CAZENOVIA -- Growing up in this quaint Central New York lake town, my recollections of summertime fun include making sand castles at the Willow Bank Yacht Club, playing Ms. Pac-Man at Caz Pizza, and tubing behind a speedboat, an activity that would culminate in being flung from the tube after hitting a confluence of waves created by the boat’s driver.
At 30, my idea of fun has changed some, although I’ll never turn down a chance to go for the top score in Ms. Pac-Man. Fortunately, Cazenovia has changed too, without shedding its historic charm. Some additions include a vineyard and a farm brewery, two destinations that interest me more now than they would have 20 years ago. The new offerings add excitement to a town filled with unique treasures, many of which I can better appreciate now that my head is no longer buried in sandcastles -- like the 2,000-year-old mummy that has called the public library home since the late 19th century.
Located about a two-hour drive to the west of the Capital Region, Cazenovia has much to offer, from boating and fishing on the lake to shopping and dining in the historic business district and discovering art, both inside the village and among the town’s bucolic landscape at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park. I’ve put together a guide that I hope can give direction to anyone interested in exploring a new spot on the map of upstate New York.
Waterside parks, where to launch
At nearly four miles long, with a maximum depth of 25 feet, Cazenovia is a small lake, but there are many ways to explore it -- starting with several parks on the water. For those looking to cool off, Lakeland Park provides a small public beach, a pier, a diving board and a bathhouse, with lifeguards on duty from June to August. Located at the intersection of Forman and Albany streets (Route 20), the park’s pavillion hosts concerts in the summer months, and its vast lawn is perfect for throwing a frisbee or walking a dog, or both. The park also abuts a creek, making it a popular fishing spot.
Gypsy Bay Park, located along Route 20 on the lake’s southern end, provides an alternative swimming area, the lake’s sandiest I’ve discovered so far.
Lakeside Park is home to two baseball/softball diamonds, a playground, and a picnic pavillion. It’s also home to the village’s boat launch, whose use requires a permit, part of the village’s efforts to combat invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil.
Kayaks, canoes and small rowboats can be launched from Helen McNitt State Park on East Lake Road, as well as from the parking area on the south end of the lake, at the intersection of routes 20 and 92. Veer right out of the latter launch to find the creek that borders Lakeland Park, which takes kayakers into the village.
Cazenovia Lake is a popular fishing spot. Its other name, Lake Owahgena, is Iroquoi for Lake of the Yellow Perch, but what really draws fishers in is the presence of largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
(Photo: Empire Farm Brewery on Route 13 in Cazenovia.)
Local wine, beer, cider
Owera Vineyards is a recent addition to Cazenovia, with its tasting room and production facility opening in 2013. Located on East Lake Road, across from North Lake Road, the 57-acre winery features a cafe that serves cheese plates, brick-oven pizzas, wines by the glass and refreshing wine slushies, with Empire beer and Critz Farms hard cider also on tap.
Empire Farm Brewery opened in 2016 on 22 acres of open farmland on Route 13 (33 Rippleton Road), just south of the lake. The facility, at 40,000-square-feet, is massive, and allowed the company, which started two decades ago as a downtown Syracuse brew pub, to up its production significantly -- and keg and bottle its beer for distribution. The food menu boasts a variety of burgers made from grass-fed, locally sourced beef, along with hearty chili, amber ale-battered haddock tacos, stone-fired pizzas and more. As you approach the brewery after turning into a long driveway, you’ll see hops growing in the front yard. In back, Adirondack chairs, picnic tables and outdoor games make for an inviting hangout spot.
Continue south about 3 miles on Route 13 to find Critz Farms, home to Critz Farms Brewing and Cider Co., you-pick blueberries in the summertime (apples and pumpkins are available for picking in the fall), farm tours and more.
Adjacent to Empire, at 17 Rippleton Road, you’ll find the Lorenzo State Historic Site. This neoclassical mansion, which stands at the southern end of Cazenovia Lake, was once the home of village founder John Lincklaen, along with five generations of his family. The property is also the site of the historic Rippleton Schoolhouse, built in 1814.
Guided tours of the mansion, its gardens and the expansive grounds are offered throughout the summer. The front lawn also host community events, like the annual Cazenovia Arts & Crafts Fair set for June 30 and July 1.
For a look further back in time -- to ancient Egypt -- visitors should check out the Cazenovia Public Library’s mummy exhibit. The 2,000-year-old mummy, named Hen, was donated to the library in 1894 by Cazenovia resident Robert Hubbard, who purchased it and other artifacts still on display at the library while touring Egypt. The exhibit also features a mummified cat, as well as the results of the mummy’s CT scan, performed at Crouse Hospital in 2017. (Photo: The Cazenovia Public Library’s mummy exhibit.)
Art on the hill, in the village
Located a short drive from the village at 3883 Stone Quarry Road, Stone Quarry Hill Art Park gives visitors a chance to appreciate art and the town’s picturesque countryside as one. Founder Dorothy Riester describes the park as “not an outdoor museum of sculpture placed statically in a landscape setting, but rather an ever-changing partnership between the artist and environment."
Within the village, browse the work of local artists and crafters at Cazenovia Artisans, located at 39 Albany St., next to Dave’s Diner, or view the exhibits at Cazenovia College Arts Gallery, around the corner at 6 Sullivan St.
Albany Street is home to a variety of unique shops, which offer everything from sweet treats made locally (Gabrielle Chocolates) to tablecloths imported from Provence, Spain, Italy and Turkey (Lavender Blue).
For “an eclectic mix of fine antiques and funky found objects,” stop into Amanda Bury Antiques. For a colorful assortment of women’s clothing and accessories, try Lille Bean. Visit Cazenovia Abroad for a selection of handmade collectibles and unique gifts.
For coffee in Cazenovia, skip the Dunkin’ -- there are better options. Dave’s Diner, on the corner of Albany and Sullivan streets, serves coffee from the popular Syracuse-based roaster Cafe Kubal. For a variety of delicately-made espressos, pour-over coffee, cold brew and more, try Pewter Spoon, a recent addition to Albany Street.
Visitors to Cazenovia looking for a more scenic route than the Thruway might consider taking Route 20 all the way to Albany Street (the village’s main thoroughfare), a path that takes you past another delicious roaster, Peaks Coffee Co., in Nelson (a few miles east of Cazenovia).
Exploring the falls
Four miles north of the village lies Chittenango Falls State Park, home to a 167-foot waterfall that can be viewed and photographed from several vantage points. A short but steep trail, with some stairs to make the trek easier, leads visitors down to Chittenango Creek. There they can view the waterfall from a footbridge. The trail continues throughout the 194-acre park, which also offers picnic areas and fishing. (Photo: View from the landing at Chittenango Falls.)
Sitting down to eat
I’ve already listed several establishments with food on the menu, but the options here are many. Seven Stone Steps, a tavern located under the historic Lincklaen House inn at the corner of Albany and Lincklaen streets, provides a cozy dining atmosphere with a range of menu options. Nachos Costello and The Cazenovian salad are two local favorites you might want to consider.
On the other side of Albany Street you’ll find McCarthy’s Irish Pub and Caz Pizza, two formidable dining options. The former opened last year in the space once held by the Golden Pheasant Steakhouse; the latter has doubled in size and added a bar since my childhood days, and continues to be my favorite place to go for a New York-style slice. The pizzeria also serves ice cream cones, which go great with a walk to the pier at Lakeland Park -- a straight shot down Albany Street.