Ithaca (New York)

View of East Hill, Ithaca

Ithaca is a small city in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. In addition to being the home of Cornell University and Ithaca College, Ithaca is known for its several gorges and waterfalls, small eclectic shops and restaurants, and deep interest in politics.

Understand

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°F) 31 34 42 56 67 76 80 79 71 59 48 36
Nightly lows (°F) 15 17 23 34 44 53 58 56 49 38 32 22

Ithaca is a town of contrasts, and it attracts many different types of visitors. It is very much a college town, but it is also home to a solid and vibrant permanent community. The town is compact yet surrounded by extensive outdoor attractions. Even Cornell University is a study in contrasts: it has the noble, refined air of the Ivy League school that it is, yet as the state's land-grant university, it excels in agricultural and veterinary research.

Ithaca has a humid continental climate, and is markedly cooler than New York City. Winter is cold, sometimes bitterly so, with temperatures reaching 0°F or lower several times a year. There is also significantly more snow and more cloudy days than along most of the coast. The best time of year to visit is summer, as it is the sunniest and driest season; days are pleasantly warm but rarely too hot, and nights are crisp. Fall is also prettythe fall foliage in the area, which peaks in early October, rivals that of anywhere in New England. The first snowfall can occur as early as around Halloween.

Visitor information

Get in

By plane

By car

Cascadilla Creek in winter

By car, Ithaca is about 1 hour south of Syracuse, 1 hour north of Binghamton, 2 hours southeast of Rochester, 4 hours north of Philadelphia, and 4 hours northwest of New York City. The main routes into the city are New York highways 13, 79, 89, and 96. Interstate 86 (formerly NY State Route 17) intersects NY State Rt 13 in Elmira, about 45 minutes southwest of Ithaca. Interstate 81 connects with NY State Rt 79 half an hour from Ithaca at Whitney Point, and with NY State Rt 13 about 20 minutes from Ithaca in Cortland. You can reach Interstate 81 by taking NY State Route 17 (currently being transitioned to Interstate 86) West from New York City, or Interstate 476 North from Philadelphia. Interstate 90 connects to NY State Rt 96 near Geneva, NY, about 45 minutes from Ithaca.

By bus

By train

Although Ithaca once had rail connections to New York City, Scranton, Philadelphia, Buffalo and several cities in New England, the last passenger train left Ithaca in 1961, with the majority of service ending in the 1930's. Today, the nearest Amtrak stations are on the Empire Corridor in Syracuse and Rochester. There is one bus per day to Ithaca (Greyhound Station) from the Syracuse Amtrak station and two to three buses per day to Ithaca from the Rochester Trailways Bus Station, a three-minute walk from the Amtrak station. The two colleges sometimes run shuttles to the rail stations around semester breaks.

Get around

As Ithaca is a college town, bus service by TCAT (Tompkins County Area Transit) is frequent and runs late into the night. Taxi service is an inexpensive way to get around the small city, and it is available by phone, but expect to wait an hour or more on busy or cold nights. Avis & Hertz Rental cars are available at Ithaca Tompkins County Regional Airport, and Enterprise-Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental, in Ithaca. Ithaca also features a Car Share program that offers instant access to a network of cars throughout the city, 24 hours-a-day.

Parking

Parking is easy in most parts of Ithaca. However, there are some parts of Ithaca where it can be tricky. If you park illegally the chance you will get a ticket is higher than average. Note that it is also illegal to leave your car in the same non-metered space for more than 24 hours, although this is generally not enforced on weekends.

Downtown and the Commons

Clinton House, a historic and still functioning building right next to the Commons

Street parking is metered and more difficult to come by (in some areas a 15 minute maximum on the meters), although there are always spots available if you're willing to walk. There are three municipal parking structures, one on Green Street just east of Cayuga Street, one at the corner of Tioga and Seneca Streets and the other on Cayuga Street to the south of the Commons. All three garages are free on evenings and weekends. Some local retailers will provide a token for an extra free hour. Parking at metered spaces and the garages is $1 per hour, up to a maximum of $10. Free one-hour parking has been terminated at all three garages, and the daily maximum has been raised as of January 1, 2011. Weekly and Monthly parking passes are available at discounted rates.

Collegetown

Street parking in Collegetown is also metered with some non metered spaces a few blocks from University or Stewart Avenues. There is one, spacious parking garage on Dryden Road. Note that unlike the downtown garages, the first hour is not free, the hourly rate is $1.50 (with no daily maximum) and fees are charged around the clock including weekends with an automatic payment machine being used in the off-hours.

