We get asked all the time why on earth we’d ever choose to live in Rochester. Oddly enough, not only do we choose it, we like it. Really, really like it. No, for real.
Not convinced? Here are a few of our reasons:
- Okay. If you hate snow, Rochester is not the place for you. Of all the cities in the continental US (that aren’t in the mountains, like Aspen or something), we average among the top three or four in terms of annual snowfall (with our neighbors, Syracuse and Buffalo, usually edging us out). How much snow is that? Around 100″ each year. So… if snow really isn’t your thing, don’t move here. End of story.
- Luckily for us, we love snow. Love it! The more snow, the better. We build a skating rink in the backyard each year and do a little happy dance with each falling flake. Plus, Rochester rocks the whole snow-removal thing, so getting around is usually pretty easy. (When you get 100″ a year, you’d better have figured it out.) Yeah, the endless gray skies are a drag… But, in general, we don’t mind because we so enjoy the snow.
- Once mud season is over, and the trees bloom and the flowers come up, spring is fantastic in Rochester. The never-ending festivals start, everyone’s outside, the sun is shining, the temperatures are rising, someone’s always grilling… And it pretty much stays that way through September (which means summers here are great, too — hot but not-too-hot, humid but not-too-humid, sunny but still-occasionally-rainy). Fall is also lovely in Rochester; the foliage is gorgeous, the air is crisp, the nights are clear, and there are a bazillion pick-your-own pumpkin and apple farms and enough hay ride options to make your head spin. Which is particularly nice if you’re a scarecrow. And then, with the first big snowfall, the kids just come pouring out of the houses and into the streets — sleds in hand, snowballs being hurled, snow forts being constructed, breath coming out in visibly quick, delighted bursts. It’s wonderful.
- Rochester is a-freakin’-mazing in terms of being family-friendly. There are a ton of things to do here that are specifically geared towards kids, from museums to indoor play places to library programs to playgrounds. It’s the indoor play spaces where Rochester really excels (this could be due to the number of snowy days we have; just a theory). When I visit friends elsewhere and it’s raining or nasty out and we’re looking for something to do because the kids are about to start eating one another, I always suggest that we go to an indoor play place… And, the vast majority of the time, I receive blank stares in return because their communities just don’t have them. Here, we have at least a dozen, and although I feel the need to dunk myself in a vat of Purell each time we leave one, Annie and Ella never seem to tire of them.
- But there’s so much other stuff to do with them here, too. There are oodles of places to hike or play outside. The Erie Canal is 5 minutes from our door. Lake Ontario is 20 minutes away, and the Finger Lakes – 30 minutes. Niagara Falls is less than 90 minutes from our house. There are train museums and make-your-own pottery places and kid-friendly salons. Our zoo is small but totally do-able in half a day, which makes it a perfect outing. Our children’s museum freakin’ rocks (I mean, if it has the Toy Hall of Fame in it, it has to be good, right?). We have loads of farmer’s markets and actual farms and places to ski and endless bike trails and county parks.
- Plus, there’s, you know, culture. Because we’re classy like that. But seriously, Rochester has scads of colleges, including prestigious universities like RIT and the incredible Eastman School of Music, so there’s a lot of general interest in academia but especially an interest in the arts. Every decently-sized city sees the circus and Disney on Ice come through (and Rochester is no different; we take our girls every year), but we also get world-famous musicians and orchestras and are a regular stop on the Broadway tour scene. Since moving here, we have seen Jerry Seinfeld, Kathy Griffin, the Whose Line is it Anyway tour, David Sedaris, Elton John, Barenaked Ladies, Steve Martin, Steely Dan, Straight No Chaser, Pentatonix, Bruno Mars, Amy Schumer, Jersey Boys, Wicked, Lion King, Mary Poppins, The Music Man, The Book of Mormon (twice; it’s that good), Beauty and the Beast, Joseph, Cinderella, Shrek… When we lived in Westchester, we hardly ever made it into Manhattan –Nick was exhausted from the commute, it was expensive, we’d have to get a sitter — so although we paid the premium for living 30 minutes outside of the city, we never took advantage of it. Living in Rochester, we’re able to see every show or band we could possibly want, and it’s marvelous.
- Wegmans. I know, I’m talking about a grocery store, and if you’ve never lived here, you think that’s lame. But once you’ve tried it, you’ll get it. Unparalleled. Angels sing. Unicorns fly. Rainbows hover overhead. Wegmans, I heart you.
- Wine country. The Finger Lakes are really up-and-coming in the world of respected wines, and dozens upon dozens of delicious wineries just a couple of hours away.
- Plenty of sports nearby. It’s so quick, easy, and affordable to take the girls to Red Wings or Amerks games, we do it several times a year (whereas attempting to see just one Yankees or Rangers game practically costs as much as a flatscreen TV). The caliber of play is fantastic, and because it’s so inexpensive, we never mind leaving when the girls get tired after a few innings or in the middle of the second period. If we want the pros, we can drive one hour to Buffalo and see the Sabres or long-suffering Bills. Plus, now that Abby Wambach plays for the Flash, we’ll be seeing even more world-class sports.
- The Rochester airport is a great size if you’re looking to just get in and get on the damn plane. We can leave our house only 75 minutes before our flight is due to depart (we fly as a family at least four times a year, and Nick travels for work at least once a month, so we have quite a bit of experience here) and still park, get through security, and be standing around waiting at the gate. It is incredible. Having to arrive at an airport 90 minutes before departure time — which often means leaving your hotel or the home you’re visiting at least 2.5 hours before then — is completely foreign to us.
Obviously, no place is perfect, and there are certainly some things that we don’t love about Rochester.
- Winter is gray. The snow is fine – easy to navigate, usually falls in smallish amounts, almost never causes school to be cancelled, is pretty – but it’s really gray between December and March. I miss the sun during those months.
- “Mud season” — that horrible time from, like, mid-March through April, when the trees still don’t have leaves and the sky is still gray but the snow is melting and revealing the nasty un-green grass and all the damn mud that sticks to the kids’ boots and the dogs’ paws and coats the kitchen floor with a permanent brown sheen — is gross. GROSS. Don’t visit here in early April.
- Drivers are exceedingly timid and nervous. No one wants to go around a car that’s waiting to turn left, people sloooowly inch into the intersection while waiting to make a turn when the light is green, thereby guaranteeing that the car(s) behind them will never make it through the light… It’s super annoying. Especially if you’re comfortable driving in Manhattan.
- There are only a few really awesome restaurants. There are some, for sure. Enough to keep Nick and me happy, because really, we can only eat out so often. But it would be great to have some more truly excellent eating establishments.
- Although we do love the size of the airport in terms of accessibility, there are definitely drawbacks to a smaller facility: few direct flights, higher ticket prices. And you’re particularly screwed if a flight is messed up, because your options getting to or from here are much more limited.
- If I were single, or if I particularly liked the “club scene,” I wouldn’t recommend Rochester. It’s amazing if you have a family. It’d be great if you were in college as a musician or an engineer. But otherwise, if you were an unattached twenty-something, I’d think you’d be pretty bored.
For us, Rochester is the perfect blend of small-town and big-city, with more than enough options — for eating, drinking, exploring, playing, learning — for us as a family. And we can actually afford those options and can reach them all in a matter of minutes.
Who knows; maybe something will happen that will cause us to change our minds. But for right now, this is exactly where we want to be. Really.