Close to a decade ago when I was still in university at McMaster University in Hamilton (totally giving my age away now), going to Buffalo meant only one thing. SHOPPING! Whether it was road trips with my family or with my friends, the roughly 90 minute drive from Toronto/Hamilton to Buffalo had only one goal in mind. To buy as many items as possible and locate the best deals. Walden Galleria anyone? Yep, that was the shopping mall I would frequent on Black Fridays and many other long weekends when I felt the urge to spend some of those green dollar bills.
It was always a quick day trip. I never would stay over night and explore the city. The day would go something like this. Wake up at 9AM. Drive across the border and arrive at Waldern Galleria in Buffalo just before lunch time. Grab lunch at the food court. Shop until my stomach started grumbling (or until my wallet gives out). Find dinner either at the food court again or any nearby restaurant in the area (Cheesecake Factory was always a go-to), and then drive back home and call it a night. Rinse and repeat for years and years.
If this is also like you, I have some news. We were so naive!!! There is so much more to explore in Buffalo. The food. The culture. The museums and outdoor activities. Buffalo is so much more than just the Walden Galleria and shopping. I didn’t even know Buffalo had a waterfront and boardwalk (and it most definitely has!). I recently spent two nights in Buffalo last month thanks to Visit Buffalo & Niagara and just fell in love with the people and city. I experienced so much more of Buffalo in those two nights than my entire lifetime I spent going back and forth to Buffalo on all of those shopping day trips.
I put together what I think is the complete travel guide on your accommodation, food, and excursions you would want to experience in Buffalo. There are some Buffalo staples here, but also some hidden gems. Get ready to experience Buffalo, Niagara like never before!
To read up on my other travel guides I’ve put together, find them at the links below:
Aloft Buffalo Downtown
The newest hotel to be built in Buffalo (at least as I’m writing this blog post today) is Aloft Buffalo Downtown. Aloft Hotels is an international hotel chain most notable for its modern architecture and colourful room designs. Acquired by Marriott International in 2016, you’ll also be able to redeem all your travel rewards through their loyalty program Marriott Bonvoy if you are already a member. Situated close to the nearby Theatre district downtown, you’re just walking distance from taking in a show and many other restaurants and bars in the nearby area. My favourite part of my hotel room were three things. My personal outdoor balcony with downtown views, the 55 inch TV (with Netflix capability), and the rainfall shower head.
EAT & DRINK
Breadhive Bakery & Cafe
Breadhive Bakery & Cafe is Buffalo’s only worker-owned bakery and cafe, serving up wickedly delicious baked breakfast and lunch goods since 2014. You’ll find here hearty sandwiches that can be chosen to be on their bread, bagels, or pretzels, alongside their house-made cookies, soups, and salads. Their sandwich names are fun and pay homage to some of their favourite musical influences. I ate the best breakfast sandwich right here! Make sure you order “The Aaliyah!.” Trust me.
Charlie The Butcher
A Buffalo staple is Charlie the Butcher. If you traveled all the way here to Buffalo and you didn’t eat their world-famous “Beef on Weck Sandwich,” did you really come to Buffalo at all? Come inside to watch the roast beef carved right in front of your eyes, before being sandwiched in-between a Kimmelweck roll that’s sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds. It’s the perfect vessel for the thinly cut slices of beef.
If you’ve come all this way to Buffalo, you got to try the famous Sponge Candy! This is a Buffalo-centric treat with the likeness of fudge, except with extra sugar. It’s a light and crunchy toffee on the inside made from sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda. There are a few variations of this chocolate treat that was made famous by the Cadbury company in Great Britain, but it’s here at Watson’s Chocolates in Buffalo that brought this fun treat here in North America. You’ll also be able to find some artisanal ice cream here with a Sponge Candy flavour you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Watson’s Chocolates was also voted Best Chocolatier year after year!
I wouldn’t have guessed Buffalo to have a great seafood scene here, but Dobutsu proves otherwise. A casual pacific fare restaurant, Dobutsu specializes in the cuisine of the American and Asian Pacific region, highlighted by globally sourced fresh seafood and shellfish programs, traditional noodle dishes, Hawaiian poke and rice bowls, and fresh coastal produce salads. I absolutely loved their Seared Big Eye Tuna. My personal recommendation would to ask them to cook it rare. Their Chocolate Bar for dessert is also always changing. The night I went they made their chocolate bar look like the beach filled with sand, turtles, and seashells!
Five Points Bakery & Toast Cafe
Breakfast never tasted so good! Five Points Bakery makes whole grain bread using wheat sourced only from local farms. This has also now expanded into honey, milk, eggs, and a host of other local goods, so if you want to get a real taste of Buffalo this is the place to be. They also sell their loafs of bread inside their restaurant, so if you order a menu item and fall in love with one of their many varieties of toast, you’ll most likely find an entire loaf of it to buy and bring home.
American history 101. Do you know where “Buffalo Wings” come from? You guessed it… Buffalo! The flavour “Buffalo Style” wings has basically graced the menu of nearly every pub in North America, and it was in 1964 where a Buffalo restaurant called the “Anchor Bar” changed the course of American food history by inventing the first Buffalo-style chicken wing which is simply a fried chicken wing coated in hot sauce and served with ample helpings of blue cheese. Although it was the Anchor Bar who first created the Buffalo Wing, Gabriel’s Gate ranks high on the local’s list of serving some of the best wings in the city. It’s also one of the 12 locations on the Buffalo Wing Trail. As you can see, Buffalonians sure love their chicken wings!
