hulahoopRochester may be the friendliest place in New York. Waitresses, hotel staff, even the workers at Sears where we were stuck because of a flat tire, were unfailingly friendly.

And why wouldn’t they be? Just outside a city filled with world-class museums is countryside filled with great hiking and biking.

What to Do in Rochester

If you are traveling with kids, your first stop should be the Strong National Museum of Play. This giant children’s museum also houses the National Toy Hall of Fame, where adults can relive their childhood. When I visited with my daughter as guests of Visit Rochester, we played with a Slinky and found toys I had long forgotten: glass marbles, the original Monopoly set, roller skates that fit on sneakers.

Architecturally, the museum is a gem. It was expanded in 1997 to be the second largest children’s museum in the United States. A 70-foot glass wall around the undulating caterpillar addition, giant colorful blocks and a butterfly wing shaped butterfly garden emphasize the play aspect.

In Field of Play, walk through a kaleidoscope, climb the rock wall or maneuver balls in an overhead machine. The supermarkets lets kids scan working bar cods and the Sesame Street exhibit brings the show to life. You can play at the school in The Berenstain Bears exhibit, ‘fly’ a helicopter and perform on stage. In the comic book area, dress as a superhero and climb the side of a building; in One History Place, dress in period costumes and play with old fashioned toys. In a bit of contrast, nearby there’s a Wii station.

The museum also has a restored 1918 carousel and a train ride. There is a food court and a recreated ice cream fountain shop.

Next stop, the Rochester Museum & Science Center. It has a planetarium, an interactive exhibit on Rochester’s Underground Railroad and tons of hands-on fun. In the AdventureZone, operate an Erie Canal lock. Climb the rock wall or hoist yourself with different pulleys. For the truly brave, there is a simulator ride to the bottom of Lake Erie. Learn how car engines and traffic lights work through experimentation, build with K’nex and play with lasers, mirrors and prisms.

The George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film has a discovery room where kids can spin a Zoetrope and create their own movie strips, look through a stereoviwer and examine real cameras. Eastman’s mansion is open for wandering around, and you can sit in the garden.

When you’re looking for a little exercise, head to Mendon Ponds Park, which has 30 miles of nature trails. There is also a nature center and a sensory garden. If you want to picnic here, you have to carry out all your trash.

Rochester is also surrounded by orchards and near the start of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Although some wineries are family-friendly, wine tasting is not usually on my to-do list with kids, but picking fruit and vegetables is always fun. Hurd Orchards, only 20 minutes outside the city, has pick-your-own from May – November. There are also a number of events and classes throughout the year, from Christmas teas to a Father’s Day farm brunch, and workshops geared towards children.

Where to Stay in Rochester

The Woodcliff Hotel & Spa has family packages where up to five people can stay in one room that includes passes to the Strong Museum. The hotel has a spectacular new fitness center, a newly renovated indoor/outdoor pool, and hiking trails right behind it. On a cold spring day, the staff had set out hot apple cider. Horizons restaurant, in the hotel, offers top notch food at reasonable prices, with many vegetarian choices.

Where to eat in Rochester

Rochester’s Park Avenue is lined with cafes and shops. Two local institutions are worth a stop: homemade Stever’s Candies, a family business open since 1946, and Abbott’s Frozen Custard.

Aladdin’s Natural Eatery has Mediterranean food, with pasta, and lots of vegetarian choices. Simply Crepes, across the street, has sweet or savory crepes, three meals a day.