Seneca Lake, N.Y.

Best Things to Do in Seneca Lake, N.Y.

BY Evan Malachosky | October 13, 2022

Carved into 9,000 square miles across central New York State are 11 lakes, an assortment officially called the Finger Lakes. Why? Well, they look like fingers, deep trenches formed by a big hand reaching for something in the dirt. Officially, they were formed by retreating glaciers some 10,000 years ago. Gravel deposits left behind formed the bottoms of these lakes, all while the depressions damned existing streams.

The biggest of the bunch, Seneca Lake, is 618 feet deep, which is three times as deep as Lake Erie, one of the U.S.’s Great Lakes. It’s hard to put its sheer size into words, and first-time visitors will surely be surprised by its vastness, especially if the region’s wines, not nature, is what brought them there.

There’s a surplus of both up there, though, but especially wine, courtesy of the myriad soil types that surround the lake: limestone, shale, gravel and silt deposits each offer winemakers their own expressive base to grow grapes from. Riesling grapes dominate, but there are a few red ones, too, albeit less common.

In the Seneca Lake AVA (American Viticultural Area), there are 44 total wineries of varying size and focus. A few, I’ll be honest, are worth skipping. Others are making some of the best wines you’ll ever try. Here’s where to get a good glass (or bottle), and then places to offset the booze — whether with food or a few-mile hike.

You’re here for wine

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
#1
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

White wine from Dr. Konstantin Frank

9749 Middle Rd, Hammondsport, NY, USA

Dr. Konstantin Frank has been making wine in this region since 1958. Ever since, they’ve not only set a standard for the region but propelled it to national stardom. Now, the Finger Lakes are to white wines what Napa is to reds. At its winery, you’ll find a range of classic whites, a few sparkling ones — they were the first to make sparkling wine in the region — and some basic snacks. They were a top 100 winery in 2019, according to Wine and Spirits Magazine, mostly thanks to its semi-dry riesling, an excellent example of a local style. 

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Bloomer Creek
#2
Wine selection from Bloomer Creek in Seneca Lake.

Sparkling from Bloomer Creek

5301 NY-414, Hector, NY, USA

As of late summer 2022, Bloomer Creek isn’t open to the public — at least not for tastings. But, with 24 hours’ advance notice, you can order a bottle online for pickup. The husband-wife winemaking (and art) duo will be there to get you your bottle — nice note included. The wines themselves are interesting, even on par with some you’d order in a trendy NYC restaurant. (Bloomer Creek sells a ton of wines to NYC and Pittsburgh restaurants.)

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Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
#3
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

Red wine at Hermann J. Wiemer

3962 NY-14, Dundee, NY, USA

While I suggest you order whites from the rest of the wineries on this list, try a red from Hermann J. Wiemer. It has the best assortment of Seneca Lake-made reds — including the Field Red, a simple sipper with little to no bite. Enjoy the distant lake views, the calm breeze, a glass or two of red and the buzz free of bachelorette parties and big groups. (Hermann J. Wiemer, like the rest of the wineries on this list, does not allow buses or limos to park on property, deterring these kinds of crowds.)

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Forge Cellars in Senaca Lake, N.Y.
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Forge Cellars in Senaca Lake, N.Y.

Rieslings (and cheese) at Forge Cellars

3775 Mathews Rd, Burdett, NY, USA

You won’t find Forge Cellars on the official Seneca Lake Wine Trail guide. They’re off the beaten path, per se, and there are (literally) no signs pointing you in their direction. The small operation sits in a big black barn atop a steep hill. Inside, they sell their whites — mineral, sometimes salty but rarely sweet — by the bottle or by the glass. Plus, because one half of their ownership team is French, there are bottles by French winemakers, too, as well as an assortment of meats and cheeses. Order the 2019 Navone Dry Riesling with a plate of jamon Iberico, lakeside cheddar and fresh fruit.

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Eat Meats, Sweets and Local Produce Like a Wino

Glen Mountain Bakery
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Glen Mountain Bakery

A surprisingly good sandwich from Glen Mountain Bakery

200 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

Glen Mountain was so good that during my three-day trip we went three times — twice for breakfast and once for a quick lunch. Sandwiches are the bakery’s specialty, whether cold with fresh-cut turkey inside or hot with an egg and sweet sausage. The spot itself is nice, too, with its bookshelf-lined walls and its central location along Watkins Glen’s main drag.

 

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#6
Raw Grass Fed NY Strip Steaks with Salt and Pepper set, on old dark wooden table background

Fresh meats and sauces from the fridge at Hector Wine Co.

5610 NY-414, Valois, Hector, NY, USA

While the wine isn’t as good here as it is at Forge or Bloomer Creek, Hector Wine Co. does have a trio of fridges set up inside its tasting room. Local products like a tomato and garlic wine sauce or NY strip steaks are available at prices NYC-ers would die for. (Think: cheap dinner, not a bank-breaking affair.) If you’re staying locally, either at an Airbnb or a friend’s house, this is the best spot to load up for dinner. (Avoid the Walmart in Watkins Glen.)

