Hammondsport: Keuka Lake Crown Jewel for Coolest Town

I know some people were annoyed by the fact that the Fourth of July holiday landed in the middle of the corporate work week, limiting travel options and forcing them to switch into and out of celebration mode rather quickly. I understand the frustration, yet the schedule this year does make up for it in that we get two weekends to celebrate our Nation’s birthday.

This photo just screams nice day.

I’m currently in Connecticut getting ready to ring in the second, but I spent the first one in Hammondsport as part of the Coolest Small Town Road Trip. Wine tasting and a hot-air balloon ride were two of the highlights (which we will discuss), however the center piece of the town is the gorgeous lake it resides upon.

The small town of under 1,000 people sits at the south end of the Y-shaped Keuka Lake, about 20 miles in length and the place to be during the summer months. The wineries look down over it from the sloping hillsides, but as a resident told me, if you’re not on the water, you’re not experiencing Hammondsport.

In addition to arriving on the first of two holiday weekends, the town was also celebrating their recognition as the Coolest Small Town in America (Budget Travel) with a parade and festival in the downtown square. Something about the people’s passion and excitement has really stuck with me, seeing them so proud of where they live.

While big cities often draw residents soley because of industry and opportunity, it’s rare that someone ends up in a small town like Hammondsport (or Beaufort or Cape May or Damascus) for any other reason than love of the area. They all really want to be there, which makes me even more curious to find out why, both as a person and a travel writer.

Keuka Lake provides the boating culture and scenic backdrop for the area – it truly is beautiful and the centerpiece of Hammondsport. Watersport rentals, waterfront restaurants, and “salty dog” bars are nestled in and around its waters, all of these aspects adding up to a lovable lakeside community. No matter what you’re doing in town, Keuka Lake will be a big reason why you are enjoying yourself, whether you’re eating, drinking, or playing in and around it:

Boaters hang out at the Switz.

Keuka Watersports: Sure, the lake is nice to look at, but you don’t travel to sit on the sidelines. Visitors to the area can rent sport and pontoon boats by the day or week, an idea I would highly recommend for those without a vessel of their own. The sport boats are equipped for water skiing and wakeboarding, and first-timers can take a lesson with the company for a “try something new” travel experience. Jet skiing is always a fun option, and I was able to get up to speeds of 50mph on the lake’s relatively calm surface.

Snug Harbor and Lakeside Restaurant: We were treated a beautiful sunset on two consecutive nights from each of these establishments (see photo), both casual and serving good seafood on the west side of the lake. One of the things I really appreciated about all of the waterside restaurants was the design of their docks – chairs and a fire ring welcome guests to relax before or after dinner. Snug Harbor has recently come under new management and their food was very impressive. Come via car or boat to either.

The Switz: Live music and a sun-soaked outside bar make this the go-to spot for a few drinks at the tail end of a summer day. Feeling salty and sun-faded from jet skiing, we enjoyed cheap drinks out on the patio as the relaxed vibe took over, the setting sun reflecting off the water as the boaters began to tie up. People got out of their seats to dance as the drinks went down and twilight began to set in. No need to run home and shower – bathing suits, tank tops, and sunglasses are the most common apparel.

Find some photos below. The last two are fighting the glare/dirt from the window of a scenic flight, so be gentle.

Remember to check out Wake and Wander on Facebook, and follow the Coolest Road Trip on Twitter: @WakeandWander (#CoolTrip).

Not a wallflower? Enter once every 24 hours to win a road trip of your own – weekend getaways in the four Coolest Small Towns.

Keuka Lake, Hammondsport, New York.
Boats hang outside of the Switz in Hammondsport, NY.
Sunset over Keuka Lake from Lakeside Restaurant.
View of Keuka Lake from a scenic flight.
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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tracy Linehan says:

    I grew up in the port… and i can honestly say…THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME!!! I am about 4 hrs away…but go home as often as i can. Its such a gorgeous place and i am truly blessed to call it home.

    1. willmcgough says:

      What was your favorite thing about the town?

  2. Robin Knowlton Gillette says:

    Growing up in Hammondsport means my childhood memories are packed with thoughts of swimming, hiking, vineyards and exploring. Those memories are treasured beyond belief and I will be sure that my child has similar experiences. Although my job means I live a couple hours away, my heart will always live in Hammondsport!

    1. willmcgough says:

      Your childhood was filled with wineries? Lucky 😉

      Thanks for your thoughts… I agree it’s a great area!

  3. tom bennett says:

    Hammondsport is truly a jewel in the Finger Lakes Region! Having grown up an hour away, I spent many summers in and around Keuka Lake. I used to be a camp couselor at Camp Iroquois and took many canoe trips with the campers. We would land and spend the night on the shore in Hammondsport. Great memories!!

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