When we talk about "Rochester," we're not just talking about the city. Rochester, for all intents and purposes, is really Monroe County. Indeed, when traveling outside the region, most people who live in the city's suburbs tell anyone who asks they live in Rochester.
Monroe County is about as diverse a community as you'll find anywhere. Within a 20-minute drive in any direction, there is a mid-sized American city of 200,000 people, farmland, quaint villages, and shopping malls.
Bisected by the Genesee River flowing north and the Erie Canal running east and west, the county is a community of dozens of communities: 19 towns, nine villages, and, of course, the city of Rochester, whose neighborhoods have found ways to carve out their own personalities.
From the South Wedge to North Winton Village, the Flower City, as Rochester is known, is home to an assortment of neighborhoods, each one vehemently defended by their residents as the best place to call home.
The suburbs might look similar at first glance, but each has its own distinct identity that draws on their heritage, their location, and their infrastructure.
Each has its perks, from vibrant nightlife culture and shopping to easy access to parks and hiking trails. Here we offer a sampling of five city neighborhoods and five suburbs to give you a taste of what sets them apart.
Marked at its northern border by the crossing of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge and the Genesee River to the east, Corn Hill is a quiet, family neighborhood right on the edge of the city's downtown.
The annual Corn Hill Arts Festival, which has been held annually for over 50 years, draws large crowds to the neighborhoods. The festival features over 100 artists, from woodworkers to photographers and everything in between. This year, it is scheduled to be held July 11-12.
Corn Hill is a pivotal hub of historic Rochester. On Clarissa Street, the Flying Squirrel Community Space, 285 Clarissa Street, serves as a hub for the city's community activism. The street is also home to the annual Clarissa Street Revival, an jazz festival slated for August 15. Clarissa is recognized as a Rochester jazz hub and cornerstone of the black community in Rochester through the mid-1900s. Mississippi Delta Blues legend Son House lived for a time off Clarissa Street at 61 Greig Street, now a historical landmark.
The Genesee Riverway Trail in Corn Hill also offers one of the best views of the city skyline, with the bridge archways set pristinely across downtown's towers.
The 19th Ward on the city's southwest side is one of the largest neighborhoods in Rochester. Now a rich blend of working class and college housing, the 19th Ward is a proud community boasting one of the longest running neighborhood groups in the nation, the 19th Ward Community Association, which formed in 1965 as a retaliation to "red-lining" housing policies.
Today, the 19th Ward is a veritable goldmine of some Rochester's best, and best-hidden, culinary hot spots. People's Choice Kitchen, 575 Brooks Avenue, offers up a unique blend of soul and Jamaican cuisine, El Latino Restaurant, 1020 Chili Avenue, serves some of the best Latin American food in the city, and Unkl Moe's BBQ, 493 West Avenue, is a can't-miss barbecue stop. Of course, no list of Rochester food is complete without Nick Tahou's Hots, 320 West Main Street, which sits at the northeastern tip of the 19th Ward and boasts the claim to the throne as the home of the original Garbage Plate.
On the neighborhood's southeastern tip is Genesee Valley Park, home to plenty of walking trails, baseball fields, and easy spots to drop a kayak into the Genesee River.
At the northeastern tip of Rochester sits the Culver-Winton neighborhood, a robust community packed to the brim with food, entertainment, and drink. Perhaps the cornerstone of today's Culver-Winton Neighborhood is Radio Social, 20 Carlson Road, a 42,000 square foot compound featuring two restaurants—the upscale Middle-Eastern Ophira and the pizza and wings joint Shortwave — a bar, bowling, arcade games, and much more.
But Radio Social is far from the end-all, be-all of Culver-Winton. Tryon City Tavern, 2300 East Main Street keeps a short, but highly-curated taplist, and is in competition with the nearby Captain Jim's Fish Market, 2329 East Main Street, for best fish fry in the city. On the strip of North Winton Road stretching from Merchants Road to University Avenue, you'll find a diverse collection of eateries and pubs, including upscale Mexican joint The Silver Iguana, 663 North Winton, new-American Lucky's, 628 North Winton, and Khong Thai Cuisine, 260 North Winton.
