We were planning to spend a week in the Niagara Falls region when something caught our eye, the city of Buffalo only 20 minutes to the south. We realized that there are many unique things to do in Buffalo so we decided to make Buffalo our base for touring. Although we spent a week there, we didn’t get around to all the exciting attractions in what was once the 8th-largest city in America.
11 unique things to do in Buffalo, New York
1) See the Wright Stuff
A young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark on Buffalo, designing homes for wealthy industrialists. Those homes are now available for touring including the Martin House complex, Graycliff Estate and more. The sites are less crowded but just as exciting as Wright’s more well-known houses in Chicago.
2) Hot dogging it around Buffalo
Forget chicken wings, if we had known that Buffalo was the home of chargrilled hot dogs we would have visited much sooner. Most places cook their dogs, or franks if you prefer, over good old-fashioned charcoal, just like our dads did when we were kids. We tried as many places as possible in one week but declared the winner at Old Man River, a quirky spot overlooking the Niagara River where the bags of authentic charwood are stacked up out front.
3) Go with the grain
Due to its location at the foot (head?) of Lake Erie and the Erie Canal, Buffalo stored much of the grain grown in the Midwest, America’s breadbasket. Today it houses the largest collection of concrete grain silos in the world, which reportedly inspired the round shapes of the Bauhaus movement. Well what do you do with all those large structures? The folks at Silo City Rocks are turning a group of them into the tallest (190 feet) rock climbing wall in the world. It’s due to open in September.
4) A wing and a prayer
You want to start a heated discussion in a Buffalo bar? Ask the locals for the best place to try chicken wings, the devouring of which takes on an almost religious fervor. Just don’t call them “Buffalo” wings. Here they’re just wings.
5) The Pierce-Arrow Museum (it’s not dedicated to Cupid)
The legendary Pierce-Arrow automobile, the Maserati of its day, was manufactured in Buffalo. The Pierce-Arrow Museum houses a collection of these and other vintage automobiles. In a new wing the curator is building a Frank Lloyd Wright designed filling station from his original plans. It’s one of his many designs that never got built and the last one to be authorized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
6) The last of the Mazureks
Mazurek’s Bakery is the last of the old-time Polish bakeries in Buffalo’s First Ward. Since Larissa’s maiden name is Mazurek, we just had to visit this spot. They even let us work there for a day, starting out with the baking and donut-frying crew at 6 AM. Mazurek’s is justly renowned for its crusty New York rye bread.
7) Taste the toast of the town
Of course, we can never limit ourselves to just one bakery. The Five Points Bakery is also the first “Toast Café” we’ve encountered. Sweet and savory selections of perfectly toasted, thick slices of bread were paired with locally sourced toppings. Above is the cheese-stuffed bread with sides of bleu cheese, hot sauce and sour cream; sort of a toasty take on Buffalo wings.
8) Try sweets that are sponge-worthy
Sponge candy is a local delicacy, although the name is somewhat of a misnomer. Sugar is boiled until it gets all foamy then allowed to harden to a crispy crunch as it cools. It’s then encased in creamy chocolate. As good as the candy is, we particularly liked the new Sponge Candy Perry’s ice cream. Try to turn this one down: caramel sugar flavored ice cream with caramelized sugar swirls and sponge candy pieces.
9) Tour an open-air museum of architecture
The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Buffalo for its annual convention in 2011. They were attracted by one of the best collections of Art Deco architecture in the country. During the 1920s the city was riding an economic boom and it shows in the buildings. One of the best is City Hall, the 2nd-tallest in the country, which offers free tours at noon.
For those interested in urban exploration, the Koryo Group is running an upcoming tour of Buffalo that will highlight the rise, fall and rebirth of this interesting American city.
10) Of Presidents and Superfreaks
Buffalo provided the country with two presidents, Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, and was the inauguration spot of another, Teddy Roosevelt. The house where TR was sworn in is a National Historic Site. But here’s a great trivia contest question: What do Millard Fillmore and Superfreak singer Rick James have in common? They’re both buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo.
11) Where else can you find Burmese, Peruvian, Thai, Japanese and Ethiopian food under one roof?
Buffalo participates in a United Nations program that resettles refugees to the United States. The result has been a dynamic impact on the burgeoning food scene. The above cuisines can all be found in the West Side Bazaar, a pilot program that assists entrepreneurial efforts. Stop by to taste these foods and make sure you also try locally produced Koop’s Kitchen, his barbecue sauce is one of the best we’ve found anywhere.
12) Attend the school of hard Knox
Learn about contemporary art at The Albright-Knox Art Gallery which houses one of the most exciting collections in the world. See if you can spot Larissa in this wall-sized Jackson Pollock.
At first we thought Buffalo would be just a side trip from Niagara Falls, but the more we explored the city the more we stuck around and the Falls became the side trip. For more visit Buffalo Niagara tourism.
Oh, and did we mention that Buffalo might be the hot dog capital of the world? Here’s our review of Buffalo hot dogs.
We found so many things to do in Buffalo that we wrote another one: More unique things to do in Buffalo Part 2.