It’s going to be that time of year again soon… spring break! Since this feels…
6 Incredible Things to Do in Corning
Sparkle is the name of the game for this crystal city in the southern Finger Lakes region. When it comes to all the unique things to do in Corning, you’ll be surprised by all that’s possible in a short amount of time.
The Finger Lakes region is a truly underrated gem on the East Coast. California may have Napa and Sonoma Valley, but we have our own world-class wineries right here in Upstate New York. Its name comes from the eleven long, thin glacial lakes that, well, look like fingers. Because of the climate, it’s become a fantastic place for Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines to flourish, and today there are well over a hundred wineries sprinkled all around.
Corning specifically is located in the southern Finger Lakes and is fairly young for an East Coast city — only officially being incorporated in 1890. It has a history of welcoming artists of all sorts, from the famous glassmakers of the American Brilliant Period to the small business owners that set up shop here today.
Trust me when I say you’re going to fall in love with Corning.
6 Incredible Things to Do in Corning, NY
1. Explore all things glass
Glass is practically synonymous with Corning. There’s a reason its nickname is Crystal City, after all! Glassmaking here goes back to the post-Civil War era when manufacturing replaced the lumber industry and glass factories began to open. At its height, there were something like 20 factories in this region, each innovating new glassmaking techniques and creating the kind of products we take for granted today. Think signal lenses for trains, the very first bulbs (made for Thomas Edison, of course), Pyrex® cookware, fiber optics, and so much more. That’s not even to mention stunning decorative designs like the cut glass that won T.G. Hawkes & Co grand prize at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.
As I said, you’ve really got to visit at least one of the following spots while in Corning and enjoy this town’s sparkling history.
The Corning Museum of Glass
Established in 1951 to showcase the town’s ties to the glass industry, The Corning Museum of Glass is perhaps one of the most unique museums in the country. It was gifted by Corning Inc. (then known as Corning Glass Works) to celebrate its 100th anniversary and today displays over 50,000 objects to tell glass’s 3,500-year-old history.
Be sure to give yourself more time than you think you’ll need – it’s the number one thing most visitors bemoan when they finish their visit! Not only can you walk through a number of exquisite exhibits, but there are also workshops and demonstrations held daily every hour. Yes, this includes trying some glassblowing yourself!
Try Glass Blowing at Hands-on-Glass
For those that want even more experience with glassmaking, head over to Hands-on-Glass, a public access studio that’s been open for over 30 years. It was founded by Rodi Rovner to allow anyone from any background to learn how to work with glass. When I visited, I made my own paperweight – a fascinating process that takes choreography, artistry, and the most delicate touch.
Check their website for current activities as they offer something a bit different with the changing seasons.
The Erlacher Steuben Glass Shop
While shopping the many small businesses on Corning’s world-renowned Market Street, be sure to stop into the The Erlacher Steuben Glass Shop. Steuben Glass is a glassmaking company that goes back to 1903 and takes its name from surrounding Steuben county. The Steuben style is known for producing highly refractive glass that offers beautiful cascading rainbows when under the light. This stunning glass has been seen all over the world in the last century. In fact, ever since President and Mrs. Truman gifted Queen Elizabeth II Steuben glass products for her wedding, they’ve been the go-to gift for every president since.
The Erlacher Collection is focused on finding all sorts of rare Steuben items. It also represents the love story between Kitty and the late Max Erlacher. Max came over from Austria in the 1950s to work as a master glass engraver, and after he met and fell in love with Kitty, they decided to open their own business. I had the chance to meet with Max back when I visited Corning, and it was such a pleasure watching him work with his 100-year-old engraver and see the couples’ shared passion for glass.
2. Grab lunch at Old World Cafe
Staying along historic Market Street, you’ve got to grab lunch at Old World Café. Jennifer and Chris Herman opened the cafe when they moved here around twenty years ago on Jennifer’s mother’s recommendation.
Their cafe focuses on simpler times with hearty sandwiches, paninis, salads, soups, and, most importantly, ice cream. Their ice cream is made locally by the Hershey Ice Cream company, and the cafe features Victorian-style ice cream and candy counter. Don’t skip a refreshing ice cream soda while you’re here.
