Eclipsing Expectations: Top Things to Do in Buffalo NY

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Large gothic style brick building with trees and lawn in front. shebuystravel.com
Creative reuse in Buffalo: a former mental institution is now a boutique hotel in the cultural district. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Astronomers have been touting the April 8, 2024, solar eclipse for years and cities in the “path of totality” have been planning big celebrations. Buffalo, which has a number of large events planned, has so much else going on tourism-wise that even if you miss the rare eclipse, you should not pass up a chance to visit this city in western New York.

From fabulous architecture to great museums, a burgeoning food, beer and distillery scene, and easy access to Niagara Falls State Park and the Niagara wine trail, there are fun activities for everyone in Buffalo.

Buffalo is closer to Cleveland than New York City and so far upstate New York that you can take a day trip from Toronto. It can have brutal winters and challenging springs.

That being said, on my late winter trip, I had two beautiful days with blue skies and temperatures in the 60s. And one day of freezing rain. A week later, when it was spring, there was 6 inches of snow. Dress in layers, bring your foul weather gear, a list of things to do in inclement weather, and a sense of humor.

Read More: Things to do in Upstate New York

Art Deco skylight at Buffalo City Hall. shebuystravel.com
The Art Deco City Hall skylight. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Buffalo City Hall

One of the first things I did in Buffalo was take a free tour of the Art Deco Buffalo City Hall. This national historic landmark, the 2nd largest City Hall in America, was completed in 1931. It has a three-story vaulted ceiling in the lobby, murals, and elaborate tile work that incorporates indigenous design elements.

You can see the lobby and the newly reopened observation deck on your own, during weekday business hours.

But the best way to see this Art Deco masterpiece, including the glorious sunburst skylight in Council Chambers, is with a free guided tour from Explore Buffalo. The hour-long City Hall tours are at noon Monday through Friday. We didn’t get to see the mayor’s office on my tour because the mayor was using his office, but the chambers were unoccupied that day. Explore Buffalo guided tours are the only way to see this room.

View of downtown Buffalo from the City Hall observation deck. shebuystravel.com
Downtown Buffalo from the City Hall observation deck. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The observation deck, on the 28th floor, offers 360 degree views – you can even see Canada and the mist from Niagara Falls. You notice on the Lake Erie side that it’s much colder and windier, one reason Buffalo has such punishing winters.

1919 Pierce-Arrow on display at The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum. shebuystravel.com
1919 Pierce-Arrow on display at The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum

When City Hall was built, Buffalo was the 8th largest city in America. It was also a wealthy city, with trade based on the Erie Canal and proximity to one of the most popular attractions in the USA, Niagara Falls. So it was only natural that a luxury car company was based here.

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum, in downtown Buffalo has an amazing collection of luxury cars. Pierce-Arrow started out making bird cages, added bicycles, then transitioned to cars, so the museum has antique bikes and motorcycles on display, along with bird cages. The museum also has collections of antique toys and Lionel trains.

The Frank Lloyd Wright filling station at the Pierce-Arrow Museum. shebuystravel.com
The Frank Lloyd Wright filling station at the Pierce-Arrow Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell

One of the coolest new additions to the museum is the Frank Lloyd Wright filling station. If you are a Wright aficionado, you will spend part of your time in Buffalo touring two spectacular  Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the Darwin D. Martin House and Greycliff (see below). The Pierce-Arrow Museum bought plans for a filling station, never built, and had it constructed inside the vast museum.

The exterior of the Martin House, a beige brick building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. shebuystravel.com
The exterior of the Martin House – no photos allowed inside. Photo credit: Judy Antell

More Frank Lloyd Wright

As a fan of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I try to visit buildings he has designed around the country. Buffalo boasts two houses to tour.

The Darwin D. Martin House, a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1904 for an executive at a local soap company. It has a number of different tours, including a self-guided evening tour. I took the basic 75-minute tour, which includes the 1st and 2nd floors of the Martin house, along with the pergola, conservatory and carriage house.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Be sure to come a little early for your tour, or stay later, to explore the info in the visitors center on the famous “Trees of Life” windows. You can also stay to tour the gardens.

