20 Best Things to Do in Chautauqua County, NY

Chautauqua County, NY

Every morning, I wake up and step outside to a vibrant sunrise greeting me over the rolling vineyards, sparkling lakes, and lush forests of Chautauqua County.

Its tranquility and natural beauty have a way of wrapping around your heart, making it your little piece of paradise.

This isn't just my home; it's a collection of hidden gems and untold stories waiting to be discovered.

Strap up your adventure boots because we're about to embark on a journey to uncover the 20 best things to do in this charming corner of New York.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the county for yourself.

Discover Nature at the Audubon Community Nature Center

Nature trail at Audubon Community Nature Center
Pierre Williot / Shutterstock.com

I've lost count of how often I've found peace and adventure intertwined on the trails of the Audubon Community Nature Center.

My family and I have made countless memories navigating through the lush woodland, always fascinated by the diverse wildlife that calls this place home.

The center is a treasure trove featuring everything from turtles to snakes.

It's an affordable escape, a place where you can get lost in the beauty of nature without straying too far from home.

For those keen on birds, the bird banding activity is nothing short of extraordinary.

I remember the excitement on my children's faces when we first participated.

The guides and scientists are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, creating an interactive, educational experience that both my 14-year-old and 11-year-old found engaging.

Deer at Audubon Community Nature Center
Pierre Williot / Shutterstock.com

It wasn't just about observing; they were experiencing - learning about nature in the most hands-on way possible.

The center also hosts various events that are enjoyable for all ages.

I recall a beautiful day spent at the Dragon and Fairy Festival.

It was a magical blend of nature and whimsy, with plenty of learning opportunities about the natural world.

I wish we had more time to explore the extensive trails that wind through the property.

A pond at Audubon Community Nature Center
Pierre Williot / Shutterstock.com

Have an Unforgettable Day at the National Comedy Center

If you're a fan of laughter, there's a place in town that you simply can't miss - the National Comedy Center.

This place is like no other.

Imagine spending an entire day surrounded by the history and evolution of American stand-up, late-night shows, and so much more.

Every corner is filled with interactive exhibits, creating a delightful blend of learning and entertainment.

And trust me, one visit is never enough.

The last time I was there, I spent over 3 hours and still couldn't cover everything!

The center's unique personalization feature is another thing that took my experience to a whole new level.

You create a profile with your comedy preferences, and then the displays tailor the information to match your choices.

It's like having a personalized comedy guide!

Plus, they email you everything you did, a fantastic way to relive those hearty laughs.

The gift shop is also worth mentioning.

It's well-stocked with a variety of comedy-related items that make perfect gifts or souvenirs.

And for those who prefer to relax and refuel, there are small snacks and drinks available for purchase.

But the best part? The parking lot is free and just a two-minute walk west of the building.

So, no need to worry about parking fees or long walks.

The National Comedy Center truly takes care of every little detail to ensure a memorable experience.

Discover the Magic of Panama Rocks Scenic Park

When I first stumbled upon the Panama Rocks Scenic Park, I sought an adventure in my backyard.

And boy, did I find it.

The excitement of hiking and clambering among massive rock formations, exploring hidden crevices, caves, and tunnels blanketed by lush vegetation, is something out of this world.

The park comes at a small price of $10 per adult, and all it requires is a quick signature on a waiver.

Trust me, it's a small price to pay for the thrill that awaits.

There's an inexplicable joy in being encouraged to wander off the beaten path.

Digging into the park's nooks and crannies, you will stumble upon layers of history etched onto the rocky canvas.

From evidence of an old counterfeiting operation to a small crevice that local natives once used as an oven, the tales embedded in each rock formation are captivating.

But it's not just about the past. The park has its share of modern fun too.

For instance, there's an ax-throwing area – talk about an adrenaline rush!

Not to mention a rentable pavilion for all kinds of events.

Trip Down Memory Lane at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum

Kitchen at Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum
Dr. Blazer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, Jamestown’s ever-charming gem.

As I walk through the doors of this delightful tribute, I am instantly transported into the world of the iconic duo – Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

With each step, I find myself immersed in the glamour of Hollywood's golden era and captivated by the grandeur and charm of America's original TV couple.

