So what is it like to live in upstate New York? To answer this question, we turn to the words of those who know this region best – the people who have weathered its harsh winters, savoured its farm-to-table cuisine and embraced its quirky traditions with open hearts and minds.
Meet Mark and Kristen Morgan.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to this ongoing series of articles featuring interviews of locals from various cities across the United States. Our goal is to provide readers with unique insights about local living, drawn from personal experiences of individuals on the ground.
If you do have any questions or inquiries related to a particular city or state, we encourage you to send them over, which we will use to improve and refine our questionnaires for a more helpful output. Submit them via email at email@example.com
Before heading over to our insights from Mark and Kristen, here are the key takeaways:
Living in Upstate New York – Key Takeaways
- Upstate New York offers natural beauty, outdoor activities, and experiences in all four seasons, with autumn being particularly beautiful.
- In addition to having a strong community spirit, the region boasts great educational opportunities.
- The cost of living is on the pricier side with some of the highest tax rates in the country.
- While the quality of healthcare is excellent, access can be difficult in rural areas.
- Monthly rental costs tend to be more than $ 800 while housing is more affordable outside of major cities and tourist spots.
- Public transportation is limited, making car ownership essential, especially in rural areas.
- The job market is relatively stable, with major industries including manufacturing, healthcare, education, and life sciences.
- The food scene is not diverse but features certain must-try local dishes and wineries.
- There are numerous state parks, museums, and historical sites to explore.
- Prepare for long, cold winters and embrace the need for car ownership.
Here’s all you need to know about living in Upstate New York from a local’s perspective.
Pros of Living in Upstate New York
One of our favourite aspects of Upstate New York is its endless natural beauty, from rolling hills to dramatic gorges and from glacial lakes to picturesque waterfalls.
Living on the shores of New York’s Finger Lakes gives you endless amounts of outdoor activities to do year-round such as hiking, biking, boating, fishing, swimming and hunting in summer, as well as skating, skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling in winter.
All Four Seasons
When living in upstate New York, you can experience all four seasons. Our favourite time of year is autumn when the leaves turn vibrant reds, oranges and yellows.
During this time of year, the weather is perfect for hiking but you have to be careful because 70-degree days can quite easily be followed by 30-degree days!
Great Educational Opportunities
The Finger Lakes region is home to many well-known two-year public colleges and four-year universities throughout the cities of Rochester, Syracuse, Geneseo and Ithaca. This area of NY is popular for its college-town vibe.
Access to Niagara Falls and NYC
The location of the Finger Lakes is perfect because you have both Niagara Falls and New York City right on your doorstep. Head west to Niagara Falls if you want to see one of the largest waterfalls in the world or head east to visit New York City, one of the most famous cities in the world.
Strong Community Spirit
Growing up and living in upstate NY gives one a great sense of community through sports, family-orientated culture and community service.
As an example, many people in the NY Finger Lakes area support the Buffalo Bills and the Bills Mafia are one of the most dedicated fan base consistently supporting their team through raging snow storms. Go Bills!
Charming Small Towns
One of our favourite parts about the NY Finger Lakes is the charming towns scattered in between the 11 lakes. Visitors can enjoy quaint towns such as Canandaigua, Geneva, Ithaca, Skaneateles and Watkins Glen with numerous famous wine trails to explore.
Cons of Living in Upstate New York
But Upstate NY isn’t all fun and there are a few downsides:
One of the worst parts about living in New York is sky-high taxes. You will pay income, real estate and sales tax which are some of the highest rates in the nation.
This can certainly be a concern for those looking to move to NY. However, it is important to note Social Security benefits are not taxed by New York State.
Long Cold Winters
If you aren’t used to the snow and relentless chill, Upstate New York may be a shock to your system. We will expand on this more later in the guide.
Must Own Car / Lack of Transport
Another negative to this area in upstate NY is the lack of public transport. You will need a car to get around and you can’t expect to use ride-share apps such as Uber or Lyft.
Rural and Lack of Cosmopolitan Lifestyle
Because many of the areas surrounding the New York Finger Lakes are rural, this translates to a lack of diversity, contact with other people and a quiet socializing scene.
Seasons in Upstate New York and how they affect daily life?
Upstate New York is widely known for having the full four seasons and this is one of the best reasons to visit or live in this state.
Due to lake effect snow from Lake Erie, cities such as Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse are always on the list of snowiest US cities. Fortunately, these cities are used to snow and things rarely shut down due to snowfall but you will definitely have to learn how to drive in the snow.
If you can get through a New York winter, you can get through any winter. But the snow is not all bad because many people enjoy downhill skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling throughout the state.
The spring months are a great time to visit upstate New York because this is when popular waterfalls in the area will be at their most powerful. This time of year also brings a positive vibe because everyone is excited to be out of the winter season.
Check out spring festivals such as the CNY Maple Festival in April or Rochester’s Lilac festival in May.
The warm summer months are most popular for visitors to the NY Finger Lakes as thousands flock to the 11 stunning glacial lakes. One of our favourite activities in summer is sampling wine along the Seneca Lake or Cayuga Lake wine trail.
Fall is without a doubt the best season of the year in Upstate New York. Radiant reds, oranges and yellows light up endless rolling hills and surround the Finger Lakes, creating an extraordinarily photogenic region of the northeast US.
This is the time to visit local farms for apple picking, pumpkin carving, corn mazes and sipping delicious apple cider.
