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

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 Philosopher’s at the Blue Tusk

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 ridiculus 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 Jalapeno‘s.

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 O’Clare play at either Coleman’s or Kitty Hoynes

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.

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)

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 Barbeque

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

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 Emily’s Chicken, sitting on the patio at Harpoon Eddie’s at sunset

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 Danzer’s

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 Clark’s 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 @ Mother’s 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. Paddie’s 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…

Monday, March 12th, 2007 · Categories: Syracuse Local Flavor

Post Written by Tison Kelley

Tison Kelley, B.S., specializes in User Interface Design and User Experience in enterprise architectures. Nationally, he has worked with the U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration, and the University of San Diego's Institute for Peace & Justice. Regionally, he has worked with McDonald's franchises, SAAB Sensis Corp, Consumer Credit Counseling, C.B. Richard Ellis, Upstate HomeCare and CNY organizations in a wide variety of industries. He is proficient in XHTML, CSS and Javascript development, as well as PHP, and MySQL on the server-side. He has recently exhibited at trade conferences; Gartner Enterprise Content Management in Las Vegas and Search Engine Strategies NYC. Kelley is a native of Syracuse, N.Y. and has a B.S. in Information Studies & Technology from Syracuse University. He was the founding director of a 501c3 organization that has helped donate over $34,000 for multiple sclerosis research.

56 responses to “Top 10 Things you MUST do in Syracuse, NY (an insider’s guide)”

  1. CharlieS says:

    What a list! This is great – lookin forward to the ‘fests list!

  2. Jaimers says:

    Wow, I am so nostalgic right now (spelling)..I love this and I love Syracuse. Some of these I haven’t even heard of and I definitely have to go check out…specially the saki bomb! I get defensive when people say that there is nothing to do in Syracuse. The wonder of Syracuse is that it is relatively untouched by large corporations, and it has so many gems and history…take a walk to the Bank of America building downtown and stand on Erie blvd, and imagine that there used to be water under your feet in the erie canal (and the scent of horse dung and other pollutants). All of my family set up in Syracuse…Italians from Campobasso, Italy set up in Solvay…Irish from Counties Cork and Claire in Ireland in Tipp Hill, and Polish from (I forgot where) in and around Solvay, specially near Sacred Heart Church. Many of the families who started in these areas, still live in them, and have a spoken history. If you are from Solvay, you know what I mean. Everybody knows someone who knows someone. I just wanted to add to the list…Harrison Bakery right across from Sacred Heart Church on Genesee St…best half moons and brownies you will ever have in your life…and Beans Restaurant connected to steve’s bar bordering tip hill on Milton ave (I think)…If you think there is “nothing” to do in Syracuse…its just the weather gettin you down..go snowboarding on labrador mountain, get your energy back, and go have fun in Salt City. I love SU!!! 4 life!!!! Jaime

  3. Caitlin W. says:

    YEAH!!! Tokyo Seoul, “turns you into a bunch of 6th grader during recess” is a great description, but sadly it might be an understatement! Such good times and memories (well some nights were hazy! LOL) of that place. I totally need to get you some Mid-saki bomb action shots, ‘cuz I have tons. aww I miss it! Next I’m up there, I’ll have to check out the new “rumored” location.. 😉

  4. Ellen says:

    As a non-syracuse resident/native, I have to say that those are w/out a doubt my favorite Syracuse activities. Honorable mention for “out of towners” are also Tully’s chicken fingers and a “field trip” to Wegmans! Great blog TI!

  5. Gannon says:

    OK here are mine. Go drinking with friends at the wescott reservoir roundtop during summertime evenings. Great views.. Whoops, they chained that off years ago. OK..Everyone knows in syracuse, You Gotta Regatta! This is a great time where the whole lake parkway turns into a mile long tailgate party for a whole saturday and evening as teams of guys from colleges allegedly row skinny boats very fast on the lake. WHAT?! Ok, im informed that one’s gone too. Sheesh. Whats a person to do these days? Work?

