If you’re planning a visit to the Finger Lakes region of New York, I really have to implore you to make time for the most charming town of them all – the village of Owego!
As I began to update this post, which I first wrote back in 2019, I realized I’ve been back to Owego not once or twice but four more times. Back when I first came, it was part of a day tour for a conference my friend, Sher, and I were attending. We had an afternoon to explore the town and a special event to learn more about the then under construction Belva Lockwood Inn.
I would stop in later that winter on my way back from an icy weekend in Niagara Falls, twice more during a fall campaign with Finger Lakes Wine Country, and most recently joining my other friend, Alyshia, on her summer campaign.
Because it’s a good gateway town for anyone driving from Pennsylvania, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back countless more times. It’s just such a pretty place and every time I go, I feel like I have the comfort of visiting old favorites while seeing what’s new. The best way I can describe it is something out of an Emily Henry novel, and I feel like the reasons I keep wanting to come back here are very similar to why I loved living in Namwon, South Korea for two years. In fact, mark my words, I’ll set a cute romance novel here some day!
Anyway, now that I’ve waxed on about how lovely I find Owego, let’s get into the guide! Just read below and you’ll have every single thing you could possibly want to know about visiting.
An Overview of the Village of Owego
Where is it?
So there’s the town of Owego and the village of Owego. The village is within the town. Both are located in Tioga County, and are very close to the NY-PA border. If you’re coming from New York City, it’ll be about a 4-5 hour drive depending on the weather and traffic, and it’s 3 hours straight from Philly. I see it as a southern gateway town to the Finger Lakes.
Note that while it’s not actually super close to any of the famous long limbed lakes, it is right on the Susquehanna River.
What does Owego mean?
Owego comes from Ahwaga which means “valley widens” in Iroquois.
A Brief History of Owego
As you might guess from its name origins, the Onondaga and Cayuga indigenous tribes once called this area home. They were part of the Iroquois League with the Mohwak, Oneida, and Seneca tribes.
The village as we know it today was established in the 1780s and its most notable boom happened when IBM came in the 1950s, though it suffered a decline after they left.
These days it’s become more of a tourist spot as visitors from south of New York pass through on their way to western New York. A lot of people have come in to revive the town, and I feel like it’s truly one of the best small town success stories out there.
Tips to Plan Your Trip to Owego
Below is everything you’ll need to know to plan your trip from when to go to where to get the most unique souvenirs. Don’t be surprised if you run into me wandering around and working out where my novel’s main characters are going to meet up :p.
The Best Time to Visit Owego
Well, now that I’ve been in peak winter, mid-summer, late summer, and peak foliage season in autumn, I think I have an idea or two of when you’ll want to visit!
Personally, I’d chose anywhere from mid-August to mid-October. It can get busy during the summer but by late August most families are back in school and the weather starts cooling off. October is just stunning with the leaves changing and most things should still be open. While winter has its charms, especially around Christmas, it’s definitely pretty cold and miserable in January and February.
I’d also take note of any cool events coming up through Experience Tioga’s Events Calendar. There are two big events that happen each year – the Strawberry Festival and Tioga County Fair. The Strawberry Festival happens mid-June while the fair happens mid-August. However, there’s always something cool going on!
Where to Stay in Owego
1867 Parkview Inn
Parkview Inn is a super charming historic inn that sits downtown and right across the road from Draper Park and the Susquehanna River. If you turn left after crossing the bridge over, it’s pretty much right there.
As the name suggest, this hotel has a long history in town! It’s the first hotel in the village and was started by the Cameron brothers who hired a man named Hugh Dugan to manage. Through its history, it’s been called the Exchange Hotel, Dugan House, Page Hotel, and Park Hotel until it was finally called The Parkview by its second to last owners.
Later, Beth and Mark Johnson poured their hearts and souls into renovating the hotel after Tropical Storm Lee flooded the first floor in 2011. They still run it today and have a lovely personal touch to running things.
One very unique thing about this hotel, and one I’m glad we didn’t know about until we left, is that it’s haunted. It’s literally on New York State’s Haunted History Trail, so don’t be surprised if you experience something supernatural.
