Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications




Ontario Beach Walking Tour

By Max Lent


Revised 2007


Ontario Beach Park is located at the mouth of the Genesee River on Lake Ontario. The side of the park that faces Lake Ontario has picnic shelters, barbecue grills, basketball courts, a bathing beach, a boardwalk, and a carousel. The side that faces the Genesee river has a museum, an auditorium, and docking facilities.

After a long day at work, it is refreshing to take a stroll out onto Lake Ontario on either of the jetties. The approximately 3/8ths of a mile length of the west jetty may be the most popular place to promenade in Rochester. On warm summer evenings, it is not unusual to see hundreds of people strolling there. Watching the sunset from the end of the jetty is popular with romantics--kissing your lover at sunset is a must. Watching boats going in and out of the harbor is always fun. Children (and some adults) enjoy the historic carousel. Almost everyone buys an ice cream from the ice cream stands. Summer music concerts are common at the park bandstand. Big band concerts are often held in the auditorium. The museum exhibits include boats, photographs, sand sculpture, and much more.

How To Get There

From the center of Rochester there are several ways to get to Ontario Beach Park. The simplest and most direct route is to take State St. north from the intersection of State St. and Main St. State St., driving north, turns into Lake Ave. and continues all the way to the shore of Lake Ontario. Parking will be on your right (east) as you approach the park.

If you live on the west side of Rochester, take I390 north and then turn east at the Ontario State Parkway. Follow the parkway until it ends at Lake Ave. Turn left (north) on Lake Ave. and follow it until you reach the park.

If you live on the east side of Rochester, take I590 north and turn left (west) on Durand Blvd. Stay on this road through the park. The name of the road will change from Durand Blvd. to Sweet Fern Rd. to Lake Shore Blvd. At St. Paul St. turn right (north) one block to Pattonwood Dr. and turn left (west). Pattonwood Dr. will turn into Stutson St. at the bridge over the Genesee River. Cross the bridge and turn right (north) when you reach Lake Ave.

Favorite Walk

We usually start our walk at the Ferry Terminal located along the river. Parking is available near the Ferry Terminal.  The Ferry Terminal provides clean restrooms, restaurants, and an ice cream store.  Instead of standing in a long line across the street, you can stand in a shorter line for ice cream at the Ferry Building.  

Before you go into the Ferry Building, look south, you will see the original lighthouse on the hill. If you are visiting during the day, you may want to visit the light house in addition to your walk. You will also see a large railroad bridge mounted on an island midstream in the Genesee River. When a train comes by, the bridge swings around so that it connects with the tracks and trains roll across it. We have often speculated how much fun it would be to live in the house on the railroad bridge.  

We leave the Ferry Building by the north entrance and begin our walk along the river to the jetty.  Many people bring stale bread and feed the birds here.  This is not recommended.  Birders will tell you that feeding the birds makes them dependant on humans for food and that the food that humans provide is not nutritious to birds.  Additionally, having the birds crowd together often leads to the spread of communicable diseases. 

Depending on when you take this walk, you will see boats or ships of varying sizes tied up along the dock. We have seen tall ships, Great Lakes tour ships, naval vessels, and even the luxurious Malcom Forbes ship tied up here. During the summer, you will also likely see smaller private boats temporarily tied up along the dock. Across the Genesee River and to the south is the Rochester Yacht Club.

We often fantasize what it would be like to go aboard one of the Great Lakes tour ships and leave with them.

A few hundred feet further on your left is the historic Dentzel Carousel. You will probably hear the carousel before you see it. Stop in and take a ride, it will help you to remember your youth. If you have a child with you, introduce them to the thrill of riding a carousel for the first time.


Rest rooms are located just north of the carousel, but are open only during designated hours.

Across the Genesee River at this point, you can see the U.S. Coast Guard building.

If you continue on you will be on the jetty. At this point, we prefer to turn left onto the boardwalk. On your left (south) you will see picnic shelters. Straight ahead you will see gazebos dotted along the boardwalk. Beyond the boardwalk is the bathing beach.

The bathing beach is closed at times during the summer because of the smelly green sludge that washes on shore. The beach is also closed on warm summer evenings, at the very time you might want to go in the water. If you walk out on the jetty later, don't be turned back by the smell of the sludge. Hold your breath and keep on walking. The odor zone is very narrow and once you are beyond it, you won't smell it again.

Continuing along the boardwalk, you will pass the bandstand where summer concerts are held. If you come to a concert, come early and bring folding chairs. Be prepared to stay late, it sometimes takes more than an hour to get out of the parking lot immediately after a concert.

A little further along the boardwalk you will see a paved walkway leading to your left to a flagpole and on to the end of Lake Ave. The flagpole is a Veteran's Memorial. What we usually do is to divert from our walk here to buy a frozen treat at Abbott's  Abbott's is tradition. They are popular for their frozen custard. If the lines are too long at Abbott's or if you just like to do your own thing, try the other Abbott's along the boardwalk facing the beach near the volleyball area.   With our frozen yogurt dish and spoons in hand, we head back to the boardwalk passing more rest rooms to our left. We then continue walking along the boardwalk, passing the basketball courts, to where it ends in the sand. During the summer, before dark, you may see volleyball being played between the boardwalk and the lake shore.

