9 Things to Do in the Southern Finger Lakes, New York

When you think about New York’s Finger Lakes region, your first thought is most likely wine. And for good reason—winemaking began in the area more than 150 years ago and today there are more than 100 wineries to experience. But the region has much more to offer than grapes. While wine tasting should certainly be part of your trip to the Finger Lakes, no trip would be complete without the following eight other activities. Here are the top things to do in New York's southern Finger Lakes. 

01 of 09

Experience Wine Country

Vineyard on Keuka Lake, New York, with autumn trees in the background
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Whether you are looking for an experienced, award-winning winery like Dr. Konstantin Frank, an eco-friendly establishment like Heron Hill, a family-run business like Lakewood Vineyards, or a newer, small-batch producer like Barnstormer Winery, you’ll find something to suit your tastes. It’s easy to visit a few wineries within the same day, but it’s always recommended to have a designated driver or to visit as part of an organized tour.

02 of 09

Sample Other Local Libations

Krooked Tusker Distillery
Krooked Tusker Distillery

Though the region is most famous for its wineries, there are plenty of other beverages to get excited about in the southern Finger Lakes. Enough breweries have popped up in the region for the tourism board to create a "Craft Your Adventure Beverage Trail", with top picks of Finger Lakes Beer Company, using 100% New York State hops, Cider Creek Hard Cider, using 100% New York State apples, and Grist Iron Brewing Company, offering a stunning view of Seneca Lake and an inn on premises.

Krooked Tusker Distillery in Hammondsport offers tastings of their small-batch hand-crafted vodkas, gins, and whiskeys. Once you sip each spirit to get a feel for it, mixers are offered if you’d like to downplay the intensity of the liquors. Buttered popcorn is available to cleanse the palate in between sips.

The Source at Factory No. 2 provides a different experience in Corning. A flight of specialty mimosas (think white grape juice, strawberries and basil or orange juice and cream, instead of your standard orange juice) is paired with homemade chocolates (including unique finds like chocolate-covered grapes and spicy chocolate with chili). The mimosas and the establishment’s "wine smoothies” are made with wine from J.R. Dill in the Seneca Lake area. The Source’s “beer cocktails” use Iron Flamingo Beer, also in Corning.

03 of 09

Explore the Region’s Waterways

Rainbow Falls and the Stone Bridge in Watkins Glen State Park, NY, in Autumn
AlbertPego/Getty Images

It would be silly to visit the Finger Lakes without actually getting out on one of the lakes. You have plenty of options, whether you want to get a workout or sit back with a drink.

Keuka Watersports on Keuka Lake rents out paddleboards, kayaks, and jet skis during the summer season, with a variety of boat rentals available year-round. The schooner “True Love”, featured in such films as High Society and The Philadelphia Story, offers morning, afternoon, and sunset excursions on Seneca Lake, as well as specialty sails with wine and spirits included.

Southern Tier Kayak Tours take you out on different waterways of the region: the Chemung, Susquehanna, and Chenango Rivers. With this experience, you don’t just enjoy a kayak paddle, you learn about the history of the region, from what formed the river valleys in the area to how weather patterns have affected the area in modern times, and about the local flora and fauna. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some bald eagles.

A walk through the gorge trail in Watkins Glen State Park will take you past and under 19 waterfalls. Selected as one of the best state parks in the country, Watkins Glen State Park is a sprawling valley with cliffs, caverns, and cascades for all to enjoy.

04 of 09

Explore the Region’s Skyways

Seaplane On Lake Keuka, New York
Getty Images/Education Images/UIG

Aviation enthusiasts and amateur daredevils will have plenty to do in the area. The southern Finger Lakes are home to not one but three aviation museums: Hammondsport’s Glenn H. Curtiss Museum; Elmira’s National Soaring Museum; and Horseheads’ Wings of Eagles Discovery Center. If you’re looking to get into the sky yourself, you can soar smoothly through the air with unobstructed panoramic views of the surrounding countryside in a two-seater glider at the Gliding Center in Harris Hill. If you prefer to take off and land on Keuka Lake, invest in a seaplane ride from Finger Lakes Seaplanes.

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05 of 09

Dine With a View

Lake Seneca pier Watkins Glen,New York State
Peter Unger/Getty Images

When you’re surrounded by lakes and waterways, you should take advantage of the views and dine al fresco. Two recommended spots are Lakeside Tavern & Restaurant on Keuka Lake and the patio at the Blue Pointe Grill at the Glen Harbor Hotel on Seneca Lake.

06 of 09

Delve Into the Art Scene

Rockwell Museum
Rockwell Museum

Corning is famous for its glass industry and the Corning Museum of Glass displays 3500 years of glass history and art as well as many impressive modern large-scale pieces. Marvel at glass vases and bowls being made in 5000-degree ovens and make your own glass flowers, frames, or ornaments at The Studio.

Just across the Chemung River from the Corning Museum of Glass is the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, with collections mainly focused on Native American and Western artwork, or “Art About the American Experience”. The museum is housed in a historical building that used to be Corning’s City Hall. The surrounding area is painted with murals from local high school students as part of the museum’s Alley Art Project.

Though Mark Twain traveled all over, he settled in the Elmira area with his wife and family. The study where he wrote the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and many other famous works now sits on the campus of Elmira College. At the college, find relics from Twain’s life including his desk and rocking chair and enter the chapel to see a stained-glass window of Twain. Pay your respects at Twain’s gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery nearby.

07 of 09

Check Out a Charming Downtown Area

Gaffer District, Downtown Corning, New York
Getty Images/Dennis Macdonald

Corning’s Gaffer District (“gaffer” meaning “glassmaker”) is home to more than 100 businesses, including antique shops, restaurants, and more than 40 places to purchase chocolate, which is why the town has created a “Chocolate Trail”. After dinner and cocktails at Hand + Foot, try a scoop of homemade ice cream at Dippity Do-Dahs.

Hammondsport Village Square is also home to creative shops and restaurants in historic buildings. Visit Union Block Italian Bistro for upscale Italian, unreal cannolis, and a basement “grotto” with live music events every week.

08 of 09

Get Pampered

Namaste Event, Spa, and Wellness Center
Namaste Event, Spa, and Wellness Center

If you’re going to spend time in the southern Finger Lakes drinking wine and sailing into the sunset, you may as well continue your relaxation at one of the nearby spas. Try Namasté Event, Spa, and Wellness Center in Horseheads for facials, peels, massages, and more. Drink champagne before your treatment in the relaxation room and enjoy the full-spectrum infrared sauna after your seaweed wrap.

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09 of 09

Stay Somewhere Unique

Castle on Glen

While there are a few large chains in the area for travelers collecting hotel points, such as Hammondsport’s Best Western Plus or the Radisson in Corning, the charm of the region is better reflected in its B&Bs and small inns. Stay in an 1850s farmhouse at Button’s Creekside Farm B&B, dress up in costumes and embark on a treasure hunt at Castle on Glen, or wake up to the gorgeous morning light on Seneca Lake at Grist Iron Inn, next to the brewing company of the same name. That is, if you can wake up that early after all that wine and beer.