Oswego, New York is located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. Known as the Port City, Oswego is home to SUNY Oswego, a New York State university that attracts students from all over New York state and beyond. Oswego is a place full of creativity and personality thanks to its long history, university town vibes, and easy access to Central New York’s nature. If you’re planning a trip to some of the most interesting towns in Central New York, here are some great things to do in Oswego, NY.
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How to Get to Oswego, NY
Driving/Car Rental: It’s Central New York so the easiest way to get to Oswego is by driving/car rental. The town has a bus system, but it’s infrequent and routes are limited. If you’re driving use Waze or Google Maps for directions.
Bus: There are a few options by bus.
- Centro Bus provides transportation locally and has a route to/from Syracuse.
- From other parts of the state, including New York City, check out Greyhound Bus.
Train: If traveling by train, Amtrak will only take passengers as far as Syracuse. From the Amtrak Station in Syracuse, you can take the Centro bus to Oswego.
Our OTHER NY Travel GUIDES
Don’t miss out on our other Upstate New York travel guides, such as:
- Cute and Cozy Cabin Rentals in Upstate New York
- Places to Visit in Upstate New York + Hidden Gems
- Best Wineries in the Finger Lakes to Visit
- Interesting Cities in Upstate New York to Explore
The Unique History of Oswego, NY
Oswego was first home to the Onondaga tribe, one of the Native American tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. Oswego means pouring out place in the Iroquoian language and comes from its location at the mouth of the Oswego River.
Upstate New York played a significant role in the Underground Railroad. Which was largely a network of abolitionist homes that gave refuge to enslaved Black Americans seeking freedom. According to Dr. Judith Wellman, a former professor at SUNY Oswego, Oswego was “an extremely important stop on the Underground Railroad. It was maybe the largest border trade port with Canada in the country at the time”.
Oswego had a fort that played a role in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Like many towns in Central New York, the town saw a great deal of growth from the 1800s to the early 1900s from the railroad. Since the mid-1900s, the area’s main attraction is now the university and its port on Lake Ontario.
31 FUN & INTERESTING Things to Do in Oswego, NY
Visit Lake Ontario ★
This is one of our favorite lakes in Upstate New York! And a must-visit if you’re in Oswego. The best time to visit Lake Ontario is at sunset. The sunsets here are considered some of the best in the country. Sit at the lake’s shore and watch sailboats, yachts, and other boats float by while eating ice cream. You can easily reach the shores of Lake Ontario from several parts of town. State campuses, like SUNY Oswego, are not private property so feel free to walk behind the SUNY Oswego dorms where there are some really nice spots to sit and enjoy the view.
During the warmer nights, you might come across some bonfires. Enjoy some moonlit conversations while sitting next to the bonfire and listening to the waves rolling against the rocks.
Fort Ontario State Historic Site ★
The first iteration of Fort Ontario was built prior to the Seven Years’ War in the 1700s and rebuilt three different times thereafter. Later, it was used by the United States Army until World War II. The site once hosted historical reenactments of the War of 1812. Students from SUNY Oswego enjoy studying and/or earning work/volunteer hours at the fort. Adjacent to the fort is a cemetery with the remains of those who served at the fort.
Sterling Nature Center
The Friends of the Sterling Nature Center (SNC) is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Sterling Nature Center and its 1400+ acres. In an effort to promote biodiversity, science, and access to nature, Friends of SNC work hard to educate and maintain the area.
Some of the trails offer views of Lake Ontario from The Bluffs. A few minutes away from the Nature Center is the field where an annual Rennaissance Faire takes place. Full disclosure: the owner is an awful man, but you can attend and support the artisans, performers, and staff who rely on the fair for income every summer.
The Chimney Bluffs State Park ★
This is one of our favorite state parks in New York State! And a must-visit park if you’re in Oswego. This park is a 40-minute drive west of Oswego, and it is well worth the day trip. The Bluffs can be accessed near the Nature Center, or at several points between Sterling and Fair Haven.
Groups of friends can be seen taking photos, having small get-togethers, or walking near the edge. In the spirit of safety, it’s best to travel before dark and with a buddy. If you enjoy biking, there’s a trail between Sterling and Fair Haven. There’s a great view from the top of The Bluffs or you can walk the shore area near Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In.
