I know there is no end to the well-known and off-the-beaten-track diversions and excursions in the greater Hudson Valley; I discover new spots almost every day. However, sometimes I have to travel outside of the radius I’ve created for this column, for work and for pleasure. This week I have to share where I just was most recently, because, while not a day trip, it’s still just a gas tank away, and well worth the drive.
If you read my column, or know me personally, you know that I bleed the Red Dragons of my alma mater, SUNY Cortland. As a longtime member of the board, I have now seen my school through the lens of eight generations. In whatever decade you attended a SUNY school the experience was not just transformative, but significantly emblematic of each generation interpreted by the great state of New York and its inclusive and progressive view of education for all. It gets better with each passing year. And yet, my husband and I could not raise any Red Dragons.
I digress. This weekend was Reunion Weekend at SUNY Cortland so I planned some family diversions around the events we volunteered to be part of. I could write a weekly column just dedicated to things to do in Central New York but if you only go once, here are a few of my favorite spots between Cortland and Cayuga Lake, along the bucolic Route 90:
3260 N.Y. Route 90, Aurora
This past weekend was the annual MacKenzie Childs Barn Sale. I know I’ve mentioned it before but it is such a fun experience that it is worth revisiting. It is a well-oiled, hyped-up sale that is now a legendary Finger Lakes destination within a destination. The magnificent grounds, original house, shop, café, barns and gardens are transformed for one weekend a year into a meticulous, classic, four-day barn and tent sale with the quintessential upstate NY vibe that you only “get” if you live there, are from there, or like me, went to college there. This hyper-promoted event has people coming from all over the country, camping out, nearly overwhelming the charming college town (Wells College) of Aurora (population 724 in the 2010 census). There is something for everyone, every age and budget and honestly anyone can enjoy the day, once you get in. While braving the line the shop, café and Victorian home of the original creators are open and once inside there is music, food, wine and entertainment throughout the weekend to either enhance or distract from the bargain shopping. Mackenzie Childs is open all year for tours, shopping and dining and the village, on the shores of Cayuga Lake, has a charming inn, a few restaurants, a coffee house and darling shops.
Why I love it:
Because 50-75 percent off is a language I speak fluently. Because sometimes things happen that you least expect: after going to the Barn Sale year after year and sometimes waiting in line for six hours, I thought I finally had a great idea. I got up at 4:30 am with my 21-year-old son. I packed food and beverages, got him a chair, and he had his phone of course, and I dropped him off on the line at 5:45 am. The doors opened at 8 a.m. My plan was to leave him there for four hours or so (my estimate based upon years of experience), attend to some reunion commitments, and when he was an hour from the door, I’d return and switch places with him. Sounds good, right? Ha! The best laid plans often don’t go as planned. I just got into Cortland, picked up my CoffeeMania chai, and he called! He’s in! So, back I went for the hunt. It did not disappoint; got my wish list and Mary Jo’s long distance list (my 90 year old mom) which was given to us over the phone from Iowa at 5 a.m. our time, 4 a.m. hers. Let’s just say that in a house full of real deer taxidermy, the black and white checked deer with the gold antlers is the one that really speaks to me. Can’t wait for next year!
658 Lake Road, King Ferry
Just up the road from Aurora is King Ferry (for perspective, the population is 1,121), a popular venue along the Finger Lakes Wine Trail. Again, I believe I’ve referenced them before but now they have added a local craft beer tasting room and bar to the mix of winery, event space and shop. In my experience Treleaven is one of the friendliest wineries on the Trail and a comfortable, casual spot to linger at. There is a picnic spot, and Treleaven sells a great selection of local NY cheeses, breads, and crackers, cool wine accessories and in addition to the Treleaven label, they carry the Sophistocrats label which benefits the Tompkins County SPCA.
Why I love it:
Because we befriended Steffi, the bartender who gave us tons of information about all the local beer that they carry along with lots of great Finger Lakes Wine Trail recommendations and insight. She also keeps a bag of children’s books available to give away to kids like my daughter who aren’t quite ready to appreciate the bounty of the winery.
Hope Lake Lodge & Conference Center
2177 Clute Road, Cortland
Cascades Indoor Water Park
Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak Mountain Resort is one of Central N.Y.’s newest accommodations and vacation destination. It features an indoor water park connected to a large outdoor pool, a conference center, restaurants, event space, outdoor adventure park, Hope Lake and of course Greek Peak Mountain Resort. Located in Virgil, which is actually part of Cortland, it is about 9 miles from the College. The views are stunning year around, particularly in the fall. Every age, interest and ability can be accommodated and entertained. Close via back roads to Ithaca, NY, which is a separate diversion for another day.
Why I love it:
Because after a weekend of reunion festivities, shopping, board meeting and socializing, it was the perfect spot to reward my kids with and for the adults to chill at. Because I will never forget the image of the N.Y. Jets taking over Cascades Indoor Water Park when they had their camp at SUNY Cortland. And because if my husband doesn’t want to drive to Cortland for my cup of CoffeeMania, I can still get Starbucks at Hope Lake Lodge. Caffeine crisis averted.