I was fortunate to spend a good chunk of my childhood in the gorgeous New York Finger Lakes. I lived just down the road from Seneca Lake for over a decade, in a charming little village called Dundee. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have grown up there.
In this region, there are eleven lakes, and countless awesome towns around them. Because of my upbringing, I am obviously partial to Seneca Lake and its offerings — so for the purposes of this little blog, I’m going to focus my attention on my favorite little Finger Lakes City: Watkins Glen, situated right by Seneca Lake.
Best Times To Visit:
- The fall is by far my favorite time to go back and visit the Finger Lakes. I love seeing the trees turning bright orange and fiery red around the deep blue lake. Grape harvesting season is really fun to experience, and of course the crisp fall air is one of my favorite nostalgic scents.
- My second favorite time to go is in the spring, when things are starting to warm up and all of the flowers and trees are coming back to life. A bit later in the spring is absolutely perfect for being outside and enjoying all the things that Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen have to offer.
- The Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars is my preferred place to stay when we are back visiting. The rooms have private patios or balconies overlooking the lake and vineyards, and it’s wonderful to hang out on the Adirondack chairs and watch the sunset over the lake, or wake up to the birds chirping in the vineyards. Plus the rooms are really spacious and comfortable, and the location is prime for spending a long weekend.
- The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is situated right on the lake, so it offers a slightly different aesthetic than Glenora. Water view rooms overlook the marina and Seneca Lake pier. Harbor Hotel also has a really nice indoor pool and hot tub, so even if the weather isn’t ideal for being out on the lake, you can still go swimming.
- Try a Bed and Breakfast! Watkins Glen has some really cute little Bed and Breakfasts. I haven’t stayed in any since Covid so I am hesitant to recommend any specifically, but with just a little research I’m sure you can come up with a list a mile long. I love the B&B option because it makes the trip to the Finger Lakes feel so cozy and homey.
- Jerlando’s Ristorante. I have a lot of favorite restaurants, but Jerlando’s has been solidly in my top five since I was a tiny little child. Over the decades, their quality has never slipped. They have some of the best Italian food outside of Italy, and their garlic knots cannot be overhyped. The first time I took Dave there he told me there was no way the garlic knots could top his secret family recipe — all it took was a single bite and he was eating his words (and ordering a second basket of those delicious knots). All of their entrees are top notch, and I’m partial to the Chicken Livornese. Their fresh cannoli are the best you’ll find in the states.
- Veraisons Restaurant. Veraisons is situated right in Glenora, so it’s especially convenient if you are staying at the inn. Everything made at Veraisons is from scratch, and the menu is regional and seasonal so it’s always fresh and makes sense for the time of year that you are there. I remember growing up this was always the “fancy place” to go eat, and even as an adult I still feel really classy and grown up eating there.
- Seneca Lake Dinner Cruise. Dinner cruises are typically only offered from late June to early September (with some exceptions in May and October), so if you are there over those windows it’s a must. The views are obviously unbeatable, and the food is delicious too. The meals are provided by the Seneca Harbor Station Restaurant (home of the best clam chowder you’ll ever find) and no trip to the FLX is complete without seeing the sun set over the water as you dine on the boat.
Best Activities (aside from wineries which is “duh”):
- Hike the gorge trail. The Watkins Glen State Park has an absolutely beautiful gorge, and hiking the gorge trail is one of my favorite things to do. It’s really not so much hiking as it is walking up lots and lots of stairs, so its a very family friendly activity and can take as little or as much time as you would like. It’s some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see, and I highly recommend taking time to wade in some of the little creeks, skip rocks, and see if you can find the secret drinking water spot.
- Take a boat ride around Seneca Lake. Sunset dinner cruises are amazing, but it’s also really nice to do a day tour. Captain Bills has all different kinds of boat rides and tours, and its a really fun experience. I personally love being out on the water whenever I can, so a boat ride around the lake is one of my favorite ways to pass time. I recommend aiming for this early on in your trip, just because if you wait until the end and weather gets gross, you’ll have to miss out.
- Explore! Even if you experience everything Seneca Lake has to offer, you still have ten other lakes to check out. I highly recommend checking out Geneva Lake and the surrounding activities — Belhurst Castle and Winery is so beautiful and the food and wine is awesome. Growing up I always wanted to get married in the Finger Lakes, specifically at Belhurst or Glenora. Obviously a Disney wedding won out (how could it not?) but those two wineries were close runners up.
- And for a bonus, if you feel like taking a break from vineyards and lakes and gorges: Harris Hill, the “Soaring Capitol.” Harris Hill is the birthplace of glider flight, and is still one of the main soaring destinations in the world. On a good weather day, you can sit on the swings and watch dozens upon dozens of gliders sail through the sky. I highly recommend ducking over there for a sail plane ride, a round of mini golf, and maybe a few games in the arcade.