The town of Ithaca in central New York sits at the southernmost tip of Cayuga Lake — one of the 11 lakes that make up New York’s Finger Lakes region. In and around Ithaca, visitors will find outdoor adventures, a 157-year-old Ivy League university, plenty of wineries, and a modern and lively downtown area.
Whether you’re keen on being active or you like to stay put and relax, Ithaca offers things to do, see, and eat for any type of vacation itinerary. Adventure seekers, history lovers, and wine connoisseurs alike will love Ithaca; and if you don’t fall into any of these categories, it won’t be long until you find something in town that suits your interests.
Here are 12 places to visit, eat, and stay in Ithaca, New York.
My trip to Ithaca was hosted by The Hotel Ithaca. All opinions and experiences are my own.
Things To Do In Ithaca
My mom and I hit the road from Philadelphia and arrived in Ithaca in just about 4 hours. Having made a similar trip to Canandaigua Lake — another one of the Finger Lakes — earlier this summer, we decided to pick up right where we left off.
1. Taughannock Falls State Park
While Ithaca can certainly be a relaxing vacation destination, getting outside and exploring the area’s natural beauty is a must. Taking pride in its slogan, “Ithaca is gorges,” the town features natural beauty almost everywhere, and our recommendations led us to Taughannock Falls State Park.
Highlighted by its namesake waterfall, this park is located just a short drive north on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway. We arrived at Taughannock Falls State Park ready to hike. My mom took the paved, 1.5-mile Gorge Trail out and back for an easier and more up-close look at the falls and gorges. I decided to take the South Rim Trail up and the North Rim Trail back, for a total of about 2.6 unpaved miles of trails.
While I wasn’t trekking the entirety of the park, I was able to stop and take in the breathtaking falls — something that pictures will never do justice. Hiking is a newer hobby for me, and the beauty of Taughannock Falls has only furthered my interest in the activity.
2. Stewart Park
We visited both Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes earlier this year, and Cayuga Lake became the third Finger Lake on our list. The best way to catch a glimpse of Cayuga Lake is at Stewart Park. Offering docks on the water, plenty of green space, and a picture-perfect view of Cayuga Lake, Stewart Park is a getaway itself.
We really enjoyed how close it was to Cayuga Lake, offering unobstructed views of the water — unlike most spots we experienced along Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes.
3. Ithaca Commons
Making our way back to the downtown area, Ithaca Commons is the heart of Ithaca. Here, you will find quirky shops, college students enjoying their off hours, and brand-new restaurants popping up throughout the year — like the globally recognized Paris Baguette bakery chain that opened just this month.
Featuring hidden gem shops like Angry Mom Records and seasonal events like the Apple Harvest Festival, the commons is one of the most community-based areas in Ithaca. And, if shopping isn’t your thing, simply strolling through this commercialized offshoot of downtown Ithaca is a joy in itself. We ended both nights in Ithaca with a stroll through the commons back to our hotel.
4. Cornell University
I was blown away by the expansiveness of Cornell’s campus, its jaw-dropping views, and its picture-perfect backdrop. Very different from my city-based alma mater, Temple University in Philadelphia, we could have explored Cornell for weeks.
I have always been fascinated by college campuses and the nuances that make them unique, and Cornell did not fall short. We visited the school store — of course, I had to buy a Cornell hoodie to cement my visit — and simply enjoyed a beautiful fall day on the lively and colorful campus.
Wineries Near Ithaca
Climbing the ranks of most sought-after wine regions in the country, the Finger Lakes hosts a plethora of vineyards — the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail being the main attraction for oenophiles visiting Ithaca. My mom and I had the opportunity to do a tasting at three of the trail’s 13 wineries, all three within close proximity of each other.
5. Americana Vineyards
In the small town of Interlaken, just 20 minutes from Ithaca, Americana Vineyards was one of the more unique and vintage wineries that we visited. With its tasting areas housed in a rustic barnhouse, the vineyard is located just off Cayuga Lake. The Crystal Lake Cafe is also on-site if you want more than just cheese and crackers with your tasting.
At Americana, the tasting featured our choice of four wine pairings. The wine list is extensive and even mentions what each wine is best for. My favorite of the four, the November Harvest, is a great “Monday Night Football Wine” perfect for celebrations.
