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Hometown Series: Eat, Sleep, and Play in Historic Herkimer, New York

Those of us who have permanently been inflicted with the travel bug constantly seek to explore the world, see the depths of the seas and tops of the mountains, go on new adventures, and uncover experiences we only imagined in our wildest dreams, but the beauty and charm of our hometowns should not be forgotten. Each week we will be exploring the hometowns of fellow travel bloggers, exploring the small town (or big city) charm, unique experiences, and mouthwatering food. This week we will begin with my hometown (and some surrounding areas-it is a VERY small town) of historic Herkimer, NY.

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Walking beside the Mohawk River/Erie Canal in Herkimer, New York.

Why Visit Herkimer, New York?

The small town of historic Herkimer, NY and the surrounding areas have much to offer in the way of family fun, nature, history, the arts, and cuisine. Herkimer lies within the Mohawk Valley and is a short drive from Adirondack Mountain villages like Lake George and Old Forge, the Catskills Mountains and larger cities such as Syracuse and Albany. Therefore, you could attach a visit to one of these great areas with a stop to see the unique offerings of Herkimer and beyond.

Best Time to Visit

Summer is a great time to visit Herkimer and the surrounding areas. The weather is warm, but not too hot and there is plenty to do to keep you cool. Fall is a great time to visit the area as well as this is when the fall foliage peaks, and you will be amazed with stunning views throughout the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. Unless you’re a big fan of winter sports, I would recommend skipping the wintertime, it can get very cold and wet with sometimes feet of snow on the ground.

What to Do in Historic Herkimer

1.) Dig for diamonds at The Herkimer Diamond Mines

The Herkimer Diamond Mines are home to unique double-terminated quartz crystals that are believed to be 500 million years old. You can visit the above ground mines and search for these crystals and are free to keep whatever you find. You can also visit the gift shop, experience a variety of dining options, the kiddos can attend a STEM camp, or enjoy the outdoors at the nearby KOA Campgrounds.

  • Hours: April through November 9am to 5pm daily
  • Cost: $14 for ages 13 and up, $12 for ages 5 to 12, and free for ages 4 and under (admission includes the use of a rock hammer, zip lock bag, and mining information).
  • Location: 4601 NY-28, Herkimer, NY 13350

2.) See a show at the Stanley Theater

The Stanley theater is a historic Baroque movie palace that has a long history dating back to 1928. The interior design is quite extensive with stunning details, including lions, Indian faces, angels, and cherubs. The theater is still alive today with performances throughout the year, including musicals such as Cats, The Color Purple, Scrooge, The Nutcracker and the occasional musical concert.

  • Hours: Varies, visit their website for show times
  • Cost: Varies based on the performance, visit their website for showtimes and prices
  • Location: 261 Genesee St, Utica, NY 13501
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3.) Visit the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Museum

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts museum is an art museum that also offers various exhibits, art and photography classes throughout the year. The museum is home to many internationally recognized American and European pieces.

  • Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm, closed on Mondays
  • Cost: $12 for ages 12 and up, free admission under 12
  • Location: 310 Genesee St, Utica, NY 13502

4.) Watch or Join in the Boiler Maker

The Boiler Maker is often referred to as the country’s best 15K road race. It first started in 1978 and now occurs annually through the city of Utica, attracting over 20,000 runners from around the world. The week leading up to the big race is known as Boiler Maker Weekend and features a number of different activities for runners, such as a kid’s race and a health and wellness expo. To celebrate the end of the race an after party is held at the F.X. Max Brewery. The race occurs on the second Sunday of July.

5.) Visit Old Forge

Old Forge is located about an hour and a half outside of Herkimer, NY within the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a small hamlet, but has much to offer year round. Old Forge is home to the largest water park in New York State, Water Safari. Open during the summer months Water Safari offers 32 heated water rides as well as dry rides, a circus show, a storybook village, a petting zoo, old fashioned candy shop, and theme park games. Old Forge also offers water activities such as tubing and kayaking and hikes doable for hikers of all levels.