Belva Lockwood Inn
Every time I return, I’m more and more excited by how far Belva Lockwood Inn has come. Back during my first visit in 2018, we stopped here to meet the first owners, Ike and Julie Lovelass, who were passionate about not only renovating the property but making sure it paid homage to its namesake. Seriously, we watched Julie tear up talking about Belva Lockwood, aka the first woman EVER to run for president.
Back in 1863, Lockwood bought this home to run as the Owego Female Seminary. Just 17 years later she’d be the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court and 4 years after that she’d run for president as part of the National Equal Rights Party. She’d run again in 1888 but, as we all know, her campaign was unsuccessful.
I had a chance to stay when they were newly opened just six months later and see all the incredible ways they’d made the inn feel both historic and modern with the coziest touches and an extremely generous snack and beverage section in the main hall. Back then they had such a nice, hands-on way of running the hotel including a picnic basket breakfast delivered right to your door.
When Alyshia and I stayed recently with the inn’s new owners, Brie & Matt Woods, I was excited to see they kept all the wonderfully personal touches and even expanded upon what I experienced on my last trip. The outdoor porch is perfect for a relaxing while the rooms are as charmingly historic as they were before. Brie and Matt even keep up the tradition of picnic basket breakfasts delivered right to your door.
Truly, this is such a special little inn, and I love seeing it become such an integral part of town. During our stay, two different clubs in town had dinners here, so the bottom floor was bustling as we ourselves went out to explore.
Plus I LOVE that there’s now a portrait of Belva right next to the entrance!
Getting to and around Owego
Chances are you’re driving into Owego. If you stay at Parkview Inn, they have a pretty healthy parking lot next to the hotel while Belva Lockwood Inn has a driveway wide enough for two cars across and long enough for maybe 3-4 cars. They recommend parking close to the house to leave room for anyone leaving.
Otherwise, there’s a ton of street parking as well as free 3 hour parking lots to leave your car. You can pretty much walk everywhere in town, and you’ll only need to drive for 5 or so minutes to get to a few spots on this list.
Where to Eat & Drink in Owego
Like any healthy gateway town, Owego is flush with great places to eat and grab a drink! The best is that most of these are literally right downtown and will take you all over 5 minutes to get to no matter where you stay.
Carol’s Coffee & Art Bar
Alyshia and I are both big fans of Carol’s Coffee & Art Bar. It’s right on the corner of Front Street and as soon as you enter, you’re in the warmest, coziest cafe. The eponymous Carol’s art as well as other local artists’ work are hanging all over the place (even the bathroom!) and if you’re lucky, you’ll get some gentle live music.
The real highlight that keeps me coming back, though, is the menu. I don’t know what they put in their coffee but it’s always good and generous. I highly recommend treating yourself to one of their special coffees – I’m partial to their samoa latte. The food is also delicious, and I’ve especially always loved getting whatever soup they have that day.
Cellar Restaurant & Bar
Cellar Restaurant hosted my conference day tour back in 2018, and I remember everything being lovely. It’s owned by husband and wife team, Bob and Sandy Layman, who purchased the restaurant back in 2003. I don’t remember meeting Bob on our trip, but Sandy handled the food and the party and was lovely. Also, it’s right on the Susquehanna River, so you can dine with some seriously pretty views.
Lucky Hare Brewing
Formerly Farmhouse Brewery, Lucky Hare Brewing is the perfect place to grab some beers in wine country. Its owners actually come from Philly, and they opened their first taproom location along Seneca Lake. The Owego one is fairly new!
They offer a few different dishes and appetizers along with their beer and nonalcoholic drinks, so we came for a bit of a pre-dinner hang. Definitely get their soft pretzel. The dips were so, so good.
MJ’s Bar and Restaurant
Sher and I stopped into MJ’s Bar and Restaurant on our way from NYC to Corning and then Alyshia and I have come on both our trips. It’s not in the village of Owego like other restaurants, but it’s still in the town. It’s owned by a local who went away to San Francisco and brought back what she learned! I’m a particular fan of those kimchi fries pictured above.
