My boyfriend and I recently spent a weekend in Homer, New York. Only four hours from New York City and Philadelphia, this idyllic village made for a perfect romantic getaway -- and led to all kinds of unexpected adventures.
With Italianate and Greek Revival mansions, authentic shopping boutiques, and live concerts featuring national acts, this little village has all the makings of a perfect weekend destination.
5 - The Valley of the Poets
Like many of its surrounding towns and villages, Homer, New York, is named after a famous Greek figure. The Greek poet Homer is most famous for the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Many of these small, upstate villages were founded during the Greek Revival period in US History, between the late 1700s and early 1800s -- a time when it was fashionable to model architecture after the Greek style. Apparently the original settlers in Upstate New York were fanboys of ancient Greece, and the current residents take pride in the upkeep of some pristine examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne style homes that line the village’s historic Main Street. You can literally spend hours walking up and down Main Street (and the side streets) looking at magnificent examples of mansions once owned by prominent residents of national renown.
4 - Connect with Nature
In the center of the Old Homer Historic District lies the Village Green. This is a large, grassy, tree-filled area used for community events, festivals, fairs, and leisure activities. The Homer Farmer’s Market takes place here every Saturday from May – October. During the winter months, the village creates a homemade outdoor ice skating rink in the Village Green. It’s a perfect spot for an afternoon picnic, or to kick your shoes off and relax with a good book (preferably something from one of the Greek poets).
Tucked behind Main Street is the Tioughnioga River (pronounced: Ty-Off-Nee-Oga), which has three lenticular truss bridges that cross its path. The bridges, built in 1881, are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and two of them are still used for traffic. The wood planks make a strange rippling noise as cars pass over the river from one side of Homer to the other. We hung our feet over the Washington Street Bridge (pedestrians only) and took in the sun glistening off the current. Fishing and kayaking are popular as well. You can drop a line or your kayak at Durkee Park, located on the north end of Main Street.
3 - Dining with Ghosts of the Past
Our favorite Homer dining spot was Dasher’s Corner Pub, which serves everything from burgers to lobster. Built in 1894 (then known as Doyle’s Pub), it is the site of a still unsolved murder-mystery. That’s only the start of this restaurant’s very unique history. After surviving prohibition and The Great Depression, the restaurant reopened as Dasher Cox’s and quickly became famous for its live lobsters.
Homer’s Main Street was the main thoroughfare from Syracuse to NYC. All northbound and southbound traffic to Syracuse passed by Dasher Cox’s restaurant, which had huge lobster sculptures attached to the building.
Why lobsters? Well, Francois “Dasher” Cox devised a system using a plane that flew mail daily between Ithaca (another town named after a Greek poet) and Boston to pick up his lobsters on his return trip to Ithaca. He then had the Ithaca route driver stop at the Ithaca airport, meet the plane from Boston, load the lobsters and drive them to Dasher’s on his return to the bakery. Genius. We dined al fresco on the front patio, and returned twice during our trip. Make sure to get reservations if you’re in town during a special event.
Homer has various dining options including Origins Café (wraps, salads, locally roasted CoffeeMania coffee), Sinfully Sweet Café (recommended for their homemade chocolate and desserts), and Linani’s at the Briggs Mansion (if you want to try eating in one of Homer’s repurposed mansions). There are also quick-stop options like Lucky Kitchen, Little Italy Pizzeria, and three different ice cream shops.
2 - Shopping, the Old-Fashioned Way
Even Bill Murray makes it a point to stop at Homer Men & Boys (his son is named Homer, and he occasionally visits the store to purchase official “Homer, NY” t-shirts as gifts). Located in the central business district, Homer Men & Boys is a clothing store that has served the community for more than 50 years. Their slogan “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” generates a chuckle as you enter the store, packed with everything from Northface gear to Carhart. The store even carries its own line of Homer jeans with a “Homer Men & Boys” patch on the back. The store has an ongoing sidewalk sale with overstock items for as little as $4.99. We purchased matching “whereinthehellishomer” t-shirts for $10. Next door, two connected stores, Bev & Co., and the Old Homer House carry clothing and gifts as well. Homer also has a bead shop, a health food store, a small grocery store, an olive oil shop, a bakery (Edgewood is hidden in a back parking lot behind Main Street), and a cakery (cupcakes!). A mix of locals and visitors make Homer’s Main Street the place to be every day of the week, but weekends are particularly busy.
1 - Entertainment
One unique factor about Homer is the local arts center. Located next to the Village Green, this former First Baptist Church of Homer was transformed into the Center for the Arts of Homer by local residents after the church changed locations in 2003. Known most notably for hosting national concerts (See: Colin Hay, Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band, Tim Reynolds from the Dave Matthews Band, Ed Kowalcyzk from the band LIVE, as some examples), the Center also hosts dance, fitness, and art classes, community events, and serves as the “center” of many of Homer’s activities. We attended a Colin Hay (Men at Work) concert during our visit, and it was an awesome experience. The acoustics in the “theater” (the old sanctuary of the church) are impeccable.
All shows are general admission, but instead of throwing your coat over one of the original pews to save your seat, the Center for the Arts utilizes Post-It Notes (concert-goers write their names on the Post-it Notes and post it to your seat, which effectively saves it for the night). This interesting little system allows you to explore the 34,000 square foot arts center campus, which includes a banquet hall and an art gallery. They have a concession stand and a beer and wine bar, along with a friendly events staff to help you find your way through the space. We recommend the “toasty nuts” as a pre-show snack. They serve Copa wine (as seen on Shark Tank) that comes in a cute little 8 o.z. container shaped like a wine glass with a pop-top.