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Fun Day Trips from Cooperstown, N.Y.

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Cooperstown, N.Y., is one of America's great vacation destinations, but for those who want to go beyond this fun and appealing Village while on vacation, there exists plenty of day trip opportunities.

Old Forge, New York
Town Beach in Old Forge NY
Fourth Lake Beach in Old Forge. Photo credit: Old Forge Visitors Information Center Facebook fan page.

Old Forge brings back some great memories of childhood. Perhaps that's why so many adults go there.

What initially brings us there will forever bring us back. Try, for starters, the cool, crisp pine-scented air and the sun's chosen destination to shine most brightly. There are the locally-owned stores, bursting with pride. The ice cream stands shine their yellow awning lights at night, and a glorious beach at Fourth Lake glistens, sparkles and shines, inviting the whole world to swim. To a child, the fresh water scent competes with the beach's by-products,--sun tan lotion, and hot dogs and hamburgers, which we initially thought were inherent, built-in scents at any beach. Here, at Fourth lake, they are.

The blacktops perspire ecessively lending a tar smell, which confirms summer. The perspiration ends later, however, as the mountain air almost always saves the day with some cooler weather. If not convinced, some soft serve ice cream can always tip the scales in the right direction.

A walk down the main street will probably always be a walk back in time. The centerpiece, Old Forge Hardware, has everything under one roof without the backing of a Home Depot corporate mentality. Furniture, home improvement items, lighting, hardware, books and more suggest a leisurely afternoon of shopping. Having visited there several years ago, I recognized an employee from 30 years ago. He didn't look much different, suggesting that small-town living and mountain air preserve the soul. A small market, bank, clothing stores and real estate offices are ultimately bigger than they look upon inspection for they are the catalyst which allows those lucky individuals to remain in Old Forge.

A game of miniature golf, some broasted chicken at any given restaurant, or just sitting on a dock bench at Fourth Lake makes one realize that the true America still does exist in some places. And everywhere you look, families visiting or living here prescribe, in an almost spiritual way, to this simpler way of life. The recipe is indeed simple: Stay outdoors as long as you can, breathe in fresh air and sample bits of wholesome Americana. It is the life that Native Americans have enjoyed many years here, and the melting pot of residents and visitors who have come to realize this "comfortable-as-an-old-shoe" town.

Nights are forever in Old Forge as the sky opens wide to showcase the myriad stars. Crickets chirp as do children, the latter knowing that staying up late is a privilege and might not happen again, soon. Then it's back to a nice, clean motel room (the Water's Edge, in particular), and waiting eagerly for the next day to begin. Who knows what that next day will bring? It could be a visit to the Enchanted Forest theme park with water and amusement rides and circus performances. Maybe it will be a gentle hike up Bald Mountain, or the more challenging McCauley Mountain. Perhaps some canoeing or taking a 28-mile lake cruise will make the day. Or, just having no plans and soaking up the family-oriented atmosphere will be all it takes to revitalize the soul.

In fact, one great thing to do may not seem so big, but ultimately it is: Take a one-mile walk from the downtown area to the brick school building on the outskirts of town, going towards neighboring Thendara. Stop for a few minutes and study the school. It may seem like any other school, and that is the point. You went to school and then moved on, and so did many of the students who had the fortune to attend a school in such a magical area. What they have is that Old Forge became, forever, part of their lives. How powerful that is. It's enough to bring back those strong childhood memories, and perhaps that is why adults --whether from the region or having spent their summers here-- do indeed keep coming back. Old Forge is located on Route 28, two hours north of Cooperstown.

Rochester, New York Area
Charlotte at Lake Ontario, north of Rochester, New York
Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte, north of Rochester.

Rochester, a city best-known as the home of Kodak, Xerox, the Eastman School of Music, and University of Rochester, has always offered a lot to its residents and visitors including more than 140 fairs and festivals, 12,000 acres of parkland, 100 family attractions, 60 public golf courses and 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries, according to the VisitRochester web site. The things I like best about Rochester: those beautiful parks like Cobbs Hill and Ellison Park, the stately homes along East Ave., as-good-as-it gets leafy suburbs like Pittsford and Victor, delicious Abbott's Frozen Custard at various locations, the ocean-like presence of Lake Ontario with beach and arcades at Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte, and the city's proximity to the beautiful Fingers Lakes region. Also be sure to check for concerts at the Eastman School of Music, The Strong National Memorial Museum of Play, the George Eastman Museum,  and the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House. Rochester is about two-and-a-half hours from Cooperstown.

