Greater State College PA: Stamp Collecting, Christopher Columbus, and Water Caves in the Land of the Nittany Lions

WHY GO: Penn State in State College PA is on the college tour, of course! But there’s so much more here than the Campus, its Museums, and Arboretum. Drive a few miles and you’ll find yourself at the center of the Stamp Collecting world, inside the Country’s Only “All-Water Cave and Wildlife Park”, and, incredibly enough, within inches of the traveling desk that Christopher Columbus might have had with him as he “sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” There are surprises galore on this mid-Pennsylvania Getaway. Follow along here….

What To Do in Greater State College PA

Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

TOUR: Boal Mansion, Vault, and Columbus Chapel, Boalsburg. It almost seems too suspect to be true: the cross that Christopher Columbus used to claim unexplored land and his circa 1400’s Admiral’s Desk in a vault in this tiny mid-PA town? And, slivers of the True Cross of Jesus, too? Well, at least one of those has been authenticated, the other taken on faith, but both artifacts have ended up in this small town location, the home of 8 generations of the Boal family, in Boalsburg PA.

Columbus Chapel Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Columbus Chapel Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

How? The fifth generation Boal, Theodore/Teddy, an architect, met Spanish born Mathilde Dolores Denis Lagarde while attending the prestigious Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. Mathilde was the niece of Victoria Columbus Montalvo, widow of Diego Colon, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, and because Victoria died childless, the Colon (Columbus in English) family artifacts passed down from her to Mathilde in 1908. These Family treasures included not just the travel desk, but some shackles from CC’s ship, the Santa Maria (that were not used to chain slaves: the famous explorer was notoriously distrustful of his own men), and the complete Columbus Family Chapel – dating back to the 1400’s – from the Columbus Castle in Asturias, Spain. Consequently, little Boalsburg PA is home to the most significant collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts in North America.

Columbus Chapel interior Boalsburg PA

Columbus Chapel interior Boalsburg PA

Teddy, a Protestant, had the Catholic Chapel installed on Boal Mansion’s grounds, using good old Pennsylvania limestone for the exterior, and incorporating original pieces like the carved door and alter (15th century oak), and marble cross. Portraits of the Columbus family depict them as saints, as was done back then for wealthy dynasties. The original Colon Family Crest is built into a railing in the rear of the sanctuary. Original vestments with silk and gold thread are kept in airtight drawers. One, adorned with Skull and Crossbones, was used for funerals. At this point in the tour, your guide will open the cabinet door where a “relic query” holds two splinters of what is believed to Christ’s Cross.

Travel Desk and Land-Claim Cross owned by Christopher Columbus, Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Travel Desk and Land-Claim Cross owned by Christopher Columbus, Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

It was said that Mathilde took solace in the consecrated Catholic Chapel when her husband and son were off fighting in France during the Great War (WWI). At first, Columbus’s Admiral’s Desk sat among the gilded alter and artifacts inside the Chapel. Over time, humidity and fluctuating temperatures started to take their toll, and so the desk and a stack of Columbus Family papers believed to be hundreds of years old, discovered in a cabinet crumbling with decay, have been moved into a third building on the property – a temperature-controlled walk-in vault. The papers have yet to be digitized. Though credited with “discovering America,” Christopher Columbus never sailed farther north than what is now the Dominican Republic and never set foot on mainland USA. He went back to Spain, negotiated a 10% deal with Queen Isabella on all the riches gleaned from the New World, and made his family quite rich.

Colon (Columbus) Family Papers Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Colon (Columbus) Family Papers Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

A tour of the Boal Mansion Museum, Vault, and Columbus Chapel includes all three structures. Photos and portraits of Presidents, celebrities, friends, and family members cover every inch of every wall throughout the 2-story home. Both Teddy and his son, Pierre, served admirably during WWI: Teddy trained troops here to fight the Keiser, and then fought for the US with the 28th Infantry Division, Pierre with the French Cavalry. Pierre, like his father, also married a French woman, Jeanne de Menthon, and was appointed Ambassador to Peru and Nicaragua under FDR. One of Pierre’s daughters, Mimi, married the Governor of Maryland, Blair Lee, a Richard Henry Lee descendent. The wedding generated congratulations from Presidents and dignitaries. Do you see where this is going?

Teddy Boal's 1916 Government Issued Gun and Document, Boalsburg PA

Teddy Boal’s 1916 Government Issued Gun and Document, Boalsburg PA

The Mansion holds a hoarder’s heaven worth of stuff – much of it incredibly valuable or at least historic. It was said that “Teddy inherited three fortunes and spent them all.” He collected everything. There’s a deck of cards and lock of hair from Napoleon Bonaparte, the White House piano that belonged to Dolly Madison, put on the market when Teddy Roosevelt moved in, a piece of a plane that Col. Boal shot down in France, and upstairs, a whole armory exhibit that includes Col. Boal’s Colt 45 with its original holster and purchase order from the US Government. There’s also a great deal for the fashion obsessed: Louis Vuitton trunks full of early 1900’s Parisian fashions provided the array of dresses on display in another upstairs room. One dress, worn by Renoir’s lover in his portrait of her, is on display behind the painting.

Upon his return from his Ambassadorship in 1952, Pierre Boal donated the house as a museum as is – “Clutter and all.” The next year, the Boal Barn Playhouse, the oldest continuously operating summer stock Theater in a Bank Barn, was established on site, and is still going strong. Pierre Boal and his father, Theodore, are buried in the Chapel crypt, though, after her husband’s death in 1938, Mathilde went back to France and passed away there in 1951. More and more people are discovering this eccentric place with its dizzying number of important artifacts that once belonged to world-renowned historical figures. It definitely should be on your visit to the Penn State area. 1 ½ hour tours $10 adults, $7 kids, open May through October, Tues-Sun 1:30-5, last tour at 3:30pm.

PA Military Museum Boalsburg PA

PA Military Museum Boalsburg PA

GO: Pennsylvania Military Museum and Shrine to the 28th Infantry Division, Boalsburg. Across the street from Boal Mansion, it’s easy to combine a visit here with a tour of the Boal Home and Chapel. Though small, this military museum is engaging and well designed, with a focus on the lesser-known WWI up to current military operations. Begin by walking through a trench, and into rooms replete with jeeps and tanks. The park itself and its War Memorials are beautiful, and a walk around is a good way to pay your respects to our lost soldiers, and take in some fresh air. Open Wed-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5, $6 adults, $4 kids.

American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

VISIT: American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte. A quick 20 minute drive from State College brings you to Bellefonte, a lovely “river runs through it” kind of town and center of the universe for all things philatelic. “Philatelic” may be a mouthful of a word, but in essence it concerns stamp collecting and postal history – with an emphasis on academic research. Who knew that the hobby some of us pursued as kids could be so exciting?

Errors Freaks and Oddities Stamps American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Errors Freaks and Oddities Stamps American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

The APS, founded in 1886, “is the largest, most influential and respected organization in the world of stamp collecting.” Aside from publishing the American Philatelist Quarterly and Philatelic Literature Review, sent to 28,000 members worldwide, the APS bestows annual awards on those who conduct distinguished research and are major donors. The Headquarters is comprised of several departments, including the magazine publishing office, operations, and, several reasons to visit: a small museum, the largest public access Philatelic Library in North America, and the rescued Old Headsville WV Post Office, still operating as a Bellefonte PA P.O.

Public Access Library - American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Public Access Library – American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

As the demographic of the serious philatelist ages, the APS is actively seeking to attract a younger stamp collecting crowd through social media, YouTube (“Exploring Stamps” with the Millennial, Graham), and the release of youth-relevant stamps – e.g., in August 2018, “Here There Be Dragons.”

The museum’s key exhibit, “Alphabetilately A to Z,” created for the 15th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington DC, and on permanent loan here, is worth a long look. Twenty six panels pasted with stamps that correspond to the alphabet – Cinderella Stamps, Duck Stamps, EFO’s (Error’s, Freaks, and Oddities – yes, a stamp classification), Local Post, Overprint, Persian Rug (refers to security patterns in the background), War Issues, Zeplin Post, and the like invite closer inspection. Collectors are forever watching out for errors, and one of the fan favorites is the “Inverted Jenny” – an airmail stamp with an upside-down airplane. One sheet of 100 stamps made it into the market, making them very rare indeed. (A member donated a single Inverted Jenny to the APS, which is held in a safe. A facsimile is on display).

Rescued WV Rural Post Office - American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Rescued WV Rural Post Office – American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Did you know that you could send live chicks through the mail? Raw eggs? You’ll discover this at the relocated Old Headsville Post Office, from which you can buy new stamps and send mail (canceled stamps read: “American Philatelic Society, Bellefonte PA”). The day after the new Mr. Rogers stamp was released, it was sold out here. In a scene that tapped into the compassion of Fred Rogers, as the sheets of stamps were selling out, people who were fortunate enough to be early in line started buying just one stamp each so that others behind them could get one as well. Museum open Mon-Fri 8-4:30, free.

Big Springs Distillery Bellefone PA

Big Springs Distillery Bellefone PA

TASTE: Big Spring Spirits, Match Factory, Bellefonte. Just around the corner from the Philatelic Society in the same complex, Big Spring Spirits has one of the prettiest distillery tasting rooms I’ve ever seen. By dint of its aesthetics, quality of its products, and innovative mixed drinks, Big Springs Spirits is not only the perfect follow-up to a visit to the Stamp Society, but is worth a drive from anywhere.

Décor has a woman’s touch – there are table lamps, floral print chairs, and of course a lovely bar at which you can order Big Spring Vodka, Straight Corn Whiskey, or any of the fantastic craft cocktails made with those spirits and others distilled in the back room. Examples: Hawaiian Lion – gin, basil, pineapple syrup, club soda; Harvest Mule – aged corn whiskey, ginger beer, local apple cider; and my favorite – Salted Caramel Martini – vodka, dulce le leche, salt and cream. Heavenly.  Pair these up with food offerings, like humongous pretzels, Charcuterie (4 items, $19), Roasted Baby Kale and Beet Salad ($12), or White Wine Braised Pork Mac and Cheese, and you’ve got yourself a meal. The latest, and most popular trend here: cartons of 8 different Grab and Go Cocktails that are a big hit with Penn State tailgaters.

Penn's Cave, Spring Mills PA

Penn’s Cave, Spring Mills PA

TOUR: Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park, Spring Mills. You can’t miss ads and billboards for this attraction about a 25 minute drive from Penn State. Touted as the “Only all-water Cavern AND Wildlife Park” in America: See It By Boat!” this show cave has been delighting tourists for 133 years. Though there’s a Wildlife Park Safari on the premises (combo tickets available), those short on time should opt for the mainstay: a half mile boat ride though the otherworldly cavern of dripping stalactites and unusual formations, mostly in darkness, and then out into the river/spring that feeds the cave.

Water Source Penn's Cave Spring Mills PA

Water Source Penn’s Cave Spring Mills PA

Yes, it’s touristy – but you’ll never see anything like it elsewhere. FYI – you’ve got to be in relatively good shape to walk down a long hill and steep sets of stairs to get to the small boats that hold about 20 people and leave every 10-15 minutes. $19 adults, $11 kids, March-Nov daily, Dec and Feb weekends only – check website for hours.

All Sports Museum Beaver Stadium State College PA

All Sports Museum Beaver Stadium State College PA

VISIT: All Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium, Penn State. I didn’t go to Penn State, and I don’t have much interest in sports. But, I gamely went to Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions, and the second largest college stadium in the country (at 106,500 seats, second only to U of Michigan, with 109,000 seats), to check out the All Sports Museum. I’m glad I did.

All Sports Museum Penn State - State College PA

All Sports Museum Penn State – State College PA

The stadium itself is imposing, but the museum swept me up in the fierce devotion, positive striving, and competitive spirit of the “Blue and White.” A sport by sport walkthrough on two floors, with interactive opportunities in some – lift a 100lb dummy in Wrestling, “be a sharpshooter” in the Rifle section (where I also learned that the sport had its origins in WWI Student Army Training in 1917), give a boxing bag your best shot – it’s a multi-media extravaganza of shouting crowds and clashing athletes playing on myriad screens throughout.

Beaver Stadium Penn State State College PA

Beaver Stadium Penn State State College PA

Not one sport is left out: Gymnastics, Fencing, Basketball, Volleyball, Swimming and Diving, Bowling, Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, Track and Field, Cross Country, Soccer, Lacrosse, Softball, Baseball, Golf, and of course Football. The Sandusky scandal is glossed over, and Joe Paterno is lionized posthumously, which is to be expected in this rah-rah museum that accentuates the positive.  If there’s no game going on, ask to be escorted up the elevator to the 4th level Club Room. You’ll get a great overview of the surrounding “Happy Valley” landscape and of an eerily empty stadium. Open Tues-Sat 10-4, Sunday noon-4, $5 adults, $3 kids.

Chihuly Glass Palmer Museum of Art Penn State - State College PA

Chihuly Glass Palmer Museum of Art Penn State – State College PA

VISIT: Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State. Another great college Art Museum, The Palmer (largest art museum between Philly and Pittsburgh) focuses on American Art from the 18th Century through today, with detours into 16th and 17th century French and Italian religious art, stoneware from around the world, and important glass pieces. What is most compelling here, however, are the clever juxtapositions – a 1972 Botero rendering of a portly nun right beside Jeff Davies 1980 portrait of the beer-bellied Jerome Paul Witkin – and innovative sculptural materials – the Willie Cole multi-petal flower sculpture made entirely of shoes.

Lynched - Palmer Museum of Art Penn State - State College PA

Lynched – Palmer Museum of Art Penn State – State College PA

The most disturbing piece, at least to me, is upstairs in the William Hull Gallery: a bronze sculpture, created in 1933 by Jewish dentist-turned-artist, Seymour Lipton, called “Lynched.” A dead black man in fetal position, mouth open, rope around his neck and hands bound behind him; it’s a powerful statement on the sanctioned murder of Black men in the South – a representation that Lipton fashioned while it was still going on to a lessening degree. I couldn’t tear myself away. Open Tues-Sat 10-4:30, Sun noon – 4, also 6-9pm on “Third Thursdays,” free.

Penn State Arboretum State College PA

Penn State Arboretum State College PA

WALK: Arboretum at Penn State: H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens. A copse of evergreen trees pierces the sky, and colorful sculptures and flowers beguile throughout this serene arboretum. No wonder it’s one of the most popular attractions on campus. There’s a Children’s Garden, a Lotus Pool, Tropical Grove, and Marsh Meadows, and many more gardens to explore. Plan on at least 30-40 minutes to meander and appreciate the art of both Mother Nature and Man. Open daily dawn to dusk, free.

Where to Eat in State College PA

Berkey Creamery Penn State - College Park PA

Berkey Creamery Penn State – College Park PA

ICE CREAM: Berkey Creamery. Those on a quest to find the best ice cream in America will most likely join the long line to the counter in this blue and white cafeteria-like ice cream parlor. Penn State is known for its ambrosial and creamy versions – dispensed on campus in the Food Science building. Little known fact: Ben & Jerry split the $5 cost of a Penn State ice-cream-making correspondence course, and then famously opened their first shop in Burlington Vermont. Open 7am-10pm.

EAT: The Gardens at Penn Stater Hotel. (See in hotel review below).

Where to Stay in State College PA

Lobby Penn Stater Hotel - State College PA

Lobby Penn Stater Hotel – State College PA

STAY: Penn Stater Hotel, State College. This corporate looking hotel welcomes you with a mid-century modern living room – complete with roaring gas fireplace – as soon as you walk through the door. It’s a charming first impression of the place where many Penn State parents, prospective students, and visitors to the area stay when they want to feel at home in the land of the Blue and White. Walk around, and you’ll see Nittany Lions everywhere.

Nittany Lion at Penn Stater Hotel College Park PA

Nittany Lion at Penn Stater Hotel College Park PA

A sprawling conference center, wedding and event venue, The Penn Stater is always pretty busy, so you might have to wait on line to check in. Just know that reception folks are friendly and kind, and want to give every guest all the information they need for the best stay.

Guest Rooms at Penn Stater

Guest Room Penn Stater - College Park PA

Guest Room Penn Stater – College Park PA

At first glance, guest rooms seem like those in your standard mid-high end hotel, but look closer and you’ll see details that give them extra appeal. Very comfy beds are clad in white duvets and sport blue throws, and navy leather upholstered chairs (with ottoman) offer the perfect place to read and write.

Bathroom Penn Stater Hotel - College Park PA

Bathroom Penn Stater Hotel – College Park PA

Large bathrooms, in wood and terra cotta hues feature a textural floral tile backsplash behind the granite bathroom vanity. Toiletries are from Gilchrist & Soames, but the pretty labels are photos of the Arboretum, taken by Penn State Students.

Dining at Penn Stater

Two restaurants on site: the rah-rah (or should I say, “roar!”) sports-bar, Legends, and finer “The Gardens.” I’m always wary of the food at large conference hotels, especially those that offer generally uninspiring dinner buffets. With a large captive audience, it’s usually anything but destination dining. But I was so wrong about The Gardens. The food was terrific.

I had been told that most restaurants in town cater to Penn State students, so locals reserve a table at The Gardens when celebrating a special occasion. On the night I dined there, the feature buffet was “America’s Bounty,” and the tastes, variety, freshness, and innovative menu items were astoundingly good – and all for the unbelievable cost of $24.95 per person! I started with Mushroom-Brie Soup, which was so delicious I wanted seconds right away. But, there was so much more to try: Grilled Marinated Sirloin Steak with Sauce Robert – expertly cooked, right off the grill – followed by Brick-Roasted Chipotle Ranch Chicken with Andouille Cornbread Stuffing, Honey Glaze, and Tequila-Lime Crema. There was Swordfish with Fattoush Salad and Pomegranate Molasses; Mussels in Curry Sauce; Peel and Eat Shrimp; a groaning Cheese Board, and so much more. But you get the gist. This was not a Denny’s meal. So far from it, I would have gone back again if I’d stayed another night.

