Wouldn’t it be nice to hop in the car and take a drive along the ocean, stopping at quaint villages and attractions along the way? Since we are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, driving there might not be that practical or economical. However, we can experience taking a long drive along the coast, since we have the Great Lakes right in our own backyard.
This article describes taking a drive along Lake Ontario’s shore from the Niagara River to just beyond the Genesee River in the Rochester area. If you make only a couple stops along the way, you can probably cover the territory described in this article in about three or four hours, one way. However, if you want to take your time and stop to explore all the attractions mentioned, it will take much longer. You may even want to break the drive down into several day trips, which I did. You also want to pick a nice, bright sunny day to take your drive, as many of the stops described as just not fun in the rain!
Start your journey along Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River in Youngstown, near Fort Niagara State Park. If time permits, stop by Old Fort Niagara, a National Historic Landmark, which is preserved as it stood in the 18th Century.
Continue your journey along Route 18, heading east towards Wilson. Make a quick stop at Wilson Harbor and check out several small shops in the harbor area. Walk down to the Wilson Pier for a very pretty view of the lake and harbor.
Your next stop on the journey is the quaint lakeside community of Olcott Beach. The village has a huge park, a small beach, good fishing and numerous small shops and restaurants. Be sure to check out the Lakeview Village Fair, a collection of small boutique gift shops on a boardwalk overlooking the lake. If you have young children, they will enjoy the Olcott Carousel Park, which has a restored 1928 Hershel carousel and several other vintage kiddie rides. (Open summer Thursday-Sunday 12-6)
Continuing along Route 18; you may want to make a stop at Marjim Manor, a charming winery located in an 1853 mansion. In nearby Barker, the Babcock Cobblestone House Museum is open for tours on Saturday and Sunday, June to October. Right after the museum, you’ll see the Somerset Power Generating station. Turn left at the first road just past the station; Hartland Road, which turns into Lower Lake Road. You’ll have a much better view of the lake from this road than if you remained on Route 18.
My daughter and I recently drove along this route and we really enjoyed the pretty view. Keep looking to your left to see the lake. If you are taking your drive on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you may want to stop at Golden Hill State Park and tour the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, a circa 1875 structure made of hand-carved stone. As you drive along Lower Lake Road, you’ll find that the road twists and turns several times and you feel like you are lost, but your not. At one of the turns, you’ll see a dead end to your left; head down there to the large parking area, where you’ll get a nice view of the lake. A historical marker says that this was once the location of the Yates Pier, a 275 foot pier built in 1875, which was used when shipping lumber and grain and also for passenger ships.
As you approach Lakeside Beach State Park, a 743-acre park popular with campers, look for a sign for Lake Ontario State Parkway, a 35-mile long parkway, part of the Seaway Trail, that runs through Orleans and Monroe counties. It was built in the 1960’s as a scenic highway. There are many parts of the roadway that travel almost at lake’s edge, so you will have some great views of the lake.
Exit the parkway at Point Breeze (Route 98) and drive towards the lake; you will end up in a parking lot. Here you can walk along a long pier, popular with fishermen. A small bar/restaurant nearby has good chicken wings.
Get back on the parkway and continue east, you’ll pass Hamlin Beach State Park, which has a beach, hiking trails and campsites. The next point of interest along the way is the Braddock Bay State Fish and Wildlife Management Area. Get off at East Manitou Road and follow the signs toward the area. They have a hawk view station, along with a nature trail, playground and picnic area.
Exit the parking area and turn left on East Manitou Road, to Edgemere Drive, where you’ll turn right. Drive several miles past lakeside cottages, until you reach the Crescent Beach Hotel. There have been hotels and inns on this site since the early 1800’s. The current building, a restaurant built in the 1980’s, offers lakefront dining, either indoors in their spacious dining room, or outdoors on a manicured garden terrace.
