There’s plenty of culture in the sprawling Genesee River manufacturing center of Rochester (pop. 208,880), and the best of it is of the vernacular variety, making the 25-mile detour off US-20 well worth your time and effort. With impressive High Falls, a mini Niagara right at the center of town; numerous historic sights (the Erie Canal passed right through Rochester, and Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass both lived here for many years); and an expansive Lake Ontario shoreline boasting long beaches, Rochester is a fine example of how much fun one can have in a smaller U.S. city. The best road trip-worthy attraction is historic Seabreeze Amusement Park (585/323-1900, around $30), which sits on the Lake Ontario shore, complete with the ancient wooden Jack Rabbit roller coaster, the third oldest operating in the USA, and a fun water park.
Start your visit with the vast holdings of the Americana-rich Strong National Museum of Play (585/263-2700, daily, $14.50), clearly marked off I-490 downtown. This impressive collection includes Victorian-era toys, appliances, dolls, perfume bottles, marbles, salt-and-pepper shakers, and classic board games. It’s a must-visit for closet pack rats, pop culture fanatics, and anyone with children in tow. Just inside, but accessible without paying admission, is a lovely circa-1918 Herschell hand-carved carousel (made in nearby North Tonawanda), as well as a fully restored 1956 Skyliner diner, serving lunch all day.
The George Eastman House (900 East Ave., 585/271-3361, Tues.-Sun., $15) is a 10-minute drive along Rochester’s fashionable mansion-lined main boulevard. In addition to relaying the Horatio Alger-like story of workaholic Eastman’s success and philanthropy as the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, the 50-room Colonial Revival mansion in which he lived before his 1932 suicide also houses a fascinating exhibit, Enhancing the Illusion, on the history of photography.