I am treated to a stunning display of two separate sections inside the museum.

One is a homage to the personal lives of Lucy and Desi, a heartwarming journey through their letters, furniture, and personal artifacts.

The other one is a magnificent showcase of their professional lives, replete with their costumes, props, and sneak peeks into their on-screen world through short videos.

As a true fan, I find myself lost in the nostalgia evoked by the exhibits and video clips.

Living room at Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum
Dr. Blazer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The home movies of Lucy and Desi, in particular, are an absolute treasure!

It's like they have opened a window into their lives for us to peek into.

The museum, however, is not just about the past. It keeps the spirit of Lucy and Desi alive through an annual comedy fest.

The town comes alive with laughter, and it's as if Lucy and Desi are back, spreading joy as they always did.

Visiting the museum is more than just an afternoon well spent.

It's an experience that captures the essence of Hollywood's golden era and the undying love of its iconic couple.

Explore Luensman Overview Park

It never gets old, that breath-taking view from Luensman Overview Park.

Every time I stand at the lookout, the mesmerizing beauty of Lake Erie unfolds beneath me like an endless panorama of blue and green.

If you follow the trail marked with blue paint on the trees, you'll find the path is short, yet elevated, giving you the perfect vantage point to soak in the surroundings.

It's a sight I enjoyed as a child and continue to appreciate even now.

For those with mobility concerns, worry not.

The park has made provisions to ensure everyone can enjoy the space.

It's heartening to see wheelchair-accessible routes.

Plus, benches dot the trail, offering rest spots and a chance to pause and take in the view.

And it's not just about the views.

Luensman Overview Park is a place where you can spend the whole day.

It's common to see families enjoying a picnic under the pavilion or firing up the grills for a barbecue.

Countless picnic tables are scattered throughout the park, inviting you to sit and stay awhile.

And yes, they've thought of everything - even porta potties are available for when nature calls!

Spend a Lovely Day at Johnson Estate Winery

If there's one thing I adore about living here, it's the hidden gems of local wineries, especially my favorite, the Johnson Estate Winery.

Their wines have often graced my dining table; each bottle is a testament to their commitment to quality.

A lovely selection of wines, all very drinkable, and a few that are so good you'd want to take a case home.

Not to mention, the tasting area is stunning on a sunny day.

This isn't just a winery though, it's a piece of local history.

The Johnson family has been perfecting their winemaking craft for generations, and it shows not only in the taste but also the ambiance.

They've transformed their hundred-year-old building, once part of their original orchard operation, into a lovely indoor and outdoor space for wine lovers to gather.

But the real draw for me is their vineyard walks on weekend mornings.

These walks aren't just an opportunity to stretch my legs and enjoy some fresh air; they provide a chance to sample a variety of vineyard grapes, a truly unique experience.

And if you're lucky enough to bring along some friends or family, the staff at Johnson's is always understanding and accommodating.

After a pleasant stroll, your reward is a return to the charming outdoor tasting area filled with large picnic tables shaded by massive umbrellas.

The smallest of details are taken care of too - the kids get a glass of grape juice and snack packs, while the adults can indulge in tastings paired with a small platter of cheese, pepperoni, fruit, nuts, and crackers.

Take Pictures of the Barcelona Lighthouse

Exterior of Barcelona Lighthouse
Lucky-photographer / Shutterstock.com

Living in the scenic town of Barcelona, one cannot ignore the charm of our historic lighthouse.

It stands majestically next to Barcelona Harbor & Pier, symbolizing our rich maritime history.

The Barcelona Lighthouse, constructed in 1828, is a beautiful stone structure, a rarity among lighthouses that still exist today.

Currently, the lighthouse is going through a phase of restoration, specifically the staircase.

To raise funds, the management is selling a lovely collection of sweatshirts, t-shirts, and other memorabilia.

I must say, I take pride in wearing my bright blue t-shirt that supports this cause.

Every penny from the sales directly aids in maintaining the grandeur of our lighthouse.

Entrance door of Barcelona Lighthouse
Kathy D. Reasor / Shutterstock.com

To learn more about the lighthouse, there is an engaging museum/information area that provides insight into its fascinating history.

