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Rochester: A city rich in culture and small-town charm

What’s the best part of visiting a different city? Finding the attractions you can’t find anywhere else.

In Greater Rochester, visitors and residents tap into big-city arts, dining, festivals, accessible pro sports, hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails and some of the most beautiful terrain in the United States.

What makes this city unique is its friendly vibe. Rochester blends the magic of a larger metro area with the neighborliness of a small town. 

On the town
For a night out in the city, Rochester’s entertainment districts have bars and restaurants for a variety of tastes.

Right downtown, the former factories in the St. Paul Quarter house Water Street Music Hall, bars and restaurants—one of which offers after-dinner salsa dancing.

Music and theater dominate the East End, home to Eastman School of Music, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, the historic Little Theatre movie house and jazz clubs. Cafes, coffeehouses and some of Rochester’s most popular restaurants are located here.

On East Avenue and Alexander Street, near where they intersect on the edge of downtown, find late-night clubs, British pubs and a variety of nice restaurants. Corn Hill, Rochester’s oldest neighborhood, has restaurants and a wine bar along the river.

The Neighborhood of the Arts is home to Village Gate, a former factory complex that houses restaurants and shops as well as nearby bars, eateries and many art studios.

Monroe Avenue has a number of small international restaurants, sports bars and unique shops. Park Avenue is an active neighborhood of beautifully restored homes. You’ll find al fresco dining, coffeehouses, boutiques and prime people-watching here. The South Wedge is another city enclave with small restaurants, lively bars and a few gourmet specialty shops.

Good restaurants are everywhere in Rochester. There’s no shortage of cuisine that spans the globe—Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, German, Japanese, sushi, steak and seafood, vegetarian and fusion-everything. Try something new while you’re here.

World-class arts
Our top music school and philharmonic orchestra are at the center of Rochester’s cultural offerings. Visitors often remark on the level of sophistication evident in our music, which ranges from operas staged at Eastman Theatre to jazz trios in cozy clubs. There is music every night of the week in venues all over town.

The Eastman School and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra anchor the East End, where the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival fills clubs and streets with 200,000 music lovers over nine days in June. Buddy Guy, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and Michael McDonald were among the headliners. Rochester has many musicians who perform solo and in ensembles in venues that run the gamut from cafes to museums.

For live theater, Geva Theatre Center is the highest-attended regional theater in New York. Other local theaters include Blackfriars Theatre, Rochester Lyric Opera, Downstairs Cabaret Theatre and CenterStage at the Jewish Community Center. Traveling Broadway shows are staged regularly at the Auditorium Theatre.

Rochester’s own Garth Fagan Dance, an award-winning modern dance company, sells out shows around the globe. The company is based downtown. Rochester City Ballet has a distinguished presence in the region and brings talented choreographers and performers to Rochester. Push Physical Theatre’s cutting-edge blend of dance and theater draws raves, and FuturPointe Dance is winning fans with its contemporary fusion dance.

Dance festivals at Nazareth College and the University of Rochester celebrate their programs and bring performers to the area.

The visual arts thrive in Rochester. Painting, sculpture, metalworking and woodworking programs at area colleges and universities, particularly RIT, have produced alumni who make their mark.

The Memorial Art Gallery’s new public art park with works by Albert Paley, Wendell Castle, Tom Otterness and other well-known artists sits at the intersection of University Avenue and Goodman Street. Affiliated with the University of Rochester, MAG has one of the most comprehensive collections in the country. The massive collection at ArtisanWorks also is a visual treat. The unusual museum has transformed 60,000 square feet of former warehouse space with 15,000 original works. First Friday open houses, held at city galleries on the first Friday of every month, make it easy to catch art exhibits at dozens of venues. Studios in the Anderson Building are open on second Saturdays of the month.

Photography and film are popular art forms in Rochester, thanks to Kodak and RIT. You’ll discover rotating exhibitions in the city and suburbs, including at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Work by the many talented photographers who live here is exhibited at small galleries too. We celebrate film with a half-dozen well-attended festivals, including High Falls Film Festival, Rochester Jewish Film Festival and ImageOut, the lesbian and gay film and video festival.

