Big fun in little Sterling, NY

Every summer for six weekends, the little town of Sterling, NY, receives loads of visitors for the Sterling Renaissance Festival at 15385 Farden Road. The festival grounds are converted to the town of “Warwick” in jolly Olde England, and there is entertainment for all. The Festival is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm, and this year the final weekend is August 17th – 18th. There are comedy shows, musical performances (using old instruments), parades, jousting (performed live on horses and semi-realistic, but not bloody), medieval games (such as throwing a tomato at a loud-mouthed fool), souvenir vendors and food/drink for purchase (including the popular roasted turkey legs), as well as the extra food and entertainment options of the Queen’s Tea and the Royal Feast. The vendors offer generally high quality products and items that aren’t easy to find elsewhere. If you like the idea of pretending to slip back in time, this festival will be fun to visit.

For seniors with mobility challenges, be aware the terrain is hilly and not always paved. Handicapped parking and bathrooms are available, but with the size of the fairgrounds and the nature of the terrain, it would be challenging to use a walker or to ride in a hand-pushed wheelchair. Even a motorized wheelchair may offer limited access due to the grassy/rocky nature of some walkways.

If you bring children, there are a few important things of which to be aware. First of all, some of the performances have content ratings, in that they are clearly inappropriate for young children. When you enter, you will receive an event schedule that will list all events and some will be marked as appropriate for older guests only. In addition, some of the content of the other shows may be inappropriate but will go over the heads of most young kids. Middle school-aged children may pick up on some of the humor, so be prepared to explain a few things if you watch a comedy show.

There are little tricks to saving money, but I’m not aware of any way to do the Festival “on the cheap.” Be prepared to spend money if you go. Here are a couple of money-saving tips:

  1. Get on their e-mail list. They will give you a heads up about discounted ticket pricing if you purchase before June 1st. Advance tickets are good for any weekend day of the fair.
  2. If you really love the Festival and plan to go at least six times, get a season pass. That will save you money. Otherwise, a season pass doesn’t really make sense.
  3. Bring food and drinks in your car, but leave them there. No food or drinks are allowed to be brought in to the Festival. However, if you eat and drink right before you go in, and have a snack prepared in the car for when you leave, you will save quite a bit.
  4. Visit all of the vendors before you blow your souvenir budget, and then return to the one thing you really liked. There are lots of unique products throughout the Festival, and if you’re trying to save money and you buy the first thing you see, you won’t have any left over for that really cool item hidden down by the jousting field.

If it’s a really hot day, you’ll feel the need to cool down after leaving the Festival. Air conditioning will work, but if you have time and bring bathing suits, there is also a great beach for swimming at nearby Fair Haven Beach State Park. It would also be a good place to camp if you want to stay overnight.

To cool down without swimming, I would heartily recommend Bev’s Dairy Treat at 60 County Route 89 in Oswego. It’s right by the lake front, so they usually have a cool breeze. I have also heard good things about Big Bo’s at 580-582 Main Street in Sterling.

A Quieter Weekend in Lake George at Bolton Landing, NY

I adore Lake George, and I know a number of people who have relatives with a home there who enjoy visiting. But most people who have spent a weekend in Lake George Village say the same thing: “it’s too busy,” “it feels too commercialized,” or “it doesn’t feel like the Adirondacks.” If you’re looking for lots of restaurant choices, mini-golf, the House of Frankenstein, para-sailing and horse-and-buggy rides, then Lake George Village would be a fantastic place to spend the weekend. If you want a break from the “busy-ness,” or if you want to enjoy those activities and retreat to a quieter place for the evening, then stay further up the lake in Bolton Landing.

Most experts in the area know that Bolton Landing is home to to the historic Sagamore Resort, which is a family-friendly, luxurious resort with an ideal location. We have stayed there during professional conferences, and it is amazing, no doubt. But if you can’t or don’t want to spend big bucks on lodging, don’t turn away from Bolton Landing.

There are a number of places to stay in or near Bolton Landing, including rental homes. One of my favorite sites for finding affordable hotel rooms (and many of their rooms offer free cancellation by a certain date) is Booking.com. For rental homes, you can check out VRBO and AirBnB, but I would highly recommend Adirondack “By Owner,” which is my favorite site for finding affordable Adirondack rental properties. There are plenty of restaurants in Bolton Landing, so if you don’t feel like cooking, you’ll have plenty of options.

