College Town Tours: The Best of Ithaca, NY

A view of Cornell’s campus (courtesy of Cornell University Photography)

Ithaca is all you could ever want in a college town. In addition to the hopping bar scene and excellent cheap eats on College Ave, the surrounding area is home to some of the most creative local restaurants in the country, including the iconic Moosewood Restaurant. Ithaca is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and if you go to school here, your campus will include not only the requisite quads and clocktowers, but gorges and waterfalls. If you need to take a study break, further afield of Ithaca’s college haunts, you can find amazing running paths and, yes, wineries! This college town has a little of everything, and we promise you will have much to explore.

–Katherine Kies, Small Kitchen College Ambassador

**SKC Picks**

Best Bagel
CTB
415 College Ave.

CTB, or College Town Bagels, is located on College Ave. It has over 20 bagels every day, including the delicious, but underappreciated, Rosemary Salt bagel. It also has a seasonal bagel of the month and over 15 flavors of cream cheese. You can also get a wide and creative selection of hot beverages and smoothies to go with your bagel. In addition to being the morning social spot, CTB also has an extensive variety of sandwiches, prepared foods, baked goods and beers.

Best Saturday Morning Activity
Ithaca Farmer’s Market
Located at Steamboat Landing in Ithaca

The Ithaca Famer’s Market is an activity you do not want to miss. The Market is open from mid-April through mid-October, depending on the weather. The Market has a mixture of craftsman and food vendors, including the most delicious breakfast burrito from the Solaz stand. The Good Loaf Bake Shop has fantastic bread and scones. There are endless food opportunities, so pace yourself.

Best Store for Themed Mixers
Salvation Army
Located at 381 Elmira Road

The Salvation Army, which is located down on Route 13 past Wal-Mart, is a local favorite of college students for themed mixers, Halloween and other daily activities. Such treasures from wedding dresses to Harry Potter Capes have been known to be found there.

Best Late Night Food
Bru Dogs
301 College Ave.

New to Collegetown this year, Bru Dogs is a food vendor located outside of Jason’s Grocery at 219 College Ave. They serve a small menu of 6 dogs ranging from the classic Bru dog to the Chicago Dog, which is a sausage with peppers and onions. They cater to the late-night food market and serve dogs most nights of the week and are open throughout the day when the weather is good. Their actual hours are sort of unclear, but it is definitely worth the stumble down College Ave for a snack.

Best Place to be Seen Post Bars
CollegeTown Pizza
401 College Ave.

You cannot miss CTP on any weekend night, because the mass of students pours out of the restaurant and into the streets. While the pizza is pretty sub-par and the ambience is questionable, it is the place to see and be seen. You can witness the post-bar drama and entertainment while getting some food to satisfy the munchies.

Best Sweet Treat
Insomnia Cookies
310 College Ave

Started by a former Cornell Student, this decadent hot spot caters to people who have a sweet craving, who are taking a study break, or who just have the late night munchies. They do not open until 1pm, but they stay open until 2:30am. Their delicious flavors include Reese Peanut Butter Cup cookies and White Chocolate- Macadamia Nut Cookies. All the flavors can be complimented nicely with a bottle of milk or a malted milkshake.

Best Hangover Food
Jack’s Grill
120 Dryden Road

Whether you want a burger for a typical dinner or you have woke up slightly under the weather from the night before, Jack’s Grill has the perfect food for every person. Their hearty and cheesy omelets are made fresh to order and can satisfy even the hungriest boy. The casual diner feel and short-order cook system makes the spot have a retro feel.

Best Dive Bar
Dunbars
409 Eddy St

Dunbars is the epitome of a dive bar with its graffitied walls, and well-loved furnishings. However, its CollegeTown character comes through in the personalized ceiling panels created by college students, the darts in the back, and a popcorn machine in the front. You will find everyone from classy people leaving a formal, to people leaving the library and stopping in for a drink. It is a fun relaxed place to go out with a group.

Best Bar By Day

Monday- Karoke at Ruloff’s
Tuesday – Pitcher’s at CTB
Wednesday – Fish Bowls at Level B
Thursday – $3 Long Islands at Dunbars
Friday- All of the Above – pick your poison
Saturday – Palm’s O’clock at the Palms
Sunday – Mann…you may want to hit the library one day

Best Sushi and Sake
Miyake’s
416 Eddy St.