Pssst… Love hiking? Check out our bucket list guide to the BEST hikes in Upstate New York!
One of the largest parks in the city, Breitbeck Park was recently renovated. There are now rocking chairs, fire pits, and a lot of lake-view seating to enjoy the sights. Sidewalks lead to the iconic Kingsford Bell Tower. Visitors can enjoy the basketball court, the playground, and a nice picnic area under the pavilion. While the park was already used for birthday parties, the city has recently added a small splash area and tiny golf course for kids and families.
Learn About the Underground Railroad
As we noted above, Oswego played a large role in the history of the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York. This was one of Oswego’s greatest contributions to democracy and respect for all people in America and the world, according to Dr. Judith Wellman, a former professor at SUNY Oswego. To learn more about this you can visit Oswego’s library and also stop by historic landmarks such as the Daniel and Miriam Pease House.
H. Lee White Maritime Museum
Oswego has been a crucial town during several important periods of American history. The Maritime Museum has a collection that highlights Oswego’s role in history with over 400 years’ worth of artifacts. Guests can book boat tours to the West Pierhead Lighthouse. During college, some of us New York Travelers attempted to walk to the lighthouse and it was extremely difficult as you’re walking on jagged rocks and boulders. So we strongly recommend doing the boat tour instead. See the photos above of our struggles!
Aspiring curators, marine enthusiasts, social media, and marketing students can apply for internships. Special events include a Christmas celebration, guided tours for field trips and private groups, and a photography exhibit.
Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8 for teens, and free for children ages 12 and under. Discounts are also available for Active Duty Military & Veterans.
Salmon River Falls
If you want to visit one of the many breathtaking waterfalls in New York State, Salmon River Falls is not that far from Oswego. It’s less than an hour. If you visit in the autumn, you’ll see that gorgeous fall foliage that New York is famous for. Salmon River Falls is also a great place for photographers looking for some great nature shots.
Safe Haven Holocaust Museum
Safe Haven Museum is a museum about the only Holocaust refugee shelter in the United States. In 1944, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought 982 Jewish refugees and other Holocaust victims to live at Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. It was a poorly handled situation as cramped train rides, chain-link fences, and an order to remain at the shelter created even more trauma for the refugees. Refugees were housed at the shelter for about two years until 1946 when President Harry Truman was pressured to allow the refugees to apply for citizenship and live in the United States permanently.
The museum is open seven days a week during the summer, from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Off-season hours are Thursday through Sunday, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission for adults is $5 and for children and students it’s $3.
Oswego River Walk
The Oswego River Walk is a serene and pleasant walk under the Oswego bridges. In an effort to turn graffiti into beautiful street art, a former Oswego mayor teamed up with the Youth Bureau, the Oswego County Arts Collaborative, and the Oswego School District. Together, they created murals for people to enjoy when they pass by on their daily walks. The concrete path underneath the bridge is wide and wheelchair accessible.
Ontario Orchards has locally grown and in-season produce. The apple cider is delicious and available year-round. There are also freshly baked goods and bags of candy. It’s located between the city limits and rural town of Oswego. The local store has fresh meat and cheeses, as well as outdoor tools and supplies.
The American Foundry
Prior to the pandemic, The Foundry often hosted regularly scheduled drag performances hosted by Queens for a Cause, a beloved group for the local LGBTQ community and college students. The Foundry currently hosts small gatherings and benefits. Their menu is always rotating and offers a diverse choice of small plate items. The venue is known for its food, speedy bartenders, and intimate but spacious atmosphere, with great design and lighting choices.
CMOO – Children’s Museum
Children’s Museum of Oswego is a community and family favorite. The facility and its exhibits are colorful and well-researched to help young minds grow. It’s a great space for kids to learn through play. Interestingly, there’s a well-connected homeschooling community in Oswego. Many homeschooling parents organize classes, social time, and STEAM-oriented activities at places like CMOO and the local YMCA. CMOO’s hands-on exhibits are for children to learn by doing. Bookings can be made in advance for private events and birthday parties.
