Pop quiz: What U.S. city had the most millionaires per capita at the turn of the 20th century?
It was Buffalo, New York. Its strategic position at the end of the Erie Canal made it the conduit of commerce between New York City and the rest of America. As a result, the city created and attracted barons of industry, who brought famous architects here to design civic buildings and parks, as well as personal homes—and helped transformed the city into a hotbed of innovation.
Now, Buffalo is in the midst of another transformation. Adding to the historical treasures is a new wave of innovators who are restoring buildings, re-imagining industrial spaces, and luring travelers to discover all that this culturally rich city has to offer. Here’s how to experience it.
Start your exploration by delving into Buffalo’s architecture. Back in 1903, businessman Darwin Martin hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design his home; the result is considered one of the finest projects of his entire career. It was later abandoned for 20 years and partially demolished, but a 25-year, $50 million restoration has made Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex a stunning, accurate reconstruction of the original, with three homes, a 100-foot-long-pergola, and other structures set over 1.5 acres. See why the architect himself called it a “well-nigh perfect composition.” A more recent history awaits for lunch: Lloyd Taco Factory was Buffalo’s first food truck when it opened in 2010. The trucks still roam, and in 2015 they added a brick-and-mortar shop. After devouring creative concoctions like a fried-chicken-and-waffle taco, duck into their adjacent soft-serve ice cream shop, Churn, for a churro sundae made with milk from grass-fed cows. Take it out for a stroll along Hertel Avenue, a vibrant example of the city’s resurgence, with shops, bars, restaurants, and cafés centered around the bright neon marquee of the 1920-era North Park Theatre, which has been meticulously restored.
Duly sated, head to the hub of Buffalo’s transformation: the Waterfront. Once-empty lots along the Buffalo River are teeming with activity, and massive old grain silos have been adaptively reused. The area is now so chock full of activities that you won’t be able to do them all. Which will you pick?
- Families should hit Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Children’s Museum, which offers four floors of interactive exhibits for kids up to 12 years old.
- History buff? America’s largest inland naval park, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, features a fascinating collection of ships, equipment, and artifacts.
- Thrill seekers: Go zip lining among the historic concrete silos, 110 feet in the air at RiverWorks!
- Activity lovers can kayak on the Buffalo River, in the shadows of the huge silos, or bike along the Lake Erie shoreline.
- With friends? Grab a beer at the recently opened Resurgence Brewery at the Cooperage, or at Silo City’s industrial-chic Duende, which was made using materials salvaged from the silos.
When it’s time to check-in, you’ll have a range of historic hotels to choose from—several of which have been restored and repurposed. The Mansion on Delaware Avenue, for example, features 28 contemporary rooms surrounded by 19th-century architectural elegance. Or channel Buffalo’s history at the luxurious Hotel @ The Lafayette, which has been welcoming guests for more than 110 years.
Then it’s time for dinner. Yes, the Buffalo wing was invented here (more on that later), but tonight you’ll experience a more recent culinary hot spot. Las Puertas is home to a two-time James Beard-nominated chef—Acapulco-born Victor Gonzalez—who embodies the innovation happening here. Operating out of a repurposed house on the West Side, Gonzalez creates Mexican-French fusion for an ever-changing menu that features local, seasonal ingredients.
Before retiring for the evening, step back in time for music and drinks at the Colored Musician’s Club (open Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays); rooted in an African-American musicians union, it’s one of the nation’s oldest clubs of its kind. Since 1935, it has held jam sessions; it also opened a museum downstairs dedicated to Buffalo jazz history. Or sample the boom in local craft beers at Big Ditch Brewing Co., set in a repurposed warehouse (the name refers to what some used to call the Erie Canal).
Kick today off at the Swan Street Diner—a restored 1930s diner moved from Central New York to Larkin Square, the city’s revitalized warehouse district. Tuck into omelets or pancakes under its barrel-vaulted ceiling. Then take in another important piece of Buffalo history at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site; this Delaware Avenue mansion has been meticulously restored and is one of only four sites around the country where a U.S. President took the oath of office outside the capital city.
Now’s the time to sample the Buffalo wing, in the city where it was invented—right around the corner from the Roosevelt site at the Anchor Bar. Opened in 1935, the restaurant secured its place in history in 1964, when Teressa Bellissimo fed a group of hungry locals by deep-frying some chicken wings and covering them with a secret sauce that’s still used today. And if you find yourself craving more wings, follow the Buffalo Wing Trail. Work off those wings by walking around Elmwood Village, where you’ll find tree-lined streets, local haunts, and cool public art. Relax on a patio like the one at Caffe Aroma and watch the world go by. Then wander up the street and spend the rest of the afternoon perusing Buffalo’s amazing art scene. Check out the Western New York-focused Burchfield Penney Art Center, which expanded into a new facility in 2008; and don’t miss the city’s famous home of contemporary and modern art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which will soon be expanding for the first time in 60 years.
Across from the Albright-Knox is the lush, 350-acre Delaware Park, which sprang from the mind of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed New York City’s Central Park) back in the late 1860s. Tonight, you’ll enjoy a sweeping view of the park as you dine at the Terrace at Delaware Park restaurant, housed in the historic Marcy Casino.
After dinner, wander next door to Shakespeare Hill to see Shakespeare in Delaware Park from America’s second-oldest outdoor Shakespeare company (and one of the largest). Bring a blanket and catch one of the summer’s productions. Then have a final toast to Buffalo at Founding Father’s Pub, where presidential memorabilia covers the walls, making for endless visual treats.
Extend your stay in Buffalo! Explore even more things to do at Visit Buffalo Niagara.