New York

A Short Guide to Chautauqua County

by Holly Riddle  |  Published January 15, 2019

Located in western New York, Chautauqua County sits on Lake Chautauqua, near Lake Erie. While known in the region as a go-to place for summer fun, the area is working to expand its reputation.

Despite Chautauqua County’s reputation as a summer destination, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the winter as well (Photo: Holly Riddle)

Chautauqua County welcomes travelers from New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania each summer, but its largest town, Jamestown, is changing the reasons behind travelers’ visits, turning the attention away from summer fun exclusively to the many attractions the area offers throughout the year.

The history of Chautauqua County stretches back to the 1600s when the land was mostly held by the Erie tribe. When the Beaver Wars took place, with skirmishes between the French and Native Americans, the area fell into the hands of the Seneca Nation until the Revolutionary War when the Seneca Nation sided with the British. Afterward, Chautauqua County (the name derived from the Erie language, and its meaning is unknown) received its official recognition in the early 1800s. Its borders have remained the same since.

Now, Chautauqua County is known as a relatively sleepy spot on the map. After the popularity surrounding the lake destination in the summer wanes in the fall, tourism declines and most travelers are in town for business or occasionally skiing, as the area does have some slopes that draw regional interest. One of Chautauqua County’s biggest claims to fame, though, is that it gave birth to one of America’s most beloved comediennes — Lucille Ball.

Jamestown’s primary statue of Lucille Ball replaced another, less flattering version several years ago (Photo: Holly Riddle)

Speaking of Lucy, some of the biggest crowds come to Chautauqua County and Jamestown for LucyFest (or, more formally, the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival). Held every summer, it attracts big names in comedy, like Amy Schumer and Dan Aykroyd. Beyond all the comedic fun, there are plenty of tours, classes and more educational endeavors.

Another draw is the Chautauqua Institution. Both an event and a place, the can’t-miss festival hosts nine weeks of fun in the summer. The 750-acre compound welcomes thousands over the lengthy time period, with activities covering a host of interests, from politics to the arts.

Both of these events attract crowds primarily in the summer. What about once the lake is frozen during the winter, and the chilly winds make travel on foot a little less enjoyable? Two brand-new attractions are aiming to get more eyes turned toward Chautauqua County regardless of the season — the newly-built Chautauqua Harbor Hotel and the National Comedy Center. (More on these two below.)


The brand-new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel is drawing business and luxury travelers alike to the area (Photo: Chautauqua Harbor Hotel)

The Chautauqua Harbor Hotel (10 Dunham Ave., Celoron) opened in 2018 and is quickly becoming the place to stay in Chautauqua County. Situated right on Lake Chautauqua, it offers a comfortable yet luxurious experience near all the best attractions. The property even owns a nearby lighthouse! Get the most out of the hotel’s lakeside location by staying in a guestroom with a lake view and patio or balcony. During the summer, take advantage of the expansive lawn and multiple fire pits, as well as a carousel converted into a bar (the hotel sits on the former home of an amusement park). As the seasons shift, don’t worry — you’ll hardly feel cooped up if you stay mid-winter. Though the area is frigid, there’s ample room to roam indoors, from the spacious guestrooms to the cozy social spots, like the relaxing upscale bar, the 24-hour fitness center and the indoor saltwater pool.

Located within the Chautauqua Institution, but open year-round, The Spencer Hotel & Spa (25 Palestine Ave., Chautauqua) is an upgraded bed and breakfast that was originally built in 1909. Now it’s a National Parks Service Historic Landmark Hotel, boasting a Steamboat Gothic style and lovely antique furnishings throughout. During your stay, you’re just a short walk away from Lake Chautauqua, as well as nearby local dining, shopping and several wineries.

Restaurants, Bars & Cafes

Lakehouse Tap & Grille (10 Dunham Ave., Celoron) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast menu offers a range of classic favorites, all created to perfection and served alongside endless gourmet coffee. If you can take your eyes off your plate, you’ll be able to spot lake views from every seat in the house. For dinner, the cozy atmosphere, with its waterfall feature and roaring fireplace, converts into a premium steakhouse, offering a decadent menu filled with any upscale item your heart could desire, from steak to seafood, pasta, salad, lamb and duck, served with traditional sides like roasted asparagus and risotto.

