WHY: Though more and more cities are saving important buildings from the wrecking ball, the award for the most repurposed downtown goes to that bastion of Amish Culture, Lancaster, PA. Most tourists visit this region for a glimpse of the austere, electricity-shunning PA Dutch, but there is another reason to make the trip out to the Pennsylvania countryside, and that’s for the burgeoning arts (both fine and performing) scene.
A SCENE? An ART’S SCENE in the middle of Yoder’s Meats-land with the vibe of Brooklyn, NY? Yep. There are over 150 art galleries and two performing arts centers along with a growing collection of gourmand-approved restaurants, wine bars and SoHo-style boutiques. Plus, Lancaster was home to the country’s 15th President, James Buchanan, and his stylish house is open for tours. Of course you can come back and do the Amish Country or Lancaster Historything, but this Getaway is all about Arts, Crafts, and Theater.
Things To Do In Lancaster, PA
Wheatland, President James Buchanan’s Home, Lancaster PA
TOUR: Wheatland – the Home of President James Buchanan. Your tour begins in the LEED-certified Visitor’s Center, managed by LancasterHistory. Peruse the museum exhibitions (don’t miss the temperature controlled Decorative Arts storage room in the basement with a weird wax figure of Buchanan), the Research Library, watch a 22-minute orientation film, and obtain tickets for your Wheatland tour next door.
Buchanan’s administration is commonly understood to be one of the worst in US Presidential history. But this 30 minute tour is and fantastically entertaining – and depicts the “bachelor President’s” human side. Fortunately, artists of the day sketched each room as it looked when Buchanan lived here, and so historians were able to duplicate them with a third of the President’s original pieces of furniture and the rest of the period – making for a very authentic look at the way he lived.
Foyer Wheatland Lancaster PA
Buchanan purchased the stately circa 1828 brick home in 1848, and moved in with his orphaned niece, Harriet and nephew, Buck. A confirmed bachelor (the only US President who never married), Buchanan had no children of his own.
There are no ropes or barriers in the house, making it one of the most accessible Presidential House tours in the country. The foyer is bright and sunlit with a stunning Mahogany rail and Tiger Maple spindle staircase that would not be out of place in a modern home.
James Buchanan Desk Wheatland Lancaster PA
Set in his ways, Buchanan didn’t campaign outside his house, but hosted movers and shakers in his parlor. The dining room is small and intimate, with a table set with authentic White House china that Buchanan brought with him to DC because he liked his own stuff. As Buchanan was partial to Madera Wine – an original bottle from 1827 sits on a side table.
Wheatland Library Lancaster PA
Buchanan’s favorite hand-carved teak desk, a gift from Calcutta India, dominates his handsome office. And the reproduction rose and black floral carpeting in the low-lit Library reveals that décor in the mid-1800’s was far from drab. Open Mon-Sat. 9:30-5. Tours on the hour from 10-3, $15 adults, $8 youth, children under 10 free.
Decades Lancaster PA
GO/FUN/EAT: Decades. A half “deca” team (that’s 5, by the way) got together to open a bowling alley, retro arcade, restaurant, and bar in the former Stahr Armory in Lancaster. Jonathan Yeager, Chris Trendler, Adam Ozimek, and Mike and Bri Callahan believed that locals yearned for a place to hang out where they could be active and social at the same time.
“There were bars, and there were arcades, but Lancaster lacked things to do,” said Yeager. Opened in March 2019, Decades – so named to invoke a feeling of nostalgia for young and old – has been a boon to the city’s growing nightlife scene since day one.
Bowling Decades Lancaster PA
House of Cards fans might recognize some props scattered about. Most of the furnishings, including the host stand, the mirror behind the bar, pendant lights and chandeliers came from the Cards set. Besides the six-lane bowling alley, there’s SkeeBall, Ms. Packman, Donkey Kong, and other blast from the past games. I’ve heard that the Honey Garlic Wings are epic (I didn’t try them, though), and the space is family friendly from the time it opens at 4pm until 8:30pm-midnight, when it becomes a 21+ venue. Closed Tues, weekends open at 12, weekdays at 4, till midnight or 1am.
Zoetropolis Lancaster PA
GO: Zoetropolis (Cinema Stillhouse). Middle School art teacher, Nate Boring (in partnership with 4 others), found a used furniture store and turned it into another mixed breed of bar/eatery. Zoetropolis combines an indie movie/live theater venue with an open-kitchen restaurant and bar. And, a rum-focused distillery. Harking to Prohibition, when a local brewery pumped beer into the bathrooms here, Zoetropolis turns out Silver, Spiced, and Aged Rum from a series of looming burnished stills. The Restaurant satisfies the “small bite” crowd, centering on Tapas and a variety of inventive dishes like Smoky Molasses Glazed Salmon ($14), Scallops, and many Vegan options.
Bar Zoetropolis Lancaster PA
Boring loves the eclectic creativity involved in both designing the interior of this historic building and concocting spirits. He fashioned a shuffleboard into the bar top, handmade many decorative tiles himself, and sourced local trees for the black walnut shelves. As an art teacher who continues to teach, Zoetropolis is certainly a labor of love and a true work of art.
