Hidden Gems: Sonnenberg Gardens

(Photos courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens)

My aunt and uncle recently visited from out of state, and I was deputized family tour director. We decided to make a day trip to Canandaigua which included the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park.

Videos and photos give you a sense of the sprawling 50-acre estate. In person, you can see why the Thompson family kept the name Sonnenberg, meaning “sunny hill” in German. I recommend 2 to 3 hours to visit.

The author enjoying Sonnenberg Gardens on her recent visit.

Volunteers are Key

In 2006, the State of New York declared Sonnenberg a state park. However, the state does not fund daily operations. Therefore, the park relies on admission, donations, and 320+ volunteers who pitch in by driving visitors around, answering questions, and even tending rose bushes.

The knowledgeable, friendly folks we met added charm to the visit. The volunteer who drove us around the estate gave us lots of local stories and interesting information.

The Highlights

The Italian Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

You can wander around on foot and listen to an audio tour available through your cell phone that provides an overview including:

History of the Estate: Sonnenberg was the summer estate of Frederick Thompson, a New York City banker, and Mary Clark Thompson, an area native and daughter of a New York governor. They both came from wealth and privilege, a fact that is certainly on display in their home. Yet they also gave back to the community by funding universities, museums, and scientific research.

Japanese Garden: Mary visited Kyoto, Japan in 1903. This inspired her to hire Japanese craftsmen to build her a garden complete with a Buddha statue and tea house.

The Japanese Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

Rose Garden:  In the original garden, only red, pink, and white roses grew. The garden was reconstructed in 1973 to resemble the original. Today, 2,500 rose bushes are in bloom.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Deer Park: Mary imported European fallow deer and created a special area for them to graze on the south lawn. We saw one up close while we were there!

Roman Bath: Although in ruin today, in 1914 water was pumped from Canandaigua Lake and was warmed for this heated pool.

Mansion: The 40-room Queen Anne style home has large windows and breezy porches. 19th-century furniture, clothes, and accessories give you a flavor of what the mansion may have looked like. You can wander around by yourself, poking through the rooms.

Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Statues: There are a number of statues throughout the park, including one of the Roman goddess Diana (she had her own temple on the grounds but the statue was relocated to another garden due to decay) and a statue of Pan in the rock garden.

The Details

  • Location: 151 Charlotte Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424
  • Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week May 1 through October 31.
  • Extended Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with the exception of the 2nd floor of the mansion and some areas in the Rock Garden. A tram service may be available from the parking lot to the mansion and back.
  • Dog-friendly? The park does not allow pets, except service animals.
  • Admission: $14 for adults (discounts available), $2 for children ages 12 and under

For more info: Visit the Sonnenberg Gardens Website or call (585) 394-4922.

Don’t Miss

Check the online calendar for lots of events throughout the year like an orchid show in the spring, moonlight concerts in the summer, haunted walks in the fall, and holiday decorations in the winter.

Hidden Gems: Upstate N.Y. Spray Parks

Baby, it’s hot outside. This summer, we’ve had so many heat waves that kids can barely play outdoors before they get hot and want to retreat to the AC. But how can they release the energy they build up indoors?  Head to a spray park!

As a Corning native, I remember countless heat wave days of packing up our sunscreen and snacks and heading to “The Fountain” in Centennial Park. If you grew up in the Corning/Elmira area, you probably have similar memories. The Fountain was a huge hotspot for kids in my small town.

The Fountain was basically a huge spout in the middle of a park that kids would play in during the summer. I can still remember the feeling of water pounding on my back and the squishy rubber under my feet. The Fountain provided a relatively clean, free, and fun way to cool off during the summer.

“The Fountain” in Corning, NY

Little did I know that Corning was a little ahead of its time.  Spray parks, also known as splash pads, are popping up all over the country. A spray park is basically an area with a non-slip surface, and various nozzles and features that provide refreshing water in exciting ways.

Spray parks are a great place to take your kids. If my brother and I could spend hours under one water fountain, your kids are sure to avoid boredom in the captivating intricacy of modern spray parks. Here are some you can find in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Binghamton.

Rochester

There are so many spray parks in Rochester; you can almost certainly get to one easily from wherever you live. From Chili to Webster to the city of Rochester, there’s one in almost every pocket of Monroe County.  Most are free, and a couple even have fun themes your kids are sure to love, such as firetruck and pirate themes.

For an interactive map and exact locations of the spray parks check out this link from Rochester Kids Out and About.

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Buffalo

If you’re in the Buffalo region and suffering in this heat wave, you’re in luck. There are accessible spray parks all over the Buffalo region. There are 10 in the city of Buffalo alone, and even more all over Western New York.

For info about all other splash pad locations in WNY, click this link from Fun for Kids Buffalo.

Syracuse, utica and Binghamton

Picking where to go to get your spray on is less complicated in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton. In Syracuse, a popular destination is Camillus Park. The splash pad is pretty new, and is open until Labor Day. The great thing about this park is that if you do get bored of the spray park, there are so many other things to keep you busy at Camillus Park, like a playground and hiking trails.

