At the southern tip of Seneca Lake  lies Watkins Glen, named for the astonishing gorge that rips right through its center. Near the entrance to the glen, now a state park, stand family-style eateries and lots of souvenir shops.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, the main street of Watkins Glen and the steep roads surrounding it were the speedway of the American Grand Prix. During the races, as many as 75,000 spectators descended on the village, whose year-round population was—and is—under 3,000. Today, world-class auto races take place at the Watkins Glen International Race Track, four miles south of Watkins Glen.
There’s a Grand Prix Festival (www.grandprixfestival.com ) in early September to commemorate the town’s legacy. The 1948 American Grand Prix, complete with vintage cars, is reenacted in the streets of Watkins Glen.
World-class auto racing takes place June–September at the Watkins Glen International Race Track (2790 County Rd. 16, off Rte. 14/414 S., 607/535-2481). Ticket prices depend on the race.
May–October, 50-minute cruises of Seneca Lake  are offered every hour on the hour by Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake Cruises (1 N. Franklin St., 607/535-4541). Captain Bill also runs dinner cruises.
Created some 12,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, Watkins Glen State Park (off Rte. 14/414, 607/535-4511, 8 a.m.–dusk daily May–Nov., parking $6–8) is a wild and raggedy gorge flanked by high cliffs and strange, sculpted rock formations. Through its center rushes Glen Creek, dropping some 700 feet in two miles over rapids, cascades, and 19 waterfalls.
Alongside the gorge runs the 1.5-mile Gorge Trail, made up of 832 stone steps, stone paths, and numerous bridges. The trail leads past tunnels, caves, and a natural stone bridge, all carved out of the sedimentary rock by Glen Creek. If you hike the trail on a fine summer’s day, you’ll have lots of company, but the gorge inspires awe nonetheless.
The park also offers campgrounds; for reservations, call 800/456-CAMP.
One of the more idiosyncratic hostelries in the area is the Seneca Lodge (Rte. 329, off Rte. 14/414 at the south entrance to Watkins Glen State Park, 607/535-2014, $75–99). A favorite haunt of bow hunters and race mechanics, the lodge centers on a restaurant and Tavern whose back wall, bristled with arrows, looks like the hide of a porcupine and from whose ceiling hang Nascar Champs’ tires and Formula One laurel wreaths. As the tradition goes, the first bow hunter to shoot a deer each season shoots an arrow into the wall. Accommodations consist of very basic camp-style A-frames, cabins, and motel rooms with one larger four bedroom available.
Magnolia Place Bed and Breakfast (5240 Rte. 414, Hector, 607/546-5338, www.magnoliawelcome.com , $140–190), an 1830 farmhouse located about seven miles outside of Watkins Glen, offers eight suites overlooking Lake Seneca . Innkeepers talented in the culinary arts host wine tastings and create hot breakfasts of ‘Dutch babies’ with Cinnamon Biscuits, or corn fritters with house-smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and a poached egg, as well as providing homemade evening sweets and dinner or hors d’oeuvres on request.
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (16 N Franklin St., 607/535-6116, www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com , $159–229) situated right on the water is a lovely new hotel with an upscale boutique feel. A favorite of the NASCAR drivers and entourage during race weekends, the large airy rooms feature lush bedding and spa-style baths. Three dining options include al fresco in season, a classic country club sports bar, and Bluepointe Grille restaurant.
Chef’s Diner (Rte. 14, 607/535-9975) is a classic American eatery, now in its sixth decade. Come here for tasty pancakes or grilled-cheese sandwiches.
Wildflower Café and Crooked Rooster Brewpub (223-301 N. Franklin St., 607/535-9797, $8–14) offers tasty organic fare, from creative sandwiches to hearty meals. Bob and June’s Organic Coffee is roasted on the premises and Rooster Fish Fine Craft Ales are another big draw—ideal for tasting at $1.25 for 4-ounce samplers.
Chef-owned Dano’s Hueriger (9564 Rte. 414, Lodi, 607/582-7555, $12) with glass-walled lakeside dining combines the tastes of a traditional Viennese wine restaurant with the Finger Lake’s best vintages. Charcuterie and schnitzel, authentic Viennese casual ordering style and Austrian traditions, like a festival celebrating the harvest with newly fermented wine, add to the allure. A chef’s table is available on request for parties of six or more.
Just west of the village, you’ll find Castel Grisch Estate (3380 County Rd. 28, off Rte. 409, 607/535-9614, $8–16), a winery with a German-style restaurant. It’s open for lunch and dinner Friday–Sunday. Outside is a deck with lake views.
At the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, Bluepointe Grille (16 N Franklin St., 607/535-6116, www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com , $26) is a fine dining restaurant where the talents of Chef Chris Hascall are expressed through signature dishes such as Rack of Lamb, Eggplant Strato, and Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Helping this success is the hotel’s membership in the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, a program where properties sign on to use freshly delivered locally grown products in their menus.