Amenities at Penn Stater

Though a couple of miles from the Penn State Campus and downtown State College, a complimentary shuttle is available for guests daily from 5am-11:30pm.

Complimentary coffee each morning 5am-10am.

Complimentary wi fi

Rates from $119 per night include coffee, wifi, parking, local shuttle.

STAY: As a college town, there are plenty of chain hotels to choose from. If you’re averse to big hotel brands, The Nittany Lion Inn and Atherton Hotel in town are good independent alternatives.

York County PA: All Revved Up With Lots of Places To Go

Downtown York PA

Downtown York PA

WHY GO: The last post I wrote about York PA, which still applies and should be read in conjunction with this one, sung the praises of “The Snack Food Capital of the USA”. But this time, the Getaway Mavens delve into the reasons that most people come to York: first and foremost to tour the Harley Davidson Manufacturing Plant; second, for the impressive historical structures still standing since Colonial times; and third, for a beautifully revitalized downtown with a Central Market that serves as forum for terrific ethnic eateries. Of course, as is our hallmark, there are other quirky museums and sites, not to mention a growing locally sourced culinary scene. Read on….

Things to Do in York PA

Harley Davidson Plant York PA

Harley Davidson Plant York PA

TOUR: Harley Davidson Plant (Touring, CVO’s and Trike motorcycles). Even if you’re not into motorcycles, it’s thrilling to witness large-scale robots working in concert with humans to create distinctive icons of the American road. A free one hour self-guided tour through the buzzing, beeping factory gets you up close to literal fender-benders, welders, self-driving AGC’s (Automatically Guided Carts), and assembly stations where, piece by piece, each bike is formed into a recognized whole.

Harley Davidson Vehicle Operations York PA

Harley Davidson Vehicle Operations York PA

Stroll past 10,000 lb. cylinders of cold-rolled steel, stop to watch sheets of said steel pressure cooked into “half-shells” via the force of 500-ton molding machines, and then see the shells welded together by both humans and robots to form gas tanks. Next up, the ever-moving Frame Paint line – where all frames are painted black and baked to a glossy shine.

You’ll start to see more human workers in the Assembly area of the factory where the whole operation takes on a Disneyesque quality as AGC’s, conveying assembled parts from station to station, roll all around you. Every part is color coded and numbered – the whole operation is organized and pristine. No big surprise that each employee exudes great pride in his or her product.

New Bikes Harley-Davidson Plant York PA

New Bikes Harley-Davidson Plant York PA

Perhaps the most coveted job is that of the dozen or so examiners who have 4 minutes to test – on rollers in small bays – each of the roughly 800 Harleys that leave the plant each day. To prove that robots haven’t taken over factories completely, humans can override computer analytics when it comes to authorizing the final product. Naturally, you’ll exit through the gift shop – where you can purchase every Harley Davidson stamped product imaginable. One-hour factory tours are free. It costs $38 for the 2-hour “Steel Toe” tour, which gives you a behind the scenes look, but you must RSVP way in advance as it often sells out. Be aware that photography is not allowed anywhere inside the plant. Open 8-5, Mon-Fri. all year.

Colonial Complex York County PA

Colonial Complex York County PA

TOUR: Colonial Complex of York County History Center. The YCHC consists of five museums, and a library/archive. A $15 ticket enables you to visit the Colonial Complex, the Agricultural & Industrial Museum, the Historical Society Museum, the Bonham House, and the 1903 Fire Museum of York County.

Costumed Interpreter Colonial Complex York PA

Costumed Interpreter Colonial Complex York PA

Begin at the Colonial Complex, which includes The 1741 Golden Plough Tavern, the adjoining 1755 General Horatio Gates House, and the 1812 Barnett Bobb Log House, which was moved here in the 1960’s. The Tavern belonged to a family of German heritage who lived and worked here. A “half-timber framework,” the Golden Plough is a rare, intact example of this architectural style. You’ll see evidence of this construction through Lucite-covered cutaways in one original wall, packed with twigs and mud for insulation. On the first floor, the tavern room was as close as it got to network news, as travelers would eat, drink, and share gossip of the day. Upstairs, travelers snored together on paper thin mats on the floor of the common sleeping room – not exactly the Ritz.

Vignette - Gen. Horatio Gates House York PA

Vignette – Gen. Horatio Gates House York PA

The General Gates house is a step up in status. A Commander of US Troops in the Revolutionary War, General Horatio Gates lived here temporarily, and the home is decorated as if he’ll walk through the door any minute. A table is set with imported dinnerware and an expensive beeswax candle (in the shape of a beehive), indicating the upper class standing of the home’s owners.

Active Train Tracks in Street York PA

Active Train Tracks in Street York PA

Cross the street (watching out for freight-trains that very occasionally ride on tracks embedded in the road) to the 1976 replica of the Colonial era Courthouse, (the original was demolished in 1841), accurate to size and location. It was here, in November 1777, that the Second Continental Congress met to adopt the Articles of Confederation in an effort to unite the 13 colonies. The Articles served as the Law of the Land until the US Constitution was ratified in 1788. $15 for all sites, Open April – Nov. Tues – Sat, check website for times.

Working demonstration Waterwheel Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

Working demonstration Waterwheel Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

VISIT: Agricultural And Industrial Museum. Located in a repurposed factory complex, this museum is built to impress. Large scale printing presses manufactured by George F. Motter’s Sons, overhead crane rails, a 1916 trolley car from downtown York, a working gristmill water wheel, and artifacts from many York factories can all be found in this massive institution. It’s a wonderland for both kids and adults.

Wallpaper artisans - Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

Wallpaper artisans – Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

The museum highlights York County’s many local industries including tobacco, with rolling tables, cartons, and tobacco powder on display. There’s a photo and model of the first turbine windmill, built by S. Morgan Smith Co – a hydroelectric dam blade manufacturer – in 1941, installed as a test product for a Central Vermont utility. It failed quickly when the blade snapped off. There’s an early Linotype Machine – a complex contraption used to print newspapers –  and a large industrial center phone system, complete with hands on rotary phones, that has become a big hit with kids who have never seen such things. There’s an exhibit on Stauffer Biscuit Co. – maker of Animal Crackers (yes, those toddler favorites are still made in York PA), York Barbells, and artists-created York Wallpaper.

Reddy Kilowatt, Agriculture & Industrial Museum, York PA

Reddy Kilowatt, Agriculture & Industrial Museum, York PA

The Hall of Giants packs a big punch, so don’t miss this soaring space on the other side of the lobby. In it, there’s a humongous, partially working A-Frame ammonia compressor, built in 1904 to make ice for a meatpacking plant, before the advent of Freon. My favorite, though, was the sky-high Reddy Kilowatt; the iconic advertisement for home electricity in the 1930’s. Open Tues-Sat. 10-4.

Entrance Hall - Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Entrance Hall – Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

VISIT: Weightlifting Hall of Fame @ York Barbells. York Oil Burner Company founder, Bob Hoffman, opened an Athletic Club for his workers in the 1930’s. He found that the gym equipment used, mostly the barbells, were such a hot commodity he decided to expand his business into making and selling them. York Barbells became his primary business. Hoffman, considered the “Father of World Weightlifting” – which includes both power lifting (as pertains to weight) and body-building (sculpting the muscles) –  started a trend that was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970’s and still continues to this day.

Gym - Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Gym – Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Anyone who is at all interested in either of these sports will find much to enjoy here from the display of exceptional physiques that were part of the theatrics of 1800’s showmen, to photos and stats of male and female Olympic World Weightlifting Champions throughout the years. You can try out equipment in a couple of large gyms on site, and then make purchases in the store at favorable prices. Open Mon-Sat 9-4:30, Fridays open until 6, free.

African Animal Diorama Nixon County Park Nature Center York PA

African Animal Diorama Nixon County Park Nature Center York PA

VISIT/WALK: Richard M. Nixon Park and Nature Center.  I had to go, given the name of this park, if only for the charms it actually possesses. Nixon never lived in York, and never visited here, but York Barbell owner, Bob Hoffman, donated the Park to the fine people of this county on the eve of Presidential election, in Nixon’s honor. You’ll see a big portrait of the former President in the reception area, where helpful docents provide an overview of the multi-faceted 187-acre park, with six miles of trails and a cool Nature Center.

Richard M. Nixon County Park York PA

Richard M. Nixon County Park York PA

The Nature Center is far better than I expected – with both live animals and artful dioramas showcasing a bevy of taxidermied animals from Africa, the Arctic, the Northwest US, and East Coast, along with cases of mounted birds, collections of eggs, and more on two floors. No bikes are allowed on the trails – a visit here is meant to be contemplative – one of the reasons the place is so popular with “Hike It Baby” groups. Open Tues-Sat. 8:30-4:30, Sun 12-4:30, grounds daily dawn to dusk.

Denise Mathias, Old Republic Distillery York PA

Denise Mathias, Old Republic Distillery York PA

TASTE: Old Republic Distillery. Owned by Denise Mathias and her brother, Bill, this super-small batch, artisanal distillery serves specialized cocktails made with its very own hooch. With the bar and tasting area aglow in blue light, and mixologists pouring drinks at a funky bar, Old Republic could be a hot spot in a much larger city. But here we are in York PA, and it’s where the excellent Battlefield Vodka (using non-GMO white corn), Blackberry Battlefield (80 proof), Golden Plough Tavern Rum (100 proof, great for Dark and Stormy’s), Love Potion Moonshine (great with lemonade for “Lovenade”), Apple Pie Moonshine (like drinking apple pie, including the crust), and Blueberry Apple Pie Moonshine – is made.

Sunrise Soap Co. York PA

Sunrise Soap Co. York PA

SHOP: Sunrise Soap Co. Next door to Central Market, it’s easy to find this purveyor of smell-good soaps, bath fizzies, and other natural body care products. You can even custom blend your own!

Heritage Rail Trail County Park York PA

Heritage Rail Trail County Park York PA

BIKE: Heritage Rail Trail Park. The 21 mile, 176-acre linear bike and hiking trail runs from the Mason-Dixon line to York PA.

Where to Eat and Stay in York PA

Roost Uncommon Kitchen York PA

Roost Uncommon Kitchen York PA

EAT/BREAKFAST: Roost Uncommon Kitchen. This “kitchen,” featuring a modern take on country breakfast, is oh so kitsch, and oh so fun. A sign at the door playfully demands that you “Have a gosh-darn seat already!” Throw your cholesterol cautions to the wind and order one of the specials: The Garbage Biscuit – smoked pulled pork, bacon, sausage, gravy, hash browns, apricot butter, and scratch biscuit ($9), or Roost Special with Fried Chicken and Sausage. Other options include Huevos Rancheros, all kinds of omelets, and more. Tables are made from old doors topped with glass. Bird prints and a mixed bag of wallpaper blanket the walls. It’s a joyful way to start your day.

Korean BBQ York Central Market York PA

Korean BBQ York Central Market York PA

EAT/BREAKFAST/LUNCH: York Central Market. In the mid-1800’s, York farmers loaded up their carts and sold their goods outside in the town square, because, well, there were no grocery stores around. The carts turned into shacks and over time these shacks became a nuisance. So, in 1888, a benefactor built this beautiful structure to provide these farmers and their customers with a roof over their heads. A hundred thirty years later, there’s a great mix of nearly 70 restaurants, farm stands, butchers, and artisans – you can shop for fresh ingredients and also take your pick of world cuisine for a quick lunch. Sushi (Joony), Italian, Mexican (Roburrito’s Food Truck), Greek, Korean (BBQ Cup), American BBQ (Three Hogs), creative salads (Busy Bee), and house-made sodas (Fizzy Bee) are all popular. There’s a demo performance kitchen and an incubator kitchen where new chefs can prep for a pop-up restaurant. Open Tues, Thurs 7am-2pm, Sat 6am-2pm.

Tutonis Restaurant York PA

Tutonis Restaurant York PA

EAT/DINNER: Tutoni’s. Owners Tony (man) and Toni (woman) Calderone are so serious about good Italian food; they took their kitchen staff to Italy for a couple of weeks to bone up on the most exciting and authentic dishes. Reinvigorated, they brought back the best recipes to this old refurbished brick-walled, candle-lit building, with a stunning modern-meets-wine-cellar interior. Plates of stuffed Squash Blossoms ($10), Chicken Gemelli ($21), Atlantic Cod ($31), and more evoke memories of long ago, authentic Italian meals.

Wyndridge Farms Dallastown PA

Wyndridge Farms Dallastown PA

EAT: Wyndridge Farms, Dallastown. Just a 20 minute drive from downtown York, the farm-fresh food here is good and straightforward – Soups, Salads, Cobb ($18), Brick Fired Pizzas ($12-$18), Pasta Prima Vera ($12), Burgers ($11-$16) – but it’s the landscape outside that wows. No wonder bride after bride insists on having her wedding here. Undulating lawns, verdant hills as backdrop: this Craft Brewery/Restaurant/Wedding Venue is spectacular.

EAT/ICE-CREAM: Perrydell Dairy Farm. When your ice-cream comes straight from the cow, it couldn’t get any fresher. But that’s not the only appeal of this popular York dairy farm. You can take a self-guided tour to watch cows being milked, learn the dairy process, and even pet some baby calves.

Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort York PA

Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort York PA

STAY: Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort; Upscale hotels are few and far between in this neck of the woods, but Heritage Hills is fine, comfortable, updated, great bedding, granite bathroom, nice amenities – a good choice for those who want a touch of resort-standard while avoiding a chain brand.  Do you love to golf?  Bring your clubs and hit some balls right outside your window – there’s a popular driving range and a resident 18-hole course. Come in winter, and the driving range turns into a snow-tubing hill.  Greens fees $33-$74.  Hotel rates $180-$260.

Plymouth MA: The Rock, Faith, and Libations

Plymouth Harbor MA

Plymouth Harbor MA

WHY GO: So, you think you’ve seen all there is to see in Plymouth MA. You’ve taken photos of “The Rock” and most likely have engaged with some of the original Pilgrims at Plimoth Plantation. But did you make it up to the National Monument to the Forefathers? To the Pilgrim Hall Museum? Or one of the few historic homes built in the 1600’s? If not, your visit to Plymouth, originally charted and named by John Smith in 1614, was incomplete.

English Village Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

English Village Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Coastal Massachusetts was not the ultimate destination for the 102 Mayflower passengers, a group consisting of religious Puritans (Saints) and fortune hunters (Strangers). Intending to settle “well south” of here in New York, they were blown off course, and in doing so had to deal with the harsh realities of winter in New England. Half of them died within the first year.

Cooking Demo Plimoth Plantation MA

Cooking Demo Plimoth Plantation MA

A current introduction would not be complete without mention of Plymouth 400 – an umbrella organization that is coordinating the activities of member attractions and organizations celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s Landing in 2020. To whit – the Plymouth Harbor will be dredged (for the first time ever) in anticipation of the return of the Mayflower II (now undergoing restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut), and to allow larger vessels to enter the inner harbor.

Wampanoag Settlement Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Wampanoag Settlement Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

A “Path of Pilgrims and Wampanoug” Tourist Trail, much like the Freedom Trail in Boston, has been established. This Quadricentennial celebration will not ignore America’s first residents – the Native Americans who had lived here for over 10,000 years before first welcoming our country’s first immigrants with feasts of Thanksgiving – who perished in droves from foreign diseases and in battle with increasingly hostile newcomers. Plans are in the works for a Wampanoag Ancestor’s Walk and Indigenous History Conference and Powwow to address this disconcerting aspect of America’s origin story.

Plymouth has rebranded itself as “America’s Hometown” and of course our country’s history is the initial draw. But the Mavens throw in a fashionable winery, a gallery-rich main street (parallel to the tourist-rich street along the waterfront), a new boutique hotel, and lush spa resort for an enticing historic Getaway.

Things to Do in Plymouth MA

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock

SEE/PHOTO OP: Plymouth Rock. In 1741, when a certain rock on the shoreline of town was in danger of being concealed by a proposed wharf, a 94-year-old Church elder, Thomas Faunce, claimed that his father’s friends, who had arrived on the Mayflower, told him that the boulder was the first stepping stone on land for the 102 disembarking passengers in 1620. The wharf project was tabled, and the once large boulder became ever smaller as locals got wind of its importance. They chiseled it away, using pieces for stone floors and home decor.

The actual Plymouth Rock MA

The actual Plymouth Rock MA

Now under shelter, what’s left of “The Rock” would fit in the back of a pick-up truck: not quite the stirring sight you’d expect. The jury is still out on whether it was this exact rock, but many believe that the granite stone – standing alone amid thickets of brush and trees – would have certainly been a landmark to steer by, if not the actual landing site.

Monument to the Forefathers Plymouth MA

Monument to the Forefathers Plymouth MA

SEE/PHOTO OP: National Monument To the Forefathers. The 81ft tall monument, including the looming 36ft-tall granite rendering of Faith, stands on a hill several blocks from the waterfront and can be seen by boats entering Plymouth Harbor. Yet not many tourists know about this imposing structure. First conceived in 1820 as the 200th year memorial to the Mayflower’s arrival in the New World (Abe Lincoln sent a $5 donation), construction of the Pilgrim Monument was put on hold due to the Civil War. Finally completed in 1889, Faith is surrounded by sculptures representing four other Puritan values: Morality, Liberty Education, and Law.

Entrance to Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Entrance to Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

TOUR: Plimoth Plantation. Several miles from its original placement, Plimoth Plantation was built in 1947 as a Living History Museum to recreate the structures and conditions of the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Start in the Visitor’s Center with a 15-minute orientation film, and then follow a well marked path, first to the Wampanoag Settlement, where Native American interpreters play the part of their ancestors who lived here, and then to the 17th Century English Village, built to look like the one established by the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Costumed Docents at Plimoth Plantation

You’ll find costumed docents cooking, gardening, doing chores, or gossiping with one another. Much of the fun comes from engaging these villagers in conversation. We stumbled upon Master Hopkins snipping hops buds from vines “to make beer out of ale.” This is Plymouth’s most popular attraction for a reason. Open daily Late March to Sunday after Thanksgiving, 9-5, $28 adults, $16 kids. Plimoth Cinema on site shows first-run movies daily.

