Small Town Charm in the Southern Finger Lakes

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You’ve probably heard of the Finger Lakes, the east coast’s greatest wine region, but have you heard of Corning?  You’ll be surprised at how much this small town has to offer.  From outdoor pursuits to world-class art, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Corning NY.

Plan a trip to Corning NY, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. You'll take advantage of great local wine, small town community, and the world-class Corning Museum of Glass. But better yet, you can try soaring, glass-blowing, blacksmithing, and more!
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Top Things to Do in Corning NY

Just north of the Pennsylvania border and about 100 miles south of where I grew up is the small “city” of Corning.  At only about 3 square miles, the city center is tiny, but it’s packed with great reasons to stay awhile.

Corning Museum of Glass

Affectionately known as CMOG by locals, the Corning Museum of Glass has been world-class since the day it opened in 1981.  It’s an art museum for people who hate art museums (like me!) with gorgeous displays plus exhibits on the science and history of glass.

what to do in corning ny / Corning Museum of Glass
Exploring the Corning Museum of Glass

More recently, CMOG has outdone itself by opening a 100,000 square-foot expansion to showcase contemporary glass art.  The new wing was specifically designed to showcase glass: skylights and windows provide natural lighting, huge rooms show the large scale of modern, and distractions like outlets and light switches are hidden so all attention remains on the art.  The architecture itself is worth a look!

Carroña sculpture at Corning Museum of Glass
Carroña (Javier Perez): My favorite piece from the new expansion

But the main reason that the Corning Museum of Glass is worth a visit is because it’s not a stuffy museum. Daily demonstrations show everything from glass breaking to how optical fibers carry information on thin glass.  The glass-blowing demos and “gaffer’s choice” shows can be actual artists at work, not just dumbed-down versions of how to make glass.  And adults and kids alike love the #glassapp scavenger hunt.

corning ny things to do like glassblowing demonstrations
Check out the glassblowing demonstrations at CMOG

Best of all, visitors can make their own glass art in forty-minute projects or intensive workshops.  After beating around the bush with three short projects on past visits, I finally took the plunge to a two-day glass-blowing workshop on this visit.

There’s a reason two-day admission comes standard at the Corning Museum of Glass and why visitors (like me!) come back for return visits.

Read More: Glass Blowing at the Corning Museum of Glass
My glass-blowing workshop went way beyond the basics and was a ton of fun!

Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes

At first glance, the tiny Heritage Village doesn’t seem like much, but I was blown away by how much there is going on.  In fact, there was so much to do that I went twice in my four day stay.

First up was a murder mystery dinner: my chance to get into character as an 1800’s woman (embarrassingly, I was one of the few attendees who didn’t dress up).  The event took place in the Benjamin Patterson Inn, a 1796 area tavern and inn.  Travelers would have passed through for a hearty meal, a place to socialize and conduct business, and a warm bed.  For my visit, it was renamed the “Deadwood Saloon”, host to a poker tournament and unfortunate murder.  Although the setting was different than its true Corning heritage, the cookies baked on the hearth and the social atmosphere were spot on for the historical building.

benajmin patterson inn murder mystery dinner

For a more authentic experience and sightDOING twist, I was really excited to join a blacksmithing workshop at the Cooley Blacksmith Shop.  Projects here are still done the old-fashioned way, just as they would have been in the 1870s when the blacksmith served the local farming community.

blacksmith heritage village (things to do in corning ny)
Forging my own projects at Heritage Village

In a private class, I learned the rudiments of blacksmithing, including how to start and maintain a coal fire at the right temperature, why the anvil is shaped as it is, and of course — how to turn such a crude technique of hammering into something useful (and artistic).

blacksmith workshop what to do in corning ny
Hammering away

By the end of the workshop, I had successfully turned a straight iron rod into a twisted, curved S-hook and learned how to turn a horseshoe (made by my instructor) into a decorative fish.  Not bad for a morning’s work!