If you are a Binghamton local looking for a place for the kids to cool off, look no further than Columbus Park.  The spray pad was installed in 2014 and is sure to be a refreshing place to visit.

There’s also the splash pad at  Donovan Memorial Park in Chadwicks, which is outside of Utica.

So the next time your kids are roasting and you still want time outside, pack up some sunscreen and snacks and head to a spray park!

Hidden Gems: Salem Art Works

If you are in the Albany-Lake George area and have a taste for outdoor sculpture, then Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., is well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Salem is a small village located southeast of Lake George on the New York-Vermont border. Founded in 1762, Salem features beautiful 18th and 19th-century architecture. A great place to have dinner is the Salem Tavern, where a Salem Art Works staff member plays records (yes, vinyl) in the bar on Tuesday nights. Running through the area are the Battenkill River and White Creek, which are graced with three classic wooden covered bridges.

Salem Art Works occupies the grounds of a 119-acre farm on the edge of the village. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art center and sculpture park. Large sculptures occupy the grounds and can be enjoyed while strolling the trails of the park. Expect to walk about three miles altogether if you want to cover all of the trails. The park also features some beautiful views of the Green Mountains.

So What’s My Connection?

Just in case anyone who knows me is wondering why this unrepentant suburban redneck has a connection to the arts, let me explain. My high school buddy, Nick Micros, is a recognized sculptor now living in Switzerland. Early this year, Nick told me that he would be moving his collection of six large sculptures from New York City to the Salem Art Works.

Six large sculptures created by Nick Micros.

Having outgrown his studio in New York City, Nick learned that Salem Art Works hosts exhibits of many artists known for their larger works. He welcomed an invitation to show his collection in a rural setting with plenty of space. His pieces had never been shown together in one place at the same time. Nick’s collection will be on display at Salem Art Works for three years.

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe pose in front of one of the sculptures at Salem Art Works.

I told him to count me in as a helper. Given that Nick needed my help, and I only see him every few years, this was a great opportunity to lend a hand and spend time with one of my closest friends. It took us three whole days to set up Nick’s collection, some of which needed to be cut into sections for transportation to Salem. Because the outer layers of these works are made of plaster and cloth, we were able to put them back together.

Just Like Old Times

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe.

Working on the project with Nick was just like old times. Nick and I played football, lifted weights and worked summer jobs together through high school on Long Island. As different as we are (technical geek vs. the artist), our connection is still as strong as it was when we were young. With Nick now living in Europe, we treasured the time together. It was especially gratifying to help Nick with a project that would have been a stretch for Nick to complete on his own.

Opposing Figurative and Abstract Imagery

Sculptor Nick Micros with one of his works.

Nick’s sculptures are a mixture of opposing figurative and abstract imagery. They include multiple large and small objects and represent people, events and times in Nick’s life while paying tribute to modern art masters. Knowing Nick and having grown up together, I found the sculptures to be very familiar. When you see them, expect to be struck by their size and overall form. As you move closer, you will be drawn into intricate details that will keep you lingering with each piece for quite some time.

Hugh McCabe admiring a sculpture at Salem Art Works.

Visiting Salem Art Works is well worth your time. With its mission of supporting emerging and established artists, there is a vibe and energy that is palpable. You’ll have an opportunity to view an amazing variety of artwork in a unique and beautiful setting. It will be worth your departure from the beaten path.

Hope you enjoy the visit!

The Details

Address:  19 Cary Lane, Salem, New York 12865

Phone: (518) 854-7674

Admission: Free. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Park Hours:  Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year

Winter Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (October – May)

Summer Office Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (June-October)

Guided Tours: Available daily during office hours (please call ahead). Self-guided tours are also available, but you can simply enjoy wandering through the grounds during daylight hours.

Hidden Gems: Tinker Nature Park

Tinker Nature Park is magical! As a nanny, this is one of my favorite spots for the kids. It’s beautiful and the trails are wheelchair and stroller accessible so the baby can come along and enjoy the sun. The trails are well maintained and feature hidden treasures alongside every turn!

Among the trees and rocks along the trail, you and your kids can discover detailed and intricate fairy houses! Carved into trees, on top of stumps, between branches, everywhere you look there are tiny little houses. The homes are so detailed you just might have to knock to see if someone is home.

The look on a child’s face when they discover the charming little houses will make your world feel just as magical as theirs. My favorite part is when they ask me all about the magic of the forest. Seeing a child connecting with nature is just so heartwarming.

Take a closer look

Within the park, there is a small nature museum complete with rotating nature exhibits that display some of the animals that live within the park.

Each fairy house is unique and has an intricate design. Each one offers a great place to stop and take in the beautiful artistry that is perfectly integrated with the beautiful forest all around you. Make sure to stop at each fairy house along the trail to see the creative ways the artists crafted the nature around them into the tiny magical houses.

Don’t forget to stop at the nearby playground. There’s also a wildflower meadow and an observation blind to sit and see all the animals that walk by. Kids love the enchanting forest as well as the nature they can observe all around them (instead of being stuck indoors)!

