Ithaca, NY — Eight long years ago, I was just like you: a bright eyed, bushy tailed freshman waving goodbye to my parents at the end of move-in weekend. There was a whole campus to explore, people to meet, classes to take! Little did I know, outside of the campus bubble, there was a quirky little town that I would slowly get to know and fall in love with.

Consider this your guide to surviving and making the most of life outside of class.

Taughannock Falls (Brad Marzolf Photography, via visitithaca.com)

1. You now live on a beautiful lake surrounded by waterfalls, hills, and forests
It’s ridiculous how much nature we have here. Rent a kayak or SUP board on the lake. Jump off a diving board in front of a waterfall at Treman.

Apart from the beautiful state parks surrounding Ithaca, you can even find amazing hikes in town. If you need to go between Collegetown and downtown, take the scenic route on the Cascadilla Gorge trail, which is basically a quick trip through Narnia.

If you’re at IC, go for a jog down the South Hill Recreation Way. If you’re at Cornell, take a walk around the Cornell Plantations.

It’s going to get cold before you know it, so don’t wait to go out and enjoy the nature.

Ho Plaza (Zac Peterson)

2. Ithaca is cold

If you’re like me, you did a campus visit on a beautiful day and tricked yourself into believing every day would be sunshine and puffy clouds. This is incorrect.

Winter is coming.

Soon the skies will turn gray, it will snow, it will dip far below freezing, and your nose will be at risk of frostbite as you trudge between classes.

The best lesson I’ve ever heard about the cold comes from a Norwegian saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Get yourself a scarf, thermal underwear, waterproof gloves, and a heavy coat. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, so remember to take care of yourself, get hot cocoa with friends, and don’t hesitate to contact IC, CU, or local mental health services when you need them.

3. You’ll see Gewurztraminer and Riesling everywhere
We’re in the middle of the Finger Lakes Wine Country. Tour some of the many wineries and bring home a bottle for Mom and Dad. Or bring home a bag of Redcat if Mom and Dad like to rage.

4. You’ll be fine without a car

TCAT is your friend. There are multiple stops on both campuses and they come by pretty frequently. With discounted fares for IC students, and free rides for CU students, the buses make it easy for you to pop around town.

Also, this place is tiny! You can walk from Ithaca College to the commons in 30 minutes, and up to Cornell in 15. Ithaca College pro tip: take Hudson Street if you’re walking between campus and downtown. Sidewalks are sketchy/non-existent on Danby Road.

As for you cyclists out there, enjoy the ripped calf muscles you’ll develop from all the hills here! Or, if you want your bike to do all the work for you, grab an electric bike at Boxy Bikes.

5. People start wearing shorts once it hits 45 degrees in Spring

The shorts come out in Spring as a sort of “sunshine dance.” We want so badly for the temperature to rise, we’re willing to defiantly dress like it’s summer until it does.

Chef Brit, Atlas Bowl (via Atlas Bowl’s Facebook)

6. There’s a crazy diversity of food

It is NOT normal for a tiny town in the middle of nowhere to have this many options. Allow me to list a few styles of cuisine that you can find here – Ethiopian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Creole/Cajun, Turkish, Szechuan, Kosher deli, Thai, Italian, Tapas… If you somehow leave Ithaca having only eaten dining hall food and pizza delivery, I will be very sad.

One benefit of being in the middle of farm country is that fresh local food is available everywhere, with many restaurants getting ingredients directly from local farmers. Hit up the Farmer’s Market for the sights, sounds and smells of food grown right here in Central New York.

Although the most iconic dish from upstate NY is arguably the Buffalo wing, don’t miss some of the lesser known regional cuisine. Take a day trip to Binghamton for a spiedie or Rochester for a garbage plate. If you end up at someone’s backyard BBQ around here, you might spy some Syracuse salt potatoes or Utica greens.

Shameless plug: if you want to check out pictures and video of delicious food that you can actually go around the corner and eat, check out our Ithaca Voice Dining section. We use Snapchat and Insta like all the cool kids.

Ithaca Festival (Ed Dittenhoefer)

7. Ithaca’s into community events. Really into them

Throughout the year, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance puts on events that bring everyone, young and old, together on the Commons. You’ll run into professors, fellow students, and weird townies like me at festivals celebrating apples, ice, chili, and more.

K-House (Mike Blaney)

8. There’s a Korean style karaoke house here

What is a Korean style karaoke house, you might ask? Imagine a world where, instead of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers, you can rock out in a private karaoke room with just your friends. Food and beverages are delivered to you. There are crazy lights, beanbag chairs, and tambourines. This is real life, and it’s called K-House. For the less bashful, there’s also a main lobby where anyone can sing.

9. If you’re tired of endlessly browsing Netflix, you can duck into a local cinema

Check out classics and more at Cornell Cinema, or catch an indie flick at Cinemapolis.

The Commons (downtownithaca.com)

10. The commons is where all of the local characters congregate

You will be offered a magic show by a man in a top hat. His name is Will.

The Bedhead Sessions Presents: Izzy True (Benjamin Torrey)

11. Live Music

Want to see major names? Check out the schedule at Ithaca’s beautiful historic State Theatre. Looking to discover local underground talent? Follow Ithaca Underground.

Shameless plug #2: In an ongoing effort to highlight Ithaca’s thriving alternative music scene, we wake up local Ithaca musicians at their homes (or touring artists on the couches they’re crashing on) and have them play their music for us. Follow our new video series, The Bedhead Sessions.

12. Ithaca is smart

For a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, it seems strange that Ithaca so often finds its way onto those “Smartest cities in America” articles. However, I believe it’s our isolation that makes this community so unique. Unlike a larger metro, Ithaca crams all of its incredibly motivated, smart and talented students, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and academics into just 10 square miles. You’ll meet world-renowned physicists in the line for a taco truck. Your barista might be an opera singer. Maybe you’ll overhear the next tech billionaires exchanging ideas as they write their business plan on a bar napkin.

No amount of Christmas lights, Bob Marley posters, or psychedelic tapestries will change the fact that your dorm room is basically a glorified utility closet. Luckily, there are plenty of good excuses to ditch the dorm, come down the hill, and explore our town.

Mike Blaney

Mike Blaney is the executive director and co-founder of The Ithaca Voice.