The Pilgrim Story Pilgrim Hall Museum Plymouth MA

The Pilgrim Story Pilgrim Hall Museum Plymouth MA

VISIT: Pilgrim Hall Museum. In 1820, local citizens and descendants of the 102 Mayflower passengers realized that treasured family artifacts – those transported here and handed down through the generations – were disappearing and would likely be gone in a few more generations unless they did something to preserve them. And so, in 1824, the group spearheaded a fundraising campaign to build Pilgrim Hall – now considered the oldest continuously operating museum built as a museum in the country – in order to house the wares brought over on the Mayflower. Wings were added over the years, the latest a 2008 addition for handicap accessibility.

Cradle from the Mayflower Pilgrim Hall Plymouth MA

Cradle from the Mayflower Pilgrim Hall Plymouth MA

The museum tells the story of the Puritan sect that had first moved from England to Holland in 1609 to practice their own form of Christianity. Within 11 years, parents were dismayed to find that their children were “becoming Dutch,” and so made plans to create a new life in another land. It is quite astounding to be within inches of William Bradford’s bible and the cradle that Susanna and William White took with them from England in anticipation of the birth of their child, along with packing trunks, bibles, and other cherished and necessary items that all traveled to the New World in 1620. Open daily Feb – Dec., 9:30-4:30, $12.

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth MA

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth MA

TOUR: Jabez Howland House. John Howland, 13th signer of the Mayflower Compact, fell off the ship during a terrible storm and lived (he held onto a line and was pulled back aboard). Good thing, too, as he was then able to marry fellow passenger, Elizabeth Tilly (who was 13 during the voyage) several years later, and have ten children who all lived into adulthood (practically unheard of at the time) and who each had passels of kids of their own. One of those children was Jabez Howland, who purchased the home in 1670. John moved in with his son and family in his later years and died in 1673.

Inside Jabez Howland House Plymouth MA

Inside Jabez Howland House Plymouth MA

On your 30-minute tour of the last existing house where a Mayflower passenger actually lived, you’ll see letters from Jabez to Reverend Cotton Mather, a 1635 “upside down” world map of Europe and the New World, and unearthed artifacts from an ongoing excavation of John Howland’s Rocky Nook Farm. $6, Memorial Day to early October, 10-4:30 daily, tours on hour and half hour.

Plimoth Grist Mill, Plymouth MA

Plimoth Grist Mill, Plymouth MA

TOUR: Plimoth Grist Mill, Town Brook, Burial Hill Cemetery. First built in 1636, the original gristmill burned down in the 1940’s. This replica was constructed on its former footprint in the 1960’s. Visitors can see a working water mill in action, purchase fresh-ground cornmeal, and then meander along the brook where the Pilgrims first came for water. The now-commercialized Leyden St. was the site of the first Plimoth Settlement. Burial Hill, where some of the Mayflower passengers are buried, is directly behind First Congregational Church. Mill open daily March – Nov. 9-5, $7 adults, $5 kids.

Jenny Museum Plymouth MA

Jenny Museum Plymouth MA

TOUR: Jenney Museum. Run by Pilgrim Pursuit of Happiness author, Leo Martin, the Jenney Museum tells the story of the earliest abolitionists for whom family and faith were everything. More a history museum than a “house museum”- this place belonged to entrepreneur, John Jenny, who ran the Grist Mill next door as well as a brewery and bakery. Upending their lives in England to travel to the New World, the Pilgrims sought “Five Liberties:” Spiritual, Religious, Political, Constitutional, and Economic. This pursuit came with a considerable cost: Within the first year, 51 of the 102 passengers died. Each themed room throughout the museum sparks discussions. Martin also leads Historic Plymouth Walking Tours from here, including Discover Plymouth, National Monument to the Forefathers, Conversations With A Pilgrim, and more. Reservations required. Open April – mid November, Mon-Sat. 9:30-5, $7 self guided, $15 guided tours.

Mayflower Society Headquarters Plymouth MA

Mayflower Society House Plymouth MA

VISIT: Mayflower Society House. Housing the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, this high-ceiling manor also serves as a museum open to the public. There are an estimated ten million Mayflower decedents all over the world – those Puritans were a prolific bunch – and a guided tour here depicts several notable ones: for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in 1835, married Lydia Jackson in front of the fireplace framed with bible-themed Delft Tiles.

Bible-Themed Delft Tiles, Mayflower Society House Plymouth M

Built in 1754 for politician and Loyalist, Edward Winslow (who fled back to England in 1781), this reproduction of an English Manor House cycled through a succession of owners, and served as a Red Cross Station, until Chicago clothier, Charles Willoughby left it to the Mayflower Society in 1941. Visitors come to see the space-saving double floating staircase and formal dining room with black walnut woodwork and Waterford crystal chandelier, as well as to peruse the stunning gardens out back. A genealogical library is open by reservation. Open Mid-June to Early October, Thurs-Sun 11-4, $7 for guided tour.

TOUR: Three Plymouth Antiquarian Society Homes – 1670 Harlow Old Fort House, 1749 Spooner House, and 1804 Hedge House Museum tell the story of Plymouth MA as it evolved from the 1600’s to the 1800’s.

Whale Watching Tours Plymouth MA

Whale Watching Tours Plymouth MA

TOURS: There are tours galore in town; Ghost Tours, Pedicab Tours, Captain John’s Whale Watching, and more. You can spend the better part of a week here and not see/do everything.

Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

TOUR: Flax Pond Farm, Cranberry Bog,  Carver. It’s a bit of a drive (about 20 minutes) from Plymouth to Carver, but worth it to learn about the Cranberry biz from Dot and Jack Angley, Ocean Spray grower-owners. (Flax Pond Farm is one of the 800 plus farms that make up the Ocean Spray cooperative, formed in 1936.)

Cranberry Bog Tour Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Cranberry Bog Tour Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Everything you know about cranberry growing (admit it, from the two guys on Ocean Spray commercials) is wrong. Or at least partially wrong. The ads depict a now rarely-applied “Water Harvest.” Before modern irrigation techniques, cranberry bogs were flooded, causing the berries to rise (and allowing for the eye-catching sea of red in which the Ocean Spray guys stand).

Transporting Cranberries by Helicopter Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Transporting Cranberries by Helicopter, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Flax Pond Farm is a “Dry Bog” where berries are grown for fresh fruit (rather than for juice or jellies), first planted in 1893. By the time the Angley’s purchased the bog in 1967, it was a decades old operating farm. Jack’s Dad was a Harvard-trained doctor with a patient who needed to sell his bog. Jack – 27 at the time – knew nothing about cranberries, or farming for that matter, but was “up for a challenge.” He and Dot have now been growing heirloom varieties on 36 acres “for 52 years.”

Dot and Jack Angley, owners, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Dot and Jack Angley, owners, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

A tour here takes you through the timeline and process of cranberry cultivation – from pollination (bringing in the bees), to harvest, sorting, and finally being picked up by helicopter (in half ton bins), and flown to flatbed trucks that offload at a mega Ocean Spray plant in Middleborough MA. There, the berries are cleaned, screened, and packed in those 12oz packages you buy to make fresh cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner. While here, be sure to pick up something cranberry-related in the barn gift shop: soap, jam, juice, or even Ocean Spray Bloody Mary Mix, generally sold only to bars and restaurants. Tours Sept and October Weekdays 1-4, weekends 10-4, free.

Where to Eat and Drink in Plymouth MA

1620 Winery Tasting Room, Plymouth MA

1620 Winery Tasting Room, Plymouth MA

DRINK/BITES: 1620 Wine Bar. Bought by Robert and Raquel Mullaney over three years ago, the former Plymouth Winery now references the year of the Mayflower landing. The 1620 Wine Bar,  located at Village Landing Marketplace on Water St., serves up its own wines and vintages from around the world – as well as homemade tapas – in a beautifully designed upscale, clubby space. Filled with patrons on a mid-week afternoon, 1620 Wine Bar is a very hot spot at the moment. “We don’t have a wine club,” says Raquel. “We have a wine cult.”

Robert and Raquel Mullaney, owners, 1620 Winery, Plymouth MA

Robert and Raquel Mullaney, owners, 1620 Winery, Plymouth MA

Robert concocts the house wines, calling some of them, like the cold-brew Coffee Wine, his “chemistry projects.” Pilgrim Off White (Oaked Chardonnay), Plymouth Rock White (Pino Grigio), Plantation White (Sauvignon Blanc), Plantation Red (blend), Wampanoag Red (Sangiovese), and Bug Light Red (Zinfandel), are popular dry wines, with Black Magic Rose – made with black currants – on the sweeter side. The 1620 Winery itself is situated at Cordage Park, former home of Plymouth Cordage Co., the 1829 rope-maker that sold to tall ships all over the world. (In the early 1900’s, Plymouth Cordage made the rope for the USS Constitution.) It’s now a top spot for weddings and wine pairing dinners.

Local Yolk Co Plymouth MA

Local Yolk Co Plymouth MA

EAT/BREAKFAST: Local Yolk Co. This tiny space overlooking the harbor is sweet both in décor and service – and tends to be jam-packed on weekend mornings. That’s because the locally sourced eggs make for simply good breakfasts.

Blue Blinds Cafe Plymouth MA

Blue Blinds Bakery and Cafe Plymouth MA

EAT/LUNCH: Blue Blinds Bakery. With outside curb appeal and a kitschy, mural-parlor-tea-house interior, this bakery/sandwich shop is a local favorite.

Vela Juice Bar, Plymouth MA

EAT: Locals recommend Vela Juice Bar – next door to Pilgrim Hall and perfect for a mid-day healthy pick-me-up,  East Bay Grill, Wood’s Seafood (on a pier where fishermen unload their catch), and Lobster Hut for unpretentious dining, The Tasty for great drinks and small bites, and Waterfront Bar and Grill for the views, beer, and Buffalo Chicken.

Where to Stay in Plymouth MA

Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

STAY/CENTRAL: Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor. You’ll never forget where you are as you enter the newest boutique hotel in Plymouth: there’s a huge projection of a couple of Pilgrims over the reception desk – welcoming you to “America’s Home Town” and the Hotel 1620. An upstairs seating area features a small, but well done, homage to The Mayflower Passengers, who arrived to these shores in, yep, 1620.

Mayflower Passengers Seating Area - Hotel 1620 - Plymouth MA

Mayflower Passengers Seating Area – Hotel 1620 – Plymouth MA

Like most boutique hotels, The 1620 draws from and capitalizes on local history – but besides the common areas, it’s not so in-your-face, and therein lies its charm. What the hotel lacks in harbor views (it’s not on the waterfront), it makes up for in crisp décor and excellent service.

Guestroom Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Guestroom Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Ship-shape rooms are done up in nautical blues and grays with yachting life furnishings.  Bathrooms are bright, with gleaming glass showers clad in Navy Blue tiles.

Indoor Pool Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Many room balconies overlook a large indoor pool that takes center stage in an enclosed courtyard. The fitness room is small but has state of the art equipment. Room rates start at $120 off season and start at $350 in season.

Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills MA

Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills MA

STAY/DINE: Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills. Opened in 2014, Mirbeau’s French Country décor, bewitching gardens (with “Monet Bridge” popular for wedding photos), and well-regarded spa appeal to brides and Boomers alike. And, of course, girlfriend groups. Fifty guest rooms are quietly luxurious – not overdone – and common areas, with fireplaces, are the go-to spots on a snowy winter’s eve. If you don’t plan to stay here, at least reserve a table for lunch or dinner at The Bistro & Wine Bar – a fantastic meal that begins with addictive popovers and honey butter. Reasonably priced starters and entrees, like Warm Mushroom Salad ($11) and Steak Frittes ($29) are deftly prepared, and service is top notch. Rooms from $300 – $400 per night in season, from $220 off season. 

Gloucester MA: At the Intersection of Fisheries and Art

Working docks Gloucester MA

Working docks Gloucester MA

WHY GO: The iconic statue, “The Man At the Wheel” defines Gloucester MA past and present. Sporting foul weather gear, the Fisherman’s Memorial, erected in 1923, lists the thousands of Gloucester mariners lost at sea. Home port of the Andrea Gail – the fishing boat that went down with all hands, immortalized in the book and movie Perfect Storm – Gloucester still harbors an edgy, working-man, risk-taking vibe. The movie was shot in part here, as was Manchester By the Sea (a town just Southwest of Gloucester whose community members wanted no part of Hollywood hoopla). But Gloucester has an artsy side as well. Rocky Neck, a peninsula that forms one side of the inner harbor, became an art colony in the early 1900’s, drawing wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians to its craggy shoreline. An overnight Getaway here will draw you in as well. Read on.

Things to Do in Gloucester MA

The Man at the Wheel Gloucester MA

The Man at the Wheel Gloucester MA

PHOTO OP: Fisherman’s Memorial – AKA The Man At the Wheel. Travelers of a certain age might recognize this statue from the old “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherman” commercial. (Gorton’s Seafood’s headquarters is here). Take a few moments to read the plaque, commemorating the nearly 5,500 fishermen who perished at sea. From 1623, when Europeans first began fishing these waters, to the 1800’s when “immigrants from many lands joined in the perilous work,” until today, Gloucester’s commercial fishing families head out in dangerous weather to bring in the catch. In the past, Gloucester was known for cod, halibut and mackerel. Now, it’s the largest lobster port on the East Coast.

Stage Fort Park Visitors Center Gloucester MA

Stage Fort Park Visitors Center Gloucester MA

VISIT: Stage Fort Park/Gloucester Visitors Center. The lovely stone “Rest House,” built in 1923 overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, was once a place to warm up in front of the fireplace, or shower after a long hike. It now serves as the Gloucester Visitor’s Center, with unparalleled Atlantic Ocean views from the porch. You’ll find helpful volunteer staff and lots of brochures and material about the town.

Rocky Neck Cape Ann MA

Rocky Neck Cape Ann MA

DRIVE: Rocky Neck. This peninsula of Gloucester Harbor has been attracting artists since the late 1800’s. Take a drive, and be sure to hit up the innumerable artist studios along the shoreline’s nooks and crannies.

Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

TOUR: Beauport/Sleeper-McCann House, on Rocky Neck. Constructed in 1906 by one of America’s first professional interior designers, Henry Davis Sleeper, this unsung yet remarkable waterfront mansion is known among greats in the trade, but it should be known to all. Here’s why.

Front Walk Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

Front Walk Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

A gay “confirmed bachelor,” and grandson of a textile tycoon, Sleeper lived in Boston with his widowed Mother and came often out to Rocky Neck, invited by friends who had cottages on the water. By 1908, his 26-room summerhouse was completed.

Amber Glass Collection Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

Amber Glass Collection Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

Sleeper lived here for 27 years, continuously changing and rebuilding the abode that would become the showcase for his Interior Design practice in Boston. An unabashed collector, Sleeper was not interested in the provenance of pieces; his concern was how they looked together in a room, creating focal points and interesting displays. By the time of his death (with no heirs) in the 1950’s, the home had expanded to 43 rooms – with 5 dining rooms alone. Henry’s brother sold the heavily mortgaged property to the McCann Family from Long Island NY. McCann left the house to the Society for the Preservation of New England Properties, now Historic New England, as it was when Sleeper owned it, down to the vignettes on tables.

Library Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

Library Sleeper-McCann House Gloucester MA

A tour here brings visitors from room to room to see Sleeper’s application of architectural salvage (no one was doing that before then) in paneling and beams, his collection of George Washington likenesses, his 137 piece amber glass collection, and themed rooms, one, a favorite of Helen Hayes, a frequent guest. Sleeper’s romanticized version of a Colonial Kitchen became one of his most requested designs.

View of Outer Harbor from Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

View of Outer Harbor from Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

Anyone who has ever been to DuPont’s Winterthur in Wilmington DE might notice direct similarities between the properties, which is no coincidence. As the interior designer of the day, Sleeper consulted with Du Pont on his mansion turned museum.

China Trade Room Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

China Trade Room Sleeper McCann House Gloucester MA

Several rooms, including the Red Indian Room and Golden Step Dining Room feature picture windows and porches with direct harbor views. The China Trade Room is clothed in 1700’s wallpaper, discovered after 130 years in a Marblehead attic, still in its original wrapping. Apparently, Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, had ordered the hand-painted paper, yet ultimately could not afford it. Sleeper used the gorgeous Asian-themed wall covering to greatest effect. One hour tours of 26 rooms $15, 3-hour Nooks and Crannies Tour, $35.

Gloucester MA Pocket Park

Gloucester MA Pocket Park

VISIT: Cape Ann Museum of Art, History, and Culture. Who knew there was a fabulous art and history museum in the heart of commercial fishing country? With a focus on the fisheries industry and the blossoming of early 20th century art (and Maine art colonies, one of which – Rocky Neck – is five minutes away), the Cape Ann Museum showcases artifacts in 16 galleries on 5 floors throughout three (connecting) buildings.

Fisheries Exhibit Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

Fisheries Exhibit Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

In the 1800’s, most American artists spent time in Europe to hone their skills. But dangers during World War I put the kibosh on travel, so artists began to set up colonies on the Maine Coast. The museum displays the largest collection of the work of Fitz Henry Lane, a Gloucester native and preeminent New England maritime artist known for his use of light and fine detail of ships and seascapes. Lane was one of those talented painters who actually made a living from his craft.

Gloucester Diorama Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

Gloucester Diorama Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

One of the highlights of the Cape Ann Museum is a diorama of Gloucester created in 1876 and expanded for the Chicago Exposition in 1893. It was a great source of pride for the town, and though only part of the original takes center stage in the room, it’s quite a meticulous and intriguing miniature reproduction. Another highlight is the dramatic statue of Mary holding a fishing vessel like a baby that once sat atop Our Lady of Good Voyage Church in Gloucester. This is the original – a fiberglass copy was put in its place.

Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

Cape Ann Museum of Art and History Gloucester MA

This museum is very accessible and compelling – with each artifact offering greater insights into the community. My favorite story was of Howard Blackburn, a Nova Scotia native who came, like many immigrants, to Gloucester in the late 1800’s to seek his fortune in the fishing industry. The late 19th century after the Civil War saw a great demand for fish in America, and Blackburn was just one of many who came where fishing grounds teemed with cod, halibut, and mackerel. One winter day in 1883,  he and a dorymate rowed miles from their fishing schooner when an ice storm hit. Seeing no other option to save their lives, Blackburn allowed both hands to freeze to his oars so he could row to safety. Though his fellow fisherman died, Blackburn survived, but lost all ten fingers and most of his toes to frostbite. Even with this disability, he became a successful and celebrated bartender, and then sailed solo across the Atlantic. Twice.

Folly Cove Designers Cape Ann Museum Gloucester MA

Folly Cove Designers Cape Ann Museum Gloucester MA

Don’t miss the gallery that showcases Folly Cove Designers – a textile printing guild established in Gloucester by Virginia Lee Burton, author and illustrator of Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, The Little House and other iconic children’s books. Folly Cove designers used carved linoleum to “block-print” fabrics that were made into curtains, tablecloths and clothing. The group disbanded a year after Burton’s death in 1968, and the sample books and printed cloth were donated to the Cape Ann Museum. Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-4, Guided Tours Tues-Sat 11 and 2, Sun 2, $12 adults, free 18 and under.

TOUR/BOAT: Schooner Harbor Tour. Two schooners offer daily 2 hour sails in season around Gloucester Harbor – Schooner Ardelle, and Schooner Thomas E. Lannon.

WHALE WATCH: 7 Seas Whale Watch. One of the best whale-watching cruises in New England, 7 Seas guarantees sightings.

TOUR: Cape Pond Ice. This ice-making-harvesting company has been “icing Gloucester’s fleet since 1848.” Take a 45-minute tour to see the 150-ton ice-making facility including 300 lb ice blocks, ice sculptures, and to learn the history of the industry that keeps the day’s catch cool. June-Aug open Mon-Fri 9-4, Sat 9-3, Sun 9-12, tours Mon-Sat 11 and 2, Sun. 11, $10 per person.

SCENIC/HISTORIC TOUR: Plug-In Tours. Whether your fancy is historic or scenic, there’s a tour for you on these one and two hour small-bus tours of Gloucester and Cape Ann. Starting at $29 per person – check website for times.

Where to Eat and Stay in Gloucester

Cape Ann Brewing Co. Gloucester MA

Cape Ann Brewing Co. Gloucester MA

TASTE/EAT: Cape Ann Brewing Co. The only brewery in town, and right on the commercial fishing docks, you can knock down a “Reel Easy” (New England IPA) or “Tea Party” (Barley wine made with tea) while watching fishing boats coming and going. Situated on the public boardwalk overlooking the commercial docks and Cape Pond Ice building, this brewery is a favorite meeting spot. Head brewer, Dylan L’Abbe-Lindquist, is as adept at fermenting 16,000 lbs of cabbage for sauerkraut and kimchi per year as he is at brewing the flagship Fisherman’s Brews. As a matter of fact, Dylan’s locally sourced, probiotic, vegan – and delectable –  Pigeon Cove Ferments sauerkraut is used for Cape Ann Brewing’s excellent Reuben sandwich, which pairs perfectly with a Fisherman’s Pilsner.

EAT: Locals recommend Duckworth’s Bistrot for genuinely great food, “close to perfection” Passports, classy/modern Tonno for Catch of the Day, and Causeway Restaurant for New England Chowder.

Beauport Hotel Gloucester MA

Beauport Hotel Gloucester MA

STAY: Beauport Hotel. Gloucester’s newest hotel – a boutique, yet. With its own beach, a roof-deck pool (with great service, according to guests), and chic, breezy rooms, the Beauport is pricey but worth it for the ambiance and in town, on waterfront location. If you reserve on a wedding weekend, ask for a room far from the festivities for a quiet night’s sleep. Rooms from $230 per night. 

Rochester NY: Kodak, Playthings, and Susan B. Anthony

WHY GO: Though Rochester NY is known best for the Erie Canal, George Eastman – of Eastman-Kodak, and several top Universities, a certain powerhouse in the Women’s Right’s movement lived, worked, and is buried here. Susan B. Anthony was the face of Women’s Suffrage in the USA – and a visit to Rochester will not be complete without a tour of her home and gravesite. Anthony is buried near the final resting place of her friend and fellow Abolitionist and Suffragist, Frederick Douglass. Anthony, Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Mark Twain all gravitated to the Western New York region, a hotbed of Civil and Women’s Rights activism. It still is. Expand your already broad mind on this Radical Getaway.

What to Do in Rochester NY

TOUR: Susan B. Anthony’s House. On a leafy street lined with tidy Victorian homes, Susan B. Anthony’s house has been preserved to honor the face of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the USA. Anthony never married (though she was asked 7 times), never had children, and was the outgoing Yin to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s scholarly, but quiet Yang.

Anthony, born in Adams, MA in 1820, came to Rochester NY with her family as Quaker Abolitionists involved in anti-slavery and Temperance activities. Upstate NY was a hotbed of activists, in fact, as it was just 70 miles from Canada across Lake Ontario, a final stop on the Underground Railroad. Frederick Douglas, who had purchased his own freedom, settled in Rochester after the Civil War, writing his Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Due to mutual interests, Douglass and Anthony became friends.

A tour of Anthony’s home begins next door where her sister, Hannah, lived. After a short orientation and glimpse at a small exhibit, you’ll step on the same bluestone sidewalk, installed in the mid 1800’s, that the Anthonys did, and enter Susan’s house. Built in 1859, it is not a grand home, but of course its walls hold plenty of tales. Many are told on this tour. Though at the time, women had no financial rights, no control over their own children, and were banned from speaking in public, Susan B. Anthony focused on abolishing slavery and alcohol, not women’s rights. All that changed at a chance meeting on a street corner in Seneca Falls NY, where Anthony was breaking the law by speaking out in public against slavery. Amelia Bloomer (inventor of the garment that would liberate women from tight corsets and skirts) introduced Anthony to the quiet thinker and writer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton – a mother of seven children who had written the Declaration of Sentiments – a parallel Declaration of Independence used as springboard for the July 19, 1848 Women’s Rights Convention.

Melding strengths, Anthony and Stanton became a force to be reckoned with. Anthony babysat for Stanton’s children while Stanton worked on her inspiring essays and speeches, which Anthony would deliver on tours throughout the country. Anthony’s office was on the 2nd floor. From here, she wrote 50 letters a day. Her famous alligator purse is on display – some say it was Susan’s signature to quickly identify her in a crowd.

The third floor – dubbed the War Room – has the most residual juju. It was here that some of the most influential women of the day gathered to plot next moves and write burning compositions to inspire and agitate. You can almost feel the energy up here.

Lastly, as you stand in her front parlor, you’ll hear how Anthony was arrested in this very room. In 1872, when Black men could vote, Anthony used the 14th Amendment (US Citizens shall not be deprived of life, liberty or property) to argue her right to vote with a young fellow overseeing voter’s registration at a barbershop down the street (he relented). Though 15 other women voted (with proper registration) that day, she was the only one arrested. Before her trial, Anthony traveled from town to town, giving her speech, “When is it illegal for an American Citizen to vote?” though on the day of her trial, the judge forbade Anthony to speak on her own behalf. Anthony persisted and spoke anyway, reciting again her “American Citizen” speech to a courtroom packed with reporters. It was a turning point in the Women’s Suffrage movement (and yes, her vote for Ulysses S. Grant did count).

Susan B. Anthony never lived to see the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She died at age 86 in 1906, her funeral packed with 10,000 mourners. Open Tues-Sun 11-5, $15 for guided tour. 

VISIT: Mount Hope Cemetery for the final resting places of two American heroes – Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Every four years, on Election Day, several hundred women make a pilgrimage to SBA’s grave to place “I Voted” stickers on her tombstone. On Nov. 8th 2016, so many men and women showed up (some estimate 10,000), it made national news.

A commemorative inscription near the grave of Frederick Douglass reads: born 1818, died 1895; Escaped Slave, Abolitionist, Suffragist, Journalist and Statesman; Founder of the Civil Rights Movement in America; and, according to the current US President, “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”

George Eastman Suicide Note Eastman Museum Rochester NY

George Eastman Suicide Note Eastman Museum Rochester NY

VISIT: George Eastman Museum. Though the George Eastman Museum holds the world’s leading collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the most jarring artifacts in the home of the “pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film,” isn’t a photograph. It’s the nine-word suicide note Eastman left at age 77, when, in declining health and suffering from spinal stenosis, he took his own life. “To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?”

George Eastman Mansion, Rochester NY

George Eastman Mansion, Rochester NY

Oh what work it was. Born in 1854, Eastman established his first “Dry Plate” company in 1881 after inventing an emulsion that allowed photographers to capture pictures without having to haul a complete “wet” darkroom for remote shots. An entrepreneur and marking genius, Eastman made up the word “Kodak” in 1888 to sell a new product that no-one had ever seen before: a roll-film camera. “You push the button, we do the rest.”

First Kodak Camera

“You press the button, we do the rest.” That slogan, which promised to eliminate the mess and mystery of darkroom processing, revolutionized the photography industry, ensuring the success of the Eastman Kodak company.

You’ll learn all about Eastman’s invention, and how this man born to parents of modest means lived his life, on a tour of the home that serves as a museum as well. A life-size copy of the elephant he shot on his first African safari at age 72 takes center stage in a sunny central solarium. Upstairs in his living room – which also served as his office – a portrait of his mother looms over the desk on which Eastman changed his will and wrote his very last words.

George Eastman's Desk Rochester NY

George Eastman’s Desk Rochester NY

Guests enter into a Visitor’s Center, built in 1989, which houses three galleries, one focused on the history of Photography, with historic cameras under glass that may well include the very one used to take the iconic raising of the flag photo on Iwo Jima. The 500-seat Dryden Theater, built in 1951 within the mansion complex, is the only theater in the world equipped for the projection of original nitrate film and has screenings on a regular basis. The museum also offers hands-on workshops in historic and alternative film processes. Register online. Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 11-5, $15, includes mansion tour at 10:30 and 2, Tues-Sat, 2pm Sun.

Sky Diner, Strong Museum, Rochester NY

Skyliner Diner, Strong Museum, Rochester NY

VISIT: Strong Museum of Play. Logic would dictate that a museum devoted to play is fun for kids, boring for adults, right? Nothing can be further from the truth regarding this madcap, frenetic, humongous (285,000 sq ft.) temple of toys that sprang from the toy chest of buggy whip company heiress, Margaret Strong in 1968 (originally in her home). Needless to say, the Strong Museum, opened to the public in 1982, is “family friendly,” but it also transports adults back to childhood, with cherished playthings of yore that serve as conversation starters.

Butterfly Garden Strong Museum Rochester NY

Butterfly Garden Strong Museum Rochester NY

Even before you purchase your ticket – you’re faced with a 1918 traveling carousel (ride-able), and the whole of Bill Gray’s Skyline Diner (operating) in the large lobby. One third of the museum is interactive, another third interpretive, and the remaining third, strictly archival.

Sesame St Strong Museum Rochester NY

Sesame St Strong Museum Rochester NY

The first floor skews younger. Here you can sit on the famous front stoop of Sesame Street, wait for a Muppet Taxi, and join in at a Dance Lab. In Imagination Destination, you can press colorful lit-up buttons on the bridge of a star ship and pilot a rescue helicopter. Enter the “World’s Largest Pop-up Book” in Reading Adventureland. There are pinball machines (small fee for tokens) – and on exhibit, the very first iterations, utilizing actual pins.

Butterfly Garden The Strong Museum Rochester NY

Butterfly Garden The Strong Museum Rochester NY

The Strong has one of the best butterfly gardens I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to many). Tiny Chinese Button Quail run underfoot as vibrant butterflies flitter around their spa-like sanctuary, with water features, orchids, and piped in calming music. Ruby the Red Footed Tortoise, and Socrates – a bird in the Toucan family – bring even more color to the verdant place.

Virtual Interactive Bubbles Strong Museum Rochester NY

Virtual Interactive Bubbles Strong Museum Rochester NY

The second floor consists of the Toy Hall of Fame – and it’s here that adults get downright nostalgic. Past honorees have included the Wiffle Ball, Clue, and Etch A Sketch, but other choices have caused some controversy. Paper airplanes, cardboard boxes, balls, and just plain ole sticks prompted Jon Stewart to gripe, with hilarious aplomb, on the Daily Show. An interactive “Bubble Wall” allows users to pop virtual bubbles, and take personal photos that show up inside them. The larger – than – life Etch A Sketch will draw your portrait and send it to you via email as a gif.

Missile Arsenal Game Strong Museum Rochester NY

Missile Arsenal Game Strong Museum Rochester NY

The America At Play exhibit generates the most Boomer memories. Yes, there’s Candyland, Shoots and Ladders, Battleship – the icons of childhood. But other more obscure board games tended to follow historic themes. During the Cold War and Space Race, there were lots of guns, planes, action figures, and at least one game called “Missile Arsenal.”

Thomas Edison 1890 Singing Doll Strong Museum Rochester NY

Thomas Edison 1890 Singing Doll Strong Museum Rochester NY

The Strong has also acquired some “firsts.” It’s got the original 1933 hand-drawn (round) Monopoly Game, which Charles Darrow sold to Parker Bros. (good move), and the very first Barbie Doll. But the most disturbing toy is Thomas Edison’s 1890 “Singing Doll.” The figure, with a perforated steel torso, is scary enough, but Edison recorded kids belting out several nursery rhymes, and the resulting screechy static terrified listeners. You can listen to some online or here. Open Mon-Thurs 10-5, Fri/Sat 10-8, Sun 12-5, $15.

Harriet Tubman Sculpture Memorial Art Gallery Rochester NY

Harriet Tubman Sculpture Memorial Art Gallery Rochester NY

VISIT: Memorial Art Gallery. Founded in 1913, and affiliated with the University of Rochester, this comprehensive museum of art and antiquities encompasses many galleries on two floors and out into sculpture gardens. Contemporary pieces hang next to the originals that informed them. There’s a small sculpture of Harriet Tubman (a full size stands in Harlem, NY), “Ashcan Art” – renderings of everyday life, Yayoi Kusama’s Pink Venus, Georgia O’Keefe, Degas, Cezanne, Hockney, European, Islamic, Asian – art from all over the world. Come on the 3rd Thursday of each month for a “DeTOUR” ($10), based on Museum Hack, for lots of fun, laughs, and meme play. Open Wed-Sun 11-5, Thursdays and select Fridays until 9pm. $15 adults, half price after 5 on Thurs.

High Falls Rochester NY

High Falls Rochester NY

PHOTO OP: High Falls. It’s the waterfall right in the middle of the city, and makes a great backdrop for selfies or we-sies.

Sam Patch Canal Boat Pittsford NY

Sam Patch Canal Boat Pittsford NY

TOUR/BOAT: Sam Patch Canal Boat, Pittsford (about 20 minutes southeast of Rochester). Greater Rochester NY school kids are required to learn the words to the 1905 song, “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” so instrumental is the history of this waterway to the region. The Erie Canal, declared a National Heritage Corridor, was built starting in 1817 to transport goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, but became nearly obsolete when completed in 1825. Constructed by laymen – not an engineer among them – the project was controversial from the start. Thomas Jefferson thought it “a little short of madness,” and cost prohibitive. All work had to be done by hand and pick-axes, as dynamite had not been invented yet, in an area so swampy that malaria killed over 1,000 workers.

Entering Erie Canal Lock on Sam Patch Boat Pittsford NY

Entering Erie Canal Lock on Sam Patch Boat Pittsford NY

You’ll learn this and more as you travel a portion of the originally 40 ft wide, 4 ft deep 323 mile long canal – and into one of the locks that allowed early freighters to navigate these waters. “NY is not flat, and boats don’t like going downhill,” our guide quipped. “The level change from one end to the other is the height of a 50 story building.”

Helping on Sam Patch Canal Boat Pittsford NY

Helping on Sam Patch Canal Boat Pittsford NY

Now, the canal is three times as wide and three times as deep, yet still cannot handle the larger commercial ships built these days. Some barges still do come through, however; most notably, in May 2017, when a few piled with beer tanks for the expanding Genesee Brewery caused quite a sensation in small Erie Canal towns. But, for the most part the waterway and Canal path alongside it are used for recreational boats and bicycles. 90 minute cruises May-Oct. noon, 2pm, $16 adults, $8 kids.

Erie Canalside Pittsford NY

Erie Canalside Pittsford NY

EXPLORE: Pittsford. Before or after the cruise, walk along the Pittsford canal promenade to shop in a handful of cute eclectic stores, and for a glass or flight of wine at the Via Girasole Wine Bar.

Via Girasole Wine Bar Pittsford NY

Via Girasole Wine Bar Pittsford NY

You can make a light dinner of a NY Wine Flight with Orange-Lavender Riesling Jam, local cheeses, meats, and bread in an adorably dressed wine tasting room. I’m a new fan of Sheldrake Point Chardonnay, Boundary Brakes Rose, and Lakewood Cab Franc – all produced nearby. Wine/meat charcuterie, 3 for $17, 6 for $32, flight of 3 wines $18.

Hosmer's Tavern Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumsford NY

Hosmer’s Tavern Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumsford NY

TOUR: Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford (about 30 minutes southwest of Rochester). Looking for a unique, fun date night? Hosmer’s Tavern at the third largest living history museum in the USA (in number of historic buildings, after Williamsburg and Greenfield Village), Genesee Country Village and Museum, offers a 4-course meal and candlelight tour of the Village Town Square on select Friday and Saturday nights in Spring and Fall.

Costumed Docent Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Costumed Docent Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

If those dates don’t work, or you want to explore all 68 pedigreed historic buildings on 20 acres, come mid-May to Mid October, when costumed docents bustle around, tending to the duties of a working 19th century village.

