What To Do with Two Gammy's and a Graduate on an Epic Road Trip?

Day Trip in the Finger Lakes

Story and Photos by Kathy Klofft

Ok, maybe not THAT epic, but when you pack your septuagenarian mother and octogenarian mother in law into a van along with a 20 year old college student and a newly minted college graduate for a day trip in the Finger Lakes District of upstate NY, you have the what sounds like the trailer of bad buddy movie!  Fortunately for us, it had a happy ending, and we were treated to a beautiful May day in the Finger Lakes! Here's our itinerary and some ideas for things to do in this "gorges" area!

The Finger Lakes are actually a series of 11 lakes in narrow, deep gorges created by the glaciers, and they are also "gorgeous"!  (That's the end of my geology puns, I promise!) With vineyards along the steep slopes of the pristine lakes, the views are breathtaking at every turn. Because my family was in town for a busy weekend of graduation activities, we had only one day to explore the area, so we stayed close to the college, and visited the western shore of Canandaigua Lake.  Even just visiting a small area and during the quiet spring season, it was easy to see why this region is popular with tourists! 

A boat launch near Naples NY

A boat launch near Naples NY

We started our day early with a visit to the Sonnenburg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park.  The park is located in Canandaigua, NY, not far from the NY Throughway, and makes a nice start to a day exploring the Finger Lakes.   One could easily spend a whole day here. There are 50 acres of gardens and green houses on the property, in addition to the beautifully restored mansion built in 1887 for Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson. 

At the admission booth, you'll get a map of the property and can plan your visit.  We decided to start in the Green House Conservatory Complex with the orchid house.  The Nectarine House was filled with orchids, succulents and cactus.  Incredible statuary is mixed in among the plants, and there is a fun scavenger hunt for the children, to look for "faces" among the artwrok in both the gardens and in the mansion!

The Nectarine House with Sonnenburg Garden's collection of prizewinning orchids

The Nectarine House with Sonnenburg Garden's collection of prizewinning orchids

Garden statues are tucked among the lush foliage in the orchid green house.

Garden statues are tucked among the lush foliage in the orchid green house.

If you are visiting with anyone mobility challenges, or just want to save some energy, with you can take a complimentary golf cart shuttle from place to place. I recommend taking the shuttle to the mansion at the top of the hill and then meandering downhill through all the gardens. If you start in the green houses at the beginning, cooler part of the day, you'll enjoy them more!

A view of the Gardens from the mansion

A view of the Gardens from the mansion

The mansion is very well preserved. Docents offer tours or you can wander around on your own.  In addition to the spectacular distant views to the lakes , the Victorian era furnishings and antiques are beautiful.  Unlike some historic homes open to the public, you truly feel as though you have stepped inside the Thompson's home as a guest and that they still live there and might step out to great you at any moment!

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Be sure to ask your docent to explain the significance of this poster...it seems the homeowners caught a lucky break when they canceled their passage on the Titanic to tend their gardens!!

We left behind the Sonnenburg mansion and gardens long before we could explore everything they had to offer, including an enticing outdoor cafe, and a gift shop.  We will need to return to see more of the gardens, and one could visit several times in a single summer and see different things blooming!

The lake views beckoned so we skipped visiting the town of Canandaigua, which has plenty of shops, and lake front restaurants to offer. We took a drive along Route 16 and enjoyed views of Canandaigua Lake to the east.  The lake banks in many places were terraced with grape arbors and we saw lots of places offering wine tastings and tours! 

Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake

It was too cold for a swim, so we decided to take in some of the recommendations we had crowd sourced from the parent Face Book page at our daughters university. Our first stop was Roots Cafe.  A popular farm to table restaurant set in a roadside home hard by the Inspire Moore vineyard.  

Roots cafe in Naples NY

Roots cafe in Naples NY

We chose a table on the porch, and perused the menu of locally sourced specialties, including three unique daily salad, mac and cheese and soup specials offered.  Not being able to narrow our choices we ordered nearly one of everything offered on the menu and shared!

Bright colors, real flowers and a real vineyard next door add ambiance to the excellent food.

Bright colors, real flowers and a real vineyard next door add ambiance to the excellent food.

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Despite the tempting offerings, we skipped dessert because we had been advised to check out Monica's Pies for dessert.  Beginning our trip back north from Naples to Canandaigua we stopped at Monica's Pies, which came highly recommended by everyone we spoke to about the area. This famous pie shop doesn't offer a spot to dine, but you can pick up pies and other yummies for the road!

In addition to delicious pies, and other sweet treats, Monica's offers some grape related gifts.

In addition to delicious pies, and other sweet treats, Monica's offers some grape related gifts.

While Monica's grape pie is the claim to fame, I can attest that the strawberry rhubarb and caramel apple pies were also delicious.  I should have taken a photo of the pies, but they simply didn't last long enough for photography!

After a wonderful lunch at Roots Cafe and some goodies from Monica's Pies, we made our way back to campus via route 64, which gave us some lovely distant views above the lake and offered more tempting wineries to visit. Additionally, had our group been more fleet of foot and less tempted by all the foodie delights the area had to offer, we could have hiked several of the lovely trails and parks in this area. Next time we will plan to stop at Honeoye Wildlife Management Area.  We would also have liked to see the beautiful falls at Grimes Glen.  And we visited New York's Wine Country and never even got to do any wine tasting!

Whoever is in the cast of your road tripping buddy movie in upstate NY, there is something fun for everyone to do along the shores of Canandaigua Lake!