Into the West
Most Central New York parents know about the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. But the Flower City offers much more for children and parents to explore after a mere 70-minute drive from Syracuse.
Most of the following fun spots in Rochester can entertain children of all ages for many hours, but I like to split them up into half-day adventures or two-for-one road trips.
Syracuse has its own science museum and zoo, but it’s fun to check out new ones.
The Rochester Museum and Science Center is located just a few blocks from the Strong Museum, which makes it easy to get to—because I already know how to drive to the wonderful Strong Museum. There’s so much to do and touch on the three floors of the hands-on science museum, including AdventureZone, which shows what goes on under water in Lake Ontario, the Expedition Earth exhibit, other displays for building and imagining being an inventor, and much more. Toddlers to teens and their parents will find many exhibits to attract their interest.
Before heading west, check the schedule for the Strasenburgh Planetarium, located in the museum. Shows vary from a Grand Canyon Adventure to a trip to Mars and Saturn or laser displays, among others. (A separate admission fee is required.) If you choose to stay overnight in Rochester, consider the weather, call and check with the planetarium box office, and climb the planetarium’s 60 back stairs to the telescope offering a magnified view of the stars and planets. Telescope viewing is free and run by volunteers from a local astronomy club from dusk until 10 p.m.
Speaking of looking outside, after a few hours in the museum, it’s time to let the kids loose at the Seneca Park Zoo. Located near the Genesee River in Rochester, the zoo is easy to find and features a wide assortment of animals, including a rhinoceros and a polar bear. Sit down for a bit and ride the double-decker safari bus through the African exhibit or grab a bench to watch the penguins, otters and orangutans. Entrance to the zoo closes at 4 p.m., although the zoo remains open until 5 p.m. And a bonus for parents: Membership at Syracuse’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo gets you half-price admission to Rochester’s zoo.
If you’re up for one more stop on the way home, try Ontario Beach Park, in Charlotte. This park is open year-round and features the 1905 Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, which runs until Columbus Day (Oct. 13 this year). The amazing ride is $1. The park also has fishing, pickleball nets and two geo-caching sites.
Rochester could fuel many day trips, so here are ideas for a second one. Syracuse has the Erie Canal Museum, but Rochester offers boat rides on the Erie Canal. Several companies, such as Colonial Belle, lead tours on the canal in summer through October. While a two- to three-hour tour may be long for young children, Colonial Belle offers a 90-minute ride on Sundays. These cruises depart from Fairport, just 20 minutes east of Rochester.
If that’s too boring for younger kids, they’ll probably love The Sandbox, also located in Fairport. The indoor facility spans 6,000 square feet of activity for children up to age 7 to enjoy.
Kids age 8 and up may want a bigger challenge, so try indoor climbing away from home at RockVentures. For those 14 and older, RockVentures offers a short training session on holding the ropes for a climber, which means the teens can belay for each other. Having a chance to belay increases young climbers’ skills, responsibility and, ideally, enjoyment of the climbing experience. More than 50 ropes—or places for people to climb—are available on the 18,000 square feet of challenging walls.
For an outdoor experience, head to Stokoe Farms, one of several area farms to host harvest festivals on the weekends in the fall for pumpkin picking and other activities. Located in Scottsville, it is just outside Rochester on the way home to the Syracuse area. The term “farm” does not capture all the activities available, such as zip lines, bouncy “pillows,” a tube slide, an open four-lane slide, a hay chute, wagon rides, pedal cars, animals to feed, not to mention the pumpkins, apples and other snacks.