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Graft Cider + Wine Bar
#7
Graft Cider + Wine Bar

A ritzy dinner at Graft Cider + Wine Bar

204 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

If you’ve had your fill of fine wines on your trip, try cider, a lighter, albeit often sweeter alternative with just as much complexity. Here, the ciders are poured in artful glasses and paired with green curry mussels, carrot salads and incredible pork chops. The menu is rotational, though, so you may not see the same listings as I did. Trust the bartender (or waiter) to guide you through the ordering process.

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#8

A snack from…Micro Diner, the world’s smallest diner

501 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

This tiny little outpost along the main drag in Watkins Glen caught my eye every time we returned to the lakeside house where we stayed. In big, bold letters a sign reads “The Smallest Diner in the World.” Surely, so I thought, it couldn’t be functional, but the truly tiny diner sells hot dogs, steak sandwiches and the occasional breakfast, if they’re open. There’s no seating, so be prepared to stand and eat.

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Tobey’s Donut Shop
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Tobey’s Donut Shop

A sweet treat from…Tobey’s Donut Shop

137 E 4th St, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

If the semi-sweet wines haven’t quenched your sweet tooth, visit Tobey’s Donut Shop, an institution that often sells out before the breakfast window closes. They have all of the classics, plus a few creative flavors, too. It’s a local haunt, meaning you won’t run into as many tourists here — just neighbors and their grandkids.

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Stonecat: Regional Cuisine & Bar
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Stonecat: Regional Cuisine & Bar

The falafel wrap at…Stonecat: Regional Cuisine & Bar

5315 NY-414, Hector, New York, USA

A true surprise, Stonecat offered the best lunch in town. On the menu, at least when we visited, was a falafel wrap — but not just any falafel wrap. Inside a soft, likely housemade, tortilla, the chef put falafel, kimchi, feta cheese, cashews and plenty of fresh greens. It was a protein-packed meal that helped us reset between tastings — and stay awake through a nightcap on the lake.

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Peaches
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Peaches

Fresh produce from Thyme Stands Still Farm

4351 New York 414, Burdett, NY, USA

Fresh produce abounds on your way into the Seneca Lake area, no matter which direction you’re coming from. Don’t stop, though. Wait until you’re along the right side of the lake, where Thyme Stands Still Farm is. It’s a farmstand, too, albeit a robust one. The peaches, when in season, are excellent, but so too are the tomatoes — and corn and berries. If no one is there, you ring yourself out and fill the till. 

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Get out on (or under) the water

Watkins Glen State Park
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Watkins Glen State Park waterfall canyon in upstate New York. Photo via Shutterstock.

A scenic “hike” at…Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park, N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

There are several routes you can take within Watkins Glen State Park, but the best ones feature waterfalls: the North Rim Trail, South Rim Trail and the Gorge Trail. There are 19 total waterfalls to be seen, and you can even walk under one on the Gorge Trail. You’ll get a good sense of how the area’s hills were built — by glaciers — and just how important water is to the region, too. Wear waterproof shoes, though, as the trails are often muddy, sometimes even fully submerged.

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Seneca Lake as one of Finger Lakes in New York. Beautiful Seneca Harbor Park, early fall in a blue sky. Today’s waterfront visitors enjoy a picturesque view from the Harbor Park at Watkins Glen.
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Seneca Lake as one of Finger Lakes in New York. Beautiful Seneca Harbor Park, early fall in a blue sky. Today's waterfront visitors enjoy a picturesque view from the Harbor Park at Watkins Glen. Photo via Shutterstock.

Set sail from Seneca Harbor

Seneca Harbor, Seneca Harbor, Watkins Glen, NY, USA

At Seneca Harbor Station, located along the water within the town of Watkins Glen, there’s the Seneca Legacy, which is run by Captain Bill’s Cruises. There is a different schedule every day, but the team offers an assortment of meals at “sea” — it’s a lake, folks — plus blues cruises, as well as wine tastings. Truthfully, the view is the main attraction, and you shouldn’t forget it.

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Where to stay

Geneva-on-the-Lake
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Geneva-on-the-Lake

A Versailles-like estate with lake views

1001 Lochland Rd, Geneva, NY, USA

Although there’s a city in Ohio called Geneva-on-the-Lake, this isn’t it; this is a hotel by the same name. Here, on the edge of Seneca Lake, this Italianate villa houses 29 guest suites and studios, plus two standalone guest houses for larger groups. The rooms here are just OK, to be honest, so stay, instead, for the interesting architecture inside and out. With manicured outside spaces reminiscent of hotels on Lake Como, you’ll feel faraway from western New York.

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Grist Iron Brewing
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Grist Iron Brewing

Lodging with in-room beer service

4880 NY-414, Burdett, New York, USA

Grist Iron Brewing’s on-site lodging option comes with complimentary check-in beers…and plenty more at the brewery on the other side of their lot. All of the nine modern, wood-clad rooms get continental breakfast each morning and a nearby bar for last call, which is early around Seneca Lake (9:30 p.m. here). 

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