One top reason to visit Ithaca? Cornell University of course! Even if you're not in town for an event at this world-renowned bastion of higher learning and research, you should venture up to explore its historic, sprawling campus and visit Collegetown for a splash of our student culture.
Cornell is on East Hill, so you can walk up there from downtown (taking Buffalo, Seneca or State Streets). A more nature-oriented way to arrive is by walking up Cascadilla Gorge (which begins at Court and Linn Streets just off downtown - note to check first if the trail is closed for repairs) where there are numerous waterfalls along the upward climb. If driving, park in the garage on Dryden Road between Eddy Street and College Street. A quick breakfast at Collegetown Bagels will you get you started for your adventure. Orient yourself using the Clocktower and Ho Plaza. If you head towards them, you will soon be in a grassy area known as The Arts Quad which is usually abuzz with student activity, and where you can view historic statues and views all across Ithaca, the lake and down Libe Slope.
If you proceed to the lobby of Day Hall, you will find Cornell Information and Visitor Relations. There, you can join a campus tour to learn more about what is housed in the beautiful, old stone buildings throughout this enormous campus. If possible, try to take advantage of an activity at the University. At Day Hall, they will have a complete list of sporting events, Cornell Cinema films and lectures taking place upon your visit.
One thing is for sure: you should not leave Ithaca without a trip into the Johnson Museum of Art. This I.M. Pei-designed building is free and can be enjoyed in as little as one hour, although its cutting-edge exhibits, classic collections, ingenious architecture and sweeping views deserve lengthy and repeated visits. Afterwards, ask directions to the nearby Suspension Bridge and look down hundreds of feet into another of Ithaca's dramatic gorges.
Two other outstanding places the public should visit are the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Cornell Botanic Gardens. But first, have lunch back where you started on College Avenue at the classic university hangout, Rulloff's, a casual dining and drinking spot that has welcomed back alumni for decades. Coffee, cocktails or eclectic, modern food at Stella's is another option as are numerous sushi and Middle Eastern restaurants or Greek diners. This little shopping district is the place to buy Cornell gear to declare that you have visited one of the country's 8 Ivy League schools.
Driving the winding roads to Cornell Botanic Gardens' headquarters, you will pass the lovely and serene Beebe Lake which offers a pleasant walk around the circumference. You will also pass through a charming, historic, wooded neighborhood called Forest Home.
Cornell Botanic Gardens features gardens and an arboretum for peaceful walks from sunrise to sunset plus the Nevin Welcome Center with a gift shop and cafe. Continuing on to Cornell's Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods, you will find a unique and alive educational experience with trails, pond and outstanding bird exhibits and Wildbirds Unlimited store. If you need directions, ask at the Botanic Gardens Gift Shop.
For nightlife in Collegetown, stop by the Nines, an old fire station converted into a well-known restaurant, for a deep dish pizza dinner. Then, stop by another famous spot-- the Chapter House. It is a casual, well-worn bar with darts, billiards, over fifty beers on draft and simple wood tables for relaxed conversation and occasional live music.
Ithaca is also home to Ithaca College, renowned for its music and communication programs among others. It is on South Hill and offers many lectures, concerts, plays and sporting events throughout the year, as well as being the site for the Community Fireworks and Taste of the Nation events. Contact the college for a complete roster of campus activities and sights at (800) 429-4274 or http://www.ithaca.edu/.