My niece was getting married in Niagara Falls, so I decided to tack on a couple of days and explore Buffalo, NY. A friend told me that it underwent a massive transformation, buildings of former glory days repurposed, and the city was now thriving as a result. That friend was spot on.
A city of neighborhoods
My first stop was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, one of the gems of the city. This historic landmark is a must see. The home was abandoned for nearly two decades and recently underwent a $50 million restoration. After my tour, I spent an extra thirty minutes walking around the surrounding neighborhood. American Foursquares, bungalows, and Queen Annes line the streets, creating a classic and unassuming setting for an iconic structure like the Martin House Complex.
Working up an appetite, I headed to Hertel Ave, just down the street from The Martin House. While Buffalo is a city, its scattered pockets of community throughout give it a small town feel. Hertel Ave. is unpretentious and charmingly old-fashioned, with an abundance of great food, bars, shops, and friendly people.
I grabbed lunch at Lloyd Taco Factory, which got its start in 2010 as Buffalo’s first food truck. Its bustling lunch crowd was a mix of students, professionals, and families. Lloyd incorporates the street food vibe into their brick-and-mortar location. Since Buffalo is home of the Buffalo wing, I ordered the Buffalo chicken tacos—a twist on a classic. Everything was fresh and delicious, with the perfect amount of kick.
After lunch, I decided to browse the shops on Hertel Ave, popping into Bon Fire Craft where the owner/metalsmith Emily Sajban was creating the jewelry she sells in her shop.
Next, I wandered down to Revolver Records and Second Reader Bookshop to browse through the stacks of vinyl and used books. Taking in the beautiful North Park Theatre and the many murals tucked off the street, I marveled at how much I had experienced in only a few hours.
Walking on the water
With plenty more to see, I headed to Canalside on the Waterfront. The newly revitalized waterfront is a perfect encapsulation of the city’s transformation. The city has turned this once dilapidated, desolate area along Lake Erie into its crowning jewel.
Walking along the water, you might stumble upon a concert, water bikers, or ice sculptures in the winter. If you want a brief escape from the urban grind, check out the Times Beach Nature Preserve. What other cities can boast such beauty so close to the city center? What other downtowns have over 240 species of migrating birds pass through?
Active travelers can rent kayaks and take on the Buffalo River, or fly down the zip line at Buffalo RiverWorks’ grain silos. Families can head to Explore and More: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum. Beer lovers can visit the RiverWorks Brewery. Collectors can head to the boardwalk and pick up a locally made vintage-style souvenir at the Oxford Pennant summer pop up shop. My favorite part was just walking around and taking it all in, enjoying the mild weather surrounded by locals and tourists alike.
After a full day, I was ready to head back to the hotel. Several buildings have been restored and repurposed into charming boutique hotels throughout Buffalo, such as the Curtiss Hotel, The Mansion on Delaware Ave, and Hotel @ The Lafayette. I chose to stay at Hotel Henry because it’s on the gorgeous Richardson Olmsted Campus. It’s also near Buffalo State, and college areas tend to offer great food, compelling art, and a more local feel. When I travel, I love to submerge myself into the location. As a solo traveler on this trip, it was even more important to me. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
For dinner, I considered trying the twice-nominated James Beard restaurant, Las Puertas, but decided to wait until I come back with my family. A meal that special should be spent with loved ones. Instead, I opted for the locally sourced and sustainable option right there in my hotel, 100 Acres. The menu changes often, and the staff is very knowledgeable, so ask questions and let them guide your order. They certainly didn’t steer me wrong.
Inspiration at every turn
On day two, I popped back into 100 Acres for brunch because, yes, it’s really that delicious, then headed out to do some more exploring. Buffalo is a masterfully planned city, boasting six parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, of New York City’s Central Park fame. Delaware Park is the largest of the six and was just a half-mile from my hotel. I decided to walk to Shakespeare in the Park. This annual summertime celebration of Shakespeare has been in operation for 44 years and, as a former thespian, I couldn’t miss my opportunity to marvel at such a long-running theater festival. It was easy to imagine myself back here one day with a picnic blanket and some snacks, reclining on the lawn and watching the drama unfold on the stage before me.
My passion for art ignited, I headed to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, just off the park. With a focus on modern and contemporary art, the gallery is home to one of the most impressive permanent collections that I’ve ever seen. With classic works displayed alongside up-and-coming artists, the gallery is not to be missed. They are also the force behind much of the public art that can be found throughout Buffalo.
With food on my mind, I got on the city bus and headed to Main Street. I couldn’t leave Buffalo without trying wings from their birthplace—Anchor Bar. Besides the sign proclaiming Home Of The Original it’s an unassuming building that looks more like a corner dive bar than a destination. Once inside, you’ll find a hodgepodge of goods that makes the restaurant feel like a cross between your wild uncle’s house and a classic sports bar. I ate my fill of wings at the bar, but if you’re in the mood for more, head to the Buffalo Wing Trail and sample the secret recipes and distinctive preparation styles found throughout the region. The spice, the tang, the salty goodness—they’ll have you reaching for a locally brewed beer from one of the city’s 35+ craft breweries. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Pleasantly full from wings and lager, I decided to wander up Elmwood Avenue to check out more local shops before heading back to my hotel and getting ready for the actual reason I was in town—my niece’s wedding.
After two days of art, food, architecture, and good vibes, I left Buffalo feeling like I belonged. Many of us can say we’ve been to the big cities around the United States, but cities like Buffalo are where you’ll find great people, fantastic food, and an indomitable spirit that leads to a constant pursuit of betterment, beauty, and positive transformation.