Head south for a hippie haven that will delight: Ithaca an outdoor mecca for the foodie at heart

Ithaca Commons is the heart of Ithaca's downtown and makes a great place for shopping and browsing through both funky and upscale shops. Photo courtesy Visit Ithaca.

Less than four hours from most points in the north country, Ithaca is a medium-sized city of about 30,000 year-round residents known for its opportunities for outdoor adventure, hippie culture, robust local food scene and premier colleges and universities. For a weekend getaway, Ithaca offers plenty of great hiking, shopping, cultural events and eating, particularly vegan and vegetarian fare.

Friday, 2 P.M., take a walk in the company of great minds

A quick walking tour of the Cornell University campus is a good way to get a taste of Ithaca before you settle into your accommodations.

Cornell, an Ivy League university with about 22,000 students across undergraduate and graduate programs, boasts a spectacular, hilly 2,300-acre campus full of old, ivy-covered brick buildings and breathtaking views of the city. It offers a great place for a stroll, though you will get a workout from its huge quantity of stairs. Stop inside Cornell’s oldest library, Uris Library, which has a collection of two million volumes combined with Olin Library. Cornell’s other specialty libraries include the Baily Hortorium Library, composed of the combined botanical resources from the personal libraries of Liberty Hyde Bailey and Wiegand Herbarium. It has about 30,000 volumes, more than 200 journal titles and hundreds of shelf-feet of reprints. The Paleontological Research Institution Library contains over 50,000 volumes on paleontology, geology and natural history. The Snee Hall Reading Room is a glass-enclosed room with a beautiful view of the Cascadilla gorge and is a popular place to study. Visit www.cornell.edu/libraries for a list of libraries and their locations.

Grab a coffee or snack in Collegetown, which has numerous award-winning restaurants and shops. Stella’s Restaurant, Bar and Café at 403 College Ave. is a great place to refuel and get a taste of the local culture, offering something for everyone and known for its coffee and espresso drinks. Collegetown Bagels at 415 College Ave. is a great quintessential college town bagel shop and is also good place to grab a quick sandwich.

While Cornell is perched atop East Hill, Ithaca College, which has about 6,200 undergraduate students, sits atop South Hill, positioning the city in a veritable cradle of academia. Ithaca College’s campus also makes for a good walk; visit www.ithaca.edu for information on tours.

Cornell University, Campus Information and Visitor Relations, Day Hall Lobby, www.cornell.edu, 1 (607) 254-6225.

Friday, 4 P.M., settle into your accommodations

A good option for lodging is the Statler Hotel at Cornell University, which is staffed by students in Cornell’s world-renowned School of Hotel Administration alongside hospitality professionals. The hotel is located in the heart of Cornell’s campus so it has Cornell’s upscale Ivy League vibe, and is only minutes from downtown, as well as within walking distance of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Fall Creek Gorge and Sage Chapel. The hotel also has a full-service restaurant, Taverna Banfi.

If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, check out Private Hotel and Pure Food at Casper’s Farm, which has six quaint and unique rooms with luxurious beds, filled with museum-like treasures from owner Michael Casper’s world travels, including dinosaur skeletons, meteorites, mineral specimens, fossils and artifacts. Nightly room rates are $300 for a queen and $200 for a junior queen, which includes an unbelievable breakfast of farm-fresh food and access to expansive grounds for morning jaunts.

On the more traditional end, Homewood Suites by Hilton Ithaca offers reasonable prices for studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with nice amenities, including a full hot breakfast and fitness center.
Statler Hotel, www.statlerhotel.cornell.edu, 130 Statler Drive, Cornell University. Private Hotel and Pure Food at Casper’s Farm, 1040

Comfort Road, www.caspersfarm.com. Homewood Suites by Hilton Ithaca, 36 Cinema Drive, www.homewoodsuites3.hilton.com.

Friday, 6 P.M., Let’s Eat

Referred to as a “liberal, cultural and gastronomic oasis” in a 2008 travel piece on the city in The New York Times and with its close proximity to renowned Finger Lakes wineries, Ithaca offers abundant dining opportunities. Fans of vegetarian, vegan and organic fare should not miss the iconic Moosewood Restaurant, the number one place for food made with fresh, local ingredients. Moosewood was named one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appetit magazine and its menu changes every day based on the freshest, seasonal ingredients.

Just a Taste is a great place to get wine and tappas, with an extensive menu of nearly 40 different types of tapas, some elaborate. With an outdoor patio, Just a Taste is a great place to soak in the city and vibe of the nearby Finger Lakes.

Ithaca also boasts numerous quality ethnic restaurants, including the notable Saigon Kitchen, a Vietnamese restaurant at 526 West State St. and Sangam Indian Cuisine at 424 Eddy St.
Despite this wealth of culinary options, be sure to save some room for dessert. Ithaca boasts of being the official birthplace of the ice cream sundae, so, when in Rome, it would be remiss to not get an ice cream sundae. Purity Ice Cream Co., located at 700 Cascadilla St., offers a huge and unique selection of quality flavors and is the perfect place to experience the home-town favorite.

Moosewood Restaurant, 215 North Cayuga St., www.moosewoodcooks.com. Just a Taste, 116 North Aurora St., www.just-a-taste.com.

Saturday, 10 A.M., breakfast before you hit the town

The Saturday farmers market at Steamboat Landing, a cooperative with 150 vendors who live within a 30-mile radius of the city, is the perfect place to spend a leisurely Saturday morning, especially if you’re a local foods enthusiast. You can grab some fresh baked goods for breakfast and also some delicious fresh bread or meats to take as a picnic for the afternoon’s outdoor adventures.

The market is open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from April 6 through Oct. 26. It also runs Sundays from May 5 to Oct. 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you happen to visit Ithaca during the week, or just extend your stay a little, you can also visit the market at Dewitt Park Tuesdays from May 7 to Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursdays from June 6 to Oct. 31 from 4 to 7 p.m.

For a list of vendors, maps to the markets or any additional information, visit www.ithacamarket.com.

Hippie, funky and upscale collide at Ithaca Commons, the city’s main downtown center of commerce, another option for a place to browse Saturday morning. The four-block area has more than 100 unique shops, restaurants, art galleries and street vendors. Autumn Leaves Used Books is a great place to kill some time. In the store’s basement is Angry Mom Records, which has a collection of more than 20,000 albums, specializing in music from the 1960s to 80s. If you need to refuel while browsing, you can grab a coffee at Crow’s Nest Café above the bookstore, which sells fair trade coffee, as well as vegan and vegetarian soups, salads, pastries and sandwiches.

Autumn Leaves Used Books, 115 the Commons, www.facebook.com/#/pages/Ithaca-NY/Autumn-Leaves-Used-Books.

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