DO: If you arrive on Tuesday, Friday or Saturday bring a cooler, and tote it to the country’s oldest continuously operating public market, Central Market, “where city and country have come to meet” for more than 200 years. Locals are proud of this mainstay (Lancaster was an inland “market town” dating back to 1730), and you might very well hear a neighbor call out, “will I see you at market?” on non-market days. With sixty-two separate vendors (some operating as family enterprises for over 100 years), you can find an abundance of ethnic foods here, too. Just don’t forget to say “hi” to Vince at Sweethearts Celery. He sells celery and nothing but celery – the best, of course.
VISIT: ThePennsylvania College of Arts and Design, a leader in the installation of public art, has been a downtown anchor for thirty years, bringing in free speakers, international artists and signature events. At the very least, pop in to peruse the latest exhibition in the Main Gallery, as exhibitions change periodically.
DO: See A Show. This city of 60,000, amazingly, has two live theaters. Built in 1842, and renovated in the 1870’s after Sarah Bernhardt declared it “the worst place to perform,” TheFulton Theater (named for Lancaster-born Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat), became one of the best places to perform, hosting the likes of Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson. Renovated again in the mid 1990’s, The Fulton Theater now shows innovative, engaging original stage productions.
DO: Ware Center. Scope out the events at the Millersville University’s Philip Johnson-designed Ware Center; a soaring space made up of auditorium (with acoustics so perfect, you can hear a pin drop on stage), galleries, event spaces and classrooms. There’s something for everyone nearly every night; dance, lectures, art films and a weekly Jazz Cabaret (the best bargain in town; $15 ticket includes a glass of wine) in a windows-to-the-city room where you can watch the town light up as the sun goes down.
GO – Best Time To Come: Arrive on the First Friday of any month and, from 5-9pm, the City of Lancaster turns into “Mardi Gras.” Over a hundred shops and galleries participate with music, wine and special events. The THIRD Friday of each month brings Music Friday, which turns all of downtown into an outdoor concert .Even if you can’t be here First Friday, come any other time, unplug from your IPad and “StumbleUpon” furniture, art and jewelry boutiques in real life.
GO:Tellus360 in a multi-level music/bar venue with Yoga space.
SHOP: 300 Block of Queen St. Your wampum goes a lot further in Lancaster and doubly so in the funkier regions of Queen St. (300’s block). Don’t miss Building Character, a vast co-op arts mall specializing in architectural salvage.
Where To Eat In Lancaster, PA
Callaloo Chef/Owner Amos Kinert Lancaster PA
EAT: Callaloo Trinidadian Kitchen. Slang for an “unlikely combination of things,” the hot, new Callaloo introduces us to “Doubles” and Buss-Up-Shut, and how to eat like a “Trini.” Chef/Owner Amos Kinert lived and worked in this most Southern Caribbean island for three years, and brought his expertise back to Lancaster City.
Callaloo Restaurant Lancaster PA
Dine on traditional Trinidadian breads with sauces made in house, addictive Cassava Fries, Curried or Coconut Jerk Chicken ($15), Wild Caught Red Snapper ($26), and yes, the tasty street food “Doubles” – two pieces of fried bread with curried chick peas, cucumber chutney, tamarind and cilantro. Follow up with a glass of Sorrell (hibiscus flower ice tea). As for dessert, just order the Peanut Punch – it’s like drinking the inside of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Divine!!!!
EAT: There are two new places in Lancaster where you can eat, drink, and either play or see a show. Decadessatisfies your inner child with great pub food, bowling, and a retro-arcade. Zoetropolis fulfills your desire to eat an inventive meal and then see an idie movie or concert. Both answer the question, “where to we go in downtown Lancaster to eat and be amused?”
SNACK: Mr. Sticky’s Homemade Sticky Buns. Though not downtown, you’ve got one reason to stop at the Discover Lancaster Visitor’s Centeron Route 30, and it’s not for maps (although they have them, and staff is a great sources of local info). Order one addictive Sticky Bun from Mr. Sticky’s shop next door, and you will either bless me or curse me. Warm from the oven, Mr. Sticky’s scrumptious treats put those mall-franchise cinnamon buns to shame.
EAT: Carr’s Restaurant. This icon of Lancaster has been purchased by the owners of the Belvedere Inn (see below under Local’s recommend), and is currently undergoing renovation. Stay tuned.
DRINK:Annie Bailey’s. Got a hankering for Bangers and Mash or an on-draft pint? Try this authentically dark and woody two-floor Irish Pub– a popular hangout for locals and tourists.
EAT: Locals also recommend Maison, a farm-to-table eatery on Gallery Row; The Belvedere Inn, housed in a Victorian brick building with a balcony and regular live jazz music; Bistro Baberet and Bakery, French fine dining with impressive bakery cases; Himalayan Curry and Grill, a small room with delicious food; Sprout Rice and Noodles, the place for Vietnamese; Pour with its lovely décor; The Pressroom, newly remodeled; Luca, for wood-fired pizza; John J. Jeffries; the Fridge (especially in winter with its big pot-bellied wood stove).
