Are you an adventurous traveler who finds crowds disagreeable (especially now), or trendy resort towns overhyped and exhausting? Well then, we’ve got another category of destination to propose: Faded industrial cities-turned artsy cool.
These five former "rust-belt" New York State cities have changed for the better over the last 10 years — drawing artists and entrepreneurs who are turning them into fun, quirky, tourist destinations.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo has spent the last decade cleaning up and repurposing industrial sites, waterfronts, and gorgeous luxury boutique lodging. A chance to tour the meticulously restored Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House is reason enough to visit this city. But Wright fans will also find two more properties to gawk at: Graycliff, a lake house just outside the city; and a gas station that was never built until a few years ago. Based on Wright’s original blueprint, the copper topped structure is now housed inside the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum.
There’s so much more, too, in the city that made spicy chicken wings a tavern staple. (Check out their origins at Anchor Bar). For example, you can get up close to Mark Twain’s handwritten Huck Finn manuscript at the Buffalo Public Library. The sporty set can paddle kayaks, while inhaling the scent of Cheerios from the nearby General Mills plant, at Canalside. "Rock-climb" inside decommissioned beer grain silos at Riverworks.
Troy, New York
Downtown Troy is so of-the-Victorian-age, it was chosen as filming location for HBO’s upcoming series ''The Gilded Age.'' On the Hudson River, Troy was a prominent industrial hub and then fell into decline. But the city is on the upswing, with great restaurants, shops, and some intriguing history about hometown boy, Uncle Sam, at the Hart Cluett History Museum. Visit the fantastic Burden Iron Works Museum to discover the Washington Ferris connection to the Burden Water Wheel, and from-the-source information about the 1878 Centennial Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Stay about a mile from downtown at the standout Gardner Farm Inn, with eye-catching gourmet breakfasts, and themed rooms named for and decorated in the style of Hollywood stars and literary greats, (e.g. Jean Harlow, Oscar Wilde).
Utica, New York
Utica considers itself a "City of Refugees." Many have discovered the American dream in this central New York region — perhaps most famously, Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish immigrant who founded Chobani Yogurt.
As evidence of Utica’s past riches, descendants of several wealthy families commissioned "starchitect" Philip Johnson to design the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, in 1960. Today, this bulky, fortresslike art museum draws locals and visitors into its sunlit, airy galleries, and offers a peek into the founding family’s riches. The Olmstead Brother’s landscaped Roscoe Conkling Park encompassing the Utica Zoo, offers golf, miles of hiking trails, organized recreation, Red Pandas, and The Largest Watering Can in the World.
Sip on works-of-art coffee drinks at European-style Joseph Putrello Coffee. Order fresh craft beer at the new Baggs Square Brewery, directly across from the renovated marble-columned Union Station — an Instagram favorite. Also in the gentrifying Baggs Square neighborhood, eat at innovative small-bites restaurant, Tailor & Cook. Or join the trend-forward crowds at urban eatery, Ocean Blue, atop the Landmarc Building downtown.
One ‘burg over, in Clinton, drive golf balls and then enjoy small-batch wines at Brimfield Farm Winery and Driving Range. Grab lunch or book an extraordinary multicourse "High Tea" at Compound Restaurant, on Clinton Green, known for its from-scratch flavored butters and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.
In Utica, stay at the renovated Rosemont Inn — a former mansion a few minutes drive to midtown, now owned and run by a community activist who’s also an amazing breakfast chef.
Syracuse, New York
Although most associated with Syracuse University, Syracuse was once an Erie Canal town. In fact, the waterway ran right through downtown, but was buried during roadway construction. The Canal lives on, however, at the excellent Erie Canal Museum, where, in addition to learning about the human-made shipping conduit, you can board a to-scale boat model exactly where it would have been weighed. In addition, visitors to Syracuse shouldn’t miss the contemporary ceramics-focused Everson Art Museum, designed by I.M. Pei.
Grab a bite and adult beverage, 20 minutes out of town, at 1911 Cider House and Distillery on the campus of Beak & Skiff Orchards. Stay at the newly restored "Roaring ’20s" glamorous Society gem, Marriott Syracuse Downtown.
Binghamton, New York
City boosters are proud of their resurging BING! As a college town, there are plenty of funky trendy restaurants and shops to explore. The Recreation Park Carousel, one of six 30’s era merry-go-rounds in the greater Binghamton area, is the only one festooned with scenes from ''The Twilight Zone.'' That’s because series creator Rod Serling lived a block away, and rode this carousel as a child.
Drive 20 minutes out of town to Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, a private, very interactive zoo that became internationally renowned when, in 2017, millions of fans watched resident giraffe, April, give birth live on YouTube. (April died in spring 2021).
Peruse the Bundy Museum of Art and History, situated in the 1883 home of Harlow Bundy, inventor of the "Time Recording Clock," whose manufacturing company eventually became IBM. Speaking of IBM — stay at the upscale Traditions at the Glen, just out of town in Johnson City.