As a Western New Yorker, I’m here to guide you through the real gems of our area – the small, often overlooked towns each bursting with history, character, and charm. From the ski-friendly slopes of Ellicottville to the vineyards of Chautauqua, these are my favorite towns in Western New York.
18 Cute Small Towns in Western NY Worth Visiting
1. Irondequoit, NY
When I was a kid, I got so excited when my Dad would say we’re taking a day trip to Irondequoit. That excitement was due to the mall there that had the coolest old-fashioned carousel in the food court (which is now closed), but there’s more to this little town than that.
Many people spend most of their time on Irondequoit Bay (pictured above), which is actually where the name Irondequoit comes from. In Iroquois, it means something to the effect of “where land meets the water”.
While there are still plenty of places to shop and eat, there’s also parks, nature centers, boating, fishing, kayaking, and numerous hiking trails. If you like antiquing, there’s Ontario Mall Antiques which holds 1000 dealers.
2. Canandaigua, NY
Located just 30 minutes from Rochester, Canandaigua, NY, is a hidden gem on the western edge of the Finger Lakes.
This town is renowned for Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park, offering a glimpse into the area’s rich history, and the Canandaigua Wine Trail, which features standout wineries like the award-winning New York Kitchen with its wine and culinary classes. You can book a tour of the wonderful wineries.
And just 10 minutes north is the important Ganondagan State Historic Site, a Native American community and cultural center that celebrates the heritage and history of the Seneca people through its museum, exhibition, tours, and events.
Book a night at the Lake House on Canandaigua for a luxurious stay.
3. Ellicottville, NY
Ellicottville is such an inviting little place with serious old town charm. While most people know it because of top skiing at Holiday Valley Resort, I know it more for wine (Ellicottville Winery), a stop at the brewery after a long day’s work, and a stroll through the nearby Griffis Sculpture Park.
Whether you’re looking to spend the day in a quiet mountain town or planning a weekend getaway, there are plenty of things to do in Ellicottville. Spend the afternoon with birds of prey and then finish off the evening at Steelbound for fantastic food and beer. You won’t regret it.
4. Brockport, NY
Brockport is now best known as a college town, but it didn’t start out that way. The charming village of Brockport is about 20 miles outside of Rochester and rose up as one of the influential ports along the Erie Canal. Main Street is lined with historical buildings and the canal still runs through the center of town.
5. Castile, NY
The quaint little town of Castile is well-known for one specific reason, it’s home to an entrance to one of the best state parks in New York, Letchworth. Don’t miss the waterfalls, hiking, and most popularly, Balloons Over Letchworth to experience the beauty of Letchworth State Park from above with a hot air balloon ride.
While the main attraction is Letchworth State Park, there are several other places to visit around Castile.
- Adventure Calls Outfitters: For those looking for a bit of adventure, this company offers river rafting and tubing experiences on the Genesee River, which flows through Letchworth State Park.
- Castile Cider Mill during the fall season for apples and fresh pressed cider (pressed right there on the premises) and their famous apple cider fry cakes.
- Genesee Falls Balloon: Another option for hot air balloon rides, offering a different perspective on the natural beauty of the area.
- Charcoal Corral and Silver Lake Drive-In Theatre: A classic entertainment venue that combines a drive-in theater with mini-golf, a pizzeria, and an ice cream parlor, providing fun for the whole family.
- East Hill Creamery: For cheese enthusiasts, this creamery offers a chance to taste locally produced cheeses and learn about the cheese-making process.
- Perry Farmers Market: A great place to experience local culture, the farmers market offers fresh produce, artisanal foods, and handmade crafts from the region.
6. Gowanda, NY
Gowanda is a good Day trip from Buffalo. My Dad used to plan a trip each year with the local youth group to go white water rafting through Zoar Valley.
While the town of Gowanda is charming enough, the hiking in the area is amazing. Whether you check out the three trails in the Zoar Valley Multiple Use areas, the conservation trails of Deer Lick, or the William P. Alexander Preserve, there’s some amazing views with gorges, cliffs, waterfalls, and dense woods.
My hiking group goes to Deer Lick conservation regularly and the yellow trail leads you to the top of Deer Lick Falls. Despite being the longest trail at 3.3 miles, it’s an easy hike with wonderful views.
7. East Aurora, NY
East Aurora is a picture of charming towns. So much so that the main street is used in films more and more often. Especially those romantic holiday movies. Besides the charming and historic small town vibes you get walking down Main Street, East Aurora is also home to one of the only remaining artists’ guilds from the 19th century.
The Roycroft Campus has been maintained and continues to share the love of art and philosophy. Tour the remaining nine buildings of the original campus and then enjoy a fantastic meal and stay at the Roycroft Inn. The staff there know so much of the history and are happy to share it with you (I spent a whole dinner talking with them).
It’s a great day trip from Buffalo being only a 22-minute drive away, but also makes for a great weekend getaway. You may stay at this beautiful cottage!
8. Chautauqua, NY
For outdoor enthusiasts, I recommend the Panama Rocks Scenic Park, one of the top-ranked nature and hiking trails in the state. The rock formations and passages are like walking into a fairytale. The trail is only one mile long and you’re invited to explore the rock formations off the trail (at your own risk of course).
If the outdoor hikes aren’t for you, or the weather isn’t the best, there’s always the Chautauqua Institution, a center for education and free thinking. This institution actually started a movement (called the Chautauqua movement) that crossed the entire country during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Spend the weekend at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel and check out what you can do to expand your mind at the institution.
