A Perfect Day in Downtown Ithaca
Located at the south end of Cayuga Lake, the city of Ithaca, New York is the largest town and the cultural center of the Finger Lakes region. This cool, small city has a thriving art scene, great local restaurants and countless scenic hikes (‘Ithaca is gorges’ goes the slogan, for all the surrounding canyons and waterfalls). Ithaca is both a destination in itself and a memorable stopover on our Finger Lakes Bike & Wine Tour.
Cycling to Ithaca
On our six-day cycling tour of the Finger Lakes, we ride from Skaneateles to Ithaca, passing by green countryside with views of bucolic farms, burbling creeks and a gorgeous cascading waterfall at Fillmore Glen State Park. We land that evening at the delightful William Henry Miller Inn, just steps away from downtown. The next day we have a short, scenic ride planned so you have the rest of the day free to explore downtown Ithaca.
Downtown Ithaca is a vacation destination in micro — a magical place where you can enjoy a whole day of shopping, hiking, music and dining in a four-block radius. The Ithaca Commons, an open-air pedestrian mall, anchors the Downtown district and is surrounded by unique attractions within easy walking distance.
What to do?
Once you’re freshened up after your ride, stroll over to the historic DeWitt Mall – a community of hyper-local shops, eateries and residences established in 1971. The Collegiate Gothic building is a stunning example of historic preservation: it was originally designed by prolific Ithaca architect William Henry Miller to serve as Ithaca’s High School, and still bares the school’s crest on the western exterior.
You could spend an entire day wandering around the DeWitt! Check out Ithaca Guitar Works, a legendary place packed with string instruments since 1969. IthacaMade is a great place to visit for locally made souvenirs, from jewelry and apparel to cards, cookbooks, and wall art. On your way out, stop by Buffalo Street Books – a cooperatively-owned independent bookstore – to see if there is an author reading scheduled during your stay.
A gorgeous hike through Cascadilla Gorge awaits you a few blocks away at the eastern end of Court Street. Ascending via stone steps and criss-crossing bridges, this immersive trail passes six waterfalls – take frequent breaks just to absorb the scenery.
If arts and culture are more your style, step inside the Tompkins Center for History and Culture and explore the History Center’s exhibits about life in Tompkins County. Don’t miss the bank vault – a relic from the previous tenant – which now houses a local timeline.
Also inside TCHC is the Community Arts Partnership’s Artspace – one of several downtown galleries which mount new exhibits the first Friday of every month.
Not all of Ithaca’s art hangs neatly on a gallery wall: there are over 150 murals within the city limits! If streetscapes are more your speed, visit ithacamurals.com for a map. You’ll find pieces tucked away in alleys, atop parking garages, and wrapped around electrical boxes.
Stop back at the William Henry Miller Inn to freshen up before dinner, then take a short stroll back to the Commons to explore the restaurant scene.
What’s for dinner?
On the East end of the Commons is a block of North Aurora Street lined with eateries and appropriately dubbed “Restaurant Row.” Casual diners opt for the generous portions of Luna Inspired Street Food or tasty burgers at Ithaca Ale House. Feeling patient? Try waiting for a table at the super-popular tapas restaurant Just A Taste; wine flights and tapas on the quaint back patio is a quintessential summer experience. Satiate a craving for a globally-inspired meal with either the combo platter of traditional dishes at Hawi Ethiopian Cuisine, the Pan-Asian small plates at Mia or a festive Mexican meal at Viva Taqueria and Cantina.
To cap off your day downtown, grab a drink and relax. Popular spot The Watershed curates a conversational atmosphere by eschewing live music in favor of a free book library, and accommodates all patrons by serving both classic cocktails and loose-leaf tea. Bar Argos is a craft cocktail bar located inside the Argos Inn, a boutique inn just one block from the Commons. Enjoy creative cocktails inside on comfy crushed velvet chairs on chairs, or sit outdoors under string lights on the patio. The adjacent Argos Warehouse offers a simpler drink menu and light after-dinner fare.
If you’ve saved room after dinner, retire to the William Henry Miller to sample a complimentary desserts baked by your host. Then get ready to rest up and spend another day exploring the Finger Lakes!