My niece was getting married in Niagara Falls, so I decided to tack on a couple of days and explore Buffalo. A friend told me that it was undergoing a massive transformation, buildings of former glory days repurposed, its waterfront reinvented, and the city had a new energy 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 estate (six structures on 1.5-acre campus) was abandoned for nearly two decades and recently completed a $50 million restoration. After my tour, I spent an extra thirty minutes walking around the surrounding neighborhood. Classic American homes -- Foursquares, bungalows, Queen Annes -- line the streets, creating a memorable setting for an iconic structure like the Martin House.
Working up an appetite, I headed to Hertel Avenue, just down the street from the Martin House. While Buffalo is a city, its neighborhoods give it a small-town feel. Hertel and the surrounding North Park neighborhood 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 along Hertel, 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 to browse through the stacks of vinyl. 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.
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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 crown 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 Tifft 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. Or just head to the boardwalk and watch the sun set over Lake Erie from one of the many Adirondack chairs. 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 InnBuffalo, The Mansion on Delaware Avenue and the Hotel @ The Lafayette. I chose to stay at the Curtiss Hotel, a century-old former office building downtown that was converted into one of Buffalo’s most luxurious properties. I was steps away from some of Buffalo’s best theaters, restaurants and nightlife, and enjoyed a nightcap at the hotel’s rooftop lounge overlooking the city skyline.
As a solo traveler on this trip, it was even more important to me to be in the heart of it all. 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. Instead, I opted for the locally sourced option right there in my hotel, the Chez Ami. 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. I grabbed a seat at Western New York’s only revolving bar and enjoyed my meal.
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Inspiration at every turn
On day two, I popped into Public Espresso downtown for a coffee and a salted caramel cruller made in-house, then headed out to do some more exploring.
My passion for art ignited, I headed to the Burchfield Penney Art Center just a short walk from Delaware Park. Exclusively dedicated to the art and artists of Western New York, the Burchfield is one of the most impressive regional museums that I’ve ever seen. I’m a big fan of watercolors, so for me it was a dream come true to be surrounded by the work of Charles E. Burchfield, who spent most of his life working in and around Buffalo. I spent a couple of hours exploring the inspiring exhibitions before I was overcome by hunger.
With food on my mind, I got on a city bus and headed to Main Street. I couldn’t leave Buffalo without trying wings from their birthplace – the 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 region’s 40+ 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 town feeling a lot like the new Buffalo – reinvigorated.
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