Mom and Daughter Empire State Road Trip

I don’t know about you but I never feel like I get enough time to spend with my mum. In fairness she lives 5,000 miles away from me over in my home country of England, but even when I lived back home I really don’t feel like we have had more than a couple of days of quality mother daughter time. I decided enough was enough and that this year, in lieu of her 60th and my 30th, we would go on a trip. She booked a plane ticket, I met her at the airport and off we went on a road trip of a lifetime.

Although she has come to visit me in Toronto, my mum had never been to the United States before so we planned an easy trip through the Empire State of New York to get her introduced and, dear reader, it was incredible. As were the Harbor Hotels I picked for us to stay in!

Empire State New York Road Trip

Driving our Acura RDX we ventured down through Buffalo and back through the 1000 Islands National park, stopping off for two nights in Chautauqua, two in Watkins Glen and two on the American side of the beautiful 1000 islands. Lakes and leisure were our theme, and we rocked it!


Our first stop allowed us a rip roaring day of laughter in Jamestown, home of the National Comedy Centre and the Lucy-Desi museum, telling the story of Jamestown local and American national treasure, Lucille Ball.  While you could easily spend hours in each spot, if you wanted to cram it all in before a late lunch, that is possible too. The National Comedy Centre is particularly rich in activities, and both big and little kids alike will LOVE how interactive it is. I’m still smiling a week on!

Empire State Road Trip
Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum

The area is also home to the Chautauqua Institution, which was a real trip highlight for both my mum and I! First landed upon in 1873, the gated community began in 1874 and continues to display architectural delights from the era, including the stunning Athenaeum Hotel, where you absolutely need to have a drink on the veranda overlooking the lake. The Institution has a history as a spiritual place of reflection and learning, and today is a hot spot for education, recreation and the arts, drawing curious minds across the country and the wider world to hear world-class speakers and enjoy breathtaking theatrical performances. Both the opera and orchestra of the Chautauqua Institution are celebrating their 90th birthdays this year! If that isn’t good enough reason for a visit, I don’t know what is! 

Empire State Road Trip
Chautauqua Harbor Hotel

While in the Chautauqua / Jamestown area, we stayed at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, an absolute lake-fronted treat spread across nine acres. I can imagine in the summer the carousel bar is booming, featuring old carousel horses from the time the spot was an amusement park (that Lucille Ball worked at, by the way!) I would thoroughly recommend grabbing a glass and cozying up by the fire pits as you watch night lights dance across the water.

Watkins Glen

Hopping back in our babemobile, the Acura, mum and I decided to stop by Allegheny National forest for a hike before making our way to Watkins Glen. Also only slightly out of the way is the fallen Kinzua Bridge, a spectacle that never fails to delight.

With our hiking whistles whet, we also took the opportunity to walk the spectacular Watkins Glen waterfall trail. The park has a three mile walking loop around some truly breathtaking falls, but do remember to pack a poncho as you WILL get wet!

Empire State Road Trip
Watkins Glen State Park Waterfalls

empire state

While we were loving our road trip and our dreamy Honda Acura, mum and I aren’t exactly car buffs. None the less, Watkins Glen is known for its international racecourse, home of many NASCAR events, so we decided to swing by. The next thing we knew we found ourselves in a speedway pacecar swinging round three laps and whopping with glee. Excellent.

Once you’re done with all the hiking and racing, let’s be honest, you are probably going to need a drink! Watkins Glen is surrounded by an absolute plethora of wineries to enjoy, including the picturesque Lakewood Vineyards, run by the Stamp family. While there is plenty of parking, we jumped in a cab for this one, preferring to enjoy the full taste of the varietals!

We stayed at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel which comes replete with a Jacuzzi and a pool, should you so wish to soothe your bones after a long day adventuring. The hotel’s Blue Point Grille offers a delicious dinner selection, too. If we’re talking orders here, I would recommend the scallops or the lobster dip for a starter, the seafood linguine or the swordfish for main and absolutely get a slice of all American apple pie for desert. DELISH. Did someone say bottle of wine? I loved the local New York Champagne the Harbor Hotels had on the menu. If you can’t finish it all, you can always take the rest and enjoy it by the fire-pit in the beautiful gardens.

Empire State Road Trip

1000 Islands

Watkins Glen was such a beautiful spot, we really didn’t want to check out of our hotel, but we were greated with a warm welcome at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel after an incredible scenic drive in the Acura.

1000 Islands was the closest to home we had been all trip, with Canada visible from across the water. The town of Clayton feels like a thriving little community and there is plenty to do here, from more small wineries to boating and lake exploration. On our first night we watched boats and barges float along the St Lawrence River with a glass of local Coyote Moon dry rosé in hand.

Enjoying lake life to the full the next day, mum and I had a whale of a time at the Antique Boat museum, which houses the largest collection of antique boats in America, including floating museum piece, Le Duchesse; a luxury 1903 hotel! If you’re a speed demon, you’ll love the speedboat exhibition too.

Empire State Road Trip
Antique Boat Museum

Next up on our mother/daughter day of fun (who are we kidding, it was a full week of fun!) mum and I drove down to Alexandria Bay and hopped a ferry to the newly restored Boldt Castle, a mansion on Heart Island in the river with a heart rending backstory of love and loss. Trust me, this 1904 building will be a highlight.

Empire State Road Trip
Boldt Castle

We ended the trip with a historic and traditional shore dinner rustled up by Captain Jeff Garnsey of Garnsey Island Tours. The dinner has been a popular feast for anglers since 1870s and Captain Garnsey has a true passion for both the story and the food.

Mum and I never wanted our trip to be over, but sadly it was time to return home. It is an easy trip across the border and I had one more surprise for mum as we headed back on the 401 into Toronto; the Big Apple! If there was an award for best roadside stop in Canada, this would be it for me. If there was an award for best mother-daughter road trip of all time, well this one would definitely win!

Empire State Road Trip
1000 Islands

Empire State Road Trip



About Rebecca Felgate 121 Articles
Writer for Toronto Guardian