Once you have found your place to stay, what is there to do in little Bolton Landing? Plenty! First, Lake George is the most obvious source of entertainment. Bolton Landing is a great place from which to kayak or canoe because it’s a somewhat quieter part of the lake (at least north of the Sagamore is quieter than south). Kayak and canoe rentals are easy to come by if you just drive along Lake Shore Drive. From Bolton Landing, it’s easier to reach several of the islands than it would be if you started from the southern end of the lake, so kayaking is fun and rewarding.

Motor boat rentals are also easy to find, though more expensive than kayaks or canoes. On such a big lake, it can be helpful to have a motor boat because you can see so much more. Just be sure to pick up a lake map and a guide to the buoy symbols so you obey all of the wake restrictions and avoid bumping your boat on a giant rock (that would ruin your day, for sure!).

Swimming in the lake is only for those who don’t mind cooler water, but I find it much more refreshing on a hot day than a heated pool. The water is also beautiful and clean, so it’s highly enjoyable to take a dip in the water. There is a public beach at Rogers Park (4922 Lake Shore Drive) and at Veterans Memorial Park (5034 Lake Shore Drive), both of which have restrooms, picnic facilities and other sporting facilities. The grocery store Tops is right in town, along with a couple of delis, at which you can pick up sandwiches for a picnic.

Horseback riding facilities are available throughout the region, but close to Bolton Landing you’ll find Saddle Up Stables. They offer riding options for all age levels.

There are several hikes in the area, and you can pick up local hiking guides in a couple of the stores in Bolton Landing. I don’t enjoy spending tons of money on stuff I don’t need, which means I’m not really a big shopper (especially on vacation). However, I do enjoy the shops in Bolton Landing, and we always return to a few favorites. If you’re looking for restrooms while you’re shopping, the Bolton Town Hall has public restrooms around the back of the building. The Indian Tepee Gift Shop (shown below) is right in the heart of Bolton Landing and has souvenirs for just about any person of any taste crammed into a very tight space, but their prices tend to be reasonable and my kids love the place.

The Indian Tepee Gift Shop

I’m also a big fan of Trees Adirondack Gifts and Books. There are some gorgeous Adirondack photographs available in the back of the store, as well as maps and other Adirondack art interspersed among books on local history, as well as great books for the beach.

Trees Adirondack Gifts and Books

My kids adore Happy Jack’s Kids, which is an awesome toy store with hands-on, non-electronic toys that are lots of fun and inspire creativity. Right next door is the Happy Jack’s Surf Shop, which has beach-themed clothes. Just up the street, you’ll find their sister store Mrs. Whizzy Fizz Popp’s, which has a giant Adirondack chair out front so you can’t miss it.

Giant Adirondack Chair outside of Mrs. Whizzy Fizz Popp’s Candy Store

There aren’t many true candy stores around anymore, so my kids especially enjoy popping into this one, and the fudge is delicious.

Those are just a few highlights, so stroll along and you’ll find many more options with clothing and home decor. If shopping isn’t your top priority, it can provide some entertainment if you end up with a rainy day. Although I haven’t ever visited the Sembrich Opera Museum & Music Venue, I’ve heard it’s great, and once my kids are old enough, it’s on my list. A few years ago on a rainy day, we visited the Bolton Landing Historical Museum, which is small but worth checking out.

If you’re willing to venture a little further, I highly recommend driving one hour north on Route 9N to visit Fort Ticonderoga, which played an important role in the Revolutionary War and features a living history experience (with actors playing the role of soldiers) and hands-on exhibits.

This is really only a brief description of the options if you stay in Bolton Landing, but whether you come for the day, weekend, or longer, you will definitely enjoy your stay!

A Great Time in Sackets Harbor, NY

(This post is coming a little early because of the long weekend, and there are fireworks in Sackets Harbor on the 4th.)

Sackets Harbor is on the shore of Lake Ontario and is historically known for its important role in the War of 1812. For that reason, I was tempted to wait until later in the summer to feature Sackets Harbor because they are re-enacting the famous battle on Saturday, August 3rd. However, there are tons of events throughout the summer, including cannon fire demonstrations, Civil War re-enactment, and musical performances. In addition to their fireworks on the 4th, there will be a mini-drama performed at the battlefield on July 6th at 1 pm titled “Slavery, Freemen, the War of 1812 and a House Divided,” so I thought it made sense to feature Sackets Harbor today.

