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10 Upstate NY Museums You Never Knew Were Right in Your Backyard
Upstate New York offers miles and miles of adventure, history, culture, and new experiences for all ages to enjoy. And much of this year-round fun comes in the form of the many museums found in the Empire State. We’ve got comedy, history, film, glass-blowing, sports and more scattered across the state for you to discover and enjoy!
Let’s dive right in with my top 10 picks, in no particular order…
Thirty-five centuries of glass art lay housed in this gallery in Corning, NY. But it’s more than just a gallery – you can also witness glass blowing, breaking, and bending demonstrations, or make your own glass creations while there. Special events happen year-round at the Corning Museum of Glass. During the winter, check out their Glass Wonderland (November – January) and Glass Snowmen Exhibit (January – February).
This indoor playground is not just for kids. The Strong National Museum of Play is a highly interactive, collections-based museum dedicated to the exploration of all things “play.” Little ones can take a trip down Sesame Street or shop in the mini-Wegmans, while older kids will never want to leave the eGameRevolution Arcade. Adults of all ages can delight in the family bonding time and take a walk down memory lane as they rediscover their favorite toys and playthings of years past.
George Eastman is known as the pioneer of popular photography in Rochester, NY, and a leader in the development of motion picture film. As the founder of Kodak, his legacy lives on in the city, and his story is told through the George Eastman Museum – located on the National Historic Landmark that was once his home and estate. Work your way through this thrilling collection of the world’s oldest photography and film archives. Experience the mansion and gardens in the summer months, or settle in for a film at the Dryden Theatre during the winter. Around Christmas time, the museum is home to its Gingerbread Display. Rotating exhibits feature current and historic works of photography and film, each with a story to tell.
For a lighthearted day of comedy and history, head to the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY. Set in Lucy’s hometown, the museum tells the story of the famed comedic actress and her husband, and the role they both played in impacting television and film, throughout their lifetimes. Work your way through rooms of original costumes, portraits, never-before-seen footage, and more – then visit Desilu Studios (right on site) for recreations of the sets from the “I Love Lucy” TV series.
I bet you didn’t know that the birthplace of Jell-O was right here in Upstate New York. A little town called LeRoy lays claim to the wiggly, jiggly, colorful dessert, and they have a whole museum dedicated to telling its story. The museum features original art and advertisements, molds and spoons that helped craft the dessert, Jell-O toys and collectables, recipes, memorabilia, and more. It also answers the BIG questions – like the world’s favorite flavor of Jell-O and why the original inventor sold his rights to the dessert for just $450.
Genesee Country Village & Museum is more than just learning about history – it’s stepping back in time to experience a 19th-century village including the customs, traditions, functions, and values of the time. There are 68 buildings in the Historic Village, operating just as they did over 100 years ago. Costumed interpreters set the mood and tend the livestock, while live demonstrators show you how a pottery, cooper shop, tinsmith, blacksmith, bakery and more would have crafted their goods. The gallery on-site houses a collection of sporting and wildlife art, while the Nature Center explores the area’s flora and fauna and natural history.
The views from the top of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse are simply stunning, overlooking the southern bank of Lake Ontario. And you can climb to the top with a visit to the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum. The museum has been in operation since 1985 – founded on July 4th – over 200 years after the birth of our nation! The small building houses records, writings, historical items, and artifacts from the lighthouse and Sodus Bay area, and tells an interesting story of the historic site in Wayne County, NY.
Motorless flight is the focus of The National Soaring Museum, fostering a learning of soaring, aeronautics, and related physical sciences at their location in Elmira, NY. The city is regarded as the “Soaring Capital of America,” in part because soaring has played a central role in the economic history of the area, attracting people from around the world for contests, lectures, symposia, and special events. The National Soaring Museum continues the story with an 8,000-square-foot Heritage Hangar and large archive area that teaches visitors all about motorless aviation, dating back to the late 1890s.
Starr Clark was an abolitionist who gave refuge to several African-American slaves in the same building where the Underground Railroad Museum now sits. His day-to-day work was the operation of a tin shop, while in secret he held meetings and smuggled slaves to safety. Visit the museum today and you will find interpretive displays and exhibits about the Underground Railroad. The building has been renovated back to its original appearance, and includes tools and exhibits on the working tin shop.
#10 – Baseball Hall of Fame
I’m ending with a big one on our list of museums in Upstate New York! America’s favorite pastime is celebrated and preserved at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The museum honors the game, while the hall of fame houses the greats of baseball’s past – names like Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth. Put aside some time when you come - there are three floors to explore and education-based programming happening year-round. Get the little ones involved and stop at the Sandlot Kids’ Clubhouse before you leave. Designed with kids in mind, it offers artifacts, hands-on activities, and an interactive literacy corner meant for the under-12 crowd.