Where To Stay In Lancaster, PA
STAY: Cork Factory Hotel @ Urban Place. This 77-room boutique was built brick by handmade brick in 1865 as Lancaster Cork Works (purchased by Armstrong in 1895), for the purpose of pressing cork into disks that were then inserted into bottle caps. The hotel is a study in repurposing; utilizing wood, stone and brick from the original buildings. It’s not difficult to imagine foremen clumping up and down the main staircase making sure that the cork-presses were working efficiently, though it might be a stretch to conceive of horses stabled where the ballroom now stands.
The bar top, tables and chairs in in-house restaurant Cork and Cap were all made from salvaged wood found on-site. Ask for a high-ceiling suite on the 4th floor where you’ll be spared noise from upstairs neighbors. Guestrooms exude raw charm – you are, after all, sleeping in a former factory building. Exterior walls are original uneven handmade brick; warps, pits, and all. Ceilings feature exposed pipes and unadulterated planks of wood. Beds are firmly comfy, with herringbone-woven leather headboards and white fitted comforters. With just a few pieces of furniture, designers went for “less is more,” though the imperfections in the brick walls can be mesmerizing. In the bathroom, stone tile, granite sink and glass shower bathrooms meet luxury boutique standards. Rooms are $119 to $219 per night and include complimentary continental breakfast, free parking and free wi-fi.
STAY: Lancaster Arts Hotel. You can also stay in Tobacco-Warehouse luxury at the 63-room Lancaster Arts Hotel which features the work of dozens of PA artists in its lobby, suites and rooms. ($180-$360).
Easy Getaway From: Philadelphia (80 miles); New York City (160 miles.)
Lancaster County PA Settlers; Religious Leaders, Brewers, Watchmakers With Some Trainspotting on the Side
WHY GO: There are quite a few ways to approach Lancaster County PA; experiencing the city itself as an arts magnet, getting lost among the “Simple Folk” in the surrounding farmlands – or stepping back in time to study the seeds of Amish and Mennonite life in the region. The oldest Mennonite Meeting House – dating from 1719 – still stands. So do buildings built by a strange messianic, monastic sect, as well as a pre-Industrial brewery tucked away on a one-block “downtown” and still brewing. All of these and more are open to the public in this Historic Getaway that digs deep beneath the earth to uncover the roots of Lancaster County, and brings us to the present through “time” travel.
Things To Do In Lancaster County PA
VISIT: Hans Herr House and Eastern Woodland Longhouse. Built in 1719, the Hans Herr House is the oldest building in Lancaster County, and the longest standing Mennonite Meeting House in the USA. And it wasn’t even built by Hans Herr (who may or may not have even left Germany), but by his son Christian Herr. A prime example of Medieval Germanic architecture, with asymmetrical windows and a central fireplace, this was a mansion in the early 1700’s when other families lived in log cabins.
What makes this historic site in the middle of PA Dutch farmland so compelling, though, is what has been preserved, and the story it tells about Mennonite life throughout the centuries. Costumed interpreters take you into and through the house; the year 1719 is chiseled in stone over the front door. The prayer room is set up as starkly as it would have been when neighbors assembled to pray. Upstairs in the bedroom rests a rare intact “Immigrant’s Trunk” made of wood and iron – usually burned as fuel and smelted into farm-tools, but in this case was not. The original staircase from the 2nd to third floor seems as if it will crumble any minute, but is a testament to those who strive to preserve this under-appreciated site.
Recently, a Native American Longhouse, measuring an impressive 62 ft. long 20 ft wide, was erected here to offer visitors a glimpse of this land’s history prior to and during the early years of European settlement. In the late 1600’s and 1700’s, European contact with the indigenous tribes was generally hostile. However, journal entries written by the Herr family note that on cold mornings, they would often find Native Americans sleeping on their kitchen floor, indicating a gracious if not friendly connection.
Sit inside the Longhouse and you’ll learn why this Matriarchal, clan-based society lived many generations to a building, and the strange reason they kept dogs and black snakes. The whole 11-acre complex, which encompasses a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, museums and thriving fruit tree grove provides a fascinating look at pioneer life. April –Nov. Mon-Sat. 9am-4pm; one house $8, two houses $15. Check website for tour times.
VISIT/TOUR: Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata. Take a 45-minute guided tour of one of the most peculiar monastic compounds to ever crop up in this center of religious tolerance. Conrad Beissel was a restless, but charismatic soul, striving, some would say, to just be left alone in the Pennsylvania woodlands. In 1737, he cobbled together a type of Tomorrow-Christ-Will-Return-Messianic religion with Saturday Sabbath, Vegetarianism, and Celibacy as central tenets, and built the largest buildings west of Philadelphia to house followers.
In 1750 the community, with its own Latin Academy and large printing press, reached its peak of 300 members. Entertaining and engaging guide Nick Seigert, dressed as a “Brother” in a flowing white robe, takes you through a typical day and night in 1750; most of the daylight and nighttime hours were devoted to prayer, some light spinning and calligraphy work, one meal of fruit and nuts, and an intense two hour “Jesus is coming like a thief in the night” midnight service.
