Ithaca is Fun: Festivals and Events for All Seasons - Finger Lakes Family Fun (2024)

Ithaca, NY knows how to have fun throughout the year. Here's your guide to quintessential festivals and events.

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Ithaca is not only “gorges” – it also knows how to have fun.

I mean, if you can turn the humble rutabaga into an absurdist event and keep that going for well over a decade, you’re doing something right.

And not only in the warmer months. No, even in the winter, it just takes some hot soups and competition to heat things up.

From well known music festivals to celebrations of food, fairies, writing, art, community, and more, you’re sure to find something to suit your interests.

Let’s dive into the colorful world of Ithaca festivals and unique events that make this such a fun place to live!

Spring Festivals & Events

Dragon Day (March/April)

Website: aap.cornell.edu/academics/architecture/about/dragon-day

On the last day of classes before spring break, Cornell University’s campus transforms into a mythical battleground as a first-year architecture students in outrageous costumes parade across campus with a dragon they have designed and built from scratch. In the Arts Quad, the dragon battles with a phoenix constructed by rival engineering students. This is a favorite Cornell tradition, dating back more than 100 years. While the dragon burning on the Arts Quad is no longer part of the ceremony, the excitement and competition between architecture and engineering students remain as fierce as ever.

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Fairy Fest (March)

Get ready to embrace your inner fairy, elf, or woodland creature at Fairy Fest! This magical day is a newcomer to Ithaca’s Festival scene. With over 30 local businesses and organizations joining in the fun, you won’t be able to swing a wand without hitting something delightful to do.

Read on for my full report on Fairy Fest!

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ITHACON (April)

Website: ithacon.org

Get those cosplay outfits ready, because this is geek central for all things comic books, graphic novels, and pop culture. First put on by the Comic Book Club of Ithaca – the longest-running comic book club in the country (find more regional fun facts here) – ITHACON has been returning almost every year since 1976. Now it’s organized by the students of an Ithaca College business course and features over 100 artists and vendors, cosplay contests, and more.

Streets Alive (April & September)

Website: bikewalktompkins.org/streetsalive

Ditch your car and bust a move on the streets of Ithaca! For a few joyful hours, twice a year (last Sunday in April and third Sunday in September), a section of the city’s roads is transformed into a playground for walkers, runners, bikers, and dance enthusiasts alike. The event is organized by BikeWalk Tompkins and first started in 2012. Anyone can host an activity, so do your part to make the streets come alive!

Ithaca Canoe Fest (May)

Website: downtownithaca.com/event/ithaca-canoe-fest

One of the newest additions to the Ithaca events scene is a celebration of indigenous culture and wants to bring paddling sports to marginalized communities. Learn about the traditional ways that humans enjoy water recreation from Cornell Dyson School students, Haudenosaunee Canoe Journey, the Ithaca Dragon Boat Club, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, The History Center in Tompkins County, and other partners.

Spring Writes Literary Festival (May)

Website: artspartner.org/content/view/spring-writes

Spring Writes is the ultimate celebration of all things written. Over a couple of weeks in May, it features over 100 local and regional writers in some 40 literary themed events. From poetry to prose, from panels to performances, Spring Writes has it all, so grab your favorite pen and join the fun!

Ithaca Festival (early June)

Website: ithacafestival.org

Get your groove on at the Ithaca Festival, where local musicians, artists, and performers take to the streets for a weekend of fun and festivities. It all starts with the famed Ithaca Parade on Thursday and continues through the weekend with the Spring Craft Fair featuring nearly 100 local and regional vendors, over 70 performances from local and touring artists in four performance areas throughout the city, and plenty of food. Bring your dancing shoes, your sunscreen, and your sense of humor, and get ready to party with the most creative and colorful people in town!

Summer Festivals & Events

Ithaca PRIDE Week (June)

Website: downtownithaca.com/pride/

Ithaca celebrates its inclusivity and LGBTQIA+ community with activities for everyone to enjoy. Come to cheer the parade, dance, learn, watch a drag show, and simply have fun. Look for “Inclusive Space” decals on businesses conveying their commitment to welcoming LGBTQ+ people and families.

