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Let’s Go Buffalo! Things to Do in Queen City

By January 9, 2020January 24th, 20209 Comments

More than a decade ago, I scraped together just enough gas money with my college friends to make it to Buffalo for a fun weekend in the city. Our school was a 90-minute drive away — we wanted to check out the place people swore smelled like Lucky Charms. We caught a free concert in Lafayette Square, had some wings in Allentown and headed home happy.

yellow and red lips wall buffalo

I knew there has to be more to Buffalo than wings and concerts of course, but I didn’t have the chance to return until now. Instead of having Buffalo be a pitstop en route to Canada as it was in college, we had a real change to see the renaissance that this city has undergone over the years.

The most impressive aspect of the evolution is its “adaptive reuse projects,” where non-profit and government organizations have taken old structures and concepts to make them new. This has turned into everything from waterfront beer gardens on the once industrial-only river to zip lining among old grain silos. Want to know more? Let’s go Buffalo!

building in buffalo

Where to Stay in Buffalo

For this trip, The Marriott HarborCenter served as a great base for exploring all the best spots around Buffalo.  It doubles as a conference center and hub for hockey players at the adjoining KeyBank Center. But the super cozy and chic high-rise rooms with sweeping city and water views cannot be beat. Did I mention there’s also a Tim Horton’s on the ground floor?!

bed at marriott harborcenter buffalo ny

It’s also worth taking advantage of the extra perks on the property, such as the Panorama on Seven lounge bar — a gorgeous space to watch the sun go down over the river. Next door is the M Club at the Marriott HarborCenter for Platinum members and special reservations, open 24/7 with snacks and drinks.

If you’re looking for the best hotels in Buffalo, the Marriott HarborCenter works well for groups enjoying a weekend away. I recommend reserving a spacious room there, then wandering downtown and checking out some of the art deco and boutique hotels that are beautiful, but might not have as many amenities.

The Big Kahuna: Wings in Buffalo

Let’s get this straight right off the bat — wings are a big honking deal in Buffalo. Loyalties run deep and everyone has an opinion. I won’t even try to do justice to the full tradition, but can give you a taste as an intro to these tasty eats before we get into anything else to do in Buffalo.

You can check out the hotspot for yourself and be the judges of where the best wings are found in Buffalo. I only scratched the surface, but was thrilled with what I found! Full disclaimer- I’m actually not even crazy about Buffalo wings, so my recommendations are based on other flavors and food as well.

PS – Buffalo has an official “Wing Trail” now you can follow to compare all the best of the best in the city (and beyond!)

Anchor Bar

This reunion was more than a decade in the making, as Anchor Bar is where I had my first wings in Buffalo. As an institution in the city, the legend says that Teressa Bellissimo invented the Buffalo wing in 1964 that became an instant success. This evolved into the Anchor Bar, which has now expanded beyond its mainstay on Main Street downtown and has franchised across the country. You can even grab a few deep-fried, sauce-smothered wings at the Buffalo Airport’s Anchor Bar on your way home!

Gabriel’s Gate

gabriel's gate restaurant buffalo

Wonderfully dive-y and steeped in lore, this Allentown neighborhood spot is a local haunt and a favorite of many. Walk inside to be greeted with odd wooden carved statues and mounted taxidermy, then cozy up in one of the high-backed booths. Give the classic wings a try or enjoy an Italian dry rub. You can’t go wrong with either!

More Fantastic Foodie Finds in Buffalo

You know it’s a great city for food when you can’t choose which local haunt is your favorite. From downtown and near the hockey rink to along the river and Larkin Square, you’ll find something spectacular around every corner.

Ballyhoo Links & Drinks

ballyho buffalo cocktail and candle

Buffalo’s quirky side comes alive at this seemingly hole-in-the-wall joint that packs a big surprise inside. Ballyhoo’s menu is simple yet satisfying, filled with some great sausages and sides all made in house. To pair perfectly with these hearty eats, have a pint or two of local beer — or, splurge with the classic cocktail menu. Even better, all this can be enjoyed surrounded by punk music, a lively crowd and a killer server staff for a perfect Sunday-Funday or weekday romp.

Lloyd’s Taco Factory

I could’ve eaten a dozen of Lloyd’s tacos in one sitting, but I settled with three. Lloyd’s has a great reputation in the North Buffalo area and features authentic and quirky variations, from slow-roasted pork to buttermilk fried chicken.

They have food trucks throughout the city as well, so keep an eye out to satisfy your taco craving.

Churn Soft Serve

Right next door to Lloyd’s is a fabulous happy ending to your meal. Churn has some really fancy options for interesting concoctions, starting with simple base flavors of cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate soft serve made fresh. There’s a yummy coconut-based vegan option too. Get a blinged-out cone smothered in cookies and chocolate, or go nuts with a full dessert with items like red velvet churro sundaes. I know, right?!

Public Espresso + Coffee

Have a strong cappuccino inside a cafe that pays homage to Buffalo’s Art Deco era. Linked to Hotel Lafayette (also where the Masters of Architecture tour begins, reviewed below), they have house-made syrups for their coffees, a delicious avo toast that won’t break the bank and build-your-own bagel sandwiches, wrapped up in a chic and laid-back atmosphere.

Swan Street Diner

Sticking with the breakfast theme, this was by far our favorite place in the morning for tasty eats located in Larkin Square. Old school meets new cool, Swan Street is a refurbished diner car from the 1930s that offers heaping plates of homemade donuts, breakfast tacos and even poutine.

Beer and Drinks in Buffalo

Buffalo had turned into a big brew town in recent years, with trying a few pints or a flight is a big deal to do any day of the week. Here are some spots you won’t want to miss as a beer fan.