Ike recommended dinner at Owego Original’s when I stopped into Owego coming back from Niagara. I remember being unprepared for how much food I’d get! Then I’d ordered the lasagna without realizing I’d get a whole thing of bread, salad, and dessert. Definitely go on an empty stomach because they still have the same portions today.
Spellbound Books was another new discovery on my last trip to Owego. It’s delightfully inspired by fairy tales and folktales, and is both a cafe and bookstore. Owned by sibling duo Jenn and Joe, it’s just a fun, whimsical place that feels perfect for coming to meet friends, read, or even get a little work done. You’re definitely going to want to treat yourself to a flavored latte – they make all their syrups in house.
Shopping in Owego
Black Cat Gallery
I mean as soon as I saw the name and the quirky black cat bench, I had to at least stop in into Black Cat Gallery. Unfortunately, there is no black cat roaming about the shop, but it is full of local artisan products and creations. If you’re looking for souvenirs, this is the perfect spot for something really unique. They even have little artist bios hanging around, so there’s a personal touch to everything you buy.
Hygge Home Life
Hygge Home Life is a fun little shop that’s dedicated to the art of cozy. It was founded by husband and wife duo, Mandy and Lou, who wanted to find a way to share their love of hygge with the Owego community. If you’re looking to up the coziness of your home for winter, this is the place to come!
Early Owego Antique Center
If you love antiques, you’re going to love Early Owego Antique Center. Formerly JJ Newberry’s Department Store, you can still see the original signage outside. Unfortunately the department store was destroyed in the 2011 flooding but Jim and Cornelia Mead restored it to become a thriving antique mall. Seriously, I’ve spent hours just looking through all the quirky treasures. There’s over a hundred antique dealers spread over two giant floors!
Riverow Bookshop is another place I could stay in for hours and has been a mainstay in town since 1976. In fact, when I had to pop into Owego to get my slippers on my way back to Pennsylvania, I decided to spend as long as I wanted scouring every single shelf!
The whole place is three floors. Most of it is secondhand and the entire basement is a huge, only partially organized bargain section. There’s a small section for new books and if there’s a specific book you want, you can just ask whoever’s at the front desk to order for you.
We were lured into Scrappy’s Workshop with a sign promising $1 cold brew and discovered a brand new eco-friendly addition to Owego! The shop features wood products made by one of the co-founders as well as a slew of sustainable and zero waste products. I picked up some beer soap myself. As for the cold brew – you’ll want to bring a reusable cup to take advantage of the deal.
Getting Outdoors in Owego
While winter might be a little too icy to really go outside, summer and autumn are such gorgeous times to get out and about. Here are some of the ways I’ve taken advantage.
Stroll along the Susquehanna
Along Front Street and the river is a really nice walking path that eventually will lead you towards the more residential area. It’s just a nice spot to stretch your legs and a good park area to bring a pet. Of course, my favorite time to go is when all the leaves along the river are in peak foliage.
Run out towards Marvin Park
On this most recent visit, I had to make sure I got at least a 5k run in. To do this I left Belva Lockwood Inn and headed towards Marvin Park which is where the Tioga County Fair is held. If you run down and run around the park and back, you’ll roughly get a good 3 miles in. The run is really pretty because you’ll pass by all these colorful Victorian-style homes and then downtown before getting back.
Kayak around Hiawatha Island
While you can’t swim in the river, you can kayak. Kathy runs both an a camper rental and kayaking experience on her property, and we joined her for a leisurely two-hour kayaking excursion circling Hiawatha Island. The island once had a hotel on it but has since been allowed to grow naturally and wildly.
Kathy has plenty of lifejackets, old water shoes, and kayaks, so you don’t have to worry about bring any of your own. She was so fun to listen to while we were on the water, and we even managed to see two bald eagles hanging out. It occurred to me then that I’d never actually seen a bald eagle in person before!
Even More Things to Do in Owego
There are so many lovely things to do in Owego even after you’ve dined, shopped, and enjoyed nature. Here are some more below.
Wander around Downtown Owego
Like many cute towns in the Finger Lakes, Owego has a really pretty downtown area that seems to get nicer every time I return. Think well preserved, historic storefronts and a cute town center reminiscent of Stars Hollow.
