Almost any place is interesting once you "drill down" for the actual neat local things. One of the things I always do--the time for doing this may be fading but it still works--is I always Google for "tourist bureau" and "chamber of commerce" and "convention bureau" for the area I'm interested in. I do this a couple of months before the trip. Not just the big city, but the small cities in the area. Usually, there is a place where you can give them your name and address and check off any number of guidebooks on various subjects.
For example, you mentioned "upstate New York." OK, very well. Let's try "Syracuse Convention"--ah, Google fills in "... and visitor's bureau." And there is Order a Guide
and "If you would like to receive a single copy of the Syracuse Visitors Guide in the mail, please use the form below." Increasingly these days they will also offer a downloadable PDF, which is the case here.
This is the same sort of literature you find in racks at e.g. "Welcome to [State]" interstate rest stops. The thing is, it turns out to be FAR more comprehensive than bookstore guidebooks and has page after page of little, sometimes schlocky attractions and restaurants and this and that. This Syracuse guide, for example, is 100 pages long. And they tend to be full of ideas you might not have thought of. As well as huge numbers of non-chain lodging possibilities.
These "Visit XYZ" booklets are better than Fodor's or Lonely Planet or what have you because they have so much more in them. And they are in some ways better than surfing the Net because surfing the Net tends to find only targeted things you're looking for, while leafing through the booklets you happen on stuff you'd never think to Google for.
(The reason Syracuse came to mind is that we didn't get there. We had planned to spend a week camping at a state park just off the Erie Canal bikeway and spend some time riding up and down the canalside bike trail and exploring the area, and eventually getting to the Erie Canal museum--but on day 3 I hurt my knee, not badly but badly enough to cut the trip short...) We did get to Chittenango Falls, which is, on the one hand, not a terribly big or impressive waterfall--and yet, it was so pretty
, so unusual in the way the water spread out in a symmetrical pattern over rocks that almost formed steps. I'm not recommending a trip to see Chittenango Falls, but I'm saying that time spent "drilling down" for small local attractions can be time well spent.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.