We turn around and head back down the boardwalk to the river and turn left (north) onto the jetty. The boardwalk is lit at night, the jetty is not. We have one friend who won't walk out on the jetty after dark because it is too mysterious and possibly dangerous--the very reasons why we like it.

The only real danger you may encounter on a balmy summer evening is stepping in dog droppings. Dog owners delight in taking their dogs out on the jetty. It seems that the first thing that comes to the minds of dogs on the jetty is to relieve themselves. The dog owners almost never scoop the poop, so watch out. Also, bicyclists should dismount while on the jetty when it is crowded with walkers, but they don't. So, you also have to watch out for them. Neither dogs or bicycles are allowed on the boardwalk.

Notice the bent metal railings and ladders. These were bent by ice during winter storms (more on this later).

The lighthouse or light pole at the end of the jetty signals safe harbor to boaters on Lake Ontario. During heavy fog, a fog horn sounds from atop the pole. The pole is a favorite communication center for graffiti writers or at least it was until July 2007 when a fence was erected to keep people away from the pole. There used to be a strobe light on the north side of the pole that blinked a never ending pulse out across Lake Ontario. It was fun to hear people describe what the strobe light did. Most of the descriptions, no matter how assuredly said, were made up. If you want to know what the strobe light really did, send me an e-mail message with your question and I will tell you.

We usually sit down on the jetty, on the outside of the railing, and wait for the sun to set or to stare out into the velvety night. Once you sit down, expect others to follow you. If you like to eavesdrop, you will love sitting here. People talk about all sorts of private and not so private subjects while standing there.  Of course, some people are overcome with the need to call their friends and describe the beauty of the sunset.

Second Favorite Walk

The east jetty is also accessible and is a enjoyable walk. To get to there, go back down Lake Ave. to Stutson St. and turn left (east). Go across the bridge and continue east on Pattonwood to where it ends at St. Paul St. Turn left (north) on St. Paul St. When you come to Park View Terrace, turn left (west) again. Follow Park View Terrace until you come to the public parking lot and park. Walk north from the parking lot to the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The entrance to the beach is through a torn fence on the far side of the U.S. Coast Guard Station.

There is no railing on the east jetty and the surface is uneven, so be careful.

We like walking the east jetty because it provides a different and pleasant view of the Genesee River and the lake. At sunset, sailboats returning to harbor are beautiful with the sun shining through their sails. Seagull feathers are easy to find on the this jetty.

Other Diversions

Either before or after your walk, you may feel the need for sustenance. There are several restaurants and bars on both sides of Lake Ave. near the beach. The most famous and one of the most popular is the LDR Char Pit. Here you can order up Rochester regional food like Texas hots (hot dogs) or white hots (a white hot dog that tastes slightly more like sausage). You can also order hamburgs, fries, onion rings and all sorts of other unhealthy, but great tasting food. The way you order, if you are not sitting at the counter, is to go to the far end of the counter and announce your order to server. Next, you pay the server and wait for your food. There is no table service. If you look around the restaurant, you will see historic photos of the Rochester Harbor. You can even purchase postcards with historic views of the harbor at the counter.

At Ontario Beach you can frequent bars, rib joints, Italian restaurants and ice cream stands, but you can't get buy a good pot of tea. What is needed is a British-style tea shop where, on gray chilly rainy days, you could stop in and have a nice hot pot of tea and pastries. A pot of Earl Gray tea after a brisk walk on the boardwalk and jetty would hit the spot.

Favorite Experiences

We visit Ontario Beach Park year around. We come most often during the summer--several evenings a week. We also come in the winter, on especially cold days after a very cold spell. I'll explain why shortly. Every time of the year offers a different experience.


During the winter, after an especially long cold spell with wind or precipitation the jetty gets coated with ice. Waves crash into the jetty and the resulting spray falls on the jetty's walkway and railing. Each wave adds another coat of ice. This ice will sometimes build to a height higher than the railings. The ice will become slick and nearly impossible to walk on. Because there is no railing, one slip could be lethal.  If you plan to visit the jetty during the winter, dress appropriately.   jetti1.jpg (31600 bytes)
Strong winds combined with temperatures in the teens or twenties cause frostbite in minutes.  Wear a hat, heavy jacket, gloves, and a scarf or other covering that you can use to cover your face.  If you fall into the lake, where there is still unfrozen water, or into the, usually unfrozen, river, you will probably die of hypothermia before you are rescued.  Ice will pile up on the shore at the beach and extend out into the lake several hundred feet. This ice may look solid, but it is fragile and unsafe to walk on.  railing4.jpg (28771 bytes)
This is one of our favorite times to visit. The ice formations are spectacular. Some look like they were designed by Art Nouveau artists because of their long curving and delicately draped shapes. During summer walks we have heard walkers question how the railings become bend and deformed.  Few people answer the questions correctly.  The answer is that icicles and sheets of ice form on the metal cable railings and posts.  A favorite pastime is to break off the icicles and throw them into the lake or the river. This behavior may sound stupid and destructive.  railing3.jpg (37978 bytes)
It is. It is also great fun and very cathartic. The icicles will reform and soon be ready for the next visitor. Walking on the jetty when it is covered with ice is dangerous. Don't do it.  If you ignore the warning and put your life at risk, we will probably see you there. log1.jpg (28081 bytes)