Enjoy all the different murals
While you’re wandering through downtown, keep an eye on a few of the murals. I love the Books one on Riverow’s exterior, and outside of the antique shop is a giant Owego sign. I also noticed they painted one section in rainbow colors, which makes for a fun visual. Not sure that’s considered a mural, but you’ll want to snap a pic regardless.
Checkout around all the Dollhouse Homes
Circling downtown, you’ll find some of the cutest homes ever. I liken them to dollhouses or gingerbread cottages, similar to the kind in Martha’s Vineyard or Grimsby Beach in Ontario, Canada. On my initial day tour, we had the chance to ride around in an antique car, though I don’t think that’s a tour you could book normally. Since then I’ve walked all around and imagine what living in one of those homes would be like!
If you’d like even more context, you can download this historic walking tour from Experience Tioga.
Catch a movie at Tioga Theatre
Of course, Owego has a fun movie theater. Each time I’ve been they’ve usually had whatever is new and popular, but you can see their movie listings here. If you’re in town for a relaxing getaway, then what better than a little movie night?
Learn More at the Tioga County Historical Society
If you want to learn a bit more about Owego’s history, head over to the Tioga County Historical Society. They change out their exhibits a few times a year, but when I first visited, it was about how war affected Owego and Tioga through the years.
See Owego from across the bridge
For one of the best views of town, head across the bridge and then stop in one of the little alcoves. You get the iconic view used most often when shots of Owego are shown anywhere (though many of them are done with drones). If I ever go with someone new, I like to show them this view.
Take in the views from Evergreen Cemetery
Another great place a commenter on here recommended years ago is the historic, rural Evergreen Cemetery. Situated up on a hill, circle around until you get to the Sa Sa Na Monument. It’s oldest monument in the US dedicated to an indigenous woman. It belongs to Sa Sa Na Loft who was killed in a freak train accident after performing in Owego with her brothers.
From her monument, you get a bird’s eye view of the village of Owego and can just take a moment to enjoy the surrounding nature.
Check out events from the Tioga Arts Council
When you visit, just check out the Tioga Arts Council’s website as well as the Experience Tioga events calendar I linked to above. This way you can see if they have any fun, upcoming events. On our last trip, we were in town for the last of their concerts in the park series and had a nice evening of live music.
Ultimately, the best thing about visiting Owego and the Finger Lakes is that you’re meant to come here and relax. Enjoy a sleepier pace and don’t try to rush through and do too many things. Truly, my favorite activity every time I come is to just get up earlier in the morning and wander around while everything is still quiet. Heck, if you stay at Parkview or Belva, they have giant, cozy porches that just beg guests to sit and chill!
Where to Go Near Owego
The nice thing about the Finger Lakes is that even if you go from one end to the other, you can get there in about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Here are some of my favorite places near Owego:
Iron Kettle Farm (~15 min)
If you come in October, you HAVE to stop by Iron Kettle Farm for their Halloween and autumn fun. There are a ton of different things to do but I had way too much fun with their famous characters pumpkin display. I’m still shocked by the sheer dedication to organize just that one section!
Watkins Glen (~1 hr)
About an hour away, you have to plan a walk through Watkins Glen. My friend likens it to Fern Gully, and it really does feel like it. Follow the short gorge trail through to get waterfalls and all sorts of incredible views.
Corning (~50 mins)
And, of course, less than an hour from Owego is the Finger Lakes’ main “city” – Corning! Corning is known for its history with glass production and has one of the coolest museums in America – the Corning Museum of Glass. There’s a ton to do in the city from museums to glass blowing to running a marathon and the restaurant scene is surprisingly quite big!
And there you have it. A little guide to the charming village of Owego! As you can see by my repeat visits, I really love this little town, and I already know I’ll stop by on my next visit to the Finger Lakes region. Have you guys been? What’d you think?
For more New York travel, read these next:
- Belleayre Skiing: What to Expect, Where to Stay, and More
- 19 Magical Things to Do in NYC at Christmas
- New York City Travel Guide
- Hammondsport: A Guide to America’s Coolest Small Town
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