works by some of the great masters, including Monet and Matisse.
Located just over two hours from Buffalo, Corning is one of my family’s favorite places to go for a short getaway. We have traveled here several times over the past few years and always find something new to do.
If you’re looking for a museum that combines art and history, look no further than the Corning Museum of Glass, one of the most popular attractions in the state. The museum houses the most renowned collection of glass in the world, with more than 30,000 objects representing 3,500 years of glass-making. There are also many hands-on exhibits on glass science and technology, along with the very popular Hot Glass Show glass-blowing demonstration.
Visitors can try glass blowing or other glass-related crafts at one of the museum’s workshops. On our most recent trip I made a glass pendant for a necklace, and my daughter made a glass flower. Be sure to sign up early in the day, as these fill up quickly. The museum has a huge gift shop filled with glass items for every budget, as well as an extensive collection of books.
The Rockwell Museum, also located in Corning, has the most comprehensive collection of western art in the United States. The museum, founded in 1976 by the Robert Rockwell family, has works by Frederick Remington and many other artists who portrayed scenes from the western frontier.
While in Corning, be sure to take a stroll down Market Street, a historic four-block area lined with boutiques, restaurants and small art galleries, including several shops that feature handmade glass items. A number of festivals take place each year in the Market Street area, also known as the Gaffer District.
Erie is a good one-day or weekend getaway destination. There are a number of things to do, both indoors and out.
Presque Isle State Park in Erie is thought of as a summertime destination, which is understandable, considering its 11 beaches. However, Presque Isle is actually open year-round and the fun doesn’t stop once the last beach umbrella has been folded. Why not take a drive and explore this beautiful 7-mile long, 3,200-acre peninsula?
One of the main reasons to go to Presque Isle in the off-season is to discover the natural wonders of the park. It has been named a National Natural Landmark due to its numerous wildlife habitats. Some animal species found here are endangered, threatened or rare. The most unique area of the park is the Gull Point Natural Area, which is closed to the public from April to November to preserve its fragile ecosystem. Rare and migrating shorebirds use this area to rest, and many threatened and endangered plant species grow here.
Presque Isle is listed as Pennsylvania Important Bird Area No. 1 and it has been rated one of the best places to bird watch by Birders World magazine. About 320 species of birds have been spotted in the park. In late summer, Purple Martins roost by the thousands near beach No. 11 and in the cattails near the water treatment plant. September is one of the peak months to see migrating shorebirds and warblers, while late November and December is when waterfowl migration takes place.
Learn more about Presque Isle at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, which is located at the entrance to the park. This 65,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility has exhibits about the area history, ecosystems, wildlife and bird migration. My kids especially liked climbing to the top of the 75-foot glass-enclosed observation tower, which overlooks Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park.