Weekend Getaways in New England

August 12, 2013 by

Food, Drink & Travel, North America, Places to Go, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

New England – in the Northeast corner of the United States –  consists of six states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This region shines year around, but with 473 collective miles of coastline you can’t go wrong in the summer. Add to that colonial history, craft beer, and a charming local dialect, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for some quirky weekend getaways in New England.

In fact, here are six different getaways you could enjoy in each of the six New England states:

For your first visit to New England: Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

Oh, Boston. The cradle of the American Revolution. The only truly big city in New England. The dropped R’s. There are so many neighborhoods to explore, museums to visit, and restaurants to try, that visiting Boston really deserves more than a weekend.

If this is your first trip to Boston, you can walk the Freedom Trail, which will lead you past many historic landmarks of the American Revolution. Or, you can stroll through the Public Garden, and smile when you see the bronze duckling statues commemorating the famous children’s book Make Way for Ducklings. Be sure to treat yourself to an educational afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science, which has everything from dinosaurs to astronaut ice cream to an indoor lightning show.

For a more offbeat Boston experience, take the Red Line out to Cambridge, and do some shopping at The Garment District. This multi-level thrift store and costume shop’s claim to fame is “the pile of clothes.” Grab a garbage bag, and jump in to see if you can spot any gems amid the oversized t-shirts and ugly sweaters, then weigh your finds and pay $1.50 per pound. After your successful shopping trip, walk to Central Square and get dinner at Cuchi Cuchi – the food is international small plates, the drink menu is extensive, and the décor is roaring 20’s themed.

If all this city living gets to be too much for you, take the ferry from Long Wharf out to the Harbor Islands. Pack a picnic lunch, admire the views of the Boston skyline, and explore Civil War-era Fort Warren on Georges Island.

When you’re ready to return to the mainland, you’ll want to head to the North End – Boston’s Little Italy – where you can gorge yourself on Italian food before you attempt to settle one of Boston’s fiercest debates: Which is the better Italian dessert shop: Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry? If you can’t choose, second helpings are recommended.

For the hippies: Burlington, Vermont

Kayaking on Lake Champlain. Photo courtesy of Lynn Gardner via Flickr.

Kayaking on Lake Champlain. Photo courtesy of Lynn Gardner via Flickr.

An hour from the Canadian border, Burlington is probably the hardest of these six destinations to get to, but once there, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a beautiful natural setting, and the hospitality of crunchy hippies.

Home to the University of Vermont (UVM), this college town has plenty to offer visitors, in particular, nature lovers. Go kayaking on Lake Champlain and search for Vermont’s version of the Loch Ness Monster – his name is Champ. Or, if you love that mountain air, hike Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s tallest peak) or Camel’s Hump (pictured on their state quarter).

When you’re tired of being outdoorsy, head to Muddy Waters, a local coffee shop, to ogle the bearded, mountain men who make up its clientele. Or, for a more filling meal, head to The Skinny Pancake for sweet and savory crepes made from local Vermont ingredients. Inside this counter-service restaurant, there’s even a map of the state, which shows the locations of the farms supplying your food. The menu changes with the seasons based on what’s available locally, which makes summer the most varied time to eat at The Skinny Pancake.

Once you finish your meal, wander into the nearby Peace & Justice Store to do a little fair trade shopping. You know, because you didn’t already feel awesome about saving the planet after eating that locally sourced meal. At the end of the day, pretend you’re a UVM college student and climb the fire escape on the Williams building for a lovely view of sunset over Lake Champlain.

For the hipsters: Portland, Maine

Hanging out at the Eastern Promenade. Photo courtesy of Josh and Melanie Rosenthal via Flickr.

Hanging out at the Eastern Promenade. Photo courtesy of Josh and Melanie Rosenthal via Flickr.

In New England, when someone mentions Portland, a question always follows: Maine or Oregon? While the rest of the country may safely assume Oregon, they’re missing out on Portland, Maine, which is, well, the Portland, Oregon of New England. Although much smaller than its West Coast counterpart, Portland, Maine is known in the Northeast for its artsy, hipster residents who keep the local music scene, vegetarian restaurants, and craft breweries alive.

Start your day by walking along the Eastern Promenade. When you’ve had your fill of this park by the ocean, make your way to Long Wharf to see a piece of the Berlin Wall. Nearby on the wharf is a much more kitschy Portland landmark – a statue of a lighthouse with a lobster climbing it King Kong-style. Take ironic photos of it before you get lunch. The Green Elephant is the place to go for vegetarian food, while Duck Fat serves up that Canadian favorite: poutine.

