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ithaca city guide

by Stephanie

Image via Visit Ithaca.com

Today’s Ithaca City Guide comes from recent Ithaca College grad and freelance writer Laura Lanz-Frolio. Laura now lives in New York City, where she splits her time between writing and running her vintage shop on Etsy, La Poubelle Vintage. As a former resident, Laura has learned the ins and outs of this upstate New York haven, and today she shares with us the many gems this college town has to offer. Thanks, Laura, for such a lovely tour through Ithaca! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Ithaca is a college town in the true sense of the word. With both Cornell University and Ithaca College occupying the city, college students make up a large percentage of the population. But despite the large collegiate presence, Ithaca isn’t a city full of dive bars and pizza joints. It’s a great liberal enclave in the middle of upstate New York farm country complete with beautiful scenery, cute shops and inventive restaurants (Bon Appetit magazine recently named it one of the top five foodie towns in America).

There are lots of areas to explore, but the best are the Commons and Collegetown. The Commons is a pedestrian mall closer to Ithaca College that is rife with fun shops to poke around in and some of the best restaurants in Ithaca. Collegetown is Cornell’s territory, and though there isn’t much shopping, the nightlife and ethnic restaurants are worth checking out.

Eat: There are way too many great places to list here, but these are some of the must-trys.

Just a Taste — This tapas bar has a constantly changing menu and a huge list of wines by the glass. If you’re in the mood for a snack, stop in for their homemade focaccia with spreadable roasted garlic and a local wine flight.

Ithaca Bakery and Collegetown Bagels — The quintessential bagel and sandwich shop in Ithaca with five locations in town. Bagels and spreads are made in house, and their bagel sandwiches are the best way to start your day after a night on the town.

John Thomas Steak House — Ithaca is known more for its funky eateries than fine dining establishments, but this pricey steakhouse is one of the nicest white tablecloth restaurants in the city. Dry-aged steaks are cooked to perfection and served in an old farmhouse setting with exceptional service.

Shortstop Deli — From the outside, this sandwich shop looks like your run-of-the-mill convenience store, but once you try one of their toasted French-bread subs, you’ll realize what sets them apart. To order, fill out one of their checklist forms, which give you ample time to mull over the many fresh toppings like mushrooms, caramelized onions and seitan.

Maxie’s Supper Club — This New Orleans-style restaurant is a spicy addition to the Ithaca dining scene with po’ boys, blackened fish and awesome slaw. It’s also one of the few places in town with a fresh raw bar.

Glenwood Pines — Burger junkies can’t go to Ithaca without trying one at this no-frills lakeside joint. It’s nothing fancy, but a patty smothered with thousand island dressing and served with all the fixings on French bread is super satisfying.

Cafe Dewitt — You wouldn’t find this subterranean cafe unless you were looking for it, but you’ll be glad you sought it out. Brunch is the best meal to grab at Dewitt and interesting egg combinations (like an omelet with sherry-glazed mushrooms, spinach and pesto ricotta) are out of this world.

Zaza’s Cucina — Ithaca is surprisingly lacking in good Italian restaurants but Zaza’s one of the few. Grab a seat in the elegant dining room for a meal of slightly upscale but classic Italian fare like earthy mushroom risotto plus a long list of specialty cocktails.

Madeline’s — The food is good at Madeline’s, but the real reason to come here is for dessert. There’s no dessert menu, since the homemade selection changes daily, so walk up to the case in the back of the restaurant to choose your sweets. You’ll be glad you saved room.

Viva Taqueria and Cantina — Don’t come here if you have a craving for greasy Tex Mex; the California-style Mexican food at Viva is super fresh and bright. On warm days, grab a set on the popular sidewalk patio, and do some people watching while nibbling on their crave-worthy taco salad with salsa buttermilk dressing.

