patfeeney wrote:I'm no expert or authority on anything Ithaca, so take all of this with a grain of salt. I've lived here for four years, so my experiences are where most of my info comes from.
patfeeney's Guide to Living in Ithaca, NY
City: Ithaca is often called “10 square miles surrounded by reality.” The city is really something to behold. There are 30,000 year-round residents and well over 30,000 students attending Cornell and Ithaca College. The mayor is a 26-year-old Cornell grad, and when elected was one of the youngest mayors in U.S. history. It’s nestled between two hills, Cayuga Lake, and contained within Route 13, which wraps around the metropolitan area. It’s mostly residential/suburban, with a few blocks of more urban setting within the “Commons,” a two-block area with shops, banks, hotels, and other businesses. Farther out along Route 13, there’s a little commercial sprawl, including a Walmart, a few grocery stores, Kohl’s, fast food restaurants, etc.
People: Interesting. The city skews very liberal, and the people definitely reflect this vibe. Recreational drug use is pretty much the norm. The eco trend really hit Ithaca; there’s an entire Eco-Village of houses with solar panels and other sustainable features. Many restaurants are all-organic, and there is even an all-organic grocery store, Greenstar. They range from the typical college student or professor to the more… interesting people. There is one man I met who goes by the name “Twelve Moon.” A café in the Commons is owned and run by a sect of the Twelve Tribes cult. People are friendly, but many are only left-leaning versions of the people you’d typically find at a town hall meeting; many are not so inclusive with right-leaning opinions. For the most part, be patient with them, and they'll be patient with you. Some are very friendly, others are the definition of smug.
Food: There is lots of food in Ithaca… lots of expensive food. There are more restaurants per block downtown than there are in most parts of New York City. These range from Subway and Jade Garden (typical Cantonese fare) to Mercato, where dishes average near $30. There are places for every taste; Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Tapas, American/Grill, Deli, Thai, Pizza, Italian, Greek, Diners, and more. There is even an all-organic and all-local restaurant, the Moosewood, that changes its menu daily, according to what’s available. It’s probably the best restaurant in town.
Besides fast food/ chain restaurants, most food locations are pretty expensive. Good ones on the cheaper end include Viva! (all-organic Mexican food, $8-9 a plate) and the State Diner (24-hour diner specializing in Greek and breakfast food; family-owned, delicious, cheap, friendly, and charming). My personal suggestions:
Joe's Italian Restaurant. Mid-range prices, but you get lots of food. I suggest getting reservations a few days ahead of time, and make sure to tell your server not to seat you near the doors, especially during the winter.
Manos Diner: By no means high-quality food. It still smells like old cigarette ash, about half the time the food comes out uncooked, and it's out in the boonies. However, two scrambled eggs, three pancakes, sausage, toast, and coffe for $6 is hard to beat.
State Diner: Always tasty, always open.
Saigon Kitchen: Charming little Vietnamese place with some of the meanest Southeast Asian food you'll ever eat. Their deep-fried calamari will make you re-think deepfried.
Moosewood: Food that's so good, the place has four published cookbooks. I know people who drive two hours to eat here.
Waffle Frolic: Everything you could ever want to eat on a Waffle, plus a small reading room.
Sammy's Pizza: Best pizza in town, and also the best deal in town.
For groceries, there are two Greenstar locations, many small markets/stops, a Tops, and the heaven of all heavenly grocery stores, Wegmans. It’s huge, it’s wonderful, and it’s not all that expensive, either. Both Tops and Wegmans are on route 13. Make sure you drive to them; the distance is daunting for anything more than $10 worth of groceries.
Temporary Lodging: If visiting, Ithaca has plenty of options on all ends. There’s a Super 8 Motel, a Hampton Inn, a Ramada, a Country Inn and Suites, a Holiday Inn, and a Hilton Garden Inn all within two miles of the Cornell campus. There are also numerous bed and breakfasts, including the William Henry Miller Inn. If you want the full monty, though, stay at the Statler Hotel, which is run by Cornell University’s hotel administration school and is connected to Statler Hall. It’s also walking distance to the law school.
Housing: Apartments are pricey in Ithaca. Monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment can start at $670 (at the Cayuga Apartments, relatively new and right downtown; includes heat, hot water, and gas). Companies include Travis Hyde properties, PPH Realty, Ithaca Rents, and Ithaca Rental Solutions.