Big Ditch Brewing Company

Lively and fun, this seems to be where the post-college crowd hangs out for kickin’ bar food and some local beers that are both traditional and funky. On our visit to Big Ditch Brewing Company, we opted for an upstairs seat to get a bird’s eye view of the bar and enjoy a sampler of a half-dozen beers to try them all (almost). While I was pleasantly surprised by the pina colada beer, my husband actually liked the jalapeno-infused kind. These rotate on the regular, but the staples like Hayburner IPA always go down smooth.

Duende

Over by a seemingly nondescript part of town called Silo City is a gem of a hangout space. During the warmer months, Duende is an open-air bar and grassy area for cocktails, beers, and possibly some tunes with the surrounding silos looming. Year-round, it’s a repurposed bar and restaurant serving light bites and an event space upstairs.

Alongside Duende are several buildings used for film locations and occasional festivals, such as the Silo City Reading Series. Keep an eye out for special events in this unique place.

The Beer Garden at Riverworks

Also entwined among old grain silos is a relaxing place for beers and bites along the water. Most weekends, you’ll watch the boaters float by, be seated by some local music and enjoy a cold pint brewed right on site. There’s a restaurant called the Ward, or you can simply grab a slice and drink from the small cafe too.

Things to Do in Buffalo, New York

After eating your way around the city, let’s take a break from the chow and get moving! Those who like to be active and want to discover more things to do in Buffalo that offer a bit of culture and adventure are in luck.

Buffalo RiverWorks Ziplining

Pop into the Beer Garden down at RiverWorks, then conclude your afternoon with something memorable. At 110 feet in the air, the new ziplining course along the water has you sailing between silos painted like Labatt’s Blue Ribbon beer cans. Do note this activity is seasonal, obviously, so check the times and dates before you go.

BFLO Harbor Kayak

You might not think of Buffalo being an outdoor hub of activity. But just like any other four-season city, this destination has just as much to offer — if not more! There’s been a Renaissance in general down on the waterfront, especially with River Walk and Canalside on the Buffalo River. You can get your bearings best by viewing the area from the water. So, have an urban adventure with BFLO Harbor Kayak. We were pleasantly surprised to find out it was easy to reserve a spot on a nice two-hour paddle, starting at Canalside and looping back. The guided tours give you an overview of River Walk, Silo City and other points of interest. If you’re just into a bit of exercise, you can rent solos, tandems or paddleboards too by the hour.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex

In the middle of a residential neighborhood, away from the downtown area, is an oasis of lush gardens and beautiful buildings seemingly transported from another time. If you are in Buffalo for only a weekend, you have to visit the Martin House — a must-see experience. It’s recently undergone a multi-million dollar restoration and has emerged in all its splendor as an oasis of fascinating design.

Keep an eye out — we’ll have an entire post on Crooked Flight soon all about this gem so you can truly appreciate all the incredible hard work that has gone into making this a timeless institution.

Masters of American Architecture Tour

To continue on the vein of Buffalo’s amazing architectural history, you can further delve into the world of design on this “Masters of American Architecture” experience. Led by enthusiasts who have a passion for Buffalo’s resurgence, history and preservation, you’ll see many highlights of structures, inside and out, created by famed architects. My favorites included the Victorian Gothic old Post Office building and the gorgeous exterior details of the Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan & Dankmar Adler. This tour and many others are offered on the Explore Buffalo site, with a full list accessible through the Explorer Pass series.

Buffalo and Beyond

If a weekend isn’t enough, there’s lots else around Buffalo to experience, and beyond city limits too. One of the most popular side trips is heading up to Niagara Falls, either the New York or Canada side. We’ll have a whole other post just on doing Niagara in 24 hours if you’re interested in adding this to your Buffalo Niagara itinerary.

Buffalo in the summer was absolutely perfect — we were so lucky with sunny skies and warm nights! But I’d love to possibly hop on the short flight for a long weekend this winter. Almost everything we did can be done over the winter too.

If you’re a fellow weekend warrior, here’s a few more cities you can add to your list too for 2020 travel:

Things to do in #Buffalo, New York: architecture walks, wings and kayaking - just to name a few!

Things to do in #Buffalo, New York: architecture walks, wings and kayaking - just to name a few!

Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Twitter @Crooked_Flight

More posts by Eileen Cotter Wright

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Juliann says:

    I’ve only been to Buffalo once (in January!!) but I’d like to return. I ate at Anchor Bar and LOVED it! But I’d be more than happy to follow the #Wingtrail and compare. 🙂 I love wings. I’m not so sure about the Lucky Charms smell, though. I guess I’d need to experience it for myself. Here in Cincinnati, the Jim Beam distillery is right off the highway and as you pass, if you roll down your windows, the world smells like butterscotch. I kinda like that.

  • Sarah says:

    Well, you’re doing a good job of convincing me to come to Buffalo 🙂 I’ve never been before but I did have some college friends from Buffalo who also talked about the city smelling like lucky charms/cheerios! I for one would LOVE to do the ziplining you mention, and try out some of the coffee places.

  • I am a big wing fan and I should show some respect for the Anchor Bar, but I wasn’t in love with them. I thought some of the other wings we had in Buffalo were considerably better. I would love to come back in the summer and check out the fun around Silo City. That looks like a blast.

  • Bell says:

    Gabriel’s Gate is great! We loved the wings there and french onion soup, mmmmmm cheese!! Buffalo has a great coffee scene too, lots of cozy coffeeshops in the different neighborhoods. We weren’t aware of Martin House, we’ll have to check that next time we’re up there, it looks beautiful.

  • I’ve been wanting to go to Buffalo for a couple of years now. There’s a hotel that I can’t think of the name of now – Henry Hotel maybe? – that is an old asylum I believe. Really want to stay there and the whole city looks so colorful. Love that mural at the beginning!

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