So The Constable returned last night from a four-day pilgrimage to Cooperstown. Here's your Guide To Cooperstown.
Cooperstown is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Four hours northwest of New York City. Four hours west of Boston. If you're making Cooperstown a stop on some AL East tour, then the air travel part isn't going to be that big of a deal, but your only real options for getting to Cooperstown are through Syracuse or Albany. Southwest routinely runs specials to Albany, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive to Cooperstown. Syracuse, which has a JetBlue outpost is about two hours from Cooperstown. And unless you know somebody up there, you'll want to rent a car.
One thing to keep in mind is that there aren't any chains (hotels, restaurants, anything) in the Village of Cooperstown itself. Except for a CVS on Main Street, which is almost like everyone woke up one morning and there was a CVS there. No one knows how it got there. So your options for staying in Cooperstown (highly recommended, by the way) is a hotel just south of Cooperstown, where there's a Holiday Inn Express and a Howard Johnson's. Or you could do it up right and stay at a B&B in the Village itself - might I recommend the Inn at Cooperstown or Nelson Avenue Pines - both are good options.
Timing Your Trip
I've been to Cooperstown in the summer and in the winter. Go in the winter. They have this thing in the summer called Dreams Park, in which 96 Little League teams descend on Cooperstown (population: 2000-ish) with their parents, grandparents, coaches, brothers, sisters, cousins each week. Seriously, it's like every Little Leaguer has a Lebron-style entourage. If you go in the winter, you don't have to deal with that. On a random weekday in November, you can pretty much have the Hall of Fame to yourself. And if you're looking for a shrine, it's always better when it's quiet.
Breakfast: Go to Stagecoach Coffee on Pioneer Street. It's a small space, but they have the best coffee and breakfast sandwiches. (Get "The Usual.").
Hall of Fame - 2nd Floor. On the 2nd Floor of the Hall of Fame is the Grandstand Theater, and the timeline begins around the corner. I'm assuming you're like me, and you'll want to read absolutely every label on every artifact. So when you get to the Diamond Dreams exhibit on the history of women in baseball, it'll be about lunchtime, and your bagel with cream cheese and sliced tomato will have worn off. And because you've spent all your morning in the incredible Pride & Prejudice exhibit, detailing the African-American experience in baseball through Jackie Robinson. You can leave the Hall of Fame for lunch and return for free if you get your hand stamped.
Lunch: Also on Pioneer Street (but across Main Street) is a Chinese restaurant called Foo Kin John. Not kidding. It's good food, and it's not very expensive. And there's the added bonus of the very real possibility that a seven-year old will ring you up. Get a picture.
After lunch: Continue on the 2nd Floor. You'll exit Diamond Dreams and find yourself in the part of the timeline that covers the Golden Era of Baseball. This is 100% true, if you lived in New York City. If you're an Astros fan - or a fan of any team except the Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees from the 1940s-50s, you'll have to keep walking, but you'll still touch Joe DiMaggio's locker, just because you can. Marvel at the new Viva Baseball exhibit, celebrating the Latino influence on baseball, and end the 2nd floor with the Today's Game Locker Room, where they have a locker for all 30 teams. Weep at the artifacts in the Astros locker.
Dinner: Might we suggest Cooley's Stone House Tavern. Beer on tap, and fresh burgers.
Breakfast: Since you've already been to Stagecoach, try the Cooperstown Diner. It's one of the smallest diners you'll ever see, but you can't beat the price and quality. Then get coffee at Stagecoach.
Hall of Fame - 3rd Floor. This is where you'll find exhibits on the ballparks (see if you can spot the nod to Minute Maid Park), records, baseballs from every no-hitter since 1940, a new exhibit on Hank Aaron, the pins and rings from the World Series winners (pay special attention to the 2003 Marlins ring), and an exhibit on baseball cards.
Lunch: Doubleday Cafe. It's a brick-walled cafe, also with beer on tap, and excellent buffalo wings. You're on vacation, so what do you care?
Hall of Fame - 1st Floor. You could probably spend all day just walking around the Hall of Fame's Plaque Gallery. It's also the actual Hall of Fame. Everything you've been walking around for the past day and a half is the Museum. There are a number of exhibits around up the ramp (broadcasters, baseball and the movies, etc) but a must-see is the Research Center. The Hall of Fame has a file for every person who has played one inning of Major League Baseball, so if you have a drunk uncle who says he played for the '61 Yankees, now's your chance to prove him wrong (this is, of course, if you've never heard of Baseball-Reference, but it's way cooler than going to a web page.)
Dinner: If you've come with your significant other, you should throw them a bone for dragging them around the Hall of Fame for two days. Take them to Alex & Ika, and be prepared to spend a decent chunk of change - but it's completely worth every penny.
You can't buy a pair of pants in Cooperstown. But you can get bats engraved, Don Mattingly t-shirts, Red Sox socks, and various and sundry items from the major teams (Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, and some Cardinals gear - if you're like me, you'd rather sleep under a blanket rubbed with smallpox than buy a Cardinals shirt). Of course, the Astros are not a major team, so good luck getting anything other than a Nolan Ryan shirt or an Astros hat. If you're looking for an excellent selection of Astros hats, and hats from the minors, go to Mickey's Place at the corner of Pioneer and Main - and get a bat engraved with your name on it while you're at it.
That'll do it. Any questions?