Travel

Rochester, NY City Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

rochester--city-guide2

Known by many as the city that created the Kodak camera, Rochester, NY has often hidden under the shadow of its neighbor, Buffalo. But, as Rochester-native Jenny Rae Siplo puts it best, “Rochester has it going on… Our city is a hidden gem!”

In recent years, Rochester has transformed into an eclectic city filled with youth, passion and local pride — and one which brings together an urban core with flowery countrysides, something flower farmer Jenny knows a thing or two about. “I spend my days growing the prettiest, specialty-cut flowers in the city while trying to do good for the environment,” she shares. Today, Jenny is doing good by us and sharing a diverse and jam-packed city guide of her hometown, including its top eateries and the best shops to buy furniture. –Sabrina

Photography by Jenny Rae Siplo

PLACES TO EAT

Abbott’s Frozen Custard
Home to Rochester is probably the best frozen custard in the nation. In the summer months and on warm fall days, locals flock to their nearest Abbott’s to get a cone of something sweet. There are a bunch all over the city — a few popular locations include one on Park Ave. and one by Charlotte Beach.

Swillburger
Fresh to the South Wedge, Swillburger is a ball of fun, literally. This burger joint and bar is also home to 25 classic arcade games and pinball machines — including my personal favorite, Ms. Pacman. If laid-back and fun is what you’re looking for, head here. Burgers stop being served at 11 pm on the weekend, but the bar is open until 2 am.

Swillburger-The Playhouse

Scratch Bakeshop
If you have a sweet tooth like me — and nothing will satisfy it like a freshly made cookie or a deliciously flavored french macaron — be sure to pop your head into Scratch. They always have a great selection and they offer allergen-free offerings as well. Their little shop is in the great Park Avenue area, so take a stroll while you eat something scrumptious.

Good Luck
Looking to be a little upscale for dinner? Walking into Good Luck feels like you are walking into a restaurant in the Meatpacking District of New York City. It has a great vibe, really cool bar area, and a solid menu. The food is meant to be shared, so be sure to grab a friend. My personal favorite is The Good Luck Burger, but make sure you make a reservation for dinner!

McCann’s Local Meats
In the up-and-coming area of the South Wedge, McCann’s Local Meats is a new gem. All of their meat is super fresh, sourced locally, and is hormone- and antibiotic-free. Their solid selection of sandwiches and burgers will leave your mouth watering. Did we mention the bacon? Try their bacon breakfast sandwich and you won’t even need to eat lunch.

McCanns Local Meats

Pittsford Wegmans
Some people may think I’m crazy for recommending a grocery store as a top place to eat, but hear me out. Wegmans is, and if not, should be, the top grocery store in the entire country. It has a special spot in the heart of almost every New Yorker. You can peruse through the prepared foods section (heavenly), hit up the cheese counter for some delightfully good cheese samples (at back of the store) or you can even eat at their attached restaurant, The Burger Bar. You can’t go wrong either way, but you just must experience it. Oh, and did I mention their dessert counter?

Nick Tahou Hots
I may not recommend this necessarily as your first meal of the day, but more likely your last. Don’t be put off by the name… or the way it looks, but the Garbage Plate is a trademark of Rochester. Probably the most requested meal after a night of boozing — or even if you are just craving a really full belly and you need an excuse to not do much for the next few hours. A plate of all your favorite concoctions; mac salad, cheeseburger, hot dog, french fries, tater tots, toppled with their famous meat sauce. Not exactly a fancy place as I think it looks the exact same as when it opened, but don’t let that concern you. As a bonus, it is right near the Rochester Abandoned Subway.

Nick Tahou Hots

Half Pint Pub
My personal favorite, this small (very small) bar looks like a mini house and is seated in one of coolest areas of the city. It may feel a little too tight for comfort on a busy night in the winter, but in the summer sitting outside on Park Avenue having a drink while doing some people-watching at Half Pint is bliss.

Half Pint Pub

Tap and Mallat
A cool pub in the South Wedge, Tap and Mallet is low key and has a great atmosphere. Good place to hang and get yummy, unique pub food if you are in the mood. Solid selection of beers and wine. Not the kind of place that you have to scream over other people to hear the person next to you — yay!

PLACES TO SHOP

Abode – South Wedge
This charming little boutique is known for their great gift and home selection in addition to their stellar mid-century furniture collection. Walk away from visiting Abode, and you will be ready to redecorate your entire home.