Sailing at Oswego Yacht Club
If the sunset was not a good enough reason to visit Lake Ontario, you can watch gorgeous boats leisurely pass by or take part in competitions. The volunteer-run yacht club in Oswego runs a lot of the events. A special regatta is held during Harborfest, Oswego’s most famous event. Other races and regattas are held from May to August. Today, the Yacht Club has different membership levels, community events, and offers Junior/Community programs for beginner sailors.
Richardson Bates House Museum
A Tuscan villa, once the residence of a wealthy Oswego family, now operates as the Richardson Bates House Museum. Richardson’s heir is Norman Bates (no, not that Norman Bates – different guy.) The City of Oswego’s history in the Victorian era is well-maintained through this notably intact and well-preserved house museum. Museum hours are Thursday- Saturday, from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM, April – December.
Camp Hollis hosts a youth summer camp from June – August. The property is owned by the county and the summer camp is run by the Oswego County Youth Bureau. Young campers spend their time at Camp Hollis doing outdoor activities, making crafts, and producing memories with their friends and camp counselors.
The counselors are known for being warm, enthusiastic mentors. During the off-season, Camp Hollis operates as an event space for weddings, reunions, academic events, environmental study groups, and more. Each week has a different them, like “Cartoon Week” and “Superhero Week”. You can register children for a day camp or an overnight camp.
Oswego is one of the towns that received a Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. A significant portion of it was allocated to restoring the beloved Oswego Cinema. The movie theater was built in 1941 and the owners have maintained some of the art deco influence and architecture from its early days, including the marquee out front. The theater has a $1 Popcorn Wednesdays and is always featuring the most current films, with seasonal events for winter holiday movies.
Rice Creek Field Station ★
Rice Creek Field Station is utilized for recreation, research, and events. There are several trails you can walk, and the views are particularly picturesque in the autumn.
Rice Creek is a part of SUNY Oswego so university academics and scientists primarily use it for research. There are multiple opportunities for field studies, animal observations, and thesis research if you’re a student at SUNY Oswego.
Midway Drive-in Theatre
Midway Drive-in Theatre in Fulton is the only drive-in theater in Central New York. Owned and operated by the late John F. Nagelschmidt for decades, the legacy of the Midway Drive-in Theatre has been carried by the enthusiasm of its patrons and the dedication of Nagelschmidt’s children. In recent years, the community banded together to refund and repair the drive-in after an intense storm tragically damaged this area of Central New York. Located on State Route 48, it operates from late spring – late autumn. Check the website for specifics. Sometimes there are double features and occasionally, there are even triple features.
Founded in 1938, the Oswego Players is one of the oldest continuously operating community theater spaces in New York. For decades, Oswego Players has produced plays that range from hilarious to meaningful. It offers great opportunities for youth performers and actors of all ages, many of whom are just starting to get their “sea legs” onstage. Occasional musicals showcase the emerging vocal talents of the area as well.
Fun Festivals & Events in Oswego, NY
In late July, Oswego turns into a lively venue for performances, fun, and food. The town comes alive for Harborfest; an event attended by folks from Canada and all over New York State. It is one of the largest free music festivals in New York. The festival spans across the city of Oswego and is zoned into several sections that feature artisans, street food, performances, and more. There are also spectacular fireworks for several days. Parking can get very difficult, so it’s best to not park on the main streets (or get to know a local well enough and ask if you can park in their driveway for the day).
Oswego Speedway & Oswego Kartway
Racecar fans welcome! At Oswego Speedway, admission is free for kids under 16 if accompanied by an adult. Active military members with I.D. are also admitted for free. This well-attended racetrack allows for on-site camping as well. Located behind the Speedway is the smaller, family-friendly Kartway. Kart races are on Friday nights from May through September. Tie your hair back and put your helmet on, it’s time to go fast.
Oswego Farmers’ Market
On Thursday afternoons, from spring – autumn, streets are blocked off for Oswego Farmers’ Market. There is often live entertainment from local artists. Families look forward to the weekly community get-together featuring local growers and artisans. Grab a warm bag of kettel corn or a small piece of chocolate from Man in the Moon Candies.
Haunted Oswego Tours
If you love ghosts, then go on the Haunted Oswego Tour. The hour and a half experience will give you chills and goosebumps as you listen to the storytellers weave tales of the Port CIty’s ghosts. Tours move at a leisurely pace, but make sure you have good walking shoes on. Check the website for days and times. The tour is appropriate for all ages and is noted to be wheelchair-accessible.