Goat Yoga

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that goat yoga is actually a little outside of Corning (about 20 minutes) at a goat farm, but it’s definitely worth the short drive!

two goats on a yoga mat near corning ny

At ZiegenVine Homestead, you’ll find goat yoga on select evenings and weekends — and yes, you should totally do it even if you’re not a yogi!  Trust me, you won’t be the only one posing for selfies halfway through class or snuggling with a baby goat afterward when everyone (including the goats) is in a zen-like state.

If your dates line up with one of their classes, you’ll definitely want to add this to your list of things to do near Corning.

girl doing yoga pose with goat next to her
Probably one of the most fun things to do in Corning, in my opinion!

The Rockwell Museum

No, the Rockwell Museum is not a collection of Norman Rockwell pieces (though there are a few); it’s art about America and it’s done surprisingly well for a small museum.  If you appreciate art, the galleries speak for themselves with pieces like Mt. Whitney (Albert Bierstadt), The Buffalo Hunt (William R. Leigh), and Hunter’s Bounty (Tammy Garcia).

rockwell museum corning ny buffalo hunt
The Buffalo Hunt, at Rockwell Museum

However, the Rockwell Museum prides itself on being more than art on the walls, something I appreciate.  They make art interesting and accessible even to those of us without art education.  The community comes together for events like performing arts within the visual art galleries themselves or laidback margaritas on the terrace.  Either way, you’re there for a discussion and to share your perceptions, not just to look at the paintings and sculptures.

Rockwell Museum what to do in Corning NY
“Market Street’s Living Room”, where you’re encouraged to sit and stay awhile at the Rockwell Museum

While you might be tempted to pass by this museum if you’re not an art lover, I’d encourage you to check out their special events.  Workshops, concerts, and other non-traditional experiences can make this one worthwhile for everyone.

The Gaffer District

I am definitely not a shopper, but historic downtown Corning is the place to go for shopping and surprisingly interesting even if you prefer not to collect more things.  Known as the Gaffer District (named for master glassblowers, or gaffers), this is a short stretch of Market Street and the surrounding area full of shops and restaurants.  Among other things, you’ll find beads, specialty foods, antiques, and clothing boutiques.

market street corning ny gaffer district
Along Market Street

Even though I tend to avoid shopping like the plague, I really liked the Gaffer District for its historical walking tour.  All you have to do is plug into their mobile app, grab a cup of coffee from Market Street Coffee and Tea, and lead your way through downtown.  Yes, you can pause if you want to browse inside the shops, or you can just enjoy the information like I did and then head back to the starting point by walking along the river which parallels Market Street.

Warning: You might think this is a quick tour, but you’ll likely be stopped by friendly locals asking about your visit and sharing more great information on what to do in Corning NY!

National Soaring Museum

Roughly halfway between Corning and Elmira, NY (known for being Mark Twain Country) is Harris Hill, the “Soaring Capital of America.”  Visitors literally visit from all over the world for a chance to soar over the area and to check out the National Soaring Museum.  The museum teaches you about the science behind glider flight, the history of aircraft and flights, and local ties to soaring.

national soaring museum elmira ny
Inside the National Soaring Museum

Its soaring heritage is brought on by the geography and topography of the area, making Harris Hill naturally suited for glider flight.  However, it really got its claim to fame by hosting the first thirteen national soaring contests (beginning in 1930).  Later, Elmira, NY became home to Schweizer Aircraft, the USA’s best known glider manufacturer, and was the first site to train glider pilots for WWII.

Naturally, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I signed up for a short glider flight taking off from the 1100-foot runway in front of the museum.

soaring museum elmira
Glider flight with pilot Tom

Gliders are essentially given a tow by standard airplanes to get up into the air and then drop the tow rope to continue gliding or soaring.  Pilots rely on finding pockets of “sink” or “lift” to maintain their flight and to later on, safely land.  Since no motors or fuel is required, you can stay up all day if conditions allow.