6.) Tour the F.X. Max Brewery and attend a Saranac Thursday celebration

The F.X. Max Brewery is a local brewery located in Utica, NY that dates back to the early 1900’s. The company started off making craft beers (West End IPA), a variety of craft beers during the WW II era, referred to as Utica Club, and the Saranac brand which originated in the 1980’s. The brewery hosts Saranac Thursdays weekly throughout the summer months with brews and musical concerts.

  • Hours: Tour times vary, be sure to check before your visit, but are currently being offered on Fridays hourly from 1pm to 4pm and Saturdays at 1pm and 3pm.
  • Cost: $5 for ages 12 and up, under 12 are free
  • Location: 830 Varick St, Utica, NY 13502

7.) Take a Ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad is a tourist railroad that stretches from Utica to Lake Placcid. Guests can enjoy a scenic trip through the Adirondack Mountains. The company also offers themed train rides, including a beer and wine ride, easter bunny ride, halloween themed ride, and Polar Express ride. Ride times and costs vary depending on which ride, be sure to check their website prior to your visit.

8.) Take in some history at the Herkimer Home, Fort Stanwix, or the Oriskany Battlefield

The Herkimer Home is a historic mansion overlooking the Mohawk River that was home to General Nicholas Herkimer. General Herkimer was the general who led troops to defend Fort Stanwix in the Battle of Oriskany, a battle that is said to be a turning point in the Revoluntionary War. Today you can tour the home, wander the grounds, take in the views of the Mohawk River, and visit the visitors center. The home is open for tours May through September 10am to 5pm Wednesdays through Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults with children under 12 free.

Fort Stanwix, located in Rome, NY, is a reconstructed version of a fort built to safe guard the Oneida Carry during the french and Indian War. You can explore the fort and participate in living history programs to learn about the history of the site. You can also visit the visitors center to learn more about the history of the fort. Open daily 9am to 5pm with no admission fees.

The Oriskany Battlefield is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. The battle occurred in 1777 and was the battle that resulted in the fatal wounds of General Nicholas herkimer, the general that Herkimer, NY is named after. Today you can explore the field, view the monument, and visit the visitors center. The site is open May through September 10am to 430pm.

9.) Test your luck at the Turning Stone Casino

The Turning Stone Casino has much to offer, including an abundance of dining options, slot machines, poker games, bingo, spa amenities, a golf course, nightclubs and bars, and plenty of concerts and shows. In the winter time the Turning Stone is full of Christmas decorations and is home to a gingerbread village.

  • Location: 5218 Patrick Rd, Verona, NY 13478
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10.) Empty your wallet at Destiny USA (and have some family fun)

Destiny USA is a shopping complex located in Syracuse, NY that offers six floors of shopping and entertainment. It is home to many brand names stores including Macy’s Lord and Taylor, Aeropostale, American Eagle, and Coach. The complex also offers many different options for entertainment, including a mirror maze, climbing course, lasertag, indoor glow mini-golf, a movie theater, imax theater, mystery room, and wonderworks. The shopping complex is also home to a 1909 carousel that sits beside the mall’s food court and is open for rides daily.

  • Hours: Monday through Saturday 10am to 930pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm
  • Location: 9090 Destiny USA Dr, Syracuse, NY 13204

11.) Visit an old school amusement park at Sylvan Beach

The Sylvan Beach Amusement park is an old fashioned amusement park offering rides, games, an arcade, carnival food, shopping, and beach access.

  • Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 12pm to 8pm, with extended hours to 10pm on Friday and Saturday
  • Cost: $29.95 for an unlimited ride band for adults and $19.95 for kiddie land
  • Location: 112 Bridge St, Sylvan Beach, NY 13157

12.) Attend a Utica Comets game

Utica is home to the Utica Comets, a professional ice hockey team that belongs to the North Division of the Eastern Conference of the American Hockey League. If you or your travel companions are into hockey it is a great way to spend an evening.

