Rochester has an uncanny knack for flying under the radar. Despite boasting a rich roster of museums, restaurants, craft breweries and festivals, few have experienced its delights despite being only three hours away from Toronto. Like its rust belt cousins, Rochester was dealt a blow when its main industry declined. While both Kodak and the city’s heyday is long gone, its rebounding neighbourhoods and tech startups are breathing new life into Upstate New York’s cultural capital.
What to do
Though its charms are numerous, Rochester’s green spaces may deserve top billing – how many cities can lay claim to a downtown waterfall? Follow the Genesee River for 45 minutes outside the city limits and you’ll be rewarded with a view of Letchworth State Park (pictured above), fittingly referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Recently voted Best State Park in America, Letchworth boasts three waterfalls, hiking trails and white water rafting – so whether you stay overnight and camp, or take a day trip from River Spring, Letchworth warrants a full day of exploring.
Culture vultures will find much to love. The Memorial Art Gallery, affectionately nicknamed “the mini-MET,” boasts an impressive permanent collection including work by Infinity Mirrors artist, Yayoi Kusama. Take a stroll around the George Eastman Museum; the restored Georgian Revival home of the Kodak founder is the world’s oldest photography museum.
What to eat and drink
We recommend kicking off the weekend with a visit to Rochester Public Market, which has faithfully served the community since 1905. More than 200 vendors peddle everything from local honey, apples and pierogis to avocados and delicacies from around the world. The operation spreads across three covered outdoor sheds, every Saturday from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. The surrounding market district is just as bountiful; take a stroll down Railroad Street and stop at Boxcar for doughnuts in wacky flavours like crème brûlée or bacon. Then wash it down with an IPA next door at Rohrbach Beer Hall, where Rochester’s craft brewery renaissance began.
For dinner, hit the Cub Room. Sure, this moody eatery would be at home in Manhattan but it makes just as much sense in the South Wedge area of Rochester. The Cub Room, a speakeasy-cum-restaurant styled on the Prohibition era, is run by Greg and Jodi Johnson, restaurateurs with 20 years’ experience in NYC. The area has seen an influx of trendy spots in recent years, including the Playhouse/Swillburger, a bar and arcade in a renovated church. Order the Cub Room’s house-smoked pork cheeks, which come slathered in a mouthwatering apricot BBQ sauce or the gnudi pasta dish of the day. Alternatively, grab a seat at the bar and wait for Gatsby to pour you another.
Where to stay
River Spring Lodge is an intimate boutique lodge located between Buffalo and Rochester, making it an attractive base for exploring both areas. Chef David and Carolyn Hamer opened the River Spring Lodge just over a year ago, and have been providing guests with a one-two punch of delicious farm-to-table dining and the kind of hospitality and service that feels like a warm hug ever since.
Most of the rooms are set on the second floor of the lodge, with just a few on the lower level reserved for groups. Many rooms have balconies and look over onto the wooded wetlands – it’s not uncommon to spot deer and other wildlife on the 20 acres at River Spring. River Spring Lodge is currently working on building out some trails that can be used in wintertime – until that’s up and running, spring or fall is the best time to visit, when the leaves are changing.