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North Hills Monthly

Rochester, NY, the Perfect Place to Play

Jul 30, 2019 09:06AM ● By Vanessa Orr

The city of Rochester was built around four waterfalls along the Genesee River, which were used to power the flour mills in the early days of the city.

It’s not every day that you walk into a museum and see Captain America standing on top of a diner. And the fact that this is only the first of many strange and wonderful sights in the Strong National Museum of Play, located in Rochester, NY, makes it one of the most unique attractions in a city full of eclectic options.

Looking for a fish crossed with a unicorn? Check. Want to send your child wandering through a kid-sized Wegman’s Food Market? Got it. Wish you could sit on the stairs of the Sesame Street brownstone and sing the theme song with Big Bird watching from an upstairs window? Childhood dream achieved.

The Strong Museum—a two-story space more than a city block long—is filled with everything you can imagine a child would want to see, from toys to dolls to video games to a butterfly garden; but it’s not just for the small-human set. Anyone who is young at heart will appreciate seeing mementos of childhood; I stopped dead in front of the Easy-Bake Oven, remembering how my sister and I used to “bake” inedible delicacies, and the Charlie’s Angels lunchbox brought a huge smile to my face—who didn’t want to have Farrah Fawcett hair?

But the museum is more than just a chance to relive a happy childhood. It is a vast collection of more than 400,000 objects collected by Margaret Woodbury Strong dedicated to the study of play. Within the 285,000 sq. ft. space, you can witness how toys evolved over the years reflecting changing times and social mores. There are some real treasures here, including a talking doll invented by Thomas Edison in the 1890s that was supposed to recite nursery rhymes; unfortunately, its screeching voice scared children, so the idea was pretty much put aside until the 1950s when Chatty Cathy hit the scene.

I was extremely impressed by the breadth of the collection, which also includes the National Toy Hall of Fame, and the Video Hall of Fame. Even better, there are many opportunities to play in the museum, and it was no surprise to see just as many adults taking part as kids—of course we all want a picture of ourselves scaling a wall like Spiderman or the chance to move like a playing piece on a giant game board!

While it’s almost impossible to pull children and adults out of the Strong, it’s worth it to spend some time wandering through Rochester, which is full of other unique finds. One of my favorite discoveries was the waterfall in the center of the city at High Falls, a New York State Heritage Area. The city of Rochester was built around four waterfalls along the Genesee River, which were used to provide power for the many flour mills that grew up around the water source, earning it the title of The Flour City. That moniker was later changed to The Flower City when Rochester became a hub for plant nurseries, flowers and seeds in the late 1800s—even today, you can still celebrate that heritage at the Rochester Lilac Festival in May.

From the Pont de Rennes Bridge, which commemorates the friendship between Rochester and its sister city of Rennes, France, you can watch the 96-foot high waterfall or just admire the classic city scape. Rochester’s architecture, and its commitment to preserving its historical buildings while still improving existing infrastructure, reminds me a lot of how Pittsburgh reinvigorated its downtown area. The city is investing in itself in a big way, making $922 million in improvements since 2017, including an $18.5 million renovation of the Hyatt Regency Rochester, which offers truly spectacular views of the city.

Food and Drink

I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with Wegman’s when I saw the mini-version in the Strong, but it turns out that this Rochester-based market is more than just a grocery store—it’s a phenomenon. Not only are there 97 stores in six states, but Wegman’s is the #1 tourist attraction in the area, and the winner of the first-ever Food Channel award for the grocery store that has most changed the way we shop. Stopping into the store in Pittsford, NY, I now get the attraction; there are not only a ridiculous amount of options available grocery-wise, but there are tons of fresh food choices, including stations where you can get your meals custom-made. And don’t forget to pick up your meatball cookies—it’s their most popular item, and well worth the trip!

ROC Public Market is also a must-stop, especially for craft beer lovers. Rohrbach’s Beer Hall on Railroad Street is Rochester’s original craft brewery, established in 1991, and not only are their creatively named beers delicious, but you can pair them with American-German pub fare for a delicious meal. Or you can just order griddle cakes—a maple blueberry beer that tastes exactly like a stack of pancakes—and combine your beer and meal in one glass. I personally liked Space Kitty, though probably as much for the name as the taste.

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Bitter Honey, located further down Railroad Street, offers authentic Mexican food in a family-style setting. They not only complement their food with mezcal-based cocktails, but also offer mezcal, tequila and even salsa flights—this is a great place to experiment if you’re not quite sure what it is you want to try. 

Though I only overnighted in Rochester, I was excited to see how much the city had to offer and look forward to a return visit. To learn more about the area, check out