Moosewood — If you’re a foodie, you probably have a Moosewood cookbook on your shelves, and this mother of all vegetarian restaurants is the original location. Open since 1973, you definitely won’t miss the meat on the menu that changes daily and focuses on local and seasonal produce.

Do: Music, art and nature-related activities

Ithaca Farmers’ Market — Every city has its own farmers’ market these days, but the Ithaca Farmers’ Market is a great experience. Open from April through December, this covered bazaar set on Lake Cayuga features local farmers and artisans selling leather goods and art, plus awesome prepared foods like breakfast burritos from Solaz and spicy peanut noodles from Macro Mamas.

The Gorges — If you’ve ever seen someone sporting an “Ithaca Is Gorges” tee shirt, you’ll soon know what they’re referring to. There are many large cliff-side waterfalls to visit in town, most with hikeable trails to the top and stunning views. There are hundreds of gorges in the Ithaca area, but some of the best to check out are Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls and Fall Creek Gorge, which is great for swimming in the summer.

Castaways — This bar is the best place to see live music in Ithaca. The space is huge, the covers are cheap and they always pull in interesting indie bands worth checking out. If you’re available during happy hour on Fridays, the shows are always free.

Ithaca Beer Co. — Beer aficionados will definitely want to check out Ithaca Brewery for a tour. Afterward, saddle up to the bar where a friendly staffer will let you sample different beer varieties to your heart’s content. Their apricot wheat is a must-try and just happens to be my favorite beer ever.

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art — This gallery on Cornell’s campus houses the university’s art collection with notable collections, like George and Mary Rockwell’s Asian art collection. Make sure you hit the top floor for a beautiful view of the campus.

Shop: Lots of antique and vintage shops to peruse

Home Green Home — This large and airy spot is located right on the Commons. All of the furniture and home goods inside are eco-friendly, such as reclaimed wood furniture, hemp shower curtains and green cleaning products. And although eco-friendly stores can veer toward the hippie, everything in Home Green Home is actually very modern and elegant.

Ithaca Antique Center — You never know what you’re going to find at this huge space on the outskirts of town, since the 75 booths are rented out by individual dealers. You could easily spend hours rummaging through jewelry, antique housewares and mid-century furniture.

Pastimes Antiques — This shop is great for digging with lots of bins and trays full of objects like old postcards, vintage brooches, beads and buttons that are fun to rummage through.

Homespun Boutique — No town is complete without a high-end yarn store, and Homespun is definitely that store here. There’s a small selection of nice fabrics and lots of high-quality yarns and knitting supplies.

Petrune — Definitely the best vintage store in Ithaca. I’m biased because I used to work there, but the selection is great, the prices are decent and they also carry cute pieces from new labels like Tulle.

Blue Bird Antiques — Find great larger furniture pieces and also kitchen goods, knick-knacks and wall art at really reasonable prices. There’s also some estate jewelry and vintage clothing worth perusing.

Tuff Soul — This boutique is rooted in sustainable fashion, which takes the form of organic-cotton pieces, gently used designer items and vintage clothing. There’s also a sewing room on the lower level where you can get items hemmed and have custom and reconstructed pieces created.

Drink: The best places for coffees or cocktails.

Felicia’s Atomic Lounge — In a college town, it’s hard to find grown-up bars, but this one is perfect for the late twenties/early thirties artsy crowd. There’s a long list of specialty cocktails here plus a range of live music.

Mate Factor — This earthy cafe is run by the controversial Twelve Tribes group (deemed by some as a religious cult), but if that doesn’t bother you, sip a mug of super strong organic mate tea while you enjoy the decor that makes you feel as if you’re sitting in a tree house.

Ithaca Ale House — A step above the other sports bars in town, this sleek spot is the best place in Ithaca to sample artisanal beers from around the country. Check out live music on the weekends and nibble on jacked-up bar snacks like guacamole and Brie dip.

Bluestone Grill — The food here is nothing to write home about, but it is a fun place to sit at the bar for a drink. Their Moscow Mule is super refreshing and served in an antique copper mug.

