Ithaca's Sciencenter offers more than 100 exhibits, including a walk-in camera, water raceway, and a moving two-story ball sculpture, as well as live demonstrations on topics such as homing pigeons and how computers work. The Sagan Planet Walk honors the late astronomer Carl Sagan with a three-quarter mile path linking downtown Ithaca and the Sciencenter. Along the walk, the sun and each planet are marked by a monument. New exhibits include Wonder Water and Crystal Creations.
The Tompkins County Museum of the DeWitt Historical Society tells the story of the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County through exhibits and the resources of a reference library. One of the nation's largest collections of fossils is showcased at the Paleontology Research Institution, which displays the diversity of life on earth. The Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary/Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology celebrates the diversity of the world of birds, with a ten-acre pond full of waterfowl, a bird-feeding garden, and a display of bird art.
A trip to Ithaca would not be complete without viewing the lovely waterfalls, cascades, and rapids that line the mile-long Fall Creek Gorge in the city center. Another must is a walking tour of Cornell University, with its wonderful ivy-covered buildings on a hill overlooking the downtown. Cornell Plantations on the university grounds includes an arboretum and botanical garden.
Arts and Culture
Ithaca prides itself on being a community of artists, writers, and performers and offers many performing and fine arts events. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, houses a large collection of art that spans 40 centuries. Its strongest areas are Asian and contemporary art. Especially notable are its funerary urns, silk paintings, and bronze Buddhas.
Ithaca has brought together some of its most fascinating features in its Discovery Trail, showcasing eight particularly noteworthy attractions for visitors. These include the Sciencenter, the Johnson Museum, and the county library, as well as Cornell's Plantations botanical gardens and arboretum and the Cornell Ornithology Center, the Museum of the Earth at the Paleontological Research Institute, the Cayuga Nature Center, and the Tompkins County History Center.
Downtown Ithaca's Firehouse Theatre presents a different play every month in its historic setting. The Kitchen Theater presents contemporary plays at its stage in the historic Clinton House. From June through August, the Hangar Theatre in Cass Park presents five Mainstage productions, eight smaller-scale productions, and a children's theater program called KIDDSTUFF.
The Cornell Center for Theatre Arts stages plays from September through May, hosts visiting performers, and presents the Cornell Dance Series. Dillingham Center on the campus of Ithaca College is the site of two college theaters that present offerings from September through May.
Music and dance are also represented by numerous groups. The Ithaca Opera Association produces two major operas annually, as well as workshops for children and adults. The Cayuga Vocal Ensemble, a professional group, performs quality music in a variety of styles. The Cayuga Chamber Orchestra ensemble of 35 musicians has a lively season with concerts, chamber concerts, and Christmas presentations for children.
Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music is the focus of the NYS Baroque group. Outdoor concerts are held at various times throughout the year at downtown Ithaca Commons and at the art quad on the Cornell University campus. Ithaca Ballet, Upstate New York's only repertory company, presents a varied repertoire of classical and contemporary works.
Festivals and Holidays
The Apple Harvest Festival in October is a regional celebration of autumn produce, including a craft fair, music, storytelling, and dancing. Ithaca welcomes the holiday season with the coming of Santa Claus, horse-drawn wagon rides, a gingerbread house display, and performances by local groups. A wide variety of holiday craft items are on sale at the 12 Shops of Christmas, and musical and other holiday events dot the downtown area during the annual Holiday Tradition and Chili Cook Off. Holiday concerts are presented at sites throughout Ithaca, including the campuses of Cornell University and Ithaca College.
A huge book sale is the highlight of May's calendar, and the event is repeated each October at the Ithaca Public Library. The Maple Sugar Festival takes place every spring at the Cayuga Nature Center. In April, the Sciencenter challenges local residents to design packaging to protect raw eggs; the designs are then tested by being dropped 26-1/4 feet on the Commons in central Ithaca.
June's Ithaca Festival celebrates the local area through music, crafts, theater presentations, food, and fireworks. Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of the slaves at a major festival offering food, music, African drumming, and other events.
Sports for the Spectator
Ithaca is home to nationally ranked collegiate Division I-AA and Division III sports from football to softball, ice hockey to soccer, polo to lacrosse and field hockey. The Cornell Big Red hockey team is traditionally one of the country's strongest and competes regularly for the Division I national championship. Cornell teams play in the Ivy League conference. Many games take place at Cornell's Berman or Schoellkopf fields.
Sports for the Participant
The area is rich in recreational possibilities, with such activities as golf, tennis, mountain biking, hiking, hockey, skiing, rowing, canoeing, sailing, camping, and swimming, among other pursuits. The Allan H. Treman State Marine Park, the second largest inland marina in New York State, provides nearly 400 berths, and offers picnic facilities, fishing, a marina, and a pump-out station. Near downtown, Buttermilk Falls is a perfect spot for walking, with its ten waterfalls, rapids, pools, and cliffs. Robert H. Treman State Park provides an area of rustic beauty and features picnic areas, swimming, and cross-country ski trails. Taughannock Falls State park plunges 215 feet through a rock amphitheater whose walls reach nearly 400 feet. Hiking, camping, and swimming are available on the site. The city recreation department and school system provide youth in Ithaca with opportunities to ski and to play hockey, soccer, basketball, and baseball. Ithaca also features two private and one public 18 hole golf courses and one public 9 hole golf course.
Shopping and Dining
Ithaca's downtown is the site of the Commons, a pedestrian marketplace featuring specialty shops, galleries, book and music stores, and dining spots. Other downtown shopping malls are Center Ithaca and Dewitt Mall. Ithaca's largest indoor mall, with 70 stores, is Pyramid Mall Ithaca, which features three department stores and a cinema complex. Other smaller shopping areas, such as Ithaca Shopping Plaza, Triphammer Mall, Cayuga Mall, East Hill Plaza, and Collegetown dot the community landscape. Summer's Sidewalk Sale Days draws crowds on the lookout for bargains to the downtown pedestrian mall. Vendors at Ithaca's open-air Farmer's Market mall, at the foot of Cayuga Lake, sell an array of the local fruits and vegetables that grow so abundantly in the region.
A wide variety of ethnic cuisines is available in Ithaca's restaurants, ranging from Italian, Greek, Mediterranean, and Mexican to Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Middle Eastern. Popular American fare, including barbecued foods and pizza, are also available. The famous Moosewood Restaurant has gained acclaim and won many awards for its innovative vegetarian fare, and the Moose-wood Cookbook remains popular with cooks throughout the world. The Ithaca Bakery is renowned in the area for its baked goods.
Visitor Information: Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 904 East Shore Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850; telephone (607)272-1313; toll-free (800)284-8422
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