Graycliff, with Lake Erie behind. shebuystravel.com
Graycliff, with Lake Erie behind. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Graycliff, the summer home of the Martin family, is about half an hour from the Martin House. There are special tickets to see both houses the same day. At Graycliff, Wright took advantage of the views of Lake Erie, orienting rooms to capture the water view. The house, built 20 years after the Martin House, is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

I plan to return in warmer weather to see the Graycliff Gardens in bloom. You can bike here, making it a great day trip.

Large glass and white metal sculpture column holding up the glass and metal roof at the Town Square at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. shebuystravel.com
The Town Square at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Buffalo AKG Art Museum

The Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly known as the Albright Knox Art Gallery, completed a renovation and expansion in 2023. This added an indoor Town Square, a free public space with lots of programming. There is a LEGO room where kids who are inspired by Buffalo’s great architecture can build their own structures.

The museum has works by Monet, Cezanne, Jasper John, Georgia O’Keefe and Cindy Sherman. On the first Friday of every month, the museum is open late and admission is pay-what-you-wish. There are hands-on activities, live music and more.

After seeing the museum, be sure to walk down to Delaware Park, a Frederick Law Olmsted park.

Interior second floor balcony of the Buffalo History Museum. shebuystravel.com
There are not just Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Buffalo: the Buffalo History Museum is an architectural gem too. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Buffalo History Museum

On the other side of Delaware Park, the Buffalo History Museum is one of those fun places for kids and adults. You can learn about former professional sports teams and stadiums in Buffalo, read about the development of Buffalo chicken wings and see examples of things made in Buffalo, from carriages to carousels to toys.

The stunning building, the only permanent building from the 1901 Pan American Exposition, is worth a visit, but stay to explore local history.

Sitting room with fireplace and sitting nook at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. shebuystravel.com
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

Learn more about Buffalo’s importance at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. The historic site, which can only be seen by guided tour, also delves into the 1901 Pan American Exposition, since President McKinley was assassinated here, necessitating Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration.

The beautiful and meticulously restored home, part of National Park Foundation, is one of many mansions in the historic Allentown district.

Ceiling sculpture of Orion constellation at The Burchfield Penney Art Center. shebuystravel.com
Search for Orion at The Burchfield Penney Art Center. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Burchfield Penney Art Center

The Burchfield Penney Art Center, across the street from the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, specializes in art from western New York. An exhibit through June focuses on solar eclipses. And you can find the Orion constellation in the ceiling on the second floor.

The Burchfield Penney, the first art museum in New York State to be LEED certified, was designed by yet another famous architect, Charles Gwathmey.

On the second Friday of every month, the museum is open late and admission is free. There are special programs, live music and art activities.

Canalside, Buffalo’s redeveloped waterfront along the Erie Canal. shebuystravel.com
Canalside, Buffalo’s redeveloped waterfront along the Erie Canal. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Canalside

Canalside, Buffalo’s Waterfront, is part of a creative re-imagining of the Erie Canal. Fun things to do seasonally include the solar powered Heritage Carousel open Memorial Day to Labor Day, (and open for the solar eclipse), kayaking and water biking in summer and ice skating in winter. The rink is the largest outdoor skating rink in New York State.

The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, a naval museum, is open from late March to the Sunday before Thanksgiving. A new event space, Terminal B, is hosting an Eclipse party; in the future, you can see live music here.

There are walking and running paths, along with new bridges over the canal. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend walking around here in the freezing rain, but it certainly whetted my appetite for returning in more clement weather. There is also a Children’s Museum if you’re traveling with younger kids.

The Buffalo RiverWorks‌ entertainment complex is also here, with a restaurant, brewery, live music, ax throwing, rock climbing the outside of a former silo, a high ropes course and pickleball among many options.