6. Buttonwood Grove Winery
With the best landscape view of the three wineries we visited, we enjoyed our tasting at Buttonwood Grove Winery on the outdoor patio. This was one of the more educational wine tastings on our trip. We learned about the property and bonded with our waitress, who was an expert on all things Buttonwood Grove wine — she even gifted us a bonus fifth wine to add to our four-wine flight.
Buttonwood Grove doubles as a small venue for weekend events and live performances while folks enjoy a slew of wines on the property.
7. Thirsty Owl Wine Company
Rounding out the last winery on our list, the award-winning wine at Thirsty Owl Wine Company exceeded our expectations. For just $5, we enjoyed five wines from the extensive list. After deliberating on our favorite varietals, we couldn’t leave empty-handed. I grabbed a bottle of the 2019 Reisling — a multi-gold-medal-award-winning wine — and my mom grabbed a bottle of the 2020 Meritage.
Pro Tips: Be sure to grab some merch from Thirsty Owl, which has a great selection of t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and more. Or, join The Parliement Club and get special offers like free shipping on full cases of wine, free tastings, and exclusive access to Thirsty Owl’s wine releases.
Ithaca’s new-and-improved food scene is varied and inclusive, offering cuisines for all palates at restaurants that are new but here to stay. From high-end dining to quick bites, Ithaca makes it difficult to choose where to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
8. Revelry Yards
Open for lunch during the week, brunch on the weekend, and dinner 7 days a week, this new microbrewery in downtown Ithaca is one of the classier breweries I’ve ever been to. Aside from its modern architecture and soothing ambiance, the plates at Revelry Yards put off a sense of luxury — and boy were they delicious.
I ordered the honey-soy glazed spicy popcorn chicken and my mom ordered the plantain-crusted fish tacos. Although the servings were rather small and listed as shareables, it was one of my most satisfying lunch meals in recent memory.
9. Ithaca Ale House
Another of the newer taprooms in downtown Ithaca, the Ithaca Ale House is located by the eastern entrance of Ithaca Commons. Featuring all kinds of local beers, wines, and signature menu items, you can’t go wrong with lunch or dinner here, especially if your team is playing.
Ithaca Ale House topped our restaurant list as the most filling. My mom loved her cheeseburger on a croissant, and I marveled at the hand-stretched Margherita pizza. Neither of us finished our meals out of pure satiation.
On our last night in Ithaca, we were hosted for dinner at Coltivare — a restaurant partnered with Tompkins Cortland Community College for culinary students to hone their craft in a high-end restaurant atmosphere. Also a newcomer to downtown Ithaca, you could almost taste the passion Coltivare’s students have for cuisine.
For my entrée, I ordered the barbecue burger, a ground beef burger topped with messy but delicious barbecue pulled pork. It was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. My mom went with the salmon as her entrée and said it was some of the best she’s ever had as well.
11. The Ithaca Bakery
If you’re looking for breakfast in Ithaca, the Ithaca Bakery is your place. With a menu full of signature breakfast sandwiches and sweet baked goods galore, it is one of the best spots in Ithaca to fuel up in the morning.
Hotels In Ithaca
12. The Ithaca Hotel
Our weekend was hosted by the lovely staff at The Hotel Ithaca. Featuring 170 guest rooms on its 6,000-square-foot property, it is the premier accommodation in downtown Ithaca. Just a few blocks away from Ithaca Commons, this recently renovated beauty is the perfect stay for exploring a historic town in luxury.
Amenities at the hotel include an indoor pool, a large conference room that separates into smaller breakout rooms, a ballroom, a fitness center, and an on-site restaurant. We stayed in the Double Queen Executive suite. The hotel also offers a King Patio suite, a King Fireplace suite, and two types of King Executive suites.
No matter what type of stay you’re looking for — whether it’s a romantic getaway or a business trip — The Hotel Ithaca has a room best suited for you.
Pro Tip: Ithaca Social Pub And Grille
Before our departure, we were hosted for breakfast at The Hotel Ithaca’s on-site restaurant — the Ithaca Social Pub and Grille. I ordered the simple but delicious scrambled eggs and my mom was served a hearty bacon and cheddar cheese omelet with a side of hash browns. The Ithaca Social also has a full bar and serves dinner as well. Note that the restaurant is only open during peak visitor seasons.
Editor’s Note: Want to check out vacation rentals? Take a look at these great Ithaca and Cayuga Lake options, many with Premier Hosts, offered by Vrbo.