In the still-standing Woman’s Dorm and Meeting House, Seigert tempts visitors to lay on an 18” wide board with solid wood block pillow to experience the severe conditions that the Brothers and Sisters would have to endure. No big surprise that many left quickly, and that a celibate group without long-term plans (Christ would arrive any minute to take them home, after all), would die out pretty quickly following Beissel’s death in 1768. But it makes for a very thought-provoking and compelling tour. Mon-Sat. 9-5, Sun Noon – 5pm, $10 adults, $6 kids.
VISIT: National Watch and Clock Museum, Columbia. Punch your souvenir ticket into a Time Clock then walk through a time portal. From Stonehenge and Sundials to ultra-modern digitals, this museum is one cool way to “pass” time. In an agrarian society, lapsed time (how long it took to get something done) was more important than scheduled time, which eventually became necessary to document during the Industrial Revolution and advent of the railroad.
You’ll learn about “escapement” – how energy is released via weights and pendulums, the concept of Asian sliding scale time (depending on season), and see a slew of clocks, pocket-watches, and far-out “novel” timepieces. One highlight of the museum is an 11 foot tall “Monumental Clock” – advertized as “The Eight Wonder of the World” as it made its way around the country in the 1870’s and ‘80s. Operated via weights and bellows, it features religious and Revolutionary War characters that emerge from small slamming doors at precise times. You can see a full run of all of its features on the hour. Should you visit on Mondays between 11am-2pm, be sure to “Make and Take” your own clock (ie., flip-flop or CD Clock) for just $6. $8 adults, $4 kids, open year round Tues-Sat 10am. From Dec – March, closes at 4pm, April-Nov, closes at 5pm with additional Sunday hours from 12-4.
Where to Eat in Lancaster Country PA
Log Cabin Leola PA
EAT: The Log Cabin, Ephrata. Opened in the 30’s as a restaurant, this cabin in the woods, so remote it served as a speakeasy back in the day, takes some getting to. Most likely because of that, The Log Cabin – actually two of them co-joined – has earned icon status in these parts. The mood is upscale and quirky – with a 1700’s log-cabin’y vibe and piped in music spanning Mozart to the Batman Theme.
Salmon Oscar Log Cabin Leola PA
The food is fantastic and eclectic, the service excellent – not overly fawning, but there when you need it. Fresh herbs and vegetables are grown in the chef’s garden right on site. Entrees range from the $18 Cabin Burger, with candied apple smoked bacon, to Coffee Rubbed 8oz. 21-day aged Rib Eye ($48). I delightfully devoured my Salmon Oscar ($28) – a perfectly cooked wedge of fish on potato galette, topped with asparagus and crabmeat. Mouthwatering.
DRINK/EAT/STAY: Bube’s Brewery Mt. Joy. Pronounced “booby’s,” this awesome find in a barely there downtown takes up a full back-street block. Encompassing a small brew-works, a Biergarten, the Bottling Works Tavern, and fine-dining Catacombs, as well as an in-transition theme room inn (artsy, shared cool bathrooms, just $100 night), Bube’s has been discovered by travelers from all over the world. Walk into a room built in the 1880’s, during a decade when hundreds of German immigrants opened the kind of breweries they left back home.
Adolf Coors, in fact, was a contemporary of Alois Bube. This is the only place in the country that you’ll find remnants of medieval beer-making technology – the way lager was made before the Steam Engine and Industrial Revolution changed the culture forever. “This building, constructed over a cave required as a cooling cellar, could stand in for one built in 1489,” says owner Sam Allen. In fact, it’s the only pre-industrial brewery in the USA still brewing. The fresh brewed stuff here is inordinately fresh; taps run right from tanks in the back to the bar.
If you come for dinner in the Catacombs, you’ll get a ten-minute tour of the whole place on your way way way down; through the Art Gallery and then a room crammed with massive beer barrels, cleaned up, lit from within and a perfect place to cram yourself for that great photo op. Down below in the cool, humid cellar, exceptionally friendly and attentive waitstaff serve up great dishes like Trenchman’s Plate – 6oz angus filet mignon, crab cake and side dishes ($36) in dark, candlelit arched stone rooms of the Catacombs Restaurant.
Where to Stay in Outer Lancaster County PA
Misty sunrise view from room at Hurst House Bnb
STAY: Hurst House B&B, Ephrata. At the Hurst House B&B, in Ephrata PA (Lancaster County), a couple of swans float contentedly in a landscaped pond, swallows dart in and out of Victorian eaves, the patched greens of farmland extend as far as the eye can see. Have I stumbled into a Fairy Tale?? Well, close. This stunning B&B is a Maven Favorite, so it’s got its own page and write up HERE.
