10 Things to Do in Utica

More than a gateway city

By Sandra Scott

Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica is comprised of three components: a museum, a Victorian Italianate mansion and the Pratt Institute.
Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica is comprised of three components: a museum, a Victorian Italianate mansion and the Pratt Institute.

Utica is a gateway city to the Adirondacks and 1000 Islands but the area is a destination unto its self. Today the city likes to call itself “The Renaissance City” — a city where new and exciting things are happening. The Hotel Utica has been beautifully restored and designated as a Historic Hotel of America; plus, there are several unique B&Bs like Blueberry Brook. Dine at one of the highly rated farm-to-table restaurants, shop at some of the area’s new boutiques and visit some of the area’s unique places. Be amazed at the variety of things to see and do.

1. Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute: There are three components on the site: a museum, a Victorian Italianate mansion and the Pratt Institute (an adjunct of the Pratt Institute’s main Brooklyn campus). The museum has a large collection of internationally recognized works including Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life” plus exhibits of decorative arts, watches and stoneware. The Fountain Elms Mansion displays more art and furniture from the Victorian era including unique items such as a courting candle. Check out the schedule of performing arts and classes.

2. F. X. Matt Brewing Company: The company is one of the oldest family-owned breweries in the United States. Take their tour, which starts in a beautiful, lavish room decorated with advertising memorabilia including Schultz and Dooley steins that were so successful in advertising Utica Club in the 1960s. Check out the stained-glass window above the door, the desk that was owned by P. T. Barnum, a 5.5-gallon stein designed by FX Matt II, and the three-disk symphonium (an early version of an English concertina) appraised at $1 million. The tour of the beer-making process ends with beer tasting in the historic bar.

3. The Root Farm: The farm is named for dentist Alice Root, who had a passion for equine-assisted therapy. It has grown to include a horticulture center with a hydroponic garden and adventure center for the able-bodied and those with limited mobility. The equine center offers private lessons, adaptive riding, recreation riding, hippotherapy and vaulting. Try out the zip line and rock climbing wall. Unique is the “challenge course.” Its all-weather, all-terrain and all-purpose “action track” wheelchairs allow wheelchair-bound people to go just about anywhere. There is even one that will allow the individual to enjoy the outdoor walk in an upright position.

4. Utica Zoo: For over 100 years the zoo has been a place to commune with the animals. The zoo may be small but it offers many unique activities including animal encounters. Go inside the lions den, interact with the California sea lions, get up close and personal with the Nigerian dwarf goats and hand feed the red pandas and Najla the bactrian camel. Educational and fun programs are offered year-round. Check out the world’s largest watering can near the entrance. When needed it actually waters the plants.

A ride on the iconic Adirondack Railroad is a must-do
A ride on the iconic Adirondack Railroad is a must-do

5. Adirondack Railroad: A ride on the iconic Adirondack Railroad is a must-do. The most popular ride is the Polar Express but they offer other themed trips along with a variety of rides between Utica and Thendara (just a short hop from Old Forge). The Utica’s Union Station is one of those grand old stations with marble columns built by the same architect who designed Grand Central Terminal. Check out the wooden benches. They have heating ducts in them so travelers in the winter will feel warm and cozy. Some claim the station is haunted.

6. The Stanley: The Stanley reckons back to the day when movie theaters were called “palaces.” It was built in 1928 by the same architect who built the Landmark in Syracuse. It is where Broadway comes to Utica but they also host a variety of other concerts and shows. Above the grand staircase (similar to the one on the Titanic) is a magnificent 6,500-pound chandelier that was constructed in Utica by the Meyda Tiffany Company. Tours are available by appointment.

7. Children’s Museum: Young and old will enjoy learning while having fun at the museum located next to Utica’s Union Station. There is something for everyone from an Iroquois longhouse to a puppet theater to a space explorations exhibit. There are plenty of hands-on activities. The staff offers a schedule of special activities. It is a good place to have a party.

8. Locavores paradise: Not many places have a food named after them. Utica Greens is a traditional Southern Italian dish of sautéed seasoned greens that first appeared on the scene in the 1980s at Chesterfield Restaurant. There are many variations — all tasty. Many of the local restaurants are part of the farm-to-market concept including Tailor and the Cook Restaurant. Ocean Blue receives fresh oysters and other seafood daily. The Local Restaurant is housed in the repurposed library – the books are still there.

F. X. Matt Brewing Company is one of the oldest family-owned breweries in the United States. It offers tours with beer tasting in the historic bar.
F. X. Matt Brewing Company is one of the oldest family-owned breweries in the United States. It offers tours with beer tasting in the historic bar.

9. Unique: Meyda Tiffany offers tours of their workshop where they create one-of-a-kind light fixtures. Join a friendly painting class at Art & Vine, and in the fall watch cider pressed at the Clinton Cider Mill. Looking for an old magazine, book or poster? Stop at Berry Hill Book Shop with more than 80,000 items organized by subject in nearby Deansboro.

10. Events: Part of the revitalization of Utica includes a variety of events year-round. Celebrate winter at Boonville’s Snow Festival, welcome spring at Bass Pro Shop’s Spring Fishing Classic, and the 15K Boilermaker has been called the country’s best 15K race. Besides performance at The Stanley, the area is home to many musical events.

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