A little slice of serenity lies on the banks of Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York.
Serenity isn’t a place, it’s a feeling. Steeped in a patchwork of luxury meets history, Chautauqua Lake draws visitors and locals alike to enjoy year-round relaxation and fun. Embracing the great outdoors is easy here thanks to an almost endless list of activities like hiking, biking, golf, boating, fishing, and all the things we love about lake life.
Winter months bring a variety of snow-related endeavors, including skiing, snowboarding, and more than 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. With over 100-inches of average snowfall, there truly is no off-season in the Chautauqua Lake region.
It isn’t only the lake and outdoor activities that take center stage, but also the nearby community of Jamestown that draws visitors for an entirely different reason.
Jamestown is the birthplace of the nation’s only interactive museum dedicated to the art of a great laugh, The National Comedy Museum. Perhaps the area’s most notable distinction is as Lucille Ball’s birthplace – with the house she grew up in mere blocks from Chautauqua Lake in the neighboring small village of Celeron.
The Chautauqua Lake Region
Chautauqua Lake lies in the heart of its namesake county. Comprised of two basins, the lake is 17-miles-long and two-miles-wide. Just 35 miles inland from colossal Lake Erie, the entire region delivers an extraordinary mix of culture, climate, history, and fun.
Although deciding where to stay when visiting includes numerous options, from cabins and cottages to campgrounds, historic inns, and B&Bs, I opted to book a lakefront stay at the luxurious, amenity-rich, Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. And oh my, were my husband and I glad we did!
Where to Stay in Chautauqua Lake
Greeted by meticulously landscaped grounds, we instantly knew we were in for a treat. Our top-floor lakeview room with a balcony graced us with spaciousness indoors and outdoors. From the Egyptian cotton bedding to the massive bathroom, complete with a two-person shower, it was immediately clear we had made a great choice.
Situated on a 20-acre site once home to an early 1900s amusement park, the hotel is a true destination. On-site spa facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, a restaurant, and a bar are easily accessible from the lobby.
The lakefront outdoor space with firepits, Adirondack chairs, and an outdoor carousel bar are located on the exact spot where the park’s original carousel stood, embracing the area’s history. This made the resort hotel feel elevated from the ordinary while simultaneously paying homage to its past.
Decorated throughout with black and white photo captures of early 1900s amusement parkgoers adds a sense of awe throughout the hotel halls. Ferris wheels and carousels held women in long dresses and sun hats merrily enjoying their day lakeside.
Overhead captures allowed glimpses of travelers arriving dockside with picnic baskets in tow. Mesmerized by a connected feeling to the land surrounding the lake, we couldn’t wait to learn more about the region that has been drawing visitors since 1874.
Hotel concierge Toni Ann Bellitto greeted us warmly and encouraged us to sit with her to learn about the wide variety of treasures in and around Chautauqua Lake. She has been a lifelong resident of the lake region and guided us toward several options based on our desires. Toni gave us helpful advice on where to park for free in town and which wineries along the Erie Wine Trail would best fit our tastes.
Armed with a list of must-see attractions, we set out to explore nearby Jamestown. Being young children during the 1970s, we knew we wanted to visit the Lucy-Desi Museum to relive some of our earliest memories of the “I Love Lucy Show.”
The museum has two sections spanning the life of Lucille Ball from her earliest childhood to creating her famous Desilu Production Company. It was here that we learned that Lucy’s childhood home is mere blocks from the Harbor Hotel.
Visitors have the option to purchase a dual ticket for entrance into both the Lucy-Desi Museum and the National Comedy Museum. To fully explore both, prepare to spend at least four to five hours. If you love the art of comedy, these are both must-dos while visiting Jamestown.
The bustling downtown area is also home to numerous shops and restaurants, many of which are within walking distance of the museums.
Lake Erie Historic District
After enjoying Jamestown, we drove north toward Lake Erie to explore the Barcelona Lighthouse historic site located in Westfield. Erected in 1829 by the federal government, the lighthouse boasts the only continuous spiral wooden staircase anchored to a single central support beam. At the time, Barcelona Harbor was an official port of entry.
Decommissioned a mere 30 years after construction, the 45-foot-tall fieldstone structure still stands tall at the edge of Lake Erie, even though the harbor is no longer used for entry or commerce.
Today, the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated by the New York Park Service. Tours are free to the public and operate year-round.
The Erie Wine Trail
After spending time along the windy Lake Erie shoreline, we drove west toward wine country. Thirty thousand acres of grapevines grace the south side of the lake where lake winds provide protection from a deep winter freeze.
The Erie Wine Trail stretches for 50 miles and is home to over 20 independently owned and operated farm-style vineyards. Each offers a tasting room and wine connoisseurs could spend a week here and still not sample all the area’s amazing vintages.
We happened upon the Sparkling Ponds Winery, a farmhouse turned tasting room on a 20-acre farm. Embracing a low-key vibe with friendly service, we quickly discovered their 2023 Silver Medal winner.
Described as a chillable, semi-sweet, killer red wine named Fatal Attraction, it had just the right balance of flavor and pizzaz. We grabbed a bottle to take home, knowing it would pair perfectly with a casual pizza or a gourmet pasta dish.
Visiting a winery or two during your visit to the area is a perfect addition to any itinerary. Yearly events take place along the wine trail – including vineyard walks, harvest celebrations, and the festival of grapes.
Wine and cheese pairings are also popular at Johnson Estate, New York’s oldest estate winery.
Wineries, Breweries, and Distilleries
No need to worry if wine isn’t your potent potable of choice. This region is also ripe with breweries and distilleries, creating an assortment of options for an afternoon of imbibing.
You can find weekly live music in a converted dairy barn at Big Inlet Brewing, where local ingredients are sourced for their handcrafted, small-batch beer.
If you’re looking for options to fit all tastes at one location, check out Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing, where visitors can sample a variety of wine, beer, and spirits.
One of the most widely known names in the region’s brewing and distilling handicrafts is Southern Tier. We loved the outdoor space at Southern Tier Brewing, encompassing a gathering location for larger groups and intimate spots for a date night. Fire pits and an outdoor bar make summer nights here a dream.
To say that our visit to the area was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. No matter what you’re looking for in a lakeside vacation, visiting Chautauqua Lake has you covered. We only began to scratch the surface of offerings here, so a return trip is already in the planning stage.
There’s one thing for certain however – lake life is calling!