A Corning and Southern Finger Lakes getaway leads to spectacular nature, delicious food and drink, interesting museums and history, and fun adventures in New York wine country. There is so much to see and do in the Finger Lakes region, the biggest challenge is planning your route and choosing your stops.
We've highlighted towns and places perfect for a 5 day itinerary in the Southern Finger Lakes. Allow a day each for Elmira, Watkins Glen and southern Seneca Lake, Hammondsport and southern Keuka Lake, and Corning, plus travel time from the Washington DC region.
Elmira, New York: Mark Twain History and a Soaring Adventure
Elmira was the summer home of Mark Twain for 20 years, and he wrote many of his most well-known works here. It has also been called the “Soaring Capital of the World.” Get a view of the beautiful countryside on your own sailplane adventure.
Things to Do in Elmira, New York
The Chemung Valley History Museum is the perfect starting point for your Southern Finger Lakes getaway. Learn about local history and Elmira's most famous part-time local, Mark Twain, who spent 20 summers here. Pick up a map and visit Twain's summer studio, modeled after a Mississippi steamboat pilot house, and now located on the campus of Elmira College.
Next, pay homage to the great American writer at his family gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery. In summer, guided trolley tours visit both sites.
Explore a different kind of history high atop Harris Hill, where the National Soaring Museum houses the largest collection of sailplanes in the world, dating from the 1890s to the late 20th century. You'll get a close-up look at how sailplanes have evolved from the Wright Brother's first flight to the sleek racing gliders of today.
You'll gain an even better understanding of motorless flight when you take a sailplane ride with Harris Hill Soaring. The views as you soar above beautiful Chemung Valley are stunning.
Where to Eat and Stay in Elmira
Back on the ground, but high on Jerusalem Hill, the Hill Top Inn serves up tasty, traditional meals with the same view that inspired Mark Twain. If the weather is nice, get a table on the outdoor patio and watch the sun sparkles and sets on the Chemung Valley.
Back in town, we loved our breakfast and lunch at the Turtle Leaf Cafe. They serve fresh, healthy food and make a killer smoothie. The Holiday Inn Elmira Riverview is a convenient base for exploring the Mark Twain country. Ask for a room on the river side for the best views.
Watkins Glen, New York: A Gorgeous Gorge and Seneca Lake
Watkins Glen is worthy of a road trip even if you only visited popular Watkins Glen State Park then headed home, but that would be silly. The town sits at the southern end of Seneca Lake, offering beautiful wineries, delicious dining, small town shopping, and beautiful country drives.
Things to Do in Watkins Glen, New York
The easy and popular Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park extends a mile-and-a-half into the gorge, past (and sometimes behind) 21 waterfalls, along sinuous walls, and over stairways, tunnels, bridges, and walkways. The views throughout the hike are absolutely magical. The park also offers camping, fishing, biking, and more hiking trails.
Watkins Glen State Park is conveniently located in town, so it's a short walk from the Gorge Trail to shops, restaurants, and bars. Racing fans can make a pilgrimage to Watkins Glen International, the birthplace of American road racing.
When you want a break from town, drive to nearby Sunset View Creamery in Odessa for a self-guided tour and cheese tasting at Hoffman's Dairy, a farm managed by the 4th and 5th generation of Hoffmans. Or follow the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and visit some of the 30 wineries that surround the lake.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Watkins Glen New York
Beautiful wineries line both sides of Seneca Lake. This section of lakeside is known as the “banana belt” because longer sunlight hours on the eastern shore allows for a longer growing season than the western shore vineyards. Shale rock in the soil infuses the vines with minerality, resulting in an especially delicious Reisling and Cab Franc.
Beginning in Watkins Glen and heading up the eastern side, we sampled the wines and the views at several stops along Seneca Lake. All of the vineyards we visited offer delicious wines and lovely views of the lake. And there are many more wineries to sample on a return trip.
- Popular Lakewood Vineyards is just outside of downtown Watkins Glen and has a range of wines from dry classics to fruity picnic wines.
- Atwater Winery, in Burdett, has a nice tasting room and a large deck with beautiful views of Seneca Lake. The serenity is occasionally punctuated by air guns chasing off the birds.
- Wagner Vineyards also has a large deck with great views. Wagner has their own brewery so they are an excellent destination if you have a mix of wine and beer lovers in your group.
- Further north in Lodi, Boundary Breaks hosts tastings indoors or you can relax outside with a glass of their delicious wine.
No designated driver? Book a half or full-day Seneca Lake Wine Tour with an expert guide. You'll visit and taste at 4 or 5 wineries and leave the driving to someone else.
In town, the Wildflower Cafe and adjacent Crooked Rooster Brewpub serve a tasty menu and their own Rooster Fish Brewing craft beer in a relaxed pub setting. Our fresh salads and cold brews were perfect after a morning hike. Down the block, Nickel's Pit BBQ is an excellent choice for a heartier meal and more of those Rooster Fish brews.
Stay at The Inn at Grist Iron in Burdett to enjoy luxurious rooms with access to a full kitchen and more of those beautiful Seneca Lake views. The Inn offers easy access to Atwater and more area wineries, and has its own on-site brewery. We enjoyed relaxing on the deck outside our room, A short stroll leads to the brewpub and a final beer to end the day.
Hammondsport New York: A Cool Small Town on Keuka Lake
Budget Travel readers in 2012 named Hammondsport “America's Coolest Small Town,” and the vibe still lives up to the name. Hammondsport has a lovely downtown on the southern shore of Keuka Lake, the only Y-shaped lake in America. It's an ideal base to tour Keuka Lake wineries and breweries, enjoy a meal by the water, and visit an excellent museum honoring an American aviation pioneer.
