I always seize the opportunity to visit a new place because every place is worth visiting at least once and you never know what hidden delights you might find. When I visited Pittsburgh back in October, I had the chance to plan a weekend getaway in the region. I like roadtrips in moderation. My mother is the same way. We're both willing to drive a maximum of about 2-3 hours at a time. I grew up in Buffalo, New York (about a 4 hour drive from Pittsburgh) and my mother still lives there. We decided to meet up in Westfield, New York for the weekend. Located about 1.5 hours from Buffalo and 2.5 hours from Pittsburgh by car, it was well within our preferred road trip radius. We discovered tons to do in the region on a short getaway. Here are twelve recommendations for things to see and do.
1. Explore Lake Erie Vineyards
Westfield is located in the very center of the Lake Erie grape growing region. Welch's used to be headquartered here and the fields are full of Concord grapes. Sipping thick, purple grape juice with breakfast took me back to my childhood. The region also boasts respectable wines.
2. Admire the Lighthouse at Barcelona complete with Turkey Vultures!
Barcelona (New York, not Spain!) is situated right on Lake Erie and features a historic lighthouse that dates back to 1829. One morning, I was admiring the lighthouse when I noticed something that looked like a giant bird emblem on top. Hmm... I didn't recall that being there before but it's very regal. Then the emblem moved! I grabbed my camera and raced to get a closer look. It turns out that turkey vultures enjoy sunning themselves atop the lighthouse. Look at that wingspan!
3. Enjoy a Pampered B and B Experience
We decided to treat ourselves and stayed at Lakeside Bed and Breakfast for two nights. The property sits just across the street from the Barcelona Lighthouse and features stunning vineyards in the backyard. Breakfast each morning alternated between savory and sweet and was homemade and imaginative. We couldn't have asked for a more comfortable place to stay while we were in town.
4. Sate your Sweet Tooth at the Sugar Shack
I definitely have a sweet tooth so when I read about the Sugar Shack, I knew we had to go. The Sugar Shack sells flavored fruit syrups and provides generous samples served over ice cream. We also were intrigued by the story of the owner of the Sugar Shack. She wrote a book titled Asses and Angels about her experience rising above domestic abuse to become a successful businesswoman and environmental advocate in the region.
5. Go Back in Time at the McClurg Museum
In Westfield proper (about a 5 minute drive from Barcelona), we called into the McClurg Museum which features an eclectic mix of antiques and Americana including Civil War artifacts. The museum is open by guided tour only and features a massive collection of Civil War muskets and bayonets that we even got to hold in our hands (they are very heavy). The McClurg Museum features the only remaining piece of bunting from Lincoln's funeral carriage. Someone knicked it from the carriage as it passed through town. The carriage itself was destroyed in a fire some years later and thus this theft ensured that a piece of history survives to this day. You may wonder why Westfield features so many Civil War artifacts and why Lincoln's funeral carriage even passed through town. There is a famous piece of correspondence between Lincoln and 11 year old Grace Bedell from Westfield town. She innocently counseled Lincoln to grow a beard and increase his gravitas thus potentially tipping the election in his favor. The pair famously met in Westfield and a statue on the corner of Main Street commemorates the occasion.
6. Stuff Yourself with Good Food at The Parkview
Just across the street from the McClurg Museum, we discovered the Parkview. Run by the fabulous David and Edward (with their son joining in the family business and helping wait tables and serve food). The portions were enormous and featured hearty American fare including a homemade chicken pot pie. The food washed down well with a glass of local wine. The food was so good and the owners so friendly that I went there twice in a row for dinner.
7. Appreciate the Concord Grape Experience
I grew up with grape juice and grape jelly so the Grape Discovery Center really took me back to my childhood. It featured a shop selling all manner of grape infused products plus a small museum in the back highlighting the history of grape growing in the region. It turns out that grape juice was originally created by a Methodist minister who wanted to develop a non-alcoholic option for communion services. The family had a flair for marketing and after introducing the new beverage at the World's Fair, it really took off. The Grape Discovery Center also featured advertisements for Welch's products including juices, jellies, and jams which reminded me of some of my childhood favorites.
8. Sample Local Specialties at Portage Pie
I love trying local specialties so we just had to stop at Portage Pie. People come from miles around to sample these homemade pies. This is one place in the world where you can get pies made partially or entirely with Concord grape filling. So delicious! This place definitely lived up to the hype. Get there early because they close when they sell out of pies.
9. Browse the Cross Roads Market
Located just outside of town, The Cross Roads Market in Westfield is open every Saturday and features 40 vendors selling local products. I enjoyed tasting wines at Merritt and bought some jams in canning jars made from local fruit (grape and crab apple!).
10. Steep in the Atmosphere of Learning at the Chautauqua Institution
The Chautauqua Institution is, well, an institution in the region. Think of it like a summer camp for adults. The Institution hosts vacationers each summer for daily classes and lectures. Situated on Chautauqua Lake, it is a place of learning and quiet reflection. It's definitely worth passing through even if you aren't staying here.
11. Photograph an Apple Cider Mill
Autumn in the Southern Tier of New York State is all about apple cider. We visited Busti Cider Mill and Farm near Jamestown, New York. The local guidebooks oversell this place a bit. The shop is small and rustic and there aren't always tours available. However, it's picturesque and worth a stop for some atmospheric photos.
12. Take a Detour to Findley Lake
On my way back to Pittsburgh after a relaxing weekend in Barcelona along Lake Erie, I decided to take a detour onto some smaller roads rather than shoot directly down the interstate. On a whim, I decided to stop at Findley Lake and I'm so glad I did. The lake is absolutely stunning and seems even more so when sampling a fresh order of handcut curly fries! This detour was a pleasant surprise and fitting conclusion to a weekend roadtrip from Pittsburgh.
Once again, our travel mantra held true: every place is worth visiting at least once!