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Road Trip: Ithaca, Tompkins County

The locale

A community of 30,000 about three hours east of Buffalo.

The scoop

Ithaca is a unique, non-touristy destination where you can walk or drive in and out among the community’s multiple personalities that embrace individuality, the arts, education and the outdoors. On one hand, it is a city, gritty and nuanced, with head-shaking traffic flow and some of the steepest parking you’ll ever not want to try.

As a college town, it’s far more than its bones. Both Cornell University and Ithaca College sit high above a downtown packed with offices, eateries, stores and churches. Within Press Bay Alley, DeWitt Mall and the four-block Ithaca Commons, there are more than 100 unique stores and galleries to browse. Away from downtown, there’s the usual mix of chain stores and restaurants. On campus, in the Commons and on the edges of the city are amazing museums (including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art), theaters, gorges, waterfalls, trails, state parks and recreation.

Where to stay

William Henry Miller Inn, 303 N. Aurora St. — There are plenty of inns and chain hotels in Ithaca. This bed and breakfast is ideal for those who want to splurge and have the city at their fingertips. Downtown is right out the door, and the Cascadilla Gorge Trail and Ithaca Falls are also within easy walking distance.

Things to do

Sciencenter, 55 Coogan Blvd. — A wonderful place to turn your kids on to science while enjoying yourself at the same time. With more than 200 exhibits,you can focus on the ocean, live animals, astronomy, sustainability, early education and more. A really neat feature is the Sagan Planet Walk, a three-quarter-mile stroll from The Commons along a 1:1 billion scale model of the solar system back to the Sciencenter.

Taughannock Falls State Park, 1740 Taughannock Blvd., Trumansburg — The Ithaca area is home to several state parks, but Taughannock (said: Tuh-gan-ick) is the mother of them all with some of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rockies. Plan to camp, fish, swim, hike, stand-up paddleboard and otherwise enjoy the Finger Lakes.

Places to eat

Moosewood, 215 North Cayuga St. — Don’t miss this world-famous natural foods restaurant. Located downtown on the first floor of an old school (now DeWitt Mall), it’s bright and cheerful with a menu that focuses on the flavors of local produce. It’s run by a collective of 19 people who’ve also written the brand’s 14 cookbooks. (Read their story at Moosewoodcooks.com just for the fun of it.)

On a recent visit, the generous portions of mixed vegetable curry and smoked gouda mac & cheese were delicious. Coffee cheesecake made for an especially good dessert, but the most flavorful surprise was the spinach and basil salad dressing. Yum!

State Diner, 428 W. State St. — There are Greek dishes, in addition to Italian and American; the staff is fast and friendly; and the flip-up booth seats complete the true diner experience.

The Boatyard Grill, 525 Taughannock Blvd. — The perfect spot for dinner, with a great view of the water and a varied menu, from casual swordfish tacos to filet mignon.

Spots to shop

Ithacamade, 215 N. Cayuga St., DeWitt Mall — Just one of several stores in the same old school that houses Moosewood, Ithacamade has an inventory that’s limited only by the imagination and skill of area people. Expect soaps, pottery, honey, clothing, jewelry and more.

Mimi’s Attic, 430 W. State St. — You never know what you’ll find at this thrift and consignment store just up from State Diner. You might find yourself wide-eyed over a retro pit group, then itching to buy a finely crafted bureau. The staff is helpful, and the signs answer a big question as you walk in: No haggling over prices. (Consider yourself warned.)

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