Sheep Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Sheep Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Genesee Country Village, founded with the goal of preserving and sharing architecture of the Genesee region with a focus on life in the 19th century, interprets three time periods – Pioneer from late 1700’s to early 1800’s, the Canal Era (1820’s – 1860’s) and the Gaslight – Victorian Era (1870’s – 1910’s). Each day, 19 different buildings are staffed, and others are open for self-guided tours. You’ll find the whole gamut of village life – houses, businesses, shops, breweries and taverns – open for visitors.

John L. Wehle Gallery Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

John L. Wehle Gallery Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Your first stop should be the new John L. Wehle Gallery just past the Visitor’s Center – renewed and expanded in 2013, with wildlife, hunting, and fishing related art and artifacts, and over 3,000 articles of 19th century clothing and accessories (from Susan Greene collection) in bright galleries. You’ll get your bearings before continuing on.

Anti-Slavery Quilt Eastman Childhood Home Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Anti-Slavery Quilt Eastman Childhood Home Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Among the most popular buildings in the complex is George Eastman’s Greek Revival childhood home where he lived from birth to six years old, transported here from Waterville. Eastman’s mother was an abolitionist who sewed quilts to raise money at anti-slavery fairs. Now, volunteers create all the quilts that are found throughout the village.

Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

Genesee Country Village and Museum Mumford NY

If you’re short on time, be sure to see the highlights: The iconic octagon Hyde House is the most photographed building in the museum. The Livingston Bacus home, a large urban house with fantastic carved wood banister, belonged to the second doctor in Rochester. Hosmer’s Tavern, mentioned above, was once on Route 5 between Avon and Caledonia. Also “on campus,” find miles of marked Nature Trails and Grieve’s Brewery – America’s only operational 19th Century Brewery that utilizes strictly handmade wood and copper equipment, liquid is hand-pumped, and the brew kettle is word fired.  This living history museum offers lots of programming throughout the season, including classes in Domestic Skills of the day, and the uber-popular “Soldier Camp” for youth. To maximize your time on a self-guided tour, use your cell phone to access an Audio Tour (585) 627-4128, and follow the prompts. Open Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day, Tues-Sun 10-4, Memorial Day – mid Oct Wed-Sun 10-4, $18 adults, $10 kids.

Where to Eat in Rochester NY

Cub Room Rochester NY

Cub Room Rochester NY

EAT: Cub Room. You’ll find this high-end pub, formerly Ward’s Hardware Supplies, in Rochester’s hipster S. Wedge neighborhood. Named for the private Cub Room in New York City’s former Stork Club, this one has an industrial-chic, quirky literary bent, with pages from The Great Gatsby plastered all over the bathroom stalls. (In fact, the Cub Room throws a Gatsby New Years Eve soiree to beat the band). Food is good to great; oder the excellent “Triangoli” ($20, yes, triangle-shaped ravioli), the delectable Zucchini Blossoms over Couscous ($13), and finish with a simply divine Cub Room S’mores – one humongous charred marshmallow atop graham cracker cake and chocolate. Wow.

Jine's Rochester NY

Jine’s Rochester NY

EAT: Jine’s. There’s usually a line out of the door of this city institution, opened in 1971 before Park Ave. was trendy. Now, it’s a popular modernized Greek diner-type eatery frequented by young professionals, parents with kids, ladies who lunch…everyone really. With a book-length menu and “breakfast all day,” Jine’s is a local hangout, and busy at all hours.

EAT: Grappa/Hilton Garden Inn. This contemporary Italian spot may be situated inside a chain hotel, but it’s a worthy destination for those seeking from scratch soup, pastas and other tastes of Italy. Greens and Beans is a standout – a combo of broccoli rabe and cannelloni beans in broth – the perfect lunch.

EAT/PHOTO OP: 1872 Café. It’s a pizza place named for the year that Susan B. Anthony voted, and yes, the pizza’s pretty decent, too.

Chit Chat Cafe

You’re never alone at the Chit Chat Cafe, where owner Luanne Burgess welcomes customers with a warm, friendly smile and the most delicious homemade bread.

BREAKFAST: Chit Chat Cafe. Warm and friendly, Rochester’s favorite breakfast spot is the kind of place where it’s not unusual to see random acts of kindness: on a recent day, a customer paid forward $100, a sum that goes a long way there. Portions are huge, but even so, don’t miss out on extra servings of the Cinnamon Swirl Toast.

Where to Stay

Porch Ellwanger Estate Rochester NY

Porch Ellwanger Estate Rochester NY

STAY: Ellwanger Estate B&B. First built as a farmhouse in 1817, and then purchased and enlarged by George and Ellen Ellwanger (co owner of Ellwanger and Barry Nurseries) in 1867 and 1910, staying here is an immersion into the wealthy lifestyle of the Victorian Age. A MAVEN FAVORITE – you can read all about it HERE.

Catskill’s Sullivan County NY: Boomer Bliss in Bethel and Livingston Manor

WHY GO: Woodstock. “Three days of fun and music, and nothing but fun and music.” Need we say more? Of course, yes.

Lisa Lyons Morgan Outdoors Livingston Manor NY

Lisa Lyons Morgan Outdoors Livingston Manor NY

Boomers will recognize this area of the Catskills, also, as the former “Borscht Belt.” Summer resorts like The Concord, Grossinger’s, and Kutshers (mostly abandoned and in various states of decay) drew Jewish families from NYC. (This is where the movie, Dirty Dancing, was set). But lately, a new crop of boutique hotels – less glitzy, more design-forward “of the land” – have been drawing a younger crowd in search of history and great hiking in Catskills Park, with cool shopping and farmer’s market eateries to boot. Read on for the Maven’s Best in several Sullivan County NY villages.

Things to Do in Sullivan County/Catskills NY

Site of Woodstock Music Festival Bethel NY

Site of Woodstock Music Festival Bethel NY

GO: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel. The name “Bethel Wood”s  might not be familiar, but I’ll get right down to it: this was Yasgur’s Farm – the site of Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 – now a fantastic museum and once again a live music venue. Bethel Woods is hallowed ground and a touchstone for Boomers who lived through the 60’s, and also for youngsters intrigued by that era.

Bethel Woods Arts Center Bethel NY

Bethel Woods Arts Center Bethel NY

The Museum at Bethel Woods does a masterful job interpreting the turbulence, struggles, and ideals of the 1960’s – a decade that saw the assassination of a president, a senator, and a civil rights leader (John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King), the rise of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and escalation of the Viet Nam War. But it also ushered in the “Summer of Love (’67), Women’s Lib, Flower Power, the moon landing, and by decade’s end, in 1969, Woodstock.

Bethel Woods Museum Exhibits Bethel NY

Bethel Woods Museum Exhibits Bethel NY

Originally scheduled in the small town of Woodstock NY, advance tickets for the music festival, which featured The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, Credence Clearwater Revival, and more, sold at such a frenetic pace the venue had to be changed. Max Yasgur famously offered his alfalfa field for the concert, and the rest, they say, is history.

Woodstock videos, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

Woodstock videos, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

Over 400,000 people ultimately made their way up to this rural area of the Catskills – turning Bethel NY into the third largest city in New York for three days. Bumper to bumper Volkswagen vans and cars stretched for over 20 miles, requiring musicians to be flown in. The bands loved the space – “it was made in heaven, a bowl with a rise for a stage.” Hundreds of thousands of young folks overwhelmed this small community: the logistics were mind-boggling. But local farmers and nearby residents rose to the occasion, making and distributing sandwiches and “breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

Buses and Bugs, Bethel Woods Museum NY

Buses and Bugs, Bethel Woods Museum NY

The weather was fine and then it wasn’t. But pouring rain and mud didn’t dampen enthusiasm. The Grateful Dead played in the dark. Richie Havens made up his song, “Freedom” on the spot. Canned Heat’s “Going up the country, do you want to go,” referenced the great gathering. Though some people got sick, there were only two deaths: one of a drug overdose, and the other, a 17 year old, killed by a tractor as it ran over his sleeping bag.

Magic Bus, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

Magic Bus, Bethel Woods Museum, Bethel NY

The Museum at Bethel Woods is infused with the vibes of Woodstock, with large-screen videos, and movies of the concert shown on several large screens and in a psychedelic “Magic Bus.” Those of us who lived through the era will feel a sense of wistful nostalgia tapping into that spirit of community and engagement. Open daily 10-7, $15 adults, $11 youth.

Nemo Fly at Catskill Flyfishing Museum, Livingston Manor NY

Little Nemo Fly at Catskill Flyfishing Museum, Livingston Manor NY

VISIT: Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, Livingston Manor. Nearby Roscoe, NY was “Trout Town USA.” In fact, fly-fishing actually begat tourism in the Catskills, so it makes sense to stop in to this informative museum, set on 53 riverfront acres, dedicated to preserving the fly-fishing heritage. In addition to being able to fish in the Willowemoc Creek, picnic in a family pavilion, and practice casting, in the museum, you’ll find lots of glass cases, walls, and corners filled with everything to do with the Angler lifestyle: delicate hand made flies, photos of famous fly-tiers, tourism posters, and a unique Casting Simulator Machine. Open daily April-October 10-4.

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

EXPLORE: Livingston Manor. This small town, like many in the Southern Catskills NY, has been going through a Brooklynish revival. Cadres of cool kids, partial to farm-to-table fare, hand crafted beer, and home-goods, have been leaving the city behind for a more bucolic life with like-minded folks. These are our favorite shops and attractions:

Catskill Art Society - CAS - Livingston Manor NY

Catskill Art Society – CAS – Livingston Manor NY

GO: Catskill Art Society (CAS). See the best of local contemporary art in two and a half bright galleries. A great temperature controlled diversion on a freezing or swampy day. Open Mon, Thurs, Sat 11-6, Sun 11-3, free.

Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY

Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Morgan Outdoors (next to CAS). Owner Lisa Lyons has a keen eye for ambling aptitude: she can assess your hiking level as soon as you walk through the door, and will size you up and send you on your way with a map to her favorite spots. Sullivan County, the “gateway into the 287,500 acre Catskill Park,” has hundreds of miles of trails for beginners and intermediates as well as for the most strenuous hiker, so being unfamiliar with the terrain can waste lots of time unless someone with local knowledge points you in the right direction – with the proper gear. Morgan Outdoors, purveyor of clothing, footwear, and all the necessities for 4-season outdoor adventures, has it all.

Hiking Poles, Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY

Hiking Poles, Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor NY

Lyons focuses on the region’s five steel Fire Towers that remain (out of 23), initially built to protect the forest, now offering hikers a 360 view above the treelines. She’s a huge advocate for hiking poles – vastly different than your tree-limb walking sticks – and sells them like crazy in her store. Even if you don’t need anything, Lyons invites you to pop in for a “hand-drawn map” of local trails. They’re free.

Willow and Brown, Livingston Manor NY

Willow and Brown, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Willow and Brown – fun and eye-catching housewares and kitchen tools, jewelry, and clothing for men and women. Shares space with Sugar Blossom Flowers.

Nest, Livingston Manor NY

Nest, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Nest. Goods, clothing, and jewelry from all over the world. This is the second location for Anna Bern, former Design Director for Vogue Magazine, who has another Nest in Narrowsburg NY.

Upstream Wine, Livingston Manor NY

Upstream Wine, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP/WINE: Upstream Wine and Spirits. What a beautifully curated wine selection. And informative, too.

Dette Flies, Livingston Manor NY

Dette Flies, Livingston Manor NY

SHOP: Dette Flies. Walter Dette opened his first fly-fishing shop in 1928. At 90 years old, Dette Flies is considered the “Oldest Family Owned Fly Shop in the World.” The location has changed seven times since then, and Dette’s is now run by grandson Joe Fox, but this establishment never strayed from its original purpose. Come in to buy flies, tie your own, and/or learn how cast. Dette’s is a perennial destination for “dry fly fishing” accoutrements.

Where to Eat and Drink in Sullivan County NY

Catskill Brewery, Livingston Manor NY

Catskill Brewery, Livingston Manor NY

BEER/TASTING: Catskill Brewery. Known for its craft lagers, wood aged brews, and fantastic sours, Catskill Brewery credits “excellent town water” that “doesn’t have to be treated much at all.” Like all microbreweries, names of beers recount local places and legends. To whit – “Freak Tractor – a 100% Belgian Blond – references the vehicle that ran over and killed a teen-ager at Woodstock. Though you may be able to find some crafts on tap in NYC and surrounding areas, you’ve got to get here for the “very precious” Catskill Grand Cru – a sour beer aged in Chardonnay oak barrels. It’s one of the most delicious sours on the planet.

Oscar Brown's at Sullivan Country Club NY

Oscar Brown’s at Sullivan County Golf and Country Club NY

GOLF/EAT: Oscar Brown’s At Sullivan County Golf and Country Club, Liberty. If you’d like to combine a round of golf with a meal, Oscar Brown’s, on an Historic golf Course property, offers “Nine and Dine” specials in an unpretentious pub-like restaurant. It’s most gorgeous on a spring or fall late afternoon at sunset.

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor NY

EAT: Main Street Farm, Livingston Manor This counter service sandwich shop slash market would not look out of place in Brooklyn – it’s a mash up of a rustic/funky NYC deli and farm-share. Pierced and sunny staff offers menu advice to multi-culti locals who’ve moved up, or have summer homes here, along with a growing number of visitors. There are terrific vegan options as well as organic, humanely raised meats.

Cabernet Frank's

Cabernet Frank’s

NIGHTLIFE: Cabernet Frank’s, Parksville. Food is secondary to the beer, wine, and music at this “Borscht Belt BBQ” spot in an otherwise lonely, but possibly up and coming downtown. It’s Exit 98 off Route 17 – the original Borscht Belt highway.

Where to Stay in Sullivan County NY

The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY

The DeBruce Livingston Manor NY

STAY: The DeBruce, Livingston Manor. Built in 1880 as an inn, and then a boarding house, the DeBruce has not roamed far from its origins – except stylistically. Now a cool-bean 14-room boutique hotel, owned by hospitality maestros, Sims and Kirstin Foster, who also own the equally cool Arnold House, North Branch Inn, and 9 River Road, the DeBruce is emblematic of a new kind of Catskill Hotel: less mass market resort, more high-end, mid-century-modern getaway geared toward travelers who appreciate design and good food. Recently, the DeBruce was recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the Best New Hotels in the World. This is a Maven Favorite with a complete write up HERE.

Hudson Valley Rose, Middletown, NY – A Country Weekend to Remember

Hudson Valley Rose B and B exterior

Your first view of Hudson Valley Rose Bed & Breakfast in Middletown, NY is that of a tree-lined gravel road that seems to go on and on and on. Surrounded by all the lush foliage, you might be tempted to belt out the 1960s hit TV Show theme song, “Green Acres is the place to be. Farm livin’ is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”

Set on over 60 acres of Hudson Valley forest and farm land, the estate was the country home of an illustrious list of tastemakers that includes designer Laura Ashely and makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Today, New York City expats Doug and Jace have transformed the private home into a intimate retreat with three uniquely luxurious rooms in the original 1847 Stone House, and the sumptuous Manchester Cottage that’s perfect for a romantic getaway.

Farmer Owner Sutton Green proudly added his name to one of the stone tiles at the top of this exterior wall, but it was overshadowed by the much larger tile signed by Stone Mason Charles Wilkison.

First Impressions of Hudson Valley Rose B&B

A stay at Hudson Vally Rose B&B begins with an email listing things to do in the area and driving instructions (although GPS works well in the area, printed routes can be invaluable on country roads.) Upon arrival, Doug and/or Jace and their adorable toddler (the family and their friendly dog live onsite in a separate cottage) are there to meet guests with a warm greeting that extends to going above and beyond to stock rooms with thoughtful amenities.

Guests find a generous collection of drinks and snacks, including freshly baked cookies, awaiting them in their room.

You might expect the monogramed robe and high end toiletries, but less usual is a wicker basket tempting you to toss your itinerary in favor of a picnic on the lawn. (Note that picnic food is available at an additional charge.)

But it soon becomes clear that an appreciation of the outdoors is integral to the Hudson Rose. And why not? Hudson Valley is one of the most scenic areas in the Americas, so beautiful in fact, that it inspired the Hudson River School, an art movement of landscape painters influenced by Romanticism.

A tour of the property might begin outdoors, skirting picnic tables and perennial gardens, to see the fields leased out to farmers and onward past rose brambles to where hiking trails lead into the dense forests. Indoors at the Stone House, accommodations are upstairs, while the main level separates into a main living room and sunny breakfast room with attached reading nook.

Hudson Valley Rose Living Room

The front living room runs almost the full length of the house, offering multiple seating areas. Furnished with an eclectic collection of antiques and curiosities, the decor itself becomes a topic of conversation.

Rooms and Suites at Hudson Valley Rose B&B

Hudson Valley Rose Ashley Room

Each room is unique. The Laura Ashley room, inspired by the famous designer’s penchant for floral motifs, surrounds a queen-size bed, fireplace, and claw-foot bathtub with rose-motif wallpaper and linens. The Wilkison room, named for the stone mason who built the house, exposes an original stone wall as well as wood ceiling beams.

Hudson Valley Rose Cottage

Most charming of all, a short garden path past peonies and daylilies leads to Manchester Cottage, named for the 1990s owner who sourced materials from regional 18th Century barns to construct two cottages on the estate.

Barn-like high ceilings made of salvaged wood are softened by luxury lines and the glow of tapered lights reminiscent of candlelight on a central chandelier.

A tall brick fireplace dominates the space while windows on three walls, plus French doors invite the outdoors in, and visa versa.

An ample walk-through glass-wall shower provides all necessary functionality, but the star of the bathroom is a therapeutic copper Japanese soaking tub.

Breakfast at Hudson Valley Rose B&B

Gathered for breakfast at Hudson Valley Rose

Doug and Jace’s unstinting attention to detail is most evident at the breakfast table. Not only do they bring in farm to table–the eggs are picked up two doors up the road–but they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the presentation of the yummy offerings. Rich brewed coffee is poured into hand-made clay mugs stamped with the Hudson Valley Rose logo.