  • Hours: Vary, check the schedule for game times during your visit.
  • Cost: Ticket prices vary depending on seat options, but range from $20 to $32
  • Location: 400 Oriskany St W, Utica, NY 13502
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13.) Take a Erie Canal Cruise

Take a scenic boat ride along the Erie Canal, go through a working lock, and learn about the history of the Erie Canal. Erie Canal Cruises also offers a living history cruise, which includes a tour of the historic Herkimer Home (home of an American Revolution general), BBQ lunch, an 18th century chocolate making demonstration, and cruise through the Erie Canal and working lock. This tour is offered on select dates throughout the summer.

  • Hours: May through October, departing twice daily at 1pm and 3pm
  • Cost:$20 ages 10 and up, $12 ages 4 to 10, and 3 and under free, the Living History Cruise is $64 a person
  • Location: 800 Mohawk St, Herkimer, NY 13350

14.) Spend the day hiking

Herkimer is a short drive away from the Adirondack and Catskills Mountains, both of which are filled with great hikes for hikers of all skill levels. Check out easier hikes such as Bald Mountain, Panther Mountain, or Overlook Mountain, or if you are a more advanced hiker try your hand at any of the Adirondack high peaks.

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View from Panther Mountain in Speculator, NY

15.) Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame

Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and explore the history of one of America’s favorite pastimes in it’s birthplace: baseball. The museum is home to over 40,000 baseball artifacts and tributes to some of the most famous baseball players in history.

  • Hours: Daily 9am to 5pm labor day through memorial day and 9am to 9pm from memorial day to labor day
  • Cost: $25 for ages 13 and up, $15 for ages 7 to 12, and free for children 6 and under
  • Location: 25 Main St, Cooperstown, NY 13326

17.) Visit the beach or get out on the water

There are plenty of great state parks featuring great beaches, hikes, and nature walks as well as camping during the warmer months. Several of these beaches also offer kayak rentals for you to get out and explore the lake on your own. Check out Glimmerglass State Park, Delta Lake State Park, and Green Lakes State Park.

Must Try Foods

1.) Half Moon Cookies

Growing up with morning runs to the grocery store to grab a half-moon cookie, I never even considered that these cookies were unique to Utica, NY. But after traveling a little bit I soon realized that that was the case. Many people I encountered had never even heard of this delicious treat. The cookie was first designed at a local bakery opened in 1925 by Harry Hemstrought. Although the cookie has spread in popularity and can now be found in many places throughout the state and beyond, the half-moon cookie remains a local favorite. You can find half-moons at many locations, but you must be sure to try them at Holland Farms.

2.) Utica Greens

Utica Greens is a Italian American dish that includes hot peppers, sauteed greens, chicken stock, escarole, cheese, pecorino, bead crumbs, and in some versions a variety of meats. This dish was popularized in the 1980’s at the Chesterfield Restaurant. The greens are now found at a number of restaurants throughout central New York.

3.) Chicken Riggies

Chicken Riggies are a mildly spicy pasta dish that originated in the Utica-Rome area. The dish consists of chicken, rigatoni, and hot or sweet peppers in a creamy tomato sauce. The dish is believed to have originated in 1979 at the Clinton House, but the original recipe did not include the creamy sauce that is seen in most Chicken Riggie dishes today.

4.) Tomato Pie

Although tomato pie did not originate in Utica, tomato pie is a very popular dish in Utica and surrounding areas. Utica tomato pie consists of a thick, soft dough topped with a tomato sauce, grated pecorino romano cheese, and sprinkled with oregano.

Where to Eat

1.) Yetty’s Pizza

Yetty’s Pizza is an Italian restaurant and pizzeria. Yetty’s is known for its unique upside-down pizza that is sold and shipped around the country and their original creamy western wings. You can choose to have an eat-in dining experience or order pick up or delivery.

2.) Empire Diner

Voted as the best diner in Upstate New York, the Empire Dinner serves mouthwatering dishes in large portion sizes. The diner itself is a 1952 mountain view diner with original features. The diner offers a variety of dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

3.) Napoli’s Italian Bakery and Deli

Home of what is arguably the best tomato pie in the area, Napoli’s Italian Bakery and Deli offers a wide selection of baked goods, sandwiches, subs, calzones, and a variety of fresh cheeses and meats.

