Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Dunkirk, NY

  • Published 2023/04/10

If you want to visit New York but prefer to go to a less crowded and more laid-back city, Dunkirk is the place for you.

Located in Chautauqua County, some 36 miles from Buffalo, Dunkirk is New York’s westernmost city.

Its strategic location presents visitors and locals alike with stunning views of Lake Erie and a multitude of recreational activities for all ages.

Though its atmosphere is more laidback, don’t underestimate Dunkirk’s history and culture.

Consider its various points of interest, such as the Dunkirk Historical Museum and the Dunkirk Lighthouse & Veterans Park Museum.

This city has fun-loving people celebrating festivals annually and tourism events all year-round.

You must not miss their July 4th Harborfest Celebration and the Chautauqua County Fair.

You’ll be fascinated to see the city’s west side, which boasts a variety of businesses as well as agriculture and lakefront properties.

Likewise, Canadaway Creek is a great fishing location for anglers across Chautauqua County.

There is a local golf course where you can have tee time with friends before exploring the east side of town, specifically Bennet Road and Vineyard Drive.

There’s so much more to explore in Dunkirk.

Here are the best things to do in Dunkirk, NY:

Marvel at the Still-Operational Dunkirk Lighthouse

Daytime view of the Dunkirk Lighthouse

Doug Lemke /

Nothing is more impressive than the Dunkirk Lighthouse, established in 1826.

Its current tower was lit in 1875 and is still operational today.

It is also known as Point Gratiot Light.

While exploring it, you’ll be fascinated to learn that the lighthouse itself is made of rubble stone encased in brick, while the foundation is made from dressed stone.

Exterior of the Dunkirk Lighthouse

karenfoleyphotography /

Looking at the tower closely, you can see that it is square-shaped, making it unique, with its original lens installed in 1857.

Interestingly, it also remains operational today.

When you come here, you can join the guided tours that bring you to the top of the lighthouse, the museum, and its gift shop.

Don’t forget to admire the views from the top, for these may be among the most beautiful you’ll ever see in Dunkirk.

Enjoy the Outdoors and the Beach at Point Gratiot Park

Do something fun outdoors and on the beach by bringing the whole family to Point Gratiot Park.

The city of Dunkirk owns the 60-acre park.

This place is on Lake Erie’s lakefront, featuring a tennis court, playground, pavilions, lifeguard swimming, and fishing opportunities.

You won’t be surprised to find many locals and tourists who come here carrying their picnic baskets.

Point Gratiot Park is also one of western New York’s most visited regions by birders.

While enjoying the picnic area, let the kids go swimming or join them in looking for birds such as the whip-poor-will, orchard oriole, and more than 30 species of warblers.

If you get lucky, you can find red-headed woodpeckers nesting in the area.

Fall in Love with the View from the City Pier Park – Dunkirk Harbor

Here’s another Lake Erie lakefront park, the City Pier Park – Dunkirk Harbor.

Open year-round, it is an excellent place for fishing and admiring the views, featuring picnic facilities and a boat launch.

Here in Dunkirk Harbor, you can find one of the five new ADA-accessible kayak launches in Chautauqua County.

After breathing in the cool breeze, you can proceed to the Boardwalk Market, where you will find many snacks and gifts.

City Pier Park – Dunkirk Harbor is an excellent place for bird sightseeing, as it has recorded sightings of more than 200 bird species.

These are no ordinary birds, either.

You might see bald eagles, loons, grebes, swans, geese, 40 species of ducks, and 14 species of gulls.

Pass the time at the City Pier Park.

Unearth the Past at the Dunkirk Historical Society & Museum

On Washington Avenue, you can find the best place to tell the history and culture of Dunkirk, the Dunkirk Society & Museum.

Dedicated to promoting the city’s artistic, cultural, and historical heritage, it features sculptures, photographs, artwork, and many other historical objects collected through time.

Its photograph collection contains an overwhelming 15,000 images.

Not only does it collect and preserve artifacts, but it also offers art programs to an ethnic and diverse community.

These programs include artistic expressions that focus on puppetry, poetry, photography, painting, storytelling, and quilting.

Make sure to see the Brooks Locomotive Works collection to find numerous photographs and documents of the eponymous locomotive works.

Even the kids will enjoy exploring the museum.

Eat and Shop at the Dunkirk Boardwalk Market

Skip everything but the Dunkirk Boardwalk Market, a must-visit in the city.

It opened in 2008 and has become one of the city’s most recommended downtown spots.

Seven commercial and dining establishments are lined up on the long, covered boardwalk that spans 160 feet.

Spending a day here lets you enjoy a plethora of good food and refreshing drinks.

