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Buffalo News

April 5, 2009

Spend Spring Break Close to Home
By Christine A. Smyczynski

While some people feel they have to travel far distances to glamorous locales during their Easter/Spring break, you can easily have fun closer to home and do it at a fraction of the cost of an exotic trip.

Rochester, just a mere 80 miles down the Thruway, offers enough to keep you and your family busy for several days, as my family found out a couple years ago, when we spent a few days of our Easter break there.

We headed to Rochester via scenic Route 104, since it was the closest route to our first stop, the Seneca Park Zoo, which is located along the Genesee River Gorge several miles north of downtown Rochester.

Seneca Park, along with three other parks in Rochester, was designed by renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the Buffalo parks system. The zoo, established in 1894, is one of Rochester’s most popular attractions.

It is currently undergoing a major expansion, A Step into Africa, a state-of-the-art exhibit area which focuses on the animals, people, and culture of the Ngorongoro Crater Region of Africa. Already completed is an elephant splash pool, which resembles a watering hole in their native environment. A baboon exhibit, which is home to eleven olive baboons, opened last spring. Work on a new lion habitat is scheduled to begin this fall.

What’s nice about this zoo is that while it’s good size and has a lot of exhibits, it’s not overwhelming, so you can easily see everything in a few hours. My kids especially enjoyed the sea lion and polar bear exhibits, where you can watch the animals from an underwater viewing window, as well as from above. We also thought that the African penguins were really cute. The zoo is one of the top breeding colonies in the county for these creatures.

Some of the zoo’s indoor exhibits include an exotic bird aviary and an animal health and education complex.

Learn about science and more
Another fun place to take the kids is the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which has three floors of exhibits focusing on science, technology, nature and cultural heritage.

The first exhibit you encounter after paying your admission is Adventure Zone, which has a lot of fun, hands-on activities. I think my kids would have spent the entire day here if we let them. Another exhibit, Glaciers and Giants, takes you on a journey back in time to when dinosaurs and mastodons roamed western New York.

One of the museum’s newest exhibits, A-Mazing Sea, just opened a few weeks ago. Visitors can take a trip through the ocean and learn all about the critters that live in the sea. My boys especially liked the K’Nex building toys exhibit. Children can create things using K’Nex; if they really like their creation, you can purchase it to take home. My one son spent a lot of time building a motorcycle, which he still has displayed in his room.

Regional history is also presented at the museum. Flight to Freedom chronicles the Underground Railroad in the Rochester area. There is also an exhibit, At the Western Door, which focuses on the Seneca and Haidenosaunee Indians. Movies are shown on the big screen in the museum’s Strasenburgh Planetarium, along with a variety of star shows.

Kid-friendly museum
One of our favorite places to visit in downtown Rochester is the Strong National Museum of Play, the only museum in the world devoted to the study of play. We’ve been there numerous times; most recently during the school break in February.

My six year old son absolutely loves the museum, as all the exhibits are hands-on. He keeps asking me, “When are we going back to the Strong Museum?” I’m sure we’d go more often if it didn’t take over an hour to get there. One could easily spend two days at this 282,000 square foot museum, which has two floors of exhibits.

The first floor and part of the second consists of hands-on permanent and traveling exhibits, including their signature exhibit, Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street? Other exhibits include Kid-to Kid, where they can learn about communications, a kid-sized Wegmans and Field of Play, where kids can do thing like walk through a giant kaleidoscope, put balls through an overhead ball machine and walk in a slanted room. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame and the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden.

My son is just learning to read and he loves the Berenstain Bears books. He really enjoyed the exhibit, Down a Sunny Dirt Road, where you can step into the world of the Berenstain Bears. A large section of Berenstain Bears books are available in the museum’s gift shop. He also enjoyed the Reading Adventureland exhibit; but parents be warned, there are a lot of nooks and crannies in this exhibit, so it’s really hard to keep track of your children, especially if they like to run ahead, like my son does.

Half of the museum’s second floor exhibit area features dolls, toys, dollhouses and household items which were in the collection of the late Margaret Woodbury Strong, the museum’s founder. Even if you don’t have children, this extensive collection of Americana is reason enough to visit the museum.

Play ball
Another Rochester attraction you might want to check out is the Rochester Redwings baseball team, who play in Frontier Field in downtown Rochester. We’ve been to a couple games in the past few years. The stadium is fairly new and the atmosphere is family-friendly. Opening day is April 11 and they are playing at home from April 11-16.

Historic Points of Interest
Since Rochester is celebrating its 175th birthday in 2009, you may want to visit some of the city’s historic points of interest. Right across the street from Frontier Field is the High Falls Heritage area. A visitor’s center has exhibits on the history of this district, which had numerous flour mills and factories over 150 years ago.

From the 850 foot long pedestrian bridge over the Genesee River Gorge you can view High Falls, a 100 foot waterfall which has been named the best city waterfall in America. A Laser light show in the gorge takes place during the summer months.

Other points of interest include the George Eastman House, which houses the International Museum of Photography. Once the home of George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, the museum features exhibits that capture 150 years of photographic history. There is a children’s discovery room with many hands on activities.

Another historically significant home in the city is the Susan B. Anthony House, which is now designated a National Historic Landmark. It is from this site that Anthony planned the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. She lived here from 1866 until her death. The museum is filled with memorabilia and displays on Woman’s Suffrage.

If you go
Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau (585-546-3070, 800-677-7282; 45 East Avenue, Rochester. Open Mon.-Fri. 8:30am-5pm; Saturday 9am-5pm (10am-4pm Nov. –April) Sunday 10am-3pm.

Seneca Park Zoo (585-336-7200; 222 St. Paul St., Rochester. Open Oct. 1-April 30 10am-4pm; May 1-September 30, 10am-5pm. It is open 364 days a year; the zoo is only closed the first Saturday in June for their annual fundraiser.

Rochester Museum and Science Center (585-271-4320;, 657 East Ave., Rochester. Open Mon.-Sat 9am-5pm; Sunday 12-5pm.

Strong National Museum of Play (585-263-2700;, 1 Manhattan Square, Rochester. Open Mon.-Th. 10am-5pm; Friday 10am-8pm; Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 12-5pm.

Rochester Red Wings Baseball (585-454-1001; Frontier Field, 1 Morrie Silver Way, Rochester.

George Eastman House (585-271-3361; 900 East Avenue, Rochester. Open Mon.-Sat. 10am-5pm; Sunday 1-5pm.

Center at High Falls (585-325-2030; 60 Browns Race, Rochester. Open Wed.-Fri. 10am-5pm; Sat. 12-6pm; sun. 1-5pm. Laser light shows take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9:30pm May 31-Sept. 1 (and also May 26, 27 and 28)

Susan B. Anthony House (585-235-6124; 17 Madison Street, Rochester. Open Labor Day-Memorial Day Wed.-Sun. 11am-4pm; Memorial Day-Labor Day Tues.-Sun. 11am-5pm.