Gimme! Coffee — Gimme! Coffee has a cult following, and Ithaca is the only place besides New York City where you can visit a Gimme! cafe. The baristas here are first rate — not just college kids hawking venti lattes — so you know you’ll get a great cup of joe.

Kilpatrick’s Publick House — A true Irish bar with hearty fare and a good selection of beer and whiskey.

The Old Teahouse — This is where I honed my taste for bubble tea. The hours are strange, and it can get busy, but I love to grab a taro tea with tapioca balls, sit on the comfy couches and catch up on my gossip magazines.

Pixel Lounge — One of the best places in Ithaca to get you’re groove on with DJs spinning almost every night. There’s an emphasis on hip-hop and underground electronic music, so don’t expect top 40 jams here. And if you don’t feel like dancing, there are couches to lounge in and old school video games to play.

Ithaca Coffee Company — Contrary to the name, this coffee shop doesn’t just sell excellent java, they also have artisanal bottled beers and fancy cheese and chocolate from around the world.

Korova — This bar has it all: great beer, good music and board games in the back. Even though it’s in the middle of college-bar central, this place is great for the twenty-something set.

Six Mile Creek Vineyard — You’ll have to venture out of town for most of the wineries in the area, but this one is just minutes from downtown. Stop by for a tasting to whet your whistle before heading out to the other Finger Lakes vineyards.

Stay: Bed and breakfasts and other places to rest your head.

William Henry Miller Inn — This beautiful old brick-and-ivy mansion is located right downtown. Not only do they offer breakfast in the morning, but there’s also a gratis dessert buffet served in the evening for a sweet treat before you retire to your room.

La Tourelle Resort and Spa — In a town full of bed and breakfasts, this is as close as you’re going to get to a resort in Ithaca. The setting is beautiful with lots of hiking and walking trails in the back, and it’s attached to the classy August Moon Spa, if you’re in need of a relaxing treatment, and the amazing Simply Red Bistro, if you want to eat your meals on site.

Inn on Columbia — If you like bed and breakfasts but prefer a room that’s not cluttered with antiques, this modern-feeling B&B is for you. Be sure to enjoy the gourmet breakfast, too!

The Statler Hotel — Cornell is well known for its hospitality school, and the Statler Hotel is where the students hone their skills, which makes for extra friendly and eager service. The rooms have recently been remodeled and are now much more modern than they used to be. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re staying on Cornell’s historic and pristine campus.

The Inn at City Lights — Offbeat antiques fill the rooms, and the backyard is dotted with wild flowers. There’s also a barn in the back full of vintage furniture and knick-knacks for sale.

Rogues Harbor Inn — This large townhouse right outside of Ithaca has a bustling local bar and a homey restaurant on the ground floor, plus nine cozy rooms upstairs and homemade breakfast each morning.

Suggested For You


  • As a Cornell grad, I will second basically everything on this list! The restaurant selections were spot on. Maxie’s is my absolute favorite for date night, but the Pines, CTB and Shortstop for cheap food were frequently visited. If you travel out to Trumansburg, Hazelnut Kitchen is the best in the area.

    Only bar I would add is The Chapter House, looks like an old pub and filled with interesting people. At the edge of the Collegetown area, mix of locals, grad students with a few undergrads. Lots of beer on tap. Pool tables/darts. Big communal tables where people are friendly without trying to pick you up.

  • This is a town I’ve alwayswanted to visit!! Thanks for the guide! Russel Wright was from Ithica. I believe you can tour his studio as well at The Russel Wright Design Center. They also have
    summer programs for kids.

  • I live about an hour from Ithaca. This guide is a fantastic excuse for me to grab my husband and kiddos and spend a little more time there.
    I can attest to the fabulousness (made that up) of the Farmer’s Market. It is one of our favorite weekend morning destinations in the Summer.
    Great guide.

