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SUMMER GUIDE '10: Day trips to the south

From gorgeous gorges to serious history, Ithaca, Seneca Falls, and Watkins Glen have much to offer

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BY KATHY LALUK

Rochester has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment, but everyone still needs a getaway now and then. The best thing is, you don't have to blow big bucks on an exotic vacation. There are lots of fun places nearby that are perfect for daytrips or even a long weekend away. To the south of Rochester you'll find rolling hills that are rich in history and are sprinkled with arts and enterainment, a dash of wine, and topped with stunning views of nature that will simply take your breath away.

Seneca Falls

Drive time: 55 minutes

Take a quick drive down the Thruway to the quaint little town of Seneca Falls for a glance into history. Known mostly for being the site of the Women's Rights Convention in 1848, Seneca Falls is also home to the National Women's Hall of Fame (76 Fall St, greatwomen.org, 31-568-8060). Stroll through the museum to hear the stories of some incredible women, including Rochester's own Susan B. Anthony. During the summer the museum is open Mondays-Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is only $3 for adults, $1.50 for students and seniors.

If the weather's nice enough, you can hop over to the Women's Rights National Historic Park (136 Fall St), open daily from dawn to dusk. Take a tour of the Wesleyan Chapel where the Seneca Falls Convention was held (daily at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.), or of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house (daily at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.). For more information about the park, visit nps.gov/wori or call 315-568-0024.

Finger Lakes Wine Country

Drive time: 50-90 minutes

Here's one you adults can enjoy. You don't need to travel all the way to the vineyards of Italy or California when New York's own wine country is only about an hour away.

The Finger Lakes, notably Cayuga Lake (16 wineries) and Seneca Lake (more than 30 wineries), offer a number of wine-tasting tours. Hire a bus to take you along the trail and sip away the afternoon. Wine Tour Trolley (winetourtrolley.com, 315-521-0223) offers tours of the Seneca trail for $45-$60 per person with a pickup at a number of hotels in Geneva. If you're looking for a local pickup, try Metropolitan Limousines for $35-$70 per person (metlimos.com or 259-7136).

The wine trails also offer special events throughout the year. The Cayuga Wine Trail hosts a canine-friendly weekend every year with its Greyhound Wine Tour (June 24-27) as well as musical performances, like the Sunday afternoon concert series weekly at the Americana winery (4367 East Covert Rd, Interlaken). For more info about the Cayuga Wine Trail, visit cayugawinetrail.com or call 607-869-4281.

The Seneca Wine Trail hosts its Riesling to Visit tour all summer long (May-August) to highlight one of the region's signature grapes. Now in its fifth year, the special tour includes a free flight of wines at participating wineries (15 in all) and a chance to win a weekend getaway. For details, visit senecalakewine.com or call 607-535-8080.

Watkins Glen

Drive time: 90 minutes

Located at the Southern tip of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen is well known for its scenic state park, but also for its place in the auto racing world. The Watkins Glen International Race Track (2790 County Rt. 16) open June through September, hosts a number of races, including the Camping World Grand Prix (July 2-4) and the Vintage Grand Prix (September 10-12). Even if you're not a fan of the fast and furious, the track has plenty of special events everyone can enjoy, like the Finger Lakes Wine Festival (July 16-18) and the Art of Ferrari (September 3-5), which celebrates the art, design and culture around the well-known car. For ticket information and a full list of events, visit theglen.com or call 607-535-2486.

Even though the race track is the big attraction here, there are other things to do too. Enjoy the outdoors at Watkins Glen State Park (433 S. Franklin St, nysparks.state.ny.us, 607-535-4511) or rollerblade at Lakeside State Park (State Rt. 14, watkinsglen.us/parks.htm, 607-535-4438). If you have time, take a boat ride on Seneca Lake with Captain Bill's Seneca Lake Cruises (senecaharborstation.com, 607-535-4541) or tour around yourself in a kayak at the Kayak Shak (Seneca Harbor Park, 3 N. Franklin St, bergerssports.com, 607-937-5001).

Ithaca

Drive time: 2 hours

Even though it's small, Ithaca is its own scenic hippieville that has a surprising number of things to do. If you're familiar with the t-shirts this area is famed for, you'll also know that "Ithaca is Gorges," and there are plenty of the natural formations to explore. There are a bunch near CornellUniversity or IthacaCollege, or you could head for Taughannock Falls State Park (2221 Taughannock Park Rd, taughannock.com, 607-387-6739). Take a dip in the pond beneath the 215-foot-tall falls (33 feet taller than Niagara Falls) or just hike along a mile-long trail.

If the weather isn't cooperating, visit the Museum of the Earth (1259 Route 96, museumoftheearth.org, 607-273-6623) for a look at what makes the world turn, or the Sciencenter (601 First St, sciencenter.org, 607-272-0600) for an educational but fun afternoon. Both museums have hands-on exhibits and special events perfect for kids, but never fear -- adults will have fun too (take it from this 20something who's been to both places more times than she'd care to admit).

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