You would not think an old farmhouse would have air conditioning and heating, but the owners have made this upgraded establishment perfect for any season. The reception room known as the “Silo” is not only spacious but wheelchair-accessible. The renovated available land with even more outdoor venue structures adds rustic charm for large events, particularly weddings. Curtis Manor cleverly offers a “Micro-Wedding” package for modern couples who would prefer a small, “stress-free” wedding. For any kind of event, their website helpfully points to local photographers, catering, and entertainment options outside of their facility. This is reflective of the Oswego spirit: small businesses exist as a community to promote and help other small businesses.
Porchfest is a community favorite and will be celebrating its seventh year in 2022. A number of homes in the Historic Westside neighborhood of Oswego lend their porches to musicians for the day in September. These porches act as temporary performance spaces and stages for a variety of artists from across Central New York. A large portion of the houses and their borrowed porches are near Franklin Park and are adequately spaced apart so you can visit and hear different musicians throughout the afternoon.
Where to Eat & Drink in Oswego, NY
Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-in & Bev’s ★
A local favorite, Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-in, is one of the best places to visit for fried fish or a burger in Oswego. The seasonal re-opening of Rudy’s is an indicator that spring is finally in the chilly Central New York air. It’s located on the shore of Lake Ontario, walking distance from SUNY Oswego. If you’re not quite full from your fish fry, you can pop over to Bev’s next door for ice cream.
For some drinks in a spacious pub, visit The Raven. This dimly lit bar is a favorite of both locals and the college student population. With excellent year-round deals on drinks, this spacious pub will occasionally have live music and trivia nights. The space contains many places to sit, chat, and occasionally dance.
The Coffee Connection
The Coffee Connection is an inviting space housed in a former church. The business recently moved from Water Street to its current location on Mohawk Street. Under new ownership, the new location also hosts local artists outside during the summer. The Coffee Connection has yummy coffee and snacks to enjoy while you plan the rest of your day in Oswego.
La Parilla ★
La Parilla is an unexpected gem on W. 2nd St with excellent wine and local farm-to-table food. Their menu rotates based on seasonal availability and is typically Mediterannean-themed. Make sure to get some sangria and visit the cute red restaurant from 4:00 – 6:00 for Happy Hour prices.
Red Sun Fire Roasting Co. ★
Red Sun Fire Roasting Co. is one of the best places for dinner in town. They have great wood-fired pizza and a variety of different options on their menu. If you don’t want a sit-down dinner here, you can always eat at their casual cafe next door, Port City Cafe.
Opened by local couple Tom and Mary in 1946, Vona’s restaurant is known to have a very pleasant atmosphere for family dinner outings and private parties. The French onion soup and gnocchi are customer favorites. Vona’s is currently closed during lunch hours and opens for dinner at 4:30 PM.
HOTELS to Stay in Oswego, NY
Blind Sodus Bay Family Cottage on the Waterfront
This cute rental is perfect for larger groups as it offers two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and is right on the lake. Here, you have access to a private deck and a shared seasonal dock so you can go fishing/boating or just relax by the water. It’s just 30 minutes away from downtown Oswego.
Beacon Hotel Oswego
The Franklin Square District holds many beloved historic buildings, including the Beacon Hotel. The hotel is a short walk to restaurants, bars, and shops. The hotel is housed in a renovated historical building with a gorgeous fireplace, high chandeliers, and a relaxing hot tub (you’ll want that if you’re visiting any time from September-May). Check-in is at 4:00 PM, and check-out is at 10:00 PM.
Oswego is an active and vibrant town in Central New York. You can grab a cozy cup of coffee in an old church, attend a beloved local music festival, and then catch a ghost tour at night. Whatever local adventure you choose, you are sure to have a memorable time in this town in Upstate New York.
Our OTHER NY Travel GUIDES
Don’t miss out on our other Upstate New York travel guides, such as:
- Fun & Beautiful Things to do in Upstate New York
- Best Spots to go Glamping in Upstate New York
- Super-Cute Towns in the Adirondacks to Visit + Hidden Gems
- Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes – Vacation Guide