Things to Do in Ithaca New York for a Day Trip

With beautiful scenery and fun family attractions, there are many things to do in Ithaca, New York for a family day trip. We planned a Rochester to Ithaca, NY day trip, and it was a great day exploring a fun part of New York State.

Ithaca is known for it’s gorgeous trails, waterfalls, and family friendly outdoor activities. It is a perfect spot for a day trip from Rochester!

I love planning family time adventures. There are so many distractions going on in the everyday, and it is nice to unplug and reconnect as a family with a family day out.

For more day trip ideas check out this post: Family Day Trips from Rochester, NY.

One of our favorite family days was a visit to Ithaca. We planned a day full of family fun things to do in Ithaca and it was a really great way to step away from our busy life at home and create some awesome memories.

Best Things to Do in Ithaca, New York

There are lot of things to do and see in Ithaca, but when you plan a day trip you need to focus your prioritize on your favorites.

The best way to plan a day trip to Ithaca is to think about what everyone likes to do and plan your day. Check out this article, tips for planning a family day trip, to help you decide what to do.

Where is Ithaca, New York

Ithaca is located south of Rochester with a little under a 2 hour drive. The final hour of your drive has you driving along the Finger Lakes making this a beautiful drive, especially in the fall.

Map from Rochester to Ithaca. Depending on time you can take a few different routes.

Start with Breakfast at Steve’s Diner

We start our trip with breakfast at Steve’s Diner. There are two locations local in Rochester: Penfield and Fairport. The pancakes are the best thing on the menu and they are larger than the size of your plate.

After a full breakfast we start our drive to Ithaca. If you are short on time or do not want a big breakfast you can grab a quick bite at home or do the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s.

Often we will pack food in a tote. It is perfect for all the things we need as a family of five.

clever made tote for ithaca day trip.
Packing snacks is key for a great day trip!

Ithaca Day Trip, Stop 1: Museum of the Earth

The Museum of the Earth focuses on fossils and dinosaurs. It is small in size and takes about an hour or two to visit. The museum has a giant mastodon skeleton and a 41 foot whale.

We liked learning more about the changes in fossils and life on earth as the world evolved. There was also a hands-on discovery area that the kids could explore. You can also check out the visiting exhibit that changes seasonally. Learn more here.

rochester to ithaca day trip museum of earth.

Ithaca Day Trip, Stop 2: Ithaca Children’s Garden

We kind of randomly discovered the Ithaca Children’s Garden, and I am so happy we did. This garden is free to the public and allows kids to explore, discover, and use their imagination to play at this unique park.

The garden focuses on open ended and creative play while supporting the importance of the environment and nature. It is an awesome spot to stretch your legs and let the kids run around outside.

There is a giant turtle built into the ground, a tire swing area, and a very hungry caterpillar trail. Everything at the garden was fun for all ages and really engaging.

I liked that most of the activities were very open-ended, meaning the kids had to use their imagination and creativity to play with them. That is always the best kind of play.

rochester to ithaca childrens garden.

Ithaca Day Trip, Stop 3: Lunch at State Diner

We love a good diner, as you can tell by where we started breakfast. For lunch you can stop at State Diner or the Moosewood Restaurant. My kids like to eat breakfast food for all their meals so diners always offer a wide range of options.

We also like to try new places when we plan day trips and try to do one meal out as a treat. If you are on budget for the day pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at our final stop of the day Taughannock Falls.

Ithaca Day Trip, Stop 4: Taughannock Falls

I will hike anywhere to find waterfalls. They are one of my favorite ways to get outdoors. Earlier this year we visited the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail, and it didn’t disappoint.

Taughannock Falls is another great gorge trail. It is less strenuous than Watkins Glen making it great for families with young children, but all ages will enjoy this hike.

The Gorge trail is under a mile and you can choose to walk along the trail or closer along the water that leads to the waterfall.

rochester to ithaca taughannock falls.

After we hiked the gorge trail we decided to start our way back home. This is where you can decide to take the long or short way home.

We decided on the long and stopped for ice cream at one of our favorite spots, Orbakers in Williamson. This drive does add at least an hour into your drive back.

One of the reasons I like to take a different route home is because sometimes you will discover something new to add to your day that you didn’t expect. Maybe a playground that you have never visited or an ice cream stand.

These day trips are best planned with a flexible schedule. You never know where your adventure may lead you.

We loved our Ithaca to Rochester day trip. It was the perfect mix of outdoor and indoor fun for the family. We couldn’t see everything so we added a few more ideas for things to do in Ithaca below.

A few Ithaca attractions that we didn’t visit but you might want to consider for your visit:

  • Stewart Park
  • The Cayuga Waterfront Trail
  • The Sciencenter
  • Explore Downtown Ithaca
  • Ithaca Discovery Trail
  • Waterfalls in Ithaca

Looking for more New York State family fun? Check out our New York State Family Travel Ideas page.

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