I get it: When you think of winter destinations, Buffalo may not rocket to the top of your list. Historically, Buffalo’s had a reputation as a past-its-prime industry city with really harsh weather—not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. But in early 2018, I started seeing articles pop up about this Great Lakes city’s resurgence, and I knew I had to go ASAP. Even after just one day there, it’s safe to say there are SO many must-see Buffalo attractions worthy of a trip to western New York!
THE MUST-SEE BUFFALO ATTRACTIONS FOR A ONE-DAY TRIP
From its top-notch architecture to its late-night dive bar culture to its friendly people, Buffalo has so much going for it. Read on to see what I loved about my trip and what I think you won’t want to miss!
MUST-SEE BUFFALO ATTRACTIONS
First and foremost, if you’re even remotely interested in architecture, you’ll love Buffalo. From its classic examples of Art Deco to its colorful houses, the buildings in this city are not to be missed. Architecture buffs will recognize works by the famed Louis Sullivan (who’s been called “the father of skyscrapers”) and Eliel and Eero Saarinen (who you may remember from this post!). More casual architecture fans may find the seven Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks in the region worthwhile, as well as parks and parkways planned by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame.
All in all, the city is a hub for early 20th-century styles, leading The New York Times to label it “a textbook for a course in modern American buildings.” Visit Buffalo Niagara has a whole itinerary devoted to architecture, but if you just want to dip your toe in, don’t miss the mansions on Delaware Avenue’s Millionaire’s Row.
Years ago, Buffalo’s waterfront, once an industrial hub, was not a place you wanted to hang out. But recently, the city has made great strides in developing its waterfront area, and now there’s no shortage of activities there to keep you busy. For one, Canalside, an entertainment and recreation complex, now sits at the mouth of the Erie Canal, and there you’ll find a live music venue, a children’s museum, boat rentals, fitness classes, restaurants and more. But it’s not just for summer activities, as I found during my March visit: In the winter, the opportunity to ice skate down the area’s canals is open to the public!
Away from the Canalside development, Buffalo’s Outer Harbor boasts more than 200 acres of green space, with running and biking trails galore. Like Canalside, it also has fitness classes, as well as kayak and bike rentals and its own set of events and festivals.
If you can brave whatever temperatures you’re battling outside to take yourself on a self-guide walking tour of Buffalo, I highly recommend you do. Start with neighborhoods like Elmwood Village and Allentown, both full of independent restaurants, shops and businesses, and wander to your heart’s content.
Sports are more than sports in Buffalo, where people are ultra-passionate about their teams despite a… less-than-stellar recent track record. If you’re into sports, Buffalo is a great place to see your home team on the road, as I did on my day in town. Even wearing an opposing jersey around all day, I got nothing but welcoming comments and high fives for supporting Buffalo sports tourism! With such a collegial environment and so many dedicated fans, it’s a great place to watch a game.
As I mentioned above, Buffalo has the absolute nicest people you’ll find anywhere, making them among the must-see Buffalo attractions—and I mean that when I say it. Of the one day I was there, I spent almost the entire time talking to strangers about Buffalo’s neighborhoods, restaurants and everything in between.
Pair these friendly locals with a bar-close time of 4 a.m. and a endless stream of dives around town, and your chances of making friends are high if you go out. Whether or not you’re drinking, this is a great way to get a feel for the “real” Buffalo.
Why yes, I did put Niagara Falls at the bottom of this list so you’d have to read through all the charms of Buffalo proper first! While I highly recommend spending some time in the city and enjoying all it has to offer, you’d be remiss to come to the region and not check out one of the most spectacular natural sights on this continent. The U.S. side of Niagara Falls is just a half-hour drive out of the city, and it’s absolutely worth the trek for a glimpse at the the waterfalls, which combined boast the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America.
While some say the Canadian side of the falls has the better views, it’s a subject of hot debate. The only way to find out is to see for yourself!
GETTING TO BUFFALO
Several major airlines, including United, American, Delta and Southwest, service Buffalo Niagara International Airport, and you can fly nonstop from cities across the country such as Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. From the East Coast, you can fly nonstop from just about any major city, which is what I did on a short hop from Washington, D.C.
Many of Buffalo’s new businesses have found homes inside old historic buildings, and a couple of boutique hotels are among them. The Curtiss Hotel, for one, calls the renovated historic landmark Harlow C. Curtiss building home, and the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center brought new life to the Richardson Olmsted Campus, which served as an asylum when it opened in the late 1800s. Both hotels put an emphasis on design and preserving their buildings’ style elements while providing a modern experience. If choosing between the two, note that The Curtiss is downtown, while Hotel Henry sits about 14 minutes north of the city center.
