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Chautauqua County fall foliage NY
Photograph: courtesy of Kemi Ibeh

Your next fall getaway from NYC should be this underrated Upstate county

This quirky Western New York locale has everything from beautiful views to cute downtowns with good shopping and food.

Written by
Kemi Ibeh

The furthest north I’ve ever been is the New York State Capitol Building in Albany, but as a New Yorker, I am up for adventure and keen to explore the farthest reaches of the state (which usually get more tourists from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Canada, than from locals).

This spring, I took a weekend getaway to Chautauqua County in Western New York after learning about it from an I Love NY travel show and discovered that not only was the iconic Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame, born there in Celoron, a small village within the county, but that Chautauqua County is actually a quirky, yet underrated destination in New York, especially to NYC residents. It is the perfect autumnal getaway for fall foliage hues of oranges and yellows, uncrowded activities, peaceful walks and hikes, last-minute sailing, and wine.

Sure, you can drive 12 hours each way on a lengthy New York State road trip but I prefer the hour flight from JFK Airport to Buffalo Airport instead. Upon arrival, I board a reserved Lyft for the two-hour ride to Celoron. (Note: This was my last interaction with any rideshare service as they barely exist in Celoron and Jamestown—the largest city in the county. In this case, it might be prudent to either drive north or arrange a car rental at Buffalo Airport.) 

Below is a three-day itinerary of my Chautauqua County experience and other options that might pique your adventurous spirit!

RECOMMENDED: The best fall getaways from NYC for leaf-peeping

How to spend the weekend in Chautauqua County, NY

How to get to and around in Chautauqua
Photograph: courtesy of the Johnson Estate Winery

How to get to and around in Chautauqua

Once in my Lyft in Buffalo, I set off for the 90-minute journey to Celoron in the Chautauqua region. We passed a Native American reservation on the highway­—the Seneca Nation of Indians which occupies the Cattaraugus Reservation—rolling green farms, classic red barns, a few silos, and lots of wide open land.

When in Chautauqua, you might get the lone cab driver who only takes cash or checks if you have either handy, but with the help of the hotel manager, I secured a female driver with Square for payments.

Where to Stay in Chautauqua County
Photograph: Shutterstock

Where to Stay in Chautauqua County

We arrived in Celoron and pulled into the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, a waterfront nine-acre, 135 room resort on the site of a former amusement park overlooking Chautauqua Lake.

Its architecture screams antique, but it opened in 2018 with an Arts and Crafts and stone facade. Lining the lobby walls are black and white photographs of Lucille Ball as a child and in her prime as an actress, and grainy photos of the amusement park—Celoron Amusement Park—on which the hotel stands. Also here is a tiny outpost of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown featuring montages of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as actors on I Love Lucy.

Celoron is so tiny (population of 1,082 per the 2020 census) that the only fine dining restaurant is the Lakehouse Tap and Grille at Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, offering American cuisine with outdoor patio dining. The outdoor opens up to The Carousel Bar, Adirondack chairs, fire pits, and a tiny putting green. Here, you can walk to a tiny island in the middle of the lake for spectacular sunsets.

Beside the hotel is the Lucille Ball Memorial Park with a replica lighthouse. Within the park are two famous statues of Lucille Ball. One of the commissioned statues was erected in 2009, but went viral and jokingly nicknamed “Scary Lucy in 2015. It garnered so much criticism that another statue was commissioned. Both statues attract worldwide tourists.

Things to do in Chautauqua County, New York
Photograph: Lena McBean | The National Comedy Center

Things to do in Chautauqua County, New York


I took a tour of Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit founded in 1874 as a tent camp on the same land it exists on today, just 25 minutes from the hotel. Its founders were inventor Lewis Miller (his daughter married Thomas Edison!) and John Vincent, and in 1878, they inadvertently started America’s first book club through the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. This provided correspondence courses to students on a budget, many of whom were women and rural dwellers. In an era when women were not permitted further education, this circle provided access to higher education.

Fast forward a century later, Chautauqua Institution has grown to a nonprofit community of educators, artists, and faith leaders situated on 750 acres of land on Chautauqua Lake. It is globally renowned for its nine-week summer run of events covering religious, social, political, and educational programs. The community accommodates approximately 7,500 people during the off-season but up to 100,000 people during peak season.

