Stormy skies hath no fury on Seneca Lake

As serious weather warnings sent New Jerseyans flocking to their nearest grocery store to stock up on batteries, water and canned goods during the weekend of Oct. 3, I was on a four-hour drive to Seneca Lake to stay in the one place you don’t want to be during a storm — a cabin.

Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, theoretically is a very pleasant place to be as fall sets in on the Northeast. Surrounded by gentle autumn breezes, the passing waves of the lake water and the changing colors of the leaves, Seneca Lake is an ideal place for fall-lovers to kick off the festive season.

Since my camping trip to Seneca Lake was booked months in advance and the weather looked unfortunate yet not tragic, we embarked, with some hesitation, on our planned getaway.

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo
Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

However, staying in Burdett in a Seneca Secrets cabin, a collection of three rustic yet updated cabins on the east side of the lake for $150 a night, in 40-degree weather with only a wood stove to keep warm, wasn’t the way I envisioned waiting out the storm, which, granted, hit New York a lot less hard than it did New Jersey.

Turns out, though, it wasn’t so bad after all, as Seneca Lake’s attractions need a lot more than a few drops of rain and chilly weather to shut down.

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Obviously, the most practical activity to do on the worst day of weather was to cruise some of the area’s 32 wineries, which make up the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Each winery is a three-minute drive or less from the next alongside various roads running parallel to Seneca Lake and generally charge $5 to taste about six wines of your choice.

Although the weather didn’t lend itself well to hanging out on many of the wineries’ lush grounds or exploring their vineyards, it did work for relaxing in the tasting rooms, which reflect the personality of the winery. Plus, knowledgeable winery employees enthusiastically share stories and facts about their house-made wines and sometimes host tours of the production facilities.

Most wouldn’t think of a farmer’s market being the go-to place for a rainy day, but luckily, the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, about 25 minutes from Burdett through a relaxing country drive, primarily houses its vendors indoors within four buildings.

Vendors include those that sell baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items to 8,000 to 10,000 people every week, and have been doing so for the past 28 years.

Rain or shine, everyone needs to eat, and a full day of wine tasting and shopping will make any tourist crave a hearty meal. Restaurants and wineries in Seneca Lake love their local goods, and the Stonecat Café, an acclaimed organic regional restaurant nested in Hector, is no exception.

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Open for lunch, brunch and dinner for the past 17 years, the Stonecat Café regularly hosts live music within its homey restaurant, including a jazz band during their weekly Sunday jazz brunches. As the season changes, the menu does as well, making for a truly unique autumn meal at its tables. Before you leave, make sure you check out their herb, flower and vegetable garden in the backyard, which remains bright and buzzing no matter the weather.

Although Watkins Glen State Park, the third-place pick in the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Poll for Best State Park in the U.S., is best enjoyed in pleasant weather, there was no way that I was missing the 19 waterfalls of the park descended from the 200-foot cliffs along the two-mile gorge trail.

Through the trail, visitors can wander over and under waterfalls and through the cool spray of the Cavern Cascade. In the autumn, the surrounding forest is in full effect, presenting an enviable and colorful backdrop to the flowing waterfalls.

Right around the corner from Watkins Glen State Park is downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops such as O’Shaughnessy Antiques, a quirky vintage shop with antiques, estate jewelry, vintage designer clothing, vintage books, home furnishings and other odd finds from Louise O’Shaughnessy.

Other shops on the strip include the Fingerlakes Fiber Yarn Store, O Susannah Quilts and Gift, Watkins Glen Sporting Goods, Putty Jug, an antiques dealer, Coins Bought, a coin dealer, Country Haven Treasures, a furniture store, and Village Variety Shop, a used book store.

Seneca Lake, a haven for all things autumn with its changing fall foliage, quiet drives, independently owned wineries and shops and quaint cabins overlooking the lake, is a place best enjoyed in the pleasantry of sunshine. However, a little rain didn’t get in my way of getting my first taste of the season in the Finger Lakes — and since you won’t have a storm blocking your trip, nothing should get in the way of your visit to this haven of fall.


Stay at Seneca Secrets, a collection of three rustic, yet updated cabins located on the east side of the lake in Burdett for $150 a night, which include two rooms, two full-size beds, one bathroom, a kitchen and living room. Visit or call 908-922-8518.