You can also buy cute and trendy souvenir items for your friends and family.

Shopping has never been this exciting and affordable at the Dunkirk Boardwalk Market.

Devour Comfort Food at Rookies on the Lake

Are you missing your comfort food?

Go to Rookies on the Lake to find the best comfort food in Dunkirk.

They’ve only been in the business since 2016, but the following they have created and the visitors that come to them have grown tremendously.

They’ve got burgers, fries, wings, steaks, and beer on tap.

You’ll love not just the comfort food but also the live performances from selected local bands.

Meet the Fun-Loving People of Dunkirk at the Chautauqua County Fair

Entrance to the Chautauqua County Fair grounds

Sabrina Janelle Gordon /

Not just the locals anticipate the Chautauqua County Fair but the visitors as well.

The fair happens once a year during the summer.

USA Today has named it one of the 10 Notable Fairs in the Country.

So many activities are in store each year, allowing everyone to have fun.

From rides, food stalls, and agricultural exhibits to grandstand acts and various amusements, you’ll surely want to schedule an excursion to the Chautauqua County Fair during your Dunkirk trip.

Indulge Your Sweet Cravings at the Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor

Who doesn’t love ice cream?

Even if you’re not bringing the kids along to explore Dunkirk, you always have a reason to visit the Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor on Central Avenue.

This ice cream parlor has become a Western New York tradition for over 40 years.

Let this place tickle your taste buds with its large selection of homemade ice cream.

People have voted this ice cream parlor as the “Best of the Best” in Chautauqua County for the past three years, cementing its status in the ice cream scene.

Visit a Tim Hortons in Dunkirk

The famous Canadian chain is here in Dunkirk, too.

Satisfy your coffee cravings with a visit to Tim Hortons, whose menu will surely keep you drooling.

Sample their Farmer’s Breakfast Wrap with Sausage, made with 100% Canadian freshly-cracked egg, sausage, and hashbrown made from 100% Canadian potatoes.

Pair this with their signature premium brewed coffee, which they make every 20 minutes.

It’s a pure Canadian coffee that uses only ethically-sourced coffee beans.

For takeaway, buy a box of Timbits, baked fresh all day, that comes in various flavors such as birthday cake, chocolate glazed, and honey dip.

Enjoy a Hearty Breakfast at Jenna’s 4th Street Cafe

Dunkirk has another favorite local restaurant, Jenna’s 4th Street Cafe.

Before starting your day, it’s always a great idea to come by this place and get the day’s most important meal.

Whether you want to sit down and eat or order for takeaway, the food remains as delicious as the last time you were here.

Sunday mornings always see many diners, which is a sign of good food.

Make sure to try their eggs, toast, and home fries, paired with freshly-brewed coffee.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Celebrate America’s Grape Country Wine Festival

With so many wineries and wines locally crafted in Dunkirk, it’s no longer surprising to learn that they also celebrate America’s Grape Country Wine Festival.

It is a celebration of everything that is wine, focusing more on NY and Chautauqua wineries.

However, since not everyone is a wine lover, the festival also features several NY breweries and distilleries that offer vodka, bourbon, gin, and whiskey.

Aside from the food trucks and vendors, you’ll witness food and wine demonstrations and access home goods, clothing, jewelry, crafts, and more.

Discover a passion for wine at this festival.

Savor Mexican Cuisine at the El Azteca Restaurant

For a change, why not try Mexican cuisine at the El Azteca Restaurant?

This family-owned restaurant has served authentic Mexican dishes for more than ten years to the people of New York.

Their traditional dishes all come with fresh ingredients, making a difference in their taste and flavor.

Likewise, the good part is that the food isn’t too spicy, allowing you to enjoy it even if you have low tolerance.

Your food always comes hot, with salsa on the side, so you can adjust the flavor to suit your taste.

Is anyone up for juicy Mexican steaks, fajitas, and seafood?

Go Swimming Until Sunset at Wright Park

Located along Lake Front Boulevard, Wright Park is the ultimate waterfront getaway.

This Lake Erie-facing park features lifeguarded beaches and a street hockey court.

There are also sports spaces, including separate courts for basketball, volleyball, and pickleball.

For the little ones, there’s a playground, alongside a splash pad.

It’s a dog-friendly site, too, so come along with your furry loved one for a good time with the whole family.

Stay for the promise of beautiful sunsets from across the beach at Wright Park.

Play a Round of Golf at Shorewood Country Club

Are you a golfer by heart?

Then, you might like to drop by Shorewood Country Club.

This golfing facility has been a community tradition for over 100 years now, making it the oldest one of its kind in Western New York.