  6. Terri Marie says:

    I love it! I think you should add a printable list you could check off when accomplished. I’m ready. One thing I never miss each year is to go apple picking in the fall. The crisp sweet apples, the chill in the air and the view that takes your breath away. This is exactly what we need. We need our young, talented minds staying here in Syracuse and making this the place (home) that we love. Just love it!

  7. love the list. I especially like the karaoke in honorable mention. I haven’t even done half of those things and I have lived in syracuse my whole life so i will definately have to do those things soon.

  8. James says:

    Great list man, I’ve done most of these, but still a couple to check off. Definately on for the Pig Roast this year. I forget all that Syracuse has to offer until I leave for a while… it always feels good to come home. We really do pack a lot in for the size of our city.
    Jaimers have to agree with you on the Harrison Bakery Half Moons… Their apple fritters are the best in town too… as a matter of fact that sounds like breakfast tomorrow.

  9. Tison,
    This is awesome!! But you DID forget one thing that came immediately to my mind..gotta stop in Liverpool for a coney (pronounced “cooney”) which is a white hot dog at Heid’s with some of their yummy mustard and a good ol’ chocolate milk. Nothing better!! Unless of course you get a double!! Great to see some familiar names here. Hope everyone’s doing great. Looking forward to more of this, Ti.

  10. tony says:

    there are more than ten. i like these too.

  11. Kathy says:

    What great times too remember. and wait a minute I think we need do go again soon.

    Oh thought of a few clambake with lots of salt potatoes and beer at Hinderwaddles!,
    Megga sandwich at Brooklyn Pickle!
    Pizza Frite at the Fair!
    Twin Trees Pizza!

    Sooo many things to do, so little time!

  12. Craig says:

    Tison, where’s “break into a sorority house at SU” or “Split day at 44’s”?

    So many good memories my brother!


  13. Kathy says:

    Nice job. Some really good pics. I like the fact that they’re a little out of the ordinary.

  14. Mah says:

    Well done!
    You’ve brought together a unique list.
    Really impressive with links to sites, directions and something for everyone to enjoy.

  15. Lisa T. says:

    Hey – why haven’t I ever seen you at the 3-mile party?!! Shifty’s on Burnet for a plethoria of diverse kick’n bands – this could also qualify as a classic ‘only in syr’ experience. Have to try the blue tusk sand, but pass’g on the sushi. I appreciate anyone who attempts to get information out there just for the hell of it – and I look forward to new entries and updates as your experiences continue to grow!

  16. L. Woodrow says:

    Another east coast treasure is Friday fish frys. In the Syracuse area, the 2 BEST are Doug’s Fish Fry (Skaneateles) or the Fish Cove (Shop City Plaza). Shifty’s is a definate “must see” especially on Wednesday’s Open Mike night – anything can happen!!

    Frittata’s at Little Gem Diner near Carousel Center Mall are the best! Also Gannon’s Ice Cream in “the valley” section is to die for!

  17. scott says:


  18. NiTeMaRe says:

    Great list! We have been going out to Syracuse from the other side of Utica for almost two years, and we’re still trying to check out all of the festivals at least once. The birch beer at Heid’s goes very well with their coney, and Shifty’s F-Bomb wings are the hottest I’ve found so far. (They make the atomic wings at Quaker Steak and Lube look like kid food.)

  19. alison says:

    After moving away from Syracuse I love to come back and spend some time getting yummy fresh veggies at the Syracuse Farmer’s Market. This market was cool before farmer’s markets were cool 😉 I also have to agree that picking apples is great too!

  20. Afton Cubeta says:

    A great blog post as I’ve come to expect on this blog. Keep up the great work

  21. Dylan says:

    What about scenic fall things to do around the area? Coming to visit and would like to know some ideas other than food. Thanks so much!

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  52. Cassandra Kelley says:

    I found myself online looking for something fun to do this weekend. Googled fun things to do in Syracuse clicked the first link and found this awesome list! After reading the whole list with total agreement that all 10 and honorable mention where great ideas, I see that the brilliant person who made this list is none other than my cousin!!! Great job Tison I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Kelley!!

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