Cost of Living in Upstate New York
New York State is often at the top of the list for the highest taxes in the United States. New York City has by far the highest cost of living in the state, but the built-up cities of Rochester and Buffalo also have a higher cost of living compared to rural towns and villages.
Loaf of bread: $3.00
A gallon of milk: $2.75
Dozen eggs: $2.50
5 pounds of potatoes: $4.50
A pound of tomatoes: $2.00
Head of lettuce: $1.70
Chicken fillets: $3.00
Utility bills: $150 / month
Gasoline: $3.30 / gallon
Cable + internet: $150 / month (depends on cable package)
These utility prices will vary greatly depending on rural or urban areas. Many of the rural areas in Upstate NY still have well water instead of public water.
Additionally, many houses in Upstate NY have wood-burning stoves which lower heating bills during harsh winters.
Upstate New York covers a lot of different areas so depending on where you are looking for property, you can find great deals if you purchase in rural areas.
Our Opinion about Healthcare in Upstate New York
Overall healthcare is considered to be excellent in the state of NY with quality hospitals and clinics throughout the region. Rochester is the closest major city to Livingston county in Upstate.
Rochester General Hospital has recently been ranked as #13 in western NY and #1 in Rochester by US World News. However, when living in rural sections of the state, obtaining quality healthcare can be difficult.
Telehealth appointments have increased over the past few years, especially with the pandemic, but in order to have good care, you may have to drive a long distance to one of the nearest cities.
About Housing in Upstate New York
The good thing about buying a house in Upstate New York outside of major cities and tourist spots like the Finger Lakes is being able to own lots of land around a property at surprisingly low costs.
For example, Kristen’s first house in a rural area of western NY had 10 acres and a large barn at a very affordable price point.
On the other hand, there are several extremely affluent parts of Upstate New York in which you would not be able to find affordable housing. The residential median cost of housing in Livingston County NY was $160,000 in 2021.
Monthly rental costs tend to hover around $830, but like everywhere else, these rental prices are expected to increase in the coming years.
In 2021, Rochester was named as one of the most affordable cities to live in and buy a home by Forbes which makes this area of upstate NY very attractive.
Our Thoughts about Transportation in Upstate New York
Transportation in Upstate New York includes a train service running between the larger cities, several international airports and direct bus services to New York City.
However, when it comes to everyday life, residents in rural areas of Upstate NY must own a private vehicle.
For Mark, this one was one of the hardest parts about moving to upstate NY from a medium-sized city in England and never needing to use a car.
Driving is a must when you visit Upstate New York and there is no other way around it.
The Job market in Upstate New York
In Dec 2022, Livingston county had a 2.9% unemployment rate which is slightly lower than the national average of 3.3%. The major industries in this area of upstate NY include manufacturing, healthcare, education and life sciences.
Largest employers in the Rochester area include Wegmans, Kodak, Rochester Regional Health, Paychex and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Wegmans is often listed as one of the best companies to work for in the entire nation.
Unless working remotely, many individuals living in the Finger Lakes area commute long distances to work in Rochester or Syracuse and sometimes even Albany or Buffalo.
When Kristen owned her house in western NY, she commuted an average of 45 minutes one way with much longer commutes in the winter.
Food Scene in Upstate New York – Must try Dishes!
You won’t find a diverse food scene in this region of Upstate New York, but you can certainly find must-try dishes.
- Chicken Wings – Stop by the Anchor bar in Buffalo to see the home of the original style buffalo chicken wing.
- Dinosaur Bar-B-Que – With locations all around New York State, this is one of the best BBQ joints you will ever visit. This has become one of Mark’s favourite restaurants since moving to the US.
- Garbage Plate – Nothing beats a legendary garbage plate from Nick Tahou Hots in Rochester.
- Wineries – Check out the famous wine trails along any of the 11 Finger Lakes.
- Wegmans – An experience all on its own, this is one of the best grocery stores in New York and you can find delicious meals to go to any time of the day (try their sub shop).
- Craft breweries – In addition to wineries, upstate NY is also becoming an extremely popular place for craft breweries with growlers to go.
Best Things To Do in Upstate New York
There is an endless amount of things to do in the Finger Lakes region of New York, but our best advice would be to start with the stunning New York State Parks:
- Niagara Falls
- Watkins Glen
- Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls and Robert H. Treman near Ithaca
- Chimney Bluffs
You should also visit one of the well-known museums such as the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester or the Corning Glass Museum.
Notable Cultural or Historical aspects of Upstate New York Newcomers should be aware of
The NY Finger Lakes region has been home to many innovative and influential people throughout time, as well as the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Here are a few notable places to visit:
- Women’s Rights National Historical Park – Located in Seneca Falls, this is the place of the Seneca Falls Women’s Movement in 1848.
- Harriet Tubman House – In the village of Fleming just outside of Auburn, Harriet Tubman used this house as a haven for her family.
- George Eastman House – Opened in 1949, this is the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography as well as film archives.
Common Misconceptions about Upstate New York
Many people comment about the terrible winters in upstate New York.
But the reality is that winters can be used to your advantage, especially if you spend your days snuggled up next to a roaring fire. The winter can be magical with the right mindset.
Advice for anyone thinking about moving to Upstate New York
Prepare for long and cold winters. Stock up, have the right equipment in place in case you need to clear your drive and maybe invest in a hot tub to sink into each night!
Get ready to drive. Living in Upstate NY means you will spend a lot of time in your car driving to the grocery store, restaurants and nearby attractions.