There’s no doubt that Central New Yorkers savor the opportunities to get outside and enjoy the local scenery and events during these precious summer days. But this year, the anticipation for summer fun has been even greater, thanks to a near record-breaking (and seemingly endless) winter and soggy spring.
With the sun finally planning to stick around for a little while, you’ll find that Onondaga County has no shortage of options for spending that quality time. You won’t have to drive very far to find something fun and interesting to do every weekend. So, mark your calendars, pack a cooler and enjoy.
Syracuse’s multicultural origins may no longer be clearly defined by immigrant-settled neighborhoods as it was in the 1950s, but city residents still enjoy celebrating the ethnic traditions that help make Syracuse a diverse place and so ethnic cultural festivals are a big part of the summer events calendar. St. Sophia’s Greek Cultural Festival marks 38 years of celebrating Greek culture here. And Central New Yorkers of all backgrounds look forward to the traditional pastry goodies that have become so closely associated with the event. This year, the four days of fun will run Thursday, June 9, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday, June 10, 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, June 11, noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, June 12, noon to 4 p.m., at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 325 Waring Road, DeWitt. The youngsters can check out the Greek Orthodox children’s exhibit, featuring work from the congregation’s affiliated youth organizations. Face painting and button making will keep the younger attendees busy in the lower level of the church. Call 446-5222 or visit www.greekfest.stsophias.org for more information.
Not to be outdone, the 57th edition of the Syracuse Polish Festival will run June 10 to 12 in Clinton Square. After the Polish flag raising ceremony at City Hall at noon on Friday, June 10, the festivities get under way with the sounds of Verona’s own Fritz’s Polka Band. Regional music and dance acts will keep things hopping until 11 p.m. The entertainment will continue on Saturday, June 11, noon until 11 p.m., and Sunday, June 12, noon until 5 p.m. Highlights include a performance by 18-time Grammy Award winner Jimmy Stur and his Orchestra at 7 p.m. Saturday. And then there’s the food as well as the crowning of many Polish citizen honors. Visit www.polishscholarship.com for more information.
The 2011 Juneteenth Festival, Saturday, June 18, in Clinton Square, will celebrate African-American culture in the city, while promoting diversity and understanding of the struggle for freedom in America. The fest has an ambitious schedule: The Visions of Victory Parade kicks off the festival, starting at Dr. King School at noon, meandering through downtown along South Salina Street and arriving in Clinton Square at 1 pm. The day will be full of cultural events, music and food and the festivities will continue until 10 p.m. This year’s Ancestral Recognition Celebration Dinner, with a $35 fee, will preface the festival on Thursday, June 16, at City Hall Commons, 201 E. Washington St. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. The Gospel, Blues & Youth Day Block Party commences the night before the festival on Friday, June 17, on South Avenue next to the Brady Faith Center and Southwest Community Center. The Miss Juneteenth Pageant will take place on June 18. The Walk for Wellness will focus on the issue of childhood obesity this year; it starts with 8:30 a.m. registration Saturday, June 18, at Thornden Park, Ostrom Avenue. Go to www.syracusejuneteenth.org for details on all Juneteenth events, including pageant entry forms and specifics on the Syracuse Juneteenth Annual Golf Tournament; Friday, June 17, and Saturday, June 18.
The CNY Pride Parade and Festival will also be held Saturday, June 18, noon to 6 p.m., in downtown Syracuse. The annual event provides a forum to celebrate and affirm individual sexual and gender identity and commemorate the community’s rich history and diversity. Organizers also see the day as a time to renew a commitment to ending intolerance and achieving equal rights. This year’s theme is “Standing Proud Around the World.” Go to www.cnypride.com for specifics.
Hit the beach for another popular local festival: Balloonfest at Jamesville Beach Park, Apulia Road, Jamesville. This year’s event runs Friday, June 10, 4 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, June 11, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, June 12, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Musical headliners, such as Benny Mardones on Friday at 9:30 p.m., moe. on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., and .38 Special on Sunday at 9 p.m. will be warmed up with some of Syracuse’s favorite local bands. Admission is worth it for the music alone! Visit www.syracuseballoonfest.com or call 703-9620 for more information and a complete main stage schedule.
The balloons will be launching, weather permitting, on Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Balloon rides are available on any of the five flights throughout the weekend. Morning rides are $150 per person; evening rides are $175 per person. To reserve a ride—strongly recommended—call 727-9000. The fest is still a bargain at $10 for the whole day (up from $5 last year). Kids 12 and under are free. Bring your lawn chairs and don’t forget to pack sunscreen.
With our abundance of green spaces, Central New Yorkers don’t need a festival to have a good time. Many of the county parks and attractions have plenty to offer for the summer.