Taste wines on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which include 32 wineries that are generally located about three minutes from the next. Prices vary per tasting, but usually, wineries charge about $5 to sample six wines of your choice. or call 877-536-2717.

Shop at the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, which has over 200 vendors selling baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Saturday until Dec. 12. or call 315-536-3032.

Hike through Watkins Glen State Park, which features 19 waterfalls descended from 200-foot cliffs along a two-mile gorge trail. Vehicle entrance fee is $8 and park is open year-round. Visit or call 607-535-4511.

Wander through downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops. Visit or call 800-607-4552.

Why Seneca Lake is the Perfect Fall Getaway

I worship the fall.

I actually feel like October is my real birthday month, when I can pumpkin pick, apple pick, watch horror movies, drink fall beers and get fake-scared on haunted hay rides all month long (My actual birthday is in February). I like October so much that I usually refuse to travel during those 31 days, being that for the only four weeks out of the year, I actually prefer to stay in my kingdom of fall foliage in the forests of northwestern New Jersey. This rule has led me to book three trips cross-country from November to December. Whoops.

Anyway, following a mishap at the travel agent where my family left holding no confirmations being that we couldn’t agree on a single getaway, a travel savior came into focus.

Rich, my dad’s lawyer friend, who he does plumbing for.

Rich has a daughter, Amy, who runs some rustic cabins up in Seneca Lake, New York, which is the deepest of the Finger Lakes. I’ve never been to the Finger Lakes, barely ever been to upstate New York (too pretentious) but I figure it’s gotta be pretty nice in the fall, I mean this is a lake, so I agree to leave my short-lived hometown paradise for a precious weekend.

Turns out, Seneca Lake a fall empire.

Although this was unknown during our four-hour drive north starting at 9:00 pm, it being so dark out that we couldn’t find our cabin which we were 20 feet away from, it was immediately obvious when we woke up and stepped out the door. All around, we were surrounded by fall foliage, autumn-themed wines and beers, cool outdoor activities and farmer’s markets. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway (because you don’t live in the middle of nowhere, obviously) here’s the reasons why you should head to Seneca Lake, New York.

1. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail because honestly, who doesn’t love being toted to 32 wineries, all within a three-minute drive of the next? The Wine Trail, which can trace its winemaking history back to 1866, is composed of wineries lining the east and west sides of Seneca Lake, full of beautiful fall foliage in a serene environment. Most wine tastings, in which you can taste five to seven local wines while overlooking Seneca Lake, cost $3 to $7 (generally) making for a pretty cheap yet blurry afternoon out. With the variety of personality that each vineyard exhibits, you can’t really get bored (or sober).


2. The Windmill Farm & Craft Market is the first craft market in upstate New York, with the numbers to prove it – they receive an average of 9,000 visitors a week. With about 200 shops, they sell all kinds of cool stuff like leather goods, homemade pastries, jewelry, knitwear, toys and games and a million other things, mostly being sold by the Amish. Even though the market itself lies about 30 minutes away from from the other main attractions of Seneca Lake, it is worth the scenic and relaxing drive up the New York countryside.

3. Watkins Glen State Park may cost $8 to get in, but it is also, and rightly so, the most famous of the New York state parks due to the 19 waterfalls cascading down 200-foot cliffs within two miles. Hikers can travel the trail, equipped with their walking shoes, to capture this truly spellbinding winding walk. You can’t miss the spray of Cavern Cascade or the various pools, especially in this season made for the outdoors.


4. Finger Lakes National Forestbecause what’s the outdoors without a hearty hike? Check out this park, which features 30 miles of interconnecting trails that will take you to pastures, forests, ravines and gorges. This is especially a great spot if you’re equipped with a horse, mountain bike or binoculars (for some quality wildlife watching).

5. Boating on Seneca Lake is an obvious must-do when you’re staying on, umm, Seneca Lake. If you’re not lucky enough to have a nearby friend with a boat like we did (sorry), then don’t miss the opportunity to travel on an uncrowded body of water by booking a trip on one of the excursions. Try out Schooner Excursions, which go for $29 to $49 depending on the time of day of the cruise.