Abode

Little Button Craft and Press – South Wedge
Walk into Little Button and you’ll know why I recommend coming here. It’s the sweetest little gift shop that has an eclectic array of gifts and goodies made by many local Rochester artisans. Looking for something to remind you of your trip to Rochester? There are lots of little Rochester-proud goodies in this local shop!

Hedonist Artisan Chocolates – South Wedge
Do you love chocolate? Say no more and go no further. Well, actually just go here. The most scrumptious chocolate truffles and caramels in Rochester.

Hedonist Artisan Chocolates

Thread – South Wedge
A small clothing shop that carries great clothing lines and some Rochester gear. In perfect walking distance of Abode, Little Button and Hedonist Chocolates!

Thread

Park Avenue
If you have 30 minutes and the weather is right, take a stroll down Park Avenue. Too many shops and restaurants to list (although some are listed above), Park Ave speaks to Rochester. Very artistic, hip and fresh. I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Hart’s Local Grocers
Now you must be thinking, “so, she’s recommending another grocery store?” Hear me out. Once a well known downtown grocery chain up until the 40s, Hart’s has made a comeback and is now a local favorite. They aim to serve as much local product as they can and they even offer a grocery delivery service. Once a month they have a local vendor market at lunch where you can eat enough food samples to last you until dinner.

Brighton Farmers’ Market
The less commonly heard of market next to the Rochester Public Market, the Brighton Market has earned some credit. The market focuses on having vendors who are local and grow sustainably-produced food and goods. Have I mentioned that there are food trucks involved? My personal favorite is Le Petite Poutine. The outside market is on Sundays, running from the end of May through October.

PLACES TO STAY

The Ellwanger Estate
I haven’t talked much about the Mount Hope Neighborhood yet, but if you love a neighborhood rich in character and history, consider staying at The Ellwanger Estate. A so-called “urban retreat,” guests are welcome to the home’s gardens and courtyards during their stay.

The Edward Harris House
Located between the beautiful avenues of East and Park, The Edward Harris House is a historic inn situated in a near-perfect location. This sweet home is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a great deal of charm within its walls.

The Inn on Broadway
A 25-room boutique inn on Broadway St. in Rochester, The Inn on Broadway is a great place to stay downtown. Much better than the out-of-date, large hotels you’ll find downtown, this Inn is also adjoined by the Tournedos Steakhouse Restaurant.

Bristol Harbor
Now, you may think this one is a stretch, but hear me out (again). One of the great perks of Rochester is that we are essentially right next to the Finger Lakes Region of NY. Aka small cute towns, antique shops, and winery upon winery. Bristol Harbor is a lodge located in one of our neighboring towns of Canandaigua, NY. While it is about 40 minutes away from downtown Rochester, it is a great access point to the Finger Lakes Region. Also, the views are incredible.

The Del Monte Lodge Renaissance Rochester Hotel & Spa
Located in the nice Rochester sublet town of Pittsford, NY, The Del Monte Lodge is a hotel with a small feel to it. Prime location as Pittsford is a cute town to explore and is located on the Erie Canal. Only about 12 minutes from downtown Rochester.

PLACES TO VISIT/SEE

George Eastman Museum
George Eastman, founder of Kodak, helped make our city what it is today. He left a tremendous legacy and he is still very prominent around the city today. If it is a nice day outside and you are looking for a spot to sit and relax, I recommend the George Eastman Museum’s Gardens. Located on the beautiful East Ave. among many other beautiful homes, this is where George Eastman once resided and is now is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives. You have to pay to tour the museum, but you are welcome to take your own self-guided stroll through the gardens for free, which are a true show. Bring your camera because the landscaping in stunning.

George Eastman Musuem Gardens

Cobb’s Hill Park and Reservoir
Known to all the runners in the city and families that like to picnic and walk their dog, Cobbs Hill is a great stop. Drive up to the huge water reservoir to park and then take a nice long walk or nap in the grass. It is very peaceful and provides some of the best views of the city.

Cobbs Hill Park

Cobbs Hill Park (2)

Charlotte Beach
Charlotte Beach, also known as Ontario Beach Park — located on our very own Great Lake, Lake Ontario — is probably the most popular beach in our city. Grab an Abbott’s custard, walk the pier and play some pickup volleyball. For the kiddies there are a few playgrounds, and in the summer a working antique carousel!

Strong National Museum of Play
Looking to become the best parent of year? Don’t have kids but want to go back to childhood? Have a real affinity for arcade games? Welcome to the Strong National Museum of Play! I don’t even think I can summarize how cool it really is. But seriously, a kid could spend their entire vacation in here. Their exhibits are amazing, interactive, and just serious fun. Don’t miss it! They are open all week but have shorter hours on Sundays.

