Cornell Botanical Gardens tree chimes cover

Explore Ithaca

Ithaca is a two-hour drive southeast of Rochester at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The region features dozens of impressive waterfalls and delivers on the city’s tourism tagline: Ithaca is Gorges. Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls, and Robert H. Treman state parks are excellent day trips in and of themselves. So rather than include them in this day trip itinerary, we will focus on spending a day in the city of Ithaca, exploring everything that makes this Ivy League college town unique.

Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

Plan Your Day Trip to Ithaca

Collegetown Bagels
Collegetown Bagels

Breakfast

Start the day in the heart of downtown at The State Diner, Angelhearts Diner, or Collegetown Bagels for a delicious vegan option.

Ithaca Commons
Ithaca Commons

Morning

Stroll down State Street and the side streets that intersect with Seneca and Green Streets, including Press Bay Alley and North Aurora Street, to discover unique businesses, services, restaurants, and murals. Wander through the pedestrian-only street of shops at Ithaca Commons and the eclectic indoor Dewitt Mall, a center for independently and cooperatively owned shops in a repurposed high school.

Ithaca planet walk
Sagan Planet Walk
Sciencenter Ithaca Sagan Planet Walk
Sciencenter Ithaca Sagan Planet Walk Pluto
Sciencenter
Sciencenter

Follow part of the Sagan Planet Walk, a three-quarter-mile, 1:5 billion-scale model of our solar system; Sciencenter’s memorial to astronomer Carl Sagan—Ithaca resident, professor at Cornell University, and a world-renowned science educator filled with childlike wonder.

Lunch

After exploring downtown, you may have already found a place to have lunch. If not, some of my favorites include Viva Taqueria, Ithaca Ale House, Maru Ramen, Gorgers, Ithaca Bakery, and Red’s Place. If you want to grab a bite closer to your afternoon waterfall destinations, try Lincoln Street Diner or Collegetown Bagels. And if you’re visiting on a Saturday between April and December, take advantage of the Ithaca Farmers Market for some tasty local fare.

Ithaca Falls
Ithaca Falls
Triphammer Falls
Triphammer
Water: Cascadilla Gorge Ithaca
Cascadilla
Cornell Botanical Gardens visitor center
Cornell Botanical Gardens
Cornell Botanical Gardens Beebe Lake trail
Beebe Lake
Cornell Botanical Gardens tree chimes
Cornell Botanic Gardens

Afternoon

Start by hiking through Cascadilla Gorge or taking a short walk to the base of Ithaca Falls. Next, explore the Cornell Botanical Gardens from the Nevin Welcome Center. Follow winding paths through the Mundy Wildflower Garden or take a wooded loop trail around Beebe Lake. As you cross Beebe Dam Bridge or Thurston Avenue Bridge, stop and view Triphammer Falls. On your way back, cross over Sackett Foot Bridge.

As an alternative, especially if you have young children, check out Ithaca Children’s Garden. The three-acre site located across from the Cayuga Lake inlet boasts a winding stone pathway that leads through a wetland habitat garden and a spring bulb labyrinth. There are several playful spaces for visitors to enjoy along the way, like a giant snapping turtle land sculpture.

Moosewood
Moosewood

Dinner

Downtown, enjoy a fine meal at Maxie’s Supper Club & Oyster Bar, Hawi, Saigon Kitchen, Simeon’s American Bistro, or Moosewood. If a sit-down dinner isn’t on the menu, stop by Purity Ice Cream Co. or Cayuga Lake Creamery before enjoying the sunset over the lake at Stewart Park.

Signature Events

Tompkins County Book Sale

May and October

This semi-annual event occurs over three weekends in May and October. It is among the country’s top 10 most significant book sales—over 2,000 volunteers sort and stock donations of over 250,000 books, music, movies, and games. The selection is constantly refreshed with new items between weekends, and the stock is entirely different in May and October. This community event has been held since 1945, supporting volunteerism, literacy, and giving books a second chance.

Ithaca Artist’s Market

August

Over 80 artists showcase and sell their works at a juried art show held at the market. The event features live music and offers food, wine, and beer for purchase, creating a festive atmosphere.

Ithaca Porchfest

Late September

Visit the Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods, located just north of downtown, where homeowners turn their front porches into performance stages for the afternoon. Use the digital map and schedule on the website to find the nearly 150 bands playing across roughly 25 porches. You’ll find an information station at Thompson Park at the intersection of North Cayuga and West Marshall Streets.

Apple Harvest Festival

Late September

Wander around Cayuga Street and Ithaca Commons to find delicious apple cider, doughnuts, food trucks, craft vendors, and entertainment. Local shops and restaurants also take part in the celebration of all things apple.

Rutabaga Curl

Mid-December

Whether you are watching or hurling, this is a high-energy, comedically absurd event with Olympic-style pomp and circumstance. You’ll witness the torchbearer run in from Mount Cruciferous and hear the choir perform “Roo-tah-bay-gah” to the joyful melody of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Hint, avoid visiting Ithaca when students are moving in and out of Ithaca College and Cornell University or graduation brings in families by the thousands from around the globe.

Google Map of Locations

View the map here.

Explore More

Cornell Botanic Gardens

Cornell Botanic Gardens’ 4,000 acres offer free admission and provide a chance to discover new plants and learn about conservation efforts.

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Buttermilk Falls State Park

In Buttermilk Falls State Park, like most of the Finger Lakes gorge parks, stairs are the primary walkway along Buttermilk Creek; challenging but worth it!

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Cascadilla Gorge in Ithaca

Cascadilla Creek descends 400 feet, producing eight waterfalls. Some are beautiful cascades, while others are over 80 feet in height.

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Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls’s 0.75-mile hard-packed gravel gorge trail leads to the base of the falls and is open year-round.

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Swimming Holes

On a hot day, you can sit under a waterfall, swim in a lake, or jump in a creek at one of these refreshing natural swimming areas.

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Gorge Trails Near Rochester

Gorge trails call out from their deep, dark, and cool caverns. If you haven’t already, start checking these spectacular trails off your list.

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Explore New York’s Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes region is a popular tourist destination, featuring 11 lakes, charming cities and villages, and scenic farmland.

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Geologic History of the Rochester Area

These day trips into Rochester’s geologic history will remind you just how amazing our corner of the Earth is.

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This page contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase after clicking a link, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Hiking Waterfalls in New York: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes
by Randi Minetor

Library | Bookshop | Amazon

200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York – A Finders’ Guide
by Rich and Sue Freeman

Library | Bookshop | Amazon

Waterfalls and Gorges of the Finger Lakes
by Derek Doeffinger

Library | Amazon

Waterfalls of New York State
by Scott A. Ensminger, David J. Schryver, and Edward M. Smathers

Library | Bookshop | Amazon

New York Waterfalls: A Guide for Hikers & Photographers
by Scott E. Brown

Library | Amazon

W is for Waterfall: An Alphabet of the Finger Lakes Region of New York State
by Aileen Easterbrook and Johanna van der Sterre

Library | Bookshop | Amazon

Where are your favorite places to see, shop, and eat in Ithaca, NY?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of daytrippingroc.com and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

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