Rochester: New York’s Other Culture Capital

rochester new york

My travels take me far and wide, to places large and small.  So it was no small surprise to find myself in Rochester New York, the state’s third largest city.  Just south of Lake Ontario, I’d heard lots of great things about Rochester and was lucky enough to find out what’s hot and what’s not.  Tthere’s actually plenty entertain yourself during a visit to what was once known as The Flour City (due the mills), now sometimes called The Flower City (due to the..uhm, flowers).  I’d like to think of the place as New York’s other culture capital – purely based on all the things to do.  Here’s a sampling.

East Avenue Action

East Avenue, which runs right out of downtown, is a great place to start Rochester sightseeing.  At the start of this street, you have a fantastic coffee shop, Java’s, and just a block or two from there, another coffee shop in an old car dealership building, Spot.  Between the two are several shops, including a funky record store.  You can get your buzz on here and then a couple of block over to Strong Museum of Play, a great place for both adults and children: kids can have fun with hands-on exhibits, and adults can learn about the act of play and see some of their old favourite toys in the hall of fame.

Further down and just off East Ave is the  George Eastman House.  For photography buffs of any kind, this is a must see – even if you don’t like photography, you’ll love the gift shop. ;)  I loved learning about the eccentricies of Mr Eastman himself, and was blown away by facts like this museum has a copy of the original Wizard of Oz (and the camera that filmed it), as well as the cameras that took several other very important photographs in history.  From there don’t pass up a stroll through Memorial Art Gallery, which has an impressive collection of what seems to be just about one-of-everything.

Lake Ontario Exploration

Next its time to take your Rochester sightseeing on a detour north to the city limits at Lake Ontario.   Charlotte-Genesee lighthouse is the big draw here, and one of the most photographed attractions of the city – you can see why! The original Abbott’s ice cream is here along the lake, along with a number of other very tasty restaurants (cheeseburgers, anyone?).  You can sit in the park and watch the waves go by, or brave it on the small sandy beach.  Or just stroll and let the winds coming off the lake clear your thoughts.

Chilling Out on Park Avenue

Similar to East Ave, Park Ave is another street full of great cafes, restaurants, and shops perfect for Rochester sightseeing.  (It’s also got a huge parking influx, so be prepared.)  Top choice is Stever’s Chocolates; they have everything… seriously.  And it’s one of those old fashioned chocolate places that makes their own stuff and the kind of vintage feel to it.  Really special. Spin Caffee is a great place to sit for a cup of Joe, but there are tons and tons of places, so don’t hesitate to explore and pop into whatever jumps out at you.

See the Cinema Scene


Rochester has a thriving theatre scene, which I think lends nicely to its cutural status.  Little Theatre is a must – I think it needs to be added to our list of unique movie theaters – as they offer a tasty roundup of foreign and independent films.  Their cafe is also charming and damn good food.  Eastman Theatre is your other must stop for cultural ensembles; associated with the Eastman School of Music, the venue has just underwent restorations and is looking as impressive as ever. Unfortunately,  you cannot sit in Mr Eastman’s seat, but there doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house.

Go Over the Falls

High Falls is a Rochester sightseeing absolute without a doubt can’t miss.  It’s because this massive waterfall in the middle of town is why Rochester is here – you see, this provided the muscle for the mills that started the economic boom.  There’s a bridge built especially for viewing, but it’s a pretty steep drop – you won’t want to go over these falls in a barrel.  Having said that, daredevil Sam Patch did manage a run over Niagara Falls, but then died in his second attempt to go over High Falls – his first was succesfull but didn’t raise enough money.  Whoops.

Jazz It Up

Jazz Festival is held every year in Rochester in the middle of June, and to many in the industry, it’s become one of the best-in-class events.  Stages are setup all across downtown and many streets turn pedestrian, making Rochester a very welcoming place to relax with some tunes and soak up the scene.  I was so sad I missed it – not to say I didn’t enjoy the Rochester sightseeing, I certainly did – but Rochester Jazz Fest seems to be a top event.  To stay in touch with next year’s events, visit the Rochester Jazz website.

Other Rochester Sightseeing Tips

Rochester has loads of other stuff going on.  You can:

  • go golfing
  • take the kids to the zoo or waterpark
  • ride a boat on the river
  • see some great minor-league sports (baseball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, and more…)

Rochester as New York’s Other Culture Capital?  Quite possible.  Rochester with something for everybody?  Most definitely.

Editorial Disclosure:  Portions of this trip were sponsored by Visit Rochester.  This sponsorship in no way affects the editorial content of this piece.

Photo Credits: milan81, snowgen, pixelnaiad, mike.hanlon, Andy Hayes, Ben Golub

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