For the youngest (and young at heart), few places in the area can top the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. The annual Animal Enrichment Day, June 18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about the training and efforts involved in creating stimulating exhibits and activities that encourage the animals’ natural instincts and behaviors. The exhibits are located throughout the zoo, and are free with paid admission. Call 435-8511 to learn more.
The zoo’s penguins have become, in six short years, the zoo’s official ambassadors of adorable, and the annual Penguin Palooza, July 17, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. celebrates the inroads they have made into the collective hearts of Central New Yorkers. An evening of games, family-friendly entertainment, music, ice cream, magicians, face painters and more awaits children ages 2 to 12 and beyond. Registration is required (again, 435-8511); tickets are $12, children under 2 are free.
For those preferring the zoo’s popular pachyderms—Asian elephants Indy, Siri, Romani and Kirina—there’s the Asian Elephant Extravaganza on Aug. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The day kicks off with ceremonial elephant face painting, and includes activities geared to demonstrate the elephants’ keen intelligence and unquestionable strength. This event is held in conjunction with the South Asia Center at Syracuse University and the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University, and is free with paid zoo admission. The zoo offers a variety of youth programs and day camps throughout the summer, and is open every day, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. General admission is $8, $4 for youth ages 3 to 18 and $5 for seniors 62 and over. Tots 2 and under are always free. To learn more, go to www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org.
The zoo has become a pretty happening place for more mature visitors, too. Brew at the Zoo returns for a 12th anniversary on Aug. 5 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. More than 20 local and regional brewers and nearly as many wineries will be on hand to tempt the taste buds of adults 21 and over. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the door. Again, www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org has the full scoop.
The 22nd annual Central New York Mopar Madness will rev up on Sunday, June 26, at Long Branch Park, Longbranch Road, Liverpool. Organized by the Central New York Mopar Association, this is New York state’s largest all-Mopar show, with more than 40 classes. In other words, it is the place to be for those who love Chrysler automobiles and more than 300 cars from all over the Northeast are expected to show. The fun—and the club’s motto is “Have Fun!”—starts early, with gates opening at 8 a.m. Judging will begin at noon and the awards will be distributed at 3 p.m. Food and beverages will be available. $5 for spectators, children under 12 are free. All of the gate proceeds will benefit the Clark Burn Unit at Upstate Medical University. For more information, visit www.CNYMopar.com.
Syracuse ArtsWeek, the collective moniker for three city festivals that overlap the same weekend, has become one of the city’s signature cultural events. Interactive exhibits and an arts walk from Columbus Circle to Clinton Square link the festivities. Celebrate the region’s cultural and creative diversity with a leisurely visit to the Syracuse Arts and Crafts Festival on Friday, July 29, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, July 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Columbus Circle.
This year’s fest, the 41st, will showcase more than 150 North American artists, craftspeople, musicians and entertainers. Student artists from Corcoran High School will be selling their wares to benefit the Peace Corps. Not only is this an opportunity to support local and regional artists and purchase items that are truly one of a kind, you also can see how they are made. Catch live craft demonstrations of glass blowing, jewelry making, pottery making and glazing, yarn spinning and weaving, and woodworking. Continuous free entertainment from cultural groups, local musicians and songwriters enhance the juried fest. There will be plenty of summer refreshments from local vendors to help cool down, too. To find out more, go to www.syracuseartsandcraftsfestival.com.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Arts Week without the Syracuse New Times Street Painting Contest on Saturday, July 30, on the 200 block of Montgomery Street. Limited to 125 registrants, artists use chalk (bring your own if you can) to brighten city sidewalks. And a few will win cash prizes. This is a family favorite, so it’s a good idea to get a jump on the competition and sign up early—call The New Times at 422-7011. On-site registration will begin at 8 a.m., with the drawing commencing at 9 a.m. The chalk dust will settle by 3 p.m., when the judges have their say. In the very, very rare event of rain, the festivities will be held on Sunday, July 31. Reserve a square in advance: adults are $20, teens pay $15 and youth ages 12 and younger are charged $10; expect to pay $5 more at the event.
The Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival runs that same weekend, July 29 to 31, with something to bring the whole family to Clinton Square. More than 15,000 attended the fest last year, and organizers expect a bigger crowd this time around. In addition to three stages for performances and strolling musicians, the local clubs will be teeming with music from local and regional acts. Catch an impromptu jam session, or the annual scholastic jazz festival, which offers local students the opportunity to share the spotlight with some of the country’s biggest names in jazz. Experts from the Finger Lakes wine region will be on hand to guide vinophiles through tastings in the Clinton Square Pavilion. Local wines and brews will also be sold in the Mardi Gras Pavilion featuring New Orleans-style jazz and the World Beat Pavilion, with sounds from around the world. Don’t forget to support the regional chapter of the American Red Cross and make a donation.
