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8 Most Idyllic Small Towns in the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes region of New York State is named for its series of long, narrow lakes that resemble fingers from above. It stretches across central New York and includes eleven lakes, of which Seneca Lake is the largest and deepest. The region is known for its wine production and features more than 100 vineyards and wineries, best known for their Riesling wines. It is also a region for education and culture, with universities such as Cornell University and Ithaca College nearby.

The Finger Lakes region is home to numerous small towns that thrive thanks to their proximity to nature and agritourism. These eight idyllic towns offer a tranquil lifestyle, surrounded by picturesque landscapes and are centers for the local food and wine culture.

Skaneateles

Skaneateles, New York
Skaneateles, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

Skaneateles, New York, is a town on the north side of Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in central New York. The name “Skaneateles” means “long lake” in the Iroquois language and reflects the city’s deep roots in Native American history. Skaneateles was officially incorporated in 1833 and developed as a quiet lake community with a strong agricultural presence.

Anyela’s Vineyards is an experience for wine lovers. Located on the shores of Skaneateles Lake, visitors can enjoy wine tastings while taking in vineyard and lake views. This vineyard is unique in that it removes the vines from the trellis and buries them in winter to protect them from the cold. Skaneateles Historical Society’s Creamery Museum is a dive into local history, from its native roots to its industrial past, including its role in the Underground Railroad. The museum is housed in a restored dairy building. For those who enjoy the outdoors, Charlie Major Nature follows the path of the old railroad tracks along Skaneateles Lake.

Canandaigua

Lakeside buildings in Canandaigua, New York
Lakeside buildings in Canandaigua, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

The name Canandaigua is derived from the Iroquois word ‘Kanandarque’, meaning ‘the chosen place’. Founded in the late 18th century, the city was a hotbed of social and political activity in the 19th century, hosting important events such as the 1873 trial of Susan B. Anthony for illegally voting as a woman.

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Site takes a look at the lavish life of the Victorian era through guided tours of the mansion and gardens. The estate has different garden styles, including a Japanese garden and a Roman bath. New York Kitchen is a culinary exploration of New York’s food and drink scene through cooking classes, wine pairings and beer tastings. This nonprofit organization aims to educate visitors about New York’s agricultural and culinary arts. The Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum is another must-visit attraction, where visitors can explore a 19th-century historic home and its extensive collection of more than 100 carriages and sleighs.

Geneva

Geneva, New York,
Downtown Geneva, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

Geneva, New York, is located on the north side of Seneca Lake, one of the central Finger Lakes. Founded in the late 18th century and incorporated in 1806, Geneva’s fertile soil and favorable climate have made it a center for agriculture and viticulture, especially in the burgeoning Finger Lakes wine industry.

Seneca Lake State Park is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with recreational activities including swimming, picnicking and a children’s splash park. The park’s well-maintained facilities make it a place for days on the water. Rose Hill Mansion is a preserved Greek Revival mansion that teaches visitors about 19th-century life in the Finger Lakes region. The mansion, once part of a working farm, now serves as a museum where visitors can learn about local history and the development of the area’s wine industry. Finally, the Smith Opera House is one of the oldest operating theaters in the United States, hosting everything from concerts and plays to films and lectures.

Watkins Glen

Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, New York
Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, New York.

Watkins Glen is located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The village was incorporated in 1842 and was originally named “Jefferson”, but later changed to Watkins Glen in honor of Dr. Samuel Watkins, an early benefactor of the village. Watkins Glen is known for its rich motorsport heritage; it organized the first post-World War II road race in the United States in 1948.

Watkins Glen State Park is an enchanting experience with its gorge trail that winds past 19 waterfalls and through cavernous rock formations carved by glaciers. The scenery of the route is suitable for photography, walking and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the park. For wine lovers, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail is an opportunity to taste some of the best wines in the Finger Lakes region. This route features numerous wineries offering tastings and tours. Finally, the International Motor Racing Research Center has extensive collections and exhibitions on the history of racing, including major events at Watkins Glen itself.

