There is so much to do in Chautauqua County, New York this summer! The staff at the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau has assembled a list* of FREE and low-cost activities to experience in the coming months. While you could easily spend more at some of the suggested attractions, everything on this list costs $15 or less per person!
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We hope you enjoy this list! Be sure to reference our digital 2018 Visitors Guide and maps for help planning your adventure. Feel free to share additional suggestions in the comments below. (*This is not a ranked list and the featured items are in no particular order however we did try to keep events and festivals in chronological order.)
1. Appreciate the talents of local artisans
Tour a number of galleries with collections featuring local, regional and nationally recognized artists! This year on May 26 & 27 you can celebrate a decade of regional art during the Open Gallery and Studio Tour. Enjoy the verdant rural landscapes and charming towns as your tour some of the 20 artists along the trail: painters, potters, photographers, sculptors, fabric artists, jewelers, and stained glass artists.
2. Taste Local Grape Products
A trip to the Grape Discovery Center is a must for all visitors! Admission to the Center is FREE. Browse the exhibits detailing our area’s rich history as the largest grape-growing region outside of California. Stop by the Tasting Bar to sample local wines, grape juice, grape products as well as artisanal meats and cheeses.
3. Learn about Chautauqua County’s Boating Heritage
Prepare to be amazed as you browse the museum’s collection of antique boats and related artifacts. Glimpse real-time restoration projects through the workshop windows or cozy up in the reading nook, it’s in the hull of a boat! Admission is $5 for non-members.
4. Attend the Annual Strawberry Festival
Merritt Estate Winery is kicking off the summer on June 9th & 10th with their 38th Annual Strawberry Festival. This event features everything strawberry… from wine to shortcake and chocolate covered strawberries! Admission to this family-friendly event is free. Highlights include Merritt’s famous Sangria Wine Slush, great food, a classic car show, live music and craft vendors.
5. Hunt for beach glass at Lake Erie beaches
The rocky beaches at Barcelona Harbor* and Point Gratiot are a popular spot to gather this Lake Erie treasure. Search for a variety of colors; it’s our understanding that cobalt glass is the rarest of them all. (*Please be advised that Barcelona Harbor is not a designated swimming beach as there is no lifeguard on duty.)
6. Dance, Eat and Drink at the Yassou Greek Festival
A Father’s Day tradition in Jamestown! Admission to the festival, which takes place on June 16th, is only $2, free for kids under 12. Drinks and food are for sale but the entertainment is free. Be prepared to park a few blocks away from the festival and walk.
7. Explore an ancient forest with 60-foot-tall rocks
Panama Rocks are reputed to be one of the most extensive formations of glacier-cut, ocean-quartz conglomerate in the world! Formed more than 165 million years ago by major geologic activity and further shaped around 10,000 years ago by glaciers during the most recent Ice Age, Panama Rocks Scenic Park is truly a sight to behold! Admission is $7.50 for adults and $5 for kids under 12.
8. Outdoor Shakespeare Performances
There will be three outdoor Shakespeare Productions happening throughout the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Region. The Chautauqua Theater Company will be performing As You Like It on Sunday June 24th at Chautauqua Institution’s Bestor Plaza (Sunday = no gate pass requited but parking fees apply), June 28th at Jamestown’s Allen Park, July 18th at Southern Tier Brewing Company and August 15th back at Allen Park. These are free will performances.
For two weeks during the month of July, enjoy Shakespeare on the Lake at the Dunkirk Lighthouse. Twelfth Night will be performed July 17-21 and Romeo & Juliet will be performed July 24-28 by The Playground Academy and Venture Productions. Tickets are $14 at the “tent,” $7 for kids 12 and under. Slightly reduced pre-sale tickets are available via the SUNY Fredonia Campus Ticket Office.
9. FREE Fishing Weekend
The perfect time to try fishing is June 23-24, during New York’s FREE Fishing Weekend. US and Canadian anglers may fish fresh or marine waters of New York State sans fishing license or recreation marine fishing registry. All freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations still apply.
