Wouldn't it be nice to hop in the car and take a drive along the ocean, stopping at quaint villages and attractions along the way? Since we are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, driving there might not be that practical or economical. However, we can experience a long drive along the coast, thanks to having the Great Lakes right in our own backyard.
This article describes a drive along Lake Ontario's shore from the Niagara River to just beyond the Genesee River in the Rochester area. If you make only a couple of stops along the way, you can probably cover the territory in this article in about three or four hours, one way.
If you want to take your time and explore the attractions mentioned, it will take much longer so you may want to break the drive down into several day trips, which I did.
Start your journey along Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River in Youngstown, near Fort Niagara State Park. If time permits, stop by Old Fort Niagara, a National Historic Landmark, which is preserved as it stood in the 18th century.
Continue your journey along Route 18, heading east toward Wilson. Be sure to make a quick stop at the picturesque Wilson Harbor. There are several small seasonal shops in the harbor area (open in the afternoon and evening), including Jayne & Co, which specializes in women's clothing and accessories; Pier House Gifts, which carries toys, candles, candy and gifts; Flagtastic, which has flags, banners and home decor; and the Garden Gate, for unique household items and gifts.
Becker Farms of Gasport has a stand here with pies, cookies, ice cream and wines from their Vizcarra Vineyards. Walk down to the Wilson Pier for a very pretty view of the lake and harbor.
The next stop on the journey is the quaint lakeside community of Olcott Beach. The village has a large park, a beach, good fishing and numerous small shops and restaurants. Check out the Lakeview Village Fair, a collection of small boutique gift shops on a boardwalk overlooking the lake. These shops specialize in a variety of merchandise including nautical items, jewelry, chocolate treats and home decor. Children will enjoy the Olcott Carousel Park, which has a restored 1928 Hershell carousel and several other vintage kiddie rides. (Open noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday in the summer.)
Continuing along Route 18, you may want to make a stop at The Winery at Marjim Manor, a charming winery located in an 1853 mansion located at 7171 E. Lake Road in Appleton. Each wine has a unique name relating to the history of the home, which has several ghost stories associated with it.
In Barker, the Babcock Cobblestone House Museum is open for tours on Saturday and Sunday, from June to October. This 1848 cobblestone home, built by farmer Jeptha Babcock, is maintained and furnished by the Town of Somerset Historical Society. It has been restored to reflect 19th century life.
Right past the museum is the Somerset Power Generating station. Turn left at the first road just past the station, Hartland Road, which turns into Lower Lake Road. You'll have a much better view of the lake from this road than if you remained on Route 18. The lake is on the left.
If you are taking your drive on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you can stop at Golden Hill State Park and tour the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, a circa 1875 structure made of handcarved stone.
As you drive along Lower Lake Road, the road twists and turns several times. You may feel like you are lost, but you're not. At one of the turns, you'll see a dead end to your left; head down there to the large parking area and a nice view of the lake. A historical marker says that this was once the location of the Yates Pier, a 275-foot pier built in 1875, which was used for shipping lumber and grain and also for passenger ships.
As you approach Lakeside Beach State Park, a 743-acre park popular with campers, look for a sign for Lake Ontario State Parkway. The 35-mile-long parkway is part of the Seaway Trail and runs through Orleans and Monroe counties. It was built in the 1960s as a scenic highway. There are many parts of the roadway that travel almost at lake's edge, so you will have some great views of the lake.
> A few detours
Exit the parkway at Point Breeze (Route 98) and drive toward the lake; you'll end up in a parking lot. Here you can walk along a long pier that is popular with fishermen. The Black North Inn, a bar and restaurant, has good chicken wings.
If you want, take a short drive down Route 98 to Route 18 and visit Brown's Berry Patch, a farm market that also has a large country gift shop and deli.
Get back on the parkway and continue east. You'll pass Hamlin Beach State Park, which has a beach, hiking trails and camp sites. The next point of interest along the way is the Braddock Bay State Fish and Wildlife Management Area. Get off at East Manitou Road and follow the signs toward the area where there is a hawk view station, nature trail, playground and picnic area.