Early Spring

One spring, we took a friend to the jetty to see the ice breaking up in the Genesee River and to see the ice shards floating on Lake Ontario. The walk out to the light pole was dangerous because ice coated the walkway. The ice was only a few inches deep so we still had railings to hold onto. At the end of the jetty we stood and surveyed the view of the lake. The day was clear, the temperature sub-freezing, the wind chill in the single digits. The combination of all of these factors was invigorating. It was a great day to be alive. I rolled my stocking cap up a little to expose my ears. I then heard a strange sound. It was a quiet gentle tinkling like chandelier crystal gently touching. At first, I couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from. Looking down in the water, I discovered that the sound was coming from small ice shards colliding with each other during swells in the water. The shards were so small, a couple inches in length, and thin, less than an inch, that they didn't have much mass. They were delicate, nearly transparent, crystals gently touching as they drifted with the current to the lake. When I attempted to draw attention to the sound no one else could hear it, at first. It was only a faint hint of a sound. When we all heard it, we agreed that it was one of the prettiest sounds we had ever heard.

One summer night, when a hurricane was blowing up the Atlantic coast, we heard on our weather radio that there was going to be large waves at the Lake Ontario shore. Remembering the thrill and excitement of seeing massive, storm-generated waves coming ashore at the Venice Pier in Venice, CA, we knew we had to see what would happen at the Ontario Beach Park jetty.

We arrived at the lake around midnight and saw that large waves were coming at the jetty from the northeast. As waves rushed the length of the jetty, the indentations in the sides of the jetty caused water to shoot up to a dozen feet high at each indentation. And the waves were coming in fast. It was very exciting indeed. We walked out to the end of the jetty, dodging waves rushing over the walkway and the fountains shooting up overhead. Sometimes we had to stand on the cable railings to avoid the rush of water flowing over the walkway. At the end of the jetty there were a group of teenagers holding onto the cable railing and letting big waves, at least several feet higher than the railing, crash over them. Amongst much yelling, cheering, screaming, and fear a good time was had by all. One poor teenager, slightly drunk, well, more than slightly drunk, tried to relieve himself and discovered meaning of the expression pissing into the wind. He thought it was pretty funny. So did we. Everyone was in a good mood. We were a little surprised to find that we were the only people there over 18. The height and power of the waves was totally awesome. We did wonder what the mothers of these teenagers would have said had they known what their children were up to.

Summer Storms

There is no really bad time to go to Ontario Beach. To test this theory, we took our friend Judy, always a good sport, to the beach for an evening walk when thunderstorms were forecast. At first, we didn't believe the forecast. Sure, there were clouds in the sky, but none looked threatening. That is, until we were about half way out on the jetty. Suddenly, with in a minute, the air changed. A strong wind blew up from onshore. The temperature dropped at least ten degrees. Lightening appeared and became frequent as it moved toward us. Thunder followed the lightening and became louder with every burst. Taking the hint, we turned around and started back toward shore. Soon rain started falling, if you call blowing horizontally falling, in big drops. The drops hit us with such speed that they hurt exposed skin. The drops turned into a downpour by the time we reached a picnic shelter. Our umbrellas did nothing to protect us from the ferocity of the downpour. Judy loves being wet. She glowed radiantly as she stood soaking wet watching the rain fall. Lightening flashes and thunder were occurring at a rate of several per minute. The crowd of people gathered under the cover of the picnic shelter ooh'd and aah'd loudly with every flash and burst--these people were here because they loved seeing the show.

Charlotte Beach Sunset, Monroe County, Rochester, NY  

Charlotte Beach, Rochester, NY. 

A large turtle, about a foot long and several inches thick, walked near the picnic shelter. Some said that they had seen the turtle often over the years and that it ate handouts from picnickers. Ever since that night, we think of the turtle when we pass the picnic shelter.

I collected towels and blankets from our car. We dried off and continued our walk down the boardwalk toward the old bath house. From the second story porch of the bath house we watched the storm cell drift out across the lake. Although it was dark, we could trace its path by its fading lightening and thunder. The lightening show was spectacular. Sometimes we saw a dozen flashes in quick succession rippling through clouds clear across the horizon. Being so close to such power and visual beauty was thrilling. We still listen for severe storm warnings on our weather radio and rush to the lake whenever we can. Who knows, perhaps we will see the turtle again.

More Rochester Walks.



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