The Sackets Harbor Visitor Center at 301 West Main Street is a good starting point, followed by the nearby Historical Society, both of which provide a sense of why this town is special in an historical context. I would then suggest heading to the Pickering Beach Museum at 501 West Main Street, especially if you want to visit the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site (504 West Main Street).

Main Street is full of little shops, including antique stores and restaurants. Visit the Sackets Harbor Art Center at 119 West Main Street to find artwork and gifts made by local artists. For some great ice cream that’s right near by the Battlefield, visit Straders at 119 East Main Street. It’s a tiny little house with some excellent ice cream.

For a full list of local attractions, check out this link here. To find a full schedule of events in Sackets Harbor this summer, go to this link. For events specifically at the Battlefield site, look here.

We discovered Sackets Harbor before we had kids by just looking at a map and finding a place to go for the day about 15 years ago, and we have been back several times with friends and with kids. There is something for everyone, and the scenery is beautiful. If you decide to go, you won’t be disappointed.

Local Treasures of Canandaigua, NY

There are so many things to do in and around Canandaigua, NY, that one blog post can’t possibly do it justice. However, I have several favorites for which we have been repeat visitors, so those are what I’d like to focus on for today’s post. First of all, the scenery is fantastic. Canandaigua is a charming, historic village along Canandaigua Lake with a variety of shops and restaurants that make a brief visit to the village worthwhile.

If you choose to just hop in and check it out, I strongly recommend visiting the restaurant Rheinblick at 224 South Main Street for lunch or dinner, even if you’re not sure that German food is up your alley. (They also have a gluten free and vegetarian menu.) In college, I spent a semester in Germany, and the food here is just as good as any place along the actual Rhine River (spelled Rhein in German). The beer and wine are authentic – NOT American Heineken, but actually from Germany. My favorite appetizer is the Fried Pickles.

If you’re stopping by and have little children with you, make sure you do not miss the Unique Toy Shop at 120 South Main Street. With so few dedicated toy stores remaining, it’s a real treat when you find one, and the Unique Toy Shop will not disappoint.

For a full day’s visit, there are several options depending on your interests. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Roseland Water Park. This water park is smaller than Water Safari or Seabreeze, but it is good for all ages and lots of fun. There is food available for purchase, or you can eat a picnic lunch on the picnic tables outside the main gate. The park offers water slides of several different sizes, wave pool, splash park, lazy river and the Roseland Wake Park (including private lessons available for beginners). They open at 11 am all summer, and closing hours are posted on their website.
  2. Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park. This 50-acre property is one of only two public gardens maintained by New York State Parks. Although it’s not specifically geared towards children, it is fun for all ages, and my kids adored this place when they were just 7 and 9. The gardens are large and varied with lots of statues and hidden nooks and crannies, and the entrance desk gave us a scavenger hunt to complete. The mansion is beautiful and interesting, and it is a popular spot for weddings. If you like wine, check out their Finger Lakes Wine Center Tasting Room, which is open from 12 – 3:30 pm daily. The park is open 9:30 am – 5:30 pm through Labor Day.
  3. Granger House and Homestead. Tours are available of this historic home mid-day. I have only been here for the authentic German Christkindl Market in November (which I strongly recommend – mark your calendar for November 8 – 10, 2019), and I’m hoping to make it back for a tour this summer. There is a combination pass available for a discount if you also visit Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion.
  4. Kershaw Park Beach and Bathhouse. If you want to enjoy the beautiful waters of Canandaigua Lake, head to Kershaw Park. Beach hours are 11:00 am to 7:00 pm through this weekend, but starting July 1st the beach is open 10:00 am to 9:00 pm.
  5. Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail. For those who like wine, this is a great area to visit. Heron Hill is my favorite among the Canandaigua wineries, but there are several good options to visit. Tour companies are available to help with the driving.
  6. Finger Lakes Beer Trail – Canandaigua Loop. For beer drinkers, definitely a fun day with over 30 breweries to visit. Tour companies are available to help with the driving.
  7. Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park. If you have a boat, this would be a great starting point for exploring the lake.
  8. Cycling. If you like bicycling, here is a link to several trails in the area.