The Little Theatre
The Little Theatre is our Rochester home of current American indie and foreign films. With a cool art deco flare, the small theatre has been around since the 1920s and is known to almost everyone in Rochester. Located on Monroe Ave, they have showings throughout the week and Mondays are only $5 a ticket!

The Little Theatre

The Memorial Art Gallery
Also knows as the MAG, the Memorial Art Gallery was founded in 1913 and is the main hub for art in Rochester. The museum always has great exhibitions, and my personal favorite is the Italian Baroque Organ — which is played by students from the Eastman School of Music 1-3 pm on Sundays. The sound is truly incredible.

Genesee Brew House
Lucky you, your favorite Genny beer is home to our wonderful city. Located next to the scenic High Falls of Rochester, Genesee Brew House provides killer views, food and brew. You can tour the brewery and get a flight of some delicious brews. If you happen to be visiting the brewery in the winter, try their Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter — made with local Hedonist Artisan Chocolates. It will blow your mind! Also visit during the day so you can really get a view of the high falls.

Genesee Brew House

High Falls Bridge

The Corn Hill Neighborhood
Rochester’s oldest neighborhood, Corn Hill is nestled right close to the Genesee River in their own nook of Rochester. Grab a cup of coffee and either take a drive or walk through the pretty Corn Hill streets peppered with beautiful historic houses.

Suggested For You

Comments

  • The description of the George Eastman Museum here is regrettable. GEM is a world-class photography and film museum and home to one of the most important visual arts archives, film preservation centers, and photographic technology collections in the world. It regularly hosts compelling, must-see photo exhibitions and screens brilliantly-programmed film series every year-round. No doubt its gardens are lovely, but it is truly unfair for this guide to brush aside a visit to the museum itself because “you have to pay” to tour it. (You also have to pay to visit the Memorial Art Gallery and Strong Museum, but those don’t come with such discouraging caveats here!) It is also important to note that more than half of the exquisite gardens actually do require museum admission to access.

    It is unlike Design*Sponge to discourage supporting arts and heritage organizations, especially ones that provide such rewarding experiences for visitors. If you do truly consider the George Eastman Museum an important place to visit in Rochester—and it most definitely is!—I suggest modifying the language here to be more positive or at least neutral.

    • Ben

      I’m sorry if the wording felt that way to you, that was not our intention in the least.

      The museum, and gardens, are directly under a heading that says “Place to visit”, so the post is in no way suggesting should not visit or pay the fee. It merely clarifies that you have to pay to tour the museum, which is important to note as many of our commenters get upset when we don’t indicate something has a fee.

      If we left something off of a list or said, “Don’t go, you have to pay”, I would most definitely understand feeling we were being discouraging, but I feel strongly that this wording is not suggesting anyone avoid the museum in any way. We would never, and have never, “discouraged supporting arts and heritage organizations”.

      Grace

  • What a fantastic guide on Rochester! Having lived here all my life, it’s refreshing to see my hometown from the perspective of my neighbors. Yes, we have all that to offer and so much more. I like the analogy that we are a “hidden gem” because indeed we are and when allowed, we shine so brightly. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • I moved to Rochester from Boston five years ago, and still love it. I think Rochester has a great density of cultural assets for a city its size – the Xerox Jazz Festival, Wall Therapy public art, and many others that didn’t make this list! Thanks for sharing our city with the world.

  • I absolutely love this post! I spent my first 15 years living in a Rochester suburb and you had me at Abbotts! It’s one of my first stops every time I visit. Well that and the nearest Wegmans!!

  • What a great guide! I missed out on the special holiday stout last December at the Genessee Brew House and will NOT do that again!

  • For cheap eats I HIGHLY recommend Dogtown Hots on Monroe Ave. Amazing, and tons to of combos to choose from. They also have meat-free options for vegetarians.

    I loved reading this post, as a Rochestarian it’s always fun to see the city featured!

  • I was a grad student in Rochester twenty-five years ago and this post makes me feel such nostalgia – even the images of piled up snow. Was worried that the loss of Kodak had negatively impacted the city, but it sounds like it’s even hipper now. One of my first dates with my future husband was at a Wegmans. It’s just that good. None of the supermarket chains here in the south even come close to its fabulousness!

  • What a surprise to see my hometown on my favorite blog this morning! Love it. Those are all of my favorite places. A couple more to sneak in: the Highland conservatory is great for a break from winter (fee), Cure is a hip Americana restaurant, and Glen Edith has the best lattes (Lavender Cardamom, Maple, Vanilla Bean). For a date night we especially like free concerts at the Eastman Theater and gelato, coffee, and crepes on the canal in Pittsford.