Hudson Valley Rose Breakfast Skillet

Thick slabs of bacon are presented upright in a glass jar accompanying a frittata which arrives in a personal-size iron skillet. Conversation, fueled by hearty fare and the Sunday New York Times, flows freely at the farm table. The breakfast table is made for leisurely-paced meals where guests may linger as long as they like. Like every facet of Hudson Valley Rose, it invites guests to forget their day to day lives in favor of the relaxing pleasures of a perfect country weekend.

Just the Facts

Rooms from $200-$500 depending on day and season, includes full breakfast, parking, wi-fi. Ask about available gear such as picnic baskets and fishing rods.

Nearby Hudson Valley Getaways:

Seacoast New Hampshire: Roots of Our Nation in Exeter, Barrington, Rye, and New Castle

WHY GO: Visitors to Portsmouth New Hampshire are missing a great deal if they ignore the city’s outlying areas – within the region dubbed Seacoast NH. Small town Exeter, home to the venerable prep school, Phillips-Exeter, will charm you to pieces – and also provide an enlightening glimpse of our Founding Father’s debate over what makes “a more perfect union” at the American Independence Museum. From one of the oldest Country Stores in America, to exotic creatures from the Gulf Of Maine, to the Hotel that hosted a world-famous Peace Treaty – this Getaway stands on its own as a true Patriotic New England escape. But add Portsmouth to get the very most out of a Seacoast NH discovery tour.

Things to do In Seacoast NH Region

American Independence Museum Exeter NH

TOUR: American Independence Museum, Exeter. One of the many misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution is that they emerged from the minds of our Founding Fathers fully-fledged, Intelligently Designed. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Both were works in progress, with many reworked drafts, and the American Independence Museum, located in the Ladd-Gilman House, illuminates this better than any other historical museum.

Interior American Independence Museum Exeter NH

Interior American Independence Museum Exeter NH

The circa 1721 Ladd-Gilman House, home to signer of the U.S. Constitution and State Senator, Nicholas Gilman, Sr. and his brother John Taylor Gilman, served as the New Hampshire Treasury (Nicholas), and Governor’s Mansion (John), and is now The American Independence Museum, renowned for historical documents dating back to the birth of our nation, and for a Club formed right after the War – The Society of Cincinnati.

Fort William and Mary aka Fort Constitution Portsmouth NH

In the 1700’s, the New Hampshire coastline was a British stronghold – Fort William and Mary (renamed Fort Constitution), a repository for gunpowder. Though there was never a major Revolutionary War battle in New Hampshire, the American raid on the Fort in 1774, to steal stockpiled arms, is considered one of the first (if not the first) volley in the Revolutionary War – a year before the Shot Heard Around the World in Concord MA. The gunpowder, subsequently used in the Battle of Bunker Hill, was shipped to several other outposts, some to Exeter, and stored in the Powder House that you can still see across the river today. For a moment in time, when the British fleet threatened Portsmouth in July 1775, the government of New Hampshire was moved 27 miles upriver to Exeter.

George Washington wearing the Society of Cincinnati Medal, American Independence Museum, Exeter NH

After the War, in 1783, Military Officers formed a club; the Society of Cincinnati, named for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a Roman statesman and military leader who retired to work his farm after heroic service. (Interestingly, the city of Cincinnati OH is named for the club, not the man). Membership in the Society, which still exists today, was initially passed from father to first born son, and then expanded to include other sons and family members. But never women: the Society remains a male-only club. The Society of Cincinnati purchased the Ladd-Gilman House in 1901, a few years after the last Gilman family member passed away, and used it as a clubhouse until 1991, when it was opened as a museum.

Original Draft of US Constitution, American Independence Museum, Exeter NH

As a Society made up of Revolutionary War Officers, you can imagine the treasured documents they held and passed down through the ages. In 1985, researchers discovered an original broadside of the Declaration of Independence in the attic: one of 200 printed by John Dunlap in Philadelphia that were distributed to the original 13 colonies. This was the very same document read to the public by John Taylor Gilman (who served 14 years as New Hampshire Governor in the late 1770’s and early 1800’s) on July 16, 1776. The museum still owns this original Dunlap Broadside (one of only 26 known to exist), and though a facsimile is on display year round, each year, on the weekend closest to July 16th, the original is removed from the vault and an actor dressed as John Taylor Gilman reenacts the public reading.

Boston Massacre Trial Transcript, 1770, American Independence Museum Exeter NH

The museum also features an original iteration of the United States Constitution, which is notated and differs from the final Constitution in one very significant way: it begins, “We The People of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island,” etc., spelling out each state rather than the collective “United States of America.” Why was it not finalized this way? The delegate from Rhode Island never appeared to the signing for fear of being found guilty of treason, and so that state could not be included. Again – a copy is on display in the museum, and the original is taken from a secure place and shown to the public for a day.

The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were never signed – it was still being agonized over, as you can see from a copy of the first draft with Thomas Jefferson’s notations. The museum also displays one of the original trial transcripts (printed in book form) of the Boston Masacre Trial dated 1770, a portrait of George Washington wearing the blue Society of Cincinnati Medal, and a double-sided “Partner Desk” just like one owned by George Washington.

Folsom Tavern, American Independence Museum, Exeter NH

Speaking of GW, the Folsom Tavern, moved to this property in 1929 and recently renovated, served as a high-end road house and was supposed to host a commesuratly high-end dinner for President Washington in 1789. But the honored guest arrived early, and staff scrambled to serve a quick brunch, which Washington scarfed down in the casual tavern room before he continued on his tour of the United States. Both the home and tavern are included in a modest entry fee. You can ask for a guided tour – a docent will be happy to show you the highlights. Open May – Nov. Tues-Sat 10-4, $6 adults, $3 kids. The museum offers plenty of programming including Lunch and Learn, Tavern Talks, Ghost Tours, and Beer-related events.  

Boathouse Phillips Exeter Academy

EXPLORE: Exeter NH. Known mostly as home to the elite Phillips-Exeter Academy, Exeter NH, an Amtrak stop (7 minute walk from the station to downtown) on the Boston MA to Portland ME line, is also a Portsmouth NH commuter town with a funky, open-minded, intellectual vibe. Exeter is so emblematic of a “small New England town,” in fact, there’s a bandstand in the center of Main St. just made for a 76-trombone-type parade. There are plenty of boutiques and restaurants – so plan to stay awhile. See below in “Where to Eat” for recommendations.

Kids Section, Seacoast Science Center, Rye NH

Kids Section, Seacoast Science Center, Rye NH

VISIT: Seacoast Science Center @ Odiorne Point State Park, Rye. Situated in a State Park with a good chunk of New Hampshire shoreline encompassing a rocky beach, walking trails, and remnants of WWII military fortress, the area is a fascinating place to explore even without the Seacoast Science Center. But plan to add 30 – 40 more minutes onto a park visit to get a gander at what’s inside this compact, entertaining, and engaging institution. A stone building, the original Officer’s Quarters of the WWII fort, is completely encased within the Science Center’s modern structure – used for programming now. In fact, the center was built around it. What was once the wrap around porch is now enclosed – but look out the picture windows to see the harbor, lighhouses, and, at low tide, families with buckets exploring the tidal pools a few yards away.

Purple Sea Star Seacoast Science Center Rye NH

Though traveling exhibits are compelling, don’t miss what makes this place tick. Most popular are the “Touch Tanks,” with sea stars, sea urchins, and other creatures of the tidal pools; during exceedingly hot or nasty weather, best observed inside. “Jumpin’ Jay’s Discovery Dock” is also a hit with kids, who pretend to pilot the wooden boat, fish, and sell their catch – surrounded by a photographic mural of Rye Harbor that places them right in the middle of the action.

Red Anemone from Gulf of Maine Seacoast Science Center Rye NH

Red Anemone from Gulf of Maine Seacoast Science Center Rye NH

There’s a Hurricane Exhibit with touch-screen showing videos on demand of some of the most devestating storms, and a whole room devoted to sea creatures found in the Gulf Of Maine. There’s 23 year old Raspberry – a 3-toed Box Turtle, two giant forty year old Blue Lobsters, a tank full of large active Sea Horses, and an assortment of Skates, Flounder, freaky Cuttlefish, Spider Crabs, Alewives, and in a tropical tank donated to the aquarium – a couple of Blue Tangs, recognized by squealing kids as “Dory!” Most surprising to me, however, were the Red Anemone – in vivid rosy shades I’d expect in the Caribbean, but not in the Northeast. Under the Sea indeed. Open Mid Feb-Oct daily 10-5, Nov to mid Feb, Sat – Mon 10-5.

Calef's Country Store Barrington NH

Calef’s Country Store Barrington NH

SHOP: Calef’s Country Store, Barrington. As I walked into this 150-year-old Country Store on a country road in rural NH, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” was playing on the radio. How amazingly coincidental, I thought. Calef’s, “a New Hampshire Tradition since 1869,” is certainly the real thing, with its original creaky wood floors and wood stove – “buying local” since Ulysses S. Grant was President. Those in search of old-fashioned, personal service, hot and BBQ sauces, NH craft beer, bread mixes, canned brown bread, soaps and lotions, kitchen gadgets, and a deli known for “Rat Trap” Cheddar, will find all that and more here.

Calef's Country Store Barrington NH

Calef’s Country Store Barrington NH

This well-trafficked store supports nearly 300 local vendors, and staff turnover is low. One employee, Joel Sherburn, has been at the deli counter for 60 years (a book about Joel, “60 Years of Cutting the Cheese” is on sale near check out). Recently, an 86-year old woman came in and mused, “I haven’t been here since I was six.” She was probably one of the many children who honed her math skills in the penny candy section – still there with a whole jar of candy for one cent each (and several others for two cents) and still attracting school kids who learn to make change though their purchases.

Where to Eat in Seacoast NH On Portsmouth Outskirts

Wood Fired Meatballs at Salt Kitchen and Bar, Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle NH

Wood Fired Meatballs at Salt Kitchen and Bar, Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle NH

EAT: Salt Kitchen and Bar,Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle. The formerly fusty Wentworth dining room is now contemporary and bright, yet retains its original hand-painted domed mural.

Salt Kitchen with Original Hand-Painted Dome Ceiling, Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle NH

Salt Kitchen with Original Hand-Painted Dome Ceiling, Wentworth By the Sea, New Castle NH

Dine on raved-about small plates like Handmade rustic Wood Oven Roasted Meatballs ($9 – bring me another plate of these, please), light and ethereal Hand Rolled Gnocchi ($10); Prosciutto Wrapped Maine Scallops ($10) and lip-smacking Aragosta Flatbread with Caramelized Shallots, Lobster Cream, Lobster chunks and a tinge of honey – like Lobster Bisque pizza.

Blue Moon Evolution, Exeter NH

EAT: Blue Moon Evolution, Exeter.  For two decades, this upscale organic restaurant, owned by a mother and her two daughters, has been winning awards for its mouthwatering soups and other fresh fare. The vegan Cream of Asparagus Soup (made with coconut milk), paired with warm crunchy-chewy sourdough bread to die for, makes for a perfect lunch ($9).

EAT/EXETER: Locals also recommend Otis, Green Bean, Sea Dog, and 11 Water St.

Where to Stay in Seacoast NH Outside of Portsmouth

Garrison Hotel Dover NH

STAY: The Garrison Hotel, Dover. Though a visitor might first size up The Garrison as a high-end motel, walk through the door and this new hotel has all the earmarks of an upper-mid-level boutique. The lobby and common area are crisply styled in nautical fashion, with shiplap structural posts, rough-hewn ceiling beams, and fireplace. The dining area features a communal table with hidden electrical outlets for both work and morning breakfast, which is complimentary with guestroom. Directly outside French doors, you’ll find a pretty patio with fire pit for evening conversation. The indoor pool is relatively substantial, though the fitness room is on the smaller side.

Guest Room Garrison Hotel Dover NH

Rooms, in earthy hues, are brand new, with comfy beds clad in white, punched up by a poppy pillow, and immaculate modern granite counter, ceramic “faux hardwood” floor bathrooms. Rooms from $107 offseason to about $259 in season include complimentary breakfast.

Wentworth By the Sea, Marriott Hotel, New Castle NH

Wentworth By the Sea, Marriott Hotel, New Castle NH

STAY: Wentworth By the Sea,New Castle. One of New Hampshire’s last grand hotels, the 1874 Wentworth- a landmark in Victorian-era travel with as imposing a history as the presence it commands on Portsmouth Harbor – was rebuilt as a flagship Marriott Hotel. President Teddy Roosevelt earned the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating, in absentia, the end of the Russo-Japanese war here (The Treaty of Portsmouth), and treaty delegates stayed at Wentworth (30 days at no charge) while conducting formal negotiations at the Shipyard. Though much of the hotel was renovated in 2003, the central portion, including the main entrance and lobby fireplace, remained intact. As a full-service resort, rooms are luxe and come with a number of amenities and activities. Room rates start at $179 off season, $379 in season up to $1500 per night for 2 bedroom villa.

STAY: Inn By the Bandstand, Exeter. Patrons rave about this very upscale canary yellow boutique inn right by the bandstand in downtown Exeter.

Portsmouth NH: Seaport, Shopping and Full-On Culinary Scene

Portsmouth NH From River

Portsmouth NH From River

WHY GO: As a Colonial seaport and one of the country’s oldest Naval Shipyards, Portsmouth was open to many immigrants from foreign lands who lived and socialized together in an enclave picturesquely called “Puddle Dock.” The town bustled with shops and eateries, barges plied the rivers delivering goods: it was lively and friendly – and still is. At one time, Portsmouth was home to the country’s largest brewery, and craft brewers still take their beer seriously here. Known for unique boutiques and shops, zero sales tax on purchases, and for a burgeoning culinary scene, Portsmouth NH melds history with pleasure in the best of ways.

Things to Do in Portsmouth NH

Discover Portsmouth NH

WALKING TOUR: Discover Portsmouth Walking Tours. To understand this multi-layered city, the 4th largest during the Colonial era, it’s a good idea to start at Discover Portsmouth – the large Federal Style brick building (built in 1810 as an Academy with 25 women in the first class) right across from the John Paul Jones House (more on that in a minute). An art museum, gallery, and great gift shop, Discover Portsmouth is also the starting point of several 75-minute walking tours that begin with a 12 minute video.

Fort William and Mary aka Fort Constitution Portsmouth NH

Portsmouth NH was founded for economic, not religious, reasons. Five tributaries pour into the Piscataqua River, and the area was found to be rife with timber and fish – quite a boon to England. In the 1700’s, English shipbuilders and ship’s Captains grew wealthy working for the King, but when Paul Revere warned the populace that the British would be confiscating all gunpowder, a locally formed militia stormed nearby Fort William and Mary (which became Fort Constitution), absconding with 96 barrels of gunpowder in the first act of defiance leading to the Revolutionary War.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery ME

The newly formed U.S. Navy began to build ships here, which is when John Paul Jones entered the scene. He lived in Portsmouth for a short time in 1777 while overseeing the construction of his Naval ship, the USS Ranger, which he subsequently sailed to France and the Irish Sea to assist with the American cause. Post War, the shipyard, and thus the local economy, was in the doldrums, until the mid to late 1800’s when the titan of beer-making, Frank Jones, turned Portsmouth into a brewery town, employing over 500 people and shipping off 250,000 barrels of beer a year.

John Paul Jones Stayed Here Portsmouth NH

John Paul Jones Stayed Here Portsmouth NH

During the early years of the 1900’s, over half a million people had been killed in the war between Russia and Japan. In a Camp David move of his day, President Teddy Roosevelt appealed to leaders of both nations to come to the coast of New Hampshire, where made sure that local dignitaries fêted them with dinners and lawn parties (while he stayed in the White House at a respectable remove): a diplomacy that culminated in the “Treaty of Portsmouth,” signed at the Wentworth Hotel on September 5, 1905 – an historic event that made Portsmouth famous.

The Naval Shipyard pulled the local economy out of the Great Depression. In fact, the city’s location and ample employment opportunities during WWII drew a slew of African Americans, women, and immigrants – you know, real Yankees – who all lived and worked together in one big melting pot. (The best place to learn about this era is at the living history Strawberry Banke Museum, see below).

African Burying Grounds Portsmouth NH

African Burying Grounds Portsmouth NH

The walking tour takes you to the house that John Paul Jones rented, past the African Burying Grounds Memorial (when civil engineers were laying sewers, they unearthed caskets and bodies of slaves), and through small cobblestone streets – with great stories along the way.

Tide Clock Portsmouth NH

Tide Clock Portsmouth NH

Our guide pointed out the Tide Clock on top of People’s Bank – indicating how important the tidal swings are to the local economy – and St. Paul’s Church, which has one of 12 “Vinegar” Bibles in existence. Printed in 1717, the heading of one chapter in this multi-typo’d version of the Holy Book read “The Parable of the Vinegar” instead of “The Vineyard.” Historic Downtown Tour, 75 minutes, daily, 10:30m, $15 per person.

Warner House, Portsmouth NH

Warner House, Portsmouth NH

VISIT: Warner House. Built in 1716 for a sea captain, the Georgian style Warner House is the oldest urban brick house in Northern New England. After six generations, the house was rescued from demolition by the Warner House Association in 1932 and opened as a museum. Open June-October Wed – Mon 10-4. $8 adults, $4 kids.

PortCity Bike Tours, Portsmouth NH

PortCity Bike Tours, Portsmouth NH

BIKE TOUR: PortCity Bike Tours. An alternative way to see Portland while on the move, PBT offers a Historic Tour, Coastal Tour, Island Tour, and Neighborhood Tour. Check website for dates and times.