What dinner with friends is complete without some sushi and a few sake bombs? Answer, none! This Japanese spot can accommodate large groups, such as Greek houses and parties, and small groups, such as a date or a friend’s birthday. It has a wide variety of sushi choices as well as some hot food options. It is the perfect place to start your night out.

Best All Over Food Place
Wegmans
500 South Meadow Street

Wegmans is a food lovers dream come true. There is not anything you cannot find in Wegmans to fulfill a craving. From prepared meals to take home, to meals to eat in the café, to basic groceries, and festive holiday décor, Wegmans is the place to go. Study for an exam, grab a quick bite, or do your shopping for the week. Also do not miss the “Build Your Own Beer” pack with Wegmans extensive micro brew selection. It is open 24 hours a day too, which caters to the insomniac college students’ lifestyles.

Most Romantic Date Spot
The Height’s Café
903 Hanshaw Road.

The Height’s Café is one of the best dining places in Ithaca. Nestled in a quaint shopping center just above Cornell’s campus, the Height’s Café menu of American cuisine with global influences. While the experience is definitely on the pricier side for a college student, for a special occasion it is just the place.

Best Value Food
Souvlaki House
315 Eddy St

Souvlaki house is nothing to write home to the culinarians about, but it is a great place to go for a casual meal with friends on a budget. You get bang for your buck here as the saying goes. While the cuisine is an undefined mix between Greek and Italian, the portions are generous and the food is satisfying.

Best Culinary Experience
Hazelnut Kitchen
53 East Main Street, Trummansburg, NY

Hazelnut Kitchen is hands down the best restaurant the Finger Lakes area for food and ambience. Although it is located about 20 minutes outside of Ithaca, the drive is well worth it. The menu is upscale American with a comfort food feel. There is also a focus on local, and seasonal, which means the creative and delicious menu changes monthly to meet product availability. This is one spot you do not want to miss.

Best Brunch
The Carriage House
305 Stewart Ave

Whether your parents are in town for the weekend or you just want to grab a good meal before hitting the library, The Carriage House is a great place to go. The quaint atmosphere, designed to look match its name has an exposed wood frame, cobblestone floors, and wrought iron furniture. The menu is limited and pretty stagnate, but they do have an omelet and strata of the day. Their espresso drinks are generous and frothy, and their stuffed French toast is to die for, but makes Paula Dean look like a health cook. Make sure to also try their rustic sandwiches, which are great for a late brunch meal.

Best Sport’s Bar
Benchwarmers
Located on the Ithaca Commons at 137 E State Street

Located on the Ithaca Commons, Benchwarmers bar is the perfect place to watch a game and grab a burger or wings. While the food is not meant to wow, the spot has over 10 TVS and plays the coveted ESPN network games. So go for the sports and some typical bar food – no fluff.  Note that while the bar stays open till 12am, the kitchen closes a 9pm, so do not try the spot for late night food.

Most Intellectual Activity on Campus
Johnson Museum
Located on the North end of the Arts and Sciences Quad off University Ave.

The Johnson Museum, located right on Cornell’s central campus is an impressive place for such a small town. The museum rotates through a diversity of visiting expositions in its lower level and maintains a series of high quality collections on the upper floors. Student shows also rotate through the museum, which are often just as impressive as the permanent collection.  Its dramatic building was designed by a former Cornell student and provides expansive views of the Town of Ithaca.

Best Running Route on Campus
Beebe Lake
Cornell’s North Campus

Whether you are a sprinter or a distance runner, Beebe Lake’s trail offers a great place for you to release your daily stress. The lake’s 1.3-mile trail can be entered from over 4 different spots on North and Central Campus and provides a mix of flat areas, with some light hills and stairs, if desired. The trail also provides breathtaking views of the Thurston Gorge and surrounding foliage throughout all seasons.

