I’m about to drop some family vacation knowledge on you.
Here it goes!
One of the best family vacations that you can go on that won’t break your bank account is to Rochester, NY.
I’m completely serious when I say that. I’ve been making the drive upstate to Rochester for 10 years. The drive is about 5 ½ hours from New York City, which is a good amount to consider our trips, “Road Trips,” but without too much road in the trip. There’s a wide variety of things to do for the family and every type of vacation is available There’s plenty of outdoor activities from hiking to putt-putt, museums galore, and great restaurants.
In 2015, Letchworth State Park was voted the Readers Choice Award for the Best State Park in the United States. Letchworth State Park stretches out over 14,350 gorgeous acres. The highlight of the park is a 107-foot waterfall, where visitors can swim below in the nature-made pools. The dip is especially nice after a hot hike around the State Park. Hiking isn’t too strenuous and kids can maneuver the trails easily. It is a day activity and families should plan on having it as the only thing on the agenda for that day.
Besides hiking and swimming, visitors can also go whitewater rafting, visit the nature center, kayak, and play at the playground.
There are plenty of other fun places to hike that are lower key; such as Highland Park, Seneca Park, Genesee Valley Park, and the Erie Canalway Trail.
The great museums make Rochester a premier place to bring kids. Your kids would have a great time even if all you did was go to museums the entire vacation. Kids can focus on play, learn science through hands-on activities, and explore their artistic talents while looking at fantastic pieces of art.
The Strong Museum of Play: The crown jewel of children’s museums is the Strong Museum of Play. I’ve taken my kids to children’s museums all over the world and The Strong is hands down the best one. Kids can get lost in all kinds of play by becoming their favorite superheroes, walk through a fantasy land, solve mysteries, become pilots, play video games, learn how people played long ago, and shop in a child-sized grocery store.
I want to focus on that last one a little more. For me, the best room in The Strong is the Wegman’s grocery store. Kids (and their adults) can walk the aisles of a mini grocery store and ring up their own groceries. All four of my kids have loved this area of the museum the most over the 10 years I’ve been visiting.
Don’t let the teens sit this museum out if you are planning on taking their younger siblings. There are plenty of video games for them to play and they’ll enjoy walking down the aisles of the Toy Hall of Fame with you while all of you remember the toys you used to play with.
Rochester Museum and Science Center: The Rochester Museum and Science Center is another museum that I’ve been visiting for a long time. The museum is huge and covers all areas of science and since all the exhibits are hands-on; the museum makes learning fun.
They cover more than science in the museum. Rochester has a rich history with influential citizens, such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. The lives of the historical figures and their fight for equality are storied in the museum, along with information about others that fought with them or continued on after their deaths.
Genesee Country Village and Museum:
I’m a big believer that the best way for kids to learn about the past is to take them to living museums. Genesee Country Village and Museum is the largest living museum in New York. The village offers visitors the chance to learn how people lived in the 1800s. The village is gorgeous and you can’t take a poor photo in any direction you shoot.
There are many art museums to visit as well, such as the Memorial Art Gallery and the Rochester Contemporary Art Center. My favorite art museum in Rochester is ARTISAN Works. ARTISAN Works is a unique art museum, with exhibits that are fun for all ages to observe and walk through.
Seabreeze: Seabreeze is an amusement park that was named the 22nd Best Amusement Park in the United States by TripAdvisor. The amusement park isn’t overwhelming large and the lines aren’t too long. We broke our day in half by spending the first part going on roller coasters and dry rides. We spent the second half in the water park. When I asked my kids what their favorite thing we did on vacation was, they all agreed Seabreeze was the best.
Seneca Park Zoo: I knew little about the Seneca Park Zoo before I visited. This trip was the first time I took my family, and we loved our time. Near the entrance is a huge play area with ropes to climb on and run across. We had a great time before we saw our first animal. They give the animals a lot of space to roam and visitors can take part in feedings and can get up close to the animals. The zoo isn’t too big, which means kids will still have energy after leaving.
Parkside Whispering Pines Miniature Golf: Parkside is the oldest mini golf course in the United States and is on the National Register of Historical Places. Being in NYC, I have neglected my kids by not playing enough miniature golf. We struggled at the beginning of our game, but got better as we went along. Thankfully, there were 18 holes to polish up our game. Next door of the golf course is the Parkside Diner, which is a great place to eat breakfast or lunch.
In all my years of visiting Rochester, I had yet to visit Susan B. Anthony’s home. We remedied that on our recent vacation. The tour of the house takes about an hour and reservations are required. The docent did a great job by explaining Anthony’s life and dissecting some of the public mistakes she made, which I appreciated. While touring the home, we got a detailed look at Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass’s friendship. After our tour, we drove to their Graves at Mount Hope Cemetery and paid our respects.
We ate very well while in Rochester and were full by the time we reached our hotel. We ate delicious Bar-B-Que at Dinosaur BBQ, mouth-watering steaks at Michael’s Valley Grill, yummy breakfast and lunch at the Parkside Diner, a unique and fun eating experience at The Playhouse// Swillburger, and some of the best donuts I’ve ever had at Donuts Delite and Boxcar Donuts.
I’ve gone on many winery tours over the years in the Finger Lakes Region, but this time I visited Black Button Distilling. My favorite souvenir from Rochester was a bottle of their Bottle in Bond Bourbon Whiskey. I’m a big bourbon fan and enjoyed learning about Black Button’s distilling craft and the care and passion that goes into their distillery.
I’m not a big shopper when I go on vacation, but I did enjoy perusing the aisles at the City of Rochester Public Market. You can do your grocery shopping and buy local produce, or buy souvenirs and products from local artisans. The market is huge, so give yourself some time to walk the aisles. There are many food stands and food trucks to purchase your lunch. I recommend going on a weekend morning, buy breakfast at Boxcar Donuts, and then lunch at the market.
We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton, which gave us easy access to the highway to take us into Downtown Rochester. Rochester is easy to maneuver and our hotel was at a great location. I judge all the hotels I stay in by how much my kids love the hotel pool and the indoor pool is great for kids. Like all parents, I want my kids to fall asleep easily on vacation to get an early start the next day. The DoubleTree indoor pool did just that. And the water is heated, so I didn’t mind jumping in with them.
Tips for Visiting Rochester:
My advice is to plan and decide what you’re going to see on what days. I’m used to things being open late in NYC and every day. I sometimes forget not other cities are the same way. Check each place’s website and find out the hours; including the restaurants. We stopped at Swillburger one day and found out they were closed on Tuesdays and had to change up our plans.
Don’t rush your kids. The museums and Seabreeze require an enormous chunk of the day. You might need to devote a day to each one.
I want to reiterate once again that if you’re traveling with kids, Rochester is the perfect place. You can take an entire week or just a weekend. Either way, you and the kids will have a great time.
More Rochester stories are coming soon.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Rochester and compensated for this article. The story and experiences are my own.