It's interesting to know that the lighthouse has had quite a journey—it was initially owned by the federal government, then it was privately owned and inhabited, and now it's under the ownership of New York State.

We, the residents, look forward to the lighthouse opening to the public every year on Memorial Day weekend.

The panoramic view of Lake Erie from the lighthouse is a sight to behold, especially on a warm spring day, although it can get a bit chilly with the breeze from the lake.

But believe me, the view of the captivating Lake Erie is worth every shiver.

Have a Delightful Experience at Merritt Estate Winery

You know you've been living in a place long enough when you have a favorite winery, and for me, that's Merritt Estate Winery.

One of my favorite times to visit is during their taco weekends.

The whole place has this relaxed vibe that makes you feel like you're just hanging out at a family gathering, only with amazing wine.

They even have Copper, who's just a fantastic addition to the place.

Merritt Estate Winery's sangria de marquerite is a must-try.

It's the perfect blend of sweet and light, making it a great companion to any dinner.

You can drink it just as it is, no need for any fancy recipes or additions.

But that's not all. They also host this amazing "Strawberry Festival" during the strawberry moon.

It's affordable, has a family-friendly atmosphere and there's live music playing.

Plus, they have a car show and vendors.

My advice? Bring a chair, spend the day, and enjoy a wine XTC Slushie!

Explore Point Gratiot Park

Having lived here for many years, I've spent countless hours soaking up the tranquility at Point Gratiot Park.

I've always found it to be the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The park is abundant with trees providing ample shade for those sunny afternoon picnics.

The park's pavilions never disappoint when hosting parties, and the trails are always inviting for a walk, bike ride, or even a skate.

But what truly sets this park apart in my eyes is the beach.

It's not just the cleanliness of the sand but its untouched, natural state that adds an extra layer of charm.

I've always enjoyed walking along the water's edge, especially towards the cliffs at the end of the beach.

The view is absolutely breathtaking and exploring the hidden beaches tucked away between the cliffs has been truly magical.

The park also offers E-scooters for rent, making it incredibly easy to explore every nook and corner.

On quieter days, I prefer to just sit and listen to the relaxing rhythm of the waves lapping against the rocks along the beach.

Pay a Visit to the Dunkirk Lighthouse

Facade of Dunkirk Lighthouse
karenfoleyphotography / Shutterstock.com

Isn't it wonderful to live so close to a piece of history? That's my everyday experience living near the Dunkirk Lighthouse.

It's a stunning landmark that never fails to brighten my day.

First things first, the view is out of this world.

Overlooking the picturesque lake, the lighthouse offers a serene and calming sight that can take away the day's stress.

It literally feels like you're at the edge of the world, gazing at the infinite expanses of water.

What's a visit to a lighthouse without an immersive history lesson?

The on-site maritime museum is a treasure trove that keeps you engrossed with captivating tales of the local history.

You can feel the love and passion that has gone into preserving this monument, and each story leaves you with a sense of respect for our past.

One of the highlights has to be the guided tours.

The guides are extremely knowledgeable and make the whole experience even more enjoyable.

I can't forget to mention the gift shop.

It's filled with unique pieces, and the homemade cookies are a delight you can't miss.

Stroll Through Barcelona Harbor Beach

Ever since I moved here, Barcelona Harbor Beach has been my sanctuary.

It's a hidden treasure nestled in the heart of our little town.

The beach is spacious and peaceful, perfect for little ones to build their sandcastles without interruption.

The serenity is often only broken by children's giggles and the soft lapping of the waves on the shore.

A short drive away from the town of Westfield, the beach's easy accessibility and ample parking make it a popular spot among locals.

However, despite this, it never feels crowded.

The beach offers a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Sunsets here are breath-taking, like a painter's palette with hues of pink, orange, and purple merging into one another.

It's a sight I never tire of witnessing. The beach is also a haven for rock enthusiasts.

With miles of slate rocks strewn across the beach, it's quite a sight.

I often find myself lost for hours, scouring through the rocks, painting them, or hunting for the elusive sea glass.

The beach is also a pet lover's paradise.