STAY: Red Caboose Motel, Ronks. OK, this is not the Ritz. But who cares when sunset views include vintage steam trains chugging within a few feet of the front porch on their way through verdant farmland? All 40 train cars (38 Cabooses, 1 mail car, 1 baggage car), and the Shady Rest Hotel with 4 suites, that collectively serve as this unique lodging, have been upgraded with flat-screen TV’s, new carpet and fresh coats of paint. Most train cars sleep six people. Eat in a Pullman Dining Car, climb an old silo now used as a Viewing Tower, and otherwise soak in the landscape from the front porch. From here, you can walk to the PA Railway Museum, the National Toy Train Museum and the Strasburg Railroad for a complete “Trainspotting” weekend. Rates $95-$150.
Lancaster County PA; Where Buggy Whips Still Fly Off the Shelves
WHY GO: When you come to Lancaster County, PA, please leave your Type-A personality at home. Time moves slower in this lush farmland, and, wandering the back roads, you will get stuck behind a clip-clopping Amish buggy. Though attractions and shops can be far apart, getting lost on undulating byways is half the pleasure.
Amish Country Cows Lancaster PA
Breath slowly while reveling in the stark beauty of early morning sun hitting the facade of a local harness shop, riveting scenes of draft horses and straw-hatted men at work in vast fields, the soft bustle of Amish women mixing jam in age-old kettles. Put away your cell phones. Be prepared to tuck in early for the night. The Pennsylvania Dutch are custodians of a simpler time, and this Getaway allows you to interact with them like never before. (To get the most out of your visit, combine this with a Lancaster City tour, and a History of Lancaster Countyvisit).
Things to Do in Lancaster County PA
Horse and Buggy greets scooter in Lancaster County PA with Strasburg Scooters
DO: Strasburg Scooters, across from Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg. If there’s a better, more pleasurable way to explore the back roads, farms, and landscapes of Lancaster County PA, I don’t know of any. As owner, Marc Crusemire says, “We have way too much fun! I can’t believe I make a living riding a scooter.”
Strasburg Scooters PA
What began as an unprofitable rental business morphed into a tourist favorite when Marc and his wife, Nikki introduced guided tours. Now, Strasburg Scooters does not rent their vehicles – and only runs tours. It’s been a boon to business.
Amish Farms Lancaster County PA
Visitors love the highly interactive and educational excursions that make stops at Amish homes (sometimes to make Whoopie Pies or do other activities with the resident families), introduce outsiders to the PA Dutch way of life, and allow them to viscerally enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.
Author in Scoot Coup Strasburg Scooters PA
After checking in, I was issued an American Flag helmet (Nikki is a Navy vet), and a “Scoot-Coup” – a three-wheeled scooter with room for two. It’s a blast to ride – wind and sun at my face, alluring landscape unspooling before my eyes – all at 20-25 miles per hour.
Strasburg Scooter guide Ross Immediato with baby goat
My guide was Ross Immediato. He made sure all was clear when pulling out in traffic, and would ease to the shoulder when there was something to tell me. I learned about the Amish school system: 20-30 kids in a one-room schoolhouse K-8th; only single female teachers allowed; kids don’t speak English when they first start school; graduate at age 15 to learn a trade.
Horse and chickens in Amish Farm Stables Lancaster County PA
We passed a few horse-drawn buggies, and then stopped at a farm to meet some of the animals. (The family was not home). Ross hugged an affectionate baby goat. Several horses, branded with numbers on their necks (indicative of a prior life at the racetrack), hung out in the stable.
Backroads Lancaster County Strasburg Scooters
Strasburg Scooters, which also has a second location in Bird-In-Hand, runs a variety of daily and seasonal tours. Though the 3-hour Covered Bridges Tour is a staple ($89 pp, $189 for a two-person coup), there are Sunset Tours, Date Night Tours, Bridges and Brunch Tours, Spooky Scoots in October, Scootin’ With Santa, 4-hour Ultimate Amish Adventure Tour and more. Prices range from $69pp-$229pp depending on vehicle and tour.
VISIT: Eastland Alpacas, Mt. Joy. Though not associated with the PA Dutch, alpacas are sweet and gentle and a visit to an alpaca farm makes for a perfect addition to a serene Amish Country weekend. Plus, just-shorn alpacas are achingly cute. There is no word for the extreme cuteness of these little, trusting, giraffe-necked, big eyed creatures. So when you come to Sue and Kevin Zurin’s Alpaca Farm, where you’ll see 120 registered, named, and micro-chipped camel-cousins huddled together and waiting to be fed, it’s almost too much cute to bear.
Alpaca fleece – in 22 natural colors – is finer than lama wool, and you’ll find woven products (ie $19 for a pair of alpaca socks) in a small store onsite. You can tour the 30-acre property and get close enough to these sweet animals to give them hugs. If you fall in desperate love with them, the Zurins will sell their alpacas to good homes. Call or email for tour or appointment (though drop ins are ok for the store), donation only, 10am-4pm is the best time to come.
VISIT: Lil’ Country Store, Ronks. Speaking of cute, this Amish family raises miniature horses. Stop by to see them, watch owner Daniel working in his wood-shop (furniture for sale) and grab an ice-cream or other sweet confection at the makeshift concession stand.
