Exploring Seneca Lake’s Cities: Watkins Glen And Geneva

Exploring Seneca Lake’s Cities: Watkins Glen And Geneva

Are you thinking about taking a vacation or even moving to the Southern Tier or Finger Lakes region of upstate New York? In this episode of The Histories And Mystery Of Seneca Lake, I’m going to tell you about two major cities in the area: Geneva and Watkins Glen. We’ll learn about each location’s activities, amenities, and home prices so you can get to know this amazing region.

Welcome To Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake is a long, thin, deep lake that stretches about 38 miles. The shape of this lake is sold in local jewelry stores and makes a beautiful piece for good reason: running almost perfectly north to south, Seneca Lake is only off about two degrees from true north.

There are only two major cities on the lake. Geneva, New York is located at the very top at the northernmost tip, while Watkins Glen sits at the very southern tip. There are no other cities on the lake, although the shores are full of properties. Every foot has either a property, a state park, a cottage, a farm, a winery, or a marina. As you can tell, this is very valuable real estate.

Watkins Glen

The first city we’ll talk about is Watkins Glen, a small little village with a population of only about 2,000 people. If you come here in the winter when it’s snowing, there’s hardly anybody here. It’s a sleepy little town that’s very quiet, and winter sees a lot of the local tourist attractions actually close down. However, in the spring, fall, and especially the summer months, the population swells with tourists.

Tourist Season

These tourists come from all over the country and all over the world. It’s not uncommon to see busloads of tourists, and the population swells to 10,000 or more people that are constantly coming and going.

There are groups of people coming in on motorcycles, and there are tourists coming in on buses to see Watkins Glen Gorge State Park. There are people coming on winery tours, there are people booking hotels, and there are people coming into town pulling their campers or boats.

Watkins Glen becomes so busy that it’s actually congested. You’ll find plenty of traffic jams, especially on the downtown streets by Jerlando’s Pizza. This is because everybody has to go through the area, creating a bottleneck. These crowds are full of NASCAR fans, campers, boaters, fishers, and tourists. And of course, most everybody’s coming for the wineries.

Local Activities

Watkins Glen has a beautiful little State Park, and across the way, there’s a marina and a Super Walmart. It’s very busy in the summer, so you’ll see people in there with their flip-flops and swimming suits all the time.

If you want to drive the whole length of Seneca Lake, you can leave Watkins Glen and travel all 38 miles to the top of the lake until you hit Geneva. Along the way, there are dozens and dozens of wineries, with new ones popping up every year. I’m amazed at how many there are!

There are also lots of places to stop, from roadside stands and orchards to food at Dandy Mart in Hector—a local landmark. You should also stop at Big Johnson’s, a famous little local spot near Hector. Best described as a rundown biker bar, it’s a very popular destination for motorcycle riders.


Now that we’ve learned about Watkins Glen, let’s head up to Geneva, New York. Geneva is a much bigger city, although it’s still pretty small by most standards with a population of about 12,000. Of course, this city swells with tourists, too, and it has a much bigger downtown.

There are many hotels that are several stories high along the top of the lake. You’ll also find another state park, walking trails, picnic areas, restaurants, and wineries. As a college town, Geneva has nightlife, too. It’s the home of Hobart and William Smith College along with some of Cornell’s small campuses as well. Once you’re in Geneva and want to go back to Seneca Lake, it takes about another hour to go down the opposite side.

Although it’s completely different, you’re traveling along a road where you can look down at the lake. Everything slopes down, and there are wineries above and below as you travel along as well as beautiful farms, bike paths, and so much more. If you were to drive from Watkins Glen to Geneva, it would take you about an hour. From Geneva back to Watkins Glen, it would take you about another hour. However, it’s going to take longer than that because there are so many places to stop.

Housing Options

If you’re thinking of living in the Seneca Lake area, let’s talk about home prices—starting with Watkins Glen. The Watkins Glen zip code is 14891, with properties ranging in price anywhere from $150,000 all the way up to $1 million.

Geneva’s zip code is 14456, and you’ll find that the properties there are a little less expensive. Because it’s a college town, home options vary from rentals to home options priced from the $100,000 to $500,000 price range—with some much higher. One of the reasons people love to move here is mainly because of the spring, summer, and fall months.

In winter, people just cozy up by their wood stoves and might enjoy working from home. Tourism is still a thing in the winter, but it’s definitely much quieter. Of course, a farmer’s work is never done, so if you’re farming in one of the orchards or one of the vineyards, there’s always something to be done. There are also Airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, and hotels, with the bigger mostly in the larger cities of Geneva and Watkins.

Enjoy Seneca Lake Living

I hope this gave you a good idea of what Watkins Glen and Geneva are all about. If either of these areas sounds like a place you’d like to move to, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be glad to connect. I help people buy and sell properties in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region of upstate New York all the time, and I’d be happy to help you, too.

If you want to learn more about Seneca Lake, I’m going to dive into the mysteries and history of this awesome area in future episodes of my show. Make sure to subscribe to my channel so you never miss a video, and stay tuned to see what I feature next!

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