Exploring New York beyond the Five Boroughs

Written by | Travel

The Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes — Photo courtesy New York State Tourism

We seek out spectacular architecture, fab food and wine, splendid scenery and unforgettable art in New York — and we’re not talking about the city.

Throughout my childhood, New York City beckoned like a Siren. I felt far away upstate in Ithaca where university students wore punny t-shirts that proclaimed “Ithaca is Gorges.” And it really is gorgeous — particularly in summer and autumn, when Cayuga Lake (the longest of the Finger Lakes at 40 miles) shimmers with sailboats amid a multi-colored quilt of fall foliage. But in 1977, when the “I Love NY” advertising campaign debuted with Broadway stars singing its catchy jingle, I was a tap-dance loving gay boy for whom the song was all about the city. However now, as the campaign marks its 40th anniversary, I have grown to appreciate it as a celebration of all ten of the state’s other vacation destinations — which include Greater Niagara, the Adirondacks, Hudson Valley, the Catskills, Thousand Islands Seaway and Finger Lakes.

Escape from the Big Apple

Given the blinding brightness of the city’s appeal for tourists (with nearly 62 million visitors in 2016), the state of New York sometimes seems to linger in the city’s shadow. But not so long ago, many urban New Yorkers were anxious to flee in the opposite direction — with people of means and social standing desperate to escape the ills of the city and head to their “Great Camps” in the Adirondacks.

Financier J.P. Morgan used to escape in a private Pullman railcar furnished with four bedrooms, a full kitchen, private baths and crew quarters — bound for his estate Camp Uncas in the Adirondacks. Today, the Adirondack Park’s six million acres includes approximately 35 former Great Camps of wealthy industrialists such as those of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, whose way of life required extensive domestic staffs of chambermaids, valets, chefs, butlers and laundresses to maintain estates nearly on the order of Downton Abbey. Tours of these phenomenal spots are offered by Adirondack Architectural Heritage (aarch.org), the non-profit historic preservation organization for Adirondack Park.

During the Gilded Age (toward the end of the 1800s), Lake George was lined with the mansions of millionaires, four of whom purchased Green Island to build The Sagamore (thesagamore.com), which opened in 1883. Now a member of Opal Collection, the Sagamore Resort offers visitors a luxury retreat on a private 70-acre island. Guests can sail along the shores of Millionaires Row aboard the Morgan, a 72-foot replica of a 19th-century touring vessel. A year-round resort with hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and a full-service marina, the Sagamore also makes a secluded island setting for weddings and honeymoons.

Glenmere Mansion

Glenmere Mansion — Photo courtesy the Glenmere Mansion

Similarly, in the lower Hudson Valley, New York magnate Robert Goelet built a replica of an Italian villa and christened it Glenmere (glenmeremansion.com) for the lake nearby. Throughout the Roaring Twenties, Goelet entertained there not unlike the Great Gatsby — hosting royals and heads of state alike on his 3,000-acre estate. Glenmere’s renaissance commenced in 2010 when the 35-room Tuscan villa reopened as a member of Relais & Châteaux. Designed by Carrère and Hastings — the architects renowned for Manhattan’s Beaux-Arts New York Public Library — Glenmere offers 18 rooms and suites named for various luminaries such as Vanderbilt and Ogden.

Guests at Glenmere in search of cultural pursuits head to Dia:Beacon (diaart.org). The former Nabisco box printing factory situated on the banks of the Hudson River houses the Dia Art Foundation’s collection of art from the 1960s to the present. Also nearby is one of the world’s leading sculpture parks: Storm King Art Center (stormking.org), an open-air museum encompassing nearly 500 acres. More than 100 sculptures can be found among the fields, hills and woodlands. The surrounding area also includes the Harness Racing Museum, the 11-mile Heritage Trail, and U.S. Military Academy at West Point — in addition to Woodbury Commons (premiumoutlets.com) for those in search of retail therapy.

The Pavilion

The Pavilion — Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Days of Wine and Glass

Upstate New York has hosted its share of historic music events, including Woodstock in 1969 and the 1973 Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, which set a world record for the largest music festival with 600,000 attendees (nearly twice as many as Woodstock). What was also happening during those years was the establishment of a burgeoning viticulture industry in the Finger Lakes that has subsequently become the nation’s largest wine-growing region east of California.