  • I love Design Sponge, and now love it even more since writing so positively about my adopted hometown! It has fabulous libraries and art venues, too.
    Just be forwarned – the cost of living is high compared to other cities in the region.

  • Once stayed at the William Henry Miller Inn and I highly recommend it. The rooms are charming and the food may be the best I have ever had at a B&B. Would love an excuse to go back and after reading this post I can see I missed a few things on my visit.

  • Great guide! Tip of the iceberg of an amazing and cool town. I am a biased alum, but honestly, I miss that place. I go back every summer to vacation in the Finger Lakes and it always includes a stop in Ithaca. Some things have changed, but a lot of great things have stayed the same. My tip: Head to the Dairy Bar on campus at Cornell for delicious fresh made ice cream and then a walk around the plantations.

  • So wonderful to see a city guide for Ithaca! Thanks Laura & Grace! Can’t wait to read through the post over lunch.

  • this is awesome. makes me really miss my childhood home! ithaca was the best place on earth to grow up. it’s magical as an adult, too :)

  • Ithaca College alumn, here! Wow, that really brought me right back to my college days. I miss it! Going to have to head back “home” real soon. Thanks for this!

  • Unfortunately Korova is no longer there (it has been replaced by Silky Jones–much more lounge-y). As a current Ithaca resident I would definitely add the Bandwagon Brewpub (http://www.bandwagonbeer.com/) and The Piggery to the list. Bandwagon is a great place for food and house-made beer, and The Piggery sells various cuts of pork as well as an array of sandwiches (including some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten).

  • I grew up an hour west and would frequently go on family outings to Taughannock Falls during the summer. Great to see Ithaca being represented!

  • OMG; this has made my Tuesday (my favorite D*S day as it is)!! Words cannot express my love for Ithaca. I attended Wells College in Aurora and spend summers in Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, so this is really exciting to see! I’d kill for a Mexican Bagel at CTB.

    Suggestions – this being a design blog, one thing I would suggest is a day trip visit Mackenzie-Childs in Aurora. I also recommend The Antler’s for carnivores

  • Great info!! Thank you! I’m about 40 mins away ( in skaneateles ny) I often go for the farmers market – but then head right back home- I’ll try to make a weekend of it ( once the snow melts!)

  • I braved 6 years in Syracuse, NY by making frequent trips down to Ithaca – its wonderful there! I feel compelled to mention that there are many wonderful wineries on the west side of Cayuga Lake (the Finger Lakes’ white’s deserve some recognition). Also a truly transcendent meal can be had at the Hazelnut Kitchen http://www.hazelnutkitchen.com/ not to far from Ithaca in Trumansburg. The menu & ambiance is very “design*sponge”!

  • I went to college at HWS and Ithaca was the greatest escape for outdoor fun (when it wasn’t freeeezing), live music and good beer. Ithaca is “gorges.” sorry. . . couldn’t resist! the hiking in the gorges really was a blast.

  • What happened to Ruloff’s? That was our bar when i was at Cornell.
    We lived in the most amazing apt with a terrace cantilevered over the Gorge- just saw that the building is for sale (ridiculous price though- http://www.ithacaestatesrealty.com/cgi/propertydetail.pl?class=housesale&key=3)

    I would highly recommend a drive up the lake to Aurora! Stay at the Aurora inn- completely renovated a few years ago by the woman who created American Girl. The decor is fabulous (and not Makenzie Childs which is also based in Aurora).

  • I also went to HWS (small world MThayer) and we would enjoy stopping at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg…not too far outside Ithaca for live music and decent food. A quirky find for sure!

  • Yes! This made my day- Ithaca is my favorite place. Excellent job on the guide. I second Lisa’s tip about the store Found. It’s a bit hard to find (it’s tucked behind Wegmans), but it’s really an incredible store. Erin Abbot- The Russel Wright Design Center is in Manitoga, NY. I wish it was in Ithaca though. :)

  • Ithaca Bakery has the best eclairs ever and I love Dennis’s ice cream at the farmer’s market. There is no other place like Ithaca. I miss that place so much!

