Most travelers heading from the west to the Northeast have passed through Syracuse, New York, at some point. Four major interstates—90, 690, 481 and 81—merge in or near this easternmost Finger Lakes city.
Yet locals and return visitors know that Syracuse is a destination in its own right, with natural beauty, cool museums, great nightlife and an enormous mall (the sixth largest in the U.S., to be precise). Syracuse is also the home of The Great New York State Fair, held nearly every year since 1841.
Just northwest of Syracuse is Beaver Lake Nature Center, where visitors find an outdoor haven, with nine miles of trails that showcase myriad species of flora and fauna. Visitors can take guided walks, canoe and kayak. More sedentary types can come to observe the glorious fall foliage. When Jack Frost appears, snowshoeing is the sport of choice.
For those who prefer the great indoors, the Museum of Science and Technology, or The MOST, is the place to go. Located downtown in a former armory, The MOST appeals to everyone’s inner Einstein. Tourists can encounter enormous replicas of the human heart and brain, the five-story Science Playhouse and the life-size Discovery Cave.
Discoveries of another sort await visitors at Destiny USA, a 2.4-million-square-foot shopping mall. Built on the site of the popular Carousel Center, Destiny USA accommodates more than 200 stores, from Abercrombie & Fitch to Zales.
Syracuse has always been rich with natural and man-made treasures. Dubbed “Salt City,” it once supplied the popular seasoning to the entire U.S. via the Erie Canal. History buffs can learn more about the heyday of man-made waterways at the Erie Canal Museum just outside the city. Housed in the country’s only remaining weighlock buildings, the museum provides a peek into 19th-century life along canal shores.
History and modern life converge in downtown Syracuse. The Landmark Theatre, built in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, now hosts present-day productions. Nearby Armory Square, housed in World War II–era facilities over a five-block area, lives on as Syracuse’s hopping bar scene.
Syracuse restaurants have something for every taste. Coleman’s, located in the historic Tipperary Hill neighborhood, serves comforting Irish pub grub, including Guinness beef stew and Baileys Irish Cream cheesecake. The Clam Bar in north Syracuse offers the sought-after shellfish steamed or with garlic, butter and wine. Pascale Wine Bar & Restaurant is swanky setting for special occasions. The menu features wild-game dishes like antelope Wellington, along with quail, duck and venison.
To make the kids’ spirits soar, take them to watch colorful hot-air balloons float up to the heavens during June’s Balloonfest. For Syracuse tourists in town from late August to early September, the Great New York State Fair is a fount of funnel cakes, musical acts, butter sculptures and agricultural competitions. The venue stays open after summer ends, offering October’s “Fright Nights at the Fair” to scare young ghosts and goblins. The CNY Wine & Chocolate Festival arrives in November, followed by the Syracuse Holiday Crafts Spectacular in December.