14 Charming Small Towns in Western New York to Visit + Hidden Gems

When someone mentions Western New York (WNY), most immediately think of Buffalo and Rochester. But hidden in the foothills and plains are also some of the most adorable little towns with their own charming attractions.

What I love about these small towns is that they don’t have the large crowds and the hustle and bustle you’ll find in the popular cities, yet they’re just a short drive away. Here are my favorite small towns in Western New York to check out!

What is Western New York known for?

I know there may be some confusion when people refer to Western New York. But this region references the areas from Rochester to Niagara Falls and also to Allegheny County. Please see the map above.

More recently, we’ve become internationally famous (again) for our snow and blizzards (Lake Effect)! But there’s more to us than that.

With an incredible history involving Native American tribes, the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, big industry, the Erie Canal, and wonders like Niagara Falls, it’s no wonder people keep flocking toward this much quieter and sometimes forgotten part of New York State.

And we can’t forget all the local cuisines and specialty foods developed in Buffalo and Rochester!

14 Charming Cute Small Towns in Western New York + Nearby Attractions

1. East Aurora, NY

One of the more famous small towns in Western NY is East Aurora, a quick 20-minute drive from Buffalo, NY. Famous because of its history in the arts and crafts movement and being the filming location for several movies including “A Prince for Christmas”, “A Christmas in Vermont”, and “Cold Brook”. 

This quaint little town with its picturesque Main Street with beautiful historic buildings, including the only house built by the bare hands of a US President and the Roycroft Inn, holds little treasures for everyone to enjoy. It’s one of those towns you can enjoy for the day or the weekend.

Who knew you could find the same types of multi-ethnic cuisines you see in the city, in a small town out of the way?

2. Chautauqua, NY

Whether you want to enjoy Chautauqua Wine Country or the famous Chautauqua Institute a leisurely hour-and-a-half drive can bring you to the quiet solitude and soft rolling hills of this wonderful region full of engrossing experiences.

That’s what the Chautauqua experience is, positive change and bringing out the best in humanity through arts, education, free-thinking, and faith.

Chautauqua, named after the local lake, started as a lake resort community and is the birthplace of the Chautauqua movement. The area remains dedicated to that movement to bring entertainment and culture to the whole community. 

Chautauqua also flaunts the hidden gem Barcelona Waterfalls, one of the most stunning waterfalls in Western New York.

3. Ellicottville, NY

Known as Western NY’s playground for outdoor adventures, Ellicottville is nestled deep in ski country. An hour away from Buffalo, NY you’ll find a stunning village that prides itself on an eclectic and old town feel surrounded by the perfect mountains for your skiing or hiking adventures, and don’t forget the kayaks.

You won’t regret planning a weekend getaway, I promise. With dozens of bed and breakfasts and other cute places to stay, you can go on an adventure, take a ski trip, and walk through the village to grab a bite at one of the 23 amazing bars and restaurants. You’ll never run out of things to do in Ellicottville.

4. Lewiston, NY

The first place I think of when quaint, small towns in Western NY are mentioned is Lewiston. I may be a little biased because it’s so close to Fort Niagara and Youngstown, where I happen to spend a lot of time, but Lewiston is full of art, music, and food that really grabs your attention and keeps it.

Close to Niagara Falls (7 miles) and about a 30-minute drive from Buffalo, the little village of Lewiston packs a lot into the square mile that makes it up. History buffs like myself can plan quite the weekend based out of Lewiston and music and culture seekers will enjoy all their festivals and concerts at ArtPark.

If it’s the food you’re after, there’s an amazing tour all about the mouth-watering food that Lewiston has to offer. Then, since you’re so close all you have to do is decide which side of Niagara Falls to pick and see one of the great wonders of the world.

5. Canandaigua, NY

Ok, I’ll admit that Canandaigua is technically in the Finger Lakes but it’s so close I’m going to call it Western New York’s frontier. It’s only 25 miles from Rochester and the Native American name translates to the equivalent of “The Chosen Spot” and it is.

With historical mansions, museums, touring wine trails, water parks, and being so close to the most beautiful waterfalls in the Finger Lakes Canandaigua has so much to offer it had to be included. 

6. Arcade, NY

Tucked away about 45 minutes south of Buffalo is a place where you can go hiking with Llamas! Llama adventures is an educational center on these majestic creatures with hands-on activities that include going on a hike.

If fascinating animals aren’t your cup of tea, there’s the Main Street Winery only minutes away from the Arcade & Attica Railroad. The Blackberry Blast wine sorbetto at Main Street is a local favorite and well worth the trip.

Whether you sample some delicious wine before or after, the Arcade & Attica Railroad is the last operating steam train in New York. Take a scenic ride through a landscape that has remained virtually unchanged since the railroad was built in the 1880s!

7. Westfield, NY

If you like vineyards, consider driving an hour southwest of the city of Buffalo for some of Lake Erie’s famous vineyards in Westfield. On the lake shore nearby, you can check out the 1829 lighthouse and then travel another 5 minutes and go back in time at the McClurg Museum featuring displays on America’s Civil War.

The thing about small towns is that everything is really close together so grabbing a bite to eat is easily accomplished across the street at the Parkview, Portage Pie, or one of the many other restaurants.

If you plan your trip on the weekend, you have to stop at the Cross Roads Market and check out the 40 local vendors to sample all the area has to offer, including wine. If you like to check out Unique Waterfalls in the USA, then take a hike to Glen Mills Falls on Little Chautauqua Creek, I highly recommend a picnic lunch!