Ithaca, New York
Downtown Ithaca, New York
Downtown Ithaca Commons.

Ithaca presides as the ultimate college Upstate New York college town as it is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. A wonderful small city where all walks of life peacefully co-exist, Ithaca also features beautiful scenery including Cayuga Lake (the largest of the Finger Lakes), and  numerous waterfalls and gorges. The downtown offers more restaurants per capita than New York City! A great place to start your Ithaca visit is the Downtown Ithaca Commons, a spectacular four-block pedestrian shopping area featuring more than 100 shops, restaurants, street vendors and entertainers. Dining tip: Make sure to visit Waffle Frolic at Ithaca Commons with its offering of huge waffle combinations, as well as sandwiches, smoothies and coffee. Ithaca is about two hours and 15 minutes from Cooperstown.

Greene, New York

Downtown Greene, New York
Downtown Greene.

Greene receives my unofficial Mayberry RFD award as a town that wonderfully represents small town life. Here, you'll find a five-and-dime store, diner and cafe-type places to eat, and various mom and pop shops. There's not a lot to do in Greene, and that's exactly the point. It's a great walking town with its old-time downtown, great views of the Chenango River, nice old homes, historic churches and friendly folks who are always there to say "Hi." Greene is about 90 minute's from Cooperstown, not too far from Binghamton and Norwich. Greene is the type of town that many dream of laying down roots as the look and feel are so idyllic.

Hamilton, New York
Downtown Hamilton, New York
Downtown Hamilton.

Hamilton never got the notice to focus on building strip malls, McMansions, and to fill up its town with chain stores until it is barely recognizable. Hamilton, not too far from Utica, looks like a town stuck in time with its old-time movie theater, the historic Colgate Inn, turn-of-the-century architecture and a downtown business scene with stores and restaurants almost entirely locally-owned and operated. What's more, there's a beautiful town green in the heart of the downtown that looks more New England than Upstate New York. Hamilton is home of Colgate University -- the academic and cultural offerings from this famous learning institution add so much to the town, not always common in communities this size. At the end of a summer day with beautiful sunsets painting an almost orange color on the historic brick buildings, the scene can be so quiet that you can hear that proverbial pin drop. It's an incredibly relaxing and wonderful feeling -- one has to wonder if this is what heaven is like. Hamilton is a little over an hour from Cooperstown.

Seneca Falls, New York
Seneca Falls NY, the inspiration for the movie, It's a Wonderful Life.
Street sign in Seneca Falls named after the hero in "It's a Wonderful Life" movie.

Recently, I stopped by Seneca Falls, N.Y., the inspiration for the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Nice town, and you can really feel the spirit of the movie here. The quaint downtown looks more like Bedford Falls than Pottersville, thank goodness, and attractions like the infamous bridge, Martini's bar and It's a Wonderful Life museum add authenticity (especially around Christmas) to the wonderfully familiar-looking scene. It's also a gateway town from Route 90 to the Finger Lakes region, and home to the Women's Rights National Historical Park, the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry and many local wineries. Seneca Falls, located between Syracuse and Rochester, is about two hours and 15 minutes from Cooperstown.

Seneca Falls NY at Christmas.
Downtown Seneca Falls, N.Y., during the Christmas season.

Little Falls, New York

Downtown Little Falls, New York
Downtown Little Falls.

Conveniently located about five minutes off Route 90 about a half hour east of Utica, Little Falls reminds me of the unforgettable I-want-to-be-there-right-now small town scenes in "The Christmas Card," a classic Hallmark movie from 2006. It's about the friendliest place I have visited -- everyone seems to know each other and the overall tone of the locals center on being humble and kind. The downtown scene features a surprisingly high number of restaurants (try Ruggiero's for Italian and The Sandwich Chef for, well, sandwiches and good conversation), an old-time bakery and service stores that never gave up in a world of big box chains. The downtown also offers a supermarket and a movie theater, thus providing residents with pretty much everything they need in one central district. It is life as we once knew here, and what a feeling to see this type of vibe and spirit still intact. Another bonus: Little Falls is very close to the parts of the Adirondack Mountains -- one of the most beautiful rural, natural places you'll ever see.

