Help Me Make Old New England New.
April 4, 2009 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Obscure New England? I've seen the best, what about the rest? What quirky, "second tier," and out of the way places have I missed?

My SO and I have been all over New England, we've seen the big stuff, especially the major stuff along the coasts. So . . .

What quirky, unique, oddball, hidden gems or secretly awesome places have we not been to?

What seldom visited state parks, by-way diners, unusual attractions, great picnic spots, attractions from an earlier age and things only-the-locals-would-know can you suggest?
posted by MasonDixon to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you spent much time in the Pioneer Valley (Western Massachusetts)? Off the top of my head, these are some amazing things in the Valley... I'll elaborate if you'd like:

- Museums: Smith College's and to a lesser extent Amherst College's art museums are absolutely lovely. Amherst's natural history museum is newly renovated and completely delightful. All are free. Mass MOCA in North Adams "is one of the largest centers for contemporary visual and performing arts in the country."

- Food: The Night Kitchen in Montague is widely considered to be the best restaurant in Western Masachusetts (or, less widely, the best restaurant in Massachusetts that isn't in Boston). It's located on site with The Book Mill, which I'll get to in a moment. The Valley is pretty crunchy and this is reflected in the restaurants -- The Roadhouse Cafe in Belchertown might be the best organic breakfast joint anywhere ever. Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley is a local favorite as well.

- Nature: Hike The Notch. Walk or bike The Norwottuck Rail Trail. If you come in the summer, go for a swim at Puffer's Pond.

- "Other": The Book Mill, as mentioned above. The most beautiful used book store in the country. There's a waterfall; also, beer. And speaking of beer, The Moan and Dove in Amherst was named the best beer bar in the country by Beer Advocate. Also, free peanuts.

You might have figured out by now that I think the Pioneer Valley is the tops.
posted by telegraph at 8:05 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

You seem to have excluded the RhodeIsland tag. Perhaps start there.
posted by mdonley at 8:09 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are some good Hartford area suggestions in this previous thread. I mostly was going to come in and say that if you're hikers, I still think there's nothing weirder than the paved road in the middle of Meshomasic that leads to the old Nike sites.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:15 PM on April 4, 2009

No idea what you have seen/not seen, or what you enjoy in particular, but some of my favorite places and locations:

-Concord, MA. Specifically visit the homes of former authors, such as Louise May Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is more than just seeing a building, though, as guides will walk you through the house and tell you a lot of interesting information about the lives of these people, and how they were all interconnected in Concord, MA. Just a few examples: in the home that Hawthorne lived in -- you can still see messages that he and his wife wrote in the actual window using their rings; in the Alcott home, you can see a mural painted by one of Louise's sisters for Louise Alcott, etc. If you get tired of all the historic stuff, go to Walden pond, have a picnic, hike, swim in the water, and look at the marker where Thoreau used to live. Or, if you want to see where your favorite author is resting now (vs the former home), go to the graveyard in Concord and leave a note at the tombstone of your favorite author.

-Salem, MA. The house of the 7 Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in this house, too, but you also have an opportunity to see remnants of the underground railroad (eg, a secret doorway that led to a hidden room that was used to hide slaves)

Those were my favorite places that I had a chance to visit when I lived in MA
posted by Wolfster at 8:38 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yay I get to put the second part of my moniker to use. All these are in Vermont:

- Go to the Orvis headquarters store in Manchester. Bring your dog, he or she can go in the store with you. Manchester is really pretty little town, and the drive is beautiful.
- Bike the Stowe Recreation Path. After your spin, stop at Laughing Moon Chocolates to rebuild your energy.
- Go walk up Mount Philo in Charlotte. You'll get out of breath but it's not too challenging. It's paved (pedestrian only) all the way to the top. Well worth the view.
- Bike the Burlington Bike Path. Start at the Lake Champlain Echo Aquarium.
- Picnic and walk around Shelburne Farms or visit the Shelburne Museum. Shelburne Farms is on the lake and a beautiful walk; the museum is many buildings spread over many acres and will definitely take you back to an earlier age. Not so much focused on art as on early American life.
- If you're not stuffed from your picnic, eat at Al's French Fries and definitely have the fries. They are the world's best. Not healthy, I think they make them with lard, but they are great. The locals definitely eat there.
- If you have kids, try out the Sand Bar State Park. It's not as awesome as Cape Cod but it's great for children - shallow calm water, and lots of trees.