8. Brockport, NY

This small college town along the Erie Canal started as a Victorian Village in 1829 and still maintains that historic appeal along its Main Street. Lined with quaint shops and restaurants, the main road makes this an easy pedestrian town only 20 miles west of Rochester, NY.

Over the summer, you can even celebrate an Old Fashioned 4th with the Western Monroe Historical Society. Enjoy its quaint history and shops and then relax at a local winery. Visiting Brockport is easily one of the best things to do in Rochester, NY.

9. Castile, NY

There are two things to draw you to Castile, NY. The main attraction is an entrance to one of the best state parks in New York, Letchworth, but also the Castile Cider Mill.

Castile borders the western edge of Letchworth State Park where you can spend the day on the Genesee River, hiking or biking on miles of trails and really engrossing yourself in nature.

During the autumn, enjoy fresh pressed cider, apple cider fry cakes, and fresh local produce at the cider mill. You could also drive the four miles to Perry and relax after a full day out-of-doors at the Silver Lake Brewing Project sampling their wide variety of rustic farmhouse beers.

10. Youngstown, NY

Sitting only 11 miles north of Niagara Falls is a little village that holds a special place in my heart. Youngstown is drenched in history, right next door to Old Fort Niagara State Park, where I spend many weekends of the summer re-living the 18th century and the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

With a castle built in 1727, there’s plenty to see at the fort and they’re adding programs for the public all the time. The fort isn’t all Youngstown has to offer either. Full of little shops, historic buildings, delicious restaurants, and plenty of water activities, there’s more than enough in the area to occupy your day. 

11. East Otto, NY

In the mountains of Cattaraugus County, there’s a very small town named East Otto. While the town itself is incredibly small, the area has some beautiful things to offer. The state forest encompasses almost 1400 acres of land with some opportunities for hiking and camping.

What really draws people on the 45-minute drive from Buffalo to East Otto is the Griffis Sculpture Park. I had the opportunity to check out one of America’s largest and oldest sculpture parks when I was working on an archaeology project nearby.

There are over 250 large-scale sculptures scattered over miles of hiking trails. Walk all of it or just a little, that’s up to you, but the terrain is easy going so you can enjoy the view. 

12. Medina, NY

There’s two things that draw attention to Medina (around halfway between Buffalo and Rochester), the Railroad Museum and the Erie Canal.

The best memory I have from this little town is taking my daughter and her cousins on the Polar Express train ride at Christmas time. The Railroad Museum is spectacular with all the model trains inside and working trains outside and puts on an amazingly memorable experience for the holidays.

Bike or hike along the Erie Canalway or even check out Medina Falls. After all that wonderful activity, stop by the Monte Alban, the best taco truck with the best homemade Mexican food in the Rochester area. 

13. Jamestown & Lakewood, NY

If you like comedy, take the short drive (an hour and 20 minutes from Buffalo) out to Jamestown to one of the best museums in Upstate NY.

The National Comedy Center is aptly located in the hometown of Lucille Ball and you can get dual admissions to the comedy center and the Lucy Desi Museum and explore everything about laughs. There’s even a lifesize statue of Lucy in Jamestown’s Memorial Park.

After all your fun and games, only 13 miles away sits the picturesque Lakewood, home to Southern Tier Brewery, where you can relax away the day with good beer and great food.

These two little towns are an excellent choice for day trips from Buffalo.

14. Fairport, NY

This small town may not seem like much, but the suburb of Rochester is also known as the Crown Jewel of the Erie Canal and was considered one of the Best Places to Live by Money Magazine.

Fairport started as a canal port that brought together several local and regional farmers. Today, you can enjoy some excellent Finger Lakes region wine, hiking and cycling, and some serious festivals (almost every weekend between May and October).

You’ll also find that this little town is a haven for independent restaurants that offer some seriously tasty options, even if they’re not exotic. You can also sit back and relax around the fire pits enjoying a pint or two at Fairport Brewing Company.

In Fairport, NY you can check out:

  • Visiting the Erie Canal: Take a stroll along the canal and enjoy the scenic views, or rent a bike and explore the Canalway Trail.
  • Exploring Village Landing: This picturesque area is home to various shops, restaurants, and cafes.
  • Festivals: Canal Days Festival, Fairport Music Festival, and Scarecrow Festival.
  • Fairport Historical Museum: Learn about the history of this town and the Erie Canal.
  • Parks: Such as Potter Memorial Park and Packard Park.

Special Guided Tours to Try

  • Travel the Canandaigua Wine Trail and visit four of the most popular and distinct vineyards.
  • For an extra special experience in Ellicottville get up close and personal with live birds of prey at the American Hawkeye’s school of falconry.
  • Explore the best parts of the American side of Niagara Falls without the insane number of tourists on a Winter Wonderland Tour.
  • While visiting the falls don’t forget to check out Lewiston’s food scene. Your small group can replace your lunch with samples from many of the wonderful eateries that Lewiston has to offer on a food tour.

Where to Stay in Western New York Towns

Author Bio

Heather Menz has called the Buffalo area home for over 35 years. With a degree in archaeology and a keen interest in history, she has explored sites that are both easy to find and those hidden deep in Buffalo and Rochester’s history. As part of an active and outdoors-oriented family, she has traveled and hiked much and learned more about all that the Western New York area has to offer.

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