A classic American road trip that should be put on your bucket list this second is Niagara Falls. Roughly six hours from Cincinnati, OH can leave you in another country viewing the spectacular falls. So put in that vacation request, dust off the suitcases and prepare to navigate like a boss.
After hours of internet research, multiple interviews, and lots and lots of pinteresting we had our itinerary set and hit the road. Our first stop up I-71 was none other than a classic American road trip icon, McDonald’s. However, this particular McDonald’s is home to a charmingly horrific effigy. Just take the Sunbury exit and prepare your selfie stick for the visual feast of a bigger than life Ronald and friends.
Abandoned Chippawa Lake Amusement Park
Further up the road we took a detour to try to get a glimpse of the old abandoned Chippawa Lake Amusement Park. The park was abandoned in the 70’s and very few things remain. Daring adventurers who aren’t afraid of trespassing have captured stunning images of the remains of the decomposing park. Especially of the Ferris wheel and roller coaster.
However, I did not go beyond the no trespassing sign. Concerned parties in the car would not allow such a heinous crime to be committed, regardless of how easy it would have been to climb through the massive gaping holes in the fence. I was able to snap this photo of the over grown and haunting ticket stalls before hitting the pavement again. It left me wondering what was behind those fences.
We decided to stay in Cleveland overnight to break up the drive and to explore the quirks and oddities that the city has to offer. It is great walking city with scenic walkways by the lake and near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Music and Rock lovers alike will enjoy a trip the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, however after seeing it previously there was no need to revisit. Just walking the streets of the city you will find fun oddities like a giant rubber stamp, sculptures and fountains. Hit E. 4th Street for the hipster, foodie and local food and bar scene, but there are other great restaurants and bars in town that are worth investigating.
Christmas Story House
The next day we went out to see the beloved house where the Christmas Story was filmed, complete with the soft glow of electric sex emitting from the infamous leg lamp. Walk a further down the street to see a replica of the lamp on display at the house of Jim Moralevitz, the man who was given the
role of the man who delivered the leg lamp in exchange for use of his driveway for camera crews. Grab a coffee at Rising Star Coffee Roasters then head to the Dittrick Museum of Medical History in the Allen Memorial Medical Library. This museum is free and offers a intriguing look into the history of contraception…this is a must for anyone in a medical field or just plain interested in medicine. Then it was off to the falls.
Regardless of your views on Canada, get that passport out or apply for one because you MUST view the falls from the Canadian side. You will be extremely disappointed if you only get to view the falls from the American side, because it fails in comparison. Depending on the type of traveler you are I have to warn you about the falls. This is an extremely touristy destination. For those of you whom have visited Myrtle Beach and
Gatlinburg expect all the Ripley things. Ripley’s museums of everything, aquariums, arcades, the list goes on. This is a great spot to bring kids because you can definitely find something for kids of all ages. We enjoy walking through to take in the sights and the people. Tip: The people watching here is superb, a cheap activity can easily be grab a drink and watch the people walk by.
Things to Do at the Falls
There are a few tourist things that you must do to make the most of your trip to the falls. 1) The Maid of the Mist on the American Side or the Horn Blower on the Canadian side. This was the highlight of our visit to the falls. I recommend positioning yourself to the back of the boat by the railing, that way as you pass the falls you have the most amazing view without tons of tourists heads blocking your view. 2) Journey Behind the Falls; Go through the tunnels that snake their way behind the falls and see the falls through two peeps holes. Then the highlight is to head out to the observation deck and get up close and personal with the falls. We went at night to see the falls all lit up which is spectacular.
Note: You will get wet, but no worries they provide ponchos! 3) Go hiking at Niagara Glen Nature Reserve and Upper Whirlpool Trails. 4) Go wine tasting throughout Niagara on the Lake. Hit Caroline Cellars for lunch and some great wine! I would even recommend staying in Niagara on the lake if you are a couple looking for a romantic getaway and then driving to visit the falls. I just couldn’t imagine paying $400-$500 a night to a hotel for a room that overlook the falls because it would not be worth it to me. Not when you use the money saved to experience them in other more rewarding ways.
Where to Stay
We used Hotwire to book an amazing boutique hotel for a fraction of the cost, The Sterling Inn and Spa, which even included breakfast in bed! There are tons of hotels for all budgets on both sides of the falls. Shop around and see who is offering specials and deals before booking.
The American Side
On the American side you will want to visit Goat Island and Three Sisters Island to get good views of the rivers carrying the water to the falls. Go and visit the observation deck then head to whirlpool state park for some hiking. There is a trolley that runs on the american side that will take tourist to all the sights for a nominal fee.