While overlooking Finger Lakes wine country is great (we had ~30 miles of visibility, even on an overcast day), it was the act of soaring itself that was most striking to me.  Just like an eagle, we were flying just based on how the glider caught the air.  After the tow plane has gone, there is no source of propulsion other than air itself.

Out of all of my plans in the Corning area, it was my glider flight that I had been looking forward to the most and it did not disappoint.

Spencer Crest Nature Center

I’d be crazy not to mention the beautiful natural surroundings in Corning.  Yes, it may have snowed on the morning I arrived, but that doesn’t mean I’m not up for a walk in the woods.  Spencer Crest Nature Center is just a few minutes outside of town but provides a forest setting with over seven miles of trails, perfect for an afternoon.

Spencer Crest Nature Center corning ny
Spencer Crest Nature Center trails

With a few trails that are surprisingly steep, I welcomed the chance to sit and catch my breath under the guide of enjoying Amelia Pond.  On a search for wildlife, I came up short, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

amelia pond corning ny spencer crest nature center
Amelia Pond, Corning, NY

Where to Eat and Drink in Corning

If I had one disappointment in Corning, it was the food.  I had several okay meals: not bad by any means, but not memorable enough to write home about.  Compared to the excellent options elsewhere in Finger Lakes Wine Country, I expected a little more from Corning itself.

However, even in Corning, there were a few stand-outs.

Poppleton Bakery

poppleton bakery
Inside Poppleton Bakery

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, Poppleton Bakery should be the first place you eat in Corning.  Come for breakfast — I can highly recommend both the quiche and the crepes — return for lunch (how about a fig, bourbon, brie, and apple panini with a side of broccoli salad?), and stay for dessert.  I’m still dreaming of the maple bacon chocolate chip cookies and white chocolate raspberry scones.

Poppleton Bakery Corning
Bring $10 and a hearty appetite because you’ll want to try everything.

Hand + Foot

For a casual dinner paired with an extraordinary drink menu, you should head to Hand + Foot.  Their menu consists of interesting sandwiches and playful takes on traditional bar snacks, like the %*@! me pretzel (their words, not mine).

hand foot corning
A fun menu and decent “Hippie Be Good” vegetarian sandwich

But let’s not kid ourselves: the reason to go to Hand + Foot is for their drink menu.  You’ll find 110 whiskies, crazy cocktails, five-page specialty beer list, and tons of local wine.

Do you love Finger Lakes wine?  You absolutely should!  But the Finger Lakes is also home to great sightDOING.  Check out this amazing horseback ride (best I’ve ever done) and learn to love the region.

The Best Corning Hotel

Radisson Hotel Corning

I wouldn’t dare stay anywhere except for the Radisson Hotel Corning.  It’s located right at the end of Market Street, so you can walk pretty much everywhere, like breakfast at Poppleton, Dinner at Hand + Foot, plus both museums inbetween.

Radisson Corning NY
Entrance to the Radisson Corning

The Radisson has more than just a great location.  My room was spacious, including a comfortable king size bed, flat screen TV, refrigerator, microwave, and loveseat.  Considering there’s also a pool, spa, free wi-fi and reasonable rates, it seems silly to even look anywhere else.

radisson corning
If Corning weren’t so interesting, it would have been tough getting out of this ultra-comfy bed in the morning.

Corning’s Best Feature: The Community

With three nights in Corning, I thought I had plenty of time to thoroughly visit this small town.  What I forgot to account for was the friendly atmosphere.  Everywhere I went, locals went out of their way to make small talk, then more in-depth conversations once we hit it off (and we always did).  This community is one of the most welcoming in America, and I’m not just saying that because I grew up in the greater region.

While that atmosphere is awesome for tourists, it’s even better for locals.  I don’t think I’ve ever observed a community that does as much to give back to the area.  The Rockwell Museum has an “artist in residence” program at local elementary schools that otherwise wouldn’t have an art program, CMOG offers a free after-school junior scientist program for young teens, and staff at Hand + Foot makes sure no one dines alone at their community table.  I love how much pride Corning has in their community.