Hammondsport

Aerial view of Hammondsport New York.
Aerial view of Hammondsport, New York. Image credit: Ak1047 via Wikimedia Commons.

Hammondsport, New York, at the southern tip of Keuka Lake, was founded in 1827 and incorporated in 1856. Hammondsport has deep roots in winemaking and aviation history. Part of New York’s wine country, it was once home to pioneering aviator Glenn H. Curtiss, who played an important role in the early days of the development of both motorcycles and aircraft.

The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is a highlight for those interested in the evolution of transportation, with an extensive collection of airplanes, motorcycles, and antique cars, along with interactive exhibits about the life and innovations of Glenn Curtiss. The Finger Lakes Boating Museum is dedicated to preserving the boating heritage of the Finger Lakes region. Housed in a restored building, it has a collection of boats built in the Finger Lakes and offers boat building and restoration workshops. For a more eclectic experience, The Windmill Farm & Craft Market is a place where visitors can explore more than 200 shops selling local crafts, produce and more. It is open seasonally from spring to fall.

Aurora

Wells College campus in Aurora, New York.
Wells College campus in Aurora, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

Aurora, New York, is a village on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. It was founded in the late 18th century and is home to Wells College, founded in 1868, which has played a role in the community by promoting educational development and cultural enrichment. Aurora’s historical significance is also marked by its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mackenzie-Childs is an opportunity to explore the world of a home decor brand. A tour of the production studio and grounds of the Victorian farmhouse provides insight into the creative processes behind their signature handmade ceramics and home furnishings. Long Point State Park on Cayuga Lake offers fishing, boating and hiking facilities. The landscape and lakeside location make the park a place to have a picnic or enjoy a day on the water. The Village Market in Aurora is a place to experience local community spirit and sample regional produce. The market is held regularly and features local food vendors, artisans and crafts.

Penn Yan

Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, New York.
Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

    Penn Yan is a village located on the north side of Keuka Lake, one of the smaller Finger Lakes. The name “Penn Yan” is a portmanteau of “Pennsylvania” and “Yankee”, reflecting the origins of the early settlers in the early 19th century. As the seat of Yates County, Penn Yan has been a focal point of the region’s agriculture and viticulture.

    The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail has a multi-use path that runs between Keuka and Seneca Lakes. The path is suitable for walking and cycling and offers natural landscapes including waterfalls and remains of historic mills and canal works. The Keuka Lake Wine Trail invites visitors to explore several wineries located along the picturesque shores of Keuka Lake. Each winery offers tastings, tours and views of the vineyards sloping down to the waterfront. Finally, the Oliver House Museum, operated by the Yates County History Center, is home to a collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that illustrate Penn Yan’s heritage.

    Union Springs

    Union Springs, New York.
    Quarry Ridge Winery on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake in Union Springs, New York. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com.

    Union Springs, New York, is a city on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, one of the largest in the state. Founded in the early 19th century, its location facilitated its early growth as a port city, with agriculture and manufacturing as economic mainstays. Today, Union Springs is known for its lakeside location.

    Reachable by boat, Frontenac Island is one of the few islands in Cayuga Lake and offers birdwatching, fishing, and exploring in a relatively pristine natural environment. The remoteness of the island makes it a perfect place for nature lovers. Cayuga Lake State Park is for those who want to enjoy more structured recreational activities such as camping, swimming and fishing. The park’s well-maintained grounds and beach areas offer views of Cayuga Lake. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge focuses on observation and conservation and is an essential stopover for migratory waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway. Visitors can explore the refuge’s trails and observation areas.

    New York’s Finger Lakes region is punctuated by several small towns that are as idyllic as they are steeped in history and nature. Skaneateles, for example, combines lake views with a history reflected in its museums and vineyards. Canandaigua brings its past to life through the Sonnenberg Gardens and the New York Kitchen, demonstrating the area’s commitment to preserving its cultural and culinary heritage. Geneva has recreational and educational opportunities at Seneca Lake State Park and the well-preserved Rose Hill Mansion. Each of these eight cities showcases what makes the Finger Lakes region a special place to visit.