Best Off-Campus Running Route
The Plantations

When the grandeur of Cornell’s campus has worn off and you need a change of scenery, visit Cornell’s Plantations. Located just off campus, behind Central Campus and amongst the Forest Home neighborhood, the Cornell Plantations provide a great place to run within a set area. The loop is about 1.3 miles, similar to Beebe Lake, but includes long, and steep hills. The route gives you good views of the Plantations pond, wildlife, and foliage. Enter the route on Caldwell Road via Forest Home Drive for a less hilly route to the Plantations, or enter on Caldwell Road via Campus Road for a longer route.
See http://www.cornell.edu/maps/ to find the site just off Cornell’s Campus, or visit http://www.cornellplantations.org/

Most Social Library
Mann Library
260 Tower Road on Cornell University

So you are to-do list is ever growing and you know you are going to have to lock yourself in a library for the next week, but you are not prepared to cut off all communication…what is the solution? Go to Mann Library. Mann Library, also known as Club Mann for its social atmosphere provides the perfect place to get work done while not exiling yourself. You can lock yourself in a private study room for blocks of time, work on a group project in a group study room, take a break on the social first level, or get food at Mandibles Café, all without leaving the building – a big draw in icy Ithaca. While it is a bit of a hike to the top of the Agriculture Quad, it is the only library with parking after 5pm, so hitch a ride with a friend of make the trek to camp out.

Most Adventurous Winter Activity
Skiing at Greek Peak
2000 NYS Rt, 392, Cortland, NY, 13045

Greek Peak is just outside Ithaca about 30 minutes in Cortland, NY. It is a small but accessible ski resort, and perfect for a day trip from Ithaca. If you take the downhill skiing classes at Cornell, you will be bussed to Greek Peak, so it’s not too far. The resort has 32 trails for all levels. And, for a full weekend of fun, or just for a day to escape the bitter cold, you can visit the indoor water park at the Greek Peak Lodge, which is a toasty 84 degrees all year.

Most Outdoorsy Activity
Hiking in Buttermilk Falls
105 Enfield Falls Road

Buttermilk Falls is located in Ithaca, just off Route 96. The park has everything from swimming lakes, to gorge trails, to picnic areas, to meadows for games and activities. It is a great place to go on a warm weekend for a short hike in the fresh air and to just get off campus with friends. The trails are gentle and do not require too much skill so they are good for any level of intensity. Additionally, the Ithaca area is filled with tons of hiking trails, and state parks, so be sure to also visit Taughannock Falls Park, Stewart Park, and Treeman State Park.

Most “Harry Potter “ Library
A.D. White Library
Located at the southern end of the Art’s and Sciences’ Quad.

The A.D. White Library is an absolute must see before leaving Cornell. It is located inside of Uris Library on the Art & Sciences’ Quad. The library is a hidden gem inside a somewhat institutional looking building. The library has a tower with a spiral stair case, floor to ceiling windows over looking West Campus, with comfy chairs in front of them, and 3-stories of old-world book shelves. It is a great place to escape and feel very “ivy-league” academic.

Most Social On-Campus Dining Spots
Trillium
Located at the West End of the Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Quad on Tower Road

While the Hotelies have the reputation for being the most social, Trillium Dining, located on the Agriculture & Life Sciences Quad, is the social most dining spot. Its central location and location within Cornell’s biggest College makes it the campus hub throughout the school day. Additionally, its 2-story wall of windows makes it a good spot to people watch.  It has several food stations from make-your own salad (more options than Terrace – One of The Statler’s dining facilities), to soups, to Stir-Fry, to pasta, and more. It even serves made-to- order omelets in the morning. So if you want a variety of food options, a place to study, a place to study, or simply a place to just watch the Cornell scene go by, Trillium is the place to go.

Best View of Ithaca
Cornell Clock Tower
Located at the South End of the Arts and Sciences’ Quad.

The Clock Tower is the icon of Cornell University and the defining feature on all University paraphernalia. The Clock Tower did not gain its iconic status without reason though. The Clock Tower can not only be seen and heard from many areas around campus, but it can also be seen from most areas around the Town of Ithaca. It defines Cornell’s Campus to the surrounding area, and it is the first thing many people see upon entry to campus. You can visit the Clock Tower and climb the 161 stairs to the top. At the top you have an expansive view of Ithaca and Cornell’s Campus. It is definitely an experience you must have.