While neither hotel belongs to a major points program, those looking to book their stays for free can book them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or use points from a card like the CapitalOne Venture to erase the room charges off their statements.
Of course, there are plenty of options within the major chains, too. If you’re looking to redeem points the traditional way and still enjoy accommodations that have some character, Reikart House could make a good option. It’s a member of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio, and as a Category 4 hotel, rooms go for 25,000 Bonvoy points per night. My last stay in a Tribute hotel was one of my favorites of all time!
If style points aren’t a factor, all the other major chains, including Hilton, Wyndham and InterContinental, have plenty of properties to choose from in the Buffalo area, too.
Buffalo’s food reputation comes largely from its pub staples, such as pizza, burgers and, of course, its famous Buffalo wings. As a vegetarian, I can’t sound off on the best place for wings, but I highly encourage you to ask around while you’re in town and sample a few to choose a victor!
For a great burger experience, head to Allen Burger Venture, which serves up craft beer and whisky alongside a menu of grass-fed angus beef burgers. While I obviously can’t vouch for the beef burgers, the sides I had there were great.
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience in Buffalo, I can’t recommend Las Puertas enough. Its seasonal Mexican dishes are phenomenal and its interior is cute and inviting, with a brightly colored bar and patterned hanging lamps. As far as I’m concerned, this place can hang with Mexican restaurants you’ll find in much larger, food-focused cities.
My first stop of the day was Remedy House, a bright and trendy corner coffee shop in the Five Points Neighborhood (which Las Puertas and Five Points Bakery also call home!). Its impressive coffee menu and French-inspired interior stole my heart—and that was before a barista spent time mapping out a perfect one-day city tour for me on the back of a napkin. I’m telling you, nicest people ever in this city.
Like many other cities around the country these days, Buffalo is home to a slew of craft breweries. Here’s a comprehensive list of them!
If you like a side of live entertainment with your drink, definitely check out Nietzsche’s in Allentown. It’s a long-running hub for local music of all kinds. And of course, don’t forget to hit up one or two of those epic dive bars I mentioned!
As I mentioned, I flew to Buffalo from Washington, D.C., which is a short flight that normally costs in the range of $230 for a round-trip. But I went back and forth on the idea of going up to Buffalo solo, and by the time I decided to go for it, the prices had skyrocketed. Determined not to shell out a ludicrous sum of money on a one-day trip, I decided to pay for just one leg, and I turned to my American AAdvantage miles for the way there.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any saver award availability in economy five days out, so my only option was to book a first-class ticket for 15,000 miles. Luckily, at the time I had the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which offered a 10% rebate back on redeemed miles (a benefit that it later discontinued). That brought the price in miles down to 13,500, which wasn’t bad in order to save a few hundred bucks!
There was a downside, though. Some airlines—including American—charge fees for booking award tickets close to the travel date, and mine totaled $75. I hoped that by putting the fee on my Hilton Honors Aspire, I could potentially trigger Amex’s airline fee credit and get reimbursed; Amex doesn’t list ancillary award ticket fees on the list of what it will cover, but it doesn’t exclude it, either. It didn’t work, though, so I paid the fee myself.
For the leg home, I paid $275.30, but one factor made the tab easier to swallow. The month prior, I had initiated a status challenge by calling American Airlines. In short, I had a certain amount of time to fly a certain number of qualifying miles and rack up a certain number of qualifying dollars in order to secure AAdvantage Gold status throughout the rest of 2018 and into early 2019. And this leg counted toward my challenge requirements!
While there is a fee to participate in American’s challenges, for me, it was worth it that year. For one, AAdvantage elites don’t have to pay those close-in award booking fees I mentioned, meaning doing the challenge saved me $75 on each similar booking I made for the rest of the year!
I had just received my Hilton Honors Aspire card, which I took out shortly after it launched. Eager to put its 14-points-per-dollar multiple on Hilton purchases to use, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Buffalo Hotel for a total of 188.39 after taxes.
The Aspire card also confers Hilton Diamond status, and Diamond members earn a 100% bonus on base points from a stay. With most of Hilton’s brands, your base points come out to 10 points per dollar spent on the room (without taxes and fees). That means that with the 100% bonus, Diamond members take home 20 points per dollar spent on room rates; now add the aforementioned 14 points per dollar from the credit card purchase, and that 20 becomes 34 points per dollar. That insane earning potential continues to make this card one of my absolute favorites, even a year and a half later!
Have you been to Buffalo? Would you consider visiting? Let me know in the comments! >>
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