While the dining room is very elegant, you really don’t have to get all dressed up to eat here. My daughter and I had lunch here recently and found that they have a nice selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, including items like lobster bisque and Caesar salad. The menu probably wouldn’t appeal to small children; however, there are two very nice inexpensive hot dog/hamburger restaurants just down the road.
Continue along Edgemere Drive until you reach Ontario Beach Park, which is a favorite spot of mine. It has one of the nicest natural sand beaches in the Great Lakes Region. Back in the early 1900’s there was a huge amusement park here, which drew 50,000 each day during the summer.
Today, it’s still a popular place. In addition to the beach, the park has a 1905 Dentzel carousel and a very long fishing pier, which is great for taking a long stroll on. There is a concession stand in the park, as well as several restaurants located along Lake Avenue.
One of my daughter’s and my favorite spots is the “Secret Sidewalk,” which is located about a mile west from Ontario Beach Park. There is no on-street parking, so park your car in the lot by the park and take a leisurely stroll to the sidewalk’s entrance, located between the driveways of 490 and 510 Beach Avenue. This public walkway along the shore of Lake Ontario offers great views of the lake, as well as the chance to see the manicured lawns and gardens of area residents. We like to imagine what it would be like to live in one of these gorgeous homes.
Another interesting attraction near Ontario Beach Park is the Charlotte/Genesee Lighthouse (off Lake Avenue, behind Holy Cross Church), a 40 foot tall Medina sandstone lighthouse, which overlooks the Genesee River and the Port of Rochester. Built in 1821, it is the second oldest lighthouse in the Great Lakes Region.
You may wish to continue your journey beyond the Genesee River, as there are several more interesting sites to see. Cross over the river on the Stutson Bridge and follow Pattonwood Drive to Lake Shore Boulevard. Within a few miles, you will be driving through Durand Eastman Park, which encompasses over 1,000 acres, including an 18-hole golf course, arboretum, hiking trails and two small lakes.
When you emerge from the park, turn left on Culver Road and head towards Seabreeze Amusement Park. It is the fourth oldest amusement park in the United States; it originally opened in 1879 as a picnic grove. Today, it has over 75 rides and waterpark attractions. This park will remind long-time Buffalo residents of Crystal Beach. There are several casual, seasonal restaurants, referred to as “hot dog row” along Culver Road.
Still haven’t had enough of traveling along the lake? Hop on the I-590 south to Route 104 east and cross over Irondequoit Bay. Turn left on Bay Road to Lake Road. Turn right on Lake Road; as you travel, be sure to glance through the trees to see some truly magnificent homes. My daughter and I could not believe the size of some of these mansions along the lake.
You may want to end you drive at Hedges Nine Mile Point Restaurant, an upscale restaurant overlooking the lake that features steak and seafood on the menu. My daughter and I felt that we were underdressed, so we didn’t eat here. However, we did pull into the parking lot and took a look at the view of the lake.
To return home, you can either retrace your route, or if you prefer a faster ride home, take Route 250 south to Route 96 south, which connects with the New York State Thruway east of Rochester.
Olcott Newfane (www.olcott-newfane.com)
Babcock Cobblestone House Museum (716-795-9948) 7449 Lake Road, Barker.
Crescent Beach Hotel (585-227-3600; www.crescentbeachinn.com) 1372 Edgemere Drive, Rochester. Lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30-3, Dinner Monday-Thursday 4-9, Friday 4-10, Saturday 5-10, Sunday brunch 10:30-2, Sunday dinner 1-9.
Ontario Beach Park (585-256-4950) Lake and Beach Avenues, Rochester.
Charlotte/Genesee Lighthouse (585-621-6179) 70 Lighthouse Street, Rochester. Tours offered Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Seabreeze Amusement Park (585-323-1900; www.seabreeze.com) 4600 Culver Road, Rochester.
Hedges Nine Mile Point Restaurant (585-265-3850;
www.hedgesninemilepoint.com) 1290 Lake Road, Webster. Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30-2, dinner Tuesday-Saturday 5:30-close. Closed Sunday and Monday.