The Blue Rain ECOfest also returns during ArtsWeek to Hanover Square and the City Hall Commons courtyard. It has expanded into a three-day event this year, combining music, food, drink and dance with exhibits that celebrate environmental responsibility. New this year is an indoor “green theater” where families can enjoy a variety of activities, including continuous video presentations for people of all ages on the art of living well. The eateries in Hanover Square will again be offering organic, locally produced food and beverages. Conveniently, the ECOfest is still centrally located in the Syracuse Arts Week corridor, just steps away from the other goings-on that weekend. To find out more, visit www.nejazzwinefest.org.
After weeks of speculation about its financial viability, the Syracuse M&T Jazz Fest will be back for a 29th edition, June 24 and 25, on the campus of Onondaga Community College. The free festival will bring big-name national acts Average White Band, Robert Cray Band, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals and Return to Forever IV to appeal to both casual listeners and discerning jazz enthusiasts alike. Director Frank Malfitano also provides local student musicians an opportunity to strut their stuff in a professional environment. Check out this year’s lineup at syracusejazzfest.com.
Another music happening brought back to life is the New York State Rhythm & Blues Festival. Scheduled for July 8 to 10 in Clinton Square, the fest has a reputation for bringing the best national and regional blues acts to town and inspiring fans to support the after-hours jams and club gigs booked all over the city. Bands scheduled to play include Mark Doyle and the Maniacs, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Jose Alvarez with Los Blancos, Corn-Bred and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. Visit www.nysbluesfest.com for all the details.
Of course, classic car enthusiasts of all ages will flock to the Syracuse Nationals at
the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, July 15 to 17. This show is
open only to vehicles from 1980 and before, and draws exhibitors from
all over North America. There is something for fans of all ages,
including a swap meet, celebrity appearances, a dinner dance and
fireworks on Friday and Saturday nights in the infield of the race
Check out www.rightcoastcars.com/
syracuse-nationals.php for all the details.
Once they’ve seen the big city you can’t keep them down on the farm, a saying that is so true in the case of the third annual Redneck Games. Participants can compete in the hub cap hurl, toilet seat toss, seed spitting, biggest hair, bobbing for pigs feet and a hoot and a holler more. The games take place at Quaker Steak & Lube, 3535 Walters Road. You can register to compete or get full details at www.syracuseredneckgames.com.
Tipp Hill many be the center of all things Irish in Syracuse, but the luck comes downtown just after Labor Day. The Syracuse Irish Cultural Festival, Friday, Sept. 9, and Saturday, Sept. 10, brings Irish music, dance, song, genealogy, culture and children’s activities to Clinton Square. In addition to the food, music, beer and, of course, step dancing, this year’s fest will feature lectures, exhibits, workshops and children’s activities. Visit www.syracuseirishfestival.com.
Caber toss, anyone? The Central New York Scottish Games & Celtic Festival brings brawn and plaid to Long Branch Park, Longbranch Road, Liverpool on Saturday, Aug. 13, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central New York has hosted a version of this event for nearly 70 years, and fans are very passionate about the traditions it celebrates. Traditional Celtic games, food and music—and a little Highland dancing—make for a full day. See www.cnyscottishgames.org for more details.
Another family-friendly destination for summer fun is Onondaga Lake Park. With the Salt Museum, Wegmans Playground, a skate park, walking paths, fishing and ball fields, there is something for everyone. Each Sunday, from July 10 to Aug. 28, Onondaga Lake Parkway is closed to vehicular traffic from 9 a.m. to noon, and open to walkers, runners, bikers and rollerbladers for Parkway Sundays. Call 453-6712 for more information.
The 32nd Annual Swamp Rat Runs are administered by the Cicero-North Syracuse Cross Country Team and the Syracuse Chargers Track Club, and will be held on Saturday, June 18. The races start at 8:30 a.m. at Oneida Shores Park with the last event beginning at 10 a.m. Fees range from $10 to $20. Visit swampratrun.com for registration information.
If biking is more your speed, consider the Highland Classic Mountain Bike Race, Aug. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at Highland Forest Park in Fabius. Call 683-5550 for registration information. Biking trails are open all summer at the park. And while you’re there, check out the Pioneer Museum, open every summer weekend from 1 to 4 p.m. Operated by the Fabius Historical Society, the museum depicts the history of Highland Forest from the late 1700s to the present through photos and artifacts. For more information on the current exhibit, contact the Fabius Historical Society at 662-7022.
Go biking for a cause on July 16. Ride for the Rescue has a course for bikers of all skill levels, each departing from the Syracuse Inner Harbor. There’s a Family Fun Ride, and more challenging rides from 10 to 62 miles. For a small registration fee ($15 up to July 16 and $25 on race day) and a commitment to raise at least $100 in sponsorships, riders can enjoy the sights of Syracuse, join other riders for some food and entertainment, and know they are supporting the efforts of the Rescue Mission, which provides food, shelter and clothing for people in our own community who need a hand. For specifics and sponsorship information, visit ridefortherescue.org.
