10 Things to Do in Ithaca, New York, on the Weekend
The beautiful lakeside city of Ithaca, NY, has plenty of fun things to do for any weekend visitor. Like other college towns, Ithaca has many short-term visitors thanks to friends, parents and relatives of the 22,000 students enrolled at Cornell University and another 6,800 at Ithaca College.
They come to Ithaca to drop off or pick up students, attend their graduation or just spend a little time together. Sometimes Mom and Dad can’t stay away for too long. For whatever reason they come, Ithaca visitors will find at least 10 worthwhile things to do to fill the entire trip. Most, if not all, are doable in a single weekend, which we discovered on our visits there.
But Ithaca is more than a great place to visit for parents of college students. It has enough to offer that it may appeal to anyone visiting or vacationing in upper state New York.
The Top 10 Attractions in Ithaca
- Cayuga Lake/ Stewart Park
- Ithaca Farmers Market
- Ithaca Commons
- Robert H. Treman State Park
- Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
- Taughannock Falls State Park
- Buttermilk Falls State Park
- Cornell Botanic Gardens
- Ithaca Falls
1. Cayuga Lake / Stewart Park
The 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake is first in part because it is nearly impossible to miss and because it adds so much beauty to the surrounding views of Ithaca. Many visitors reach Ithaca on State Route 13, which goes right through the heart of the city and past Cayuga Lake. Route 13 also has direct access to Stewart Park.
The well-kept grassy green park has a long line of massive trees, many of which are willows, that line the lake. Visitors sit on benches to watch sailboats or lie in the grass for a snooze. The also park has pavilions, a merry-go-round, playgrounds, tennis courts, duck pond, golf course and bird sanctuary.
It’s a great place to go for some quiet time. We found ourselves spending two hours either sitting on the swings and going for pleasant walks along the shoreline under the giant willow trees.
2. Ithaca Farmers Market
I have been to quite a few farmers markets including the famous Seattle Farmers Market. The Ithaca market at Steamboat Landing, 545 3rd Street, ranks among the best.
It is a major attraction on weekends with a massive variety of food stalls, live music and other attractions. All of it takes place at the edge of Cayuga Lake. Be sure to go early in the morning or later in the day to avoid massive crowds.
3. Ithaca Commons
Weekend visitors may want to go to the Ithaca Farmers Market on a Saturday for lunch and then head to Ithaca Commons for lunch on Sunday -- as well as some shopping. Just hope the weather is good enough for outdoor dining on both days.
The commons is a four-block pedestrian mall in downtown Ithaca with more than 100 shops, restaurants and galleries. It also is home to the State Theatre of Ithaca and various events throughout the year.
Our daughter told us that Ithaca has more restaurants per square mile than New York City. We believed her based on the many side-by-side open air restaurants that lined the streets.
4. Ithaca Falls
Ithaca is known for waterfalls in the surrounding area. It’s even known for a waterfall within the city. Ithaca Falls is about 175 feet wide and has a drop of 150 feet. It is the most powerful falls in the area and still has the remains of a half dozen mills that operated on it in the 19th century.
The falls are easy to reach via a short trail. They are a nice spot to sit, think or read a book by the roaring water. To get there, take Aurora St. north to Lincoln Street, turn right and take an immediate left onto Lake Street.
Ithaca Falls is about 175 feet wide and has a drop of 150 feet.
5. Robert H. Treman State Park
Treman state park, south of Buttermilk Falls off Route 13, is the second biggest natural attraction in the area after Cayuga Lake. The 1,100-acre park has a dozen waterfalls, camping, nine miles of hiking trails, and swimming beneath a waterfall. Lucifer Falls is 115 feet tall.
Weekend visitors will find a tour here may take a half day or longer. The waterfall swim is a popular place to visit for moderately fit people who don't mind some hiking to get there.
6. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
If rain or snow is a problem with outdoor activities, visitors will find things to do indoors starting with the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 114 Central Avenue. This free museum welcomes 80,000 visitors every year and offers 35,000 works of art in its permanent collections.
The distinctive museum building, designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei, is easy to spot in the Arts Quad of Cornell University campus.
It’s no surprise that a prominent college town should have a family science center. The Ithaca Sciencenter, 601 1st Street, is a 32,000-square-foot hands-on science museum with 100,000 visitors annually, according to the non-profit facility.
Sciencenter has more than 250 exhibits, a mini golf course, gift shop, educational programs, and seasonal outdoor science playground. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays.
8. Taughannock Falls State Park
Serious waterfall lovers with time on their hands should consider visiting Taughannock Falls. It plunges 215 feet down rocky cliffs from a 400-foot-tall gorge. Views are available from trails from the rim above the gorge and from below at the gorge trail.
The park also has a marina, beach, cabins and campsites as well as hiking and cross country skiing. It is 20 minutes northwest of Ithaca on the west side of Cayuga Lake.
9. Buttermilk Falls State Park
A quick and easy attraction is Buttermilk Falls State Park, 112 E. Buttermilk Falls Road.
The park is only two miles southwest of Ithaca off Route 13. Visitors have to walk only a few hundred feet from the back parking lot to see the falls, which tumble over dozens of flat layers of granite. The park also has walking trails, a gorge, picnic areas and a small lake.
Try tip toeing over the rocks to the other side from the parking lot for a seat and some quiet reflection.
10. Cornell Botanic Gardens
Anyone tight on time will find the Cornell Botanic Gardens a quick, easy and enjoyable thing to do in good weather. The free gardens are scattered in several locations. The main one is 35 acres and 12 specialty gardens at the Nevin Welcome Center, 124 Comstock Knoll Drive.
Bright flowers filled the cozy landscape. Our entire group found many great views for photography.
Where is Ithaca, NY?
Ithaca, NY, is 152 miles west of Buffalo, NY, and 115 miles north of Scranton, PA.
© 2019 Scott S Bateman