Upstate New York is low-key, friendly and full of small towns and intimate eateries, with stunning countryside and beautiful places to stay in the heart of East Coast wine country. Because of its progressive focus on farm-to-table and locally sourced resources, it’s also a great place to travel for a gluten-free getaway. The Finger Lakes region is dotted with surprising experiences, with the towns of Watkins Glen and Corning easily filling a four-day road trip with hiking, riding, waterfall chasing and culinary delights. When a fellow writer and I wanted to get away for some rest and renewed creativity, New York’s Finger Lakes region provided the perfect quiet spots for reflection, influenced richly by a blend of both local farm and wine culture and a hint of the “big city’s” progressive side.
Must-try favorites from our trip
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, Watkins Glen
All the amenities of a larger chain, with all the charm of a small hotel
Beautiful common areas, lushly appointed rooms, a gorgeous harbor view and gluten-free menu options in the dining room add up to an ideal home base when exploring the area.
Graft Wine + Cider Bar, Watkins Glen
Friendly and knowledgeable staff, intimate setting and delicious shareable plates
You’d never guess celeriac root and Brussels sprout slaw would be top picks, but don’t skip these mouthwatering menu items, among chef/co-owner Christina McKeough’s specialties. The can’t-miss charcuterie platter includes gluten-free crackers to replace traditional ones upon request. Be sure to try a local cider or a wine from Atwater Vineyards, whose owner also co-owns Graft. Make plans to visit Atwater for a tasting; one of the smaller vineyards, it has a friendly staff and the wine selection is excellent.
The Colonial Inn & Motel, Watkins Glen
Quirky bed and breakfast, ice cream shop and pottery gallery
This is the perfect mid-afternoon or evening stop, offering a surprising selection of house-made flavors, including dairy-free options. House-made seasonal favorites such as bourbon-mint-chip ice cream and year-round specials like honey-vanilla make it worth saving room for dessert.
Hawk Meadow Farm, Trumansburg
Husband-and-wife-owned mushroom farm
Welcoming owners Steve and Anne Sierigk grow both medicinal mushrooms and culinary varieties coveted by local chefs. Make an appointment to tour their homestead and learn about local ecosystems and woodlot management of, growing of and uses for mushrooms. This is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience agricultural life and local culture.
Painted Bar Stables, Burdett
Sightseeing on horseback
Hiking the parks and hunting waterfalls is mandatory, but seeing the parks on horseback is a special treat. Owner Erika Eckstrom and the staff at Painted Bar are hilarious guides and sensitive instructors, carefully pairing horse with rider for what Eckstrom laughingly calls a “boutique trail-riding experience.”
Elf in the Oak, Burdett
A magical little spot
This childhood-home-turned-café sits nestled off the road near a grove of trees where owner Debra Griffen’s grandmother built elf houses with her sisters once upon a time. Try the sloppy Joe sandwich on gluten-free toast—and don’t skip the house-made sweet pickles.
Watkins Glen State Park
“Breathtaking” doesn’t do these views justice
The park’s Rim Trail, open during warmer months, offers an up-close look at one of the area’s most majestic waterfalls. Famous for its history with auto racing, Watkins Glen is also bursting with sites to entice outdoor enthusiasts. Gorgeous scenery and plentiful waterfalls are features of other parks in the area, including the North Country Trail, Great Eastern Trail and Finger Lakes Trail.
Seneca Sunrise Coffee, Watkins Glen
Always a vegan and gluten-free offering
Owner Mindi Beheydt roasts her own beans and features daily house-made soups, including a vegan and a gluten-free option. Choose your cozy soup from those bubbling in slow cookers, sip the fresh coffee and savor your time—and food—on the wide front porch in this former private-home-turned-café.
Union Block Italian Bistro, Hammondsport
A hip vibe and incredible menu
This casual Italian bistro offers gluten-free pasta and flatbreads and boasts a chef who will gladly customize any item. Add to this the intimate “hidden” bar/club room downstairs offering up live music and local flavor, and you’ve got a multi-hour stop.
Pleasant Valley Inn, Hammondsport
Merging historic elegance with modern luxury
This chef-owned four-room bed and breakfast features local produce served in both a classically trendy restaurant and a welcoming and eclectic pub. Be sure to ask about the local farm tour, which allows you to hand-pick seasonal offerings and present them to the chef, who will prepare them for a tasting plate at the evening meal.
Tips for a memorable girlfriends’ getaway
Consider booking separate rooms or a multi-room house. Traveling together is exciting and entertaining, but there’s something to be said for having alone time to enjoy a hot shower and the chocolate on your pillow. Leave free time in your days. Vineyard excursions and horseback rides can be energizing, but so can a short nap before heading out for dinner and drinks.
As always, do your homework. Check out online menus and itineraries to make on-the-spot decisions less stressful. When possible, create a game plan for meals and snacks, packing an emergency supply while taking
advantage of local specialties.
Mix it up. Alternate outdoor activities like hiking and waterfall-chasing with wine tastings, or opt for replacing a meal with light snacks on days you’ll eat heavier meals.
Consider booking a bed and breakfast or hotel with breakfast included so you’re free to daydream and plan about adventurous meals the rest of the day.
Chat with locals. The Finger Lakes region offers little-known agri-tourism opportunities like small farm visits and you-pick produce. Wine guides and small business owners are happy to answer questions about their products and services and the story behind their passion, which adds richness to your experience and enjoyment to the memories from your trip.
Want more information, tips and destinations for gluten-free travel? Check out our Travel section!
Photos by Angela Sackett