When most people think about New York, they immediately think of Manhattan. But New York State is so much more than that! Mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and more make up the beautiful landscape of Upstate. And it’s not just the beautiful scenery that makes the state so great. Quaint villages with charming people are waiting to welcome your visit. So check out these small towns in New York that you should add to your bucket list.
Best Small Towns in New York
Guest Post by Danielle from Wanderlust on a Budget
Cazenovia: Farm Festivities & Beer
A prime example of New York’s natural wonders is in Cazenovia, where you can find Critz Farms. That’s where Upstate New Yorkers do some of their favorite activities – apple picking, pumpkin picking, and cutting down their Christmas trees. Don’t forget tasting the cider and beer that is made at the farm – and the festivals that happen there year-round!
Just down the road from Critz is Meier’s Creek Brewing Company, who makes some of the best beer in the Syracuse area. The farm brewery is in a beautiful wooden building, situated between a field of hops and rolling hills. Their menu features some of the freshest ingredients available, many sourced locally.
Down in the heart of Cazenovia you’ll find a street of shops and restaurants to explore. Just don’t leave town without having brunch at Lincklaen House!
Clayton: Boat Tours & River Views
Up in northern New York, along the St. Lawrence River is the Thousand Islands region. Technically there are 1,864 islands scattered throughout the river, split among the United States and Canada. The town of Clayton has a few different tour companies that provide boat tours of the islands, sharing their diverse and interesting histories.
In the heart of Clayton, be sure to check out the shops and artisan food stores. You can pack yourself the perfect lunch after a visit to 1000 Islands Cruet to get infused oils and vinegars, then pick up some cheese from River Rat down the street. And if you’re looking for some adult beverages, St. Lawrence Spirits has a taproom right in town. Their bourbon cream is the perfect addition to your coffee!
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Clinton: Incredible Food & Artisan Shopping
Clinton, New York has quickly become one of the best small towns in New York. It’s got everything that you want – great shops, incredible food, artsy charm, and the most welcoming people. While the town itself is pretty small, it’s full of amazing flavors. The brand new restaurant The Compound offers creative grilled cheeses and nightly high teas with a modern twist. Finish off your meal with a visit to The Cremeria down the street for some authentic Italian gelato. It’s amazing!
Almost Local is the best small town shop for adventure lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The place is stocked full of adventure apparel, outdoorsy decor, and other artisan goodies. And if adventure is what you’re looking for, check out Root Glen on the Hamilton College campus. THe trails are open to the public and are the perfect peaceful retreat!
Corning: Glass Blowing & Breweries
Corning, New York is famous for their world-renowned museum of glass. And for good reason! The museum is incredible, offering interactive displays on the history of glass and exhibits some incredible pieces of art. Visitors can watch live glass blowing demonstrations and even schedule a workshop to make their own piece of art to take home.
The center of town is filled with restaurants, shops, and bakeries. I highly recommend Mooney’s if you love mac and cheese; they have a menu of over a dozen flavors of mac! Then get your drink on at one or more of the breweries in town.
Best Small Towns in New York – Geneva: Wineries & Ghosts
Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes, Geneva is the gateway town to hundreds of wineries. At the northern tip of Seneca Lake, it also has some of the most famous of the 100+ wineries around the lake.
Belhurst Castle is not only stunning, but it offers great wine and ghost stories! A popular wedding venue, the castle contains several guest rooms, a tasting room, a tavern, and a full restaurant. Rumor has it that visitors experience strange occurrences and have even seen the ghostly figure of the woman who disappeared from the property many years ago. Is “the white lady” real? Or is she a product of too much wine? You’ll have to visit for yourself.
Inlet: Hiking & Outdoor Adventures
If you’re looking for the perfect summer getaway in the mountains, Inlet is the place to be. Located in the heart of the Adirondacks, just north of the touristy town of Old Forge, Inlet has all the charm that the area is known for. The town itself has shops full of goodies and gifts – outdoorsy decor, flavored oils, and wooden furniture.
Inlet is located between Fourth and Fifth Lakes, providing easy access to kayaking, swimming, and boating. Just outside of town are several of the Adirondack low peaks. Spend a day hiking up the mountains and you’re in for a treat! The views are absolutely incredible – and probably the best in New York.
