Travel Thoughts By Kim
Let’s go on an adventure together … to the Wonderful Land of Oz!
Did you know you can visit the Wonderful Land of Oz without leaving New York State? You don’t have to ride a house in a tornado. You don’t have to wear magical ruby slippers. You only need to take about a two-and-a-half hour drive – give or take, depending on the route you take – to Chittenango, N.Y. And … you just might encounter a wicked witch, a cowardly lion, a scarecrow looking for a brain, a rusty tin man, and a sweet girl named Dorothy while you’re there.
Chittenango is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum – author of the Wizard of Oz books. The small village of Chittenango embraces their connection to the famous author with Oz themes everywhere you look – including yellow brick sidewalks, a lovely Oz-themed public library, and the All-Things-Oz Museum. Just outside the village, they have an Oz-themed casino with an active tornado in the lobby and the Wicked Good Pizza place next door. There are several other Oz-themed shops in and around the village, making sure that you can experience Oz any time you want in Chittenango.
Their big claim to fame is the Oz-Stravaganza festival, held the first weekend in June every year. Of course, this year’s event was canceled, but when it happens, it’s pretty darned cool. They have all kinds of costume contests and activities for young and old alike. One end of town is dedicated to vendors, food trucks, music, and carnival-type rides and games. All the Oz characters come to life and wander around the village for photo opportunities and to delight the kids. They also have guest appearances by authors and others giving talks and book signings. The village is small enough that you can walk all over to experience all the different parts of the festival.
The weekend is capped with a big parade. I attended in 2017, and the Grand Marshall that year was Jane Lahr – daughter of Bert Lahr, who played The Cowardly Lion in the movie. I got to meet her and have a nice conversation with her. Come as you are or dress like your favorite Oz character – you won’t be out of place at the Oz-Stravaganza. The closing ceremony usually includes a balloon lift-off to take Dorothy back to Kansas. Unfortunately, the year I was there, the threat of severe afternoon storms caused them to cancel the balloon lift-off. I will have to go again sometime to see that part!
But Oz isn’t all that Chittenango has to offer. Back in the early days of the Erie Canal, Chittenango Landing was known for building and repairing canal boats. They have a wonderful Canal Boat Museum that is open to the public, and they give school children tours to teach them all about building canal boats. Volunteers have worked to reconstruct the dry docks and other buildings that were once an important canal resource from remains that were discovered and unearthed. I really enjoyed the museum and recommend it if you’re in the area.
Just four miles down the road is Chittenango Falls – I mentioned this beautiful park with a waterfall and walking trails in my Cooperstown article. Then, another five miles or so, is the lovely village of Cazenovia with wonderful shops, restaurants, and a stunning lake.
One of my favorite things about the entire weekend was visiting The Wild Animal Park just north of Chittenango. It is an awesome park with lots of opportunities to get up close and personal with various animals that you can feed and pet. There are also some animals in enclosures for your protection or theirs. They also have snack huts and a bounce house for the kids, as well as a nice picnic area overlooking a lake. It is one of the better animal parks I’ve ever been to and is well worth the two hour or so drive.
For my trip in 2017, I took Route 104 to 481 and down. I went that way because I wanted to make a stop at Sodus Bay Lighthouse, and it looked like the best route to get to the Wild Animal Park as my first big adventure of the weekend – I always try to avoid the Thruway. I stayed at a lovely bed & breakfast – Bird Brook B&B, right in downtown Chittenango. It is a very nice, comfortable B&B with friendly hosts and delicious breakfast. I believe it is the only place to stay right in Chittenango and it is small – just three rooms. One has a private entrance and bath (I was lucky to get that one), and the other two are upstairs and share a bath. So, if you plan to stay for an overnight or two, plan way ahead or look outside Chittenango, like maybe Cazenovia – just ten miles away. On the way back, I took Route 20 and hoped to do a few things along the way, but it was Sunday and most of what I wanted to do was closed, and it was starting to rain, so I just made a couple quick stops and came home.
I highly recommend the Chittenango/Cazenovia area for a quick getaway. Whether you go the first weekend in June to participate in the Oz-Stravaganza or just go to enjoy a bit of Oz and all the other wonderful things to do in the area, you’re sure to have an awesome time! And … it isn’t that far to make a day trip to the Wild Animal Park and a walk down the yellow brick sidewalks in Chittenango.