The Neighborhood of the Arts, or NOTA, holds the lofty distinction of being one of Rochester's hippest neighborhoods. Centered around the University of Rochester's sprawling Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Avenue, NOTA is the epicenter of Rochester's arts community, and a perfect place to hop bars or catch a live band.
Three Heads Brewing, 186 Atlantic Avenue, is a must-stop for live music. Co-owner Geoff Dale lovingly calls the venue space, which covers almost all of the brewery's customer space, "The Living Room." Almost any night of the week, eager drinkers can catch live bluegrass, jam bands, reggae, rock, and funk from locals and traveling bands, usually on the cheap.
It's difficult to fit everything in NOTA into one succinct segment. For drinks, check out Sager Beer Works, 46 Sager Drive, Nine Maidens Brewing Co., 1344 University Avenue suite 140, Mullers Cider House, 1344 University Avenue, suite 180, or Living Roots Winery, 1255 University Avenue. For food and shopping, Village Gate, 275 North Goodman Street, is a must-stop. This mixed use compound houses everything from high-end eatery Lento to literary-themed cocktail bar Nox and The Gatehouse, home to wood-fired pizzas and one of Rochester's best burgers.
Until October, when the city of Rochester is set to cut the ribbon on the Roc City Skatepark, NOTA is also home to the only skatepark in Rochester, Breaking Free Skatepark, 1044 University Avenue, open to any and all wheeled sports.
We western New Yorkers love to pronounce things differently than anyone else in the English-speaking world. To wit, this northern beachside neighborhood is pronounced "shar-LOT," not "shar-LIT."
Charlotte is a park-heavy neighborhood built along the Lake Avenue strip leading to Lake Ontario. At Turning Point Park, find a 3.8 mile paved trail through the woods featuring a 3,572-foot boardwalk weaving through the Genesee River Turning Basin marsh. At the northern edge find the Ontario Beach Park, a 39-acre featuring plenty of sandy beaches.
But Charlotte is far more than just beaches and bogs. At the Pelican's Nest, 566 North River Street, catch plenty of lakefront views with fairly regular live bands. Windjammers, 4695 Lake Avenue, serves up some of the best chicken wings you'll find in Rochester. The Port of Rochester, 1000 North River Street, once home to the infamous Fast Ferry, now is home to sushi-fusion joint California Rollin II, Bistro Jetty at the Port, and Rochester classic burger joint Bill Gray's.
The nearby marina at the port is also among the most scenic spots to park a boat during the warmer months.
Village of Brockport
Nestled on the western edge of Monroe County about 20 miles west of Rochester, Brockport calls itself "The Victorian Village on the Erie Canal." But more than anything, Brockport is a college town.
Home to the State University of New York at Brockport, the village is brimming with youthful energy and shops ranging from restaurants and bars to an independent book store in Lift Bridge Book Shop, 45 Main St., and vintage movie theater in Brockport Strand Theater, 93 Main St. The village's pedestrian-friendly downtown includes several buildings that are on the state and federal registries of historic places.
Brockport prides itself on its public art, its nine public parks, and its welcome center, which in the summertime is staffed by volunteers who greet Erie Canal boaters and canal path cyclists. The village's website, brockportny.org, offers maps for walking tours.
The village borders the towns of Sweden and Clarkson and has about 8,300 inhabitants, roughly the same number of people that attend SUNY Brockport, making for the ultimate "town-and-gown" atmosphere.
Village of Fairport
This quaint village on the Erie Canal — about a 15-minute drive east of Rochester — is said to have taken its name in the 19th century from a canal traveler who was overheard in a local tavern saying of the place, "This is a fair port."
The next day, local legend has it, the same man stormed out of his hotel claiming it was infested with bed bugs and vowing never to return. But the name stuck.
Fairport sits smack in the middle of the town of Perinton, a suburb of roughly 47,000 inhabitants known for its indoor and outdoor recreation. Three separate interconnected foot paths and hiking trails wind through the town, earning Perinton the distinction of being named a top "Trail Town" in the country by the American Hiking Society and the National Park Service.
