Relocation Recon: Ithaca, New York

Relocation Recon: Ithaca, New York

I’ve been meaning to visit Ithaca ever since I moved to northcentral Pennsylvania and realized it was less than three hours away. I liked what I’d read about it — that it’s naturally beautiful with walking trails and waterfalls, that it’s a lively college town with good restaurants and diverse entertainment, that the community cares about local food and has the farmer’s market to prove it — and it sounded like a great destination for a long weekend, especially if I wanted to sample the nearby Finger Lakes wineries. So when I started thinking about where to move next, Ithaca came to mind. But somehow I hadn’t gotten around to making the trip yet.

It was a spur of the moment decision (so unlike me!), but barely 12 hours in advance, I plotted my course and roughed out an itinerary I could accomplish in just one day. And off I went, to see as much as I could see.

The drive northward on a blue-sky summer day was stunning, to say the least. My hybrid car strained a bit as it made its way up into the mountains and I gawked at the wide valley views. I wish I’d taken some photos, but I would have had to pull off the highway, and with tight time constraints, I had to keep moving.

I’ve mentioned before that I rely on my gut reaction to a place when I first arrive, and it is often not what I was expecting. Because I’ve been mostly looking for a small coastal town, I thought Ithaca’s size and altitude might be off-putting. As I drove around town, gathering first impressions, I was surprised that I felt a familiar connection to the busy streets and surrounding hills. (Later I realized the area reminded me of State College, Pennsylvania, where I went to college at Penn State.)

Ithaca Farmers MarketAfter grabbing a bite to eat at the Mahogany Grill and having an enlightening chat with the server — an Ithaca native who had moved away and recently come back — about the town’s pros and cons, I headed for the farmer’s market and fell in love. The Steamboat Landing pavilion is like a boardwalk with a peaked roof strung with tiny white lights, kind of like strolling through a long wooden bridge, with more than 80 stalls of dazzling organic vegetables, regional wines, baked treats, artists’ creations, and hot food to go, from Cambodian to Thai to “Curry in a Hurry.”


Many patrons put together a meal there and enjoy it at the picnic tables or on the neighboring dock by Cayuga Lake.

Cayuga LakeDuck on Cayuga Lake











Veggies at Ithaca Farmers Market


The sense of community and nurturance is palpable, the setting is divine, and I left with a heavy bag and deep sense of satisfaction.









Next I went to see Ithaca Falls. (If I’d had more time, I would have visited several of the area’s stunning waterfalls and gorges, but for this day trip, I could only dabble.) There is something so soothing about tumbling water. It would be heaven to live near enough, maybe way up in the trees, to drift off to sleep each night to the sound of water over rock.

Ithaca Falls

Ithaca Falls Tree House










My last stop was The Plantations, Cornell’s combined botanical gardens and arboretum. The sprawling acreage includes an herb garden, winter garden and tranquil ponds. The day was hot, but there were some inviting shady areas to just sit and admire the view.  More than one wedding party was having its photos taken there the day I visited. As I meandered among lilies, sunflowers and towering trees, I was reminded of the peaceful grounds I used to walk, tended by the local garden club, behind my quirky apartment in a 1820s stone house. Knowing how to grow beautiful things is not only an art, but a gift.

Cornell Plantations
Cornell Plantations









So what’s the verdict on Ithaca? I liked so many things about it, as you can tell. I wasn’t as drawn to the jumble of downtown architecture and general mood it conveyed. The Commons, a downtown pedestrian mall, held promise but seemed to be struggling to reach its full potential. As with Cambridge, I felt a bit disconnected from the primary commercial area. And I don’t even want to ponder the winters up there. I’m definitely trending more south than north.

I haven’t crossed Ithaca off my list, but there are better fits for me. (Next up: Havre de Grace, Maryland.) Have you been to Ithaca? Would you live there?


(2) Comments

  • Jackie Cangro
    02 Sep 2015

    Just this weekend I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that read Ithaca is gorges. Clever!

    From your photos it does look gorges, :) but the winters sure are off-putting.

    Looking forward to your next stop.

  • Karen Jones
    02 Sep 2015

    I have seen that slogan, Jackie, and it is clever. Ithaca is beautiful. But after getting reacquainted with Pennsylvania winters these last several years, I am ready to hang up my snow shovel!

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