Anyone who’s visited this charming New York town will understand why it’s become a hot destination for people seeking an active vacation. During my visit last fall, I climbed a silo, biked the city, and hiked 10 miles in a state park!
Buffalo, like many rust belt cities, saw the height of its wealth and power around the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, Buffalo was the center of the modern universe, thanks in part to inventor Nikola Tesla, the beloved inspiration behind our much-coveted electric cars. Tesla, the inventor, installed the first street lights in America in Buffalo, and they were lit for the first time at the opening of the Pan American Exposition in 1901 by harnessing the hydro-power of the mighty Niagara Falls, a 20-minute drive from downtown Buffalo.
America’s innovators helped make Buffalo a city on the move, and it became known as the shipping capital of the world. The city’s leaders, (like the owners of Post Cereal which still manufactures Cheerios there today) couldn’t build grain silos fast enough. But economic and technological changes left Buffalo behind, and those same silos became useless eyesores. It would cost millions to deconstruct them, so, instead of tearing them down, Buffalo’s current innovators built them back up.
These silos now serve as zip line platforms, craft brew pubs, climbing walls and even wedding sites. Check out Buffalo Riverworks, a complex with massive grain elevators painted to resemble a six-pack of beer. Here, visitors can scale a 50-foot climbing wall outside of a silo, zip line between two towering silos, and enjoy the shady Riverworks Brewery Beer Garden. Riverworks also offers skating, kayaking and rock concerts.
One of most interesting transformations of these concrete grain elevators is known as “Silo City.” Visitors can now take tours inside the skeletons of ten-story grain silos by climbing ladders and following guides who are well versed on the machinery they employed. They tell compelling stories of the immigrants tasked with the storage and shipping of grain. Be sure you check out the Explore Buffalo site to see all the touring options they offer.
There are many other signs of progress and movement in Buffalo. One way to see more conversions is on a bike tour. Starting at the only building still standing after the Pan Am Expo, the Buffalo History Museum, you’ll follow your guide down the flat, wide streets of what was called the “world’s best planned city” by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (he designed Central Park). Guides point out a variety of unique buildings constructed by America’s best-known architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, H.H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan.
The most striking of which is the alteration of the Buffalo Asylum for the Insane. Today, visitors can stay overnight or dine at the former asylum, now the Hotel Henry Urban Resort, a perfect location from which to explore Buffalo’s trendy neighborhoods.
As the terminus of the Underground Railroad, Buffalo contained a series of safe houses and many African Americans made their home here. From this grew the Colored Musicians Club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year since the founding of the racially segregated union, American Federation of Musicians. Members who were barred from jazz clubs catering to white patrons, spent evenings listening to black musicians like Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams, to name a few. Visitors can stop in today and hear both local and well known musicians in open jam sessions.
You can’t leave Buffalo without trying some of the city’s iconic eats, including their namesake hot sauce. Follow the Buffalo Wing Trail to sample a few, and don’t miss the most delectable sandwich I’ve ever tried, Beef on Weck and Buffalo’s tasty-sticky Sponge Candy. I’ve rarely eaten better in any U.S. city.
If you’re looking for a fun place to stay, consider the Curtiss Hotel. This chic 68-room hotel has high tech rooms with control panels you can operate from your bed. It’s Buffalo’s only “hot springs” experience year round. The Curtiss’ Vue Rooftop Lounge is one of the most popular places to watch the sunset; the view of the city here is so lovely. With its unique hotels, nonstop recreation and fascinating history, Buffalo should be on more travelers’ must-visit list.
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.