Then, go back in the fall for a leaf-peeping/apple-picking/pumkin-picking tour.
posted by txvtchick at 9:09 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

No huge secrets here, but my LJ community might be of interest:
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:13 PM on April 4, 2009

'Hidden New England.'

Yankee Magazine's Top Five Travel Suggestions.

WCVB 'Chronicle' -- Main Streets and Back Roads of New England -- great suggestions!
posted by ericb at 9:14 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are in Connecticut anywhere NEAR Manchester, (it's in the Eastern part of the state, about a half hour outside Hartford), make a side trip if necessary and stop at Shady Glen and get a cheeseburger and a milkshake.


And also in Eastern Connecticut, my hometown boasts one of the more quirky July 4th Parades there is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:43 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pleasant St. Tea Co. in Gloucester, MA has amazing sandwiches and drinks. There's a handful of trails that go past giant boulders with 'improving sayings" on them nearby in Dogtown, MA. The quarry in Rockport (also nearby) is very pretty in the summer - if you go, be sure to go out to the ocean lookout point, then down the side path. There's an area full of leftover rocks that people build up into amazing spires, like playing with blocks, but with very high coefficients of friction.
posted by lorimt at 9:56 PM on April 4, 2009

Best answer: Driving around New England, especially Vermont, is one of my favorite vacations. Here's some of mine and my husband's favorites. We tend towards food and used books; I tend towards shopping for crafty and interesting things. :)

The Book Barn in Niantic CT is probably the largest used book store I've ever been in. It's got 3 floors in the main building and several outer buildings. Not for those with cat allergies, as there are cats all over the place. Bring a picnic lunch and don't forget to visit the annex downtown. Be prepared to sit on floors and hunt through shelves. We make this part of a weekend trip every year or two. Mohegan Sun (which we much prefer to Foxwoods) is 30-40 minutes away if you like to gamble. We like some of the restaurants as well, and there's a lovely large blue and white Chihuly installation there. Mystic is about 15-20 minutes away with the aquarium and touristy stuff. We had good pizza at New York Pizza and Pasta Company in Plainfield on our last trip, and they also had a pretty extensive beer list. It looks like a hole in the wall, but go inside the restaurant half.

Bintliff's American Cafe in Portland, ME caused us to break our "no chains, no repeats" vacation dining rule. They do brunch every day, and have many creative menu choices. It's been almost 10 years since we were there, but we've talked about it ever since. Also worth checking out, but not off the beaten path is Fore Street restaurant. Lovell Designs has beautiful and simple nature inspired jewelry. If you knit, or just want to ogle bright colors and touch beautiful fiber, you must stop at Tess Designer Yarns.

And then there's Vermont. In Burlington, our must visit is Penny Cluse, which we totally ignore the no repeats rule for - we go there for breakfast every day we're in the area. We had a lovely dinner at American Flatbread on our most recent Burlington trip; a stop at the original in Middlebury is also worthwhile. In Montpelier (not a bad drive away) are the New England Culinary Institute restaurants. The food is creative, and unpredictable, as it's made by culinary students. Closer to Burlington, the Inn at Essex restaurants are run by NECI as well, and they do a lovely and reasonably priced Sunday brunch. It's a nice place to stay, also. Lake Champlain Chocolates does a "tour" at their factory/store - you don't walk around anywhere, but you get information about how their chocolate is made and some samples. Make sure to try the 5-Star Bars, and prepare by reading Candyfreak by Steve Almond. I also always try to get to Frog Hollow to check out crafts by Vermont artists. I like the earrings from Danforth Pewter, which also has their own shops. My husband loves to drive around Grand Isle County - there's not a lot to do there, we mostly just admire the scenery. If you're there and want food, Hero's Welcome is probably your best bet. Touristy, but also serves as a supermarket for the locals, and the sandwiches are good.

