What’s the most interesting thing you’ll encounter in Buffalo?
A brewery in an abandoned grain silo? Korean barbecue-flavored chicken wings? A Salvador Dalí painting?
New York’s second-largest city is full of surprises. This city, cloaked in rustic charm, has been buoyed of late by a resurgence in cuisine, culture and entertainment. The Buffalo Niagara region honors history as it ushers in the new and exciting, with repurposed buildings, brilliantly restored architecture and a thriving arts scene.
“Everybody has an idea of what they think Buffalo is; they think it’s just this Rust Belt city,” said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. “But it’s really a city that’s full of arts and culture and architecture. We’ve been going through a complete renaissance.”
Buffalo Niagara will host the 2024 Select Traveler Conference, March 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo Hotel and Conference Center, where attendees will discover what gives the city its magic and momentum.
Arts and Culture
Buffalo’s crown cultural jewel, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, recently underwent an expansion that added 30,000 square feet of exhibit space. It has one of the top 20 contemporary art collections in the world with works by artists that include Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dalí and Mark Rothko.
Docent-led or self-guided tours can focus on special exhibits, highlights of the collection or a combination of the two. The museum’s mix of cultures, media, styles and artists ensures every visitor’s interest is piqued.
Buffalo also is home to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, which houses the largest collection of works by American painter Charles Burchfield as well as other contemporary American artists. In addition to its art museums, the city’s galleries, colorful murals and works of public art decorate the city and contribute to its visual art vibe.
With 22 professional theater companies, Buffalo also has a rich performing arts scene. Groups can catch a Broadway performance at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, a historical, baroque theater in the heart of the city. During the summer, the theater company Shakespeare in Delaware Park performs Shakespeare plays in an outdoor amphitheater.
Beyond visual and performing arts, Buffalo is known for its special events, from fairs and festivals to parades and concerts. The Erie County Fair, National Buffalo Wing Festival and Dyngus Day are just a few of the city’s most cherished special events; each showcases a special facet of local culture.
“When Select Traveler is here in March, that will coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, and we have one of the top five St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the country,” Kaler said.
First settled in the late 18th century and formally established in 1832, Buffalo’s long history is apparent in its impressively varied architecture. Design fanatics and history buffs will delight in architectural styles that span several centuries.
“Architecture is very important to our destination,” Kaler said. “We have examples of three prominent American architects, as well as the first female architect in the U.S.”
Perhaps the most prominent architectural attraction is the Darwin D. Martin House, the largest and most complete restoration of a Frank Lloyd Wright site. The Martin House sits on a 1.5-acre estate with multiple buildings and outdoor spaces in the architect’s signature style. There are seven Wright sites in and around the city.
At the Guaranty Building and Interpretive Center, groups can see the work of Louis Sullivan, an American architect known as “The Father of Skyscrapers.” This early example of a skyscraper, 13 stories tall, was once the city’s tallest building. It is admired for its ornamental terra cotta façade.
The Richardson Olmsted Campus is an opportunity to see the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, father of the Richardson Romanesque style, which evoked medieval European architectural features. This Romanesque building, once the city’s insane asylum, resembles a castle rather than a medical facility. Tours are offered of the historic 40-acre campus.
Other architectural marvels include the Ellicott Square Building, Buffalo City Hall and the Hotel at the Lafayette, designed by the first female architect in the U.S., Louise Blanchard Bethune.
Wings and More
Where would pub fare be without Buffalo? As a hub for some of the tastiest casual cuisine in the country, Buffalo’s culinary contributions are hard to overstate.
“Our food scene is very popular because we’re well known for buffalo chicken wings; we just call them wings,” Kaler said.
A Buffalo Wing Trail with 14 restaurants and pubs offers tasty and distinct takes on wings, from spicy to smothered in strange sauces — think loganberry barbecue and even peanut butter and jelly. In addition to wings, Buffalo-style pizza, fish fries, sponge candy, ice cream and hot dogs each have their own trails for foodies to follow.
For a fantastic meal, groups can head downtown to Chef’s, serving Italian favorites for a century. Chef’s is famous for its spaghetti parmesan, but the menu has plenty of Italian pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches and cuts of veal and chicken.
For fine dining, Hutch’s offers French Bistro dishes with an American twist. What’s on its menu? Grilled seafood and prime steaks and delicacies like oysters, steak tartare and lamb chops.
In recent years, Buffalo’s craft beverage scene has kicked into high gear.
“We have a very robust craft beer scene as well as several distilleries,” Kaler said. “What sets ours apart and helps with the storytelling are the buildings they’re in.”
RiverWorks Brewery is located in Buffalo RiverWorks, a waterfront entertainment district set among remnants from the city’s manufacturing past. Built in abandoned grain silos, the brewery has a restaurant and options for entertainment, like ziplining, live music, silo climbing and a high ropes course.
Resurgence Brewing Company is also popular for group outings. The brewery, taproom and beer garden are in a historic building that was once home to EB Holmes Machinery Company. About 5,000 gallons of beer are brewed in the remodeled space each week. In-house seasonal beers and ciders and brunch are among its options.
Buffalo is a Great Lakes city, located on the shores of Lake Erie where the lake flows into the Niagara River. The Buffalo River and the Erie Canal wind in and around the city, so there’s no shortage of waterfronts or water activities.
Waterfront parks can make for interesting sightseeing and picnic destinations. The largest park on the water, LaSalle Park, is at the conjunction of Lake Erie and the Niagara River with water views, walking paths and greenspace. Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, also on the water, is home to three decommissioned naval vessels—two ships and a submarine—that are open to tour. At Buffalo Lighthouse Park, groups can tour the city’s 1833 lighthouse.
South of the city, the Tifft Nature Preserve is a 264-acre nature preserve adjacent to Lake Erie, and its ponds and cattail marshes are a haven for wildlife, especially migrating birds. Birding, hiking and snowshoeing are its most popular activities, and guided walks through the preserve are also offered.
The schooner ship Spirit of Buffalo offers a sunset cruise on Lake Erie. Voyages can include dinner or whiskey, wine and craft beer tastings. A narrated cruise with Buffalo Harbor Cruises travels through the Erie Canal, harbor and the city. Kayaks can be rented for paddles through the canal for an up-close look at the city.
While in Buffalo, it makes sense to travel 20 miles to see Niagara Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the world. On the falls’ American side, waters spanning 1,075 feet plummet 190 feet with 280 tons of force. The falls draw crowds from near and far with their stunning beauty and power.
“Our visitors come for the arts and culture, the architecture, the food and the special events,” Kaler said. “But they’ll also come to Niagara Falls because it’s so close.”