10. Visit Chautauqua Institution on Sunday’s, no gate pass required!
Every Sunday during Chautauqua’s nine week season (June 23 – August 26), visitors can obtain a free gate pass to access the grounds from 7am-10pm. The gate pass gives you access to most events on the grounds including lectures, religious services, popular entertainment and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performances in the Amphitheater. The gate pass also includes access to art galleries, beaches, parks and complimentary shuttle and tram service on the grounds. Parking on Sunday’s is free from 7am-2pm only, after that, visitors are expected to purchase a parking pass.
11. Take a selfie with Marmaduke and his comic strip creator, Brad Anderson
Brad Anderson was born on May 14, 1924 in Jamestown, NY with a pen in his hand, or so legend goes. His hometown of Portland, NY has recently commemorated Anderson and his lovable Great Dane Marmaduke with a statue in the town center.
12. Go on a Moonlight or Sunset Paddle
Evergreen Outfitters will host a moonlight paddle each month this summer close to the full moon. It’s free with your own equipment, or you can rent a kayak from the shop for a reasonable fee. Upcoming dates: 5/26, 6/23, 7/28, 8/25. Also check the events calendar at CHQcalendar.com for information on Sunset Paddles and other guided paddlesport outings hosted by Evergreen Outfitters and SUP Erie Adventuress on Lake Erie, Chautauqua Lake, Cassadaga Lakes and the Chadakoin River.
13. Free Movies at “Sunset Cinema”
Each Monday evening from June 25 – August 6th, Sunset Bay Beach Club will be screening FREE, family-friendly movies on the patio. Bring you own lawn chair. Snacks and beverages are available for purchase. The movies begin a 8:30pm. (If the weather is inclement the show will be moved indoors.)
14. Explore Lily Dale Assembly, the world’s largest center for the religion of Spiritualism
Lily Dale hosts daily services and seminars demonstrating clairvoyance and healing, special workshops, and lectures on mediumistic phenomena. A $15 gate fee is required from June 29-September 1st. Children 17 and under are free with the admission of a paying adult. Participation in many of the workshops, lectures and meetings with registered mediums require and additional fee. A gate pass will gain you access to the daily Message Services at Inspiration Stump or the Healing Temple. You can also walk through the Fairy Trail, The Lily Dale Labyrinth, The Fox Cottage Meditation Garden, Leolyn Woods Nature Trail and more. Lily Dale Assembly is one of only two New York State Communities designated as a “National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat,” there are many beautiful and interesting places to explore.
15. Visit Liberty, a non-releasable bald eagle
Liberty lives out her days at the Audubon Community Nature Center due to a wing injury. She came to the Audubon Center in June of 2002 after spending a year in rehabilitation. While she can fly short distances inside her cage, she is unable to fly well enough to hunt. Trail access for hiking is FREE. Access to the main building and exhibits is a $6 donation.
16. Attend one of many 4th of July celebrations happening throughout Chautauqua County
Visit CHQcalendar.com for details. Major 4th of July celebrations happen each year in the communities of Mayville, Lakewood, Dunkirk, Cassadaga, Bemus Point and Midway State Park.
17. Watch a professional golf event, The LECOM Health Challenge – a Web.com PGA TOUR tournament
General admission tickets are only $10! Known as “The Path to the PGA TOUR,” players will compete for 50 PGA TOUR Cards and a cash prize. Last year’s tournament produced PGA golfer, Chesson Hadley, who went on to be named Web.com Tour Player of the Year. The 2018 installment is sure to pack as much excitement. The event takes place July 2-8* at Peek’n Peak Resorts infamous Upper Course. (*July 2 & 3 and Pro-Am days, no tournament play on July 4th, the main tournament takes place July 5-8.)
18. Free Fly Tying/Fly Fishing Class Every Wednesday
If you’re 8 or 108, you’ll enjoy a fly typing lesson taught by local fishing experts. The fly patterns taught are generally imitations of insects, bait fish and other food sources common throughout local waterways. Classes begin at 7pm at SUNY Fredonia’s Rockafeller Arts Center.
19. View the heavens up close
The Martz Observatory in Frewsburg, NY holds a donation-based Public Open House every Wednesday evening from 7:30pm-9:30pm.