Cornell University

Bailey Hall at Cornell University

It is difficult to find parking on the Cornell University campus. It is generally best to avoid driving to campus at all. Bus service onto campus from downtown and other areas of Ithaca runs frequently during the day. One hassle-free and relatively fast parking option for visiting campus during the day is to park at the Seneca and Tioga streets parking garage in downtown Ithaca and then ride the Route 10 bus to campus. Route 10 departs from a heated bus stop located inside the parking garage every 10 minutes (7:30AM-5:00PM on weekdays, less frequently later in the evening) and the ride to Cornell takes only a few minutes. Check TCATbus for schedules and more information.

If you have to park on campus during the day, you will need to buy a visitor parking permit from one of the parking booths around campus, and then you can park in a spot labeled for visitor parking, which are few and far between. The parking booth attendant can give you a map showing visitor parking spots, but during a school day expect not to find anything. There are several small metered lots, including one behind Willard Straight Hall and one in the lower level of the parking garage by the football stadium, that are convenient to central campus but are often full. Larger (and rarely full) metered lots are located across from the Dairy Bar and next to Bartels Hall, but both are at least a 15 minute brisk walk to most places on central campus. After 5 PM, some of the various "tiered" parking lots are available for general parking, but be sure to read the signs, as many lots have restricted parking until 8PM or 10PM and others are restricted at all times. If you are arriving on campus by car during normal business hours, expect to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes looking for parking, and 10 to 15 minutes more walking from your parking spot to your destination, so plan to arrive on campus at least 30 minutes before you need to be somewhere. You can park for free or for cheaper off campus in Collegetown or in Cayuga Heights, but expect your walk to be 20-30 minutes to your destination if it is on central campus.

Ithaca College

The parking situation at Ithaca College is also poor, as over the past few years, there hasn't been enough parking for on-campus students, despite significant fee increases and discounted public transit passes (in some cases student permits can run upwards of $500!) The only sanctioned visitor parking is a frequently full, visitor lot located near the football stadium, and half a dozen spots near the main administrative building (Peggy R. Williams) specifically for visitors to the office of admissions. Elsewhere parking is reserved based on a color coded permit system: Blue (faculty/ staff), Red (upperclassmen and graduate students), and Green (freshmen). If you are visiting a specific person on campus (such as staying overnight with an on-campus student) you may be able to obtain a temporary permit from Public Safety. Availability is not guaranteed and if granted, you will be restricted to a specific lot, usually one intended for commuters. You will need your vehicle registration and insurance card to obtain the permit.

Officially, parking lots are patrolled 24 hours a day year round. In practice, permit enforcement is almost non-existent on weekends and during the summer. Unless you're parked somewhere an ordinary student would not be allowed to park (e.g. spaces reserved for maintenance vehicles), the odds of receiving a ticket for not having a permit are very slim.

There are a few official exceptions for non-students during certain special events:

Many off campus students either walk or take the bus to school. TCAT service to the IC campus from downtown is plentiful, Routes 11 and 65 provide service every half hour or so during the day and every hour at night.

Other areas in and around Ithaca

Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Cornell University

Automobile Rentals

Taxicabs, Limousines, & Airport Shuttle Services

See

Cornell University

F.R. Newman Arboretum, Cornell University

Cornell University is part of the Ivy League and is one of the most selective universities in America. It has world class Veterinary, Hotel, Agriculture, Architecture, and Engineering schools. Located far above Cayuga Lake, on a hill overlooking Ithaca, it is separated from the city, yet an integral part of it.

Do

Memorial stained glass for Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman in Sage Chapel, Cornell University

Nature and science

Ithaca Festival

Recreation

Performing arts

Outdoors

Hemlock Gorge, on the Cornell campus

Buy

Ithaca is home to one of the world's most successful local currency experiments. The Ithaca Hour is Ithaca's local currency and is accepted by more than 600 local merchants and service providers. Using Ithaca Hours contributes to Ithaca's economy and small businesses. The Autumn Leaves bookstore at Ithaca Commons serves as the unofficial home of Ithaca's local currency and is the best place to go to acquire Hours. Of course, U.S. dollars are also used in Ithaca.

Shopping in Ithaca is in four major areas: Downtown/Commons, Meadow Street/Route 13, Collegetown, and Lansing/Mall area.

Books

A number of independent book sellers continue to thrive in the city and its immediate vicinity. Downtown Ithaca bookstores on or very near the Commons include the following:

Within a 20-minute drive of Ithaca you can also find two barn-sized used-book sellers:

Also, one "big-box" bookstore can be found in Ithaca:

If you'll be in Ithaca in May or October, look into the dates of the huge Friends of the Library book sale, which lasts a week or two for each sale period and offers over 250,000 items for sale, with proceeds supporting the fancy, new (but cash-strapped) county library on the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets.