We try to always pass through the Woodstock/Quechee area as we travel through Vermont. The Quechee Gorge is worth at least a picture stop, and it's only about half a mile down a foot path to the shallows of the gorge. Simon Pearce in Quechee does beautiful hand blown glassware, and has a restaurant on-site that gets rave reviews. Neither the glassware or the food is cheap, but you can at least browse and watch glass be blown. The nearby town of Woodstock has the Woodstock Farmers' Market, which you must hit for dessert if nothing else. We got great sandwiches there back in 2000, when it was a small ramshackle building and they grilled just outside the back door. Now it's a large specialty shop, but they still do great sandwiches and pastries.

Last summer we spent several days near Manchester, and finally tried Up for Breakfast, which was worth climbing the stairs for. Awesome breakfasts - look at the pictures in that link! We got really good brick oven pizza from Mach's in Pawlet, and took pictures of the odd Obama mural on the wall of the nearby purple barn. Northshire Books in Manchester is a must stop for book people to see how a bookstore should look - it's a lovely example of a big non-chain bookstore. Most independents are small. It's also good if you need an internet fix - free wireless in their cafe. The Manchester Farmer's Market provided some tasty breakfast and dessert treats, salad greens that had probably been picked that day, and really amazing maple apple wine from Putney Valley Winery. Honestly, I think it's worth building an entire vacation around eating your way through Vermont - they really understand local food there. Check out the Brattleboro Food Coop (for cheese, especially!), City Market in Burlington, and Middlebury Coop in Middlebury. Our trip last year involved almost all locally grown food, whether it was a fancy restaurant, local diner, or a meal we cooked.

I left out Northampton because we did what everyone does - eat breakfast at Sylvester's, hit the funky shops and used bookstores, and get ice cream at Herrell's. We also ate at the Northampton Brewery, which was quite tasty.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some of our favorites, but this is a good start. :) If you and/or your SO are knitters, I have yarn shop recommendations as well. Tess is worth looking at whether you knit or not, just for the colors and textures.

(In hunting up links for this, I'm sad that some places are gone - the old Portland Public Market is no more, and the Middlebury location of Frog Hollow, which I visited less than a year ago, has closed.)
posted by booksherpa at 10:40 PM on April 4, 2009 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Here are a few off the top of my head:

Purgatory Chasm
Rustic Drive-in (season begins April 23rd)
RISD Museum (small but very good selection)
Lowell is a surprisingly interesting place to visit (the downtown is lovely and Kerouac is buried there)
Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA
H. P. Lovecraft's grave
Emily Dickinson Museum
Check out this list of sculpture parks in the US (quite a few in New England)
posted by Kattullus at 11:22 PM on April 4, 2009

Got yer quirky-oddball right here: The Museum of Bad Art
posted by XMLicious at 3:30 AM on April 5, 2009

How obscure is obscure?
Generally, all the quaint little towns like Bar Harbor are heavily curated and regulated to be 'tourist-friendly'- and therefore bland. In my experience, the good parts of Maine start up the coast after Bar Harbor, where it's economically depressed and nobody can afford to ruin it yet. Cherryfield is pretty great, as is Steuben- you should check out Petit Menan Point on a weekday when nobody's out there, it's a great hike along the shore, you can beachcomb and there's a cloudberry bog which is rare in Maine.

Also very much worth doing: Drive the Stud Mill Road from Milford (Across the river from Old Town) all the way to Princeton, next to Calais, but be sure you have a reliable car with a full tank of gas.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:36 AM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

For the sublime, try the Boston ATHENÆUM, downtown just down the hill from the Statehouse, one of the first lending libraries in the country.
posted by sammyo at 6:15 AM on April 5, 2009

This question I asked a while back is chock full of suggestions for the White Mountain area.
posted by TedW at 6:19 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you been to the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire & Maine? Read up on the murders of Anethe and Karen Christensen on Smuttynose in 1873? Visited the garden of Celia Thaxter on Appledore? Done a billy goat walk around the rocky edge of Star?
posted by bcwinters at 6:24 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not a weird diner, but a great restaurant: Pan e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont. My mom got married there, that's how good the food is. If nothing else, stop by and get some of their wonderful olive rolls.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:30 AM on April 5, 2009

booksherpa said:
the Middlebury location of Frog Hollow, which I visited less than a year ago, has closed.

