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15 ways to embrace a Western New York summer

This weekend’s warm temperatures are finally telling us what we’ve long denied after the brutal, beat-down winter.

Summer is, indeed, coming, and this little preview is not to be wasted. Despite some passing clouds, the itch to be outdoors this weekend had us thinking of all the great and glorious ways this region gives us the chance to spend our time roofless as spring and summer unfolds before us.

So here are some staff picks on heat-inspired fun. Feel free to add to the list.

1. Go to dinner somewhere you can eat outside. If you don’t know a decent place to enjoy a meal surrounded by a cool breeze and a decent view, you’re simply not trying. There are great outdoor eating spots to be had at all price ranges throughout the region. Some offer panoramic views. Some offer an intimate rear patio.

From the roadside picnic tables of Wild Bill Hickory BBQ in Clarence Center and the quiet back deck of La Tee Da in Allentown to a coveted table at Rick’s on Main in East Aurora and huge decks with stunning river views at Acqua Restaurant on Niagara Street and Water Street Landing in Lewiston, choices abound.

And if you’d rather eat and walk, there’s always a food truck happy to feed you standing up.

2. Water bike on the Niagara River (now that you’ve learned how to ice bike at the Canalside rink).

You might have seen or even tried the ice bikes at the new Canalside rink over the winter. This is the same concept, expect the bikes pedal across the water. Companies like Water Bikes of Buffalo at Canalside rent these hydrobikes by the hour and even have some two-seaters, all kept afloat by long pontoons. Get a light workout and enjoy the view.

3. View the city from the water. Remind yourself how Buffalo became great.

Kayak, canoe or otherwise make your way onto a boat. If you don’t have a watercraft of your own, rent one from Canalside or hop aboard a water taxi, catamaran, tallship or other tour boat. It’s virtually impossible to see the city from the water and not think it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

From the outline of City Hall to the soaring silos leading to the Outer Harbor, looking back at the city from the water reminds us about the history that created Buffalo’s glorious past, and gives us a glimpse of the new waterfront development and tourism that is helping to bring the city back.

4. Go to the beach. Make it one you haven’t been to in a while or ever.

As an inland community, we don’t often associate Western New York with beaches, even though we were built along waterways and Lake Erie. But we actually have nearly a dozen different beaches here – from wide and popular ones like Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island, Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg and Evangola Beach in Brant, to smaller strips of sand and water closer to home.

Water pollution is occasionally an issue, so it helps to check the swimming conditions. But then, plot a course and throw the beach towels in the trunk. With a weekend in the 80s, the beaches are calling to remind you that summer really has arrived.

5. Run, walk and bike our trails. Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today.

There are miles, many miles, of trails to walk, run and ride your bike without dodging cars or navigating intersections. In Amherst alone, 22 miles of dedicated bike and pedestrian asphalt and scenery await you. A quick hunt for maps online can easily help you build a route to suit your level of interest and fitness in almost any community.

From the Clarence Pathways to the north to the out-and-back hiking trail to Eternal Flame Falls in Chestnut Ridge Park to the south, there’s a quiet roadway waiting for your bike and sneakers.

6. Go to an outdoor concert. Feed your soul. There are far too many of these to list, but almost every village, city and town has these. From village concert bands playing under park gazebos to popular crowd pleasers like the Bidwell Parkway concert series, there’s a outdoor musical event to suit anyone with a lawn chair. Best of all, most of these events are completely free.

If more contemporary music in the sun or shade isn’t your thing, consider a symphony under the stars. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is hosting a series of outdoor, evening events everywhere from Niawanda Park in the Town of Tonawanda to Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown. The latter includes admission to the historic fort and winds up with fireworks.

7. Visit Niagara Falls – how many locals still haven’t made the trip?

It’s just too easy for us to forget the awesomeness of the falls. So go back and be reminded. Niagara Falls State Park and Goat Island right now may be looking a bit worse for wear with construction equipment and unsightly fencing, but the parking lot and lighting upgrades are necessary improvements. So put the blinders on until you reach the railing.