Oneonta, New York
Oneonta NY
Downtown Oneonta.

One half hour south of Cooperstown on Route 28 is Oneonta, N.Y. Home of Hartwick College and the State University of New York at Oneonta, this small city has a relaxed small-town college feel with interesting downtown shops, plenty of cafes and full service restaurants, a baseball team in the Onetonta Outlaws (college summer league), and enough students and professors to make this region a legitimate people watching area. It also serves as a commercial shopping center to Cooperstown residents, as everything from Walmart to Home Depot is located in this appealing city.

Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q  at 5560 State Highway 7 in Oneonta (Phone: 607-432-1782) is a dining highlight in Oneonta, offering a fun and filling family-style dining experience.  The barbecue chicken and St. Louis pork ribs are standouts. With very friendly service, a seating capacity of 300 (hard to believe this was a concession stand in the 1950s) and perhaps the indoor longest barbecue pit in the country at 38 ft. in length, Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q creates a welcoming, fun atmosphere for the family.  Oh yes, we almost forgot, the delicious blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream is not to be missed!

Even though Oneonta has the two colleges, there is a traditional, old-time aura to this town, situated beautifully in the Catskill Mountains foothills. Oneonta seems like the perfect place to settle, get to know people, live in one of the grand but affordable Victorians stately residing on pretty tree-lined streets, and grow old together. The fresh air, friendly surroundings and a safe feeling make Oneonta one of the great small cities of the northeast.

Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Stockbridge, Mass. Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

It's hard to remember staying in a community for only an hour, and leaving with a lifetime of memories.

That's the feeling last summer when I visited my father and uncles in Stockbridge, Mass., a popular summertime vacation community in western Massachusetts' gentle Berkshire Mountains.

At 42-years-old and a lifelong New Englander, I had never been to Stockbridge. I thought it might be a good town gone bad-- perhaps, Norman Rockwell's popular renditions of the lifestyle here had developers transforming the community in one big souvenir shop.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and proof that preconceived notions sometimes stink. Stockbridge represents New England at its best. From the alternatingly sunny and shady tree-lined streets to the locally-owned, small-town center, Stockbridge is indeed Norman Rockwell come to life, but with very little of the overly commercial by-products.

Having lunch at a luncheonette -- complete with stools and counter -- in an old-time market harkened back to a previous generation. This is not an unusual feeling in Stockbridge where the pace seems slower and the air smells sweeter. After lunch, a chance to sit on one of the rocking chairs at the famed Red Lion Inn porch was everything as advertised. From the slight elevation, you can seem true America at its best --the charming little shops, the wide sidewalks and street, kids riding their bikes, the lovely churches, and the splendid diverse New England architecture of the town, to name a few. Touring the Red Lion Inn inside created a mental note to definitely come back to stay -- this is the blueprint for what people perceive as a classic New England inn -- lots of wood, dim lighting, antiques, china, a reserved but friendly staff and a restaurant with lots of New England fare.

Because of scheduling constraints -- a nighttime minor league baseball game in nearby urban Pittsfield and seeing my uncle's nearby lakefront summer home -- I made the most of short walk back to the car. It was like one of those awkward moments where you find it hard to say goodbye to someone you're not going to see for awhile -- you stall and stall and stall, as you want more meaningful time together. Despite walking at a normal pace, it seemed like the longest 300 yard walk in history. Who wants to leave a slice of Americana that is so absent from America today?

On the ride back home, I though about what makes Stockbridge so special. I didn't spend time shopping or visiting myriad tourist attractions. And that is just the point. Much of the appeal of Stockbridge can be attributed to just being there. All it takes to become a fan of the town is to open your eyes and look around. You can feel the spirit and serenity in just one blink. I plan on blinking many more times in Stockbridge.

Stockbridge is about two-plus hours northeast of Cooperstown, off Route 90 (Exit 1, Massachusetts).

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Home | About us | The Village | Best things to do in Cooperstown | Otsego Lake | Countryside | Attractions | Lodging | Restaurants | Cooperstown photo gallery | Privacy statementWhat's new | Weather | Site map | Link to us | Contact us is dedicated to Linda Smirk,  a long-time Cooperstown resident who co-owned the Cooperstown Bed and Breakfast with husband John Smirk. She brought endless joy to our world, and we think about her every day with unconditional love.

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