Road Tripping to Rochester, New York

Written by: Brandon Sousa

On the other side of Lake Ontario, one of America’s first boomtowns is undergoing a renaissance of change booming with arts and culture, history, craft breweries and every festival you can imagine. Welcome to Rochester, New York.

The Perfect Road Trip

My friends at BMW Group Canada made sure that this road trip across the border was made in style with their new 2018 BMW 440i xDrive Cabriolet. The metallic blue exterior complemented by the opal white merino leather interior, and the hard-top down, turned quite a few heads as it cruised through upstate New York. The BMW 4 Series launched in September 2013 and its success is due to its aesthetic appeal, enhanced technology and unquestionable performance.

But every road trip needs the right route, making the drive part of the vacation. Lonely Planet’s New York & The Mid-Atlantic’s Best Trips is exactly the kind of guide you need before you head on your way. I opted for their Niagara Falls & Around itinerary since I was crossing at the Queenston Lewiston Bridge. Lonely Planet points out the perfect photo opportunities and must-sees along the route, finishing off at Letchworth State Park.

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park follows the course of the Genesee River through a deep gorge and with multiple waterfalls. It’s distinct gorge walls has earned the nickname the “Grand Canyon of the East”. Its three prominent waterfalls attract domestic and international tourists alike.

George Eastman Museum

Rochester is known for being the home of entrepreneur, philanthropist and pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film, George Eastman. Although Eastman was born in 1854 in Waterville, New York, he moved to Rochester in 1860 making the city his home until he passed in 1932.

The Colonial Revival mansion built between 1902 and 1905 served as Eastman’s primary resident until the end of his life. Today, it is home to the George Eastman Museum which houses a collection of over 400,000 photographs from 14,000 photographers, over 16,000 items of camera technology, over 26,000 motion picture titles and 3.5 million publicity stills and posters. As the world’s oldest photography museum founded in 1947, the museum boasts one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries of photographic books, manuscripts and journals.

Also onsite is the Dryden Theatre, built in 1951 after a donation from George and Ellen Dryden, George Eastman’s niece. It is the only theatre in the world equipped for the projection of original nitrate film and one of the few in the world still equipped to screen nitrate prints.

The Strong Museum

This a museum for all ages, despite being an entire, interactive museum devoted solely to playing! The Strong National Museum of Play opened in 1982 with the personal collection of Rochester native Margaret Woodbury Strong. It is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the International Centre for the History of Electronic Games, and the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.

To paint you a picture, this museum is filled with fun, games, activities and nostalgia for all ages. From your parents’ model trains to Tickle-Me Elmo, there is at least one toy that will bring back a flood of memories from your childhood.

On top of their extensive collection of toys and games, The Strong Museum also allows guests to explore the worlds of Sesame Street, the Berenstain Bears, Reading Adventureland and the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden.

Memorial Art Gallery

The Memorial Art Gallery is Rochester’s mini-MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City). With more than 5,000 years of art history, the gallery’s collection contains more than 12,000 pieces and is known as the best-balanced collection in the state outside of New York City. Pieces from George Eastman’s private collection grace the walls of the former University of Rochester building, along with famous works by Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Homer and Cassatt. But my absolute favourite is Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Man in an Armchair, which captures guests’ attention.

If you’re visiting Rochester, you must see the portrait of Nathaniel Rochester (1824) by John James Audubon. As the city’s namesake, Nathaniel Rochester was an American Revolutionary War soldier and land speculator who founded the city.

Rochester Public Market

Established in 1905, local vendors offer their fresh produce, local delicacies, specialty items and fresh baked goods every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Rochester Public Market. Start your visit with a cup of java at Cure and walk the boundless stalls searching for great, local deals. And with avocados for only $1 each, anyone can save a fortune (enough to buy a house).

With that cup of coffee in hand, try some of Duke’s Donuts dusted in sugar; a weakness for anyone with a sweet tooth. Or erase that lingering hangover with a fresh breakfast sandwich from Scott’s II; highly recommended by Rochester locals.

Sam Patch Erie Canal Tours

Rochester being the city of festivals, the Erie Canal on the day of my visit was host to two major events, the Paddle and Pour Arts & Music Festival, and the Pittsford Regatta. This bustling waterfront is home to numerous shops, restaurants and bars which makes it the perfect communal space for everyone in the neighbourhood.

While you’re there, hop on a Sam Patch Erie Canal Tour to get the perfect snapshot of the waterfront. The tour on a replica 1800’s packet boat, takes you along the canal and through the Lock 32 at Clover Street while an onboard host narrates the history and facts of the area. With travellers luck, the Sam Patch ride allows for a great view of the Pittsford Regatta happening that day.

Ravenwood Golf Club

A favourite for many Canadians, Ravenwood is an award-winning 18-hole course just south of Rochester. Designed by Robin Nelson and opened in 2002, Ravenwood is considered to be the top public golf course in the area and is perfect for all golfers regardless of skill-level. Their affordable green-fees also makes this course accessible to all, even when you factor in the currency exchange rate. Keep your eye out for the 5th hole which allows golfers to let their drive rip and earn a birdie on their scorecard.

A Beer Lover’s Heaven

Photo Credit @geneseebrewery

The Genessee Brewing company was established in 1878 across from High Falls in the heart of the city. The brew house holds exhibits, a pilot craft brewery and pub-style restaurant – not to mention, is the perfect place to taste the suds. It was created to capture and share the long history of one of the largest and oldest continually operating breweries in America. Although the Genesee Beer is it’s flagship, their Cream Ale captures the hearts of many locals, winning two consecutive gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival.

Rohrbach Brewing Company is Rochester’s original craft brewery founded in 1991. Their beer hall is a stone’s throw from the Rochester Public Market, featuring a line-up of 12 hand-crafted ales and lagers in a rustic-industrial building that’s filled with a hundred-plus years of Rochester history.

Roc Brewing began with a home brewing kit and a couple of beer enthusiasts, growing into one of the most notable craft breweries in the city. Their taproom not only allows beer lovers to enjoy their wears, but to connect with fellow community members for happy hour or on a casual weekend. Try one of their Tot Waffles to complement a pint or a flight to round out the entire experience. I recommend the “Roc” Tot Waffle which is their take on the famous Rochester garbage plate.

Writer’s Note: This trip was in-part sponsored by BMW Group Canada and Visit Rochester through in-kind services. All opinions expressed are those of the writer.