But the village, with its bustling shops and restaurants that draw on its heritage as an Erie Canal boomtown, is the beating heart of the town. Lift Bridge Lane alone boasts the popular dueling Irish pubs, Mulconry's and Donnelly's, and the best place in the village to see live bands, The B-Side.
The village's population of about 5,300 swells in the summer, when boaters traveling the canal moor their vessels for a nominal fee in the commercial district of Packett's Landing.
Thousands of people visit every year for the village's "Canal Days" festival, which features live music and a panoply of food and retail vendors on streets shut down to traffic. This year, the festival is slated for Friday, June 5 through Sunday, June 7.
The celebration will have a different feel this year. The village's iconic lift bridge, which connects the vital north-south arterial of Main Street (Route 250) in and out of town is shut down for repairs until the fall of 2020.
Village of Pittsford
Founded in 1827, Pittsford is the oldest of Monroe County's villages. It originally served as the government center of Northfield, the sprawling town that was eventually divided into most of the county's east side towns. It developed as a center of commerce, thanks to its position on two major roads that ran between the mills in what was then Rochesterville and the outlying farms.
But the Erie Canal really drove the village's growth and prosperity. Nearby farmers gained access to new markets and downtown merchants thrived amidst the commercial traffic.
Pittsford is a preservation-minded community with a population of more than 1,300. Rigorous local laws have helped ensure that the houses along its quiet residential streets maintain their historical characteristics. Likewise, the village's compact, walkable downtown is lined with well-preserved buildings dating to the mid to late 1800s.
Many canal-era mills and warehouses remain along Schoen Place, though they've been converted into shops, restaurants, and offices. Even an old grain silo was repurposed for modern commercial use.
The Schoen Place district has become a popular attraction, where residents and visitors shop, eat, and stroll along the canal.
The adjacent Pittsford Farms Dairy also attracts people to the village. It processes raw milk from local farmers into several products, including ice cream, which plenty of people rave about. The dairy has a retail store and a bakery.
Village of Spencerport
Like the other "port" villages in Monroe County — Brockport and Fairport — Spencerport resides on the Erie Canal and draws much of its culture from the recreational waterway. Towpath Park, for instance, offers a scenic canalside walkway.
Historic homes dot the village, with several featuring Victorian or Federal-style architecture on West Avenue, a main arterial on the south side of the village. Union Street, in primary thoroughfare, is lined with boutiques and small shops.
Attractions outside the village include Springdale Farm, a 200-acre working farm and agricultural education facility owned by Monroe County and operated by Heritage Christian Services off Colby Street in the town of Ogden that is open to the public. The farm says it entertains 40,000 visitors a year.
Spencerport sits entirely within the borders of Ogden, a farming community about a 15-minute drive west of downtown Rochester. The village has roughly 3,600 residents in the wider town of about 20,000 people.
Henrietta is one of Monroe County's major commercial centers. The prevailing view is that it's a town full of big box retail, shopping plazas, and a mall. But that says more about why people go to Henrietta than it does the town itself.
There's more to Henrietta than the Jefferson Road - Hylan Drive - West Henrietta Road strip. The town shifted from an agricultural community to a residential community after World War II, as did many suburbs across the U.S. In 2017, residential properties made up roughly 31 percent of the town's 20,720 acres, according to a county land use report from that year. Approximately 43,600 people live in the town.
Agricultural land makes up around 13 percent of the town's acreage and vacant land accounts for another 18 percent.
The town is also home to the Rochester Institute of Technology and several high tech companies, including Rochester Precision Optics and Idex Health & Science, both of which are photonics firms; Eagleview, which is an aerial imaging and geographic information services company; and Innovative Solutions, an information technology and applications services company located in the new Riverwood Tech Campus.
Amazon recently built a distribution center in Henrietta and the University of Rochester is currently building a new orthopaedics campus at Marketplace Mall. The medical facility's footprint will include the former Sears store.
Henrietta has the second lowest town tax rate in the county. The town with the lowest rate, Riga, doesn't have town taxes because of payments it receives for being the county landfill's host community.