Apartments go really quickly; I’ve had three properties vanish from my hands within a week. There is insanely high demand for one and two bedroom places; larger apartments go quickly too.
Some of the neighborhoods you’d be more likely to live in:
- South Hill. Not “far” from Cornell, mile-wise (perhaps half a mile away), but the college itself is on top of a hill and separated by a fair amount of convoluted traffic. South Hill is predominantly populated by families and Ithaca College students. It’s quiet, with some of the cheaper apartments in town. No food options except for Rogan’s Corner, a convenience store/gas station.
-Collegetown. Cornell’s main hooplah area, with at least a dozen restaurants, a couple stores, businesses, bars, etc, including the Chapter House, the Nines, etc. Literally 500 feet away from the Law School (across the bridge from the Schwartz performing arts center). Apartments here are ludicrously expensive; studios start at over $1200. However, the short walking distance and close proximity to a couple of restaurants and grocers means you’d never need a car while on campus.
-East Hill. Area surrounding Collegetown. Definitely a noisier area; this is the main residential area near Cornell, and during big party weekends the sidewalks tend to be swarmed with Cornell and Ithaca students. Fewer families, but lots of students. Houses are a little more run-down. Also no restaurants, but close enough to Collegetown to not matter.
Nightlife: Lots of bars in Ithaca, for every taste. Moonshadow Tavern is cheap, with theme nights throughout the week; they even held a beer pong tournament for 1Ls a few weeks ago. Mercato features signature (read=$10 a pop) cocktails that a friend of mine, a bartender, says are out of this world. I’ll take his word on it. Felicia’s Atomic Lounge is a hopping, LGBT-friendly dive on State Street. Kilpatrick’s Publick House is a pretty fancy Irish pub located in the same building as the Hilton Garden Inn. The list goes on.
Entertainment: Three movie theaters, including a Regal, Cinemapolis (an all-independent, non-profit cinema), and the Cornell Cinema. The State Theater and Cornell’s Barton Hall feature many popular acts; some recent ones include Major Lazer, Ke$ha, B.B. King, Merle Haggard, Kendrick Lamar, the Flaming Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc. For dayside activities, there’s lots of hiking at Six Mile Creek, Buttermilk Falls and beyond. A 30-plus-trail downhill ski resort, Greek Peak, is about 45 minutes away. Cinemapolis has student discounts; Cornell has discount and free movies. Concerts at Barton and the State range from $15-$60 per ticket. The hiking trails are free.
Shopping: Ithaca is loaded with family-owned shops, mainly consignment boutiques and alternative fair. Some of the more well-known spots: Trader K’s, a consignment shop that accepts trade-ins; Angry Mom Records, which still sells primarily vinyl; Buffalo Street Books, an indie book shop (and expensive!); Life’s So Sweet Chocolates; a plethora of headshops, ranging from chain to super-sketchy lampshade stores; McNeil’s Music instruments; and on and on… There is little so far as commercial shopping. The Shops at Ithaca Mall have a few clothing stores like JC Penney’s, American Eagle… the main drag on Route 13 also has a number of chain stores. If you really want fancier attire, you’ll have to head up to Destiny USA, a megamall about an hour north of Ithaca.
Traffic + Transportation: It’s bearable, most of the time. The city has a very odd layout; at least half of the streets are one-way only downtown. The neighborhoods try to follow a standard, square layout, but the steepness of the hills and the fractured creeks split up a lot of roads into hellish circle drives and other weirdness. Spend some time during low-traffic hours (7 or 8pm on weeknights) getting used to the streets, and definitely bring a map with you. The Cornell area is not so bad, but there are areas downtown where a wrong turn will kill the next 20 minutes of your life. The drivers are a cross between Jersey and Manhattan drivers, so you'll want to watch out.
The TCAT is the city's main bus line. It was consolidated from a former Cornell University bus line, so all Cornell students get free unlimited rides on the bus with their student pass (Ithaca students pay $1.50 a ride). Bus line goes everywhere around town, all the way to Cortland, 2 miles away.
There's a Greyhound station off Route 13 that gives rides to NYC, Philly, Buffalo, etc. However, it's an off-route stop, so tickets from Ithaca tend to have a significant premium compared to Syracuse bus routes.
