Across the Finger Lakes lie small towns and villages, tucked away in the rolling hills, hidden amongst the vineyards and lakes. As you travel along Cayuga Lake’s East side, you could almost miss the village of Aurora. But you should never miss it, because it is so unique, so charming, almost anachronistic in its historic feel.
Aurora is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend away to clear your mind, refresh your body, and, of course, try more than a few delicious wines.
The History of Aurora, NY
Aurora, New York has been inhabited since prehistory, with evidence of ancient fire pits along the lakeshore. Prior to colonialism, it was inhabited by the Cayugas, who had a major settlement in the location. Following the Revolutionary War, the land was settled by soldiers and their families and was officially named Aurora in 1795. It became a bustling hub for the transportation of wool, grain, fruit and pigs in the 19th century, and the establishment of the railway in 1874 increased its importance as a local stop. In 1833, the Aurora Inn and its pub were established, and in 1868, Wells College was founded. Over the next half-century, the village became the home of wealthy merchants, such as Henry Fargo, founder of Wells Fargo, and Colonel Edwin Barber Morgan, co-founder of the New York Times.
In 1973, in honor of the nation’s Bicentennial, Aurora residents worked to have the entire village placed on the National Register of Historic Places, preserving its unique historic feel and presence.
Wells College alumna Pleasant Rowland, the founder of American Girl, those charming dolls with historic backgrounds, returned to Aurora in the early 2000s to discover that many of the homes in the village had fallen into disrepair. She created the Aurora Foundation, which would be focused on not only restoring the village to its historic glory, but making it profitable once again. Her handiwork can be seen across the entire village, from the decision to pair modern art with the historic rooms, to the specific locations of trees.
If you get the opportunity, take one of the free walking tours provided by the Inns of Aurora. You’ll get the entire story, as well as a tour of the different properties. It’s a wonderful way to gain an appreciation for the heritage of this little village.
Getting to Aurora, NY
Due to its tucked-away location, you’ll need to drive to Aurora, though it isn’t a difficult trek. If you’re coming by plane, simply fly into the Rochester airport (book or get updates on flight deals by clicking the link), rent a car, and hop onto the thruway. Just a few merges and turns, and you’ll be to Aurora in an hour and twenty minutes.
Separately, we mention a few recommendations for ideal accommodation in Aurora below, but you can also browse hotels in the area right here.
Your first day in Aurora is all about upscale charm north of the village, and enjoying the special dining experiences in the village. As you drive along Interstate 90 and Route 90, keep your eyes peeled for hawks, osprey, egrets, blue heron, and bald eagles- Montezuma Wildlife Refuge is at the North end of Cayuga Lake.
Kick-off your weekend with a tasting at Heart & Hands Wine Company located just 10 minutes outside Aurora. Susan and Tom Higgins, a husband and wife team, started Heart & Hands as a small batch, boutique winery that showcases the flavors of the vineyard. The winery specializes in Pinot Noir and Dry Riesling, and for $10 you can sample nearly all their wine. Book an appointment in advance to get a more one-on-one experience. Pick up a bottle of their Pinot Noir Rose Brut to enjoy later in the night.
Next, continue driving south and you’ll hit Mackenzie-Childs, located on a large farm with a gorgeous Queen Anne-style farmhouse front and center on the property. Mackenzie-Childs became famous for their distinctive black and white checkerboard prints and brightly colored paint stroke pottery. While you’re on-site, you can learn about their story, discover how they create these works of art, and purchase unique pottery and gifts. You can also take a tour of the mansion on site, which has been decorated with only Mackenzie-Childs.
Once 3 p.m. hits, it’s time to check in to your accommodations at Inns of Aurora. The Inns include five different properties you can stay in, all of which are historic residences that have been restored to their former glory (but with added modern amenities). From the Rowland House, a quiet and luxurious retreat, to the Aurora Inn with its private balconies overlooking the lake, every option is a good one. If you choose to stay at the E.B. Morgan House, where we stayed during our visit, you can spend your afternoon enjoying wine and cheese while enjoying the sunset on the wraparound porch. What makes this experience even more special is that you have an innkeeper who lives on the property and ensures every moment is perfect, from your breakfast of homemade granola to a turn-down service that includes a chocolate on your pillow.