Ted’s Hot Dogs
A year-round family tradition since 1927, Ted’s Hot Dogs is famous for its charcoal broiled hotdogs, homemade hot sauce, old-fashioned milk shakes with made real ice cream, handmade onion rings, and other menu items grilled to perfection. What you’ll need to order here is this. Repeat after me. “Footlong, Extra Charred with the Works, and a side of Onion Rings.”
Swan Street Diner
I love nothing more than an old-school diner, especially when it’s built inside a circa-1937 era Sterling Co diner car. These limited edition diner cars were manufactured between 1936 to 1947, each numbered upon completion. The Swan Street Diner car is number 397. While the diner is decorated to portray a nostalgic feel, the menu items feature traditional American food items along with some cutting edge culinary offerings. Opt-in for their French Toast and Breakfast Tacos. They also make some kick-ass mini donuts!
Lloyd Taco Factory
What started as a food truck in Buffalo has now grown to become the restaurant in Buffalo to get your taco cravings fulfilled. From authentic Mexican tacos, burritos, and side dishes, Lloyd Taco Factory also has a full bar deep with tequila and mezcal for those nights (or days?) you just want to let loose and get your drink on. They also make their very own hot sauce here, bottled up for you to be ready to be taken home if your hearts desire. They even have here a Fried Chicken and Waffle taco. So much yes!
Churn Soft Serve
Literally right next door to Lloyd Taco Factory (and not surprisingly their sister brand), Churn Soft Serve has a fun, quirky atmosphere where your ice cream cone creations come to life. Bringing you soft serve ice cream made from natural, grass fed cows. There are so many creative toppings to choose from here with vegan options as well. Their signature churro topping is a stand out here. We all scream for ice cream!
Bocce Club Pizza
If you’re craving pizza, look no further than Bocce Club Pizza, another Buffalo tradition since 1946. They use only the freshest and most natural ingredients from 100% whole milk mozzarella cheese to dough made from scratch and hand stretched daily. Their key to success though can largely be attributed to their secret pizza sauce that’s mixed and made every single day. You also know their pizza will be good when you realize that they ship their pizzas nationwide by ordering their pizzas online.
I couldn’t have been more happy to have found this hidden gem! The best donuts I’ve ever had and believe me I’ve had a lot of donuts in my life. Established in 1996, Paula’s Donuts is a family owned and operated business. Their hand cut donuts are baked fresh daily on the premises, the old fashioned way. With over 30 varieties of donuts along with pastries, muffins, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches there’s something here for everyone. But lets face it if you’re choosing to come here, there’s no way you won’t be walking out with at least a dozen of their donuts. Their donuts are not only huge in size, but extremely affordable coming in at only around $13 for fourteen donuts! Buy a dozen, get two free. Seriously so worth it! I’ll be coming back here each and every time I visit Buffalo. Fact.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie this is the place for you! Located in an industrial zone with massive grain elevators that are painted to resemble a six-pack of beer visible from cruising altitude, RiverWorks is an entertainment complex that’s become a one-of-a-kind destination. Not only can you do zip-lining here like what I did across the massive grain silos, you’ll also find within this entertainment complex a brewery, restaurant, rock climbing, roller derby, and even ice skating and curling here in the Winter months.
Albert-Knox Art Gallery
A major showcase for modern and contemporary art, the Albert-Knox Art Gallery is one of the oldest public arts institutions in the United States having first opened its doors to the public in 1905. The gallery’s collection includes several pieces spanning art throughout the centuries, with original art pieces displayed here from the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. Self-guided or group tours are also available. The building itself is also a wonder on its own, resembling the Erectheum on the Acropolis in Athens.
BFLO Harbor Kayak
Probably one of my most anticipated activities here was getting to kayak along Buffalo’s harbourfront. Located at Canalside on the wharf, you’ll be able to rent kayaks (single and tandem) or stand-up paddleboards at hourly rates. BFLO Harbor Kayaks also offers kayak tours down the Buffalo River, and if you’re having doubts of not knowing how to paddle board, you’re also in luck because they also offer lessons! Remember to wear some sun screen here because you’ll definitely get a sun tan here being under the blazing heat and sun.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex
One of America’s greatest architects was from right here in Buffalo by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright. He constructed and designed the “Martin House” between 1903 and 1905 which exemplifies his “Prairie House” ideal and ranks as one of his finest residential works. Book a tour here at the Martin House to see Frank Lloyd’s architectural genius illustrated in timeless themes evident in his remarkable design: family, friendship, the meaning of home, and the American spirit.
I want to send my thanks again to Visit Buffalo Niagara for their wonderful hospitality in opening my eyes on all the great things Buffalo has to offer beyond the typical shopping malls. This is just a small glimpse into the city, so if anybody else has other Buffalo favourites whether it’s a place to stay, eat, or explore I would love to know! I think now that hockey season is just around the corner again, it’s time to book myself some Leafs vs. Sabres tickets and catch a game in Buffalo at the Keybank Center. Just another great reason for me to go back and visit. See ya soon Buffalo!