America’s favorite pastime is firmly established at 1 Tex Simone Drive, home of Alliance Bank Stadium and the Syracuse Chiefs. While Triple-A is the main fair-weather draw for fans, the Chiefs organization is supporting several other events this summer. The stadium hosts the Big Apple Circus—with the ring positioned right at home plate—on Wednesday, July 13, 8 p.m. (Gates open at 7 p.m.). Tickets are $60 Home Plate Club, $55 VIP, $40 premium ($35 for families of four or more), $20 reserved. Call 474-7833 or visit www.syracusechiefs.com.
Feeling patriotic? Check out America’s Orchestra Celebrates America’s Pastimes... Baseball, Movies, and Rock’n’Roll with special guest Kenny Loggins on Sunday, Aug. 28. The Syracuse Chiefs welcome conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops to Alliance Bank Stadium as part of the Pops’ Hollywood Hits Tour. The evening will include a tribute to composer John Williams, with music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jaws, and E.T., baseball themes from The Natural and Field of Dreams, and plenty of familiar Hollywood favorites. Singer-songwriter Loggins will perform his biggest hits, including film themes “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack and “Footloose” from, well, you know. The gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the fun starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $75 for VIP field seats, $50 for reserved seats in levels 100 and 200, and $35 for reserved seats in level 300, plus applicable service charges. Those who just want to catch a ballgame can visit the Chiefs online at syracusechiefs.com or call 474-7833 for schedule information. There are many home games to enjoy throughout the summer, and tickets range from $12 to $20, with reduced prices for children.
The New York State Fair will—unofficially—cap the Central New York summer season Aug. 25 through Sept. 5. There’s a reason why New Yorkers flock to Geddes each year (and it’s probably not to study the architecture of the Crucible Steel factory): there’s just so much to see and do—and eat—at the Fair. Of course, music is also a big part of the event and it’s almost impossible to take in all the local and national acts. Free concerts, held twice daily at Chevy Court, offer great opportunities to catch national acts in a smaller setting…and did we mention, they’re free? The still-incomplete lineup will be posted at www.nysfair.org as the acts are booked.
A schedule of special recognition days anchor the Fair, each targeting a different demographic. But any day is a good day to check out the rides on the midway, the youth and horticulture displays, the Pride of New York exhibits, and the Native American Village. Bring your walking shoes (um, yeah… not flip flops) because you know you’re not going to be able to resist peeking in on an equestrian competition, or seeing what a blue ribbon-winning New York state-bred chicken really looks like. When you need to get out of the rain or the heat—and you will—don’t forget to duck into the Dairy Building for the 25-cent cups of milk and a glimpse at the annual artistic wonder that is the butter sculpture.
Need some cheap sunglasses, “unique” household gadgets or cowboy hats? Your annual fried dough fix? You will surely find all those and so much more in the plentiful vendor booths lining the routes toward the midway and within the Center of Progress Building. All this, and so much more, for $10. Kids under 12 are free. Gates open at 8 a.m. and the exhibit buildings are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Labor Day, when the whole shebang is shuttered at 9 p.m. The midway is open until midnight.
For those who prefer the more natural appeal of the great outdoors, there are plenty of options. Beaver Lake Nature Center, 8477 E. Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville, offers a new experience with each visit. Sure, the snowshoes and skis have been put away, but the 650-acre venue has plenty of hiking trails to keep even experienced naturalists on their toes. The center is home to more than 200 species of birds, hundreds of indigenous plants and many other creatures of the non-human variety.
Want to set a good example for the kids about the value of lifelong learning? Take the whole family on hikes led by a certified naturalist. Weekend Guided Walks are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. throughout the summer. Each walk focuses on a specific theme and begins from the Visitor Center. Beaver Lake also offers canoe rentals and a diverse selection of summer day camp options for young nature lovers. Call 638-2519 to learn more. Not the planning type? At $3 for parking and no admission, it’s one of the area’s best options for a carefree day of just passing the time in the great outdoors.
Too busy during June, July and August? Plan to attend the center’s season-ending opus, the Golden Harvest Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 10 and 11. Technically, it’s still summer until Sept. 23.
For those who prefer their lakes accompanied by a sandy beach, Oneida Shores Park, 9400 Bartell Road, Brewerton, is one popular option. Another, also operated by Onondaga County Parks, is Jamesville Beach,
4110 West Shore Manor, Jamesville. The guarded swimming areas, open
through Sept. 5, include a section for inflatables and a bathhouse.
Camping, boating, fishing and kayak rentals provide other options for
water fun. Visit www.onondagacountyparks.com for all the warm-weather