9. Lewiston, NY
If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, make sure to plan a stop in the lovely art town of Lewiston, only a few miles north. Lewiston is the place in what we call the Northtowns (North of the city of Buffalo) to go for great food, art, and concerts at ArtPark.
Main Street is packed with amazing restaurants that are hard to choose from. Can’t choose yourself? Take a lunch tour and try several of the delectable foods and drinks that Lewiston has to offer.
There’s also a nice little hike with incredible views along that gorge that was left behind as Niagara Falls moved to their current location over thousands of years.
10. Jamestown & Lakewood, NY
Come here for laughs, which it should be as the small town that Lucille Ball called home. Jamestown is home to one of the best museums in Upstate New York, the National Comedy Center, which has a sister museum, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.
There’s even a new statue of Lucille Ball in town. The old statue was deemed legitimately scary looking and was recently replaced.
Not even 13 miles away in Lakewood, you can enjoy some of Western New York’s most iconic brews at the Southern Tier Brewery.
11. Hamlin, NY
Nestled out in Orleans County near Rochester, Hamlin was named after Abraham Lincoln’s first VP. With several beaches on the lake like Hamlin Beach State Park, this town offers some fun outdoor activities in a less known area, which means fewer crowds.
Beach fun, biking, hiking, fishing, boating, and camping all in one place. There’s even an excellent fishing charter to take you out on the lake for half the day for salmon and trout fishing.
12. Webster, NY
This little village outside of Rochester doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a hub of parks and museums that go unnoticed. There’s an arboretum, and parks with many miles of trails right on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Charter a fishing boat, spend the day on the water, stroll through one of the many parks, and end the day at Knucklehead Craft Brewing, where they take their brewing seriously, but not themselves (hence the name).
If you want a quiet stay, you can book this stonewall cottage, which is still close to everything, for a night!
13. Youngstown, NY
Youngstown is the place to be for history buffs, 22 minutes north of Niagara Falls and right at the junction of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
This area was a hot seat of European-American activity from 1679 when the French established their first post at Fort Niagara all the way through the Civil War and both World Wars until it was decommissioned in 1963.
With the hustle and bustle of the nearby fort, Youngstown is a quaint village full of historical buildings, good food, and a hidden dock along the Niagara River. My family and I have spent so many weekends at Fort Niagara and in Youngstown, it’s like a second home, it’s really that inviting.
14. Fairport, NY
My Dad grew up in Fairport, a little village that was largely involved in the history of the Erie Canal. Fairport was actually called the Crown Jewel of the Erie Canal as it offered a central point for development and industry.
The Erie Canal gave the village its name as those traveling along the man-made waterway regularly called it a “pretty fair port”.
Beyond the history involved, it’s easy to fall in love with Fairport; Money Magazine called it one of the best places to live in the country in 2005. Whether you want the history, a couple of craft breweries to visit, or some good food, you’ll find something to love in Fairport.
If staying in town, consider booking this family retreat which offers various amenities, including a heated outdoor pool and a hot tub!
15. Greece, NY
Due to its Lake Ontario access, Greece, NY was a peak vacation destination in the 19th century. At the junction of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario, it once held the Coney Island of the west with the Ontario Beach Amusement Park.
The local Historical Society and Museum hold all the secrets to the history of the town with plenty of exhibits and artifacts to explore. Between the parks and the art at Wall/Therapy, it’s easy to see the appeal of Greece.
16. Medina, NY
When I hear Medina, I instantly think of the wonderful train ride I took with my daughter, niece, and nephews on the Polar Express one Christmas. The Railroad Museum puts on an amazing performance and experiences each holiday season and the museum itself is intriguing.
But that’s not all Medina has to offer. This little town also has a great history with the Erie Canal and you can stroll along the waterway, visit Medina Falls, check out some wineries, and then taste the best tacos you’ve ever eaten from the Monte Alban taco truck!
17. Arcade, NY
Moving back closer to Buffalo, in Wyoming County, Arcade is home to Llamas and historic railroads. An interesting mix, I think. Llama adventures love to educate the public about these unique animals and in a unique way. You can take a hike with Llamas!
Arcade is a railway town, while the village predates the railroad, that’s what kept it going. The Arcade & Attica railroad offers train rides on the last operating diesel train in WNY. Travel through the historic station, onto a historic train, and ride along a landscape that has barely changed since the rails were laid in the 1880s.
18. Westfield, NY
Right on the shores of Lake Erie in the heart of Chautauqua Wine Country, there’s Westfield, the center of the largest Concord grape belt in the country. Only 1.5 hours from the city of Buffalo, NY, there’s plenty to occupy your day in this quiet little town.
The historic lighthouse at Barcelona dates back to 1829 and you can make a day at the beach and harbor after visiting a Saturday morning farmer’s market or spend the morning shopping and enjoying tasty treats at the local restaurants like the Portage Pie or The Parkview before delving into history (my favorite) at the McClurg Museum and President Lincoln’s connection to this small town.
Plan a picnic lunch at the overlook at Glen Mills Falls and stay at the Barcelona Lakeside Bed and Breakfast.
Heather Menz has called the Buffalo area home for over 35 years. With a degree in archaeology and a keen interest in history, she has explored sites that are both easy to find and those hidden deep in Buffalo and Rochester’s history. As part of an active and outdoors-oriented family, she has traveled and hiked much and learned more about all that the Western New York area has to offer.
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