The plan to visit the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York finally came together and we headed from the Toledo area in mid March. The 400 mile drive was easy and direct and in six hours we arrived at the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen, ready to check in.
The Harbor is a newer hotel (about 12 years old and just finishing up a multi-million dollar renovation) nestled in a corner of Seneca Lake which, perhaps unbelievably, previously was an uninspired industrial area. Now, the Hotel provides beautiful views of the Lake and the Village Marina with a brand new state of the art fitness facility and renovated indoor pool and spa area. Checking into our room was a pleasant experience with a two room suite, with a large living room and outdoor patio, a spacious bedroom and a well appointed bathroom.
After check in we headed downstairs to the Coldwater Bar, enjoying a beverage and appetizer from the fully stocked bar. There are a number of wineries in the area along with tasting rooms and also breweries, all offering the crafted products of artisans and highlighting the vineyards and produce of the surrounding area.
The dinner menu in the Blue Pointe Grille offers great variety with plenty of seafood, beef and chicken options along with a few local favorites, like the Friday Fish Fry, Maine Lobster Rolls and the Orchard Harvest Salad. Dining options also include a full breakfast and lunch service, all overlooking the sparkling waters of Seneca Lake.
The Hotel is just down the block from the Watkins Glen shopping area, a delightful collection of intact storefronts harkening back to 100 years ago. Art galleries, restaurants, massage and hair salons along with Famous Brands, an eclectic locally owned mercantile store, all beckon visitors to browse and purchase unique finds.
A walk of several blocks from the Hotel led us to Landon’s, a clean and friendly bar with a surprisingly good selection of Greek food and a large, wonderful old school bartop. Rumor has it that it’s the favorite of local bikers on the weekends. Katrina, the owner and chief stylist at Tame the Main provided an experienced hand for a needed haircut. Graft, a funky and sophisticated wine and cider bar with inventively prepared food dishes, such as a cheese plate or charcuterie tray with locally sourced meats and cheeses, as well as several specials of heartier fare. Jerlando’s has classic Italian fare which they have been serving up since opening in 1965. Overused perhaps, but apt here as an accurate description, quaint and comfortable are watchwords of Watkins Glen.
An easy drive, the Ohio Turnpike to I-86 just outside Erie, Pa. then on down the road to Watkins Glen, the directions are straightforward and allowed for average speeds of 70+ miles per hour. We listened to a book on streaming programming along with a podcast or two and we were at our destination. We left in late morning and were in Watkins Glen well before dinner time, so the drive, while not short, is very doable.
The mood of the Harbor Hotel is relaxed and welcoming and obviously spot to be in the heart of Watkins Glen. Hart Hotel group out of Buffalo owns the hotel along with other members of the Harbor Hotel Group, with properties on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in Celoron, New York and the and 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, nestled along the banks of the St Lawrence River, in picture perfect Clayton, New York.
The Hotels are all on the shores of bodies of water, with ample patios for summer use and great views of the water from the guest rooms and dining/ bar spaces year round. The staff is friendly and very accommodating. I wondered several times how they could find and train folks that were so thoughtful and competent, in short, the staff is impressive from the front desk to the food and beverage workers to the housekeepers.
Watkins Glen is known for the racetrack, the Watkins Glen International, the only NASCAR race track in the state of New York. You can drive it yourself in your personal car! The 3.4-mile Grand Prix Circuit is available from April to November. Bring your driver’s license and your registered and insured vehicle. Participants must be 18 years old.
The Glen also has events and big races throughout the year, including Go Bowling at the Glen, a tripleheader weekend which is a top-ranked event on the NASCAR calendar every summer, and the Ticket Galaxy Beer Festival, in October, featuring 40 breweries, a cornhole tournament, pace car rides, amazing food, and fantastic live music.
The Hotel is also just blocks away from the Watkins Glen State Park, promoted as, “one of the best State Parks in America.” The Park offers a roughly two mile loop with views of many waterfalls and breathtaking natural features for up close viewing of the running water, the Finger Lakes Region’s compelling natural attractions. Summer boat rides on Seneca Lake along with kayaking, canoeing and other watersports enhance the opportunities for leisure time and engage the beautiful Lake for most everyone.
Short day trips are great and plentiful in the Northwest Ohio/ Southeast Michigan area, but with a few days and a sense of adventure, a trip to Watkins Glen is a worthwhile and enjoyable experience, casual yet varied, upscale yet approachable.