3. Visit The Rockwell Museum
Another fantastic museum you’ll want to check out while in Corning is The Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate. the name comes from Bob and Hertha Rockwell, local business owners who gifted their collection to the community. Located in Corning’s Old City Hall, a beautiful piece of architecture from 1893, The Rockwell focuses on exhibits that define the American experience with themes as broad as nature to as intimate as personal identity.
Bonus: you can get a combination ticket that allows you to visit both The Rockwell and The Corning Museum of Glass, and there’s even a free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes between them.
4. Learn more about the history of Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes
For those curious about local history, pay a visit to the Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes. Run by the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society, the village encompasses a few significantly historical buildings in town that allows visitors to take a little step back into time. The main building is Benjamin Patterson Inn, also known as the Painted Post Tavern. Built in 1796, the rooms are designed to show what life would’ve been like for the Patterson family.
Other buildings include Browntown Schoolhouse, Cooley Blacksmith Shop, Wixon Log Cabin, Starr Barn, Joner’s Shop, Wood Shed, the Gardens, and, of course, the Painted Post Depot and Museum. You can visit on your own or book a tour in advance.
5. Shop around Gaffer District
A few of the places I already listed above are part of Corning’s Gaffer District. The district began following the devastation of the Flood of 1972 when the Market Street Restoration Agency was formed to restore downtown, Corning. The name, of course, is tied to Corning’s crystal heritage as “gaffer” is a name for a master glassblower.
Fast forward almost fifty years, and the district is home to over 250 businesses, with Market Street right at its center. Stroll along or follow one of their walking trails to enjoy this lively area. Also, check their website for upcoming activities as this is where all major events and festivals will happen in Corning.
6. Drive out to nearby villages in Southern Finger Lakes
One of the best things to do in Corning is to venture out! While the town is full of charm, it’s also only miles from equally charming villages. I had a chance to drive around a bit while on my trip and saw even more of why the southern Finger Lakes are worth visiting.
Only a 20-minute drive from Corning, Bath has been around since 1793 and was named after the famous Jane Austen town in England. This quaint town is full of historic architecture and a very cute town square which is home to all sorts of annual traditions and events, including the world’s longest continuously-running county fair.
While there, be sure to check out Bath Grove Cemetery as well as Bath Presbyterian Church. The church is home to one of just eight Tiffany sanctuaries in the US. Back in 1895, the then president of the church hired Tiffany Glass Company to replace all glass with their own designs, a process that took around two years.
Before you go, stop into Betty Kay Bake Shop for one of their English cuts, a hole-less frosted donut that can only be found here.
Around 35 minutes from Corning, Hammondsport has been called America’s coolest small town for good reason. Located at the southern end of Keuka Lake, this town is at the heart of Finger Lakes’ wine development and is home to one of the most notable figures in aviation history.
When it comes to winemaking, you can trace Hammondsport’s involvement all the way back to 1829, when Reverend Botswick planted grapes here. However, what really put the Finger Lakes on the map was the arrival of Dr. Konstantin Frank from Ukraine. When he managed to grow the more delicate vinifera grapes featured in many European-style wines, he showed that the region could compete with some of the oldest wine regions in the world. Grab a glass at the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, still run by Frank’s family today.
At the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, learn more about the man who first made aviation seem more than a mere spectacle but an actual, useful mode of transportation. While the Wright Brothers are credited with inventing flying, Curtiss showed how it could be put to use. He’s largely seen as the Founder of the American Aircraft Industry, and the museum allows you to see his contributions for yourself.
And there you have it – all the incredible things to do in Corning! With such a unique history and a community full of passionate small business owners, you’re sure to have an undeniably charming trip.
If you want to see what else to do beyond these scenic Hudson Valley walks, check out our “Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes” episode of Season 3’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”!
This Post Has 3 Comments
Agree with Samantha; been in most places mentioned. Liked the Bully Hill Winery’s family ( Taylor ) history. Told of new family ownership. Have a nephew from N.J. , his wife & daughter living there in Corning the last 5 years.
Pax Christi ! Vivat Jesus !
Warren / Tecumseh, Mi.
Be sure to visit Donna’s Cafe in Corning. There is an extensive collection of vintage Corning ware decorating the restaurant. Also the food is great.
Thank you for reminding me about the lovely finger lakes region and some of the interesting sites to visit ..NY is a beautiful state ,especially in Autumn .