It's one of the few places in town that welcomes our furry friends with open arms.

It's a joy to see them romping around freely, chasing each other, or just lazing around, enjoying the cool breeze and the warm sun.

Enjoy the Seasons at Long Point State Park on Lake Chautauqua

Every day, living near Long Point State Park on Lake Chautauqua is like being on vacation.

It's always a thrill to overlook Chautauqua Lake from a rest stop, the sight offering a serene retreat from the hustle of daily life.

As the seasons shift, the view of the lake transforms from a tranquil watercolor painting to a vibrant kaleidoscope, keeping me captivated all year round.

The park has changed quite a bit over the years.

I remember when the beach area was bustling with activity, the nice dock with stairs leading towards the deepest area of the buoys being a focal point.

Now, it's more subdued, but it still has its charm.

A new playground has been added to the park, even though the no-running rule seems a bit puzzling for a playground.

The park charges an entry fee of $7 per vehicle, a bit steep considering what's on offer.

For comparison, nearby Allegheny State Park charges $5 and offers more amenities.

If you're open to a little road trip, you could even visit the beautiful Presque Isle State Park in Erie, which has free entry.

Have a Serene Walk at Dunkirk City Pier

The view from Dunkirk City Pier
Andre Carrotflower, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no better way to start the day than an early morning fishing trip down at Dunkirk City Pier.

The calmness of the waters and the soft melodies of the waves crashing against the pier make for a serene and peaceful setting.

Casting my line into the water, I often forget all the worries of life, and focus on the thrill of the catch, especially when the walleyes are biting like they were last week.

The view from the pier, especially in the early dawn, is one that never ceases to amaze me.

As the sun rises and paints the sky in hues of pinks and purples, the beauty of the place unfolds.

It fills me with a sense of serenity, preparing me for the day ahead.

When the fishing's done, and the shops begin to open, I often grab a quick bite to eat at one of the local eateries.

And what could be better than a cold beer to go with the fresh catch of the day?

It's not just the food, the shopping at the local stores often leads to delightful finds.

But it's not all about the fishing and food.

There's something special about walks along the boardwalk.

The laughter and chatter of family and friends, the salty sea breeze, and the magnificent view all combine in a symphony of joy and tranquility.

Spend a Day at the Lucille Ball Memorial Park

Every day after work, I take a small detour to the Lucille Ball Memorial Park. This beautiful little spot sits right on the edge of Chautauqua Lake - an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Park is well-kept, with its lush green ball field and clean restrooms.

But the show's real stars are the two statues of the one and only Lucille Ball, fondly nicknamed by us, the locals, as scary Lucy and the great Lucy.

The view of the water from the park is something that never fails to take my breath away.

It's a sight that I've come to look forward to every day.

There are picnic tables and a pavilion too, making it the perfect spot for a quick meal or even a weekend outing.

While the park is situated in an area that seems a bit down on its luck, it's the oddballs that make it intriguing.

They hang around the park, sharing tales and adding to its charm.

And with the police station right across the street, it's as safe as it could possibly be.

The park is not just for adults, it's a hit among the kids too. The playground is always buzzing with energy.

The kids are either shooting hoops or on the pier having a joyous time.

The sight of them, just being in the moment rather than glued to their phones, is one of the many things that make this park a special place.

And if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the ducks with their black bodies and cute little white beaks submerging in the water.

See the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

Every time I visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, I find myself completely lost in the natural beauty it so effortlessly offers.

My favorite time to be there? Between 7 and 7:30 pm, fondly referred to as 'Happy Hour' by bird enthusiasts like myself.

It's when the birds come out to play, their melodious chatter filling the air.

They're unafraid and allow us to witness them in their natural habitat, making it a must-see spectacle.

What makes this place absolutely special is not just the birds though.

The institute regularly hosts a variety of exhibits that are a delight to the senses.

I remember attending the opening of the "Hope is the thing with feathers" exhibit.

It was an array of magnificent art pieces that took my breath away.

It's truly a privilege to have such a treasure trove of natural history in our own backyard.

The friendly and knowledgeable staff at RTPI further enhances the overall experience.

Their passion and dedication towards preserving and showcasing nature's diversity is evident in their tireless efforts.