Instead of a traditional happy hour, book yourself a class at Aurora Cooks, the Inns of Aurora’s demonstration kitchen. These range from instructional classes on how to do sous vide or how to braise with beer, to lessons on chocolate or wine. We attended a class on cast iron cooking where we learned how to use our pans for baking and cooking more than just meat. Since it’s all located downtown, you’ll be able to ditch the car and walk to the event (which is a good choice since many of these classes include unlimited pours of wine or beer).
After your class, you’ll be ready for a light meal at the 1833 Kitchen & Bar, a gorgeous restaurant located on the Aurora Inn’s first floor, overlooking Cayuga Lake. Have the local cheese and meat board for an interesting look at the non-grape products produced in the region, or enjoy their signature Boston Seafood Chowder. You can also enjoy some local wines, like a Heart & Hands Riesling or Ravines Cabernet Franc.
End your night by popping that bottle of Heart & Hands sparkling, enjoying it by the fireplace in your room, or while sitting out on the deck. Don’t worry about glasses or a bottle opener, the Inns have all of this ready for you.
After your day of decadence yesterday, start off your day a little slower with a light breakfast at the Inn you’re staying at. E.B. Morgan House has homemade granola bars and hot coffee in their butler’s pantry, ready to go starting at 6 a.m. Enjoy your caffeine in your Mackenzie-Childs mug (yes, they have all Mackenzie-Childs pottery) while watching the sunrise over the lake.
As a guest of the Inns, you’ll have access to their Schoolhouse Activities Center. Located in a historic schoolhouse, this building serves as the location for various activities that are free to guests, including yoga, hands-on art classes, workshops, and more. Start your morning off with a few sun salutations and a quick walk around the village. If the weather is nice, you could borrow one of the Inn’s kayaks or stand-up paddleboards to enjoy the lake.
While you’re out exploring, make sure to stop by the Village Market, a grocer serving basic needs such as gifts, coffee, premade lunches and dinner, soups, beer and drinks, and delicious-looking baked goods. You’ll want to grab lunch and some non-alcoholic drinks while you’re here since there isn’t much on the road to eat.
Looking for a fun place to enjoy lunch? Check out Long Point State Park, located just off the road from Long Point Winery.
Once you’ve got supplies, pack up the car and head south to Treleaven Winery. This award-winning winery has been releasing wine for the last 30 years with everything from a classic Dry Riesling to sweet hybrid wines whose sales benefit the Tompkins County SPCA. For $5 you can sample six of their wines, and for $6 you can try 4 craft beers from a variety of local brewers.
Next, you’ll hop back in the car and drive to Long Point Winery. With its gorgeous view of the lakes, it’s the perfect place to spend a couple of hours while enjoying a glass of wine. Long Point is known for its dry white and red wines, in particular, they are one of the only wineries in the region pouring Zinfandel and Sangiovese. For $5 you can sample five of their wines.
Head back to Aurora for a relaxing afternoon at your inn. Many of the inns have board and card games, as well as a selection of books, available for you to enjoy. Perhaps play a game of Clue while enjoying one of the wines you purchased on the trail!
For dinner, walk over to the Fargo Bar & Grill, a local pub, which was built as a pub in 1833 and has been used for this purpose ever since. Enjoy a classic burger or shrimp po’boy with tater tots while sipping some local wine, they have Treleaven and Long Point wines available, so pick one of your favorites from the day.
Before you hop on the road to head home, have yourself a lazy breakfast or brunch at the 1833 Kitchen & Bar. Enjoy Eggs Benedict with a Mimosa while enjoying the lake views. It’s the perfect relaxing finish to a weekend of fun.
As you pack up and drive home, make sure to check out the road sign for the village as you leave. It reads “You Imagined It” and with all its history and charm, Aurora almost seems like a dream.