Rochester is largely overshadowed by what many believe to be the only thing worth visiting in the state of New York, New York City, but it is a true hidden gem. It may be most well-known as being the birthplace of modern photography, or maybe for its notoriously heavy snowfall (with an annual average snowfall of 84 inches, I’d say that’s fair).
A recent influx of creative entrepreneurs has fostered a revival of Rochester that has natives feeling pretty damn proud to call it home. ROC GIRL GANG, created by graphic designer Sarah Knight, is a blog that highlights local female business owners and creatives. In creating this blog, Sarah has created a beautiful community of boss-babes. New distilleries, craft breweries, and farm-to-table restaurants are opening up on what feels like a monthly basis.
If you can find a way to deal with the snow, I promise you’ll find plenty to love about Rochester, the place I call home.
Or maybe just don’t visit in January through March.
Coffee & Tea
A direct trade coffee shop that roasts their beans locally and is popular with young, creative types.
Calling all tea lovers, this South Wedge spot is a great place to stay and enjoy a hot cup of tea, or purchase leaves to bring home.
Coffee, tea, beer, wine, pick your poison. In their own words, Joe Bean “pushes the boundaries of what a coffee shop can and should do.” They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and frequently host events. Their menu has several vegan and gluten free options, with a focus on clean, local ingredients.
Don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing ugly about this little gem of a coffee shop. For a caffeine-free treat try their turmeric latte.
Breweries & Distilleries
Black Button is Rochester’s first “grain-to-glass” distillery since the Prohibition. Their current offerings include four different types of gin (they have a lilac gin, can you get any more Rochester than that?), apple pie moonshine, vodka, corn whiskey, and several types of bourbon. Stop by for a tour or tasting, or even sign up for one of their three-day “Master Distiller” courses.
For nearly 140 years, Genesee Brewing Company has been serving beer to Rochesterians (my parents and grandparents grew up on Genesee Cream Ale). They have renovated the century-old packaging center into a beautiful restaurant, bar, tasting room, and beer exhibit, overlooking the Highland Falls.
This craft brewery, housed inside a beautiful, open-aired building in Downtown Rochester, serves pints, flights, casual food, and hosts trivia every Wednesday at 7 PM.
This 25+ year old craft brewery is housed inside a newly renovated, rustic-industrial building on Railroad Street and offers a selection of 12 of their own brews in addition to New York wine and cider. You can also visit their brew-pub which has a menu of wood-fired pizzas, salads, and traditional German fare, with ingredients sourced straight from the Rochester Public Market.
Located in the young, hip South Wedge neighborhood, Swiftwater is one of Rochester’s newer breweries. The building is a cozy, yet minimally clad warehouse, with several picnic tables outside for the warmer months. They have vegan/ vegetarian options for most of the items on their food menu.
Where to Eat
Some of Rochester’s most delicious and authentic Italian cuisine, with a modern rustic atmosphere.
My favorite spot for a big warm bowl of ramen noodles, especially on a frigid winter night.
Vegan donuts, need I say more?
This is Rochester’s only 100% vegan restaurant and their spin on Rochester’s famous “garbage plate” (a hodge-podge of hamburger meat, home fries, and mac salad), which they’ve cleverly named the “Compost Plate,” is a must-try. On their menu is an assortment of salads, snacks, and entrees with a “comfort food” appeal. They have a rotating kombucha flavor and a display case of vegan baked goods.
Female duo Molly Hartley and Kate Cassels started Scratch Bakeshop in an effort to bring equally delicious and beautiful sweet treats to the Rochester area. They specialize in custom and special event desserts with allergen-free offerings. You can find their desserts in restaurants throughout Rochester, like Apogee Wine Bar, or you can visit them at their brick & mortar store on Russell Street
Located in a renovated two-story house, The Owl House serves a variety of locally and seasonally influenced dishes with many vegan options, as well as craft beer, wine, and inventive cocktails. Enjoy a meal outside in the back patio on a summer night. Try their buffalo cauliflower “wings” with vegan bleu cheese.
A casual spot for healthy salads, sandwiches, baked goods, and coffee, with a farmhouse-inspired interior. Bring home a loaf of their delicious homemade bread.
A vintage furniture and home goods store with a carefully curated selection of mid-century, bohemian items.
Arguably Rochester’s favorite florist in town is Arena’s, located on East Ave. Their store has evolved into a beautiful gift shop with a variety of unique household plants, home decor, vintage furniture, local jewelry, and more.
A luxury chocolatier with vegan and dairy-free options including dark chocolate chocolate bark, dipped fruit, and fruit-and-nut clusters.
A cute little boutique featuring a variety of locally made goods. They also offer craft-making classes and host frequent pop-up shops to showcase local artists.
Rochester Brainery is a classroom and event space that hosts a “bazaar” on the second Saturday of every month, featuring local artists and makers. Check out their website for their schedule of classes, which covers an extensive list of topics from DIY and crafts, to business, marketing, photography, cooking, and more.
An antique store on Rochester’s favorite shopping street, Park Avenue, selling funky, upscale vintage and estate finds.
Housed in a restored grain warehouse featuring exposed brick and towering beams, this interior design shop stocks the most exquisite and beautifully crafted pieces for the home. It is located just steps away from the Rochester Public Market, so be sure to stop by before stocking up on local fruits and veggies for your stay.
Things to Do
A popular spot for runners and walkers, Cobb Hill boasts the best views of the Rochester skyline. Make your way up here to watch the sun set on a summer night.
The Dryden Theater at the George Eastman House is a 500-seat theater presenting film screenings in their original format every day of the week. The theater aims to preserve traditional film and honor its place in Rochester’s history.
Tour the mansion and gardens of one of the most famous millionaires in American history, as well as one of most important historically important Rochesterians. George Eastman was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and the pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film, and throughout his life he donated more than $100 million to schools, public parks, hospitals, and charities.
Open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays year-round, The RPL is an especially popular way to kick off the weekend during the warmer months. Grab a vegan donut and a coffee from Hettie’s Delites Cafe before perusing the food stall and picking up your groceries for the week.
The Little Theater is an old-school theater showing independent, foreign, and classical films. You can enjoy a glass of wine, coffee, or a dessert at their on-site cafe before the show starts.
Health & Wellness
A large studio with classes in aerial arts and pole dance fitness. A fun way to mix things up with your fitness routine.
A chain of yoga studios in the Rochester area, with several locations in the suburbs, one in the East Avenue area of Rochester and another in College Town. The instructors are very experienced and knowledgeable, and the classes tend to be light-hearted, fun, and challenging.
A hip studio with an offering of yoga, pilates, boxing, bootcamp, and spin classes, as well as an on-location juice bar Just Juice. They also offer nutrition services to give you a well-rounded approach to health and wellness.
A lovely little studio that offers a variety of health and fitness classes with a spiritual twist, like their “morning meditation & writing” class, several styles of yoga, and adult dance classes.
Located in the South Wedge area, Tru Yoga offers different styles of yoga including vinyasa, hatha, prenatal, and meditation-focused classes.