20. Picnic at the Water Wheel Overlook in Findley Lake
The gazebo at the Marion Labar Walford Water Wheel Overlook is a great place to enjoy a summer day in Chautauqua County! You can see Findley Lake from the gazebo and there are plenty of things to do nearby after your meal; shops and restaurants line the Hamlet of Findley Lake’s Main St. There is also a marina within walking distance that offers kayak and SUP rentals.
21. Go Antiquing at the Westfield Antique Show
For a $5 admission, brows over 23 different dealers from all over Western New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio at the 80th Annual Westfield Antique Show. The show takes place at Eason Hall July 14-15.
22. Get a free Worship Pass at Chautauqua Institution to attend a service
Called a “Purpose Passes,” this special type of admission is valid from 8:30am to 11am and grant visitors access to the morning interfaith services held on the Chautauqua Institution grounds. This pass does not include parking or access to any other activities on the grounds.
23. Go to the movies for $7 or less
Jamestown’s Reg Lenna Theater and the 1891 Fredonia Opera House screen recent box office favorites for $7 and less. The snacks are also very reasonably priced; we all know that’s the most expensive part of a trip to the movies, especially when the whole family is in attendance. Visit each of their sites for information.
24. Third Thursdays, First Fridays and First Wednesdays
During the summer months, Jamestown, NY offers both Third Thursday and First Wednesday entertainment at locations in the downtown corridor and Westfield offers First Friday entertainment. All events are family friendly.
25. Live Music EVERY Thursday at Mayville Lakeside Park and the Dunkirk Pier
Mayville is the capitol of Chautauqua County. Before heading to Mayville Lakeside Park, take a moment to appreciate the Victorian architecture along Erie Street. The Entertainment in the Park Summer Concert Series will take place every Thursday evening during July and August. All performances are in the gazebo from 6:30-8:30pm.
The festivities begin at 5:25pm every Thursday in Dunkirk. Head to the Dunkirk Pier for live music from local and regional favorites. The nearby Dunkirk Boardwalk offers many casual dining options that will please the whole family. SUP Erie Adventure’s offers kayak and SUP rentals for those looking to enjoy the music from the water.
26. Tour Southern Tier Brewing Company
Southern Tier Brewing Company is one of the largest craft brewing companies in the United States! You can find their beers all over the globe and visit some of their other locations in cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Charlotte, but they got their start right here in Lakewood, NY. Tours are offered throughout the afternoon on Saturdays on a first come, first serve basis for $15. Afterward, hang out in the Brewhouse Tasting Room overlooking their primary production vessels, The Empty Pint Taproom or their expansive outdoor beer garden.
27. Reserve a morning for browsing Farmers Markets
Chautauqua County is home to over 1,500 farms that produce high quality, safe and nutritious food for us all to enjoy! Many towns offer weekly farmers markets to connect these growers with the general public. For more information, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extensions’ Chautauqua Grown website.
28. Spend the day at the beach
For $3 admission per person, spend the day at Sunset Bay USA, voted WNY’s “Best Beach.” 5 acres of clean sand that is groomed daily and views of the endless Lake Erie horizon, the 11th largest lake in the world, will trick your mind into thinking you’re at the ocean. Restaurants, a patio bar, a nightclub and arcade will keep you entertained from 10am to sundown.
29. Experience all things Lucille Ball in her hometown, Jamestown, New York!
Admission to the Lucy-Desi Museum and Center for Comedy is only $15. Explore the Lucy and Ricky’s living room, kitchen, her wardrobe, family memorabilia, awards and more. Guests can even record their own Vitameatavegamin commercial! Use the Chautauqua County Visitor Bureau’s Lucille Ball digital map to find murals and statues around Jamestown devoted to the famous comedian, as well as her childhood home and final resting place.
30. Watch the sunset over Bemus Bay in a coveted Hotel Lenhart rocking chair. Drink optional.
The rainbow colored rocking chairs on the Hotel Lenhart’s porch are prime real estate. Grab a seat and maybe a drink from The Lamplighter Room, the hotel’s lounge. Their signature cocktail is appropriately named The Rocker. Its exact contents are a mystery but most will agree it is delicious and unique. If the rockers fill up, there are additional Adirondack chairs scattered on the front lawn offering equally impressive views of the setting sun over Bemus Bay.
