Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Just across the Niagara River, in the city of Buffalo, Canada's neighbour to the south boasts a plethora of activities for friends and families to do over the summer months. This August, Wanderous Affair partnered with Visit Buffalo-Niagara to show you the best that this city reborn has to offer.
It's summertime in Buffalo, New York. The sun is shining, local shops are busy, the entertainment scene is bustling, and people not just in the local area — but around the world — are realizing all that this city has to offer. Having made trips south of the border with my family since I was a little girl, Buffalo had always been the place that I went to for well-priced school supplies, before I went back to school in September. It consisted of memories of Walden Galleria, Target, Sam's Club, Barnes & Noble, and a final stop at the Buffalo Brew Pub for dinner before we made our way back to the border to return home to Toronto.
Though I got older and no longer needed to go shopping for glittery pink notebooks, fancy binders, and a forty-eight pack of pencil crayons, I still enjoyed making weekend trips to Buffalo with my family as the years went on. However, after early November of 2016, I hadn't re-entered the United States until this past weekend. This August, Wanderous Affair partnered with Visit Buffalo-Niagara to show you the best that the city can provide. Though I've been able to see this once-industrial city slowly emerge from the ashes like a phoenix since my childhood, the past three years have made an even more drastic difference in what Buffalo has to offer. I was equal parts astounded and excited with their progress.
No longer is Buffalo a dingy city, a place seen by (typically older generation) Canadians only as a means of getting in some decent shopping deals — though I must admit, the shopping and the deals are still great — or as a momentary pitstop when passing through to American's more southern cities and states. It's not just a spot to pop in and out of for a short afternoon, but rather one where a weekend does not seem like enough time to fit in all of the exciting things that can be done here.
For those of you making your way into Buffalo for a summer weekend, I've put together a list of the must-see and must-do things while visiting in the warmer weather; these are all ideal ways to make the most of your trip to Buffalo, and to capitalize on your days spent in this buzzing city. All prices listed below are per person, in US dollars. I've also included nearby tried-and-tested restaurants that you can eat at, should you be visiting around lunch or dinnertime.
Go to a Buffalo Bisons Game
Price range: $11.50 - $16.50
Baseball. It's the all-American pastime. Though the sport is played all around the world, and many Major League Baseball (MLB) players hail from nations across the globe, baseball has a deeply rooted popularity with Americans thanks to its long history in the U.S. Even in Canada, we enjoy a mid-afternoon or evening huddled with fellow fans around the stadium, cheering our favourite players as they make their way through each inning.
It's the smell of freshly made popcorn and cheap beer, the sound of baseballs cracking against bats and peanut shells cracking between fingertips amidst the anxious anticipation of spectators. It's the taste of nachos as they crunch in your mouth, of caramel-coated Cracker Jacks melting against your tongue. It's the feeling of your seat lifting away from you as you leap in the air when your team scores a home run.
In fact, exactly a week prior, I had attended a Toronto Blue Jays game with my cousins back home in Toronto, where I saw a former Bisons player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., play MLB at the Rogers Centre for our home team. Because one of the Toronto Blue Jays' farm teams (the minor league team from which major league baseball teams recruit players) is the Buffalo Bisons, it was amazing to see these players on the field. These are men who could potentially play up north for the MLB in a few years' time.
The game we saw was a mid-August home game against North Carolina's Durham Bulls, where the Bisons won seven to three. Though both minor league and major league baseball games are undoubtedly filled equally with excited fans, there are some differences that I noticed when attending the Bisons game this weekend, compared to the Blue Jays game I saw just a week before. For one, the prices of tickets differ drastically; in Toronto, I paid around $45 CAD (around $33 USD) for my ticket in the upper bowl nosebleed seats. However, at a Bisons game, you can score the best seats in the house for a mere $22 CAD ($16.50 USD), at most.
Of course, the stadiums themselves are quite different in size; the Toronto Blue Jays' Rogers Centre has 53,506 seats, towering Sahlen Field's 16,600-seat baseball park. With this in mind though, I actually preferred the more intimate feel of Sahlen Field, as anyone in attendance can have a decent view of the game unfolding in front of them. At the Rogers Centre, fans seated in the furthest corners of the stadium have to either watch the gameplay of tiny figures on the field, or by viewing everything on the giant screen hanging above the baseball diamond. Not to mention that after the game was finished and the home team won, thrilled fans in Buffalo were rewarded yet again: this time, with a stunning fireworks display, colourfully illuminating the field.