TOUR: Amish Experience VIP (Visit-In-Person) Tour. It’s one thing to see these simple folk as they go about their business. It’s quite another to engage with them in conversation. This unique three-hour, 14 person, end of day tour originates at the 10-acre Plain & Fancy Farm Amish Experience Complex. One of several Amish country tours, the VIP Tour makes stops at three different homes while granting golden sunset views of this magical land. “The Other” becomes a bit less so as you speak to dairy farmers, proud that their federally-inspected cow’s milk is considered of high enough quality to supply Land of Lakes, then watch craftsmen make use of compressed air and batteries to aid in weaving or woodworking.
The final stop is a meeting of the minds of a sort where you have an opportunity to sit with an Amish family in their own home and ask them about their culture. Though some stereotypes are true (Amish do not want to be photographed), others are not. They do not live a Medieval lifestyle – Amish homes are quite modern (its amazing what batteries, propane and compressed air can power), with indoor plumbing and large kitchens the envy of many “English.” Mid-June-Oct, Mon-Fri – 5pm-8pm, $61.95 adults, $41.95 6-16, – this experience sells out quickly, so reservations are a must.
SEE: Magic Lantern Show at Plain & Fancy Farm. A precursor to movies, the Magic Lantern combined aspects of motion pictures with stills and hand-manipulated paper puppets to create captivating entertainment. Though invented in the 1600’s, a new source of projected light in the mid 1800’s – heating limestone to create incandescent gas (the “limelight”) – led to larger Magic Lantern shows by professional showmen.
Plain & Fancy Artistic Director, Mark Sullivan with 1890’s Magic Lantern, Lancaster County PA
Plain & Fancy Artistic Director, Mark Sullivan, obtained one of these rare contraptions, and has written and developed several 1 ½ hour shows (Underground RR, Christmas, Bible, Patriotic), for this venue. Both kids and adults sit rapt through the more than hour-long program. “You have to listen and pay attention,” says Sullivan. A Halloween Variety Show, modeled after a European phantasmagoric production, will be new in October 2019. “A well-known local actor will play Edgar Allan Poe,” says Sullivan. “It should be fun.”
VISIT: American Military Edged-Weaponry Museum, Intercourse. I know; this surprisingly compelling museum is an anomaly in this peaceful place, but it does serve a purpose. Find the former Colonial Revival Bank in the center of Intercourse, and you’ll discover where the guys (and knife-collecting women) go when their spouses and friends are off shopping. In his 70’s now, owner/curator Larry Thomas has been collecting rare knives since High School, roaming the country for the most esoteric blades (and lately, guns).
Beautifully presented, and succinctly described in glass case after glass case, find the personal sword of “The Great Ghost of the Confederacy” – Col. Mosby – the only Confederate officer who never surrendered and was stripped of his citizenship (he was later pardoned by President Grant), a rare WWII Bazooka, a 13-stamp-part “Grease Gun,” and an attention-grabbing assemblage of “spy” weaponry including Coin Knives, Pencil Daggers, and real pen penknives. May-Nov, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, $5 adults, $2.50 kids.
SEE: Amos the Amishman, Ronks. Constructed in 1969 originally to draw tourists in to Zinn’s Diner on Route 30, this 15 ft. hunk of a farmer now stands on Hershey Farm Restaurant and Innproperty. Stop by for a photo op (come on, you know you want to) and for “The Best Chocolate Whoopie Pie” in Lancaster County according to a blind taste test. Hershey Farms began in the 1970’s as a little pretzel stand, but has grown into a newly renovated hotel (rooms from $69 are nice and modern) and Smorgasbord restaurant where you can watch pretzel-makers hand roll the soft version of the snack.
SHOP/SHOOFLY PIE; Dutch Haven, Ronks. You can’t miss this place. It’s got the big windmill on the roof, and looks rest-on-its-laurels-touristy. Inside, shelves groaning with souvenirs add to the “tourist-trap” perception. But looks can be deceiving. This place sells more Shoo-fly Pie than all other bakeries in Lancaster combined. Why? Because Dutch Haven Shoofly Pie is awesome; and I don’t use that word lightly. Forget about that gooey, sickly-sweet stuff you endured on former trips to PA Dutch Country. Here, it’s amazing what flour, molasses and water can become. With no eggs or dairy, these pies can stay on your counter for two weeks and in your fridge another two. $10.95 per pie.
DO/SHOP: Kitchen Kettle Village. If you drove by you’d probably dismiss it as a hokey tourist trap, and though you will surely encounter a coach bus or two in the parking lot, there are several reasons to visit (and stay).
* When first posted in 2013, I wrote about the wonderful “Banjo Jimmy” LaRue (photo above), who’d been strumming and entertaining visitors for over 35 years. Jimmy used to joke that, he “babysits all the husbands” who get comfy in the center courtyard while their wives shop. Sadly, Banjo Jimmy passed away in June 2018, but left his mark.
For the most part, visitors swarm here for the chow-chow, pickled beets, pepper jam and other small-batch jams and jellies that emerge from decades old kettles; foodies on the lookout for authentic, natural-ingredient condiments are finally discovering this place.
