Geneva (pop. 12,988) sits at the head of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes, and is linked to this sailboat-flecked jewel by a long green linear park. For a worthwhile detour off the busy four-lane highway, take a quick pass through the lively downtown along Main Street, perhaps wandering around the twin campuses of Hobart and William Smith Colleges to take in a more long-distance view of the lake. The waterfront is dominated by a solitary high-rise housing the Ramada Inn (41 Lakefront Dr., 315/789-0400, $110-265), but a much more interesting place to stay is a half mile south of town: the historic Belhurst Castle (4069 West Lake Rd., 315/781-0201, $150 and up), a 100-year-old, 11-room B&B and restaurant.
Seven miles east of Geneva, picturesque, flag-draped downtown Waterloo (pop. 5,019) has an all-American feel. It was the site of the nation’s first observance (in May 1866) of Memorial Day. A small museum (35 E. Main St., Apr.-Oct., 315/539-9611) evokes the somber postwar roots of what is now the start of summer. At the edge of town, the unprepossessing Mac’s Drive-In Curb Service Restaurant (1180 Waterloo-Geneva Rd., 315/539-3064) has been open every summer since 1961, dishing out creamy Richardson’s root beer floats, frosty 16-ounce mugs of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and burgers-in-a-basket at an awning-covered counter or right at your car window.