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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.