  • I graduated from the Hotel School and worked at both the Statler and the Miller Inn while I was at Cornell. Taverna Banfi in the Statler is also manned by students. I designed the olive oil cake in my last semester and I think it’s still on the menu. So yes, I’m biased.
    Also some seconds on other comments – Carriage House Cafe brie-stuffed french toast, also their dinners are great. Ruloffs is such a classic old collegiate bar with lots of carved wood. CTB, oh man. And the Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg is well well worth the drive – most of what they do is local and executed beautifully. And one of my most favorite things about going to school in Ithaca was the Little Tree orchard in Newfield. Wow that was a lot of comment.

  • I am moving to Ithaca from Virginia this summer. Reading this guide and everyone’s comments has really helped me get excited about the move. I can’t wait to go to the suggested antique stores and redecorate my new place!

  • Yay! So excited to see this on here! I’m from Ithaca, graduated from Cornell, and now live in Central America. This post kind of made me homesick…I definitely agree with everything on this list!

  • Some great recommendations, but a few are missing. Another EXCELLENT coffee shop is The Shop, just north of the Commons on Seneca St. It’s run by a former Gimme! barista and their coffee is on par with anything you’ll get at Gimme. http://theshopcafe.com/
    I second the recommendation for Hazelnut Kitchen. Seasonal, local food that is heavenly, and better than Moosewood (sorry, Moosewood fans, but it’s true).

  • I grew up in Dryden (about 10-15 minutes from Ithaca). All of this is true. CTB is the BEST, and (aside from family) is what I miss most being in Boston. Every time I go in there I fill out a comment card suggesting that they open a location in Boston- we have a lot of colleges too!

  • I had a boyfriend in Ithaca for a long time and while the relationship didn’t last, my love for Ithaca has. I’ve since moved across the country and miss my visits, even the cold weather — mostly the opportunity to sit in front of a wood burning stove while drinking local wine and knitting. Ah, and the farmer’s market… enjoying a breakfast burrito and cider on the docks. Ithaca, one day you and I will reunite and it will be beautiful!

  • Really miss Ithaca! Don’t forget all of Ithaca’s awesome bookstores like Autumn Leaves and The Bookery. Also, the Apple Harvest festival was one of my favorite events to attend.

  • Please don’t edit this as there is always bad with good and there is so much truth in what I write here.
    Ithaca holds strong romantic ideals in my heart, and I have many, many happy memories of visiting there often, both for concerts, the Commons and the many cool eateries. But like almost all of NY state ( except in the small enclaves of the well-to-do nr. NYC ), it is a run down, messy town college town with struggling businesses ( many have left ) and hoards of self righteous students. Sadder still, there remains a huge segregation btwn the collegiate /educated section, the abundance of Green party tree-huggers ( who basically hold disdain for everybody if you don’t live off your own plot of land in a tent and aren’t vegan ) and the African Americans…the african americans in this town are basically shunned and live in poverty.
    Furthermore, it’s hideously grey, cold and depressing in the winter months!
    Lovely though in summer especially descending into the valley with the lake shimmering right at your feet, but then most of the NY state area in lovely in summer.

  • As a Cornell alum, I agree that Ithaca is depressing during the winter months and the rent is high, but there are definitely many places that I miss. The Deep Fried Russet Potato Wedges with Chipotle Aioli at Just a Taste and the sandwiches/bagels at CTB are so good. Best way to enjoy Ithaca in the summer is a wine tour or grab food at Wegmens and head to Taughannock Falls for a picnic. Can’t wait to go back for a visit!

  • Absolute musts in Ithaca:

    Cornell Lab of Ornithology – visit between April and June and see baby blue herons! Walk the magical forest trails.