Though a true baseball fan is content to see their team play in-person regardless of the circumstances, an undeniable truth remains: spectating conditions are much better at a Buffalo Bisons game in Sahlen Field. You can book your tickets for the next Buffalo Bisons game by clicking here.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Pearl Street Grill & Brewery (76 Pearl Street)
Watch a Live Performance at the Colored Musicians Club
Price: $10 (museum), Free (live performance)
Known for its status as the only remaining African American club of its kind in the United States, the Colored Musicians Club (CMC) was first designated as a historical preservation site in 1999, and then designated as a National Historic Site in 2018. This hopping club, which just celebrated its centennial in 2017, serves to promote historical research and the preservation of jazz in the city of Buffalo with its on-site museum. As well, members offer free jazz lessons to the community's youth, and hold jam sessions at the club on Sunday evenings for locals to play in the same space where the giants of jazz (Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis) once performed. All of these famous musicians, along with many others who frequented the Buffalo area, are praised in the club's museum below.
Located on the main floor, where George Scott (president of the CMC) showed us around, this museum is absolutely bursting with life. The very fact that it has become a museum is unsurprising, as it is located in the very same building as when it received its Act of Incorporation in 1935. However, the extremely interactive nature of the space did come as a pleasant surprise to me. With a wide variety of artefacts (including the signatures of Lillian Armstrong and Aretha Franklin on membership books); multimedia video archives embedded into the walls; and an entire 'band stage' — where visitors can listen to the sounds that each instrument makes with a simple press of a button — it was understandable when we discovered how much children love frequenting the museum. They, and you, get to immerse yourself in the experience fully.
In fact, I felt like George was my friend at the end of this entire evening.
Because the CMC continues to operate as a club (and a jazz history museum), we had the opportunity to see the seventeen-musician Carol McLaughlin Big Band perform. Playing every Thursday evening at 8.00pm, this was a show that we jumped at the chance to see live. Their lead saxophone player, Carol McLaughlin, immigrated from Jamaica in 1977 and has been playing across the globe for over forty years. When the band quietened and Mr. McLaughlin's sax began its solo riff, I felt tears spring to my eyes at the beauty of its melody, the incredible way that he played the instrument as if it was a very extension of his being. Being surrounded by such a strong passion for jazz music makes it near impossible to leave, having you wish that the night would never end and you could sit in that little club listening to the live band perform indefinitely.
For those of you interested in becoming a member of the club, where you can help keep the beauty of jazz alive in Buffalo, you can do so by clicking here.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Big Ditch Brewing Company (55 East Huron Street)
Immerse Yourself in Buffalo's Art Scene at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
A thrilling museum located right in the heart of Buffalo’s cultural district, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's collection has been ever-growing since its inception in 1862. In fact, it's the sixth-oldest public art institution in the United States! The museum space itself is quite small and can be completed in around an hour's time; however, frequent visits back to the gallery are recommended, as only a small percentage of its massive collection are on display at a given time. To see what works are currently on display, you can click here.
This includes works by Frida Kahlo (I almost screamed in excitement when I caught a glimpse of her 1938 painting, Self-Portrait with Monkey, hanging on the wall), Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Bridget Riley, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and many others. The gallery is home to the world’s second largest collection of works by the Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still and is the world's largest repository of the works of Marisol (who donated her entire estate, including more than a hundred sculptures, to the museum in 2016).
You should note that the Albright-Knox's Elmwood Avenue campus will be temporarily closed for construction beginning on November 4, 2019. Albright-Knox Northland, a new project space located at 612 Northland Avenue, will open on January 16, 2020. The new Buffalo AKG Art Museum is expected to open in early 2022, on the original Elmwood Avenue campus.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: AK Café (located right inside of the gallery!)
Walk the Boardwalk at Canalside
This is the perfect spot to catch the breeze sweeping over the canal on a hot summer day. As you cool off ever-so-slightly, you also have the opportunity to see some of Buffalo's most exciting attractions along Canalside. Situated at the heart of downtown Buffalo's waterfront revitalization, Canalside is amidst what was once the 1825 terminus for Erie Canal, remnants of which can be found at various points throughout during your exploration of the area (my favourite were the ruins located on 3 Marine Drive — there's nothing quite as lovely as historic remains still clinging onto life, exactly where they have stood since their inception).
This is a peaceful experience all in all, as you can walk along the length of Erie Canal's boardwalk while enjoying the waterfront and informational signage along the way. For something more hands-on, Canalside is also home to a paddleboat dock (pictured above right, in the collage), as well as the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, with an admission cost of $15 USD (about $20 CAD). This is a space where people of all ages have the chance to wander around the 186 metre (610 foot) USS Little Rock and 115 metre (376 foot) USS The Sullivans ships, and a 95 metre (311 foot) submarine named the USS Croaker, all of which are submerged in the canal itself. On site, one can also find a series of military equipment that you can get up close and personal with, such as a helicopter, interceptor jet, and tank. The museum itself has a variety of artefacts from the many wars the United States has been involved in, and you can also try out their maritime simulator, something that's fun for kids, yet sophisticated for adults. Though you have to pay to enter the museum and the ships themselves, you can nonetheless enjoy walking along the boardwalk and simply taking in the sight of them all, free of charge. The Naval Park's souvenir shop also contains a handful of little artefacts that you can see without paying for admission, as well.