The Burlington/Church St. one is still open, and it's maybe a block away from Penny Cluse. Both are great suggestions.
posted by txvtchick at 6:33 AM on April 5, 2009

It's been years and I don't know if the place has changed, but I have a very pleasant memory of swimming at Bobbin Mill (Bobbin Falls?), near Warren, Vermont. Shallow waterfalls gently pushing you over slippery rocks... lovely.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:37 AM on April 5, 2009

Brattleboro has the Strolling of the Heifers on the first Saturday in June. When I visit I like to hit up the Brattleboro Farmer's Market that's held on Saturday's just west of town.

The American Precision Museum further upriver in Windsor is pretty neat if you like things mechanical. Not too far away in New Hampshire is the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, which usually has temporary sculpture exhibits in addition to the works of Saint-Gaudens. Both are fully open after Memorial Day.

The William "Snowflake" Bentley Museum in Jericho, east of Burlington, is small but fun. The old mill the museum is housed in is about as stereotypically pretty as New England gets.
posted by plastic_animals at 8:26 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't vouch for it, but I've always wanted to visit the Edward Gorey House on Cape Cod.
posted by messica at 8:44 AM on April 5, 2009

Western CT: The Danbury Military Museum. Definitely go on an Open Turret day.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The American Precision Museum (my pics) is truly one of the most awesome things in New England and that whole little area is sort of cute and has some other neat things in it [and give a call if you're near there, I live nearby]. If you're from somewhere without drive-ins I'd recommend going someplace and catching a movie in a big field. There's a drive-in in Fairlee Vermont that has motel rooms that you can watch the movie FROM (I have heard, I have not been there).

I live in Vermont and when I'm looking for off the beaten track stuff, I usually just drive north, off the interstates. The farther you get from our two major highways, the more weird stuff you see along the way. Sometimes having a random trajectory like the Degree Confluence Project or something else will take you places where you don't even know there's something nifty there until you find it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, this one's easy. Monhegan Island, (technically Monhegan plantation) Maine. About an hour's drive from Portland, you basically follow the coast around the bend, then head straight down any of the peninsulas near Boothbay Harbor and grab an hour-long ferry ride ten miles out into the Atlantic. Home to the highest sea-side cliffs in Maine. The town has around 75 year-round residents (a lot of fishermen & artists). You can go for a day, or spend a couple of nights at an inn, or rent a cottage for the season.

Interesting historical tidbit: the first native American to greet the original (Plymouth) Pilgrims, Samoset, learned his English trading with the British fishermen that had settled on Monhegan around 1600.

Easily my favorite "hidden treasure" in New England.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:34 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some things I really love here in Western MA that haven't been mentioned yet:

I am very partial to the Hancock Shaker Village, which is in the Berkshires (a little bit west of Pittsfield on Rte 20). It's absolutely beautiful out there, and the village has well earned its name of the "City of Peace." Lots of neat things to see about Shaker life. I especially like going on the days when they have the Country Fair in the fall, but I'm hoping to make it out to see the baby animals this month. They also have Shaker Suppers in the fall. It's *almost* lovely enough at the village to make me wish it were the 19th century and I could run away and commit to a life of celibacy. Almost. :)

Dinosaurs! First, of course, there's Dinosaur State Park, which is actually in CT, just south of Hartford on I-91. Cool museum (lots of footprints that they actually built the museum over) and nice hiking outdoors. You can bring your own plaster, etc. and make a cast of a dinosaur footprint, which is pretty darn cool. If you want even more dino prints, there's the Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke, MA. There's no museum or anything there: you just head down the slope from Rte. 5, by the railroad tracks, overlooking the Connecticut River. I was last there six years ago, maybe, but it wasn't particularly well-marked then; the prints are really cool when you find them, because you can basically just walk all over them. (I'd avoid the other touristy dino things in the area; totally not worth it.)

The best place to go for a drive out here is definitely Rte. 2, heading west from Greenfield, known as the "Mohawk Trail." It's America's first "scenic drive," and there are tons of remnants of the bygone era of motoring out there, not to mention the incredible scenery. There's "trading posts" and old motor court-type motels, but my favorite thing along it is of course the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls (not too far west of Greenfield, actually). The town converted an old steel bridge into a pedestrian bridge/garden. It's one of the most beautiful things to see out here. The town itself is fun to walk around, too. Be sure to go down and see the Glacial Potholes (about a block off the main street). The Trolley Museum across the river is actually quite fun, too: you can take a ride on the little trolley, even! The drive as you keep going west then is absolutely beautiful (and there's a fun hairpin turn to drive around).

