Weekending/Rochester road trip

Nancy J. Parisi

With an abundance of established cultural attractions within its midsized city limits, Rochester offers excellent choices for how to spend a family day just an hour away from home. Some are suitable for all ages, some for families with small children, and some for those traveling with agreeable teens. Here are five perennial field-trip favorites, each with built-in dining options.

1. George Eastman House, the former residence and gardens of the founder of Kodak, is easy to spot on the city’s grand East Avenue. Among the site’s highlights are permanent exhibits about cameras in general, their technical progression, and the history of Kodak, along with self-guided tours of rooms of the mansion preserved as they appeared in the late nineteenth century. The arresting conservatory, with its wicker furnishings and replicated elephant head (a memento of Eastman’s travels to Africa) is not to be missed; it’s a particularly lovely springtime destination thanks to its annual, aromatic Dutch Connection bulb display re-created according to yearly floral orders placed by the original inhabitants. The outdoor gardens are lovely as well, with their antique fountains, pergola, and lush plantings.

GEH also hosts traveling shows that are always well produced and typically center on a single artist or theme: Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is on view through September 18, presenting the source photos that the iconic artist used alongside his illustrations, paintings, and tear-sheets. Also on view now is Americana: Hollywood and the American Way of Life, showcasing key stills from the organization’s extensive collection of iconic movie imagery.

The onsite bookstore (www.shop-eastmanhouse.org) stocks an excellent inventory of historical, theoretical, and lavishly designed art books—the classics of photography as well as GEH-produced monographs. You’ll also find toy cameras for sale alongside other photocentric amusements and gadgets. A café features homemade soups, creative sandwiches, a coffee bar, desserts, and free wi-fi.

GEH is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  (1–5 p.m. on Sundays; closed Mondays). Children twelve and under get in free, adults pay $12, and students $5. (900 East Ave., Rochester; 585-271-3361, www.eastmanhouse.org.)


2. The 150,000 square feet of the Strong Museum—a.k.a. the National Museum of Play—teem with hands-on exhibits appropriate for all ages, as well as areas where kids can act out imaginary epics (complete with props!). Their half-sized Wegmans is a huge hit with toddlers. Name a toy and it’s more than likely here: legions of Barbies (and pals), famed and obscure board games, and a busy arcade stocked with video games from Pong to now.

As if that weren’t enough to fill an entire day, there’s an outdoor Discovery Garden with notes on plants and bugs, a year-round indoor “Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden,” a working carousel, and a food court of kid-friendly restaurants. The gleaming and restored railcar “Skyliner” diner is one option, and it serves real milkshakes.

Through September 11 you can catch Five Friends from Japan: Children in Japan Today, highlighting the everyday lives of fictitious but representative kids and their families, bedrooms, and schools. Your own family can visit a tofu shop, try on traditional clothing, and, of course, play with a few Japanese toys.

The sure-to-please Football: The Exhibit runs September 24 through January 8, showcasing the game’s history, traditions, and technologies. Another likely blockbuster, this one saluting the Wizard of Oz books and films and the artifacts, games, and memorabilia they have inspired, runs January 21 through May 13, allowing visitors the opportunity to speak like Munchkins, view holographs of the Emerald City, learn about tornadoes, slide down a rainbow, and more.

Located on the western side of Rochester just off the Inner Loop/NYS Thruway, the Strong is open seven days a week except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for kids aged two to fifteen, and free for babies; the butterfly garden is an additional $4 per person for a timed, 20-minute tour through the wondrous, humid environment. Parking is free. (1 Manhattan Sq., Rochester; 585-263-2700, www.museumofplay.org.)


3. The Rochester Museum & Science Center makes natural history and related subjects accessible to everyone, with a focus on science over flash. Displays deftly straddle the ancient and the modern while placing Rochester and the surrounding countryside within scientific contexts through artifacts, panoramas, and photographs. (Some of the notes are a bit wordy for younger visitors.)

The mastodon skeleton (found at a local dig) and a reconstruction of the shaggy-coated beast on the first floor are showstoppers, while At the Western Door is a well-designed immersion into the history, lore, culture, and artifacts of regional Native American tribes. Much of the museum’s third floor is devoted to Rochester’s past. To mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, RMSC presents September 11th, 2001: A Global Moment from September 2 through November 27.