If you’re looking for something particularly strange to do with your time, take the ferry to Peak’s Island and visit the Umbrella Cover Museum. That’s right, not the umbrella museum, the umbrella cover museum, which holds the world record for most umbrella covers (730). For an art experience unrelated to umbrellas, the first Friday of every month, artist vendors and food trucks set up shop on Congress Street. If you’re not in town on the right weekend, you can still support young artists by checking out State Theater, Mayo Street Arts, or Space Gallery – 3 local art and music venues.

Head to Rising Tide Brewing Company at the end of the day to sample local beer and relax. Sometimes you just need to enjoy things unironically.

For a classic New England experience: Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Lisa Jacobs via Flickr.

Mystic Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Lisa Jacobs via Flickr.

While the Western half of Connecticut wishes it were New York, the Eastern half is more in touch with the rest of New England, and Mystic is a perfect example. Just over the border from Rhode Island, Mystic was settled in 1654, and is a great place for seafood, sailing, and colonial history.

On your first day in town head to Mystic Seaport. This is a huge tourist destination, but, like many tourist destinations, there’s a reason people love it. You can visit a re-creation of a 19th century sea-faring village, and a planetarium that teaches how sailors used the stars for navigation. Most importantly, you can go aboard a number of historic sailing vessels including the Charles W. Morgan, which is the last wooden whaling ship in the world, and the oldest American commercial sailing vessel still afloat. It’s literally one-of-a-kind.

After exploring colonial America’s maritime history, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite. For an upscale lunch option head to The Oyster Club on Water Street and get the farm to table experience. You’ll need to make reservations at least a week in advance if you want to get dinner there this time of year.

If you’re hoping for more reasonably priced fare, Kitchen Little is the place to be for brunch. After more than 30 years in business, this restaurant has had a few different locations (most recently on Mason’s Island, much to the chagrin of island residents dissatisfied with the increased traffic), but the residents of Mystic will follow it wherever it goes – the eggs benedict is that good.

Before you leave town, make sure to check out the Mystic Aquarium. Your favorite part will be the beluga whales, but the whole place is fun, particularly if you’re traveling with kids.

For an unexpected beach vacation: Portsmouth, NH

Beach Houses in New Hampshire

Beach Houses in New Hampshire

With the shortest coastline of any US state – less than 18 miles – New Hampshire probably isn’t the first place you think of when you want to take a beach vacation. However, the city of Portsmouth provides a seaside escape in an otherwise landlocked state. It was clever of you to wait until late in the season to plan this trip because it takes a month or two of hot weather before the North Atlantic Ocean warms up enough to provide an enjoyable swim.

After you visit the beach, whether or not you get in the water, you’ll have no trouble entertaining yourself in Downtown Portsmouth. This area is quite small, but it offers plenty of opportunities for good food, live music, and craft beer.

Head to the Portsmouth Brewery for a burger and a beer, but don’t be shy if you have kids in tow or if you’re not a big drinker yourself because they also serve homemade root beer. For a dining experience that’s upscale but unpretentious, try Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café. You choose your fish and your sauce or order from the raw bar. Plus, the cocktails are great, if craft beer isn’t really your thing.

For live music, Prescott Park has a free summer concert series every Wednesday night, while The Press Room has shows 7 nights a week. Wandering down Bow Street and choosing a restaurant based on their deck provides a more relaxed evening experience. The food and drinks are good everywhere, what you’re looking for is the best view.

For the traveler who’s been everywhere: Providence, Rhode Island

Waterfire in Providence

Waterfire in Providence

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, and, although it’s a quirky place with a lot of character, people sometimes forget about it, or worse, confuse it with Long Island. So, to clear up these misunderstandings, head first to the state capital of Providence.

You should visit Providence in the summertime for one reason: Waterfire. Waterfire is a public art project and festival that happens most weekends throughout the summer and includes live music, street food, and, most importantly, nearly 100 bonfires lit along the Providence River.

Get dinner on Federal Hill, which is Providence’s Little Italy. Yes, New Englanders just hate calling their Little Italy, “Little Italy” and insist on coming up with other names for their neighborhoods. If you’re not in the mood for Italian food, Providence is home to many different delicious restaurants. Why not try La Laiterie at Farmstead where cheeses from around the world are featured in each of the menu items?

For your next day in Rhode Island, explore Newport. Enjoy Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile walking path with Gilded Age mansions on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, or pay to visit one of these former summer homes to the super rich, and learn about life at the turn of the century. Round out your evening in Newport with The Bit Players at the Firehouse Theater. This improv comedy show is always different with a talented, rotating cast that isn’t afraid to make up songs on the spot. Plus, the show is BYOB.

Finally, you can’t leave Rhode Island without having a bowl of clam chowder, a plate full of clam cakes (deep fried dough with chopped clam), and maybe a stuffie (stuffed clam). While you can get these dishes in Newport, the best clam shack experiences are Aunt Carrie’s and Iggy’s, both located across the bay in Narragansett.

-Emma Holliday

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