“You think I wanted to be married and saddled with you two brats at 25?” my dad says as we sit on a dock in Burdett, New York, at the site of Seneca Lake of the Finger Lakes. “I thought I would be hanging on the back of a boxcar headed to Sante Fe.”

The water is rolling on, its tiny waves cruising alongside white sailboats through the lake. Seneca Lake is calm, like it, too, has passed through its wildest moments.

Right now, imagining my chubby father with a smile stretched across his face in his dad jorts and holey socks holding on to a train car seems pretty funny. After he toted us to from our chosen winery of the moment to a craft store (any man’s nightmare), planning on sleeping on the couch tonight as my sister and I claim the two bedrooms in our rented rustic cabin, I know that what he says was once true.

Back in his heyday, my dad was… a lot like how I am now. He was always looking for a way to get out and cause some mayhem with his dopey friends, could generally be found hanging out at dirty bars, was never really sure who’s couch he would end up sleeping on that night and was always on his way to somewhere else. He spent hours running through forests, chasing deer and catching turtles. He says he was making $5 an hour and had a girlfriend that cost him $6 an hour.

The idea of such change, from a wild, young pseudo-adult to a responsible parent of two, scares me inconsolably. To think that my dreams of adventures of faraway places and the many memories to come with my equally instantly-gratificated friends could fall to an ordinary existence toting brats around is petrifying. I know the fear is exclaimed across my paling and silent face.

“You don’t see it now,” he says, reaching down to touch down a scurrying fish, “but you’re not always going to want that.” I say nothing. He’s right, I don’t see it now. I see the clearness of the lake and the freedom that I have stretched before me in a life with no ties to anything at all. “You’re not going to want this forever. You’re not going to want to hang out with yourfriends and go to bars. You’re going to want to go to your kids’ parent-teacher conferences and go away for the weekend with your husband.”

At one time, for a very short time, that was my dad’s life, too. He and my mother were married for ten years, which I have varying memories of us going to zoos and kid-friendly restaurants and parks. The other varying memories consist of my mom throwing hair-dryers at him and her asking me if I would mind switching schools midyear as we moved, for the first time of six, following my parents’ divorce.

Nowadays, not a lot of semblance of my father as a saddled married father of two remains. We frequently take bets on when his newest girlfriend will be kicked to the curb, I sometimes get his drunken voicemails when I wake up for work on Thursday morning, and my dad is always headed to a concert or upscale restaurant with his cigar-smoking friends.

However, the semblance of his daditude that does remain is, I guess, vehemently instilled in dads everywhere. Here we are for four days, holed up in a cabin he found via some other rich white dude. He drives us anywhere we want to go and isn’t the least bit offended when my bratty sister complains about the WiFi or lack of soda. Most of all, even though it sure as hell isn’t Sante Fe and we got here via 2001 Ford Ranger rather than box car, my dad couldn’t be happier to be hanging out on the dock of a Seneca Lake cabin with his hat over his face, chatting with his daughter.


The Scent of Southampton

As a true-life Jersey Girl, to me, the shore is the mark of many: the destination I inadvertently end up most weekends, a place where every beach house, no matter the size, has at least 14 mattresses, lit-up and almost tacky sprawling boardwalks, and the biggest hub of the best bars and the coolest people I can come across.

With only a few weekends left in the summer, I decided it may be time to take my shore life to new horizons – the horizons of the Hamptons, that is. The Hamptons are sort of like the Jersey Shore of the North in the fact that similar to how New Jerseyans flock to the Shore every Friday afternoon May through September, New Yorkers hop on 495 and head to the Hamptons on their summer weekends.

The difference is that the Hamptons have an intoxicating smell of money.

Driving into Southampton, a traffic-ridden drive of about four hours from northwestern Jersey, I clutched a sheet I had compiled with activities to do with some angst. There weren’t many, and for one I gave up and listed a beach just to hit four. The place wasn’t made for toddlers.


 Biking by Agawam Lake on Gin Lane

When the highway turned into quaint lanes, this became much clearer. Otherwordly mansions beckoned from behind six-foot-tall hedge barriers, BMWs and Range Rovers literally lined the streets, and brick walkways had the undeniable air of trying too hard to be normal with perfectly manicured shrubbery and purposely vintage decor.

