Ithaca is the kind of place people visit for summer vacation, with its fulsome features of natural beauty, broad cultural and culinary offerings, surplus of water and wine, and idyllic disposition.
Therefore if you’re a local and can’t get away for vacation, do as the non-Romans do, and rather than as your residence, for a few days regard Ithaca freshly as a site of recreation, in all senses of the word.
In Ithaca there are many engaging things to do that residents don’t often do, which was reinforced for me this summer with out-of-town visitors.
Some things I could foresee. For instance, my friends wanted to “be near water.”
We were doing lots of things and had limited time, so a trip of a few miles to Treman or Taughannock Park seemed undue (also because these state parks charge to park, no matter how briefly you stay).
I thought about Stewart Park, closer and free, at the foot of Cayuga Lake, but wondered if droppings from its large goose population might sully a care-free traipse there.
Plus, I figured, lots of places have flat water like the lake’s; in Ithaca we have water that moves. So I took them to Cascadilla Falls and its gorge trail.
It might seem a modest site, but my guests were quite taken by it, the unspoiled, unexpected splendor in the center of town.
We had parked just a block away, but around a bend that keeps the water from sight until right upon it.
“There’s a waterfall around here?” one guest asked, emerging from the car in a residential neighborhood.
“Well, there used to be,” I said, stalling for time until we took the requisite few steps to spot it.
“Wow!” exclaimed my guest upon espying its surprise.
“Good, it’s still here,” I said, the knowing naturalist.
Something else foreseeable was the desire for a meal at Moosewood, the venerable vegetarian restaurant. (Pleasingly to homeboy host, the guests proved interested only in the eating experience inside, not the selfie one outside.)
Something unforeseen was the wish to see Barton Hall. The request stemmed not from the building’s architectural pedigree as once the largest unpillared superstructure in the world, but from its status as the site, in 1977, of a legendary Grateful Dead concert that is among the most famous in rock history, preserved in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
My friend, somewhat of a Dead fan, said he listened to a recording of this show at least once a month.
(Here, I believe, some selfies were taken by the guests, but the host didn’t [or wouldn’t have] minded.)
For yourself as a guest in your own town, if you have a bit of money and time, you might consider the full Ithaca staycation plunge of renting a lake house. (Actually, of course, such a move requires more than a bit of these resources to engineer adequately, but probably not as much as most trips away.)
You can maximize the choices and maybe minimize the expense by starting a search early. Currently I have a friend from downtown Ithaca staying in a splendid location on the east shore who benefitted by testing the waters (so to speak) in the vacation rental market a full year in advance, and offering to pay in advance for commensurate terms and sundries.
A nice feature of a staycation is that you needn’t waste time seeking out prime local amenities. You already know the good places to go for food, supplies, and services.
You don’t have to rely on hit-or-miss online reviews for restaurant recommendations; you already know the good places you haven’t been to, or back to recently enough.
You know a wide gamut of near places to visit, or revisit.
There’s the Johnson Art Museum, with paintings by Monet and Degas, O’Keefe and Warhol; photographs by Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, Alfred Stieglitz, and Garry Winogrand; and much else, including the building’s own award-winning architecture and panoramic views.
There’s the Cornell Botanic Gardens, with its historically-curated herb garden, vast arboretum (which even includes, for benighted ex-city dwellers such as me, an Urban Tree collection), and (let me blithely express my natural-world nescience) lots of nice flowers.
There’s the Sciencenter, the Farmers Market, and the Kitchen and Hangar Theatres.
A short drive away are the Corning Museum of Glass; minor league baseball in Binghamton and Syracuse; and in Elmira, Mark Twain’s grave (my first dedicated day trip ever from Ithaca).
With a staycation, you might not get away from it all, but you can get away from it most. Meanwhile you might see, in your departure from departure, much of what the tourists see in Ithaca, literally and figuratively.