Things to Do in Hammondsport, New York
If you only have a day in Hammondsport, head to the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. Curtiss began his career as a builder of bicycles and motorcycles, and was named “the fastest man on earth” when he reached 136.4 MPH on his V8 powered motorcycle. In 1908 he achieved fame again when he flew the “June Bug” 5000 feet, the first pre-announced public flight in America. The Curtiss Museum houses a fascinating and beautiful collection of vintages bikes, motorcycles, planes, and other period artifacts.
After your museum visit, check out Hammondsport's downtown and walk to lakefront to enjoy the view, take a swim, or head out on the lake. The Keuka Water Taxi is an ideal way to get out on the water. The water taxi can accommodate a relaxing sight-seeing trip with stops for swimming or a direct route to dinner at one of the lakeside restaurants.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Hammondsport New York
In town, visit Keuka Bakery Company for a delicious breakfast pastry or tater tot-centric dish. Across the street, the Timber Stone Grill serves hearty burgers and other tasty fare for lunch and dinner. The Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern, on the western side of Keuka Lake, serves excellent seafood and tavern fare indoors or on their three-level deck with nice views of the water.
As one of the three wine lakes, (along with Cayuga and Seneca) Keuka has 16 wineries, including some of the oldest in the area. Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars revolutionized wine making in the American East when he developed vinifera rootstock that produced quality grapes and was resistant to local pests. Today the winery continues to produce outstanding Reislings and other award-winning wines.
Further south, Heron Hill Winery offers wines in a spectacular tasting room on the hill that's also a popular venue for weddings and special events. If it's not too busy, ask to see the view from the tower.
For a more casual atmosphere, visitors flock to the back patio of Steuben Brewing Company for tasty beer sourced with local hops. The seasonal Pumpkin Ale was a hit during our visit.
The Best Western Plus the Hammondsport Hotel, which opened in 2016, is an excellent base for your visit to Hammondsport. Just across the street from the Curtiss Museum and close to town, it offers large, comfortable, and quiet rooms including a full breakfast.
Corning New York: Impressive Museums and a Glass Adventure
Corning, New York is best known for the Corning Museum of Glass, the largest glass museum in the world, and the centerpiece of our visit. Corning's lovely downtown, the Gaffer District, offers fun shopping, dining, and another excellent museum.
Things to Do in Corning, New York
In 2015, the Corning Museum of Glass added the modern Contemporary Art and Design Wing, displaying current works in a modern, sunlight-infused building.
The museum's stunning collection of glass works, spanning 3500 years of history, is beautiful and engaging. Corning Museum of Glass goes beyond static displays with glass-blowing demonstrations in a large theater and the opportunity to make your own glass. We loved the process of making glass flowers, now proudly displayed at home.
It's easy to spend several hours at the Museum of Glass, but allow time to explore Corning's historic area and another impressive museum. Corning's downtown Gaffer District (gaffer is another name for a glassblower) is lined with cool shops, glass galleries, restaurants, and a central park that hosts farmers markets and other events. It's a short walk from the museum over the parklike Centreway pedestrian bridge to the Gaffer District, so consider leaving your car and exploring on foot.
The Rockwell Museum, centrally located in town, houses a wonderful collection of Western American Art gifted by it's benefactors, successful local business owners Bob and Hertha Rockwell. The Rockwell's had a particular interest in western and Native American art and the collection includes beautiful paintings and sculptures.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Corning New York
There are many dining options in Corning's Gaffer District so head there for meals. For breakfast, we would happily return to Poppleton Bakery for the delicious breakfast crepes and pastries. For lunch, try Slammin' Jammin' BBQ, which recently opened a second location in an expanded, multi-level site on the main street.
The Cellar offers some of the most beautiful and delicious food we have eaten, in a refined but casual atmosphere. A large selection of tapas make it easy to share, and they also offer a nice selection of full entrees. Order the charcuterie and the lettuce wraps and your meal will be off to a fabulous start.
Dinner at nearby Market Street Brewing is a popular spot for brewpub meals and craft beers in a comfortable setting. If the weather is nice, grab a table on the patio or the upstairs deck.
Like most of the Finger Lakes, Corning is a good location for exploring wineries, breweries, and an excellent distillery close to downtown. Four Fights Distilling offers their hand-crafted vodka, moonshine, and cinnamon whiskey plus delicious cocktails in a sleek tasting room. Our peach martini, the daily special, was delicious, and apple pie whiskey was in the works when we visited. Beer lovers can visit Iron Flamingo, Corning's first brewery to bottle and distribute beers.
Staybridge Suites Corning is in an excellent location right next to the Corning Museum of Glass. It's a short walk to the downtown. The Radisson Hotel Corning also has a great location right at the end of the Gaffer District.
Stay at the Hampton Inn Corning Painted Post if you'd prefer a spot away from the bustle of town with easy access to nearby wineries.
Corning and Southern Finger Lakes Getaway Tips
For residents in the Washington DC and Northern Virginia area, a Southern Finger Lakes getaway offers a road trip rich in small towns, wineries, history, and scenic beauty. New York's Southern Finger Lakes are about a 5 hour drive from Northern Virginia, heading straight north on Route 15.
Take your time on the drive and enjoy rolling hills and farmland views; just avoid rush hour. If you want to break up the drive, you could overnight in Gettysburg and visit the battlefield. Or stop further north in Harrisburg and tour the Pennsylvania State Capitol.
Here is a map of our Southern Finger Lakes road trip. In a region so large, it's difficult to cover all the region has to offer on a short Finger Lakes getaway. If time allows, we recommend exploring the area further north, and adding a visit to Cayuga Lake or some of the smaller lakes. Do you have a Finger Lakes favorite? Please share your tips in the comments below.
Our visit was hosted by Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes.
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This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2018.