Juneteenth (mid June)

Website: sspride.org/juneteenth

Southside Community Center’s block party is the place to be when Ithaca celebrates Juneteenth — a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Set in the heart of Black Ithaca, the joyful event features great food, live music, activities for children, raffles, vendors, and representatives sharing information and resources from local community organizations.

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Ithaca Reggae Fest (late June)

Website: ithacareggaefest.com

Come have fun in the sun and chill for a good cause at Stewart Park. Ithaca Reggae Fest is dedicated not only to good music from local and regional bands but also to protecting Cayuga Lake. The “conscious celebration” includes opportunities to educate yourself about water and the lake; connect to your body with yoga, meditation, and stand up paddle board meditation; watch the annual Flat Attack US Pro/Am Championships of Flatland Freestyle Skateboarding; and see artists at work. There’s also lots to do for families and kids in the Youth Village.

Trumansburg Porchfest (mid/late June)

Website: tburgporchfest.com

On the second or third Saturday in June, head into Tburg for live music across the village’s various porches. Inspired in 2017 by Ithaca’s famous Porchfest (see below), the event takes place rain or shine from noon until 5 pm.

Togethernessfest (June)

Website: togethernessfest.net

An event put on by the Loyal Order Of Fools (LOOF – a member-based cooperative music and arts community) sounds like it should be fun! This family-friendly, annual-ish, Bluegrass-ish music fest takes place at Fools Hill Farm in Spencer. Choose from one to three days of music and games, including a weekend-long scavenger hunt. Camping is free but requires registration.

Summer concert series

The whole region boasts a lively summer concert scene. Keep an eye out for series running throughout the warm months in downtown Ithaca, Ellis Hollow, Lansing, and Trumansburg, to name just a few. (I’ll write a separate blog post about this soon.)

Make sure to also check out the Ithaca Night Bazaar, a monthly concert in the Ithaca Farmers Market space. (Note for 2023: Their website looks defunct. I haven’t heard yet whether the INB is still taking place.)

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July 4th Fireworks (July)

Sadly, Ithaca Rotary is no longer organizing the annual fireworks in Stewart Park. Here’s a list of nearby fireworks by 14850.com. You’ll find some options at the Inn at Taughannock Falls (7/4) as well as in Groton (6/30), Cortland (7/1), and Watkins Glen (7/2).

GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance (July)

Website: grassrootsfest.org

This well-known musical festival is, well, deeply rooted in the region. It began in 1991 as a fundraiser to support AIDS Work of Tompkins County. Today, the four-day event draws over 80 bands and 20,000 visitors to the Trumansburg Fairgrounds every July. Featuring a variety of music styles, including Cajun, folk, bluegrass, zydeco, and reggae, it’s family-friendly (read my tips on how to enjoy Grassroots as a family), and the nonprofit continues to donate funds to various organizations.

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4-H Fair (July)

Website: ccetompkins.org/4-h-youth/activities-events/4-h-youth-fair

Every summer, 4-H members get to showcase their animals and skills at the 4-H Fair. And for the public, it’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with a bunch of farm animals, learn about agriculture, and watch riveting events such as the rabbit hopping competition! The last day is the official Family Fun Day.

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Trumansburg Fair (August)

Website: trumansburgfair.weebly.com

For a classic country fair, head to Trumansburg in late August. The fun-filled event offers entertainment for the whole family, including ag awareness activities, a petting zoo, acrobatics, Coleman Bros. Shows, demolition derby, horse pulls, a motorcycle rodeo, and a monster truck show.

I’ve also put together a list of county fairs around the Finger Lakes for you.

Fall Festivals & Events

Ellis Hollow Fair (September)

Website: ellishollowcc.org/ellis-hollow-fair

Held the Saturday after Labor Day, this old-fashioned fair is small and lovely. The Ellis Hollow community puts on an afternoon of family-friendly fun with a big White Elephant Sale, quilt raffle, game booths, hay wagon rides, a silent auction, book sale, a cake walk, live music, and lots of homemade pies. Proceeds support the non-profit Ellis Hollow Community Center.

