Top 10 Things you MUST do in Syracuse, NY (an insider's guide)

07/11/22 Note: This post was an archived post from the old Breakthrough Design site, published March 12th, 2007. Since it's posting - some of these businesses are no longer around (We miss you Blue Tusk, Clark's, Tokyo Seoul, Jalapeno's and more..). A revised Syracuse list was published here on September 14th 2017, and a new list will be published in 2022 (new list to reflect our updated, now 40-something, health & wellness focused lifestyles lol)

I've been wanting to compile this list for years now, and I finally had some time this afternoon to put it all together.

This list is designed to be the insider's guide - or a complete list of those things that you might not have discovered unless you live here. It contains specific activities, foods, places, or things that you just have to do when you visit Syracuse.

PLEASE NOTE - The determining factor for the items that made the list is uniqueness. If something was great, but could be done anywhere, we probably left it off the list. (ie - "Dance at Fuel" although fun, can be done pretty much anywhere). Also - I didn't get into the myriad of Syracuse fests (ie. Taste of Syracuse, Syracuse Nationals, Irishfest, Jazzfest, etc), which may be the next top 10 list.

Alright, without further ado, here is the list...

Top 10 things you MUST do in Syracuse, NY

10. Order a Beef & Stilton sandwich w/ a 3 Philosophers at the Blue Tusk

Blue Tusk Syracuse NY

There's some culture for you - whether you like it or not! This item will practically turn your shirt orange within minutes, (and your face red!). The sandwich is a Roast Beef & Stilton cheese (a bleu cheese variety), it is slightly on the spicy side. Take in the surroundings, the atmosphere, the people, and the ridiculous selection of dark beers the Blue Tusk has to offer. If you're a beer lover, be adventurous! Get something from the hand-pump! You'll automatically earn Jesse's respect. Also, when there, try some locally brewed Middle Ages beer.

9. Order a Pollo Diablo at Jalapenos.

Warning: This is extremely spicy. I believe the translation means "Chicken of the Devil", so this dish is not for the weak of stomach. If you're like the rest of us, and have at least 2 tastebuds still intact, basically anything off of the menu is going to be amazing. This is my 2nd favorite mexican restaurant I have ever been to, (second only to Zapotec in Martha's Vineyard)

*Also - I have to mention Alto Cinco under the Mexican category, their food is healthy, vegan-conscious, and also real good (Be brave - Get the Catfish taco!).

8. See West OClare play at either Colemans or Kitty Hoynes

Kitty Hoynes Syracuse NY

Basically step out of your life, and into an old Irish village; complete with singing, dancing, and the closeness you can only get from a small, close-knit village. For some reason, everyone that sees West O'Clare has an amazing time, there's something so original, so cultural about it, that you can't help but gather your irish draw, and sing "..and her eyes shown like diamonds, you'd think she was queen of the land..AND SHE WAS!!" on the way home.

7. Go to a Cuse basketball game at the dome, preferably during the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse Basketball

If you've ever been to Syracuse, you know that this town eats, sleeps, and breaths Syracuse sports. The town lives for it, and we have one heck of a venue (the Dome) for it. Prebar anywhere on the SU Hill, paint your face orange, take a walk on Marshall street. Once inside, you must get a 'dome dog', something about getting a hot dog wrapped in tin foil that makes it so appealing - why is that??

6. Attend the annual 3-mile bay Pig Roast (last weekend in June)

Three Mile Bay Syracuse NY

Every year some guy(s) set up a floating spit on the water, and girls/guys come on their boats, jetskis, (even canoes), from all over Oneida Lake to take part. It's basically an all-day event, and you're free to pull up, blast your music, and get some sun.

5. Saki Bombs & sushi at Tokyo Seoul, before a night out

The delicious sushi, seafood salad, miso soup, the quiet 'prim & proper' atmosphere, and the saki bombs, all put together serve to turn 10 otherwise 'adults' into a bunch of 6th graders on recess. Some of the best nights of my life have started out at Tokyo Seoul. Rumor has it, that Tokyo Seoul is opening a 2nd location on Marshall Street in the old Darwins location.

4. Order some ribs, chili, and a beer at the Dinosaur Barbecue

Dinosaur BBQ Syracuse

No Syracuse list would be complete without a shout out to the Dino. Without a doubt the best BBQ, (arguably the most signature restaurant in Syracuse), as well as an unparelleled Biker/Blues scene. Make sure to pile on the slatherin' sauce!

