Girlfriends visit the grande dames
Buffalo Niagara offers a luxe getaway
With their captivating personalities, regal bearing and rich historical pedigree, Buffalo and Niagara Falls are the grande dames of Western New York State. A mere half hour apart, they offer a double whammy of wining, dining and other delights for two girlfriends ready to replace their usual multitasking to-do lists for a more adventurous go-to list.
The plan for our great escape is simple: Two counties. Two days. One tank of gas. And a morning-to-night jam-packed itinerary to ensure we squeeze the most out of our 48-hour getaway.
On our agenda: kayaking, water biking and SUP on Buffalo’s revitalized Canalside, bagging budget-friendly designer finds at Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA, sampling the resort experience at Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, perusing tantalizing menus at top-notch restaurants, one-of-a-kind boutique street shopping and a meandering lakeside drive through the Niagara Wine Trail, USA.
After a late afternoon check in at Buffalo’s sleekly designed new Marriott HarborCenter, we’re awestruck by the view 18 floors below of bustling Canalside, a formerly industrial waterfront area that’s been turned into a massive city playground thanks to $300 million in new development.
We’re pumped to get in on the action. But first, dinner. We walk to Toutant, a popular new spot in downtown Buffalo featuring southern-inspired comfort food and an impressive array of whiskey. We sip on Buffalo Trace and Four Roses before ordering a bountiful batch of shrimp and sausage jambalaya and topping it off with a recommendation from our waitress — ooey gooey cake, a practically carnal concoction of praline pecans and bourbon caramel.
The next morning we head to Canalside for a triple dose of aqua activity. After a five-minute lesson from BFLO Harbor Kayak, we’re up on our paddleboards looking like pros. A half hour later, perched high on water bikes, we giggle like kids trying out giant trikes as we giddily bounce along the rippling surface. Next it’s a surreal and peaceful kayak paddle in the shadow of one of the largest collections of grain elevators in the world. As we drift by the still operating General Mills plant, workers on an afternoon break wave in friendly greeting. Buffalo’s waterfront has achieved what many thought impossible — carving out a natural preserve in the heart of a former industrial heartland.
At lunch we have a waterfront seat on the outdoor patio at RiverWorks, a 1,000 seat restaurant and entertainment complex (it includes a roller derby track and hockey rink) that rises majestically from among towering waterfront grain elevators. One of the RiverWorks grain elevators has turned into a brewery, while adjacent silo ruins have opened as a beer garden.
That afternoon we stroll Canalside’s boardwalk, which pulses with positive energy thanks to free outdoor activities from yoga classes to weekly concerts and outdoor games such as ping pong, checkers, hula hoops, bean bag toss and ladder ball. There are funky public art installations, a giant sandbox, lemonade stands, ice cream huts and wine bars that attract everyone from rambunctious tots to handholding hipster couples and promenading seniors.
At day’s end we settle into a couple of the 100 colorful and iconic Adirondack chairs provided for patrons’ seating pleasure. With a glass of chardonnay in hand, we catch an open mic show of musical performances. As the cool breeze off the Buffalo River fluffs our hair, we’re blown away by 13-year-old Maggie O’Connell belting out Etta James’ At Last with all the powerful emotion of a seasoned jazz singer. Just another magical moment at Canalside.
Niagara-bound for shops & slots
Back in the car on the I-190 we head toward the must-shop stop that’s an essential part of any girlfriend getaway to Niagara Falls — the 200-store Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA, a premier designer outlet mall for western New York and southern Ontario. Here, sales reign supreme with savings up to 75% on classic wardrobe items from the likes of Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Dress Barn and The Limited, footwear from Coach and Converse and housewares from Le Creuset and Corningware. We happened upon an end-of-season blow-out sale at New York & Company and I dropped less than $100 for four fitted stretch cotton blouses, 2 button-up sweaters in hot pink and sapphire blue, grey leggings and a handful of silver jewelry. Score!
Bagging those deals means there’s a good chance lady luck might smile on us at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, which boosts 3,600 slot machines and 90 gaming tables. Even if you aren’t much of a gambler, you can live the Vegas lifestyle complete with resort-style amenities — relax on the rooftop in elegant chaise loungers, take advantage of the three-hour “Queen for a Day” spa package, and hit the culinary jackpot at the award-winning Western Door Steakhouse, which has just undergone a $5 million renovation. We were putty in the hands of Tony, our knowledgeable waiter, taking him up on his every suggestion, from the Meiomi pinot noir to the blackened scallops with roasted pistachio and smoked corn jam and the daintily-arranged crème brûlée with fresh whipped cream and a lace cookie.
A little bit country
There are plenty of opportunities for easy side trips outside the city limits of Buffalo Niagara. Stop in for a breakfast of carnitas con huevos, biscuits and gravy or scrambled tofu hash at Betty’s, a communal gathering hub in Buffalo’s Allentown, before making the half hour trek to East Aurora for a tour of the Roycroft Campus, which details the 120-year old history of a unique community of artists which formed part of the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S. Then head to Main Street for street shopping — be sure to stop at Vidler’s, the largest five and dime in the world with more than 75,000 items in four adjoining 19th century buildings. The inviting Elm Street Bakery, with an extensive menu of soups, sandwiches, salads and brick-oven pizzas, makes for a great lunch spot.
In Niagara County, visit Shawnee Country Barns Antique Co-op, a 100-vendor premier destination antique and craft store housed in a restored 1912 barn in North Tonawanda. While you’re in town, be sure to take a quick spin around the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.
The charming Village of Lewiston also offers a unique shopping experience. After fortifying ourselves with Fountain of Youth smoothies (made with fresh spinach, grape, strawberry and banana) at 700 Center Street Juice Bistro & Café, we hit the retail jackpot at jewelry store Cheri Amour, accessory paradise The End of the Road Boutique and You & Me Boutique, where you can pick up everything from adorable party dresses to bracelets to match every outfit in your closet. The Village Bake Shoppe, where the featured special is the “mile-high” apple pie made with five pounds of apples, offers a tempting variety of made-from-scratch treats, sandwiches and soups.
The final item on our to-do list is a trek through the Niagara Wine Trail, USA where we sample two of our favorite things — wine and chocolate — with a delectable pairing at Black Willow Winery in the hamlet of Burt. On the drive back to the Canadian border we stop at a roadside fruit stall where, determined to bring a taste of our getaway home with us, we load up the backseat with fresh corn, seedless concord grapes, bubblegum plums and full-to-bursting peaches.
Talk about hitting the sweet spot.
–– Anne Bokma