There are plenty of accommodation styles to choose from, depending on your interests. Hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, lodges, and tent camping sites.
Best Small Towns in New York – Ithaca: Waterfalls & Cideries
To be fair, Ithaca is a small city, not a town. But it’s so great that it needs to be mentioned. The motto of the city is “Ithaca is gorges” – and rightfully so. The area is filled with gorges that make for some incredible state parks with waterfalls and hiking trails.
The easiest waterfall to see is Ithaca Falls, right in the heart of the city and a short walk off the main road. For the others, plan to spend a few hours enjoying the trails (which are dog-friendly!) and waterfalls. Many of the parks also have camping sites if you want to make a weekend out of it.
While Ithaca has lots of incredible breweries – Ithaca Beer and Liquid State being my favorites – there has been a resurgence of hard cideries. There are several around town, each offering their own spin on the traditional alcohol as well as some beautiful views of the hills.
Penn Yan: Trails & Cocktails
At the northern part of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes is the town of Penn Yan. Named after the settlers from Pennsylvania and New York (Yankees), Penn Yan maintains some of its historic charm.
There is quite a variety of things to do in Penn Yan and the surrounding area. Since it’s in the Finger Lakes, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of wineries and breweries to choose from. Tabora Winery is set in a beautiful building, restored to resemble the buildings of south Africa, where the owner grew up. In addition to the wine, which is only available on site, they have an incredible cafe serving soups, sandwiches, and delectable desserts.
Wine not your thing? No worries! Check out Abandon Brewing. Located in an old abandoned barn, you can sip on their craft beer while enjoying the gorgeous views of Keuka Lake.
If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures, try bicycling along the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, exploring the ruins of Garrett Memorial Chapel, or go hiking at Keuka Lake State Park.
Best Small Towns in New York – Sharon Springs: Caves & Charm
Sharon Springs is the quintessential small town in New York. Once famous for its natural sulfur springs, it now is known for its resemblance to the fictional town of Schitt’s Creek. The town is so small, it’s really one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” places. But it is overflowing with charm. And the people are so welcoming! It’s the perfect New York town for a weekend escape and is popular in the summer for NYC residents to visit.
Not far from the center of town is Vroman’s Nose, a beautiful place to go hiking and take in the surrounding hills. Travel just a little further and you’ll make it to Howes Cave, home to some elaborate cave systems. Two parts of the cave are accessible to the public. Howe Caverns is the more popular, and much larger tourist destination. They do events throughout the year, have a hotel on site, and even have an underground boat tour in the cave. Around the corner is Secret Caverns, a cheaper and much smaller piece of the cave system. But the surprise is worth it – an underground waterfall! This alone makes it one of the best small towns in New York.
Skaneateles: Boutiques & Dickens Christmas
Skaneateles, New York is known for being one of the wealthier villages in New York. After all, it is where Derek Jeter and other celebrities have purchased vacation homes! While not the cheapest option for a long vacation, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to do in Skaneateles. Including taking a boat tour around the lake to check out the mansions.
The village has some of the best boutique shopping around! DROOZ + Company is a great place to pick up a gift – or treat yourself to something fun. Many of the eateries in town are also famous for their singular specialties. Hamburgers at Johnny Angel’s, fish at Doug’s Fish Fry, and pastries at Skaneateles Bakery. If a fancy dinner is in your plans, the Sherwood Inn or Elephant & the Dove will fit the bill!
One of the best parts about Skaneateles is their yearly Dickens Christmas celebration. Each weekend through December, the town steps back in time to the Dickens era. People dress up in period-appropriate clothing, put on performances, and have a visit from Father Christmas. It truly is the perfect time to visit!
What do you think the best small towns in New York are? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author
Danielle is an avid adventurer, foodie, and self-proclaimed nerd. After getting her masters degree in Australia, she moved back to Syracuse and started the blog Wanderlust on a Budget.to share her stories and amplify diverse cultures. Danielle specializes in local tourism around Upstate New York, focusing on historical sites, obscure attractions, budget-friendly activities, and the best local food and drink. When she’s not writing or traveling, you’ll find her with her husband diving into their collection of 300+ board games, drinking craft beer, and hanging out with her dogs.