Not a big baseball buff? No worries. Contrary to popular belief, Cooperstown is not just for sports fans and farmer folk. The charming upstate area has something for everyone, from open-field orchards to amazing museums to bumpin' beer breweries. And fall is a great time pay a visit. Admire the foliage and experience the refreshing outdoors. Take a cue from a former skeptic... Cooperstown is where it's at.
From the Big Apple to Big Apples
Nothing says autumn like a trip to the apple orchard on a crisp, sunny day. Our happy little group ventured a few miles to Middlefield Orchard for an afternoon of picking, eating, and frolicking. We stuffed our bags to the brim with Honey Crisps and made ambitious plans for pies and strudels. We searched for perfectly ripe purple raspberries and plucked them straight off the vine. And we hunted through the fields for the biggest, roundest, most beautiful pumpkins on the patch.
After an hour-long outdoor adventure, we retired to the orchard owner's house for a taste of his wife's homemade jam and apple cider. At $3.75 for a small jar of berry blend jam, Middlefield might offer the best and most delicious bargain in all of Cooperstown.
Main (Street) Attraction: The Baseball Hall of Fame
Have I mentioned that I'm not much of a baseball lover? Perhaps my ambivalence about America's favorite pastime stems from a particularly jarring experience in the seventh grade. Suffice it to say, I got hit in the head with a baseball bat and was rushed to the hospital. "A few centimeters lower, Ms. Barth, and you would have lost your eye." (Yeah, that'll scar you for life.)
I tried to keep an open mind as we arrived at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. After all, there would be no imminent physical danger and my sunglasses could always act as protective eye gear in the event of an emergency.
Despite my personal prejudice, I have to admit that the sports-centric space is pretty impressive. With three floors of educational exhibits, interactive stations, and a movie theater modeled to resemble a baseball field, Cooperstown's most iconic destination is a die-hard baseball fan's dream come true.
I'd be lying if I said that I relished every last minute, but there were a few things that caught my eye. I liked looking at the old-fashioned fraternity-style sweater uniforms. It seems that players were better dressed in the early years of baseball. Even though I'm not a fan of the sport, I am a fan of the movie A League of Their Own, so I also enjoyed exploring the Women in Baseball exhibit. Talk about cute vintage uniforms!
Main Street is bumping with tourists and locals looking for baseball paraphernalia and souvenirs. Get a custom-made bat engraved, buy an authentic team hat, or stop at the bakeries, pubs, diners, and ice cream shops along the way for a tasty treat or two.
A Work of Art From the Inside Out
I don't mean to sound like a city snob when I say that I hadn't imagined there would be such a lovely museum in the middle of upstate New York. But the Fenimore Art Museum is just that. Not only is the art inspired (from the current John Singer Sargent installation to the Native American culture exhibit to the women's fashion on display), but the gorgeous grounds are absolutely breathtaking.
A Simpler Time
Cross the street and enter the Farmer's Museum. A great place for curious young kids, the museum allows visitors to discover old-fashioned tools and tractors from the traditional trade.
Outside, you'll find a circular building with a New York State-themed carousel inside. Loaded with facts, figures, and history, this kid-friendly ride features all the animals you could ever find in the Empire State.
Walk a little further and you'll enter a small town modeled after the 1800s. Go to the active farm and pay a social call to the cows, sheep, and pigs. Check out the print shop, where you can order real invitations and stationery. Visit the apothecary for natural remedies, potions, and concoctions. Pop on into the general store for rose oil and other essentials. Watch the blacksmith bend and mold metal. But whatever you do, avoid the doctor's office that describes the shoddy surgeries and peculiar procedures once performed on desperate patients. It's downright scary.
This month, the Farmer's Museum is offering a ghost tour aptly named "Things That Go Bump in the Night." We walked around town in the pitch black before our guide led us inside the blacksmith shop, where she told us the real-life tale of how the shop's first blacksmith committed suicide. Apparently his spirit haunts the already spooky space.
Have a Brewsky
When happy hour strikes there's no better place to grab a cold one than Ommegang. Take a tour of the famous brewery's grounds (breathe in that not-so-fresh fermentation smell!) and learn more than you'd ever want to know about the tedious Belgian beer-making process. Reward yourself for a lesson learned by tasting all the different varietals. (My favorite was Witt, a Belgian white. It's so refreshing and light!)
An(other) Apple a Day
Just a few minutes from Cooperstown is the famous 153-year-old Fly Creek Cider Mill. This giant marketplace is like a mini version of Disney World with fun attractions for kids and adults alike. Tour the mill, sip some cider, buy a block of fudge (the Snickers is incredible!), and sample all the delicious goodies the store has to offer, from homemade corn salsa to apple pie to doughnuts and cookies to gourmet cheese and deli meats. Grab a light bite at the restaurant and bakery (I recommend the chili or the pot roast sandwich, and a cider float to wash it all down). Eat your farm-fresh lunch alfresco by the picturesque pond.
Just a four-hour drive from the greater New York City area, Cooperstown makes an easy, breezy country getaway. It's nice to know that fresh air and nature exists just a short ride away.