Back in Business!

After a long break, I’m back to blogging. It’s the run-up to the holidays, and a few days after Halloween, the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations are already out in the stores. That means it’s time to start thinking about holiday shopping. [Insert scary music here!]

Supporting small businesses is a great thing, but that doesn’t have to mean buying “stuff.” Liz Bremer of Put It Simply Organizing suggests that we can reduce clutter in our lives and in others’ lives by buying experiences for the people we care about. Although I may feature a few traditional “shops” in the coming weeks, I’d like to feature several places from which you can buy the gift of a good time.

First up, I absolutely adore the Funny Bone Comedy Club at Destiny mall. It may be part of a chain, but Funny Bone is regularly bringing in nationally known talent and showcasing local talent as well. My friends know that my husband and I go there regularly. Most of the time, we get a good laugh. I’ll admit there have been a few acts I’m not fond of, but I’m always entertained. The shows starts with the “host,” which is someone local who performs a small standup routine as a “warm up” act, and they are usually pretty funny. Next up is an opening act followed by the main act, so at each show there are three separate comedians performing. Funny Bone serves food and drinks, and there is a decent variety of both. I also appreciate that they have two shows every weekend night, which gives us flexibility with other commitments and babysitters.

While I’m looking at Destiny, my next recommendation is The Museum of Intrigue. I adore this place, and I recently learned that it is the only location – a Syracuse original. It is not cheap, so I strongly recommend that the budget-concious keep an eye out for a Groupon or other coupon deal. Luckily, there is usually one available. We recently went for the third time after I won passes in a silent auction. We started our adventure at 6:45 pm and finished at 9:00 pm, which is a lot longer than the Museum’s one-hour estimate, but we weren’t complaining. Guests choose a mystery to solve, and only one group at a time can work on that particular mystery. You receive a guide book with clues, as well as a few starter hints, and then your party will move around the Museum finding clues and figuring out riddles in order to solve the mystery. If you get stuck, staff are there to provide clues and suggestions. The reason I love this activity so much is that it requires all of our attention to solve, and each member of the family is able to use their skills and abilities to answer a different part of the puzzle. No one needs to use technology or smartphones to complete any part of this task, so an evening there is truly quality family time spent together.

Finally, Apex Entertainment is the re-opened bowling alley at Destiny, and I love this bowling alley because they offer lightweight balls, bumpers, and ramps for the little ones. But it is so much more than a bowling alley! Apex also offers laser tag, bumper cars, an arcade, and virtual reality experiences. The food and drinks are good, and they have regular happy hour food and drink specials. Whenever we plan a “family fun night,” our son wants nothing more than to go to Apex. Unlike the previous business in this location, Apex plays age-appropriate videos on the TV screens. Staff are friendly and attentive. Our son had his birthday party there this year, and they did an excellent job with the food and all of the details. A gift card here would be a fun gift for just about anyone.

If you have local places you’d like to suggest for this blog, leave a comment below. I’ll be featuring several locations in CNY over the coming weeks, but there is room for more! For those who have off on Monday, enjoy the long weekend!

Lakeside Music in Skaneateles

There are many reasons to spend some time in Skaneateles, NY, throughout the year, but for music lovers, Skaneateles is the ideal place to be in August. For two more weeks (through August 24), you can watch a concert of classical, jazz, or other orchestral music by highly respected professionals. The Skaneateles Festival is world renowned, but the tickets are reasonably priced and it’s a beautiful location.

If you come for the festival, don’t let that stop you from exploring all the rest that Skaneateles has to offer. The lake is beautiful, clean and clear, and there are many ways to enjoy it by boat. One fun option is the three hour mail boat cruise, but there are lunch, dinner and shorter sightseeing cruises available as well from Mid-Lakes Navigation.

For a day of luxury, visit the well-known hotel, restaurant and spa Mirbeau. The staff at the day spa provide a variety of luxurious spa treatments, and a visit includes use of their facilities for the day, including a hot tub, fitness center, sauna, steam room and relaxation room. Lunch or dinner will be guaranteed to be excellent (though not a bargain).

Wine lovers would enjoy a visit to Anyela’s Vineyards on the western shore of the lake, and there is a gorgeous panoramic view of the lake from their patio. Plenty of other Finger Lakes vineyards are within easy driving distance if you wish to make a day of it.

The village of Skaneateles itself is quaint and has thriving shops and restaurants. The Chamber of Commerce has put together a great website with a list of both restaurants and stores, as well as a guide to local lodging. Instead of re-creating the wheel, I decided to just link to their site. A couple of favorites to recommend, though, would include the restaurants Skaneateles Bakery for lunch and Moro’s Kitchen for dinner. As for shops, I love the toys made by HABA and the toy store Hobby House Toys for kids, and Skaneateles Artisans for items made by local artists.