Most Famous Restaurant
Moosewood
215 N. Cayuga Street

Moosewood is probably the thing that Ithaca is most famous for outside of Cornell University – although some may argue it is Moosewood first. Moosewood is most famous for its extensive vegetarian cookbooks. However, despite what most people think, they do offer non-vegetarian options. The menu changes daily and rotates through many different cuisines, but all the food is based around fresh, seasonal ingredients. While it is not a place to visit daily, it is a fun place to try and definitely part of the Ithaca experience.

Best Seasonal Festival
Apple Fest
Located on the Ithaca Commons in Mid- October.

Ithaca is a quaint town full of seasonal festivals and community activities. One of the most famous and by far the most fun activities is Apple Fest, which takes place on a weekend in October every year. Apple Fest is 3 days long and each day is filled with food, crafts and a variety of entertainment. The food vendors include your typical state fair vendors of fried everything and cotton candy, but there are also apples served every possible way and freshly picked apples for sale. The entertainment includes an apple pie eating contest, an iron chef event and musical performances. Lastly, a variety of craft vendors, from jewelry vendors to woodcraft vendors.

Most spirited sport
Men’s Ice Hockey
Lynah Rink is located at 200 Campus Road on Cornell University’s Campus.

There is no denying that the men’s ice hockey game is Cornell’s biggest sport with the most loyal fans. The season runs from mid-November through mid-March and is definitely the most sought out sport. In the fall, season tickets are available for sale, but there is quite a process to get them: first you have to go online at a specific time to apply for a line spot; if you get the line spot, you have to camp out in Bartels one weekend for 36 hours; if you make it the whole 36 hours, then you have to wait in line by your line number to pick your seats; if you make it through all this, then you get tickets. While this is an activity many freshman participate in and it is kind of part of Cornell initiation, it is not necessary. You can get tickets for basically any game except the Harvard-Cornell game (Note: people throw fish on the ice for this game as part of tradition, so come prepared, but be stealthy) through Big Red sports. Regardless of how you get the tickets, make sure to see a game.

Best Dessert Spot
Madeline’s
215 East State Street

Madeline’s is a restaurant located on the east side of the Ithaca Commons. While it is an Asian fusion restaurant, it is most famous for its luscious French dessert selection. The desserts are located at the back of the restaurant in 2 large, glass display cases. The desserts are prepared in house by their talented pastry chef, and include everything from basic red velvet cake to a large French “bombe” cake. You can go for a nice dinner or just for dessert. It is a great date place too.

Best Wine Route
Cayuga Wine Trail
Located in and around Ithaca, NY

The Cayuga Wine Trail is a tourist destination for people all over New York and the surrounding states. It is part of the Finger Lakes Wine Region and is full of wonderful vineyards. Since Ithaca is located right on Cayuga Lake, some of the wineries on the tour are very close by. You can pick up the tour at any point and visit all or just a few of the wineries along the way. Remember if you are not taking a bus or limo, have a DD.

Most Famous Winery
Dr. Frank’s Vineyard
9749 Middle Road Hammondsport, NY

Dr. Frank is the considered the father, or founder, of the Riesling grape. He came to New York in the1960’s from Germany, and started growing grapes in upstate New York on Keuka Lake. The winery boasts a world famous collection of Rieslings, in addition to its sparking wines, cabernet franc and chardonnay. There are always a variety of activities and events on the property and in the Finger Lakes area, including a visit to the Grape Nursery and frequent wine tastings at the winery.

Best Drink Deal
$3 Long Islands and Group Therapy at Dunbars
409 Eddy Street

Dunbars, as mentioned in “Best Dive Bar,” has two great drink specials every week. Group Therapy is on Wednesdays, which it involves a pitcher of beer and five shots of peach schnapps for $7, and $3 Long Islands on Thursdays. These two specials obviously bring the crowds, but it is well worth the wait for the deal. Group Therapy is great with a group and all the tables in Dunbars make it perfect for sitting around with friends and having a low-key night out. $3 Long Islands is pretty crazy for a dive bar, but it’s a good way to the start the weekend with a bang!