Throughout the day educational films explore deep seas, exotic animals, and outer space. From 7:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights when skies are clear, visitors may take a peek through the museum’s 12.5 -inch telescope in the Strasenburgh Planetarium (www.rmsc.org/StrasenburghPlanetarium). There are also thematic “Star Shows” with guided tours of the Milky Way; check the website or contact the museum to find out when these take place.

Combined museum and planetarium tickets are available for $17 for adults and $13 for children ages three to eighteen. (Museum-only tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for kids.) Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. There is a café in the museum that serves breakfast and lunch. The museum also operates Cumming Nature Center in Naples, open Wednesday through Sunday with trails through the woodlands; guided walks are available.

Non-RSMC members are asked to donate $3 apiece, with family admission for $10. (657 East Ave., Rochester; 585-271-4320, www.rmsc.org.)


4. Antiquities, baroque art, craft, and modern art are displayed with equal verve at the Memorial Art Gallery, affiliated with the University of Rochester.  The rooms of baroque artwork have recently been renovated and are now aglow in crimson; a signature piece, a restored Italian organ, fills the far wall of the gallery’s Fountain Court. On Sundays, at 1 and 3 p.m., students of the Eastman School of Music give twenty-five-minute baroque concerts that are included with admission.

The grounds here are the site of the annual Clothesline Festival of approximately 400 craft artists from across the state (www.mag.rochester.edu/clothesline). The 2011 edition—the fifty-fifth—happens on September 10 and 11. The Sixty-Third Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition runs through September 25 in the Grand Gallery. This always-fine biennial event is a juried show of work in all genres; this year’s show features 100 pieces by forty-nine artists from Western and Central New York. Collagist Stephanie Davidson and painter Fran Noonan (both of Buffalo), and Ann M. Perry Smith, a Roycroft clay artist who lives in Snyder, represent our own arts community this time around.

Other upcoming exhibitions include Extreme Materials 2 (works constructed from things like breakfast cereal, packing tape, and blood), October 23 through January 15, 2012; the Eleventh Annual Fine Craft Show during the first week/weekend of November; and the annual Fiber Art International show every May and June. Of special note is the MAG store, which, much like that at the Albright-Knox, features many excellent gift items including jewelry by national and regional artists. The café Max at the Gallery serves light and healthful salads and heavier comfort plates.

MAG is open Wednesday–Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for college students and children ages six to eighteen. Thursdays are half-price from 5 to 9 p.m. when the gallery also features Tapas with Max from 5 to 8 with live music and a cash bar. (500 University Ave., Rochester; 585-276-8900, mag.rochester.edu.)


5. Seneca Park Zoo is charming and compact, at one end of Rochester’s Olmsted-designed Seneca Park in northern Rochester alongside the Genesee River. The park is well manicured with plenty of picturesque spots for picnicking, some playgrounds, and Wegmans Lodge for year-round events.

SPZ mixes in indigenous creatures such as otters (who swim languidly in their wonderful inside/outside exhibit within the Kodak E.C.O. Center), turtles, and wolves (who are en route to the wilds), with South Asian snow leopards, a small herd of rhinos, a pair of pythons, wild cats, and more.

Small children will likely enjoy the ZOT (Zoologists of Tomorrow) Zone where they can play in a half-sized laboratory and prepare faux food for the animals. A Step Into Africa, the zoo’s new home for baboons and elephants, is under construction with an unveiling scheduled for spring of 2012. A concession stand sells the usual child-pleasing fare, including Rochester-based Zweigle’s hot dogs.

SPZ is open year-round, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and during their “Zoobilation” fundraiser every June. Open daily at 10 a.m., the zoo closes at 5 p.m. from April to October, and 4 p.m. from November through next March. Admission fees also shift depending on the time of year; adults pay $10 from April through October, and $8 the rest of the year. Children’s admission is $7 peak season, $5 off-season. (2222 St. Paul St., Rochester; 585-336-7200, www.senecaparkzoo.org.)

For more to see and do in our neighboring city, check www.artsrochester.org and www.visitrochester.com.




 Nancy J. Parisi is a frequent contributor to Spree.

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