Take a Road Trip to the World’s Largest Playable Donkey Kong Arcade Game in Upstate New York

Don't forget about the colorful outdoor exhibits at The Strong National Museum of Play.

Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play
Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play
Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play

When it comes to long weekend destinations for New Yorkers, while Rochester may not be immediately top of mind, this city perched on the southern side of Lake Ontario punches well above its weight in relation to its size. In fact, Rochester is known as the cultural capital of Upstate New York, due in large part to its high concentration of museums, galleries, and science centers.

And if we’re playing favorites, our top local destination is the quirky and delightful Strong National Museum of Play. At first glance, it’s easy to write it off as a jumbo-sized children’s playspace, but the museum is one of the largest history museums in the country and houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of materials related to play. This means there’s plenty more than just antique doll collections (although there is that, too): There’s everything from pinball halls and an outdoor space to exhibits on the history of eGameRevolution.

But perhaps the most Instagrammable attraction is the museum’s newest: The world’s largest playable Donkey Kong arcade game. At nearly 20 feet tall, the machine actually spans more than one floor, and is one of the centerpieces of the Strong’s new 90,000 square-foot expansion that opened this June. Additional new must-sees in the wing include a board game exhibit with life-sized playing pieces inspired by Hasbro, and High Score: The new home for the World Video Game Hall of Fame. And of course, don’t forget to swing by the brand-new gift shop on your way out for puzzles, crafts, and toys featured in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play
Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play
Photo courtesy of Strong National Museum of Play

Drive time:

5 hours and 30 minutes from New York City

More things to do near Rochester, NY:

We bet you didn’t know that the largest collection of lilacs in North America can be found in Rochester at Highland Park. The green space is also one of New York State’s prettiest, thanks to stellar landscape design by the famed Frederick Law Olmsted. The park is also home to the Lamberton Conservatory, a carefully curated collection of plants from around the country that’s open year-round.

The city is also home to one of the country’s oldest operating amusement parks: Seabreeze. With 65 rides, there’s something for every type of rider, whether they’re scaredy cats or not. But if you can handle it, don’t miss the Whirlwind, one of only three spinning coasters of its type in the whole country; and the Jack Rabbit, the oldest continually operating wooden coaster in North America.

Where to stay in Rochester, NY:

For a true unplugged experience, book a room at Woodcliff Hotel & Spa, a pampering resort that boasts a 9-hole golf course, 70 acres of hiking trails, and the luxe Spa at Woodcliff, known for their rejuvenating massages and wraps. Be sure to grab a meal at the on-site restaurant Horizons Modern Kitchen + Wine Bar. The locally sourced American menu features creative takes on everything from lamb loin to cauliflower steaks, all with stunning views of the Finger lakes and downtown Rochester.

Where to eat in Rochester, NY:

No trip to the city would be complete without trying its most famous food: The Rochester “Garbage Plate.” Traditionally, this delicious dish with an unappetizing name comes with a choice of meat (like a cheeseburger or Italian sausage) served on top of some sort of combination of home fries, french fries, baked beans, or macaroni salad. The whole mess then gets topped with Rochester “hot sauce” which is actually a spicy meat ragu. Finishing touches can include piquant mustard and onion, plus a side of buttered bread. We guarantee there’s nothing else like it on the planet. And while there are many places to try it, the original can be found at Nick Tahou Hots, which has been in operation since 1918.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Juliet Izon is a contributor for Thrillist.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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