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.
Plan Your Day Trip to Ithaca
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tompkins County Book Sale
May and October
This semi-annual event takes place over three weekends in May and October and is among the country’s top 10 largest 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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Day Trips Around Rochester, New York: The Book!
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Where are your favorite places to see, shop, and eat in Ithaca, NY?
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