For classic steakhouse dining in a luxurious atmosphere, look nowhere other than Lakehouse Tap & Grille (Photo: Holly Riddle)

In historic Jamestown, Labyrinth Press Company (12 East 4th St., Jamestown) offers breakfast and lunch. The cafe and espresso bar serves various vegetarian options, all with a unique kick. “Lab Dishes” include a combination of mouthwatering ingredients that you can combine in the form of a burrito, bowl or salad. The popular “Vin Diesel” includes chickpeas, sunflower seeds, red onion, red bell peppers, avocado, spinach, pesto and feta, topped with a combination of Frank’s Red hot sauce and sour cream. For diners who want to avoid a taste bud overload, there are simpler options like the Plain Jane sandwich (fried eggs, cheddar and sour cream on a bun) and the Beer & Cheese Soup (IPA, cheeses and veggies).

For more coffee goodness alongside tempting breakfast and lunch options, Crown Street Roasting Company (16 West 3rd St., Jamestown) serves premiere coffees from around the world. If you enjoy their brews, you can sign up for a monthly coffee subscription and have their bagged beans shipped straight to your door, ready for brewing. If you’re just stopping in for a bite, the menu includes light options like bagel sandwiches (think turkey apricot bacon and ham apple gouda), salads and soups.

Ellicottville Brewing Company (28 Monroe St., Ellicottville) was founded in the ‘90s by a local who thought a craft brewery would be the perfect fit for this primarily ski-driven small town. His hunch proved true and now the brewing company is a must-visit when in Ellicottville, whatever the season. You can tour the brewery, eat at the restaurant and even check out the winter igloo. The menu offers variations on everyday favorites, from burgers to brisket.

Landmark (516 West 4th St., Jamestown) is just that — a landmark! The vintage-style dining room features a fireplace and paneled walls, well-fitting for the traditional chophouse menu. The extensive dinner selection includes salads, comfort foods, seafood, steaks, pasta, grain bowls, burgers and more. Alongside beers from Ellicottville Brewing Company, the restaurant also serves local brews from nearby Southern Tier Brewing Company. Signature cocktails are likewise available.

All About the Arts

Another appealing aspect of Chautauqua County, beyond its beautiful lake, is the area’s love for the arts, from the opera to comedy.

The National Comedy Center opened to rave reviews in 2018 (Photo: Holly Riddle)

 It’s no wonder why the National Comedy Center (203 West 2nd St., Jamestown) made headlines when it opened in 2018. The museum is more of an experience than a place to catch a show. Completely interactive and entertaining, the center includes a briefing on the history of comedy and a celebration of what comedy has evolved into today. While you can spot a few comedy relics behind glass here and there, most of the museum is dedicated to activities, touch screens, cameras and ways for every visitor to get involved, make their own comedy and learn something new while they’re at it. Laughing until you cry is highly encouraged! Additionally, visiting families can rest easy knowing that any adult-friendly comedy is kept safely away from curious eyes and ears. The “Blue Room” on the lowest level of the museum can only be accessed via elevator and is where all the over-18 material is displayed.

Nearby, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum (2 West 3rd St., Jamestown) takes the history of comedy and narrows the focus in on this iconic star. The museum features set replicas from the 1950s show, Emmy awards, costumes and more.

As previously mentioned,  the Chautauqua Institution (One Ames Ave., Chautauqua) adds to the area’s summer allure with a lineup of crowd-drawing events, from lectures to opera performances. However, you can still visit this destination-within-a-destination for its 750 acres of entertainment any time of year. In November and December, for example, the Institution hosts a Winter Village, with musical performances, sleigh rides, wine and food pairing dinners, and more. Similar to the summer season, with its enlightening, exploratory and educational bent, the Winter Village takes your traditional kid-friendly lights show and bumps it up a notch with activities for all ages.