This New York Destination Is A Great Spot For Holiday Movie Lovers To Visit This Winter

New York State has more to offer than just the skyscrapers of Manhattan or the raging waters of Niagara Falls. This is true even for movie-loving sightseers, who may be drawn to those places after seeing them in films like "King Kong" and "Superman II." Ninety years ago, when Kong scaled the Empire State Building, he was just one early example of a black-and-white movie character with a cinematic life that went beyond the metropolis. A more human example of that is Jimmy Stewart's protagonist, George Bailey, in the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life."

The American Film Institute has recognized "It's a Wonderful Life" as one of the 20 greatest movies of all time, and it topped their list of the most inspiring movies of all time. Though the film is over 75 years old, some theaters still show it every holiday season, as its story of a small-town banker spreading joy through self-sacrifice — and rediscovering the will to live — continues to resonate. While the movie's snowy setting, Bedford Falls, New York, is a fictional place, it does have a real-life counterpart that draws tourists.

The real Bedford Falls goes by a slightly different name. It's about a four-hour drive from Califon, New Jersey, the town that originally inspired author Philip Van Doren Stern when he wrote the short story that director Frank Capra adapted into "It's a Wonderful Life." To paraphrase Capra's film, every time someone hears about Seneca Falls, New York, a traveler gets their wings.

It's a Wonderful Life in Seneca Falls

When "It's a Wonderful Life" celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016, two surviving cast members, Karolyn Grimes and Carol Coombs (who played George Bailey's daughters, Zuzu and Janie), were on hand in Seneca Falls to mark the occasion. Referring to the town, Grimes told NPR, "I really believe this is what inspired Capra. It's got the canal, it's got names of the streets, it's got the Victorian houses — I mean, it's got it all." She said she believed that Capra changed the name from Seneca Falls to Bedford Falls for the movie because he "wanted everyone to identify [it] with their own community."

Local historians have documented accounts of Capra visiting the barbershop and other landmarks in town while en route to his aunt's in Auburn, just 15 miles away. Seneca Falls was once a mill town, like Bedford Falls, and it still has a similar main street. The canal Grimes mentioned is spanned by the Bridge Street Bridge, which resembles the one where Bailey encounters his guardian angel in the movie.

Today, the Bridge Street Bridge sports a plaque noting the parallels between it, Seneca Falls, and the movie's settings, including the "geographical location" of the greater town and onetime incorporated village of Seneca Falls in proximity to other places in New York, like Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira (all referenced in the film). In addition to the bridge, Seneca Falls even has an "It's a Wonderful Life" Museum you can visit.

Anniversary festival, wine, and offscreen history

Mark your calendars for the second weekend of December, because that's when Seneca Falls holds its annual festival celebrating the anniversary of "It's a Wonderful Life." The 2023 festival is set to welcome Karolyn Grimes and three of her costars, Jimmy Hawkins and Donald and Ronald Collins, who played George Bailey's sons. For three days, there will also be presentations by other notable guests, such as Frank Capra's granddaughter and Mrs. New York 2023, Chloe Rosen, along with autograph signings and other special events. Just being in town when holiday decorations are up and snow is possibly falling might be all you need to feel like you've walked onto the set of "It's a Wonderful Life."

There's more to Seneca Falls than just its appeal as the model for Bedford Falls, however. The town is also part of the Finger Lakes region in New York, which we've called the best wine-tasting destination on the East Coast. One place in town where you can do a wine tasting is Montezuma Winery, located just off U.S. Route 20.

Apart from that, Seneca Falls also offers a historic look at the women's rights movement. The town is home to Women's Rights National Historic Park, which includes Wesleyan Chapel, the site where Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women's rights convention in 1848. Considering Donna Reed's Oscar-winning career outside "It's a Wonderful Life," a visit to the National Women's Hall of Fame would surely do Mrs. Bailey proud.