Taxis and public vehicle wise, Ithaca's main cab company is the Green Hornet; very quick and efficient but they're also known for being a party taxi. They even have a small fan covered in band stickers to carry drunk students home. The city also has "Ithaca Car Share"; you pay a monthly subscription and then a small fee per hour and per mile and you can reserve one of several vehicles around town, including a Prius.
Overall, it’s a charming place, and you learn to love it. Just make sure to watch your cash and not let everything get to your head.
I went to undergrad at Cornell, and this is a very good description of Ithaca (also I can vouch for Viva it's my favorite). I'm not sure that Pat's super familiar with Collegetown, so I just wanted to add a few things. The big thing about ctown is that it's LOUD and swarming with undergrads, especially on College Ave and parts of Eddy Street. As a graduate student I would also avoid Cook and Catherine, as these streets typically have a bunch of frat "annexes" that throw big, loud parties all the time. You would probably be fine on streets leading to the Commons, like Buffalo, Seneca etc., but do bear in mind you'll have a brief but intense uphill trek to class. If you're willing to live with roommates, the rents are obviously more reasonable ($700-800 range, depending on amenities), but you're still basically paying near-NYC rents to live in a crappy apartment. Most of the graduates I knew as an undergrad lived in the Commons, but they were humanities people, I didn't know any law students.
Re the shopping: Shopping in Ithaca pretty much sucks. You don't know how many times I desperately looked for a formal dress and failed. No one actually calls Destiny USA that, it used to be officially called Carousel, and everyone still calls it that. The shopping there is better, but if you're looking for designer suits for your SA/interviews you're out of luck. There's a J. Crew and a Banana, but they're relatively tiny and don't carry the same stock as stores in bigger cities. (Sorry guys, I don't know anything about shopping for men.)
Transportation-- Cornell also offers a "Campus-to-Campus" bus between Ithaca and NYC. It's expensive ($160ish round trip), but convenient. The Green Hornet is not the main cab company. The Green Hornet is something that you rent to take you on a bar crawl/wine tour with a group of friends. "Ithaca Taxi" is the main cab company, and it operates like a black cab in NYC, except you can usually hail one if you can find an empty one. Easiest number the the world 607-277-7777. Of course, it's horrific and overpriced (zone pricing, plus $1 for every additional person in the cab). I would often walk where I needed to go, barring excessive drunkenness or inclement weather.
Traffic- Pat's right don't underestimate the streets. A lot of them aren't very well maintained and are on absolutely insane angles.
Food/Drink-- I have to give a shout-out to the Chapter House, Bandwagon Brewpub and the Ithaca Brewing Company. Chappy is great because it's the only bar in Collegetown that is actually really strict about not letting under-21s in, and it has an awesome beer list (30+). Also one of the bartenders is really cute. Go here if you want to pick up an artsy undergrad or a PhD (especially humanities). Also free popcorn. Bandwagon is a place in the Commons that has an interesting and ever-changing menu that is something like 90% locally sourced. They also brew their own beer in small batches. Some are better than others, but A for effort. They also do beer tastings/flights which are fun. My favorite thing is the cornmeal waffles with shrimp, andoullie sausage and chile cream sauce. They also have a great homemade veggie patty. The Ithaca Brewing Company is actually a legit brewery that just expanded into having a restaurant/tasting area as well as beer sales. Their most famous beers are the Flower Power IPA and the Apricot Wheat beer, but I'm partial to the Cascazilla Red Ale. I am also inordinately fond of Collegetown Bagels, especially the Collegetown location, although I do admit that it is overpriced.
I would also be remiss not to mention the glory that is a wine tour. When it's nice out, various groups charter a vehicle of an appropriate size (seriously it ranges from limos to school buses), and take a tour of the wineries in the surrounding areas. Depending on the group, various degrees of debauchery occur. I cannot overstate how much fun wine tours are.
The other big entertainment thing is something called "Slope Day" that happens at the end of the spring semester. It's mostly an undergrad thing, but it is a fun excuse to day drink whether or not you actually attend. It's a big concert held on the slope, (aka the big grassy hill on campus) that creates sort of a natural amphitheater (I'm being generous with that description). But anyway, Slope Day is what Kendrick Lamar was at Cornell for.
Anyway, I just had to add my two cents. I really loved my undergrad experience at Cornell, and would seriously consider coming back for law school (if they would just admit me already *shakes fist*). Interesting town, lovely campus, solid academics (at least, for undergrad, again can't vouch for law).