By Anastasia Mills Healy
A place of pilgrimage for baseball lovers, Cooperstown is justly famous for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but non-fans have a lot to cheer about as well. We were happily surprised by the town’s gorgeous lakeside setting, cultural attractions, and craft beverage scene. My 11-year-old even wanted to move there.
A well-manicured town of 2,000, Cooperstown has an enviable historic district that greatly adds to its charm. A mix of architectural styles including Greek Revival and Italianate, most buildings in the district were erected before 1900 and are beautifully maintained.
The leading attraction on Main Street, Cooperstown, and the whole Central New York region is of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Dedicated baseball fans should plan on spending a full day here, if not two. Start on the second floor with a short, inspiring introductory film and then explore exhibits on Babe Ruth and the history of women, African Americans, and Latin American players. The third floor explains the evolution of the ballpark and has exhibits focused on Hank Aaron and baseball records. Finish on the first floor, where you’ll find the all-important Hall of Fame Gallery as well as “The Art of Baseball,” with baseball-themed paintings and sculptures by the likes of Norman Rockwell.
On Main Street, interspersed with shops selling baseball-related items like custom bats and jerseys, are restaurants, a bakery, and the Cooperstown Beverage Exchange, which specializes in locally produced beer, wine, cider, and spirits. A top seller is the Triple Play: a package of three baseball-shaped bottles filled with bourbon, vodka, and whiskey.
When you’ve exhausted the attractions of Main Street you are by no means finished with Cooperstown. At the Baseball Hall of Fame you can get combination ticket good for admission to the Fenimore Museum of Art and Farmers’ Museum, which are across the street from each other. The art museum has strong collections of folk art and Native American objects, and enjoys a stunning lakeside setting. A living history museum, the Farmers’ Museum takes you back to an 1800s community, complete with farrier and farm animals. Don’t miss the exquisite historic carousel where you can ride a skunk, black lab, moose, beaver, frog, and other unusual carousel creatures that all have ties to New York State. The sites of both museums were once the property of James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. Cooperstown is named for the author’s family; his father founded the town.
Another cultural attraction is the well-regarded Glimmerglass Festival featuring opera and musical theater performances every summer.
Cooperstown is on a lake, so there’s boating, swimming, ice skating, and options for dining with a view. In addition to the Hawkeye Grill at the Otesaga, a great spot for the lakeside dining is Blue Mingo Grill.
On the lake between the Otesaga and the Fenimore Museum, the Leatherstocking Golf Course is a scenic 18-hole championship course designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet.
A fun family destination a few minutes from Main Street, Fly Creek Cider Mill has been producing apple cider since 1856. It’s evolved over the years and now has a restaurant with picnic seating overlooking a duck pond and a market selling handcrafted donuts, sauces, cheese, and candy in addition to regular and hard cider, wine, and even apple moonshine. If you’re more of a craft beer person, head to Brewery Ommerang.
A picture-perfect small town, Cooperstown is a three-and-a-half hour drive from Greenwich, Connecticut. A good place to break for lunch is Hudson, NY, a Greenwich Village-meets-the-country town with a main street (Warren Street) lined with restaurants, design stores, and art galleries.
The piece de resistance of Cooperstown accommodations is the grand lakeside Otesaga Hotel. Built in 1909, this impressive structure with 30-foot porticos and a veranda lined with rocking chairs commands the south side of Otsego Lake. A spa, pool, lawn games, boating, and golf at the adjacent Leatherstocking Golf Course earn its resort title. Even if you don’t stay here, soak in the atmosphere over a drink or meal.
A smaller sister property just around the corner from Main Street, the Cooper Inn is also a Federal-style 1909 building. Guests here have privileges at the Otesaga, like use of the swimming pool.
Across the street from the Cooper Inn, The Inn at Cooperstown is a Second Empire gem listed on the National Register of Historic Places.