The American side is dirtier and doesn’t offer much, other than a worn down casino. I am going to take minute to comment on just how dirty the American side was. Not only did the Niagara State Park smell like an unkempt zoo, the public toilets were something out of a horror film. Stall doors were hanging on by a single hinge , toilet paper decorated the floors, everything was wet and oozing with dirt, but the worst monstrosity lay within the stall itself. It was a miracle these toilets even flushed, but regardless someone decided to take a big adult shit in a bag and left in the corner for someone to clean up.
That’s right folks…big man poop in a bag. That you discover after you have finally achieved the delicate balance of hoovering over the vile toilet and holding the stall door closed, because clearly all the latches have been ripped off. It is only in that moment that you realized you have lost all hope in humanity. Word to the wise: use port-o-lets. Trash littered the entire American side like a trash can was a new and foreign object that didn’t know how to be used. I beg of all visitors, please be a good tourist and clean up your shit and don’t do something that belongs on a tourist shaming website. Rant Done.
We took Toronto by storm because there was so much to see, eat, drink and do. We started our morning off by hitting Lawrence Market and picking out stuff for a picnic to take to Centre Island. This amazing market hosts tons of delicious delicatessens. After drooling your way through the aisles and picking out what you are going to shove in your face hole it is off to the Ferry Terminal to catch a ferry to the island. The island is a must see for any visitor to Toronto. There are picnic tables a plenty that sport stunning views of the city, then enjoy the beauty of the Toronto Islands. It is a mix of botanical gardens, petting zoo, old timey amusement park, beach and nature preserve. You can rent bikes or walk you way around the island…next time we are biking it.
After a few hours on the islands we decided to take a subway tour of the city to sample all the food and drink that Toronto is known for. There was one rule…at each stop we would have to eat or drink something from a different restaurant or bar. After acquiring our all day subway passes…we began our journey.
I can’t stress enough how I wish I would have taken a whole day to do this so we could have done even more subway stops…but by the time we figured out what in the hell we were doing…it was late in the afternoon. The key is to not only eat or drink something, but to also walk around that designated part and see what each district has to offer. We loved Chinatown and had some of the best dumplings known to man at Mother Dumplings. We had to have poutine at another stop and then fancy drinks at the Hair of Dog in the LGBT district.
We visited Graffiti alley, Canada’s oldest cigar factory and some amazing theaters followed by the times square of Toronto! If we had more time we would have visited a few museums along the way. A district that you must visit is the distillery district…which has tons of great restaurants, eclectic shops and bars. The subway will not drop you off there, but they have a parking garage. At the end of the day we could barely move from sheer exhaustion…but it was worth it! The next morning we were in need of pancake goodness and it was found at Old School. What you see is what you get folks…pancake perfection..topped with brown sugar butter and drizzled with blueberry syrup. GLORIOUS! Now that we were in our pancake coma, we said our farewell to Toronto and started our journey back home.
*Completely Random yet important note when traveling in Canada. They do not sell beer in their supermarkets…you must go to the Beer Store. No lie…this is a foreign concept to American’s since you can get beer almost anywhere.
Buffalo was last minute add in our itinerary and many folks were curious to why we choose this city for a quick stop. My philosophy is that every city has unique and fun opportunities and places that other cities don’t have. We found a quirky, fun bar right out of the gate. Founding Father’s is a presidential packed patriotic pub that will leave you feeling more patriotic than Abe Lincoln riding a grizzly bear shooting a machine gun. Every nook, ceiling tile and place setting is lined with presidential memorabilia and you might even stubble out by the end night having learned something.
Right down the street from Founding Fathers is Buffalo Proper. Amazing food, drinks, atmosphere…we ended up coming back here twice in less than 24 hours. That should speak volumes! Don’t forget to hit Oshun for oysters and seafood that won’t disappoint. After eating all day and night we waddled back to the hotel, only to repeat the next day.
Don’t Forget These Gems
Head down to the Buffalo Naval and Military Park to check out the war ships, museum and don’t forget to get your selfie with Shark Girl who is located on Canalside. For lunch we ventured to the Anchor Bar, who claims to be home of the original chicken wings. Don’t be fooled by the line or lack of parking…we were able to get a spot at the bar without a waiting. They also do carry out orders, which might be a good option if you don’t have much time or care to wait.
A side trip that we ventured out on was a hiking trip to see the Eternal Flame. This hiking trail is located in the Chestnut Ridge Park which takes you into a small grotto at the waterfall’s base that emits natural gas that has been ignited to form the flame. It can be difficult to navigate…but in a nutshell…it is in the creek bed…just follow all the other hikers and you will get there. I don’t know what I was expecting…but the flame looked like someone lite a zippo lighter. Don’t expect a bonfire, a torch or even a lantern. It is much smaller than you imagine…so prepare yourself.
Our final stop on was on our way home and it was to see Elle the Pink Elephant at 21 Brix Winery. Be sure to go inside for some wine sampling. I can’t imagine a better way to end a trip!