Get some fresh air
Make sure your visit includes time to enjoy the outdoors. Greater Rochester has more than 260 miles of multiuse trails and at least 70 neighborhood trails. The Genesee Riverway Trail runs from the Erie Canal through downtown all the way to Lake Ontario along the Genesee River. See three waterfalls, the river gorge and 11 parks on the way. Go for a run along the Erie Canal, or take a self-guided tour of Rochester’s historic downtown. Favorite sights are the Powers Building, the world headquarters of Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Tower, the Central Library and the Broad Street Aqueduct. Beneath Broad Street, it once carried the Erie Canal across the river.

Bicycle routes—and, on a growing number of roads, bike lanes—are marked clearly, and transit buses are equipped with racks. Hit the slopes at Bristol Mountain Ski Resort in the Finger Lakes, or try some cross-country or snowshoe on trails in area parks. Downtown has a beautiful rink in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. Skates are available to rent.

Three Rochester parks were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted: Seneca Park, Genesee Valley Park and Highland Park. One of the best city neighborhoods for a stroll is the residential area around East Avenue.

If you have time, take a drive to the Finger Lakes and visit the 100 wineries in this fast-growing wine region. This year, Wine Enthusiast named the Finger Lakes one of the world’s top 10 wine destinations.

When the weather turns warm in May, Rochester launches into one of the busiest festival seasons around. (We rank high for the number of festivals per capita.) Some of the most popular are the Lilac Festival, Rochester International Jazz Festival, Corn Hill Arts Festival, Park Ave Summer Art Fest, Clothesline Festival, Greentopia Festival and Rochester Fringe.

A little history
Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights pioneer and a force to be reckoned with, lived at 17 Madison St. with her sister. Today the house is a museum filled with photos and mementos of her life. Tours take visitors through all the rooms, including the parlor where Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872.

Frederick Douglass and his family lived in Rochester for many years. He published the North Star and traveled the world to speak out against slavery. His grave, along with that of Anthony and many other Rochester notables, is in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Genesee Country Village & Museum is one of the three largest living-history museums in the country, with 70 restored 19th-century buildings and costumed interpreters. The Strong museum ranks among the top 10 children’s museums in the country. Rochester Museum & Science Center has a planetarium and three floors of interactive exhibits on science and technology, nature and the region’s cultural heritage.

Rochester’s prominent role in the history of film takes center stage at George Eastman House. It also holds the personal film collections of Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow and others. It’s also the 50-room mansion of Kodak’s founder.

Truly ingenious

Eastman, John Jacob Bausch, Henry Lomb, Hiram Sibley and others made a name for Rochester. As industries grew up around the businesses they built, manufacturing ruled the local economy for generations. The sector still employs thousands. But a new energy of innovation and creativity is shifting our city’s course: Companies are emerging in biotechnology, imaging and optics, and energy research, all new strengths born from established capabilities in higher education, health care and manufacturing.

Education has become a prime economic driver. The University of Rochester is the area’s largest employer, and RIT is growing rapidly to meet industry demand, along with a dozen other local colleges. More than 80,000 students attend colleges in the area.

Rochester has long had thousands of small, fast-moving businesses. Many have grown into far-reaching firms: Paychex Inc.; Constellation Brands Inc., the largest wine company in the world; and Wegmans Food Markets Inc., which takes a gourmet approach to groceries and consistently ranks among Fortune’s top places to work. In fact, Rochester companies have ranked No. 1 in the magazine’s small-, medium- and large-firm categories.

The region is a national patents powerhouse with at least 1,000 granted each year to area inventors.

Strong roots in innovation are fueling Rochester’s new energy.

2/27/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

One comment

  1. Often overlooked is the fact that Rochester has a very lively and active literary scene, one that easily rivals cities much larger than our own. With Writers & Books, Boa Editions, Rochester Arts & Lectures, and many other literary activities taking place on college campuses, libraries, cafes and bars on a daily basis, we should be as proud and celebratory of our literary success as we are of any of the other arts.

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