Most Underappreciated Campus Food
Dim Sum at RPCC
North Campus, off of Jessup Road and across from Mary Donlon Hall

Whether you’re a freshman on a meal plan or a senior trying to relive the younger years, Robert Purcell Dining Hall (RPCC) has the best brunch food on campus. What makes it so good you may wonder? The Dim Sum Bar. As part of the brunch, which includes all your basic brunch foods, such as make your own omelet and pancake bar; there is also an extensive Dim Sum Bar. While many people complain about the food on the campus, the Dim Sum Bar is definitely a good find and good value.

Most Undiscovered Campus Food
Johnson School Dining
Sage Hall off of East Avenue.

While the graduate students may be well aware of the delicious food offerings in the Johnson School, the undergraduate population is still uneducated when it comes to the dining options there. The Johnson School, located in Sage Hall, has the Atrium Café, which has an upscale food selection, including a gourmet salad bar, hot Panini’s to order, dim sum, and soups. While you may get some looks, it is well worth it for the change of food, and the best part, you can use BRB’s or Cornell Card!

Classiest Ctown Spot
Stella’s
403 College Ave.

Stella’s is spilt into two places: the coffee shop and the restaurant & bar. The coffee shop is a cozy, wooded spot with a specialty beverage selection. The drinks have clever names, such as the “all – nighter” and the “white hurricane,” and a limited food selection. The drinks do take a little bit of time, so I would no suggest grabbing it on the way to class. However, for a long night of studying away from the library, it is the perfect place. Alternatively, the restaurant and bar is a modern-looking space with stucco, cave-like walls, and abnormally shaped tables. The American-style menu has a local emphasis with dishes ranging from salads, to pastas, to meat and fish dishes.

Most Essential Online Food Ordering Company
Campus Food.com

CampusFood is an online ordering company that is available in numerous cities and colleges around the country. The site partners with local restaurants to sell their food online and deliver to your door. Some food places that are sold through CampusFood do not even have a storefront, where someone can buy food. They are often open late and fill those late night, college student cravings. In Ithaca, the offerings range from pizza vendors, to sushi, to burger places, to smoothies with red bull shots, to quarts of ice cream, to hot cookie vendors, to make your own hot pretzel vendors. The options are really endless.

Best Kept On-Campus Parking Secret
Teagle Hall parallel parking spots
Located on Garden Ave on Cornell University.

Whether you are running late to class, or it is so cold you think you may lose a body part to frost bite, you may end up opting to drive to class. Unfortunately, Cornell’s Campus is notorious for having no on-campus parking, so you have to be resourceful, or you WILL get a ticket (I speak from experience of getting a ticket after 2 minutes of being parked). Anyway, there is one place to park during the week – The parallel parking spots on Garden Ave between Teagle Hall and Barton Hall. They are only available after 5pm-7am Monday through Friday, and weekends, but that is the best you will find, and since it is not a parking lot, a lot of people do not know to go there.

Cheapest Place for a Drink on Campus
The Big Red Barn
Located at on the bottom of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Quad next to Bailey Hall.

While this may not be the undergraduate hang out, if you really do want a good deal on a drink, this is the place. And, guess what? It is conveniently located on Cornell’s Central Campus. The Big Red Barn is more of a graduate student hang out, but it has $1 beers on Fridays…. Yes, $1 beers, on campus. Basically, get a group of friends together and try it!

Most Hidden Campus Treasure
The Cornell Brain Collection
Located in Uris Hall on Cornell University off of East Ave.

Cornell is a college full of history, personality, artifacts, collections, and knowledge. While there are many unique areas, from the rare manuscript library to the Clock Tower, the Brain Collection is a particularly special feature. The collection included, at one time, over 1,200 brains, but today only includes 70. The brains include suffragists, former deans of the university, and convicted felons. Visit Uris Hall anytime to see the collection.

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Originally posted on Monday, April 4th, 2011

3 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Ithaca, NY”

  1. Tawn

    July 31st, 2011

    Nice list! But I thought I’d mention that Benchwarmers is not longer open for business (at least in the Commons).

    Also, if you’re ever back in Ithaca check out Waffle Frolick (across from where Benchwarmers *used* to be).

  2. John

    September 9th, 2012

    Thank you for this list – I now have a lot of new places to explore

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