    Museum of the Earth

    Finger Lakes Winery Tour

    Top of the Cornell clock tower for a chimes concert and view of the lake.

    PS – kimmi’s right on most accounts about Ithaca’s ‘dark side,’ but overwhelmingly, this town is filled with opportunity – right now, that’s the opportunity to throw-on some muck boots and trudge through the grey -white landscape and seek signs of Spring. I jest, but in all seriousness people here try to solve problems, try to get behind their local business, try to adopt the ideals they hold dear, and are often willing to acknowledge the racial segregation (which is more than many small towns can claim). It is a small town, very small when the students leave, and its not shiny, but it is grounded and earthy and I, for one, appreciate that.

  • I would also recommend checking out the new outdoor bar called “The Westy” on State St, right near Felicia’s Atomic Lounge and Gimme! Coffee. Live music every Friday, lots of great local beers and the game of Cornhole in the outdoor space. So glad Ithaca has so much to offer!

  • I loved reading all of the comments about my current town of Ithaca – I have to say that most of the people who “love it and can’t wait to return” aren’t currently living here. I agree with Kimmi Siren’s comment that with all of the summer ‘goods’ there is a lot of bad as well. I think people that end up in Ithaca as students are fortunate and perhaps have a bit of a distorted view of the town – after all they remain quite segregated from the rest of the community and live in a collegiate bubble. As someone who moved here with her grad school spouse, I’ve found it a challenge to even find steady work. But on the plus side…Ithaca is relatively close to a lot of cool cities so I leave as often as I can! ha ha. I’m looking forward to the 4 months that Ithaca is really at it’s best, but most of all I’m looking forward to leaving and never looking back.

  • As a Cornell grad and someone who loves Ithaca…what fun to read!! Just a few things I have to add:

    Cornell’s art museum’s current building is spectacular…designed by world renowned architect, I.M. Pei, it offers a gorgeous view both from inside and from around town, perched on the hillside. Just couldn’t not mention the architect on a design blog!

    I second the recommendations for the Chapter House (a Cornell institution with a great casual yet ivy-league feel), and the Rongovian Emabassy. Both really convey the long-term funky Ithaca vibe (and less trendy).

    The scenery everywhere is fantastic. A lot was mentioned in the guide, but you can’t forget Treman Park, Cayuga Lake itself (fantastic for sailing, windsurfing, or boating of any kind in the summer), and the Finger Lakes National Forest. Compared to Western cities, where else can you actually afford to live (even though it may be more $$ than the rest of upstate NY), have great dining and culture, and still be within minutes of almost every type of outdoor activity possible?

    Yes, it’s cold and grey in winter…but not any more so than much of the area. I don’t think it’s unusual or surprising that given very small size of the town, the U.S. and NY economy, it’s hard to find jobs outside of the academic institutions. Rather, it’s a miracle that such diversity, great food, and culture exist in such a small place in the middle of nowhere.

  • Oh! I have always heard it was in Ithaca. Oh well, my bad. I still really want to visit this amazing little town. Thanks for the correction. :)

  • I was so excited to see this post because I’m currently a Cornell student. While I love Collegetown I tend to forget the amazing restaurants outside of them. I second most of the stuff on the list and I will start trying the other stuff I haven’t done. I rarely comment on articles but this one really touched close to home.

  • Of course winters are dark – just try not to walk up the hill in a blizzard.
    And Ithaca may be various greenie things, but they’re doing better than other place, and people do actually try to do more work with the community.

    Also, I don’t think the Statler works as a normal hotel – it doesn’t really take outside guests, just ones on Cornell business & the like.

  • I live 45 minutes south of Ithaca, and have always spent summer days with friends CLIFF JUMPING in the gorges<3

    As soon as it gets warm out through the end of the summer, you are guaranteed to see droves of kids and 20 somethings at the gorges jumping, swimming, and lounging in the sun at 6 mile creek.