The options abound in Canandaigua, and I haven’t covered everything. There are many things nearby, as well, so you could easily spend several days exploring. The places described above will give you a few suggestions to get you started. Don’t be afraid to explore, though. That’s how we found Rheinblick – just driving down Main Street looking for a place to grab a bite. Either way, Canandaigua is a fun place for a day or a weekend. Enjoy!

Fun Times in Liverpool, NY

With today’s official start to summer, I am changing my format slightly to accommodate the (hopefully, eventually….) nicer weather and sunnier skies that we can expect (fingers crossed) in beautiful upstate New York. I don’t want to focus exclusively on businesses for this season, so I plan to include parks and places that people of all ages can enjoy (and often with their four-footed friends). I’ll also focus on a few locations within a specific town in order to give some suggestions for a full day of fun. If that sounds good to you, check in with this blog on Fridays this summer. And now for my first summer post, “Fun Times in Liverpool, NY.”

The Village of Liverpool, NY, is located along the shore of Onondaga Lake, which may have been heavily polluted in the past, but has been cleaned up so well that Onondaga County is in talks about putting in a beach for swimming. That’s pretty wonderful news, and I look forward to that. But for now, there are a ton of options available to enjoy the lake and adjacent park, and there is truly something for people of all ages and abilities. Although most locals are aware of it, people from farther out may not know there is a multi-use paved trail for walking, roller blading, and bicycling that extends around the lake for 7.5 miles in each direction. Bring your dog, they are certainly welcome! There are several locations from which you can join the trail, but if you want to rent bikes (including multi-person bikes and cycle buggies), the entrance by Onondaga Lake Parkway is your best bet.

That entrance is also home to the Griffin Visitor Center, from which you can borrow equipment for bocce ball, shuffleboard and sand volleyball. There is usually an ice cream truck nearby on weekends.

From that same entrance, you can hop on board the free tram all summer, which is a nice ride and ideal for people who don’t have the ability or desire to enjoy the multi-use trail in other ways. There is also a skate park and the Wegmans playground at that location. Further up the lake at Willow Bay, there are picnic shelters with grills available and another playground, as well as a location to rent kayaks and paddleboards.

If you drive a little further up to Long Branch, there is the Wegmans Good Dog Park, and often there are festivals going on during summer weekends.

If you have your own boat, check out the Boat Launch and Marina’s website here. If you travel up to Long Branch Park on July 23rd, you can sail on a dinner cruise on Onondaga Lake sponsored by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce at this link here.

To get out of the sun for a little while, or on a rainy day, check out the Salt Museum, which is inside of Onondaga Lake Park and details the history of salt in Central New York and its importance to Onondaga Lake and Syracuse in particular. Just down Onondaga Lake Parkway, you’ll find the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center, a Haudenosaunee Heritage Center that is open from 11 – 4 on weekends, and from 10 – 4 during the week.

After all of this activity, you’ll find yourself hungry or thirsty. There are multiple restaurant options nearby, and it really depends on your tastes. If you want ice cream, there are plenty of options available. I’ve sampled a few and for convenience and quality, I would most recommend either Heid’s or JT’s Creamery and Cafe, though there are several good options to choose from in the area. For coffee or a quick snack, definitely check out Freedom of Espresso or the Cafe at 407. Although both places have great drinks and snacks, I’d like to highlight that the Cafe at 407 supports the work of Ophelia’s Place, which is “a nonprofit dedicated to changing the culture and conversation around eating disorders, body image and body dissatisfaction.” Read more on Cafe 407’s Our Story website.

After a long day, you may not have energy, but the Minor League team Syracuse Mets play just a short drive down the road at NBT Bank Stadium, and they often have specials and fireworks on weekends. Lots of people are excited to hear that Tim Tebow (the NFL star) is a member of the team, but the rest of the team is worth cheering for as well. Most nights, it’s easy enough to buy walk up tickets, but you can also purchase in advance at this link.

If you decide to go, have fun on your day in Liverpool! I’ll be heading to Lake George in a couple of weeks and plan to do a post on that area, we well as one related to Old Forge. Stay tuned and check in every week!

