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The recently renovated Ithaca Commons offers dozens of stores and restaurants, and hosts events like Applefest and the Ithaca Festival.

August 2, 2017

City Guide

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From the outside, it’s hard to understand the allure of the city Cornell calls home. But Ithaca, with all its quirks and eccentricities, has plenty of opportunities for exploring, playing and having fun.

The heart of downtown Ithaca is called the Commons. Three city blocks in the center of downtown were made into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, and the Commons is now full of stores and restaurants worth trying. After multiple years of renovations, the Commons reopened in August 2015 with new benches and sculpture, better lighting and an accessible central walkway. Retail options include everything from jewelry stores to bookstores to a branch of the Cornell Store that opened last summer. Restaurants are the Commons’ prime attraction, and they serve up food ranging from Mediterranean to Thai.

Though there are many great dining options, a couple restaurants have become icons for Cornell students. Moosewood Restaurant, which made its name in the ’60s with its world-famous organic vegetarian cookbook, sits on Seneca Street and still serves the same cuisine. Glenwood Pines, on Route 89 near Taughannock Falls State Park, serves what it calls the world famous Pinesburger and provides nice views of Cayuga Lake. Viva Taqueria on the Commons offers dine-in and carry-out options for those needing a fix of Mexican cuisine.

The Johnson Museum houses art from all eras and visiting exhibits for free year-round.

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The Johnson Museum houses art from all eras and visiting exhibits for free year-round.

If you are into museums, a few notable ones are nestled within Ithaca’s tree-lined boundaries. The Sciencenter on Route 13 is geared toward younger kids, but still provides fun exhibits for the college-aged crowd. The Museum of the Earth, located on Trumansburg Road, is part of the Paleontological Research Institution and features a lot of cool fossils and dinosaur bones. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, just off the Arts Quad, houses works by the masters and also features a rotating list of exhibits. For bird lovers and nature enthusiasts, Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology provides a fun, educational experience.

Though most still call it by its old name, the Pyramid Mall, The Shops at Ithaca is the biggest mall in town, attempting to fulfill your fashionista desires. The Shops also feature a recently renovated movie theater.

Often touted as the mall everyone goes to when they realize Pyramid Mall doesn’t fulfill their needs, Destiny USA — more commonly know by its previous name the Carousel Mall — in Syracuse is the largest mall in New York State and has more stores than you could ever imagine.

Buttermilk Falls is a hotspot for swimmers and hikers enjoying Ithaca's warmer weather.

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Buttermilk Falls is a hotspot for swimmers and hikers enjoying Ithaca’s warmer weather.

Skiing was probably not the reason you chose Cornell, but Greek Peak, just 30 minutes away in Cortland, is the best ski area in the region. And with a special deal, you can get student-priced season passes for less than the regular price. The Ski and Snowboard Club provides weekly shuttles to Greek Peak for part of the winter.

Of course, it’s more than likely you were lured to Cornell by the natural scenery. One highlight is the Taughannock Falls State Park, which features falls that are higher than Niagara. Buttermilk Falls is also a majestic location. Closer to campus, Cornell Botanic Gardens contains acres upon acres of greenery and walking trails.

In terms of grocery stores, there’s Wegmans, which is a supermarket, but so much more. Those not from around New York may be surprised at its size and the amount of ready cooked food available. Though Wegmans — located on Route 13 — is a 15-minute drive from campus, it’s not unusual to see Cornellians flocking there on evenings and weekends. An alternative is the GreenStar Natural Foods Market, which opened a branch on College Avenue in Collegetown last summer.

Several wineries line Seneca and Cayuga lakes, providing fertile ground for wine tours. One must be 21 to sample the wines, so it’s more usual for upperclassmen to take excursions into wine country. But for those of age, the wine region is worth a visit.

Lauren Fulton '09 enjoys a caramel apple sundae at the Apple Festival, one of Ithaca's annual fall events.

Lauren Fulton ’09 enjoys a caramel apple sundae at the Apple Festival, one of Ithaca’s annual fall events.

Right off Route 13 on Steamboat Landing is the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, where local vendors sell delicious food, wine and seasonal produce. Open April through December on Saturdays and Sundays, it is a destination worth checking out, whether you are environmentally conscious or not.

Throughout the year, the Commons plays host to a number of different celebrations where students and residents co-mingle. In October, Apple Fest brings orchards and entertainers downtown, and participants sample every type of apple concoction you can think of. In February, Chilifest turns the Commons into a bustling fair filled with aromas from local restaurants that bring their A-game chili to be taste-tested. And in the summer, Ithaca Festival celebrates Ithaca, and all its quirks, with a parade and entertainment around town.