    Following up with a stroll through the commons, lunch, and a drink, these days are always my favorite of the summer (:

  • There’s a great new antique and vintage marketplace in Ithaca that opened in August. It’s call FOUND in Ithaca and it’s amazing! You’ll find it behind Wegmans in the industrial park in a big warehouse or online at http://foundinithaca.com/. FOUND is filled to the brim with the most amazing stuff – definitely a must-see, must-d0, must-shop kind of place!

  • YES! I love Ithaca. I was traveling in the area and specifically stopped to visit Moosewood. I couldn’t believe how stunning the scenery was. We stayed for a while and drove all around visiting a lot of the places you mentioned.

    My husband and I already decided that our son (who is only 3) will have to go to Cornell so we can move to Ithaca. – love that I.M. Pei building at Cornell.

  • I’m an IC alum as well, and loved my four years in Ithaca. Oh how I’m missing my Sunday morning CTB breakfasts! Not many people in my current hometown seem to know about Ithaca, but not too long ago, I saw a car with Maxie’s and Gimme! Coffee bumper stickers on my morning commute!

  • While this piece is good basic PR for Ithaca – it really lacks in substance and basic fact checking. As already noted in the comments there are places mentioned that no longer exist. Also since Ithaca is such a small town – this list reads like an Ithaca 101 and the guide is no true guide of the real ins and outs of this town. I’d like to see a more in depth guide than this.

  • I graduated from IC in May and this was great to read! Though I think all the above comments are valid, and Ithaca may not be for everyone, I still maintain that it’s a wonderful place to visit for a few days (probably in warmer weather)! Two things missing from this list are APPLEFEST which I think usually happens in the first weekend of October. And, much like the name implies, it really features apples and baked goods like apple pie and apple cider donuts (and of course plain old apple cider), though really it’s an excuse for all types of food vendors to set up tents and make wonderful-smelling and tasting goodies. My favorite is the giant lemon-shaped lemonade stand, because of the irony.

    Also, a recent addition to the food scene that I enjoy is a little shop called WAFFLEFROLIC. Again, as its name implies, it’s pretty much all about the waffles, from traditional to unusual. Definitely a good brunch spot in the commons!

  • No town is perfect. And while I know there is an enclave of “country clubbers” up on the hill, snobbish greenies and the college community has it’s pros and cons. There are still plenty of local people who love their hometown and do what they can to make it better. Hundreds of non profit organizations in Ithaca and Tompkins County thrive due to the generosity of the community and commitment to making Ithaca a better place for everyone.

    Ithaca is also home to several professional theatres. The Kitchen Theatre, a year round professional theatre in a newly renovated intimate performance space. http://www.kitchentheatre.org They do edgy more downtown “off Broadway” type stuff…and the Hangar Theatre used to be summer only, but with the completed winterizing renovations they are year round as well. The season is made up of more big musical summer stock kinds of fare.

    As far as the weather goes…it’s upstate New York…what did you expect? Take up skiing :)

  • Great trip down memory lane here, as a former Cornell grad–amazed to hear that the Rongovian Embassy still exists, thanks Amy! And I would add my favorite gorge/cliffside hike to the list: Upper Treman Falls. Winter sucks everywhere in the northeast, but there is nothing like spring and summer in Ithaca!

  • I lived in Ithaca for 6 yrs and can also recommend, for walking/ nature – the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Cornell Plantations and Arboretum. The Plantations grounds are huge – stop in to the shop for a map. And, is ABC cafe still there, on Stewart Ave? Check out their breakfast scene for live music, healthy food, and for the vibe. Cornell dairy bar or Purity for handmade ice cream, and the ground floor of the Dewitt Mall (where Moosewood also is) for Pastimes, a sweet little “antique” shop full of inexpensive treasures. Side trips to Aurora and Trumansburg are worth the time! Its such a beautiful region. Its true about the hidden poverty and social issues there as well, but having lived other places in this country, I don’t think it is uniquely worse than anywhere else rural. In fact, the city tends to attract certain populations of troubled or disadvantaged people, because there are so many conscientious citizens trying to provide extra services. Ithaca is also home to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery named Namgyal, that they say is the North American home of the Dalai Lama.

