Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Chautauqua Lake, New York [Updated 2023] (2024)

Chautauqua Lake is a hidden gem just south of Lake Erie in Western New York. The name comes from the Native American Erie tribe, and it’s believed to mean “Bag tied in the middle.” Around 17 miles long, and just a few miles across with rolling hills, it’s a beautiful place to get away from it all.

My family has been visiting this lake for 4 generations now and it feels like a second home to me. You’ll find water activities, quaint cottages, shopping, restaurants, and more around this lake.

How do you say it?!

If you are not familiar with this area, you might be wondering – “How the heck do you pronounce that name?”

Here’s the pronunciation: shuh·taa·kwuh 😉

How to get to Chautauqua Lake

The wonderful yet hard part about getting to this lake is that it’s off the beaten path. South of Buffalo by over an hour, west of Cleveland by 3 hours, and north of Pittsburgh also by 3 hours, this gem is definitely “hidden.”

Driving: If you live in Northeast Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, or Western NY you can get to this lake in 3 hours or less.

Flying: Your best option is to fly into the Buffalo airport. You’ll definitely need a rental car, as Chautauqua is about an hour and a half away. Recently we took the drive down the scenic route on Highway 5 instead of the major highway. It was fun to see all of the small towns along the way. Pro tip: You’ll also save yourself the toll fare on this route.

Don’t forget to click to subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights (now Going) or Dollar Flight Club to find cheap airfare! They send cheap flights right to your inbox for you to book.

Chautauqua, NY Area Map

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Trip map courtesy of Wanderlog, a trip planner app on iOS and Android

When to Visit Western New York

Chautauqua Lake is the most beautiful in the Summer. If you want to truly enjoy water activities, July and August are ideal. May and June can still be somewhat chilly although you’ll find thinner crowds.

Outside the months of May to September many attractions and restaurants close as the summer visitors disburse. If you love to snowmobile, cross-country ski, or ice fish, you could consider visiting in the winter but you’ll want to travel with a snow shovel. 🙂

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Where to Stay

There are a variety of options for where to stay on Chautauqua Lake. I’ll give some great recommendations based on three categories below.

Historic Hotels

The Hotel LenhartBemus Point[Currently under renovations by new owners – it will retain it’s charm with more modern amenities!] Owned and operated by the same family since 1880, this hotel is one of the few that did not burn down in the area. Spend time on the front porch in rocking chairs with a drink and a view of the lake. This hotel is old, if you prefer lots of modern amenities it may not be for you. The hotel was originally built before plumbing, so some of the rooms have a bathroom outside of the room itself. It all comes with the charm.

Hotel AthenaeumInstitute – Located inside the Chautauqua Institute, this is a beautiful historic hotel with access to all the Institute has to offer. Continental breakfast is included. See things to do below for more info on this area.

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Modern Hotels

WebbsMayville – This long-time hotel features an on-site restaurant, indoor pool, and a few shops onsite. The decor is a little dated, but that kind of comes with the territory in this area. Right across from the Chautauqua Marina where they offer boat rentals.

Chautauqua Harbor HotelCeleron – This newly built hotel offers a restaurant, bar, and swimming pool. This was previously the site of a well known amusem*nt park built in 1894 that eventually shuttered in the late 1960s.

Cottage Rentals

Airbnb – There are a bunch of rentals available on Airbnb to fit your needs. I personally enjoy the middle to north end of the lake more, anywhere from Bemus Point to Mayville are good places to look.

Chautauqua Visitors Site – You can also check out this site for cottage rentals around the lake as an option.

Chautauqua Lake Things To Do

You’ll find a good bit to do around the lake and surrounding areas. The main culture of visiting this area is getting together with family outdoors to spend time together. Whether that’s playing games, grilling, or going out on the water.

You could do all of the Chautauqua Lake things to do below, or you could just relax outside with a cold beverage and your family and friends.

Water Activities

Visiting the lake is not complete without some type of water activity! Whether it’s a ski boat, pontoon boat, fishing boat, or jet ski, you’ll find all of them available to rent on the lake.Check out Chautauqua Marina in Mayville as a great place to rent from.

You can also take a ride on the historic Chautauqua Belle. Book a history or co*cktail cruise on this real life steamboat.

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Cute antique shops, gift shops, and even cheese shops are waiting for you around the lake. A few of my favorites are listed here.

Bemus Point Gift Shops – This area is the epicenter of cute shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and more. Walk up and down Main Street and you’ll have multiple options including clothing, gifts, toys, and more. Skillman’s is the oldest shop on the block.

Cheese Shops: Local cheese shops are a must-stop. My family has been visiting Cadwell’s Cheese House for years, make sure to get the sharp cheddar or cheese curds. New to the scene is Reverie Cheese Shop, which features special imported cheese as well as a few local made options. I tried the Tomme infused with Johnson Estate Port wine.

Antique/Flea Market – Dart Airport in Mayville has a warehouse antique market where all kinds of neat things can be found.

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Chautauqua Institution

Started in 1874 as an experiment in education for “vacation” school, this 750 acre area is now a private community for homes, shops, culture, art, lectures, and more. There are often concerts here in the summer that the public can attend. General entry to the area requires a gate pass, unless you visit on Sundays when it is free.

It’s fun to wander through the community looking at beautiful homes, stopping in a few shops, and to grab a bite to eat at one of the cafes.

There is a lot more going on here than I mentioned above, so do go check out their website for more information.

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Parks & Museums

You’ll find the parks and museums around the lake quaint and easy to visit. These are more like historic remnants for the area versus your big city type attractions. This list below is not exhaustive, but three of my favorite places to visit.