Cornell Homecoming Fireworks (September)

Website: alumni.cornell.edu/come-back/homecoming

The Cornell Homecoming show is popular among local families. Head to Schoellkopf Stadium on the Cornell campus for tunes from a DJ, a laser show, and fireworks. (And unlike on New Year’s Eve, you don’t have to wait until midnight!) The event is free, but registration at the link above is required. (As of 4/23 it wasn’t clear when exactly registration will open.)

Porchfest (September)

Website: porchfest.org

It feels very “Ithaca” that the city was in the vanguard of this unique way of celebrating music and community with a fun event. Porchfest was started in 2007 by two neighbors and has since grown to a continent-wide phenomenon, with over 170 similar events. As you stroll the streets, you can stop and listen to musicians and bands performing on porches across the Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods. It’s great way to explore the diversity of Ithaca’s music scene!

Apple Harvest Festival (September/October)

Website: downtownithaca.com/apple-harvest-festival

This quintessential fall festival is one of the most beloved events in Ithaca. Held annually, vendors with all things apple – from cider donuts to apple pies – take over the downtown area. You can also find live music, food trucks, crafts, and activities for all ages.

Streets Alive (September & April)

See listing above for spring.

Brooktondale Apple Festival (October)

Website: brooktondalecc.org/activities-events

Apples are at the center of this community celebration at the Brooktondale Community Center. You’ll also find pies, a cake wheel, vendors, a silent auction, crafts, and other fun for all ages.

The Brooktondale Apple Festival is a great time for everyone with vendors, pies, crafts, fun for all ages, and of course…lots of apples!

Greater Ithaca Art Trail Open Studios (October)

Website: arttrail.com

Over 50 artists open their studios to visitors over two weekends in October and are happy to chat with visitors and demonstrate their creative process. Explore works in genres from painting to fiber art, quilting, pottery, digital art, mixed media, photography, sculpture, stained glass, jewelry, woodworking, murals, collages, mosaics, furniture, gourd art (!), printmaking, and even music. In addition, see a group exhibit at the CAP Artspace in the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, as well as a virtual exhibit online. This is a great opportunity to discover new works of art while also supporting the local arts community.

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Winter Festivals & Events

International Rutabaga Curling Championship (December)

Website: facebook.com/rutabagacurl

Another event that just screams “Ithaca,” the rutabaga curling championship at the Ithaca Farmers Market has been celebrating root vegetables and absurdity for over a quarter century. Come to participate or watch – it’s going to be hilarious in any case, thanks to MCs, protestors, a chorus, instrumentalists, and an air of wackiness.

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Ice and Lights Festival / Chowder Cook-Off (December)

Website: downtownithaca.com/winterlights-2

Ice can be surprisingly fun if you turn it into an ice bar, ice thrones, and ice carving competitions. Add to that the element of light – holiday lights, lightsaber demonstrations, fire dancers – and you’ve got yourself a winter festival. To warm up, dance at the Silent Disco or try many varieties of chowder entered into the Chowder Cook-Off by some of the best chefs in the region. To cap things off, don’t miss Santa rappelling off a building onto the Commons.

Chili Cook-Off (March)

Website: downtownithaca.com/chili-cook-off-2023

Just as it looks like winter will never end, the Chili Cook-Off offers warm food and hot competition to tide us over until spring, which is lurking somewhere right around the corner. Try chili from more than 40 vendors vying for recognition as the best entries in the meat, vegetarian, vegan, and People’s Choice categories.

Other events you may enjoy

If you like fun celebrations, check out these other regional events:

  • Finger Lakes county fairs
  • Friends of the Library Book Sale
  • Taste of the Finger Lakes (Ithaca)
  • Lights on the Lake (Syracuse)

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Ithaca is Fun: Festivals and Events for All Seasons - Finger Lakes Family Fun (2024)

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