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84. Explore a canalside town

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84. Explore a canalside town

As you probably remember from building sugar-cube packet boats in third grade, the Erie Canal was an immensely important waterway that helped to define New York State during the 19th and 20th centuries. While the boats and barges that once used the canal as a literal artery of commerce are mostly gone — although boaters can still use the canal system — the port towns that popped up along the waterway remain. Many of them offer up old-school charms of days gone by, as well as a mix of recreation opportunities, unique shopping, and frequent special events. That makes them perfect spots for exploration in the summer.

The Canal originally ran from Buffalo to Albany, with port towns all along the way. For the purpose of this piece we're focusing on the four port towns in the Greater Rochester area: Brockport, Spencerport, Pittsford, and Fairport. For information about port towns outside of that area, check the New York State Canal System website (canals.ny.gov) or the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor site (eriecanalway.org).

click to enlarge The Village of Fairport. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • The Village of Fairport.

To the east of Rochester on Route 31F you'll find Fairport, which remains a bustling community. The canal-adjacent area of Fairport is packed with a variety of shops, most of them independent retailers. In Fairport Village Landing be sure to check out Red Bird Market (130 Village Landing, Fairport; redbirdmarket.com), which is packed with interesting locally made food products like jams, jellies, and flavored peanut butters. The Fairport Public Library is next door, and a farmers' market takes place in the Landing parking lot on Saturday mornings, May through November. You'll also find an abundance of restaurants in the canal area, everything from Towpath Café and Riki's diner, to Mexican restaurant Blue Cactus and Shorts Bar & Grill (the bar is renowned for its frequent karaoke nights).

To get a better look at the canal, and to learn more about its history, book a tour on the Colonial Belle (223-9470, colonialbelle.com), which cruises the canal from mid-May through October. The two- to three-hour tours have food and entertainment options, as well as a few specific themed cruises, including a murder-mystery tour.

Fairport is home to several special events throughout the summer. Fairport Canal Days take place June 6 through June 8, with arts and crafts vendors, food, and live music, plus the annual rubber-duck race down the canal.

Weekly events include classic car "cruz nites" on Tuesday evenings and a live concert series at the gazebo at Vincent Kennelly Park every Thursday night from June 5 through August 7. Musical styles vary from the Four on the Floor Jazz Ensemble (July 10) to Irish folk from the Dady Brothers (July 24).

While you're at the park, seek out the nearby Moonlight Creamery (36 West Avenue, Fairport; moonlightcreamery.com), which is home to some insanely tasty, creative ice cream (try the Maui Wowie), shakes and coffee drinks, and intricate artisan truffles. Grab a cone, sit at one of the park's benches or tables, and watch the world drift by.

Closer to Rochester is Pittsford, and its canalside offerings are arguably the most cosmopolitan of the port towns. The Schoen Place area is home to a variety of terrific restaurants. You can grab gelato from Jembetat Gallery, or have a drink or meal at Aladdin's Natural Eatery, Simply Crepes, The Coal Tower, Label 7, or Olives. Lock 32 Brewing Co., recently opened, specializes in locally made beers.

Schoen Place and Northfield Commons are also a great shopping destination, with specialty stores like Mostly Clay, Pittsford Wine & Spirits, Yarne Source, The Game Gamut, Beads 'n' Things, The Map Shop, The Topiary, and Pittsford Lumber. You'll find even more shops and restaurants on the nearby Main Street in the Village of Pittsford, as well as the Pittsford Public Library across the canal.

Recreation opportunities abound around the Pittsford canal. The paved trails are frequently used by runners, walkers, and bikers. In fact, you can bike along the canal even if you don't own your own ride. Towpath Bike & Multi Sport (3 Schoen Place, towpathbike.com) rents adult bikes, kid bikes, and even tandem bikes by the hour, day, or weekend. For a more relaxing view of the canal, take a ride on the Sam Patch (samandmary.org), which departs from Schoen Place for tours throughout the summer.

East of Rochester you'll find Spencerport, one of the quieter port communities. If you're looking to hike along the canal, Towpath Park offers a nice entry point. Walk or bike the gravel paths along the Erie Canalway Trail, which reportedly runs for 365 miles between Albany and Buffalo (I didn't have the roughly three weeks it would take to find out for myself, so I'm going to take the Canal System's word on that one).