Details

  • Location: 1525 Calkins Road, Pittsford, NY 14534
  • Hours: 7 am – Sunset
  • Price: FREE

For more information:

https://sites.google.com/view/tinkerpark

https://exploringupstate.com/the-fairy-houses-of-tinker-nature-park/

 

Hidden Gems: Sterling Renaissance Festival

No summer is complete for my family without a trip to 16th century Warwick, England; or the closest we can get at the Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival

Highlights

Step into the woods at the event, and everywhere you look there is magic.  Both performers and guests really get into character, so be prepared to yell “Huzzah!” and “God Save the Queen!” when cheers grow up from the crowd.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival

The many shows are not to be missed! You can download a full schedule ahead of time. There is music, comedy, theater, storytelling and even a “bawdy” performance at the mud pit. No special effects are used there, just mud and lots of it!

There is also a live joust where you can cheer on your favorite knight. My kids loved riding the horses after the event. The swordplay made an impact, too — my son recently told me, in all seriousness, that he wants to be a swordsman when he grows up.

Another must-see for my family is Don Juan and Miguel. They are a comedic act that my husband still loves after seeing them for 20 years.

The author with her son at the festival.

Festival games are not for the faint of heart. My kids like tossing knives, shooting arrows, and visiting the dungeon museum! There are also people-powered rides powered by the stronger members of the staff.

The author’s daughter, shooting a bow and arrow.

If you appreciate fine artisans and their crafts, there is a lot to look at in the royal marketplace. You can see glass sculptures being made, browse through costumes, and purchase a wide variety of products from knick-knacks to jewelry and fine art.

And of course, you will need food and drink to sustain you for the day. My husband will eat a turkey leg, while my vegetarian daughter prefers the falafel. Luckily there are lots of options for everyone.

Prefer Pirates or Bagpipes?

Check out the themed weekends that are available. We appreciate the discounts on family weekend, bit if you prefer pirates, bagpipes, or a romantic weekend you might visit later in the summer.

The Details

Location: 15385 Farden Road, Sterling, NY
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays, July 7th – August 19th, 2018, 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Accessibility: The main paths are wheelchair accessible and handicapped accessible. Parking and restrooms are available.
Admission: $25.95 for adults (12 and up), $15.95 for children. Additional charges for games, rides and food.

For more info: www.sterlingfestival.com or 1-800-879-4446

Hidden Gems: LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Have you ever stopped at a fresh produce stand and found the perfect healthy recipe to feed your very picky kid(s)?  While by chance I did!   Just 25 minutes east of Rochester, off Route 104, the LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo is an enchanting hut that offers a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices.

Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites

My sons and I discovered the gazebo last year when we were in need of corn.  We stopped by the stand and were greeted by the friendly farm staff and quickly discovered what many locals already knew: This is a great place to get local fresh fruits and hardy vegetables.

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The produce is grown at LaMora Farms, a 90-acre farm in Ontario, Wayne County.  The Gazebo also offers recipes.

My oldest son, 7, found a recipe card for Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites (see recipe below) and insisted that we buy the biggest zucchini I had ever seen.  (Did I mention the prices are extremely affordable?  My local grocery store offers zucchini at half the size for double the price!)

Not only did we easily make the zucchini pizza that night, but my son has continued to request the meal on a weekly basis.   (Eating every last slice!)  Check out their website for weekly recipes using your favorite fruits and vegetables: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html .

The perfect family apple

Zucchini is one of our family favorites.  We discovered another favorite last year when we tasted the farm-grown Honeycrisp apples. This is the only type of apple that met both the sweet and tart tastes of my entire family.

In full disclosure, my youngest son and his kindergarten class also enjoyed sampling them, as the LaMora’s kindly shared some of their harvest as an opportunity for the children to learn about healthy eating.

Check out the LaMora’s decadent apple dessert recipes at: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html

A family in the community

The owners, Lindsay and Earl LaMora, focus on sharing easy and healthy farm fresh food.  Lindsay is always looking for healthy ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into snacks and meals.    Daughter Ava, 10, the namesake of the beloved zucchini recipe, and her son Chase, 5, also help mom and dad on the farm.

This year, the first-generation farmers opened the doors to their farm for U-Pick opportunities, starting with strawberries, apples and pumpkins.  (Check out their website, www.LaMoraFarms.com, for the schedule.)    They are also sharing their lives as farmers in their blog, Out on a Limb (http://blog.lamorafarms.com/growwithus/).  And that beloved gazebo?  This year there will be two gazebos to accommodate more fruits and vegetables.

In addition to selling produce at the garden gazebos, the farm can also be found at the CNY Regional Market (Row D) on Saturdays and the Ginegaw Farmers Market on Tuesdays.  In addition, they sell to The Good Food Collective, Upstate Collective and several other food collectives and retail/wholesale outlets.

Best time to visit

While the late spring and summer are great times to visit the garden gazebo, my favorite time to visit is the fall.  The gazebo is always lovingly decorated. But the fall is when the true pumpkin lover, Lindsay, shows off her craft skills. She hand decorates many pumpkins that are available for purchase.

 

The Details

LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Website: http://www.lamorafarms.com