Watkins Glen, New York.

7 Most Charming Finger Lake Towns In New York

Nestled in upstate New York's picturesque landscape are charming towns, each with its unique allure. The Finger Lakes region, famed for stunning natural beauty and serene lakes, hosts delightful communities beckoning travelers seeking tranquility. From Skaneateles' vibrant streets to Seneca Falls' historic charm, these seven towns captivate with idyllic scenery, rich history, and warm hospitality. Explore the most charming Finger Lakes towns, where every corner tells a tale and every vista leaves an indelible impression. Spanning fourteen counties, this region boasts an 11-lake configuration near the Canadian border, offering a favorable climate and renowned wineries amidst a range of year-round activities.


Historic Canandaigua Lake Boathouses. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com

Canandaigua is a city-sized community of some 10,000 residents that exudes small-town charm from the first glance, set along the northern end of the Canandaigua Lake. As the fourth largest of the Finger Lakes, the varied amount of waterfront activities include swimming at Kershaw Park and following the bucket list-worthy exploration of the Canandaigua City Pier (constructed in 1848). The pier, featuring some of the most picturesque boathouses in the country, is filled with artists and photographers year-round, attempting to capture the atmospheric scenery from different angles. Surprisingly, the rustic constructions reminiscent of a quaint life on the water through times are meant for boat storage only, being preserved as part of the Canandaigua Historic District. For more historic insights, it is recommended to stop at the 1837 farmhouse-chic Cobblestone Cottage. 

Easily reachable from Rochester, many make a day trip just to absorb the unique atmosphere choosing to dine at one of the award-winning restaurants, followed by a relaxing evening at bars or shopping at one of the many boutiques dotting Main Street. Sideway streets lead one to the Victorian homes and public parks, such as the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park of 50-acre breadth, featuring pristine gardens and greenhouse, along with a 40-room mansion to explore one's heart out. For the more active, the Ontario County Park in the vicinity calls to hikers, cyclists, and cross-country skiers to take on dozen-mile Ontario Pathways trail, extending to the Town of Phelps, with the local Bee Hive Brew Pub on the way. 


Aurora, New York
The lakefront scenery in Aurora.

One of the smaller, but most atmospheric towns in New York, the Aurora village of 0.92 miles in diameter, sits scenically right in the heart of the Finger Lakes, on Lake Cayuga's eastern bank. A leading market town of the past, it is also inclusive of the campus of Wells College. Possessing a rich history, Aurora is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the Aurora Steam Grist Mill (1976) and the Mosher Farmstead of Aurora (2003). Its unique past includes restoration efforts put in by the founder of the American Girl doll brand himself, Pleasant Rowland, along with the help of the Wells College alumni. When on location, tourists are surprised at the variety of activities there is to engage in, such as visiting Aurora Farmers'Farmers' Market for seasonal products or taking a dip or a full-day siesta at the Lake Glass Beach, among others.

Strolling up the elm-lined Main Street, one will surely appreciate the architectural designs of homes, including the Inns of Aurora, a five-inn resort that occupies a historic residence. Venturing just outside of its limits, which shouldn't take long due to the town's minuscule size, will bring one to the Long Point State Park, another popular swimming and fishing hole that calls to set out a picnic near water. The Long Point Winery set along the Cayuga Wine Trail offers spectacular dry Riesling and red zinfandel for the fine wines aficionados. With 1,000 permanent residents, the village remains a hotspot for those wanting to spend money on unique trinkets, historians looking to delve into the region's past, and college students to study or lie about on the embankments. 


Corning Museum of Glass, the modern glass building, is dedicated to the art, history and science of glass and was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com

Corning is justifyingly one of the most popular Finger Lake towns, calling out to tourists as a getaway stop before exploring the region and visiting the famous Corning Museum of Glass, also known as America's Crystal City. Showcasing over 45,000 pieces of glass and artifacts, one may as well call it the Louvre of the Finger Lakes region, as it will take a full day of exploration to appreciate each unique piece and invention in detail at this world's largest museum of glass art. Netflix'sNetflix's Blown Away was also filmed on the spot, where visitors today can observe demonstrations or engage in glass-blowing. Filled with many innovative inventions, one can take hours marveling that many of the houseware and kitchen items are all originals, including the light bulb and the gorilla glass.

Having heard of Corning Inc., one can finally connect with Corning Ware's real-deal, a famous brand through generations for its quality products. The Rockwell Museum features an extensive collection of American art for traditional art fanatics, being an official affiliate of the Smithsonian museum. Upon having a knowledge-filled day of fun and exploration comes the time to venture onto Market Street, filled with restaurants, boutiques, cafes, and other hotspots, including the well-known feminist book store, the Card Carrying Shop. Sitting some 30 minutes away from Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake, there are also wine trails and an abundance of other outdoor activities.


Geneva, New York
I Love New York sign at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center in Geneva, New York. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

Another city-sized town of 13,000 residents, Geneva has a charming, walkable downtown square filled with innovative eateries, home-style breweries, and populated bars. Also known as the Exchange Street, its features include local shops and exquisite restaurants, while the nearby narrow Linden Street is the culinary heart of Geneva that gets closed-off to weekend traffic to allow eating, drinking, and socializing right on the road. Featuring the Smith Center for the Arts as part of its local academia, the art geeks would love the stacked performances and scheduled viewings of theatrical spectacles, concerts, and films, from one of the 1,400 seats of the venue, or a show at the Smith Opera House. The town is also not void of natural scenery, with a waterfront that allows relaxation and active time-spending within a picturesque setting of the Seneca Lake and State Park with two marinas, and only 2.5 miles from downtown via a trail.