    For those with dietary needs, check out the Owl House, Simply Crepes, and Get Caked.

    • My son and his girlfriend live and work in Rochester. They both got jobs there after graduating from SUNY Geneseo just south of Rochester. They love it there! They have taken me to the OWL House because they are vegetarians and I have to eat gluten free. It is really a cute restaurant. There is a great food coop near there also. I was surprised at how much there is to offer in Rochester, NY! Great town!

  • This is a great list, but as a former student at the Eastman School of Music, it makes me sad you don’t recommend a trip to the Eastman Theater to catch one of the many, excellent concerts. The theater itself is spectacular, as well.

  • I was so surprised to see my hometown on Design Sponge! Just a small correction: The Little Theater is on East Ave, rather than Monroe :) Thanks so much for putting this together; I haven’t lived in Roch for over 20 years, but my mother still lives there and I am now going to explore some of these newer places the next time I visit; I can’t wait!

  • I don’t return to my hometown often enough but when I do I’m thrilled to see so much creativity happening on all levels. Within walking distance to the Eastman House and the MAG is the School of the Arts and small, independent spots such as Luna Gallery 216 in the Anderson Arts Building. One can make a day or two of the area and leave feeling inspired.

  • Nice to see Rochester featured! I moved here from Philadelphia 25 years ago for my first job after college and I’ve never left. The winters are a little tough but there is so much here in such a manageable city that it’s worth it. There are hip/artsy areas, upscale areas, and plenty of culture. People are always surprised when I take them around. There is so much more than this guide featured like the Erie Canal, lots of microbreweries, summer festivals, boutiques, and restaurants. I am disappointed that the pictures only showed ROC with snow…it’s absolutely beautiful in the spring/summer/fall. And since it’s right on Lake Ontario, it would have been nice to see some pictures of the beach and boating, which is so prevalent here in the summer.

  • Wegmans’ “dessert counter” is more than just that, it’s called The Patisserie for a good reason: it’s a full-on patisserie with recipes developed by French-trained pastry chefs!

    That said, this is a very good quick rundown of some of Rochester’s many bright spots!

  • I loved this post! I graduated from St. John Fisher College 6 years ago and miss this amazing city so much – it’s great to see it profiled on Design Sponge!

  • Great article! Many of these are my favorites as well. I also recommend the Rochester Museum & Science Center to people looking for cool places to visit in Rochester—especially when there’s a 21+ After Dark event.

  • Fantastic article! Thanks so much for mentioning us! As a Rochester Native, who moved away and then moved back I can say it is one of the greatest little cities. I am proud to live and work in the South Wedge and hope others come discover this area too!
    Thanks!

  • Great overview!

    One of my favorite places to visit and get a good, safe walk in is the beautiful Mt Hope Cemetery — a remarkable Victorian-era destination with 350,000 graves and 14+ miles of walkable roads….Susan B Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and more are buried here in this glacier-constructed landscape. Beautiful. Check it out.

  • Please note that Bristol Harbor, is a hotel and a golf course but is not a ski resort. Bristol Mountain, a year round adventure destination in the heart of the Finger Lakes region includes a ski resort, a nine course aerial adventure park with over 135 tree to tree obstacles, and a new three hour, guided zip line canopy tour. http://www.bristolmountain.com
    http://www.bristolmountainadventures.com

    These attractions are a short ten minute drive from Bristol Harbour but are not share ownership.

    Bristol Mountain is also affiliated with two Canandaigua based attractions: Roseland Waterpark and Roseland Wake Park (the only cable wake boarding park in the entire Northeast U.S.)
    wwwroselandwaterpark.com
    http://www.roselandwakepark.com

  • Not to mention one of the best areas for quality Ultimate Frisbee leagues (www.rocultimate.org) and disc golf courses (www.grdgc.org)!

  • I grew up in Rochester and love coming back to visit with my kids. One family friendly attraction to consider is Seabreeze. It is a simple, old fashioned amusement park that my whole family adores. It’s not too expensive, it relatively small and manageable and hardly ever too crowded. While it’s probably not that exciting for thrill seekers it is great fun for younger kids (and their parents that are too old to thrill seek!). It’s also fairly close to Charlotte Beach so our usual trip is a day at Seabreeze followed by dessert at Abbotts (seriously the best!) and a stroll by the lake. It’s a perfect summer day in my book. Thanks so much for a fun write up of my hometown!

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