Strawbery Banke Living History Museum, Portsmouth NH

Strawbery Banke Living History Museum, Portsmouth NH

TOUR: Strawbery Banke. Perhaps more than in any other New England seacoast town, it’s easy to imagine what life was like in this country when it was new and growing thanks to Portsmouth’s living history museum, Strawbery Banke.  Strawbery Banke isn’t a “museum” so much as a collection of 32 homes and establishments, most in their original locations, manned by costumed guides who interpret the lives and duties of the actual families that lived and worked in them. When English merchants first sailed up the Piscataqua River in 1630 and noticed wild berry bushes along its shores, they called what is now Portsmouth “Strawbery Banke.” The living history museum of that name depicts 400 years of life in Portsmouth with costumed re-enactors, hands-on-archaeology digs and other innovative programs. Plan on at least two hours to wander ten acres in some of the authentic homes and shops that are in various stages of repair. You’ll engage with costumed role-players who interpret the people who actually lived or worked in each home or shop, such as “Mrs. Shapiro” – a Russian immigrant who arrived here in 1909, innkeepers at the Pitt Tavern – the origination point for the first Portsmouth to Boston stage coach, where wayfarers could find three meals a day served family style, and the “owner” of the Little Corner Store – that served as a community center where locals traded ration stamps for canned goods and gossip about the neighborhood during WWII.

Jewish Immigrants in Puddle Dock (A Section of Strawbery Banke) Portsmouth NH

Jewish Immigrants in Puddle Dock (A Section of Strawbery Banke) Portsmouth NH

Begin with a 7-minute video that fills you in on the history of this settlement. In the 1700’s, Portsmouth rivaled Boston and Philadelphia in overseas commerce, and the streets bustled with trade. The 1800’s Industrial Revolution brought immigrants to town: Italians, Russians, French, Germans – over 30% of the town’s citizens were foreign born.

Sheva Shapiro demonstrates Russian method of drinking tea through a sugar cube at Strawbery Banke Museum, Porstmouth NH

Sheva Shapiro demonstrates Russian method of drinking tea through a sugar cube at Strawbery Banke Museum, Porstmouth NH

Though all buildings hold interest, my favorites were the home of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, Sheva Shapiro (built in 1775, she and her family were the 13th family to live there when they immigrated from Russia in 1909), and the Abbot’s Corner Store. Enter the Shapiro’s home, and it’s 1919. Sheva, dressed in period clothing, might show you how Russians drink tea through a sugar cube. She’ll talk about her home-apothecary garden, her daughter Molly’s tenth-year birthday gift – a pogo stick – sitting in the corner (if you ask, she may allow you to use it), and about the innovative way she expanded Molly’s sweaters as her daughter grew. After the “War to End All Wars” (WWI), Sheva explains, it was her “patriotic duty” to rent a room to Mr. Russell, who worked in the Naval shipyard across the bridge. You’re invited to visit Molly’s room and the rest of the house –and to see pictures on the walls of the family that “Mrs. Shapiro” brings to life.

Little Corner Store, Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth NH

Little Corner Store, Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth NH

At Mrs. Abbott’s Little Corner Store, the “War Effort” is on full display. This was a Naval town – most residents worked in the shipyard where dozens of submarines were built during WWII. Patrons used ration stamps to purchase cans of food (on display), most grew “Victory Gardens,” and managed to stretch their food in ways that are just coming back into style today.

"Wax Melts" at Pickwick's @ Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH

“Wax Melts” at Pickwick’s @ Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH

New to the Banke is a shop like no other. Pickwick’s @ The Banke is a theatrical, sensory experience incorporating a costumed shopkeeper and artfully displayed Maritime Heritage gifts. Named after the Charles Dickens character, the shop is meant to evoke the curiosity store of Victorian times. Two consecutive day pass to Strawbery Banke is $17.50 adults, $10 youth, May 1- Oct. 31 daily 10-5. Weekends other times of year (check website).

Isle of Shoals Steamship Authority Portsmouth NH

Isle of Shoals Steamship Authority Portsmouth NH

BOAT TOUR: Isle of Shoals Steamship Authority. Both ships in the Isle of Shoals Steamship Authority fleet leave from the Market St. dock between the two bridges that connect Portsmouth NH to Kittery ME. On a narrated tour, passengers get a good overview of the natural and maritime history of Portsmouth Harbor, before heading seven miles out to nine small islands collectively called the Isle of Shoals.

Oceanic Hotel, Star Island Isle of Shoals NH

Oceanic Hotel, Star Island Isle of Shoals NH

On the border of Maine and New Hampshire, five of the Isles belong to Maine, four to New Hampshire. The second largest, Star Island, is the only island open to visitors, and you’ll want to spend at least an hour there.

Art Barn, Star Island, Isle of Shoals NH

Art Barn, Star Island, Isle of Shoals NH

Now owned by the Unitarian Universalist Church, the whole small land mass is comprised of residences, a Chapel, and the Oceanic Hotel, built in 1875 – one of the only Victorian era hotels in New England still standing in its original state.

Front Porch Oceanic Hotel Star Island Isle of Shoals NH

Front Porch Oceanic Hotel Star Island Isle of Shoals NH

Walk around the whole island via its outer dirt road, scramble over rocks for one of the best views of the Atlantic Ocean waves bashing up against granite cliffs, or just hang out on the front porch of the Oceanic Hotel watching the boats in the harbor. Those who wish to stay overnight can do so by signing up for a weeklong conference, or a few nights for a “personal retreat.” Contact starisland.org for arrangements. Portsmouth Harbor and Star Island Tour (3 hr 45 min), $37 adults, $27 children. There are also Portsmouth Harbor Tours, Star Island Full Day Visit, and Sunday Sunset Harbor cruises. Check website for details.

Gundalow Captain sailing past the crumbling but still grand decommissioned Naval prison referenced in the movie “The Last Detail” - Portsmouth Harbor NH

Gundalow Captain sailing past the crumbling but still grand decommissioned Naval prison referenced in the movie “The Last Detail” – Portsmouth Harbor NH

DO: Sail on Piscataqua. Experience a Portsmouth harbor tour on a gundalow, a flat-bottom sailing barge considered “the semi-tractor-trailer truck of its day.” This replica, which took wooden boat craftsmen six months to build in 2011 at Strawbery Banke, represents those that plied  New England rivers and bays from 1600’s until early 1900’s, when it was more efficient to ship lumber, bricks, cotton, farm goods, oysters and other products by boat than by land.

Heave-Ho on the Gundalow; Portsmouth NH

Heave-Ho on the Gundalow; Portsmouth NH

You can join the crew and “heave-ho” the sail, while passing sights like the crumbling but still grand decommissioned Naval prison (referenced in the movie “The Last Detail”) and Fort Constitution at the mouth of the river. The Fort is considered the site of the first Revolutionary War act – when, in Dec. 1774, Patriots stole munitions from the British stronghold.

Submarine coming into Portsmouth Harbor

Submarine coming into Portsmouth Harbor

The Piscataqua River, a 12-mile long tidal estuary that empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, is rife with fish and tankers, and, if you’re lucky, a Naval submarine coming in for repairs. As the gundalow is an open boat, you’ll want to bring rain gear if raining and plenty of sunscreen if not. For lunchtime sails, pick up a boxed lunch at The White Apron Café at Strawbery Banke across the street. Check website for schedule of a variety of afternoon and sunset cruises. Tickets $20 – $40 adults, $10-$20 youth.

Granite State Growler Tours, Portsmouth NH

Granite State Growler Tours, Portsmouth NH

TOUR/BEER: Granite State Growler Tours, Portsmouth. Hops on and hops off on this intimate and engaging bus tour to several of the NH Seacoast’s best breweries and pubs. Guides for Granite State Growler Tours harbor a deep affection for beer. Such affection, in fact, they conduct these brewery tours on their time off, as most have other, full time jobs. GSG owner/founder, David Adams, launched these bus excursions through the NH Seacoast’s brewery history on a whim, even enlisting his Mom who makes the now legendary “fluffy” pretzels distributed during each outing.

Earth Eagle Brewery Portsmouth NH

Earth Eagle Brewery Portsmouth NH

Guides elucidate on beer and the seedier side of Portsmouth history – “what they don’t tell you on regular city tours” – such as the fact that last century, the whole working waterfront was a red-light district with 140 bars and brothels. Portsmouth was also one of America’s original brewery towns – in the late 1800’s the Frank Jones Ale Works was the largest brewery in the United States, shipping out 250,000 barrels of beer and employing over 500 workers. (The buildings have been converted into apartments and restaurants)

There are six nano or “nano-plus” breweries in Portsmouth, and more than 25 in the surrounding area – plenty to choose from on each tour that introduces you to three of them. One of the most popular is the rare women-owned Throwback Brewery – on a sheep farm in North Hampton NH. In my case, I visited two very distinct spots within city limits – Earth Eagle Brewing, and Liar’s Bench Beer Co.

Earth Eagle Brewings exterior, Portsmouth NH

Earth Eagle Brewings exterior, Portsmouth NH

Earth Eagle Brewings: Owned by bro-in-laws, Butch Heilshorn (author of Against All Hops) and Alex McDonald, the hole in the wall Earth Eagle (nickname for wild turkeys) offers a full pub menu, tastings, growlers and 4-pack cans. Alex is the traditionalist, Butch leans experimental – choosing to brew “medieval style” (prior to the use of hops), incorporating herbs, bark, flowers, wheat – and even in one case, elk head meat in his concoctions. One of EE’s more unique ingredients is the invasive Japanese Knot Weed – aka “Monkey Weed,” which, when steeped with hibiscus flower, tints Earth Eagle’s signature gruit, “Monkey Weed,” pink. “This is a great beer to cook with.” $11 for six 4 oz tastes.

Liars Bench Portsmouth NH

Liar’s Bench Beer Co.: With its outdoor dog park/beer garden, this nano-plus brewery is a hit with neighbors with canines in tow. Owned by Dane and Dagan (who makes his own sausage), Liar’s Bench (named for the seat at the terminus of the Appalachian Trail where hikers are known to spout some tall tales) just celebrated its second anniversary. Take your No Dice Pilsner, Babble On Saison, Punxsutawney Swill, and other brews on draft to the convivial atmosphere outside, where a hub of beer lovers play with puppies and converse with each other – not a cell phone in sight.

Not to be left out, other breweries in town include Beara Irish Brewing, Great Rhythm Brewing, Loaded Question Brewing, and Portsmouth Brewery. On each tour, guests meet and talk with the brewers, sample local craft beer, see historic brewing locations. Tours start at $65 per person, all tastings and transportation included. Three hour tours generally on weekends. Check website for dates and times.

Futuristic Lounge at The Music Hall, Portsmouth NH

Futuristic Lounge at The Music Hall, Portsmouth NH

SEE: The Music Hall. Even if you don’t see a show at this 900-seat theater (built in 1878, renovated in 2008), pop in to see the otherworldly blue-lit lounge, jack-hammered out of a wall of rock, and the Harry Potterish bathrooms with circular sink and elaborate mosaic floor.

Wildly funky bathrooms at The Music Hall, Portsmouth NH

Wildly funky bathrooms at The Music Hall, Portsmouth NH

Showmen and women have been hoofing on these floorboards since this Beaux-Arts Theater opened, and during renovations, workers found decades old candy wrappers that had fallen beneath the floorboards and are now on exhibit. See musicians, top authors, comedians and indie movies throughout the year. Or just stop in to say hi and check out the bathrooms.

The Albacore Sub, Portsmouth NH

The Albacore Sub, Portsmouth NH

TOUR: The Albacore. Nicknamed the “Sub in a ditch,” the Albacore is far from the waterfront and situated, literally, in a hole in the ground. This diesel and electric powered submarine was built in Portsmouth in 1952 as a prototype test vessel in the newest design and modern technology of the day, and was returned to Portsmouth in 1985 without having been to war. The first sub ever built with this fish-like streamlined shape, it was fabricated to be hydroponically correct – at its best underwater – and could reach speeds in excess of 45 knots (faster than nuclear subs). Now, you can take a very hands-on self-guided tour to learn how 55 men could work and live in a 205’ by 27’ space. Sit in seats and initiate dive sequence, drive the sub and wedge into bunks: It’s all highly interactive and great for kids and kids at heart. Open daily Memorial Day to Columbus Day 9:30-5:30, closed Tues/Wed other times of year. $5 adults, $3 kids 7-17.

DO: Portsmouth Kayak. Modern day paddlers can view Strawberry Banke living history museum while kayaking around gentrified Portsmouth. Or circumnavigate New Castle and the beautifully restored Wentworth By the Sea. Or choose from a variety of kayaking tours. A spectacular way to get out on the water. Tours $45-$75 per person.

Market Square, Portsmouth NH

Market Square, Portsmouth NH

WANDER/SHOP: Market Square and its offshoots. The center of Portsmouth, Market Square, is also the center of boutique shopping and for many visitors, the town’s number one lure. Running off of the Square, wander up Bow Street (curved like a bow), rebuilt in brick after a devastating fire in 1806 completely consumed the original wooden structures.

Bow Street, Portsmouth NH

Bow Street, Portsmouth NH

At the back of Bow St. you’ll find a selection of waterfront restaurants: Ferry Landing for fried Shrimp Basket, Harpoon Willy’s, the River House for chowder and the relatively upscale Martingale Wharf featuring a fire pit and baskets of blankets.

Shopping alley, Portsmouth NH

Shopping alley, Portsmouth NH

Fun independent shops include Gus & Ruby Letterpress, Pickwick’s Mercantile, Kennedy’s Gallery, Pretty Poppy, Scallops Mineral & Shell Emporium ,Puttin’ On the Glitz for the perfect hat, and one of my favorite spots, Hazel Boutique for unique clothing. Foodies may find The Salt Cellar – offering exotic salts from around the world – particularly tasty.

Izzy's Portsmouth NH

Izzy’s Portsmouth NH

ICE CREAM: Izzy’s. Izzy’s frozen stuff seems fresh from the cow. Ten minutes before closing time on a hot midweek June evening and the line is out the door. No big surprise – the ice cream and fro-yo is that good.

Best Places to Eat in Portsmouth NH

Nibblesworth Portsmouth NH

Nibblesworth Portsmouth NH

EAT: Nibblesworth- Wood Fired Grill. In the Nutter-Rymes House, a circa 1809 building on the Historic Register, Nibblesworth (formerly Blue Mermaid) named for a family cat, turns out innovative “New American” cuisine with ingredients sourced from local farms. Nibblesworth is owned by former Dow Chemical engineer, Tom Nelson, and his restaurant industry wife, Jenny, who has a penchant for unconventional dishes like “When Pho Met Borschtaka” ($23) – an amalgam of red cabbage, beets, fried sweet potato rice noodles and seared tamarind scallops, Spring ChicPierogi (3 for $10) – crispy and stuffed with pulled chicken, and Poutine every which way.

Bloody Caesar, Nibblesworth, Portsmouth NH

Bloody Caesar, Nibblesworth, Portsmouth NH

There’s a funny back-story to “The Time Butch Lost His Bangs” (a S’mores-style dessert, $8), just ask. Whatever you do, don’t miss the flame-licked “Bloody Caesar” ($6) a wood fired grilled kimchi-rubbed romaine heart salad that I’d return for nightly if I lived in town.

The Goods - Portsmouth NH

The Goods – Portsmouth NH

EAT: The Goods- Local Market and Cafe. Tucked away downtown in the small pedestrian Vaughn Mall, The Goods is exactly that – GOOD – with a seriously excellent coffee and smoothie bar, bakery, specialty pizzas, and sandwich shop with salads as fresh picked crisp as any place on earth – from pluck to plate in under one second. How? There’s a “Grow Tower” replete with lettuces and herbs of all kinds that dominates the front window.

The Goods Grow Tower, Portsmouth NH

The Goods Grow Tower, Portsmouth NH

Owned by expat New Yorker, Jacqui Harmon, and her two daughters, Kayla and Shoshanna, The Goods is “all about healthy. Everything is made from scratch,” except the bagels, which are imported from NYC. Try the Chef’s Favorite Cali Wrap – a cocoon of eggs, avocado, roasted veggies and goat cheese that comes warm and crispy – and one of the “cleanest” tasting foods I’ve ever tried. No wonder people were swarming in on a random June weekday.

BLT Roundabout Diner Portsmouth NH

BLT Roundabout Diner Portsmouth NH

EAT: The Roundabout Diner. Located at the Route 1/I-95 roundabout, it’s easy to dismiss this place as just a coach bus stop, but don’t. Formerly Howard Johnson’s and then Bickford’s until 2010, this fun “breakfast all day” eatery is now a “50’s classic retro style diner with modern twists. Surprisingly, it’s got a strong local following. Some of this has to do with the diner’s full bar, rare for this type of eatery. Other reasons include way above average food and specials. On the menu are un-dinery dishes like Truffle Lobster Carbonara and Sirloin with Truffle Jam and Risotto. The BLTCA (BLT with Cheddar and Avocado) is the best of its kind – anywhere – due to locally sourced “killer” maple bacon (yeah, baby). Owners try to utilize local purveyors when possible, and mostly everything is made from scratch, including the homemade desserts, which are “all you can eat” on Sundays. Plus, as the owner quips, “the line goes quicker with liquor.” The Roundabout installed a “Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar” on Sundays – a resounding success.

EAT: Café Espresso. In a strip shopping center a bit out of town, this casual spot is a local favorite, especially for breakfast. Besides the “Best Omelets,” it’s got great salads and “Lobsta Your Way” – Lobsta Salad ($11.99) and Lobsta Roll ($11.9White Apron Cafe at Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth NH

EAT: White Apron Café.  No need to leave Strawbery Banke now to eat. Grab a salad, sandwich, homemade soups and sweets at this casual, from scratch spot. Arrange a gourmet picnic to go, as well. Perfect for an al fresco lunch overlooking the  waterfront, for an event at Prescott Park or for the lunchtime sailing on the gundalow Piscataqua.

Cava Wine Bar, Portsmouth NH

Cava Wine Bar, Portsmouth NH

EAT: There are “as many restaurant seats as citizens” in Portsmouth, so it will be virtually impossible to nail down the very best in this guide. But the following were mentioned again and again. Cure, owned by Chef Julie Cutting, which won Top Restaurant in NH, Row 34, Lexie’s Joint, Black Birch, Popovers on the Square for, well, the signature dish – a breakfast favorite for locals, Black Trumpet Wine Bar for Southern inspired farm to table cuisine, modern-American Tapas at Moxy, Cava for small plates and great tasting menu, Jumpin’ Jays Fish Cafe for exceptional fish, and BRGR Bar for very popular “Adult Milkshakes,” like the Orange Creamsicle ($10) or Bacon Marmalade ($10).