Side Hill Farmers, Manlius, NY

Owners: Side Hill Farmers Cooperative

Address: 315 Fayette Street, Manlius, NY (in the Sno-Top plaza)

Phone: 315-682-MEAT

Website: www.sidehillfarmers.com

It’s a little surprising that I haven’t written up Side Hill Farmers yet since I shop there so frequently, but I regularly mention the store to people I meet, and not everyone knows the store is there since it’s a little bit back from the road in a busy shopping plaza. So it’s time to give them a little shout out! It may not be a great place for vegans, but even vegetarians should definitely read on.

Side Hill Farmers’ slogan (taken from their brochures) is “meat, produce, dairy and prepared foods all locally sourced from Madison County and Central NY.” The store has a great reputation as a butcher shop, but it’s much more than that. This is the place where I buy pasture-raised eggs for what I have found to be the best in-store price locally (for a definition and argument in favor of pasture-raised eggs from Certified Humane, click here). The taste is absolutely better than other eggs, and they are usually larger than the “large” eggs at the grocery store. They also sell duck eggs, which I haven’t seen available anywhere else.

If nothing else, Side Hill is worth a visit for a quick lunch of soup or their sandwich of the day, which is always freshly made and very good. Many of their staff have culinary training and it shows in the quality of the prepared food products they sell. Typically, one would find pot pies, mac and cheese, meatloaf or another meal that’s easy to heat and serve for a night when you don’t have time to cook.

Side Hill carries a nice selection of dairy products, including cheese, butter, and yogurt. They sell Ithaca Cold-Crafted hummus, as well as pickled items and fresh vegetables (selection changes depending on availability) and locally made maple products, coffee, honey, jams/jellies, bread, cookies, and soap/lotions. Their freshly made bone broth is sold frozen and is far superior in taste and quality to the packaged or canned soup stock for sale elsewhere.

The most obvious item for sale at Side Hill is their meat. We have bought steak, ground beef, chicken, deli turkey, and sausage from Side Hill, and have found every item to be of excellent quality. Their meats are antibiotic and hormone free, and all humanely-raised. This is not usually the place to buy fresh meat for a bargain (unless they need to clear something out), but in comparison with grocery stores, their pricing for similar quality meat is comparable and often better. For savings and convenience, you can order a Butchers’ Box through their website, which is a 15-pound package of meat that has been flash frozen. Several options are available.

The customer service here is friendly and helpful, never rude. When I have had questions about the ingredients of their daily soups (due to allergies and dietary restrictions), they have happily answered my questions. The Manlius store opened in 2013, and we are lucky to have them. Their website describes their plans to expand production locally, so check out their website and then visit the store.

Sycamore Hill Gardens

IMPORTANT NOTE: This property is only open occasionally, and Mother’s Day is one of those days. Don’t show up without first checking their website for public events!

Owners: George and Karen Hanford (private home)

Address: 2130 Old Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus, NY

Website: http://www.sycamorehillgardens.com/

If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the gorgeous weather on Mother’s Day, don’t miss your opportunity to visit this local treasure. It only opens to the public a few times each year for fundraising events for local non-profits. Mother’s Day is one of those special days.

This Sunday (May 12) from 11 am – 4 pm, Sycamore Hill Gardens will be hosting its annual fundraiser for Baltimore Woods Nature Center. Adults are $12 this year (unless you bought tickets in advance at a discount), but children 8 and under are free. All of the money collected goes to support Baltimore Woods.

Sycamore Hill Gardens is the private home of George and Karen Hanford. Their property has an interesting history you can read about in greater detail on their website. In short, the Hanfords took a large dairy farm and set to work converting 40 acres of the land into a gardening masterpiece. The rest of the nearly 300 acres is now wildlife habitat and a large conservation area.

The area open for visiting this Sunday is one my family has visited several times. There is a fun hedge maze with a statue at the center (hint: it’s a character from Greek mythology), a Koi pond with stepping stones and a fountain, formal gardens, wooded areas, and a section with a musical touch, among other surprises. Each time we have gone, the flowers had bloomed early enough that we were told we could choose three flowers each to bring home with us, which was a nice surprise. You could easily spend a few hours here and find plenty of natural entertainment.

Parking is across the street and free. There are restrooms available (in the past it’s been port-a-potties), and they usually have some sort of food for sale. I would still recommend you bring water with you because the property is enormous and sunny (if we’re lucky). Don’t miss your chance to check out this local gem this year!