Silo City and Duende are unique urban spaces in Buffalo. Brown hay/grass in front of silos and brick buildings. shebuystravel.com
Silo City and Duende are unique urban spaces in Buffalo. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Silo City and Duende

Silo City is yet another creative reimagining of silos: the historic grain elevators are used for dance performances and readings. The urban green space is being re-wilded with a pond, wildflowers, and pollinator zones. There are also outdoor sculptures and views of the Buffalo River. Take a weekly public tour, June – September on Saturdays from 11 am to 12:30 pm.

Duende, the bar at Silo City, has live music, reasonably priced cocktails and food, and a huge outdoor space for nice weather.

The conservatories at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. shebuystravel.com
The conservatories at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

‌Brighten up winter at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The indoor greenhouses have different plants and exhibits and collections of plants. There are a rainforest and cloud forest, cacti, orchids and bonsai.

Art and blooms at the  Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Pink swirly wind catcher in front of flowers and trees. shebuystravel.com
Art and blooms at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The Victorian glass house conservatory was based on the Crystal Palace in England. The botanic garden also has seasonal outdoor gardens, which you can see for free.

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Display at the Buffalo History Museum showing history of the War Memorial Stadium. shebuystravel.com
Learn about old sports stadiums at the Buffalo History Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Professional Sports in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills are the only NY football team to actually play in New York State. But they enjoy a checkered history similar to the “New York” Jets and Giants. The Bills have been in four Super Bowls and never won.

Then there are the Sabres, the professional hockey team. The Sabres are one of the two oldest active NHL franchises to have never won the Stanley Cup.

The Buffalo Bisons, a minor league baseball team, are the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Bison have such a beautiful ballpark in downtown Buffalo that the Blue Jays played parts of two seasons here while their Toronto stadium was under renovation.

Things to Do in Buffalo with Kids

The Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium, on Buffalo State University’s campus, is hosting a huge Eclipse Fest. It also has regular family shows on weekends, plus laser music shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

Buffalo Zoo, the third-oldest zoo in America, has popular animals like lions, polar bears, gorillas and giraffes. There are also bison, AKA buffalo

The Buffalo Museum of Science has interactive exhibits, an observatory with a giant telescope, dinosaurs, and a bison diorama. It also has a planetarium.

Vegan dish at Strong Hearts Buffalo. shebuystravel.com
Excellent vegan food at Strong Hearts Buffalo. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Food in Buffalo

Buffalo is known for its specialty chicken wings, invented at Anchor Bar (which is still in Buffalo, and has locations around the country). I was able to enjoy vegetarian Buffalo wings, made from polenta, with the classic hot sauce, blue cheese and celery sticks. I had this in Allentown, a cute historic district right near the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

I didn’t find a vegetarian version of Buffalo’s other famous dish, beef on weck, but I did have a great vegan meal at Strong Hearts Buffalo. There are wings, chicken sandwiches, burgers, and decadent desserts and milkshakes, all plant based. My salad with bbq tempeh, sun dried tomatoes and plant based feta was filling and delicious.

The gorgeous interior of the Richardson Hotel.  Staircase and banister with photos of the hotel. shebuystravel.com
The gorgeous interior of the Richardson Hotel. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Where to Stay in Buffalo

The Richardson Hotel, a former mental institution and a National Historic Landmark, has a small, free gallery on the ground floor documenting the history of the building. The entire campus, with grounds designed by Olmsted, is partially restored, but the hotel is restored to glory, with outstanding woodwork and architectural details.  

Cucina, the destination restaurant in the hotel, specializes in Northern Italian food. I had pasta with lentils and a lovely Olmsted Manhattan with black walnut bitters.

The hotel, in Elmwood Village, is walking distance to the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo History Museum, Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Planetarium at Buffalo State University.

Display of the history of the Richardson Hotel. shebuystravel.com
The history of the Richardson Hotel. Photo credit: Judy Antell

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