Sports buffs may recognize it as the home of the Orangemen; trivia buffs may know it as the snowiest city in America. But what many people do not realize is that Syracuse (population 170,000) is an interesting place for a short vacation any time of year.
A stroll through Armory Square, a block west of the downtown core at South Franklin and West Jefferson streets, will take you through a colony of red brick buildings built in the 1850s that once was a militia training center.
Ulysses S. Grant is reported to have trained troops here during the Civil War. Today, Armory Square is one of the trendiest shopping districts in Syracuse. Stop for lunch at one of the pubs or cafes and pick up souvenirs in the boutiques and shops that line the streets.
Within the central building at Armory Square is the Museum of Science and Technology. Children and adults alike will enjoy the hands-on exhibits that explore, among other themes, human anatomy, evolution, nature and geology.
Visit the planets and the stars at one of the planetarium shows and take part in demonstrations involving chemical reactions or exotic animals. The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to 9 p.m. on Friday. Admission is $3.50 for seniors and children 2 to 11, $4.50 for others, with children under 2 free.
Up a block from the museum and around the corner on South Salina Street is the Landmark Theater, which brings music, theater and dance performances from around the country to Syracuse. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this jaw-dropping 1928 classic by architect Thomas Lamb can be toured Thursday and Friday at noon or 1 p.m. Tickets are $2 for seniors and children ages 5 to 12, $3 for others, with children under 5 free.
The Everson Museum of Art, at the corner of South State and Herringbone streets, was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei and is world-class in its unique architecture and in the quality of the exhibits.
One floor is devoted to ceramics, ancient to modern. In its six galleries paintings from postmodern to 19th century are hung. Striking sculptures also adorn the galleries, as well as the lobby, where visiting exhibits are displayed. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, Saturday from 10 a.m. Admission is free, but a small donation is recommended.
The Erie Canal Museum on Erie Boulevard is housed in the Weighlock Building, constructed in 1880. In the days when Erie Boulevard was the Erie Canal, boats would stop here to have their cargoes weighed and their tolls levied.
Walk through a 65-foot replica of a canal boat, on it artifacts from the days when cargo and immigrants were transported through Syracuse. On the second floor replicas of a pottery shop, a tavern, a general store, a stonecutter's shed and a theater speak eloquently of the lives of the people who once populated these parts. The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
The new Museum of Automobile History at 321 N. Clinton St. displays more than 10,000 paintings, photos, signs, toys and other objects relating to the 200-year history of the automobile, as well as paraphernalia on the motorcycle and the truck. But there aren't any cars. The 12,000 square-foot museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2.75 for children 5 to 16, $3.75 for seniors, $4.75 for adults, with children under 5 free.
Whether or not you are a fan of the Orangemen, spend an afternoon visiting Syracuse University, one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in the country. Stop in the Schine Student Center for a map of the campus.
Stroll among the university buildings, varied in architecture, many built in the 19th century, and enjoy their dignity, their aura, their grace. Take a break on one of the stretches of manicured lawns, lay out a picnic, read a book or frolic with your children.
On your way off campus, pass by the 100 block of Marshall Street, a funky little section with a variety of restaurants and shops carrying the gamut of Syracuse University souvenirs.
Burnet Park Zoo, a few miles west of downtown, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. More than 700 animals, from local farm stock to exotic red pandas and Andean condors, are housed humanely on sites that closely resemble natural habitats.
Three young elephants -- 7-year-old Tundi, 2-year-old Kirina and baby Mali -- have become favored attractions, especially for children. The zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2 for children 5 to 14, $3 for seniors, $5 for others, with children under 5 free. A $12 family pass will admit two adults and children. Call (315) 435-8511.
Ste. Marie Among the Iroquois, a living history museum north of the city in Liverpool, transports visitors back more than three centuries to the first encounter among Europeans, French Jesuit priests from Canada and the mightly Iroquois nation.
Costumed interpreters will talk about the 1657 meeting, which took place on the shore of Onondaga Lake, and almost anything else from the era. There also are demonstrations of period blacksmithing, log hewing and cooking. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $1.50 for children 5 to 14, $3 for seniors, $3.50 for others, with children under 5 free.
Call the Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 234-4797.