Quick history: just about the time that the Broadway musical Plain and Fancy exposed New Yorkers to Amish culture in 1954, Pat and Bob Burnley began canning jams, jellies and relishes in their garage. The Kitchen Kettle Village, which evolved from that garage as curiosity about the Amish flourished, now encompasses 42 shops, restaurants, and an Inn, and though modernized, still retains those original kettles and canning methods. Pat Burnley, now in her 80’s, remains a fixture here though her children and grandchildren help run the place.
Jam and Relish Kitchen; An incredible million jars of jams and jellies (90 varieties) emerge from these old fashioned kettles per year with just eight Amish women working at any given time. You can watch these industrious ladies – who learn this lost art by helping their own mothers at home– bustling about in an open kitchen. But “take pictures” only with your eyes; photographing them is prohibited. What you can do is sample from the myriad jars that abound in the store. In fact, there are folks who visit JUST to eat, and don’t buy anything. Many jars are a reasonable $3.99, soup mixes $9.99. Pepper Jam, the “Caviar of Lancaster County,” is the number one seller – perfect as a meat glaze or topping cream cheese. There’s Chow-Chow, Shoofly Pie in the bakery section, and Mint Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies – my personal favorite.
Cloverfield Bags – Diane Vincent makes and sells these cool fabric handbags, duffels and totes. Even better, her designer bags start at $32 for one funky fashion statement.
Garnet Pottery. Find casseroles, plates and unique knitting bowls in a range of beautifully fired colors.
Village Quilts – It takes an artisan 300 to 600 hours to finish a 100% cotton quilt made by hand. These heirloom-quality quilts – from traditional to contemporary – each made by one of 140 local quilters, may be pricey but keep in mind you are purchasing an individual work of art. Even if you don’t buy – gawking at the colorful bedding is expected and entirely free. Kitchen Kettle Village is open-Sat 9am-6pm, closes 5pm Nov-April.
Where to Stay and Eat in Lancaster County PA
Smokehouse BBQ and Brews Sampler Lancaster County PA
EAT: Smokehouse BBQ at Plain & Fancy Farm. All is not coach-bus family-style meals at Plain & Fancy – the ten-acre complex that encompasses restaurants, gift shops, shows, Tours, and buggy rides. While the Plain and Fancy Farm Restaurant books groups of 20 or more, the Smokehouse BBQ provides a great lunch or dinnertime meal for small parties. Though you can certainly order a’ la carte, get the “Smokehouse Sampler” ($21.95) for a taste of many PA Dutch items. You’ll choose from 2 meats, 3 sides, and a dessert.
STAY: Inn at Kitchen Kettle Village. There’s something quirky about staying in what at first glance seems like a “tourist trap.” But guest quarters nestled among the shops and streets of this commercial enterprise are surprisingly fine, with reasonable rates and friendly service that befits a family run business – right down to the welcome treat in each room that includes a complimentary travel mug you can have refilled with coffee any time of day throughout the Village.
If you like your own “cottage,” but care less that the room itself is somewhat plain, choose a Cottage room. For the best luxury bang for your buck, the rooms over the Quilt Shop building are jaded-luxury-traveler-tested stylish. Ask for 902; a two-level charmer with couches and flat screen TV downstairs and a leather reading chair, subtle greens and ecru pallet, a big, sponged-wall bathroom and, like every single room here, features locally-quilted bedding.
In the morning, order your complimentary breakfast in the Burnley’s former home – The Kling House. Chances are, you’ll meet the famous Pat Burnley, who likes to greet guests in what was once her living room. Rooms and suites, $149-$209 include home cooked breakfast, travel mugs (with complementary coffee fill-ups throughout the day), wi-fi and parking.
Frederick MD: A Mini-Philly With A Charm All Its Own
WHY GO: Maryland’s second largest city (after Baltimore), Frederick MD, is on the move. Distilleries have popped up like stills in the hills, and a stunning downtown canal-walk swarms with locals on balmy days and nights. With its brick row homes, adorable boutiques, and growing culinary scene, Frederick feels like a mini-Philly but has a charm all its own. And, to give offbeat travelers thrills, it’s home to the best Museum of Civil War Medicine in the world. Come to Frederick for its fantastic attractions, shops and restaurants – and then stay in B&B’s that will surround you with warm hospitality and beauty. The Getaway Mavens spell it all out here:
Things to Do in Frederick MD
STOP IN: Frederick Visitor’s Center. In a former cannery warehouse, the Frederick Visitor’s Center is the epitome of repurposing – and that goes for the area of town, as well, which has moved from industry to recreation, retail, and housing of late. Come in to plan your visit, or just to learn a thing or two about the area in its wagon-wheel shaped exhibit hall.
Our country’s first canonized Saint – Elizabeth Ann Seton – lived and died in Frederick County. The Presidential Retreat, Camp David, is nearby in Catoctin Mountain Park. The 620-mile National Road, built in 1811 to connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, came right through here. The man who penned the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key, is buried here (there’s a remnant of one of the “bombs bursting in air” on display). And during the Civil War, both sides crossed this “neutral” State numerous times when Frederick City itself was “one vast hospital.”