Must-see sights at Chautauqua Institution are the Miller Bell Tower, idyllic lake views, and verdant hiking trails. If you’re keen on exploring the grounds, stay onsite at the historic Athenaeum Hotel and dine on the patio at their Heirloom Restaurant.

After a couple of hours here, I ventured into Jamestown for cocktails and light bites at Brazil Craft Beer & Wine Lounge with vegetarian and vegan dining before retiring to the hotel restaurant for supper.


After a filling breakfast of pancakes and a pot of Earl Grey at the hotel restaurant, I headed for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown where I embarked on a self-guided tour of its exhibition, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers: Contemporary Women Nature Artists,” but there are upcoming exhibitions like “Art that Matters to the Planet and Small Worlds,” among others worthy of a visit. The institute is rarely crowded and with high-vaulted ceilings and large windows overlooking the evergreen garden, it has a great ambiance.

Thanks to a downpour, I immediately headed to my next destination, the National Comedy Center. This is a 37,000-square-foot attraction partially located within the historic Jamestown Gateway Train Station. The Center preserves the heritage of American comedy and covers everything from vaudeville, late night, and memes, to controversial comedy. There’s something for all generations to wax nostalgic over and my Millennial heart sobs when I see Archie, Johnny Bravo, and classic SNL clips of Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake. The Center also hosts the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival to showcase rising comedians and comedic legends. I recommend a minimum of two hours at the National Comedy Center to fully enjoy the experience.

The downpour ended, so I headed to my last activity, Bemus Point, a tiny, walkable village on the narrowest point of Chautauqua Lake known locally for brilliant sunsets and specialty stores. In the summer, there are ferry rides to and from the village, and in September, the Bemus Point Fall Fest heralds the start of fall.

Pop into local businesses like Skillman’s (established 1908) for three floors of Chautauqua Lake apparel and home goods, Bemus Point Market for deli meats, ice cream, and pies; dine at Ellicottville Brewing Co. and ask about a brewery tour; and have cocktails and tapas at Splash, newly opened in summer 2023. If you’re curious about the history of the village, you can learn more at Bemus Point Historical Society and The Lawson Center, a boating and water sports museum.


“Lucy! I’m hooomeee!

My last day in Chautauqua County started with an early breakfast before checking out and heading to my final activity of the weekend—the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. I recommend an hour to explore the lives, careers, and costumes of these comedic legends. Take photos of Lucy and Desi’s Manhattan apartment on the set of I Love Lucy, see iconic photos, clips, and scripts, and view Desi Arnaz’s Tropicana nightclub set recreated from the show.

The museum is in Jamestown and so I used the opportunity to explore the walkable downtown before my departure. There are numerous murals of Lucille Ball which you can find on a downtown map from Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, a gallery wall on a building façade, and local shops. Make luggage space for souvenirs from Dot’s Gift BoutiqueArt Cloth and Craft, and take a bagel and drink from Crown Street Roasting Company for the 90-minute ride to Buffalo Airport.

Other interesting Chautauqua County activities
Photograph: Shutterstock

Other interesting Chautauqua County activities

Vineyards and Wineries

Lake Erie Wine Country, also known as the Grape Belt, boasts over 30,000 vineyard acres and 23 wineries across Chautauqua County and into parts of Pennsylvania that attract oenophiles from all over the world. The famous Concord grapes are used for wine production and Chautauqua County is the largest U.S. grape-cultivating region east of the Rockies. For the history of Concord grapes in the region, you can learn more at the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield, New York.

Ferry Rides

The Bemus Point Stow Ferry transports up to nine cars across the narrowest part of Chautauqua Lake and while it’s rarely been used ever since the advent of highways in the area, it is a nostalgic float down memory lane for older residents and for everyone else, a fascinating relic of water transport that has been in continuous service since 1811. The ferry operates seasonally until September 17.

Another historic ferry is the Chautauqua Belle steamboat that gives historical tours as it sails to and from Mayville and Jamestown. The sailing season closes October 16 so there is time to experience some sailing and fall foliage by water.

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