Its 18-hole championship golf course comes with challenging fairways and putting greens.

The facility has a members-only clubhouse and pool as well.

If you prefer to remain a guest, you can still admire the majestic visuals of the golf course onsite to keep your afternoon worthwhile.

Shorewood Country Club is on West Lake Road.

Enjoy Live Music at Dunkirk’s Concert Series

Dunkirk’s concert series collection offers a close-up of the town’s best outdoor spots with a touch of live music.

It also serves as a summer kick-off event happening simultaneously in various locations in town.

Music at the Point Sunset, one of its programs, takes place every Wednesday night.

These will be on Point Gratiot Park on Point Drive West.

Another unique jamming experience awaits you during the Music on the Boardwalk, which features top-notch musical acts every Friday night.

Dunkirk’s Pier is the primary venue for the Music on the Pier Concert Series.

This Thursday-night exclusive is one for the books!

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for summer dates for these special music events while planning your itinerary.

Host a Meeting or Get-Together at Dunkirk Camp & Conference Center

Get ready for a woodland-focused retreat at Dunkirk Camp & Conference Center.

Acquired in 1922, this attraction once went by the name Evangelical Conference Grounds.

For a more inclusive welcome, the name was then changed to Dunkirk Conference Grounds.

Now, this campsite offers 110 acres of woodland habitats, streams, and playing fields.

All over the property are walking trails you can follow on your nature stroll.

Alongside its well-rounded set of cabins, the site also has a pool, a memorial auditorium, and a craft shop.

Though it hosts seasonal camps, you can also rent the place for your large-group events, like reunions and weddings.

You can get to Dunkirk Camp & Conference Center when you drive along Lakeshore Drive.

Learn Culture and Heritage When You Come Across the Statue of the Trail of the Whispering Giants

The Statue of the Trail of the Whispering Giants is only one of many in a collection of Peter Wolf Toth’s public art sculptures.

These sculptures are in every state in the country with a designated piece for each one.

And they depict native tribal art as a means to share culture even in public spaces.

In New York, the sculpture sits in the town of Dunkirk, specifically at Memorial Park.

It also goes by the name Ong-Gwe-Ohn-Weh.

Carved in 1973, Toth managed to finish this piece in only two months.

The Statue of the Trail of the Whispering Giants sits at the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Pike Street.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Taste the Best Chardonnay in the Northern Hemisphere at Woodbury Winery & Vineyards

Whether you dig wines or not, the Woodbury Winery & Vineyards deserves a day of the visit out of your itinerary.

It’s been named the home of the ‘Best Chardonnay in the Northern Hemisphere,’ and you might want to judge it yourself.

Founded in 1979, the winery opens year-round on South Roberts Road in Fredonia, New York.

It’s eight minutes from Dunkirk.

It also features a tasting room where you can taste excellent handcrafted wines.

They ensure only the highest-quality wines by using only premium locally-grown grapes.

The winery does not limit itself to traditional wines but also creates wines that go beyond the conventional.

After exploring the tasting room, you can enjoy a picnic with a glass of wine on the pavilion or lawn.

Understand Why ‘Great Vines Make Great Wines’ at the Liberty Vineyards & Winery

Do you want to taste more award-winning wines?

Go to Main Road in Sheridan, New York, a mere 10-minute drive from Dunkirk, to find the Liberty Vineyards & Winery.

This vineyard and winery’s history goes back to 1839 when the current owners’ ancestors started the business.

Today, it is still family-owned and remains committed to creating and serving the best award-winning wines for delicate palates.

The Burmaster family has their own vineyards, where they grow their own grapes for making their own wines.

After seeing their state-of-the-art winemaking facility and tasting their wines in the tasting room, go ahead and savor their delicious and excellent wines.

Visit the Willow Creek Winery

Travel some 12 minutes from Dunkirk to Chapin Road in Silver Creek, New York, to arrive at the Willow Creek Winery.

This winery is one of the finest farm wineries in New York.

You’ll fall in love with its setting, which fits well with its name.

The winery is in a historic 1800s rustic farmhouse, accentuated with a pond, grape vineyards, and willow trees.

You can choose from its 20 different wines that they handcrafted in the winery, including dry white, red blends, sweet, semi-sweet, and oak-aged.

You must try their specialty chocolate wines before stopping at their tasting bar that serves wines.

Final Thoughts

You’ll always find a good balance of food, culture, history, shopping, and fun in Dunkirk.

When you visit the city, get ready to have an experience like no other.

So, bring the entire family and indulge in the city’s offerings.

Book your unforgettable Dunkirk trip today!

Best Hotels in Dunkirk

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