Across the canal you can also find the Spencerport Depot and Canal Museum (16 East Avenue, Spencerport; spencerportdepot.com), a modest building devoted to preserving the history of the canal and of the Village of Spencerport and Town of Ogden.

Spencerport Canal Days bring crafters, festival foods, and live entertainment to town, and this year take place June 26 and 27 (spencerportcanaldays.com). It even has its own race, featuring "canalligators."

Shopping options in Spencerport are more limited than its eastside canal counterparts, but there are several restaurants and shops. If you're looking to lose hours of your life, check out the Book Centre (42 Slayton Avenue, 352-1890) in the nearby shopping plaza. Who knows what literary gems are hidden in the stacks of books towering over the aisles? Summer reading season is almost here...

Further to the west is Brockport, a canal town that is also a college town. As such you'll find a mix of quaint retail, like the Red Bird Tea Shoppe, Bitter Sweet, and the Lift Bridge Book Shop (one of the few independent new-book sellers left in the area), as well as student-friendly outposts like head shops and comic-book stores. There are also a variety of restaurants and ice-cream shops and the like.

Stop by the Brockport Welcome Center at 11 Water Street for maps and information about the canal. Take a stroll along the nicely paved canalside, or you can borrow a bike — for free — from the welcome center. There are picnic tables, educational placards, and even grills for an impromptu barbecue.

Just a block or two down from the canal you'll also find the Strand (93 Main Street, Brockport; rochestertheatermanagement.com/strand.htm), which plays first-run films. So you can get in two summer pleasures in one afternoon and evening: a walk along the water and eating popcorn while watching a big Hollywood blockbuster.

In This Guide...

    Summer Guide 2014

    The Rochester area comes alive during the summer. To help get you ready, we put together a list of 100 ways to live life during the summer months.

    100 Reasons to Celebrate Life

    Things to do and see in Rochester all Summer long
    Eat, drink, bike, run, visit, camp, and enjoy the season!

    Hot summer, cool treats

    5. Learn the differences between frozen desserts
    Winters in Rochester may leave us shivering (especially this year), but when summers roll around, it really is beautiful here. And the warmer temps may just put you in the mood to cool off again with a frozen treat.

    Same drink, different takes

    12. Take a margarita tour of the city
    With summer fast approaching, not only does the weather change but our cocktail cravings change with it. Gone are the days of hot apple cider and whiskey, it's time to bring on the frosty cold drinks of summer.

    CITY's guide to summer festivals

    20. It's festival season!
      For more details, see CITY's 2014 Festival Preview Guide.

    Look to one of these summer concert series

    27. Take in some live music
    Looking for some live music this summer? Listed here are concert series that only come about during the summer months.

    Midsummer Night's Shakespeare

    33. Spend some time at the theater
    Joseph Papp started it all in 1954: the first big-city, outdoor Shakespeare performances of note. The New York Shakespeare Festival grew into an essential component of a Manhattan summer and an entertainment empire in its own right, throwing off everything from CBS-TV productions of Shakespeare in the early 70's to hit Broadway musicals like "A Chorus Line" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

    Summer movie preview

    40. Catch one of the season's flicks
    Summer movie season is notorious for being a time when filmgoers are asked to turn off their brains, grab a giant tub of popcorn, and sacrifice a few precious hours spent outside in the sunlight, just so we can watch Hollywood's latest round of superhero movies, sequels and remakes. But this year, the warm weather has been an especially long time coming.

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    54. Dig into Seabreeze
    When Seabreeze Amusement Park (4600 Culver Road, Seabreeze.com) opened to the public on August 5, 1879, as the last stop on the steam railroad, its main draws were picnic groves on the lakefront. Its picturesque landscape made the location popular.

    Get outta dodge

    62. Road trip to a regional art gallery
    With the onset of summer, the roads and routes of New York State aren't as treacherous, and the thought of making the trip to some of our more outer-regional art houses is bearable. Though CITY will provide our normal coverage of Rochester's art institutions throughout the summer, here we take a closer look at some regional spots housing some pretty remarkable art jewels and events, from big household-name artists to regional and international contemporary masters, as well as promising student work from throughout the region.

    Ideas to keep the kids entertained this summer

    96. Have kids? Give them something to do
    During our precious summer months, Rochester offers a plethora of rich activities for children of all ages. Be it along the various waterfronts, or in the city itself, amusements abound.

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