To buy local products here, I totally recommend the UMass Orchard in Belchertown for produce. Lots of neat varieties of apples and so on. Pretty drive, but it's way out there in the middle of nowhere. (I just buy their apples at the Whole Foods in Hadley, actually, to save the long drive, but it is pretty.) I also like Bashista Orchards, in Southampton, for apples, cider, and cider donuts, and other local produce (East St. is 15 mins. south of Northampton on Rte. 10 -- watch the turn-off; it's very sharp). They also sell the cheddar cheese from the Granville Country Store, which is an absolutely amazing super-sharp cheddar. (The drive out to the store itself, which is about 40 minutes west of I-91 on Rte. 57, is amazingly beautiful, but takes a long time. Totally worth it if the scenery is the goal.)

I also like the Magic Wings butterfly conservatory in South Greenfield (the entrance price is on the high side, though, for what it is). It's warm all year; the butterflies are pretty and will land on you.
posted by lysimache at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow. Some fantastic, marvelously encyclopedic answers. Some of you have gone well beyond the call of duty. (I'll mark the best answers after the question slides a little further down the green, and it seems there will be no further responses.)
posted by MasonDixon at 3:23 PM on April 5, 2009

You could do a Bates, Bowdoin, Colby tour. Each school has museums, architecture, and campus events that would make a fun trip during the school year.
posted by hworth at 4:13 PM on April 5, 2009

The Plimouth [sic] Plantation in Plymouth MA. When you step into the grounds, you go back four centuries, as all the buildings recreate those the Pilgrims had. Plus, everyone who works there is in costume and acts in the period, treating you as a visitor from the same period. It's a great experience.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:44 PM on April 5, 2009

Curtis' in Putney, VT. Don't let animated gifs of pigs on the webpage give you the wrong impression: this is SERIOUSLY AMAZING barbeque.

Putney is in and of itself a pretty cute town. It also has Basketville which is kind of neat/weird. And the Putney Co-Op is a fabulous natural grocery store.

Fort No. 4 is a "Living History" museum in Charlestown, NH. It's along the lines of the Plimouth Planation, but in NH and is more geared towards the military history of the time period. And hey! You can churn butter!

Along the lines of churning butter, Billings Farm is a great farm/museum in Woodstock, VT.

Which leads me to Grafton Village Cheese. The village of Grafton itself is beautiful and quaint and exactly what you picture when you say the words "Vermont postcard." And the cheese is just amazing. They also have a few pet cows at the factory store, if petting cows is your thing.

Harpoon Brewery in Windsor is a good place to stock up on beers. I think you can do tours of the brewery, but I'm not entirely positive. In any case, the Simon Pearce factory and store is just across the road, and you can take tours of the pottery shed and watch glass blowing after you've consumed a few beers.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:03 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hartness House Inn and Restaurant, Springfield VT. Astronomical Observatory under the front lawn.
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Saugus Mass. Replica of colonial era iron smelter.
posted by Raybun at 5:58 PM on April 5, 2009

(I grew up in Springfield, VT and wouldn't bother go out of my way to get to the Hartness House. It's weird, but also completely underwhelming.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:38 PM on April 5, 2009

I've been to the Edward Gorey house... it's neat, worth an hour visit or so if you're in the mid-Cape area.

if you're in Central Mass (Worcester area), Higgins Armory (which is advertising a lot lately) is worth a visit if you've never been.

I like to visit The Brookfield Orchards in the fall. It's not big, but if you're in the area worth checking out. If you have small kids, they still have old playground equipment (steel slides, a merry-go-round, a see-saw) which you can't find many places anymore.
posted by inthe80s at 9:53 AM on April 6, 2009

Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont.
posted by terrapin at 5:35 AM on April 8, 2009

I just uploaded the 2009 schedule of events at the Justin Morrill Homestead, BTW :)
posted by terrapin at 5:38 AM on April 8, 2009

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