A walk along the Niagara River Gorge is impressive enough, but as always, the best way to view the falls is from the bottom, so hop onto the Maid of the Mist, which just opened up again for boat tours last weekend, or make future plans for Cave of the Winds, where you’ll feel like you’re within touching distance of the Bridal Veil Falls from the Hurricane Deck.

8. Visit a farmers market. There’s a lot more to check out than farmers.

Whether in the heart of downtown or village squares, nothing brings neighbors together like the farmers market does. Some open this weekend.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables? Check. Catching up with fellow travelers after a winter in which the idea of standing outside surrounded by produce seemed impossible? Check. Barbecue and food trucks? Check. (Really? Yes.) There is much more to the farmers market scene than you might remember. Check some out for yourself.

9. Get tickets to one of two major concerts filling up Ralph Wilson Stadium. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, year or decade.

It’s been more than a decade since we could go to Ralph Wilson Stadium to see something that has a chance of being entertaining. (We’re looking at you, Bills.) This year, two titans of music will fill the place with music fans from opposite ends of the age spectrum.

There’s One Direction, the pop music boy band that’s still a big deal even though Zayn Malik quit the band in March. Then there’s the Rolling Stones, a seemingly immortal classic rock group led by Mick Jagger, whose energy defies the term “senior citizen” despite the fact he’s turning 72 in July. The Rolling Stones storm into town July 11. One Direction’s “On the Road Again Tour” descends on Buffalo Sept. 3.

10. Grab a beer at one of the new, local breweries. You’ve earned a long sip.

Microbreweries are fermenting all over the city, catching onto the wider trend of craft beer making. As we’ve previously noted, the city now boasts more craft breweries than at any time since shortly after Prohibition. So help celebrate the new and growing industry.

Enjoy a draft at the game-changing Resurgence Brewery on up-and-coming Niagara Street and, coming later this summer, Big Ditch Brewing Company’s Tap Room and Restaurant on Huron Street.

11. Visit the Erie County Fair, an oldie but a goodie. OK, this doesn’t come around until August, so you have something to look forward to. Running from Aug. 12-23, this family-friendly event is for far more than just the ride hungry, greasy-foot-eaters and cow lovers. Truly, there isn’t anything most people enjoy that can’t be found at the fair – except for peace and quiet.

From craft displays and food vending adventures to demolition derbies and concerts with pop star Meghan Trainor and legendary country music group Alabama, you’re bound to find something that makes you smile.

12. Take part in the Garden Walk. It gets bigger and better every year.

Garden Walk Buffalo should rightly take credit for helping to spur a regionwide resurgence in city living. Considered the largest garden tour in the country with nearly 400 city homes featuring an explosion of annuals, perennials, ponds and landscaping, the weekend-long self-guided touring event has grown as beautifully as the gardens they feature.

Other suburban communities have taken a cue from the Buffalo garden walk, with some starting their own events. But Buffalo’s is the first and the best. Mark your calendar. This year’s Garden Walk Buffalo runs July 25-26.

13. Take in a Bisons game. What’s summer without baseball?

Spend a few hours at one of the best minor league stadiums around. With luck, you’ve got a great game unfolding before you. But the team doesn’t have to be good for the experience to be good.

Whether you’re watching celery chase bleu cheese and chicken wing around the first-base side, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” getting caught on the Kiss Cam or cheering the Friday night fireworks, a Bisons game is always a good time. And you’ve got plenty of home games to choose from all summer long.

14. Go to the drive-in. Relive your childhood. Millions of people don’t have one of these anymore. We’ve still got lots, many of them kept alive as a labor of love by their owners. Visit them while we have them. Seeing a movie from your car or lawn chair means having the space and privacy to cuddle and giving the kids the opportunity to enjoy a movie without constant “shushing” from mom and dad. It’s worth it.

15. Visit the Buffalo Zoo. You don’t have to bring a child to love it.

Former polar bear cub Kali may have just relocated to St. Louis, but the zoo still has Luna and now boasts a baby giraffe, Zuri.

One of the nation’s oldest zoos and nearly 24 acres big, the Parkside institution along Delaware Park could keep a walker delighted for hours and relieve parents who can finally let their children walk a few paces ahead and follow their animal-loving whims. The South American Rainforest exhibit is still a marvel, as are all the other plants and animals that have made this place special for generations.