When someone says “New York” you probably think of the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. But New York is so much more. Rochester, located in Upstate New York, is an absolute gem to visit any time of the year (although they get some seriously cold weather in the winter) and you will not lack for things to do that will keep kids of all ages (and yes,we mean you, too, mom and dad) entertained.
There is so much of New York to explore. I absolutely love the vibe of Times Square, the magic of seeing a Broadway show on Broadway, and buying a plate of delicious food from a street corner vendor at one in the morning. But there is a lot to be said for the warmth and beauty of upstate New York, too. As awesome as I think New York City is, the state as so much more to offer, and if you get a chance to explore, you need to jump at it.
1. The Strong Museum of Play
A museum dedicated to play? Yes, please! And, even if your visit to Rochester is sans kids, still go and do this. The exhibits will hit you right in your nostalgia bone. The Strong Museum covers more than 285,000 square feet of space and is the evolution of a private collection of dolls and toys of Rochester native Margaret Woodbury Strong.
The re are a lot of interactive exhibits, such as old-school video games and pinball machines that took me right back to seventh grade. There’s also a butterfly garden, a carousel and a train ride that you can enjoy for an extra cost. If you’ve played with it or seen a commercial for it, it’s in the Strong Museum.
The Strong Museum offers a 50s style diner as well as other food options in their food court. It would be easy to spend several hours here, and, if you’re looking for a rainy day or snowy day activity on your trip, this is an awesome pick. I’ll warn ya, though…whatever toys creeped you out as a child have gathered here to haunt you.
2. The Eastman Museum
If you’re a photography buff (or even if you’re not) you’ll want to check out the Eastman Museum. It’s full of fascinating exhibits about the history of photography and beautiful and creative photography displays. The mansion and grounds are also quite something to see…if you love exploring old houses and oohing and ahhing over antique furniture, this is your place.
Check out their events page in advance of your visit to see what talks, tours and films might be happening when you’re there. One of the most interesting things I learned while touring the museum is that the Kodak company was all George Eastman. I used to see the phrase “Eastman Kodak” and assume there was a Mr. Eastman and a Mr. Kodak. Nope. Kodak was a brand name devised by George Eastman that would be recognizable across all languages…I’d say he succeeded. As someone who loves to dabble in photography, I loved learning about Eastman’s vision to make photography accessible to the common person. Whether or not you are as interested in photography as I am, you’ll find something to love about the Eastman Museum.
3. Wickham Farms
Wickham Farms is a family-owned working farm that offers all kinds of fun for your family. When we visited, we were just at the tail end of sunflower season…so many beautiful sunflowers make an awesome photo backdrop.
Fall brings apple picking and pumpkin picking time to Wickham Farms, as well as a corn maze, the famous “jumping pillow”, apple cannons and all the fall things. Check out their website for what’s happening during the time you’ll be visiting and be sure to check out the Fun Passes, which allows you to enjoy multiple activities at a reduced price.
4. Seneca Park Z00
The Seneca Park Zoo is a fun, linear zoo focused on education and conservation. Visit their website in advance of your visit for specific hours and events. Rochester is cold, cold, cold during winter (but y’all knew that, right?) so this may not be your choice activity if you visit in winter. However, certain animals thrive in colder temps and will be more active, like this snow leopard:
See more here.
5. Ontario Beach Park
Ontario Beach Park is located in the northwest quadrant of the City on the shores of Lake Ontario. This 39-acre park contains one of the Great Lakes’ best natural sand beaches. This is a lovely place to walk, watch the boats, have a picnic or get an ice cream. I recommend Abbott’s Frozen Custard…it’s crazy delicious.
6. Genesee Country Village and Museum
If the idea of stepping back in time to 19th century New York State appeals to you, you will love Genesee Country Village and Museum. There are 68 historic buildings where you can see live demonstrations of pottery making, cooking, care of farm animals and more.
They also offer various classes, experiences and camps that will more fully immerse you in 19th century life, such as trades, cooking, and crafting. You can also find spring break and summer camps for kids. I think it’s fair to say that most kids today are electronics obsessed…at least mine are. How cool would it be to send them to a camp where they had to unplug and do farm chores? Actually, I think my kids would think this is pretty darn cool…once they got over the shock that YouTube and Minecraft weren’t around in the 19th century.
7. Rochester Public Market
The Rochester Public Market is a great way to experience the vibe of this fun city. This bustling place full of vibrant sights, smells, and sounds is a great place to chat with the locals.
The Rochester Public market is heavy on consumables…although they have other wares available…so if you’re looking for locally sourced produced, honey, and more, this is your place. If you are staying in a vacation rental with cooking facilities, buy some local produce and go crazy. If I’d have been driving instead of flying, I’d have loaded my car up with all sorts of goodies to take home with me to give as gifts. And, to be clear, when I say “give as gifts” that means I get a gift, too. Only fair, right?
All of the above activities are family-friendly but if you’re looking for something more adult oriented, try Rochester Pedal Tours. It’s a great way to explore the city.