Getting Off the Thruway
Families looking for a day’s getaway have a lot of choices not far from Central New York. The New York State Thruway is the most obvious route for speed. Large sections of the toll roadway were opened throughout 1954 and made traveling from New York City to Buffalo and places in between much quicker.
However, communities that grew up along Routes 5 and 20—encompassing Albany to the Cherry Valley and along the Seneca Turnpike through the Mohawk Valley—and the Finger Lakes region suffered. Attractions, restaurants and lodgings closed along the picturesque roadway. But recently interest in the area has revived, along with opportunities to see rural vistas and charming historic villages that sprang up during the early ?19th century.
To help you discover the treasures along these two routes the New York State Tourism Bureau has come up with a pocket-size, accordion-folded map, “The Best of Routes 5 and 20 New York,” which highlights stops of interest. People from the counties bordering these routes were surveyed, picking the “Best of the Best.” Addresses and phone numbers are listed on the map. (By the way, since there will be a lot of stopping and starting, the following jaunt is best for post-car seat kids.)
The map starts with Batavia, in Genesee County, a bedroom community located between Rochester and Buffalo. The Thruway is still a good way to get from here to there quickly, taking Exit 48A, so that you may work your way back home (the map ends in Skaneateles) at a leisurely pace via Routes 5 and 20.
Darien Lake Theme Park and Water Park, New York’s largest theme park, gets a stop on the route in Genesee County for family fun (9993 Allegheny Road, Route 77, off Route 20). Darien Lake includes more than 100 rides, shows and attractions, four kid-friendly restaurants, and a hotel and campgrounds. A one-day ticket for both theme and water parks costs $40.99 for those 48 inches tall and over, $27.99 for under 48 inches.
Worth visiting on the tourism bureau’s proposed route is Batavia, and Oliver’s Candies, (No. 3 on the map; 211 W. Main St., Route 5). A fixture since 1932, Oliver’s Candies boasts 100 different varieties of sweets, all crafted on-site, and attractively displayed for sale within a bright, open retail store. Oliver’s ships confections all over the world. Sponge candy, a sweet confection with a foamy texture, is its biggest seller. Ask for a sample of any of the candies. Be sure to call ahead to request a tour of the candy-making area to see candy canes and ribbon candy stream out. The most fun, though, is to be had watching chocolate-coated pieces traveling down a conveyor belt to be sorted and boxed.
Oliver’s also has an extensive ice cream menu of flavors, sundaes, milkshakes, sodas and cones (a one-scoop cone is $2.25). Take your treats outside and sit along the jauntily painted wall of summer scenes, boats, animals and clowns. You might want to buy some candy to enjoy on the road.
Adam Miller Toys & Bicycles (8 Center St., Batavia) is a short ride from Oliver’s Candies. Kids will have a field day pawing through old fashioned games and toys like pogo sticks, Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. The shop also features puzzles, wooden toys and bicycles. (Note that the store is closed Sundays.)
Batavia Muckdogs Minor League Baseball (299 Bank St., Batavia; visit www.Muckdogs.com for a schedule of games) is listed as a “best value” for Genesee County. A family four-pack includes four tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas and a program for $30 on Wednesdays throughout the summer.
In LeRoy, on Route 5, take a look at the Jell-O Gallery Museum, listed as the best rainy day activity by Genesee County locals. The sign to the museum, on the left of the road coming from Batavia, is not very large, so keep an eye out for it as you enter the town. Get a little history of how Jell-O was invented in LeRoy in 1897 and find out who was able to buy the rights for a mere $450. What is Jell-O’s favorite flavor? Who eats the most Jell-O? Learn all of these facts and more during a guided tour. Find out about Bill Cosby, spokesman since 1974, while watching a short movie about him and other Jell-O notables. There is even a plaque installed outside in Cosby’s honor. Want some Jell-O souvenirs? (Of course you do!) There are postcards, magnets, T-shirts, and even Christmas tree ornaments featuring “America’s Most Favorite Dessert.”
Also housed in the building’s basement is a fascinating exhibit of 100 years of transportation with vehicles from an ox cart to a 1908 Cadillac. If the spirit moves you, visit the historic LeRoy House, as well. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this charming home, located in front of the museum, replicates three floors of period rooms. Lined up along both sides of East Main Street (Route 5) are beautifully maintained Victorian homes that make LeRoy an engaging place to visit.
After LeRoy, the lazy little towns of Caledonia, Avon and Lima, in Livingston County, are located amid lush farmlands, each town with its own treasure to discover. Don’t miss the Gigglin’ Pig (2090 Main St., Caledonia), a country store that boasts New York’s largest selection of Amish-made furniture. Smaller items like toys, candles, jams, sauces, and even pickled eggs, create an old-world ambiance along with the large furniture display.
Lazy Acre Alpacas (8830 Baker Road), in Bloomfield, Ontario County, provides a special treat for kids and adults alike with its 200 plush acres of hills, trees, streams, ponds and grass. You must call ahead for a tour of the premises and to see the animals: (585) 624-5477. There are four large barns for feeding and housing the animals. A gift shop features 100 alpaca products for winter wear, including hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, socks, sweaters, blankets, shawls and yarns. And how about an alpaca teddy bear?
For food in Ontario County, visit Red Jacket Orchards (957 Routes 5 and 20, Geneva), which locals call the best for food in the Bloomfield, Canandaigua and Geneva area. It’s a little like a farmers market, except everything is under one brightly-filled building. The store specializes in ciders, 100 percent real fruit juices, fruit nectars and seasonal harvest juices like lemon-apple and dark cherry stomp. An abundance of fresh produce is also on display, including many apple varieties and a great collection of locally produced jams, jellies and pickles.
Heading west on Route 20, visit Auburn’s Seward House Museum (33 South St.), the home of William H. Seward, best known for his work to purchase Alaska. History buffs will also appreciate the Harriet Tubman House. Tubman is known for her work in the underground railroad. The Harriet Tubman Home is not on the 5 and 20 map but is located on 180 South St.
Getting close to home, Skaneateles is a wonderful spot for just hanging out by the water, or better yet, taking a boat tour on the lake. Hungry? There are many choices here. Consider Doug’s Fish Fry (8 Jordan St.), Joe’s Pasta Garage (28 Jordan St.) or the Hilltop Restaurant (813 W. Genesee St. Road). Take in a little shopping at the many gift shops along Route 20.
Look through the map for other Routes 5 and 20 destinations, to fashion your own itinerary, and if an overnight is in the plan, there are motels and bed-and-breakfasts all along the route, found at www.routes?5and20.com, where you can also visit to request a copy of the map.