Plein Air Painting in New York State

State #22 in my quest to plein air paint in all 50 States is New York State!  I am excited to be back on the road again.  It has been a year since my last Paint the States trip in 2016 to Washington State.  My travel companion for New York State is Eunice Van der Linden of Scotts Valley.   We decided that late September would be a good time to go – avoiding the peak tourist season but early enough to still get some good weather with a little luck – also the possibility of some Fall foliage makes late September a great time to travel in the northern part of our country. 


Niagara Falls

We started out in Niagara Falls in Northern New York State.  It took all day to get there from San Jose, California as there are no direct or non-stop flights to Buffalo which is about 20 miles from the famous Falls.  As a result, we arrived late in the evening and drove in the dark on roads undergoing much construction in a place that was unfamiliar.  Thank goodness for Google maps!  It got us to our hotel in Niagara with no problem. 

We stayed at The Giacomo, a small boutique hotel at 222 First Street in Niagara Falls – it is only a couple of blocks from the Park that takes one directly to the Falls on the American side of the Niagara River.  Canada is just across the gorge and has a whole complex of casinos and highrise buildings right on the Falls.  The Giacomo is in an 18 story highrise Art Deco building from the 1920s – it has an old world feel and is the kind of place you could imagine a mob boss staying in during that era.  Very helpful front desk and an excellent full cooked breakfast is included in the room price which was about $200 per night for a comfortable king size bedroom.  The hotel valet parks your vehicle for you at no extra cost.  Nice!  In addition to being within very easy walking distance to the Falls, the hotel is surrounded by restaurants of all kinds.  This place is designed to deal with lots of visitors and the staff at all the places we visited were very nice and hospitable. 

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast we were ready to tackle the task of getting our art supplies – we needed low odor mineral spirits to paint with as one can’t fly with it in the luggage as it is flammable.  We found a very good locally owned art supply place called Hyatts in Buffalo.  We took the freeway that goes along the lake front into Buffalo – Hyatts had Gamsol, which is the safest mineral spirit out there.  I recommend them for all your art supply needs in the Buffalo area – they have a couple of stores there.  Here is the link to their website –

 Once we had our essential supplies to start oil painting we headed back to Niagara Falls and parked at the Visitor Center which was the closest we could get to where we were going to paint.  We didn’t want to haul our art supplies any further than necessary.  It costs $10 to park all day there. 

The Falls are impressive and we were going to paint The American Falls – We didn’t want to “cross the border” into Canada – they have a different view from that side of course – Horseshoe Falls.  Decided to keep it simple and the American Falls is already impressive enough as a painting subject.  There is an overlook built up above the pathway but it was so crowded we decided we didn’t want to subject ourselves to all that busyness and stress. 

Here is the painting I did of the American Falls – the power of the water roaring over the rim and into the gorge below really got into me and this painting reflects this felt energy.  One can’t really get that same visceral feeling from photos or video – so once again, painting from life is the best for so many reasons.  It was very hot and humid and I really needed my umbrella.  Had to keep drinking lots of water to keep up with the dehydration and humidity.  In addition to the noise of the falls there was also a constant sound from sightseeing helicopters flying low.  After 2 hours of that and the visitors around us at all times we had had enough!  Not a peaceful painting spot, but then we expected it and have experience over may years of this kind of painting travel.  Bathrooms are available nearby  as well as shade trees and green areas. 


Lunch and Dinner Spots in Niagara

Due to the number of visitors that come to the Falls there is a wonderful selection of restaurants and even food trucks near the Falls.  We had lunch on Old Falls Street at a food truck featuring really good Indian food.  That evening we ventured out to the Buffalo Culinary Institute to their restaurant which was excellent.  The Culinary Institute Restaurant is called “Savor” – not super cheap but well worth it. It was one block from our hotel.   Excellent and knowledgeable service and wine list plus the food was the best we had on the whole trip.  We recommend “Savor” – Enjoy!

Lake Ontario – Golden Hills State Park

After spending two nights at the Falls we departed Niagara and drove East along the shores of Lake Ontario on our way to the Finger Lakes District.  The weather was good initially.  We found a nice State Park called Golden Hills State Park at 9691 Lower Lake Road, Barker, NY 14012. We set up our painting gear on the shoreline of this quiet and beautiful park. The park has a disc Golf course next to the lake, just in case you are into Disc Golf.   The park was almost empty with beautiful wildflowers blooming everywhere. After the noisy painting environment of Niagara we very much enjoyed the peace and quiet of this location. We were delighted to see Monarch butterflies feeding on the flowers there - if you look closely at the photo you can see a large Monarch.  It was so colorful my painting almost looks Hawaiian!  Here it is. 


Lake Canandaigua - Finger Lakes Region

Rain was in our future as we left Lake Ontario and headed towards Canandaigua where we had booked into the Holiday Inn Express near the lake front.  The Holiday Inn was in a convenient location and easy to find. 

That evening we ate nearby at a place called MacGregors Grill and Tavern.  All I can say about this place is to avoid it.  Rude and uncaring staff and dead salads!  About the worst restaurant meal I’ve had in quite a while.  The rude attitude of the staff was even worse.   Luckily most restaurants are decent, so I am always shocked when we find a true “bad apple”.


How to Find Painting Spots

We discovered that finding a good painting spot here isn't easy.  Most of the land is privately owned and there don’t appear to be many public parks.  We spoke to the clerk at our hotel in Canandaigua and asked for suggestions.  He told us of a place that had a good overlook of the Lake that is south of town.  We eventually found it – I will share it here to save you time.  It is called the South Bristol Scenic Overlook on the West Side of Canandaigua Lake on Route 12 – This is a beautiful painting spot but there are no bathrooms, so be forewarned. 

We also spoke with a couple of Art Gallery owners in town about places to paint in this area.  They said that we should try the Wineries  – there are a lot of them in the Finger Lakes and Wineries  love to have us artists paint around their businesses.  Please ask permission at their Tasting Rooms first however to make sure you are warmly welcomed. 

Here is the painting I did at the South Bristol Scenic Overlook.  It was overcast and quite cool – Fall color was just starting to appear on the trees around the lake. 


Our second evening in Canandaigua found us dining at the New York Culinary Institute which was close to the Holiday Inn Express.  We enjoyed our meal there and can recommend it.  Basic fare but well cooked and the service was good too.

The Erie Canal and Seneca Falls

We departed Canandaigua the next morning on our way to Pennsylvania.  We stopped at Seneca Falls which is at the northern end of Seneca Lake and right on the famous Erie Canal.  We decided this would be a good place to do our last New York State painting before heading south.  There is a river walkway and Visitors Center right on the canal.  Barges are moored on the bank of the Canal (one can take a barge cruise) and an old Woolen Mill was right across the canal from where we set up to paint.  Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement.  Interesting spot!  There are a number of possibilities for painting subjects here.  There are bathrooms in the Visitor Center and we found lots of nice people walking around the area.  Here is the painting I did on the Erie Canal!

Right after we finished painting on the Erie Canal, the weather started to change and we ended up driving south with on and off rain to our next stop which would be Lancaster in Pennsylvania.  We could have used a couple more days in New York State but all in all we enjoyed the few days we had there.  Thank you New York!

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