Skaneateles has something for everyone, even if it’s just a stroll by the lakeside and a walk down the pier. It’s a relaxing and beautiful place to just “be,” and even a brief visit will leave you feeling refreshed.

Summertime in Cooperstown

Baseball fans know Cooperstown, NY, as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Although much of the town’s fame centers around baseball, there is much more to Cooperstown than the Hall of Fame.

For starters, every summer Cooperstown hosts The Glimmerglass Festival featuring opera and musical theatre productions throughout each weekend at several times each day. The festival runs through August 24, so there is still time to check it out.

If you’re in the mood for something spooky, try out an evening Ghost Tour of Hyde Hall mansion, which was featured on SyFy’s Ghosthunters (c). Or you can tour the mansion and grounds during the day as well and avoid the ghosts. It’s a National Historic Landmark Site within Glimmerglass State Park, so it’s certainly interesting regardless of any paranormal activity on site!

And of course, you can visit Glimmerglass State Park for swimming, boating, hiking and camping. It’s on the shores of Otsego Lake and the park is named after James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass from the Leatherstocking Tales.

On a rainy day, or if it’s too hot to be outdoors, Cooperstown is home to the Fenimore Art Museum. Through September 2, they are featuring on exhibit of photographs of Rock and Roll icons by Herb Ritts, an exhibition organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Another museum worth checking out is the Farmers Museum, which features an historic village, farmhouse, carousel, and the Cardiff Giant, one of the biggest hoaxes of the 19th century.

If you decide to stay for dinner (or the evening), the Lake House summer concert series is a great place to catch some live music along with dinner and drinks. Located at The Lake House restaurant. On top of that, there are plenty of excellent restaurants in town to cater to a variety of tastes.

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy your visit!

A Day (or Weekend) in Old Forge

Old Forge is located on the western edge of the Adirondacks. It’s definitely busy in summer. It sort of resembles a beach town, which it is in a way, yet with so much more to offer. On the shores of First Lake in the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Old Forge is the place to find a variety of restaurants, souvenir shopping, go-karts, mini-golf, and ice cream, and nearby you can find adventure outfitters for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, horseback riding, river rafting, and so on. Lots of information is available at the hamlet’s official website, so follow this link for up to date information.

A family favorite is certainly Enchanted Forest and Water Safari, which according to WKTV, was just ranked as the 4th best water park in the USA and 17th in the world by Trip Advisor. Read more here. There are many reasons to love this water park, but here are a couple:

  • The admission price is reasonable when compared with other water parks.
  • They allow you to bring your own food into the park in a cooler and eat in designated areas.
  • The lifeguards actually pay attention and enforce the rules, so it’s safe and fun.
  • It’s clean.
  • When the kids (or you) need a break from the sun, the Enchanted Forest section of the park is an old-fashioned trip through fairy tale land, and it’s well shaded.
  • Many rides have heated water, which is nice for the somewhat cooler Adirondack weather.
  • Their food selections are more varied than many amusement parks, including their buffet-style family dinner at the end of the day.

If water parks aren’t your thing, there are plenty of natural places to swim, particularly First Lake or Fourth Lake. If you’d like to take a boat ride but aren’t up for paddling yourself around, try a lake cruise with Old Forge Lake Cruises. It’s also fun to take a ride on the historic Adirondack Scenic Railroad from nearby Thendara. Personally, I think the Haunted History Excursion sounds the most fun, but we haven’t had the chance to try that one out yet. We did a ride with a magician when our kids were younger, and that was cute and enjoyable.

There are a number of hiking trails, and Bald Mountain is a local favorite with great views of the region from the tower at the top. Alternatively, you could take a ride up the McCauley Mountain Chairlift, which is a ski mountain in winter time, but a nice picnic spot in summer.

If you stay for a long weekend, be sure to check out the Adirondack Experience, a museum that is great for all ages and that gives visitors a great sense of the history of the Adirondacks as a region. Without exaggeration, I can safely say it’s one of the best museums I have ever been to anywhere in the world.

And if you choose to visit Old Forge this weekend and stay over Saturday night, head to View to see Nick Ziobro perform live at 7:30 pm. He is a multi-talented singer and performer who is now based in New York City, but he went to Fayetteville-Manlius High School and has since performed all over the country in prestigious venues. It would be a treat to see him perform live in concert.

Whatever you choose to do, have a fantastic weekend!

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.