This wasn’t my first trip to Corning, but it was the first time I truly appreciated all there is to offer.  I’m fortunate enough to pass through the area every time I head home to visit family, but it’s worth a special trip, I promise.

Dig In to All the Things to Do in Corning NY

Check out this map to see my favorite things to in Corning + restaurants, hotels, and a few easy day trips.

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This was my third trip to Corning in the past 18 months and Mike’s father lives about 45 minutes away, so I hope you can tell I genuinely love the area.  SightDOING partnered with Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau and the Corning Museum of Glass to make this visit one to remember.  Special thanks to them for facilitating an experience based on my personal interests.  All pictures and opinions expressed are my own. 

13 thoughts on “Small Town Charm in the Southern Finger Lakes”

  1. Hi Becky,
    My husband and I were just in Corning the last weekend in April. We live in the suburbs north of NYC, so we drove up on Friday after work, stopping for dinner along the way since it’s about a 225 mile drive for us. So funny to see snow flurries on the drivie up!
    We stayed in the Country Inns & Suites in Elmira (Horsehead) on Friday night on a special 3 day sale rate plus the Triple Points promo, and this inexpensive stay (about $40 less than the Radisson in Corning), earned me over 37K Club Carlson points (which I’m using toward a 2 for 1 stay in Dublin in November.). This room also had a mini-fridge and microwave. The Country Inn also included breakfast with choices that were perfect for us.
    We took it slow on Saturday morning (this was a break for my husband who works long hours), and drove over to CMOG -where we got in free with our old Celebrity cruise passes! We toured the museum, saw a glass blowing demo (that was translated into Mandarin since there was a huge tour group of Chinese), and had delicious salads in the café. We walked the Gaffer district, stopping for coffee. And then checked into the Fairfield Inn with a Marriott free night certificate which was about to expire (reason for the trip – otherwise I probably would have stayed in the Radisson on my corporate rate). Had a very nice room, where we hung out for a while before going to dinner.
    We ate in Sorge’s which is highly rated on TripAdvisor, but, being Italian-American and used to “downstate” Italian food, all I can say is it was OK. The sauce was too acidic for our tastes, as was the vinaigrette salad dressing. So, I agree with you about the food. Might have tried Three Birds but the prices were extremely high and we weren’t sure the cuisine would match the pricing.
    On Sunday morning we went to the Rockwell Museum and LOVED it. Having been to the Denver Art Museum a few years ago, I can honestly say, this one was really enjoyable – a little gem.
    Wanted to go to the Soaring Museum, but with the long drive home, I couldn’t push my husband too hard before the start of another intense work week for him. We had gone soaring when we were in Durango on that Colorado trip, and I agree – it’s fantastic.
    Hope to return to the Finger Lakes again sometime. Just wish you post had come before our little jaunt, as I might have prodded my husband to do a little more……

    1. @Marilyn, Sounds like we were actually in Corning at the same time! What a great place and you seem to have had a terrific visit! Thanks for the tip on free admission to CMOG with Celebrity cruise passes…I actually have one somewhere that I should pull out before I return. Thanks for sharing your experience and hope it helps others plan their trip. Keep me posted if you go back and try anything new; I’d also love to hear more before I go back.

  2. Jacqueline Welles

    So glad you love our beautiful town! Next time do a day trip 14 miles to Watkins Glen State Park, a 2 mile hike with 20 different waterfalls. I have lived all over the US and still consider Watkins Glen one of the best national treasures. Free w/ a NYS driver’s license! Wear un-slippery old shoes and save $3 a head to take the shuttle back to the bottom! In Watkins Glen (town of) you are at the foot of the Seneca wine trail and can drive north & taste yourself silly. Many of the wineries have good restaurants, most notably Versaisons at Glenora Winery., west side of lake, and Danno’s Heuriger..on east side (just past Big Johnson’s 🙂 which has good pub grub and friendly bikers). REAL German/Austrian food in a delightful a la carte menu. Just quit when you get full! I would google, then call for current hours on all restaurants.