Eat

Ithaca has some of the best and most diverse dining options in all of upstate New York. The areas with the highest concentration of restaurants are in Downtown and Collegetown. Downtown and The Commons has the most variety, ranging from Pizza, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian to fine-dining establishments. If you are uncertain about what you want to eat, a stroll along downtown's "Restaurant Row" on North Aurora Street should provide almost anything one is looking for. Collegetown also has a wide selection of dining, but has fewer fine dining options. Also notable is the area to the west of Downtown known as the West End, or The Inlet. Elmira Road, south of the downtown and Pyramid Mall, north of Ithaca in the Town of Lansing, have a selection of fast food and chain restaurants.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Groceries

Wegmans , the largest grocery store in Ithaca, has a very large selection of specialty and ethnic foods, and has a large food court-like "marketplace" where ready-made food ranging from pizza to sushi can be purchased and eaten in the pleasant on-premises eating areas. A tourist experience of its own, like the Wegmans around New York State.

The other main grocery store chain in Ithaca is Tops . Tops is smaller and has less selection than Wegamans but is favored by some residents for just that reason. Tops arguably has a better selection of foreign food than Wegmans. Most grocery stores in Ithaca are open 24 hours to serve the college market. There is also an Aldi that sells deeply discounted store-brand foods with limited hours and no free grocery bags. Additionally, there is a Walmart just off of Route 13 near the Tops store that has expanded in recent years. It now offers a full Produce section as well as a Deli, Frozen Foods, Meats, Dry Grocery, Bakery and Dairy section.

Greenstar is a food co-op on the west end of town and is open to everyone. They offer a good selection of organic produce and bulk dry foods. Also check out their smaller location, Greenstar Oasis, in Dewitt Mall (near Moosewood) just off the Commons. If you're vegetarian and/or looking for organic selection, this is a great place to shop. It also has its version of the "marketplace" in its deli section where prepared foods are offered to either eat-in (there is a dining area) or take out. It is the only grocery store to offer fresh baked vegan desserts (which are VERY good). Here you will pay for the higher quality since it can get a bit pricey.

If you are in town on a weekend during the warm months (Saturday and Sunday April-October, Thursday afternoons June-August), you should consider getting your groceries and some bites to eat at the Ithaca Farmer's Market . There is a large selection of not only fresh herbs and vegetables, but also free-range and pasture-fed meat. The breakfast burrito is a local favorite. Many local artisans (soapmakers, woodworkers, etc.) also have kiosks, and there are about a dozen different food vendors. Local vineyards also have kiosks.

There are three main Asian grocery stores in town. The most popular are Win Li, south of downtown on Route 13 (near the McDonald's), and Ithaca Tofu, located in the "Small Mall" on Cinema Drive behind Triphammer Mall. The third is a small shop in Collegetown on Eddy Street called Tong Fang. Win Li is the largest and has a very big selection of fresh Asian vegetables and has seasonally fresh fish. They also have some Chinese housewares (pots, bowls, rice cookers, etc.) and a big selection of rice. Ithaca Tofu has a slightly more varied selection of fruit and vegetables (including fresh shiso/ohba), but has much more in the way of Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean sauces. In keeping with their name, they do have a large selection of all kinds of tofu, but they also have a lot of Japanese snacks, sushi-related items, and they get fresh shipments of pre-cooked Chinese deli staples (chicken feet, tripe, scallion rolls) from NYC every week. Tong Fang caters much more to the college crowd and stocks a large array of teas and instant noodles. It is located right across from the intersection of Buffalo and Eddy streets, so parking is a bit scarce.

Drink

Collegetown

Downtown/Commons

Fall Creek

Wineries

The Finger Lakes are a well-known wine growing region, and dozens of wineries with tasting rooms can be found along the shores of both Cayuga and Seneca Lakes within an easy drive of Ithaca. The region grows white varietals best and produces many good Rieslings and Chardonnays.

Elsewhere

Sleep

Ithaca is not a large city, but between Cornell and Ithaca College, about 25,000 students attend school here, with thousands more people visiting daily for conferences, sporting events, and other university functions. On normal days, Hotel and motel rooms can be surprisingly hard to find and shockingly expensive when compared to the surrounding area. Finding lodging during major school events, like freshman move-in, parents' weekend, and graduation, is difficult bordering on impossible at the last minute. If you find yourself in Ithaca during those times, you may have to go as far as Cortland (20 miles away) or Elmira (30 miles away). In a real pinch, it is not inconceivable to stay as far away as Syracuse, NY. It is only about 60 minutes away, depending on weather conditions. Elmira and Watkins Glen are decent options, and lodging will likely be quite a bit cheaper there.

As a general rule, lodging that is located downtown or close to campus will start at $150/night, while the downscale motel chains located out of town start upwards of $100/night. Rooms for less than $75/night can be had at some of the locally owned (and decidedly not 5-star) establishments that are located outside of town. Rates during major school events can more than triple.

Ithaca, NY - 14850,  +1 607 257-3100.

Go next

Routes through Ithaca

END Elmira  S  N  Cortland Pulaski
Rochester Trumansburg  N  S  Owego Ends at


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