3. Visit Buttermilk Falls during the summertime, stop at the Books barn on the way

Buttermilk Falls Ithaca NY

This one is 3 fold: 1) Visit Buttermilk falls, & explore the trails surrounding the falls 2) Stop at the "Books" barn (a red barn somewhere on route 13 that reads "Books") 3) Get a relaxing dinner anywhere outside in the Ithaca Commons area. First the falls literally look like buttermilk, and you can swim at the base! It's an incredible paradise as well as the miles of trail that you can walk around the falls (which may be close to some hidden gorges not on the map, hint hint). The Books barn is just something you have to see to believe, it's an old barn that has basically been converted to a huge archive of books, and literature. Last, if you've ever been to downtown Vermont, you may have an idea of what to expect. It's got that escape back to the 60's feel to it, and wherever you are, you're never far from beautiful landscape, and breathtaking gorges.

2. Do the Cayuga Wine Trail

One of the absolute best, (and most fun) things you can do in NY is visit the Cayuga Wine Trail in the summer. The drive is spectacular in the summer heat, with the windows down. (Please don't drink and drive obv). It's a vacation right in NY; tasting little shots of differing wines, maybe buying a bottle, taking in the history and life of the area that went into the wine, and not to mention meeting new people! In the beginning, everyones shy and polite, but by the 5th or 6th vineyard, and 4th time running into that elderly couple from cazenovia, you'll be singing the Three's Company theme song and high fiving. I've heard it's great with a group (renting a limo or finding a friend who doesn't drink (good luck I've been looking for that guy for 5 years)), and it's especially amazing with someone you love. If I had to choose a favorite, I would recommend a riesling, probably the one from Cayuga Ridge.

1. In the summer, order Emilys Chicken, sitting on the patio at Harpoon Eddies at sunset

Sylvan Beach Syracuse NY

It's not necessary that you do all those things, but something about the combination of the delicious food, the sun setting right in your lap, the sand, volleyball players, warm breeze, and soft music just lifts your cares right away. Also - if you're with friends get a bucket of corona's! (Disclaimer - This may or may not result in an unplanned trip to Montreal)

Honorable Mention

It was near impossible to widdle it down to 10, so some of these -arguably- should be in the top 10. In no particular order:

Order the Original Hamlet or a Reuben at Danzers

Possibly the best german food in syracuse. The sandwiches are unparalleled by anything I've seen around here, huge, hearty, massive.

Sing Karaoke at Singers in Solvay

Keyword being 'sing', if you're gonna go, you got to sing. As Hawk would say..."Ah, Come on!!!"

Run, rollerblade, or bike around Onondaga Lake Parkway

Despite the slight pollution level, somehow it is still a beautiful spot to run, and work out. It's well maintained, and there is usually alot of 'good scenery' there as well to enjoy. There's also a volleyball court there, and skate park for those with insurance. On a side note when did this happen??

Roast Beef sandwich at Clarks Ale House (unverified since about 2002)

I haven't actually been here since somewhere around 2002, but these roast beef sandwiches are awesome. Can't say I've had a better roast beef sandwich. And it's a good thing because I don't think there's anything else on the menu. They also have good brews there, and your token 3 old guys sitting somewhere not together.

Wine Slushy @ the NYS Fair

There's around 9 frillion things to do at the fair, you'll honestly not run out of things to check out. The butter sculpture is worth a look, definitely get a wine slushy and take a mini-wine tour in the wine tent(s), then later take a nap on the massage pillows in the Center of Progress building, the guy working there loves it when you do that. Also, I'm told to try the Gianelli Sausage at their stand, then commence the "You're Abe Froman? The sausage king of chicago?" jokes.

Extreme late night - Frittata @ Mothers Cupboard

It's kind of like a garbage plate at Nick Tahoe's there in Rochester. They used to post your pic if finish it. I've heard rumors of people using entire bottles of ketchup in the process, one word: awesome.

Finger Lakes Drive-In

Classic drive-in, pull up, tune in your car's radio to the station - it's like $6 for a car for 2-3 movies.

Riley's on St. Paddies day for Corned Beef and Cabbage

Riley's is located on the north side (map), and features authentic irish music, food, and atmosphere every st. paddie's day. Riley's is also noted for it's annual "Testicle festival". There's nothing quite as surprising as when taking a client out to lunch and the Testicle festival is going on.

Other References

Leave some of your favorites...

Did I leave something off the list - comment below with your top 10...

Avatar of Tison G. Kelley

Tison G. Kelley

Kelley, B.S., specializes in Human Experience in enterprise architectures. Breakthrough Design Group helps hundreds of organizations better serve millions of web & digital users.

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