The road signs in New York's second city may appear familiar and locals can't stop grumbling about corruption in Albany, but beyond that, Buffalo can appear downright exotic to a Downstater rolling into town for the first time, let alone to those unaccustomed to the regional differences of the Empire State. Folks out this way are laid back, their accents are Midwest flat and everything’s ridiculously affordable. Summer is the time to be here, when the Rust Belt jewel-in-the-rough shakes its blues away with an impressive series of events and festivals.
1. Buffalo's got culture. The legacy of its boomtown days – Buffalo was at one time the eighth-largest city in the country – is felt perhaps most closely via its vibrant arts scene. Your first stop is the grand Albright-Knox Art Gallery, renowned nationally as a must for contemporary art lovers and currently working to fund a major expansion. The museum stays open late on Fridays – if you're here for the weekend, it's worth coming into town a little early so as not to miss this (www.albrightknox.org). Just across the street on the Buffalo State College campus is the new home of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, which dedicates itself to promoting Western New York art – particularly that of watercolorist Charles Burchfield.
2. Buffalo is a city of neighborhoods. Visiting the museums leaves you at the top end of Elmwood Avenue, a busy strip of restaurants, cafes, shops and nightspots that extends all the way back toward the downtown area, making for an entertaining walk on a summer evening. Along the way, you'll cross through Allentown, popular for its bars and restaurants.
3. Buffalo eats the best damn roast beef sandwiches on the planet, every single day. You haven't really visited Buffalo if you've never tried the city's famous roast beef on kummelweck roll sandwiches. Referred to colloquially as “beef on weck,” these beauts, when done properly, are impressive. Damn impressive. Try one, try many, but maybe start at Schwabl’s in West Seneca.
4. And then they have frozen custard for dessert. It's not just the accents that make you feel like you're in the Midwest – Western New York loves its dense, sweet and rich custard (its way better than ice cream, that's a scientific fact) come summer time, just like they do in Milwaukee or St. Louis. Line up at one of Anderson's seven area locations and sample for yourself.
5. Downstaters go to the beach in New Jersey. Buffalo goes to the beach in a foreign country. Just across the Peace Bridge, the dear, departed Crystal Beach amusement park on the northern shores of Lake Erie is the stuff of regional legend – today, Crystal Beach is a low-key cottage community where the lion’s share of the summer crowd comes from the Buffalo side. Don’t forget to bring your passport – it may not appear immediately apparent, but this is indeed Canada.
6. Buffalo knows architecture. It's immediately apparent to any visitor just how much money went into the creation of the city – the architecture in many areas ranges from impressive to amazing. Those interested in the Arts & Crafts design movement owe themselves a visit to the Roycroft community in nearby East Aurora; Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy is keenly felt here as well, with no less than six major projects dotted around the region, including the Darwin Martin House.
7. As you'd expect from a city that gets this much snow, summer time is party time, all the time. Buffalo is event central come summer, from the June-August Shakespeare in the Park event, which has been running in Delaware Park since 1976, to the Allentown Art Festival (June 13-14). Throughout the season, a full schedule of concerts, theatre and other live performances take place at Artpark, an outdoor amphitheatre in the charming town of Lewiston along the Niagara River. An evening up here is a long-standing Buffalo summer tradition.
8. You think you know how to garden? Buffalo might just do it better. With such a short summer, it's easy to understand the enthusiasm around the city, known for hosting the country's largest garden festival, held throughout July and August and known best for the annual Garden Walk Buffalo (July 25-26). Weekend open houses, a public space makeover and a guided tour of urban farms and gardens of the city's long-struggling East Side are on the calendar.
9. You can sleep over in one of the city's most impressive mansions – butler included. Retaining a staff of dedicated butlers to see to visitors' every whim, 24 hours a day, the handsome Mansion on Delaware has a way of winning over even the biggest Buffalo skeptic. The impressive inn is housed in a wedding cake of a mansion within easy walking distance of the Allen Street scene. Breakfast, wireless internet and parking are included. Rooms from $195.
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