31. Attend the Chautauqua County Fair
The Chautauqua County Fair is July 16-22nd this year. Tickets give you access to midway rides, family theater shows and grandstand events excluding Demolition Derby Reserved Seating. Tickets at the gate are $12/each but you can buy them online in advance for only $6! All visitors are subject to pay the $5 parking fee per vehicle.
32. Bring the family to Findley Lake for Kids Day
Our Own Candle Company in Findley Lake is hosting a fun, FREE day for kids on July 21st! There will be bounce houses, a slip’n slide, activities and crafts! Kid favorite foods like hot dogs, sno cones and cotton candy and beverages are available. Plus, special visitors from the Erie Zoo and Erie Children’s museum! Did we mention everything is FREE?
33. Go off road during the Thursday Night Mountain Bike Social Ride
Meet at Loud Performance Products in Bemus Point every Thursday evening at 6pm June 14th through September 27th for a social mountain bike ride through Long Point State Park on Chautauqua. Because you’ll be biking into the park via the trails, there is no access fee. Bikes and gear are available to rent from Loud Performance for a reasonable fee or bring your own at no cost.
34. Tour the Dunkirk Lighthouse overlooking Lake Erie
Tours of the Dunkirk Lighthouse and the Veterans Park Museum include a climb to the top of the spiral stairs to the upper observation level, a walk through the restored 1800 lighthouse keepers home, the museum which features many nautical and US Veteran displays, and a tour of the grounds! General tickets for adults are $10 and $3 for children under 10. Family rates including tours for two adults and up to three children are only $25.
35. Attend a Nature Festival that doubles as a juried art show and local food cook-off
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI) and Panama Rocks Scenic Park will co-host the second annual Wild America Nature Festival at Panama Rocks on July 28th & 29th. The festival will feature nationally-renowned speakers including Roger’s son and author, Lee Peterson, nationally best-selling author Jennifer Ackerman, and famous animal expert Jeff Musail (with his animals – you may have seen Jeff on one of his over 30 appearances with Jimmy Fallon); a juried fine nature art and craft show and competition; a local food cook-off competition and farmer’s market; live music; live animals, and classes, workshops, and fun activities for all ages! One day admission (cash) purchased at the events are
36. Visit a Lake Erie Wine Country Winery
There are more than 20 wineries along Lake Erie Wine Country’s trail. Open year round, many offer special events and entertainment like tours, free music Sunday’s, etc. Samples of wine at most wineries begin at just a couple dollars. As long as you have a designated driver, a scenic tour of our wine country with a few “sip stops” along the way is a wonderful way to spend the day.
37. Celebrate the comedic arts in the streets of Jamestown during the Lucy Comedy Fest Block Party
Every August the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival draws big name comedians to perform in Jamestown, NY, Lucy’s hometown. Even if you don’t have tickets to see this year’s headliners including Amy Schumer, Lily Tomlin, Dan Akyroyd and original Saturday Night Live cast members, you can still get in on the excitement during the free block party! A section of the street is shut down to motor vehicles and taken over by pedestrians dancing to live music and partaking in revelry.
38. Laugh with the family at special FREE kid-friendly production during Lucy Comedy Fest
The Story Pirates believe that every child has a story to tell. Whether it’s a world where cats can fly or a rock opera about fuzzy alien tickle monsters, this sketch comedy musical is performed by professional actors but based entirely on writing from students. Great for ages 5-12. As a special treat, Story Pirates will be performing stories written by area students. Get help from a parent to submit your story to email@example.com no later than July 1st. Watch the show on Saturday, August 4th at 11am at Jamestown’s Willow Bay Theater.
39. Take a Scenic Drive or Bike Ride
Other than the cost of gas, it costs nothing to use our Interactive Map to discover Breathtaking Scenic Overlooks throughout the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Region. You could even ditch the car and cycle to many of the locations! Be sure to tag us in your #TourChautauqua photos on Instagram.