The institute is also family-friendly, so it's always a joy to take the kids along.

The institute also has well-marked trails for those who prefer a walk amidst nature.

They've even introduced a web-based interactive trail map, making it incredibly easy for those who wish to explore.

Visit the Old-School Fun at Midway State Park

Bumper cars at Midway State Park
Mkbingcon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the moment I stepped foot in Midway State Park, I felt like I'd taken a charming trip back in time.

Its old-school charm is evident in the vintage carousel, lakeside train rides, and the classic arcade games that line the park.

It's the perfect spot for a family outing, especially if you have young children.

My young ones adore the park. They can't get enough of the rides designed especially for them.

Helicopter ride at Midway State Park
Mkbingcon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I particularly appreciate that kids between 42 and 48 inches can ride most attractions independently without adult supervision.

And the best part? There are even special kiddie rides that children up to 54 inches can enjoy.

The park ensures an enjoyable visit with ample parking space and a generally uncrowded atmosphere, adding to its charm.

The park is open from 11 am to 6 pm from Wednesday to Sunday in July and August.

This park is such a fantastic place for a fun-filled family day out. Whether it's my 1-year-old or my 5-year-old, they always have a blast here.

Ride at Midway State Park
Mkbingcon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have Fun at Cockaigne Resort

Every winter, I carve out time in my schedule to visit my paradise, Cockaigne Resort.

It's the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation, with a touch of rustic charm that I've come to love.

My days at the resort are filled with exhilarating outdoor activities.

Nothing beats the thrill of horseback riding through the snowy landscape.

It's a magical experience, especially when you're accompanied by the resort's friendly and helpful equestrian staff.

For adrenaline junkies, the ski slopes are a must-try.

The snow is consistently flawless - none of that pesky ice you find in other ski resorts.

What I love most about Cockaigne Resort is not just the ambiance, but the people.

The staff here are the warmest and happiest I've met.

Whether they're operating the chair lifts or serving up some mouth-watering dishes, they always do it with a smile.

And speaking of food, the resort's gastronomic offerings deserve a special mention.

The smoky prime rib, cheesy burgers and pretzel balls are simply divine, guaranteed to send you into a food coma.

Nearby, you'll find quaint villages that add to the cozy appeal of the area.

It's the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, tucked away in a little corner of winter wonderland.

Just a tip: bring some outdoor games like cornhole or can jam.

Playing these games against the backdrop of the resort's stunning scenery can make your stay even more memorable.

Wander Around Allen Park

There's something inherently magical about Allen Park.

It's a place where the community spirit thrives, where you can lose yourself in a good book under the shade of a tree or simply revel in the natural beauty surrounding you.

It's my go-to spot for picnics with my family and friends, with yummy barbecue and laughter echoing through the air.

The playgrounds are a haven for kids of all ages - teeming with laughter and energy.

Trekking along the walking trails bordering the creek is a refreshing experience.

The rich flora and fauna never fail to surprise me, and it feels like a new discovery every single time.

Allen Park is not just about the comforting greenery, it also has an exercise course for those who need that bit of extra push for staying fit.

The bandshell, with its eye-catching architecture, is a popular spot for music lovers and performers alike.

One of my favorite features of the park is the indoor covered kitchen area.

It's a sheltered haven, perfect for days when the weather is not particularly agreeable.

The thought of sipping hot coffee during a drizzle or finding respite from the blazing sun, makes the kitchen area a unique spot.

A memory that lingers fondly is that of the natural pool.

Although it's not functional now, it was once a beloved spot for many of us locals.

There's a certain nostalgia about it and I do hope it springs back to life one day.

Allen Park is a pet-friendly zone too.

There are clear guidelines for pets to be leashed, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone visiting.

The clean bathrooms add to the convenience of spending a day in the park without any worries.

Final Thoughts

Chautauqua County, New York, is more than just a place to live, it's a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered.Whether you're a lifelong resident or a first-time visitor, Chautauqua County's charm and character is sure to win you over.

Time and time again, I find myself rediscovering the beauty and wonder of my own home.

So here's to Chautauqua County, and all the adventures it holds!

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