4.) Babes

If you are looking for a wide selection of delicious riggie options Babes is the place to go. Every now and then they have what they call Riggie Fest, during which they offer a wide selection of Riggies, including vegetarian riggies, chicken riggies, and sausage riggies. They also serve the famous Utica Greens. Enjoy a sit down meal in a relaxing, family friendly environment.

Hometown Series: Eat, Sleep, and Play in Historic Herkimer, New York
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    • The food is amazing! I grew up with them and didn’t realize then that they were unique to the area, but I would I definitely recommend them to anyone visiting the area.

  1. I love the purpose of this post! I try to visit “off the beaten path” places and find visiting people’s hometowns to be the most charming. I now want to go to Herkimer haha

  2. I would love to dig for diamonds! I am sure that I would find crystals worth no value, but I would tell everyone that they were diamonds, lol. I think the Adirondack railway sounds fun too. I haven’t done too many train trips, so a scenic ride would be fun and I don’t live too far from it. Lovely review of all that the area has to offer.

  3. I would love to dig for diamonds! I am sure that I would find crystals worth no value, but I would tell everyone that they were diamonds, lol. I think the Adirondack railway sounds fun too. I haven’t done too many train trips, so a scenic ride would be fun and I don’t live too far from it. Lovely review of all that the area has to offer.

    • I did that when I visited, lol. I found some things, but nothing of great value, but you better believe I talked them up! The train ride is a blast as well, such a beautiful area.

  4. So many cool things to do! And I love the concept of this series. So important to appreciate the cool trips/activities we can do around home as well.

  5. What an adorable area to visit! I lived in NYC and went all over the state for work but didn’t know about Herkimer. I have been to the baseball hall of fame but would love to go back and explore these other sights and try that tomato pie!

  6. I haven’t heard of Herkimer, but you got my attention. If there’s hiking close to a city, then it’s up my alley. Cool discovery, thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Herkimer is a very new place for me and after reading through your guide, I am tempted into include it in my bucket list. There is so much to do in Herkimer for a history and culture buff like me. The Baroque Stanley theater for example. How wonderful it will be to go watch a performance there. It will be fun to explore the Herkimer Home too.

  8. I love this city! It is so big that I have not heard of many places, such as this place. It is nice to have a hiking place so close to the city. Hiking is always my favorate sport.

  9. I’ve never been outside of New York City when visiting New York, but this has made me realise there’s much more to see. I’ve never heard of Herkimer before, but it looks so serene and peaceful too. You had me at diamond digging and the beach!

    • New York has soooo much more to see than the city (don’t get me wrong-I am in love with NYC), but I would definitely recommend exploring outside of it!

  10. What an absolutely lovely post! I live in Brooklyn and I am ALWAYS looking for new places to visit in my own state! The half moon cookies sound great. What an awesome feeling to have discovered that something so delicious is unique to your home town! I’d love to explore the diamond mines! What a unique experience!

    • The half moons are great-I grew up on them and they are still one of my favorite! The diamonds are a great experience and you might leave with a little treasure!

  11. Herkimer, New York Sounds like it’s in a great location and perfect spot to see the fall colors in the mountains. I would love to try chicken righties. The first thing I would do is dig for diamonds, what a great find that would be!

  12. It is always great to visit hometown like a traveler or tourist and good that you explored your hometown – Herkimer, NY. I would also visit this place in summer as there are many activities and more lively in this weather. Old Forge which is just at an hour and a half outside of Herkimer, NY within the Adirondack Mountains looks worth visiting due to to rustic hamlet and a beautiful lake. Even going for a show at The Stanley theater – historic Baroque movie palace would be interesting thing to do here.

  13. Herkimer is a place I did not know much about. There are whole lot of things to do. But first it would be the Diamond mines and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Museum.

  14. Love small towns! Herkimer looks like my kind of place. And as a hiking addict I would love to trek the trails running through the Adirondack and Catskill mountains…especially in fall. Such a lovely post!

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