Let’s start off with the obvious. Located 360 miles northwest of Queens, Rochester is a great place to beat the heat of summer. Situated where the Genesee River meets Lake Ontario, Rochester’s Ontario Beach Park has been referred to as western New York State’s answer to Coney Island. Parking and admission to the beach are free. There is also a Dentzel carousel that is 105 years old and features wooden animals other than horses. A 19th-century calliope plays while the carousel rotates. After a fun day at the beach you can walk to one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Pier 45.
Seneca Park is a five-minute ride south of Ontario Beach. Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect who designed Central Park, performed his magic here as well with this leafy oasis. Like Central Park, the Seneca Park Zoo is a delightful small zoo that allows visitors to get very close to otters, ocelots, tigers, orangutans, and African penguins which are rarely seen in American zoos.
George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, was the man responsible for bringing photography to the masses with his brownie camera, and for helping to bring color to a black and white world. Kodachrome was such a popular brand that Forest Hills High School alum Paul Simon named his 1973 hit after it.
Eastman spent most of his life in Rochester, and today the Eastman House is open to the public. While we get a glimpse of the kind of life this industrialist led, the museum is dedicated more to the history of cameras, film and movies.
Interestingly, the Eastman House is not even the biggest mansion on Rochester’s East Avenue, a thoroughfare whose opulent estates rival those of Beverly Hills, Greenwich, Upper Saddle River or Old Brookville.
While George Eastman was building his photography empire, across town Susan B. Anthony was striving to get women the right to vote. While she was able to get a few western states to allow women to cast ballots, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that granted suffrage to women became law in 1920, 14 years after her death. The Susan B. Anthony House on Madison Street is where the famed suffragette lived for most of her life and details her political struggles.
A far more lighthearted educational institution is the National Museum of Play located in the heart of downtown Rochester. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s advice that “life should be lived as play” is inscribed in at the entrance of the museum.
The centerpiece of the Museum of Play is the Toy Hall of Fame that includes such icons as the Radio Flyer Wagon, Mr. Potato Head, Raggedy Ann, Slinky, Atari, and the board games Monopoly and Candy Land. Kids of all ages (and I mean all ages!) can play a variety of interactive games including the latest from the world of Xbox, Wii and Playstation video technology.
While toys are the main draw, the Museum of Play is a celebration of all leisure-time pursuits including sports, music, and even dance crazes. Among the displays are a souvenir program from the 2000 Yankees-Mets World Series; a baseball card of baby-faced St. John’s alum and former Mets reliever John Franco; and a copy of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”
The Erie Canal, built in the first quarter of the 19th century, allowed shipping between Albany and Buffalo and, more importantly, opened up commerce between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes. It was the impetus for Rochester’s inception. These days the canal is used far more by leisure boaters than commercial shippers. If you want to take a ride on the Erie Canal and experience how its locks work, go to the Rochester suburb of Pittsford and take a cruise on the packet boat called the Sam Patch.
While in Pittsford, visit the flagship store of the highly regarded grocery chain Wegmans. You can enjoy a tasty yet inexpensive meal here, but what makes this place interesting is that the company uses it as a research lab to see what products and departments work and which are flops. Unfortunately a Wegmans spokesperson told me the company has no plans to come to Queens or even Long Island in the near future.
Nightlife in Rochester is limited, but not if you enjoy sports. During the summer, the Twins’ top farm team, the Rochester Red Wings, plays at Frontier Field while during the rest of the year, you can catch lacrosse, hockey and basketball at the Blue Cross Arena. You can enjoy second-run movies for $2 at the Cinemark 10 Theaters in West Henrietta. Make it a point to enjoy at least one dinner at a city institution, the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
The Radisson Riverside has an easy-to-get-around downtown location, great rates and even an outdoor pool open in the summer. Queens’ own JetBlue has four daily flights between Kennedy International Airport and Rochester that get you there in under an hour.
For more information, call the Rochester Visitors Bureau at (800) 677-7282 or log onto visitrochester.com.