  • I live fairly close to Ithaca in Rochester, NY and there is a great alternative to a sit down meal whilst you are hitting the wine trails called the Copper Oven (http://www.slowfoodonthego.com/). Essentially they follow the seasons and prepare wood fired pizza using homegrown and locally sourced ingredients and call it “slow food on the go”. Quite ingeniously, they saw that there was a gap in the market down there for “fast food” and make quick pizza pies to go for those traveling in and around the wine trails. The oven is H-O-T and within a few minutes, the pie came out piping hot and ready for consumption. And, let me tell you, it was delicious, quick and convenient. Exactly what I needed after I had about 2-3 tastings beyond my personal wine tasting quota..

  • Love this!! I’m a Cornell Hotel School grad, so loving the Statler call-out. Also, this list makes me want to go back to Ithaca for a weekend trip–might have to plan it this summer! :)

    Agree with everything on this list..plus one more..Stella’s in Collegetown is the coolest restaurant/lounge with yummy wines, delicious burgers (that are 1/2 off between 4-6 PM!) and a really cool vibe. Thanks for this Laura! Well done!

  • I love design sponge and I am in agreement with many of your recommendations for places to eat and drink but honestly Ithaca is SO expensive! and not THAT nice . There are so many other friendlier and more reasonable places to visit. I wouldn’t recommend Ithaca to anyone. The food is great at Dewitt – but breakfast will cost you $15 at least and it is in a dingy basement- no sunlight- really- depressing- sorry. Even Moosewood café is in a semi basement – yuck. Gimme!coffee has the most sterile, laptop filled atmosphere with the rudest, slowest service I have ever encountered – but yes their coffee is very good. It is great to come here as a student and leave – but I do not recommend visiting/living/working here. Rental housing is unbelievably expensive and the old beautiful homes (from what I have seen over the years) have been totally trashed inside and renovated so poorly. I find the downtown to be super depressing with small businesses shutting down and the big box stores on highway 13 taking over. There are great cities (sort of) close by but Ithaca does not have a train – so you will be stuck on buses. The lake here is surrounded by highway with horrible pedestrian access. It is a totally segregated town – and yes the rich people live up on the hill- it is so embarrassing. I can’t stand it here – and yes I only live here part time and yes I am moving asap and cannot wait.

  • Yay! An Ithaca guide! Heading there tomorrow for a small vacation – and just thought I’d pop in to see if there was an Ithaca guide. So happy to find this!

    Love the new D*S layout and functionality, Grace!

  • Thanks for this wonderful guide! I live in Chicago now but grew up in Ithaca, and worked at the Solaz Burritos booth growing up (the Solaz Burrito man is my dad.) I love D*S, and I’ll be sending him this post. He’ll be thrilled that his burritos found their way onto this list.

    If anyone finds their way to the market, be sure to grab a burrito and say hello!

  • Check out Saigon Kitchen on State Street. The owner is friendly and always there during dinner, the food (especially the pho) is delicious, and the prices are cheap! It’s usually very crowded and they don’t take phone reservations, so plan on a 10-15 minute wait on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s worth it!

  • Oh, Ithaca, I love you so. I grew up there and loved reading this post! Restaurant list is spot on. Viva, Maxie’s and Cafe Dewitt are not to be missed. (One update tho, the Korova is now called Silky Jones.). I mention Ithaca often on my food blog http://meatsandsweets.net/

    Also, Cornell Dairy Bar on the Cornell Campus scoops ice cream made by staff and students from Cornell’s own dairy farm.

    Sheldon Hill, on the commons, is possibly the best (and most affordable) antique and vintage accessory shop in the world.