Not to say it wasn’t lovable – just fashionable. After we checked into our hotel, the Southampton Inn, which was voted the Best Family Hotel in Southampton by the Travel Channel, and we took the complimentary shuttle to Cooper’s Beach, which sits about a mile and a half away from the hotel and costs $40 just to park for the day.


The Southampton Inn

Pulling up to Cooper’s Beach after winding down the dark, romantic roads of Southampton, its immediately obvious that this is no Seaside – the sign proudly boasts the beach’s status of the #1 Beach in America (it is consistently named one of America’s Top Ten Beaches) and islanders are dressed in designer garb and carry everything from designer towels to designer beach bags. The beach is undoubtedly nice – clean, white sand, clear waters, and no clouding of pollution or artificial lights. A thousand identical umbrellas bloom from the sand, rented from the beach shack and grill (equipped with a deck) near the parking lot.


 Cooper’s Beach, consistently voted one of America’s Top Ten Beaches in America

From where I sat, I could hear dozens of conversations I definitely didn’t hear often in north Jersey – how a mother was trying to get her kid into Stanford, the most stuck-up private schools in Manhattan, why some college kids just loved Seville, France, and how only those that lived in Scarsdale grew up in a “bubble.” Even as it got dark and we hung around drinking local wine from plastic cups, the beach stayed packed with families watching the weekly plays and movies that show and hosting bonfires.


Cooper’s Beach by Dusk

Cooper’s Beach calls Meadow Lane home, a modest name for a lane that has a median home sale price of $18 million. David Koch, William Salomon, Calvin Klein and Gerald Ford all call the five-mile road home, and one another, neighbors. Being the unashamed tourist that I am, I mercilessly snapped photos of the hidden mansions as we cruised by – the only Jeep to grace the road among the Audis and the only one to even bother looking out the window to admire the works of real estate art.


One of the many mansions of Meadow Lane, where the median home price is $18 million

Later, when I ran down the streets in the morning, it became obvious who was a tourist and who was a native based on who gawked at the multimillion dollar mansions. I constantly checked out faces walking and in cars, wondering who was a famous financier I had read about or just another normal loaded local.

I was shocked to find that as we drove the lane, we came across an attraction that I hadn’t researched and set on my list – Shinnecock Bay, which lies on the other side of Meadow Lane. The Bay has many rustic docks and walkways that run into the water, where homebound beachgoers stop to watch the sunset, fish and boat. We hung our legs over the water, scaring the minnows and snapping photos as the sun went down.


 Sunset at Shinnecock Bay

Even as we drove inland to Southampton Village and up Main Street later in the weekend, the classic glitz did not stop. Most homes on the beach-country roads had domineering gates and more hedges and trees blocking any views to even see one brick of the buildings that lay behind. For the ones that did, we tried to glance at their beautiful wrap-around porches, waterfall pools and private tennis courts.


 A very secretive driveway of First Neck Lane

Main Street itself is lined with well-cared-for flowers and benches and, of course, designer boutiques where I didn’t see one piece of clothing for under $179 (most disappointing). Every restaurant had white tablecloths and asked if I wanted tap or sparkling. Tate’s Bake Shop, located just north of Main Street, felt like being home again besides more BMWs that parked in front and ran in for a cookie. An award-winning bakery featuring vintage decor and a grandma’s-house feel, the place feels remote from the other gaudy shops nearby.


 Vintage shops near Tate’s Bake Shop on North Sea Road

Southampton felt like a step into a reality that I had only ever seen on television – the owners of pristine penthouses in New York City, flocking to their wealthy beach houses where they needed no boardwalks, clubs or fried food to entertain them. Instead, they were surrounded by private pools, beach clubs and tennis courts where they took the yacht out for a spin and talked about the merits of investment in French accents.

However, as exhilarating as it was to listen in on those lives and pretend to fit in, at the end of the trip, I was exhausted. Not just exhausted for myself in always having to wear my best clothes and pretend to not be shocked at an $80 lunch for two, but exhausted for those around me. I wondered how the teenagers felt, straddled in their button-up shirts who probably just wanted to go drink beer with their friends. I wondered how this life made you into someone you couldn’t recognize and why, at 145 miles between, it felt so very far away from the nearby beaches that marked my very existence.


Shinnecock Bay