The science museum offers Mario’s Café with a selection of paninis and the usual chicken fingers and lighter snacks in the late afternoon. My kids know Bill Gray’s Diner from the Strong Museum and we like to stop at the one by Seabreeze Amusement Park—even when it’s not summertime. Abbott’s Custard is served at many of the more than 10 Bill Gray’s locations in the Rochester area. For pizza and rhinoceros fans, try Rhino’s Pizza, with a sit-down location in Webster. If visiting on a Saturday any time of the year, check out the Public Market, similar to Syracuse’s CNY Regional Market. Families can stroll and stop for finger foods, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Another picturesque spot is the Village Coal Tower Restaurant, located in Schoen Place in Pittsford on the canal. Visitors can take a walk along the Erie Canal and stop for a traditional breakfast, lunch or dinner next to the historic coal tower. Afterward, share some leftovers with the ducks, check out the cute shops and head around the corner to the Pittsford Farms Dairy for ice cream, bakery items and milk, of course. Aladdin’s Natural Eatery has three locations in the Rochester area, including one in Pittsford. For homemade pasta, sauces and dressings, Aladdin’s offers an alternative to fast food.
Save some energy, parents, for the end of the day. The deal with my children is that I will let them play in Rochester all day (thank goodness the museums close between 5 and 6 p.m.) and then it’s Mom’s time. That means we’re off to the Lands’ End Inlet, really an outlet and regular store on the other side of the city from the Strong Museum. The Marketplace Mall is across the road from Lands’ End, if more shopping is on your list. Then it’s a stop for fast food and we’re on the road home.
Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.
IF YOU GO
Rochester Museum and Science Center. 657 East Ave. (at the corner of Goodman Street), Rochester. (585) 271-4320. www.rmsc.org. Features three floors of exhibits. Admission is $13 for adults, $17 including admission to the Strasenburgh Planetarium. Free reciprocal admission for MOST museum members to the museum; planetarium admission is extra. RMSC admission for children ages 3 to 18 is $11, $14 including admission to the planetarium. Children under 3 are free.
Seneca Park Zoo. 2222 St. Paul St., Rochester. (585) 336-7200. www.senecaparkzoo.org. Adult admission is $11 through October and $8 for children 3 to 11. Children 2 and younger are free. Admission is half-price with membership to Syracuse’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo.
Ontario Beach Park. 4800 Lake Ave., Rochester. (585) 753-7275. www.monroecounty.gov/parks-ontariobeach.php. Open year-round.
Colonial Belle. 400 Packett’s Landing, Fairport. (585) 223-9470. www.colonialbelle.com. Boat rides on the Erie Canal, leaving daily from Fairport. Prices range from $9 to $20 depending on the length of the tour.
The Sandbox. 1350 Fairport Road, Fairport. (585) 388-7263. www.thesandboxplayground.co. Indoor playground for children up to age 7. Admission starts at $7.50 for a child ages 1 to 7, with discounts for siblings and infants. Adults are free.
RockVentures. 1044 University Ave., Rochester. (585) 442-5462. www.rockventures.net. Features a variety of indoor climbing walls for use with ropes. Admission is $15, but several combination packages that include climbing shoe rental and training are available.
Stokoe Farms. 656 South Road, Scottsville. (585) 889-0770. www.stokoefarms.com. Admission, which includes most activities, is $10 a person; children under 2 are free. See website for specials.
Bill Gray’s Diner. 4870 Culver Road, Rochester. (585) 266-7820. www.billgrays.com. More than 10 locations in the Rochester area.
Rhino’s Pizza. 85 Donovan St., Webster. (585) 872-3150. www.rhinospizzany.com.
Public Market. 280 N. Union St., Rochester. (585) 428-6907. www.cityofrochester.gov/publicmarket/. Open Saturdays, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Village Coal Tower Restaurant. 9 Schoen Place, Pittsford. (585) 381-7866. www.villagecoaltower.com. Open daily.
Pittsford Farms Dairy. 44 N. Main St., Pittsford. (585) 586-6610. www.Facebook.com/Pittsford-Farms-Dairy/.
Aladdin’s Natural Eatery. 8 Schoen Place, Pittsford. (585) 264-9000. myaladdins.com. Three Rochester-area locations. Open daily.
Lands’ End Inlet. 2000 Miracle Mile Drive, Rochester. (585) 424-3500. www.landsend.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Marketplace Mall. 1 Miracle Mile Dr., Rochester. (585) 475-0757. www.themarketplacemall.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.