Midway State Park: A small amusem*nt park that’s been open since 1898, this is a must visit if you have kids (or love acting like a kid). The park offers small rides like a tilt-a-whirl, carousel, airplanes, big slides, bumper cars, and go carts. Most of the rides are for kids ages 8 and lower. There is also an on-site arcade with skeeball and other games where you can earn tickets for prizes.

Details: 4859 NY-430, Bemus Point, NY 14712. Open Thursday – Sunday 12-5 pm (summer hours).

The Lawson Center – A historic marina turned boat museum, this is an interesting stop. Featuring boats and motors of all eras it’s fun to wander and experience all the history. My Grandfather donated a few items to the museum and used to dock his boat at the former marina, so my family loves this small museum.

Details: 73 Lakeside Dr, Bemus Point, NY 14712. Open Wednesday & Sunday 1-5 pm, and Saturday 10-5

Panama Rocks Scenic Park – If hiking is more up your alley, check out Panama rocks. Here you can not only hike, but also traverse old crevices of rock formations cause by the ice age. This one mile loop features 16 marked spots along that trail that resemble something or have a story. Tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty are a must here.

Details: 11 Rock Hill Rd, Panama, NY 14767. Open daily 10-5.

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If you love beer, you can find some pretty great craft beers to taste around this area. My family especially enjoys three locations. Please keep in mind hours may differ in the off-season.

Big Inlet – New to the area as of 2019, this rustic brewery has a large number of beers on tap to try. Located inside a rustic barn with a large outdoor seating area, I like the laid-back vibe of Big Inlet.

Details: 6169 Elm Flat Rd, Mayville, NY 14757, Open Thursday – Sunday with varied hours.

Southern Tier – You may have tried Southern Tier before as they have pretty decent distribution. You’ll find food and beer at this location that is more like a restaurant and beer garden. A fun spot that often has entertainment.

Details: 2072 Stoneman Cir, Lakewood, NY 14750. Open daily with varied hours.

Ellicotville Brewing – The second location for this brewery is located in Bemus Point. This is a full restaurant where you can try their beer. They also have a full bar with wine and co*cktails. A little on the pricey side, but the food and drinks are good. At night this has a bar-like atmosphere.

Details: 57 Lakeside Dr, Bemus Point, NY 14712. Daily with varied hours.

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Where to Eat at Chautauqua Lake

This area is not exactly known as a culinary destination, but you can find some good options if you want to dine out around the lake. Here are some of our favorites.

Lake Life Cafe – For breakfast or lunch with a coffee, this is a great option. The menu includes breakfast sandwiches, salad, soups, wraps, and pastries. I had the iced coffee and a delicious Greek salad.

Details: 22 Main St, Bemus Point, NY 14712. Open 7 am – 4:30 pm daily.

The Village Casino – What used to be a bath house, is now a restaurant right on the water in Bemus Point. You can dock your boat right out front, and have food delivered to you, as well as dine in or on the front deck. Food offerings are American fare with wings, sandwiches, burgers and the like.

Details: 1 Lakeside Dr, Bemus Point, NY 14712. Open daily 12 – 8 pm.

Andriaccio’s – For Italian or pizza around the lake, this is a great option. We have been visiting here or ordering pizza to go for years.

Details: 4837 W Lake Rd, Mayville, NY 14757

Watermark Restaurant – Finer dining around the lake can be found here. They offer seafood, steak, salads, and pasta.

Details: 188 S Erie St, Mayville, NY 14757. Open Wednesday – Sunday 4:30 – 8:30 pm.

Roadside Produce Stands – You will find some of the freshest produce at roadside farm stands in the area. I’ve purchased items including corn, cherries, eggs, tomatoes and more. Remember your cash as many of them are on the honor system.

NEW – Splash Bemus Point – Where a antique/gift shop once stood (and before that a gas station) is now a wine bar with tapas. We stopped in just for a flight of wine and enjoyed the selection, which was from all over the world.

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Day Trips from Chautauqua Lake

There are a number of quaint small towns around the Chautauqua area that are worth visiting. Buffalo and Niagara Falls are also possible Chautauqua Lake day trips!

I’ve included places that I have personally visited, or want to visit in the future.

  • Westfield, NY – Located along Lake Erie, about 10 miles north of the top of the lake is Westfield, NY. This area is known for grape growing including grape juice and wine.
  • Ellicotville, NY – About an hour east, this small town has a summer adventure park which transitions to a ski slope in the winter time.
  • Niagara Falls – About two hours drive north, this natural wonder is a must-see. You can view the falls from the American or Canadian sides.
  • Buffalo, NY – Also north of the lake it’s about an hour and a half away. Try “buffalo” wings, wander amongst the giant art deco buildings downtown, or head to the canalside for a boat tour.

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Final Chautauqua Lake Pro Tips

To make your trip even easier, here are a few tips you’ll need when you travel to the lake.

Lake conditions: Some parts of the lake are sandy, and some parts are rocky. I recommend bringing water shoes for when you are swimming. Zebra mussels have been an issue, and can cut your feet if you’re not careful.

Credit card or cash: This area used to have a lot of vendors who only accepted cash, but some of this has changed in recent years. Most places will take a credit card. I do recommend keeping some cash on hand especially for the antique market, and for roadside fruit and vegetable stands.

Amish: There is a large population of Amish in the area. Do not be surprised if you see a horse and buggy riding down the road next to you. They often work in the community doing carpentry projects, helping residents put out docks, and more. You can sometimes find pie and produce stands out in front of their farms as well.

Chain Stores and Restaurants: If you are looking for chain stores and restaurants, the only place you will find them are in the Lakewood and Jamestown area at the south end of the lake. You will find a grocery store in Mayville, and Dollar General here and there.

Are you planning a trip to Chautauqua Lake? Ask me questions about the area in the comments!

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Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Chautauqua Lake, New York [Updated 2023] (2024)


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