Exit the parking area and turn left on East Manitou Road; then turn right at Edgemere Drive. Drive several miles past lakeside cottages, until you reach the Crescent Beach Hotel. There have been hotels and inns on this site since the early 1800s. The current building, a restaurant built in the 1980s, offers lakefront dining -- either indoors in their spacious dining room, or outdoors on a manicured garden terrace.
Although the dining room is very elegant, you really don't have to get dressed up to eat here. The restaurant offers a nice selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, including such items as lobster bisque and Caesar salad. The menu probably wouldn't appeal to small children; however, there are two very nice, inexpensive hot dog/hamburger restaurants just down the road.
Continue along Edgemere Drive until you reach Ontario Beach Park, a favorite spot of mine. It has one of the nicest natural sand beaches in the Great Lakes Region. Back in the early 1900s there was a huge amusement park here that drew 50,000 visitors each day during the summer. It's still popular today.
The park has a beach, a 1905 Dentzel carousel and a very long fishing pier, which is great to stroll along. There is a concession stand in the park, as well as several restaurants located along Lake Avenue.
One of my daughter's and my favorite spots is the "Secret Sidewalk," located about a mile west of Ontario Beach Park. There is no on-street parking, so park your car in the lot by the park and take a leisurely stroll to the sidewalk entrance, located between the driveways of 490 and 510 Beach Ave. This public walkway along the Lake Ontario shore offers great views of the lake, as well as the chance to see the manicured lawns and gardens of area residents. We like to imagine what it would be like to live in one of these gorgeous homes.
Another interesting attraction near Ontario Beach Park is the Charlotte/Genesee Lighthouse (off Lake Avenue, behind Holy Cross Church), a 40-foot-tall Medina sandstone lighthouse overlooking the Genesee River and the Port of Rochester. Built in 1821, it is the second-oldest lighthouse in the Great Lakes Region.
There are several more interesting sites across the Genesee River. Cross the river on the Stutson Bridge and follow Pattonwood Drive to Lake Shore Boulevard. Within a few miles, you will be driving through Durand Eastman Park, which encompasses more than 1,000 acres and has an 18-hole golf course, arboretum, hiking trails and two small lakes.
When you emerge from the park, turn left on Culver Road and head toward Seabreeze Amusement Park. The fourth oldest amusement park in the United States, it originally opened in 1879 as a picnic grove. Today, it has more than 75 rides and waterpark attractions. This park will remind longtime Buffalo residents of Crystal Beach. There are several casual, seasonal restaurants, referred to as "hot dog row," along Culver Road.
Still haven't had enough of traveling along the lake? Hop on the I-590 south to Route 104 east and cross over Irondequoit Bay. Turn left on Bay Road to Lake Road. Turn right on Lake Road; as you travel, be sure to glance through the trees to see some truly magnificent homes. .
You may want to end you drive at Hedges Nine Mile Point Restaurant, an upscale restaurant overlooking the lake that features steak and seafood.
To return home, you can either retrace your route, or if you prefer a faster ride home, take Route 250 south to Route 96 south, which connects with the New York State Thruway east of Rochester.
> If you go
Olcott Newfane: www.olcott-newfane.com
Babcock Cobblestone House Museum, 7449 Lake Road, Barker; (716) 795-9948.
Brown's Berry Patch, 14264 Roosevelt Highway (NY 18), Waterport; (585) 682-5569, www.brownsberrypatch.com.
Crescent Beach Hotel, 1372 Edgemere Drive, Rochester; (585) 227-3600, www.crescentbeachinn.com. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner is 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday; 5 to 10 Saturday. Sunday brunch is 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner is 1 to 9 p.m.
Ontario Beach Park, Lake and Beach avenues, Rochester; (585) 256-4950.
Charlotte/Genesee Lighthouse, 70 Lighthouse St., Rochester; (585) 621-6179. Tours are offered Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Seabreeze Amusement Park, 4600 Culver Road, Rochester; (585) 323-1900, www.seabreeze.com.
Hedges Nine Mile Point Restaurant, 1290 Lake Road, Webster; (585) 265-3850, www.hedgesninemilepoint.com. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. It's closed Sunday and Monday.