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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
Old Forge, New York
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
sign in Seneca Falls named after the hero in "It's a Wonderful Life"
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
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.
Downtown Seneca Falls, N.Y., during the Christmas
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
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, Mass. Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel
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
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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