Best Places to Stay in Portsmouth NH

Martin Hill Inn backyard patio and gardens, Portsmouth NH

Martin Hill Inn backyard patio and gardens, Portsmouth NH

STAY: Martin Hill Inn. There are plenty of full service hotels in Portsmouth, but Getaway Mavens readers generally seek a more intimate, singular, personalized, gourmet breakfast type of experience, and you won’t find one better in Portsmouth than the Martin Hill Inn.  Hosts Meg and Russ took over this 7-room 2-building B&B – just a ten-minute walk to Market Square – in 2013 and are keen on the little details that make a B&B stay so special: soft drinks available round the clock, complimentary sherry in the afternoon and evenings, baked goods at check in and a full-gourmet breakfast (not to mention free wi-fi and parking). Rooms, named after clipper ships, are dressed in colonial-era finery.

Ranger Suite at Martin Hill Inn, Portsmouth NH

Ranger Suite at Martin Hill Inn, Portsmouth NH

The Ranger Room on the first floor features two beds (a double and single – perfect for friends traveling together), a corner hutch, other Federalist furniture and a picture of George Washington to evoke the proper era.  There’s a gorgeous garden out back, perfect for an afternoon glass of wine (or summer’s eve sherry), and baked treats to welcome you back from a day of exploring. Breakfasts consist of locally grown and sourced ingredients- quiches, frittatas, stuffed French Toast and the like – and cooked to your preference. Rates are reasonable, even in high season, topping out at $210 per night. $135-$210 includes sherry, afternoon refreshments, gourmet breakfast, parking and wi-fi.

Fairfield Inn Portsmouth Seacoast NH

Fairfield Inn Portsmouth Seacoast NH

STAY: Fairfield Inn Portsmouth Seacoast. This well rated, fully renovated hotel a couple of miles from town was fully booked on an early June Tuesday night. Why? The rooms are trendy-modern and spotless, beds are comfy, there’s a complimentary shuttle into town (no parking headaches), a complimentary hot and cold breakfast buffet, nicely landscaped outdoor pool, free wi-fi and complimentary USA Today. And best of all, rates are slightly lower than in town, starting at $170 per night.

STAY: If you prefer an in-town full service hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites and the Residence Inn By Marriott are both clean, comfy and fine.

Northern Chester County PA: Small Hidden Towns That Ooze Charm and…The Blob

Martha Stewart at Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Martha Stewart at Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

WHY GO: While Longwood Gardens and QVC are the most visited attractions in Southern Chester County PA (covered in this post) other, smaller, lesser known gems – a 35-acre “pleasure garden” favored by Martha Stewart and Brits; two tiny “Brigadoon”-like hamlets with world-renowned cred; the place where an iconic campy horror movie was filmed; a still operating tavern trashed by the Red Coats – can be found in the more remote Northern Chester County PA and are worthy of more than a passing glance. Here, the Getaway Mavens discover Yellow Springs (aka Chester Springs), St. Peter’s Village, Chanticleer Gardens, and more. You want offbeat? You got it!

Things to Do in N. Chester County PA

Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

VISIT: Chanticleer Garden. “Every gardener is like Oscar Hammerstein’s Optimist, for the very act of planting is based on hope for a glorious future.” – Adolph Rosengarten, Jr., benefactor, who left this property to the Chanticleer Foundation upon his death.

Visitor's Entrance Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Visitor’s Entrance Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

At 35 acres, and with 60,000 visitors a year, Chanticleer, opened to the public in 1993, is smaller and more intimate than nearby Longwood Gardens (1.5 million visitors per year). But this former private estate of the aptly named Rosengarten family is a genuine “find” in the rural landscape of rolling hills, farms, and country homes. Interestingly, people from England (and Martha Stewart, who comes on occasion) have discovered Chanticleer, comparing this small “Pleasure Garden” favorably to Longwood.

Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

House Corgi, Monty, on his daily rounds of Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

The grounds are embellished with hand-crafted and uniquely designed functional sculptures – benches, water fountains (constructed to send excess water back into the flower beds), whimsical Plant List boxes, and even a pedestrian bridge shaped like a fallen tree – fashioned with great care by five titled gardeners who each have complete authority over a designated section of the garden.

Overlook Terrace of Main Rosengarten Home Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Overlook Terrace of Main Rosengarten Home Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Given extensive creative latitude, these horticulturalists have free reign to translate their unique visions into botanical and sculptural art. Visitors are encouraged to bring a book, pack a picnic, relax on the inviting Overlook Terrace of the Main House, or just wander among the cheerful flowerbeds and shade trees.

Imaginatively raked gravel driveway Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Imaginatively raked gravel driveway Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

The main Rosengarten home – sometimes open for tours – is approached via a circular graveled driveway. “Every day, the staff rakes the gravel in a different pattern,” says Chanticleer Director, Bill Thomas. “We never know how it will look.” Thomas loves his job, and his sense of humor is readily apparent. Pointing to a copse of hand-made ceramic bamboo – each stalk topped with an orange comb, he quips, “This bamboo has been genetically crossed with rooster genes.”

Fallen Tree Pedestrian Bridge Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Fallen Tree Pedestrian Bridge Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

In Spring, the Magnolia and Cherry Trees burst into various shades of pink, and 250,000 yellow daffodils sprout from the earth. It’s a spectacular time to come, but every season from April through October has its charms, with “luxuriant foliage and exotic flowers” at every turn.

Elevated Walkway Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Elevated Walkway Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

A new Elevated Walkway, paved with springy shredded tires and pervious material, snakes downhill, making it easy to get to the meadow, an area blitzed through with bulbs that bloom in the Fall.

Reflections in "The Ruins" Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

Reflections in “The Ruins” Chanticleer Garden Wayne PA

The Asian Garden, with plantings from China and Japan, is farthest from the Visitor’s entrance. When gardeners realized the need for a restroom here (for themselves and guests), they built the “Japanese Pee House” in the image of a…. well, you know.

The Ruins, Chanticleer Garden, Wayne PA

The Ruins, Chanticleer Garden, Wayne PA

Besides the Main House, two other homes, built for the Rosengarten’s children, were located on the property. Once now serves as the Visitor’s entrance, and other was demolished and replaced by “ruins” on its former footprint. Here, the walls come alive with flowing plants reflected in small pools of water. Captivating.

Spring pathway, Chanticleer Garden PA

Spring pathway, Chanticleer Garden PA

There are more surprises amid the creeks and footpaths: sticks of Ostrich Fern form an organic “fence” that protects vulnerable spring flowers, and shredded tires have been dyed to look like wood chips in the Native Plant Garden. Best of all, these gardens help the community. The small vegetable garden is harvested three times a week in season. Two thirds of the gleaning goes to staff members – the last third to a local homeless shelter. Open April – Oct. Wed-Sun, $10, kids 12 and under free.

St. Peter's Village Historic District PA

St. Peter’s Village Historic District PA

EXPLORE: St. Peter’s Village Historic District; 40 minutes from West Chester. A quaint ‘burg, St. Peter’s Village is not gussied up or interpreted for tourists.

French Creek, St. Peter’s Village PA

But seekers of off the beaten track will find much to love here – especially the rocky, tree-studded French Creek that both rages and meanders over and through boulders behind Main St.: such a stunning scene that those who know how to find St. Peter’s compare it to Brigadoon. A former quarry town, St. Peters had to reinvent itself when that business closed down in the 1960’s. The shuttering of the local Inn (just recently) hasn’t helped much.

St. Peter's Bakery PA

St. Peter’s Bakery PA

Most locals flock to St. Peter’s Bakery for coffee and flakey pastries fresh out of the oven. On sunny days, patrons take their crispy croissants, sandwiches, and lattes out to the back deck to watch the water dance around and over boulders and tree roots on French Creek.

Healing Bowls, Healing Spirit Cafe St. Peter's Village PA

Healing Bowls, Healing Spirit Cafe St. Peter’s Village PA

Shops in town run the gamut of antique stores, a wine tasting room, an old fashioned pinball arcade, and Healing Spirit Café, owned by Terry, who, besides offering Reiki sessions, sells crystal and hammered metal “Healing Bowls,” along with elixirs, salt lamps ($25), and a bounty of other transcendental accoutrements.

Glasssblowing class Glasslight Studio

Glasssblowing class Glasslight Studio

DO: Glassblowing at Glasslight Studio, St. Peters Village. Having had experience with half a dozen drop-in glassblowing classes in other studios around the country, I can honestly say that the full-day make-and-take class at Glasslight is the most hands-on, immersive experience you will ever have as a novice. It is worth a drive from anywhere.

Contemporary Menorah Glasslight Studio St Peters Village PA

Contemporary Menorah Glasslight Studio St Peters Village PA

But, to me at least, that was not the biggest surprise in this small, seemingly middle-of-nowhere artist studio. Glasslight owners, Joel and Candice Bless, are the designers of one of the world’s most recognized contemporary glass Hanukah Menorahs in the world. Joel had been experimenting with glass casting right around the Jewish Holiday of Lights. Candy said, “why don’t you make something useful – like a Menorah we can use.” And thus, the Shofar Menorah was born. The Bless’s design was included in the Bloomingdales catalog that year, and according to Joel, “we had to work 7 days a week to fill orders.” The Shofar Menorah is still for sale in most Jewish Museums and Judaic Shops. In fact, in 2010, the clear and blue menorah graced the cover of the book, 500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art.

Hands On Glassblowing Glasslight Studio PA

Hands On Glassblowing with owner, Joel Bless, Glasslight Studio PA

Glasslight Studios still does custom work for homes, businesses, and houses of worship, fabricating metal in house as well, and though you might be tempted to purchase something in the studio shop, visitors eager for a more immersive experience will want to sign up for a One Day Class on the weekend. You’ll help “pull molten glass” from the furnace, blow it till you look like Satchmo, help shape and cut it, and learn firsthand how glass art is made. For $190, you’ll make four pieces – a paperweight, a bowl, a drinking glass, and a vase – an unheard of value.

Historic Yellow Springs PA

Historic Yellow Springs PA

GO: Historic Yellow Springs/Chester Springs. Years ago, I wrote a short story about a cowboy who wins a whole, nearly abandoned, “tumbleweed tract” town in a poker game. Yellow Springs PA, which has changed hands multiple times, could have been that fictional town. The Village itself is on the National Historic Register, with a history dating back to before the American Colonies, when the indigenous Lenape Tribe named the area “Yellow Springs” for the iron-tinted color of the spring water.

Remains of Revolutionary War Hospital Yellow Springs PA

Remains of Revolutionary War Hospital Yellow Springs PA

Researchers discovered a newspaper announcement from 1722, enticing visitors to bathe in the springs for their medicinal qualities. George Washington was well aware of this “Spa Town” when, after loosing the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, and during one of the deadliest Winter Encampments nearby in Valley Forge, he petitioned the Continental Congress to build a 126-bed state of the art Military Hospital to be located here. It served as a Medical Center until 1781, when the War moved south. Visitors can climb a small hill to see the ruins of this historic building.

From 1810 until the Civil War, Yellow Springs was a bustling resort town – a place to see and be seen, with bowling alleys, ice-cream parlors, and hotels. Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, brought to the USA by P.T. Barnum, came to Yellow Springs to recover from her whirlwind American Tour. By 1838, the entrepreneurial Margaret Holman, owned a “good chunk” of town, taking the reins of property ownership away from her drunk, n’er do well husband, Frederick, at a time when women were not allowed to own property. (Holman’s son acted as her agent after Frederick died in 1820).

Walking Tour Historic Yellow Springs PA

Walking Tour Historic Yellow Springs PA

After the Civil War, the appeal of spa towns waned, and in 1868, Yellow Spring was converted into an orphanage for war orphans and a boarding school for children of destitute military veterans, which operated until 1912, when the whole village was put up for sale.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts owned Yellow Springs from 1916-1952, until the genteel art of “plein aire” painting lost favor, and the town was once again on the block. This time, Irwin “Shorty” Yeaworth saw Yellow Springs as the ideal place to shoot religious films and promote Christian messaging through his Good News Productions. But those endeavors didn’t pay the bills, so Yeaworth and his wife, Jean Bruce, turned to making campy horror movies, establishing the for-profit Valley Forge Productions. Yeaworth’s most enduring Cult Classic? The Blob, partially filmed in nearby Phoenixville (see below).

By the 1960’s, a local group started renting the buildings in Yellow Springs for art classes, finally forming a 503(c) Nonprofit organization and purchasing the town outright to promote the arts in Chester County. Dedicated to the visual arts, environment, and the village’s 300 year history, Historic Yellow Springs now hosts one of the largest Annual Art Shows in the region, showcasing the work of 209 artists over a 2-week period every spring.

Wood Kiln Yellow Springs PA

Wood Kiln Yellow Springs PA

Though a variety of art classes are offered here, Yellow Springs is distinguished by its very active Ceramics Studio with a large wood kiln (built in 2014) that draws students from Philly and elsewhere (the nearest one of comparable size is in Baltimore). Though guided walking tours of Historic Yellow Springs can be arranged for groups of 10 or more for a fee, mentions Executive Director, Eileen McMonagle, you can pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure in the Lincoln Building. Free.

VISIT: Colonial Theater, Phoenixville. The movie theater is packed.  Suddenly, a ball of icky goo murders the projectionist and starts after the rest of the gang.  Mayhem ensues. Moviegoers run from the theater; a young Steve McQueen among them.  The Blob, as memorable as a B-movie gets, was filmed right here in Phoenxville, PA. To raise money for the theater that by the 1990’s was in its final frames, the newly formed Association for the Colonial Theater screened The Blob – and the event was a hit.  Now, every year over a weekend in July, BlobFest takes over Phoenixville, drawing Blob lovers from all over the world.

John-Luttman-Artifaqt-Phoenixville-PA

John-Luttman-Artifaqt-Phoenixville-PA

STROLL/SHOP/EAT: Downtown Phoenixville.  What was once a steel foundry town has been reinvented as an arts and epicurean hot spot. Have a cup of joe amid the vibrant paintings and ceramics at Artisans Gallery and Café, where people sip specialty espressos after catching a flick at the Colonial Theater.  Try a few vintages at the Black Walnut Winery Tasting room or a custom Italian Soda at Steel City (a venue for local and regional musicians nearly every night).   If you can snag a seat, try for one at the newest little BYOB restaurant sensation, Andrew Deery’s Majolica or Black Lab Bistro (see recommendations below). And definitely plan to spend more time than you originally allotted for a perusal of the Diving Cat Gallery (named after owner Markels Roberts’ philosophy to just dive into life the way cats dive after prey). Roberts considers her store as “one big sculpture,” and you’ll loose yourself amid the ceramic cats, Buddha’s, clothing, scarves, jewelry and thousands of can’t resist impulse purchases. Before leaving town, you’ll have to make one last stop at  Artifaqt, both a factory and artist studio. It’s not generally open, but if you press the buzzer, owner/craftsman John Luttman will let you into his world and work, which includes designing for Disney, the Bronx Zoo, Longwood Gardens (cheeseboards made from Longwood’s fallen trees), star chef and restaurateur, Jose Garces and others. Great chefs and Disney bigwigs make pilgrimages here to see the artist at work and discuss their newest projects, but you can, too.  Just push the buzzer.  “The curious are always welcome.”

Where to Eat in North Chester County PA

Ludwig's Inn famous French Onion Soup PA

Ludwig’s Inn famous French Onion Soup PA

EAT/PROVISION/SHOP: Ludwig’s Grille and Oyster Bar, Glenmoore. What was once the General Store and Post Office (built in 1848) on the rural intersection of Routes 100 and 401 (“Cornerstone Pike”), and then the Black Angus Inn, has, since 1992 been restored, strangely enough, as an Oyster Bar with a New England theme. The original “Buck A Shuck” – $1 per shucked oyster – has not gone up in price in 26 years! No wonder Ludwig’s sells on average 3,000-4,000 oysters per week. But that’s not all Ludwig’s dishes out – and other items are equally excellent. Take the popular French Onion Soup – chock full of sweet, caramelized onions and capped with a prodigious amount of melted gooey cheese. Or the “Wedge Salad” deconstructed and chopped, with Bibb Lettuce to soften each fresh bite. These, and craft cocktails, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, and of course those oysters, keeps this crossroads restaurant hopping.

Eleanor Russell Gift Shop, Ludwig's Corner PA

Eleanor Russell Gift Shop, Ludwig’s Corner PA

In the same complex, find a small upscale Ludwig’s Village Market (with Market Café opening soon), perfect for provisioning and picnics. A few doors down, Eleanor Russell Gift Shop – in case you’re hunting for the perfect unique hostess, wedding, or baby gift. Owner Lori Musson, who has a penchant for dogs and equestrian themed items, named her store after her grandparents, Eleanor and Russ.

EAT: Black Lab Bistro, Phoenixville.  Highly rated, often cited as the “best restaurant in town,” accolades are well deserved. Try the warm sushi-rice and seaweed salad topped Tuna Tartar ($12) with a texture/flavor combination that leaves a gal wanting more. The menu is inventive and the room cheerful – and not a Blob in sight.

Interior of farm to table Restaurant Alba, Malvern, PA

EAT: Restaurant Alba, Malvern. Chef Sean Weinberg, a James Beard darling, dedicated to high quality, locally produced foods, opened up this big city caliber eatery in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Malvern a few years ago and the great reviews are never ending.  Go local for the Wood Grilled PA Trout, Arugula, Pickled Onions, Almonds and Pesto ($20), or small bites with 5 inventive Bruchettes for $17.

Where to Stay

Desmond-Hotel-Malvern-PA

Desmond-Hotel-Malvern-PA

STAY: Desmond Hotel, Malvern. Though the hotel itself is sized for a corporate clientele, rooms at the Desmond are nevertheless charming, with four-poster canopy beds and Federalist furniture.  Three on-site restaurants assure that you’ll find something as casual or as fine as you’d like, and in fact, the service and dishes in the in-house Fork & Bottle are very fine indeed. Rooms and suites from $169-$289.

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