Free Fun on the Shore of Lake Ontario
A family trip to Rochester, NY, doesn’t have to break the bank. Budding geologists will have fun exploring the gorges, lakes and bays created when glaciers melted from the area. Music-loving kids have opportunities to hear world-class performances. The whole family can tour an authentic castle or just spread out a blanket on a sandy beach.
Rochester Has a Beach?
The 39-acre Ontario Beach Park (4800 Lake Ave., Rochester, NY) on the shore of Lake Ontario in northwest Rochester is a local favorite for swimming, fishing and sunning. A pier provides a spot for fishing, and the historic Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, outfitted with carved animals and chariots for young riders, was installed in 1905. Enjoy free concerts on Wednesday evenings in summer. The park is open year-round, but some services, like lifeguards, are seasonal. Nearby, Turning Point Park has an award-winning boardwalk, hiking and biking trails and a rain garden where plants purify runoff from the parking lot.
Biking Through History
Download the Genesee Riverway Trail and Guide (200 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY) from the City of Rochester’s website before you head out for a walk or bike ride along the 24-mile trail that hugs the Genesee River and its gorge. The trail stretches from the Erie Canal, through downtown Rochester and on to Lake Ontario with stops at sites like the Genesee River’s high falls. Waysides on the trail provide historical context for kids and adults. The tour at the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, built in 1822, is free for kids 17 and under.
Free Movie Nights
The Monroe County Department of Parks shows free movies throughout the summer at Ontario Beach Park and at the Highland Park Bowl (171 Reservoir Ave., Rochester, NY). Thursday, Friday and Saturday night showings feature kid-friendly, first-run and classic flicks like Beauty and the Beast and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If your kids are into geocaching, there are caches to be found. Plan to arrive early to explore Warner Castle, an 1852 replica of a Scottish castle. Tours of the interior and access to the gardens on the grounds are free.
Music at Washington Square
Expose younger children to classical music and indulge the older kids with an appreciation of the form at the Eastman School of Music’s Thursday lunchtime concerts. Pack a brown bag lunch for the concerts at the First Universalist Church (150 Clinton Ave. S., Rochester, NY) that begin a little after noon and last about half an hour. Honors students from the Eastman Community School perform, as do young pianists and the school’s choir. Not all of the performances are classical music—a 2016 concert featured percussion instruments from West Africa and the West Indies.
Winter in Rochester
Winter weather can be brutal in Rochester if you’re not used to cold and snow, but activities like ice skating at Highland Park and winter adventure hikes in the parks led by the city’s recreation bureau go on. While not free, if you and the kids want to experience snowshoeing, you can rent inexpensive snowshoes at the recreation bureau’s headquarters (400 Dewey Ave., Rochester, NY).
- City of Rochester, NY: Ontario Beach Park
- Yelp: Ontario Beach Park
- City of Rochester, NY: Turning Point Park, Trail, and Rain Garden
- City of Rochester, NY: Genesee Riverway Trail
- TripAdvisor: Genesee Riverway Trail
- TripAdvisor: Genesee River’s High Falls
- MonroeCounty.gov: Movies in the Parks
- Eastman School of Music: Eastman@Washington Square
- City of Rochester: Winter Adventures
Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.