40. Go to a Jamestown Jammers baseball game, Chautauqua County’s minor league team
Experience the family fun atmosphere with the Jamestown Jammers! General admission tickets are only $5.
41. Visit the Sugar Shack to sample locally made fruit syrups on ice cream
These delicious syrups are made from fruit grown and harvested on the Vinewood Acres Sugar Shack property. The fruit is all picked by hand before being transformed into delicious syrups like Elderberry, Concord Grape, Wild Mint with Pear, Strawberry Rhubarb and Currant Raspberry. In all, the Sugar Shack produces 21 flavors!
42. Events for Outdoor Adventurers at Long Point State Park on Chautauqua Lake
From May through early August there are many free events like Poems in Nature, Cool Critters, Birds and Butterflies, Paper Making & Natural Dye Workshop at much more at Long Point State Park on Chautauqua Lake. While the events are free, it does cost $6.00 to enter Long Point State Park with a vehicle, $7.00 if the beach is open. Collections times, dates and event information can be found here. You may use the Empire Pass at Long Point State Park on Chautauqua Lake.
43. Tour Amish Country
Pick up a map and head out for a drive in the more rural parts of Chautauqua County. There is a detailed map of Chautauqua County in the Visitors Guide, which can be found at most area establishments and attractions. You can also visit the tourchautauqua.com website for a digital version of the map and other Amish Country maps. You’ll notice that many members of the Amish community will have goods for sale. Look for the signs and bring cash if you plan to shop.
44. Have ice cream for dinner
There are so many delicious ice cream shops to choose from! Some have soft serve, some hard. Some make their own homemade varieties, others serve brand favorites. Ask around for the best place to get ice cream and you’ll get 20 different answers! Either way, ice cream for dinner one night this summer won’t hurt you.
45. Embark on a historic walking tour of Jamestown, Chautauqua County’s largest city
The Fenton History Center offers multiple guided walking tours through Jamestown’s various neighborhoods, churches and cemeteries. The cost is just $10.
46. Visit the statue dedicated to a Westfield, NY girl who inspired President Lincoln to grow a beard
The Lincoln-Bedell Statue showcases unique, bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Grace Bedell, Westfield resident. In 1860 when Bedell was a young girl, she wrote to Mr. Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Candidate, encouraging him to “grow whiskers and her brothers would vote for him and he would look nicer.”
47. Bring the family to the longest running rodeo in the east, the Gerry Rodeo!
August 1-4 will mark the 74th year of the Gerry Rodeo, the longest running rodeo east of the Mississippi! 200 cowboys and cowgirls will make their way to the hamlet of Gerry, NY to compete in this professionally sanctioned rodeo. Tickets for adults are $12 and children under 12 are $6.50. Proceeds benefit the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department.
48. Watch Million Dollar Speedboats compete along Dunkirk’s Lake Erie shoreline
Professional Speed Boat Racers will invade the Lake Erie shoreline in Dunkirk, NY August 17, 18 & 19, 2018 during the Great Lakes Offshore Grand Prix. This internationally televised sporting event features $1.5-$2 million dollar boats and will be broadcast in 103 countries. A parade featuring a meet & greet session with the pro racers and crew PLUS live entertainment will take place on August 17th near the Dunkirk Pier. Races are on August 18th and 19th. Viewing the event will be on the Lake Erie Shoreline, east of the Dunkirk Power Plant. This is a FREE family event.
49. Experience Celtic heritage
The 13th Annual Jamestown Regional Celtic Festival and “Gathering of the Clans” will take place August 25th at Mayville Lakeside Park. The festival is an opportunity for bands, both pipe and Celtic, from two countries and three states to perform, exchange music and ideas, and educate the public on Scottish and Irish culture!
50. Grain Grinding Demonstrations
On the third Sunday of each month from May through October, the Busti Grist Mill offers grain grinding demonstrations. This historic grist mill was built in 1839 and remained in operation until 1960. It produced wheat flour, cornmeal, buckwheat flour and animal feed. Brink your own grain to be ground, watch the demonstration or tour the mill.
For more information about events and attractions in Chautauqua County, call 1-866-908-4569 to request a free travel packet or visit www.tourchautauqua.com.