    OR you can head for Keuka Lake and Hammondsport, a truly cool, truly small town …drive on thru to get to the Keuka wineries. I love best Heron Hill…neat architecture, yummy tastings, great bistro, and free music all summer. Oh, yeah..and the view 🙂

    I am sorry you found our restaurants a bit wanting. Three Birds is great and if you let me know you’re coming I will get a discount coupon off to you! Some of the best food is kind of…low-key. The Cellar’s tapas are unbelievable Not cheap, but soooo good. Walker Cake Company is open for breakfast and lunch, and is VERY creative and tasty. Best Italian is in Horseheads, NY. Tanino’s. Be hungry, and order the “penne pasta”. Best pizza is Atlas Pizza (dine upstairs) and they have a great vegetarian lasgana for $7.95. Sorge’s is…an institution.

    Last but not least, across the parking lot from CMOG is “the Studio”, where people come from all over the world to work/study with master glass artists. You can just go in (free) and sit on their bleachers as long as you want. You will get to see struggles and triumphs with glass, and get to hear cursing in several different languages. I don’t know about weekends, but I often go hang out for an hour on weekdays. – better than most movies.

    Yes, we love our tourists. Mostly because we love our town and are proud to share…it’s NOT just about the money. Come see us for GlassFest, end of May, a community party to end all parties. Street fair with great art for sale, wine/beer tasting, free music out the ying yang (bring lawn chairs), and of course our ridiculously friendly folks! If you do Atlas Pizza, you might hang with my daughter, a Citty Council member and author of the “Gaia Girls” kids books, first one soon to be movie!!! Girl eco-heroes… yeaaa! Corning does spawn that kind of creativity!

    Thank you for appreciating our unique and lovely town! – Jacqueline Welles

    1. @Jacqueline, Thanks for stopping by and sharing so many great tips for future travelers! I’m so glad to hear a few new ideas 🙂 the fact that you “love your town and are proud to share” was very apparent to me during my stay!

      I’ll actually be writing about my experiences at CMOG’s Studio and Hammondsport/Keuka in the coming weeks so check back if you want to read a tourist’s perspective. Overall, I had a great stay.

      P.S. I also love Watkins Glen and Dano’s on Seneca

    2. Atlas is the “best”??? You must new to Corning. Aniello’s is the best pizza you’ll probably find in the entire Finger Lakes region and the clear favorite of locals and lovers of New York thin crust pizza. Rico’s New York Style is #2 on Market Street. Atlas is #3 (of 3) and really the “tourist trap” of pizza places in town. -Frank McDougal

  3. I’d like to recommend a couple of my favorite places to eat on Market Street in Corning: Holmes Plate 54 has fabulous burgers, and the Old World Cafe always has excellent soups. My favorite is their seafood chowder.

  4. Aniellio’s is the best pizza in the world or at least the top 100. 🙂 I’ve lived in New York City most of my life but grew up in Corning and this pizza place is always one of the first stops – it has been around at least 30 years…or more? I’m not a big fan of pizza especially as I’ve gone gluten-free but I will make an exception for this place! In fact, we have huge multi class reunion every single year (the 80s kids) and everyone always meets at Aniellio’s. You have to try it – and no, I don’t work for them 🙂

    1. @Suzanne, Thanks for sharing your recommendation! My first meal in Corning was actually at Aniellio’s. I thought it was okay, but I’m biased to my own favorite pizzas and I think everyone has a hometown favorite. There are so many ways to make a pizza that I think everyone wants what they are used to.

    2. I agree 110%! love love looove that place. I was not originally from Corning and not a big fan of pizza but I tried it when I was going to school there and loved it. Can not go near Corning without stopping and getting Aniello’s!!

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