As a side note: you can easily access Canalside by disembarking at the 'Erie Canal Harbor' stop. Riding in is free from any of NFTA-Metro's aboveground Light Rail stops, within their 'Free Fare Zone'. Otherwise, if you're travelling to or from any of the underground stops, the fee is $1.75 USD (roughly $2.30 CAD) for a one-way trip, per person.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Templeton Landing (2 Templeton Terrace)
Admire the Graffiti on Hertel Avenue
As someone who's always been fascinated by beautiful street art, Buffalo's Hertel Avenue is jam-packed with tonnes of incredible pieces to admire along the strip. What's great about going on a mural-spotting expedition, is that it's a great way to see this little neighbourhood within the city of Buffalo and get that next stunning Instagram post lined up; in discovering all these vibrant works of art, you are also able to uncover new boutiques and restaurants, as well as get in a solid amount of walking to meet your smart watch's daily step quota (or is that just me?).
In to music? Check out the musician-themed art murals along the street, like the Gord Downie Mural at 1673 Hertel Avenue on the side of Je Ne Sais Quoi, or the Goo Goo Dolls mural at 1212 Hertel Avenue on the side of Caruso's Italian Imports. If you prefer seeing depictions of well-known Americans of the past, then the mural of author Mark Twain and his beloved friend John T. Lewis (near Virgil Avenue) should top your list.
An animal lover, perhaps? The birds and buffalo paying homage to its city on the side of Joe's Deli (1322 Hertel Avenue), or the cool lookin' dog nestled in the Hertel Avenue Alley (between Traymore Street and Colvin Avenue) are a must-see. While you're at it, you may as well keep your eyes peeled for the seemingly endless other murals popping out at passerby with their rich colours, as you make your way along the avenue from one side street to the next.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Lloyd Taco Factory (1503 Hertel Avenue)
Do a Silo Zip Line Tour with Buffalo RiverWorks
Price: $35 - $45
Buffalo RiverWorks offers a wide variety of thrilling outdoor adventures to be had within the city, and we had the chance to try out one of these on their Silo Zip Line Tour. This is the perfect spot for daredevils — both visitors and locals alike — to check out, as the shortest of their zip lines begin at a whopping thirty-four metres (110 feet) aboveground. With a view overlooking the waterfront, you can leap head first into a bunch of activities, both during the summer and winter months. Their activities are not just limited to zip lining, but also include a chance to tackle rock climbing, roller derby, ice skating, and curling.
The zip lining course in particular, is located onsite at a collection of massive Grange League Federation (GLF) grain elevators, painted over to resemble a pack of beer. Though this is certainly a novelty that you can get a kick out of, the RiverWorks are also a prime example of just one of many remarkable adaptive reuses of previous structures in Buffalo. Naturally, it serves as a reminder of the city's strong industrial heritage, too. Like the area near which it's located is named, it really is a 'Silo City'; with a sea of old industrial buildings found every which way that you turn, it becomes clear what a critical area this was to Buffalo's growth as a budding city in the 1800s, as well as the potential that these still-beautiful buildings hold for the city today.
Nearby, you can also find a neat brewery located within a building surrounded by original silos and industrial-era equipment, a restaurant, sports, and an exciting entertainment complex. Everything you need for an eventful afternoon is all in one centralised spot.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Duende at Silo City (85 Silo City Row)
Wander a Local Farmers' Market
Last but certainly not least, an ideal way to spend a Saturday morning in Buffalo is at one of their bustling farmers' markets. We checked out the Elmwood Village Farmers Market located on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway, which actually runs every year from May through to November.
This producer-only market ensures that all vendors selling goods within their stalls have grown of produces their wares themselves. As their website states: "Our customers can save money because we cut out middlemen; they can buy and eat with confidence because our vendors believe in the food they produce." Of course, this is also an incredible way to support the local economy, purchase healthy food for you and your family, and enjoy a morning outing all in one go.
Nearby, you can also find some great places to stop in for lunch, or even just a coffee. There are plenty of cute boutiques that you can check out along the strip too, which gives you a great reason to explore both the indoor and outdoor aspects of what Buffalo has to offer you, all in one spot and in one afternoon.
Nearby restaurant suggestion: Elmwood Taco & Subs (937 Elmwood Avenue)
A summer weekend in the city of Buffalo could not be better spent. Though this is only a glimpse into the adventures that can be had in Buffalo, I've given you an ideal starting point to begin planning your next trip to this New York State urban centre.
If you have any questions about exploring the area or are looking for any further suggestions on things to do while visiting, let me know in the comments and I'd be happy to help you out!