The town square is full of historic homes, while the Pulteney Square at the heart of the original town's configuration also offers serenely beautiful views of Seneca Lake. Picnicking on the Lake's shores is also welcome as it is in the countryside, just outside the town and near vineyards that would enrich any picnic. The vineyards include the Three Brothers Wineries, Ravines Wine Cellars, Belhurst Castle Winery, and the Lacey Magruder Winery. As tourism and winemaking constitute the backbone of Geneva's economy, it is no surprise that its hiking, fishing, swimming and camping sites are extremely well-developed. The "extreme golfers" can tackle the challenging Big Oak Golf Course with water hazards and tricky greens. And to take a rest after a day's worth of activities, one can choose anything from budget-friendly Bed & Breakfasts and motels to major chain and boutique hotels.

Penn Yan

Penn Yan
Summer scene of the harbor on Keuka Lake. Editorial credit: PQK / Shutterstock.com

Classic American diners and outdoor hikes near exquisite waterfalls are just some of the experiences one will seek and find in this quaint village-town of Penn Yan set at the north of the Keuka Lake's eastern branch. Whether one gathers their own picnic to have on the banks near water or choose the popular seafood restaurant with views, the Top of the Lake, sightseeing is guaranteed. For a hit of nostalgia from olden-day movies, the Yan Diner is recommended, while the Amity Coffee Co. is considered one of the best cafes for eating out right in the heart of the town. Following a filling meal, many trails in the vicinity, such as the 7-mile Keuka Outlet Trail connecting the lakes, pass through some of the prettiest New York waterfalls.

The enchanting U-pick orchard and farm with local products provide for a full-day visit of activities for families when touring in the fall. One can also always take advice from the amazingly competent Penn Yan'sYan's touring service for a customized wine tour. For wine aficionados, there is also the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, posing as the oldest winery in the region, the Fox Run Vineyards, as well as the Gewürztraminer wines-known, the Keuka Spring Vineyards. The Big Fish Boat Tours also includes a wine tasting, or a romantic, sunset tour. One of the oldest American mills, the proximate Birkett Mills, produces healthy buckwheat products, and contains the world's largest pancake griddle right on its grounds.


Skaneateles by Lake Skaneateles.

The village of Skaneateles is set on the north bank of the namesake Lake, the second most eastern lake of the configuration, in the proximity of Syracuse, and is considered one of the best summertime destinations in the US. The scenery-rich Shotwell Park with its perfect swimming beach and gazebos picnicking will leave lasting memories of get-togethers, while taking a stroll down the lakefront and through the main, Jordan Street, will engulf one into a unique atmosphere. With numerous galleries, dining places, and historic buildings, the wintertime, is inclusive with an old-tale Christmas-time feel right out of Dickens'Dickens' stories. In fact, Charles Dickens and a 50-person cast take over the town's streets, shops, and restaurants during that magical time of the year.

Pronounced "skinny-atlas" or "skanny-atlas," Skaneateles is set at a higher elevation than much of the surrounding grounds to boast some of the cleanest waters out of all of the Finger Lakes, which is also due to the limited regional development at the present time. With so much water around, upon craving seafood one must stop to eat out at the Doug'sDoug's Fish Fry for a po boy or lobster roll. Alternatively, one can always pack their own basket and head to the Clift Park with picturesque views for swimming in between bites. Although lacking in the wineries department, the Skaneateles Brewery and Last Shot Distillery offer a sampling of local brews and spirits, set near the scenic Charlie Major Nature Trail that calls to the active and the explorers.

Watkins Glen

Watkins glen
Watkins Glen by Lake Seneca Lake.

At the southern tip of the serene Seneca Lake sits the popular destination-town of natural beauty, an atmospheric downtown, access to many wineries of the region, and the widely-recognized Watkins Glen International racetrack. With a population just short of a quarter of a thousand, Watkins Glen has a big reputation among tourists, especially for its European-style rally racing, which was started in 1948 by a local law student. Upon organizing a race across the asphalt, cement, and dirt roads, getting caught up, the town established the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course by 1956, which is now known as the Watkins Glen International. Aside from holding NASCAR, SCCA, and Indy Car events, it is also a concert venue.

Even on race-days, it is impossible to ignore the cascading beauty of a series of waterfalls, plummeting through a deep limestone gorge, also at the Watkins Glen State Park. The two-mile Gorge Trail lets one hike along the stone paths, bridges, and even behind the waterfalls of the mesmerizing gorge. The downtown scene is also second to none, with a myriad of local dining options and specialty shops lining the N. Franklin St. The central Seneca Harbor Wine Center allows one to sample local vintage and craft wines for a perfect beginning to the 31 wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Watkins Glen calls hikers, fishers, hunters, and cross-country skiers year-round with the atmospheric Main Street, a wide pier, a well-developed park, and three hiking trails, tent and trailer sites, and more.

Finger Lake Fun

These best towns of the Finger Lakes offer highly-demanded getaway services inclusive of incredible natural sceneries. All of them also possess a unique-from each other atmosphere. Worthy of visiting, they await the returning tourists as well as the newcomers attracted by tales of quaint town-setting away from the crowded megalopolises.


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