When it comes to family fun in Central New York, it’s a whole different world. One where going on an adventure with the fam is easy, affordable and sometimes free. Here’s a sample itinerary:
Get wild. Head to The Wild Animal Park in Chittenango to see lions, tigers, gators, kangaroos, bears, zebras and much more. Get up close and personal with exotic and domestic animals from around the world, learn about wildlife with daily animal shows and even feed the park’s giraffe, named Jace. You can also tour the safari by car. Tickets are $13.99 for adults, $11.99 for children ages 3-12 and free for kids 2 and under. For more, go to thewildpark.com.
Nature’s way. For more animal adventures, stop by Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a 9,800-acre national park outside Seneca Falls that’s home to bald eagles, waterfowls, herons, Canada geese, osprey, harriers, muskrat mink, fox, white tail deer and more. You can take a hike or drive through the Montezuma’s 3.5-mile Wildlife Drive. friendsofmontezuma.org/
Bluffs are calling. Next adventure: By the sea. You won’t believe this isn’t the Mediterranean. Make a day trip to Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott where land and sea meet in a spectacular display of pointed spires overlooking Lake Ontario. Take the 1.25-mile Bluff Trail to see the lakeside cliff formations – some of which stand 150 feet high. Built long ago by glacial deposits, the landscape is constantly changed by winds, rain and snow. There are plenty of picnic areas, nature trails and restrooms. There’s a small $5 per car entry fee. The rest of the experience is free. Go to parks.ny.gov/parks/chimneybluffs/maps.aspx
Get hooked. Next up: Head out to Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In and savor panoramic views of Lake Ontario. Enjoy fish and chips, coneys, burgers and fries, New England clam chowder, a Texas taco salad and more on the rocky shore or at one of the establishment’s picnic tables. Stay for the sunsets. Dinner plates average around $14. Visit rudyshot.com. After dinner, head out through the back roads to the Midway Drive-In Theater in Minetto, for an authentic 1950s movie experience. Now in its 72nd year, the Drive-In is a local icon. Prices run about $9 per adult and $4 per child ages 7-11. There’s also a snack bar to satisfy your popcorn, cheese fries, candy and drinks cravings. Go to midwaydrivein.com/
A mighty wind. Onward and (look) upward. In Northern Madison County, check out the Fenner Renewable Energy Education Center and get a closer look at windmills and turbines that tower over you at nearly 330 feet tall. Public access is at 5520 Bellinger Road and is surrounded by 20 windmills that generate enough power for 7,800 homes. Tour the grounds and take a picnic. Off road parking is available. Free. Visit thefreecenter.org
Shape of water. For more cheap thrills, visit the Labrador Hollow Unique Area, nearly 1,500 acres of well-marked hiking trails, fishing and boating fun. Tour the wetlands on the wooden boardwalk or take the trail to Tinker Falls, a 50-foot waterfall bordered by natural rock. There’s a more challenging trail that offers panoramic views. Free. Go to dec.ny.gov/lands/37070.html
Lakeside fun. Onondaga Lake Park is just a few minutes outside the city and is a favorite spot for dog walking, biking, running, rollerblading and more. Lakeside views, a skate park and marina are a just a few of the park’s amenities. After your walk, head over to Heid’s of Liverpool across the street for area favorite — grilled Hofmann hot dogs. Since 1917, Heid’s has been a local staple and one you won’t want to miss. A Heid’s Daily Special of two Hofmann Franks or Coneys with your choice of regular or large french fries and fountain soda will set you back $11.50. Currently take-out and Grub Hub delivery options available. heidsofliverpool.com.
Stop and smell the roses. The EM Mills Rose Garden at Thornden Park on Ostrum Ave. in Syracuse is a sweet and scented sight to behold. More than 3,000 rose bushes along brick paths and a covered center pavilion make this spot perfect for pictures. Free. syracuserosesociety.org/Mills-Rose-Garden.php
It’s your destiny. Rain or shine, Destiny USA is the biggest shopping, entertainment and dining venue in the state. It’s also the sixth largest in the country. Family fun options include RPM Raceway, Canyon Climb Adventure, 5 Wits, giant slides and a two-story laser tag zone, to name a few. With 18 entertainment zones and 18 restaurants, not to mention 250 top retail brands, Destiny offers sights and sounds and a variety of options good for a rainy day or any day for that matter. Prices vary depending on venue. Parking is free. Visit destinyusa.com.
Finally, cap off any one of the above adventures with a trip to Gannons Ice Cream where small batch ice cream is made from scratch with local ingredients. Serving all your hot weather faves including milkshakes, soft serve and sundaes, look for scoopable creative flavors like Fluffer Nutter, a creamy combo of vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and marshmallow ripple or the Sweet Pig, a maple flavored ice cream with bits of bacon and a caramel swirl or Peach Cobbler, a peachy ice cream with pieces of pie crust. Check out more flavors at gannonsicecream.com. Gannon’s made Buzzfeed’s list of “27 Ice Cream Shops You Need to Visit Before You Die.” A school-size scoop cup will run you $2. Might as well try a few flavors for that price.