More than 100 wineries are located within the Finger Lakes’ micro-climate. Notable for its signature Riesling, the region is celebrated for its aromatic whites, which can be savored by following any of the four wine trails that meander along Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka and Canandaigua lakes. The region also produces ciders, meads, and spirits, all of which are showcased at events such as the annual Finger Lakes Wine Festival (flwinefest.com). 

The fine art of wine-making also flourishes on Long Island, where 50 such operations produce a half million cases of wine annually. Long Island also offers a wealth of beaches — including those of Fire Island, which remain as enticing as Oz to the gay community.

Corning Museum

Corning Museum — Photo courtesy of the museum

Close by, Gold Coast mansions line the North Shore where Gatsby once pined for Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Visitors in search of Jazz Age opulence might opt for an overnight stay at Oheka Castle (oheka.com), which was the erstwhile residence of financier Otto Kahn and served as inspiration for Gatsby’s palatial digs. Once America’s second largest private home, it’s now a 32-room luxury hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jazz Age tycoons furnished their mansions with treasures created by artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose glass mosaics can be viewed throughout New York State. A Tiffany Driving Tour leads from New York City to western New York and showcases more than 50 pieces dating from the 1890s through the 1920s. An exhibition of Tiffany’s Glass Mosaics can be viewed at the Corning Museum of Glass (cmog.org) through the end of 2017. Founded in 1951 in honor of the centennial of Corning Glass Works, the museum presents more than 45,000 objects chronicling 3,500 years of glass-making history in a building designed by the same architect behind the U.N., Lincoln Center and the original home of the MoMA.

For Every Taste

In Ithaca, the Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University was built in 1968 by the great I.M. Pei. Famed for its concrete façade, the museum houses more than 35,000 works in its permanent collection, including two stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Nestled among gorges and waterfalls, Cornell’s 745-acre campus offers spectacular vistas of the lake and surrounding landscape. Graduates of the university’s hotel school have opened bars and restaurants in the Ithaca area, which makes the town of 30,000 a foodie paradise — with more restaurants per capita than even New York City. Restaurateurs turn to Ithica’s famed farmers’ markets to help source the farm-to-table comestibles at restaurants such as Moosewood (moosewoodcooks.com), which has spearheaded the evolution of sustainable vegetarian cuisine here and in the process has become one of the “most influential restaurants of the 20th century,” according to Bon Appétit.

New York State Viticulture

New York State Viticulture — Photo courtesy of the New York Board of Toursim

Photography and film aficionados might consider a visit to Rochester’s Eastman Museum (eastman.org), the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography. Located in a historic Colonial Revival mansion (once home to the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company), its formal gardens and conservatory underwent a restoration in 1990. It’s as imposing as the Hollywood stand-in where Montgomery Clift (playing George Eastman) crossed its threshold in hot pursuit of Liz Taylor in the 1951 Academy Award-winning classic, A Place in the Sun.

For more art, consider Saratoga Springs, home to the fabled artists’ community Yaddo (yaddo.org). The 400-acre estate once belonged to financier Spencer Trask and writer Katrina Trask. For more than 90 years, the mansion and its surrounding studios have housed artists who have collectively amassed 66 Pulitzer Prizes (and numerous other awards). The Yaddo Gardens are free and open to the public year-round.

Another draw for visitors is the famous mineral springs that gave the town its name. Thanks to the development of European-style spas in the 19th century, Saratoga Springs became home to numerous grand hotels, including the Pavilion Grand Hotel (paviliongrandhotel.com), originally built in 1819, and The Adelphi (theadelphihotel.com), which reopens this summer following a meticulous restoration.

Other local institutions include the Saratoga Race Course — which has been hosting thoroughbred races for more than 150 years — and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. For many, summers in Saratoga Springs have become synonymous with the New York City Ballet, which has held residencies there since 1966, often showcasing choreography by such great gay choreographers as Jerome Robbins.

Looking for more great reasons LGBT travelers can say “I Love New York”? Visit iloveny.com/lgbt.

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Last modified: August 2, 2017

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