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First-time boaters to Rochester may be surprised to learn that the city-center is located eight miles south of the Lake Ontario’s southern shore. From the mouth of the Genesee River, where lies the Port of Rochester, boaters seeking the city must travel two miles south before encountering the smallest of the three waterfalls on which the city was built. But the breathtaking scenery along the Genesee River gorge makes this brief diversion well worth the trip. One can imagine early Indian settlers navigating canoes on these same waters many centuries ago. One can conjure visions of the covert transportation of slaves making their way to freedom in Canada on the Underground Railroad. One will also notice something more modern: the numerous area marinas.
Fully equipped marinas at the Port of Rochester, Irondequoit Bay and Braddock’s Bay make for easy from Lake Ontario. In addition, the local villages of Pittsford, Fairport and Spencerport have invested in the development of their docking facilities. They offer many of the amenities found at marinas, with the added bonus of being steps away from shopping, dining and recreational activities.
Rochester’s trails and bikeways, along with its relatively convenient public transportation, make it easy for any boater to explore the area. Within walking distance of local marinas are a number of retail stores, as well as restaurants serving everything from fine dining to Italian cuisine to Rochester’s famous “white hots.” The white hot is a Rochester tradition of German heritage. Rochester’s own Zweigle’s Hots produces this hot dog relative, which consists of beef, pork, veal and secret spices. Follow-up this local fare with an Abbott’s Frozen Custard. The flagship store is located on Lake Avenue at the entrance to Ontario Beach Park. In summer be prepared for long lines, but this sweet treat is worth it (especially the popular chocolate almond).
Ontario Beach Park is easily accessible from the eastside via the Colonel O’Rourke Bridge. There’s a sandy beach open to the public (and staffed with lifeguards), a restored bathhouse, basketball courts, six beach volleyball courts, a playground and a 1905 Dentzel carousel. The carousel has been a park staple for more than 100 years. For a dollar, you can take a ride and get a glimpse of an old-fashioned tradition. A short walk from the bathhouse uncovers what the locals call “the secret sidewalk.” It’s a half-mile stretch of public sidewalk nestled between beautiful lakefront homes and the lake. Access to the sidewalk is between 490 and 510 Beach Avenue. During the summer, beautifully tended gardens and a setting sun make it a truly memorable walk.
The Charlotte Lighthouse is also just a short walk from the beach area. Built in 1822, the lighthouse was originally much closer to the lake. However, piers and sand build-up now make it almost a mile from the shore. The lighthouse and caretaker’s cottage are open weekends during the summer.
You can follow bikeways and trails into the city of Rochester. Or if you prefer, public buses are convenient and equipped with bike racks. As you near the city center, just opposite the world headquarters of the Eastman Kodak Company, is High Falls, the largest of the waterfalls along the Genesee River. Here, more than 100 flour mills flourished in the early 1820s. Here too, after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Rochester became the country’s first boomtown. The Center at High Falls offers a good overall history of the area and its waterways, and also provides a spectacular view of the falls. In the summer, the city puts on a laser light and music show at the falls every weekend.
Continuing north to the city center, you’ll find a rich collection of architecture that includes the striking 1870s Powers Building. Its builder, Daniel Powers, was obsessed with having the tallest building in the city. To achieve that feat, until 1891 he kept adding new mansard roofs and towers each time another building in Rochester threatened to claim the title.