Frederick’s merchants and restaurateurs are a cohesive, collaborative bunch, and city tourism offers something I’ve rarely seen: a Downtown Frederick Gift Card to use at over 150 establishments. Scope out the place first, and then purchase a gift card for your favorite traveler – a very cool and offbeat wedding or anniversary present.
TOUR: National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Speaking of “one vast hospital,” this phenomenal museum in the center of town (in a former furniture manufacturer where tables, chairs and coffin were made) gained fans due to the popularity of PBS’s Mercy Street. Museum curators and historians were tapped to consult on that Civil War mini-series, depicting medical ministering during the conflict.
During the Civil War, Frederick served as a large medical facility located at the center of Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington DC. Out of Antietam’s 23,000 casualties, 10,000 were brought here, effectively doubling Frederick’s population.
You won’t see the blood and gore associated with most exhibits on Civil war surgery, or depictions of soldiers writhing in pain while having legs sawn off. What this museum does best is dispel myths about mid-1800s medicine and its application on the battlefield. Though doctors back then didn’t understand the source of disease or infection, medical schools trained would-be surgeons on cadavers (usually obtained by “body snatchers” or grave-robbers), so those in the profession had extensive knowledge of the human anatomy. Medics carried medical field kits with morphine for immediate pain relief. And surgical patients, transported to field hospitals via horse-drawn ambulances, were anesthetized with ether or chloroform.
Medical technology and knowledge grew leaps and bounds during the Civil War. When the war began in April 1861, there were 16,000 soldiers. By its end in 1865, nearly three million men (and some women) served. It was the most rapid militarization in history, thus the need for doctors was great. In 1861, just 120 surgeons served both sides, growing to nearly 15,000 over the course of the war.
Before Dr. Jonathan Letterman was recruited to organize battlefield medicine, soldiers lost lives unnecessarily. Management of the injured and sick was chaotic at best, deadly at worst. Letterman, considered the “unsung hero of the Civil War,” revamped every step in a soldier’s care and recovery; from emergency treatment on the battlefield, to field hospital, and then, when stable, to a larger city facility for recovery. Letterman’s first major test was at Antietam, where 17,000 men were moved off the battlefield in 12 hours. His process is still the basis for our modern military evacuation system.
Exhibits showcase women in the Civil War from Clara Barton (“a one-person NGO”) to those who disguised themselves as men in combat. It’s estimated that over 300 women passed themselves off as men during this time. One was Jennie Hodgers, who served in the Union Army as Albert Cashier, and lived as Albert until 1910 when, in his 60’s, he was hit by a car and taken to the hospital. Discovered to be a woman, Albert was shamed and forced to wear a dress. According to the Civil War Trust website, “Many of Albert’s former comrades, although initially surprised at this revelation, were supportive of Hodgers and protested her treatment. (S)he was buried in full uniform and given a tombstone inscribed with her male identity.” $9.50 adults, under 9 free. Open Mon-Sat. 10-5, Sun 11-5.
TOUR: Monocacy National Battlefield. Every Civil War battle was significant in its own way. The tagline here, “A day gained, a Capital Saved,” sums up this particular clash, where 5,800 Union soldiers met 15,000 Confederates on their way to take over Washington DC. Though the Confederates won this battle, it bought Union General Lew Wallace enough time to gather his troops and protect the Capital city. On July 9, 1864, this turned out to be the South’s last incursion into the north.
Along the National Road, Monocacy Junction was “the road to Washington, DC” with two strategic bridges (horse and railroad) over the Monocacy River. Though you can drive the 1,650 acres on an podcast audio tour, be sure to examine the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, especially the 8-minute sound and light show on a dynamic topographical map, narrated with great intensity; e.g. “Confederate soldiers keep coming like a sheet of flame.” Monocacy is also notable for its ongoing archeological excavation of what was one of the largest populations of enslaved people in the region, the French owned L’Hermitage, owned by the Vincendieres family who were reputedly one of the most brutal slaveholders on record. Visitor’s Center open 8:30-5 daily, Free.
TOUR: Schifferstadt Architectural Museum. Calling all civil engineers or architects! This stone structure is less a contents-of-an-old-house museum than a study in how German homes were constructed in the mid 1700’s. Built by Elias Brunner in 1758 (with an 1867 brick addition) the structure became a tenant farmhouse and was never updated or restored. So, unlike many continuously lived-in homes of that time, this one, left to seed, was ironically “preserved by neglect.”
So, you’ll see how wooden beams were joined through cutouts in two-foot thick sandstone walls, and original brickwork, doors and hardware. A guide points out an iron wall safe with rams horn hinges in the front room wall, a polished granite sink angled out the kitchen window that utilized water pumped from the creek right outside, and upstairs, the last remaining 1758 Five-Plate German Stove (inscribed with German bible verse) in the US still in its original setting. Fixed between two children’s rooms, it was stoked from the hallway. $5, under 12 free. April – Early Dec. Sat/Sun 1-4
TOUR: Taste Frederick Food Tour. (See in Where to Eat Section for individual restaurants). This 3-hour history-food walking tour provides the perfect overview of a little city on the move. With tastes at six restaurants/markets and visits to Carroll Creek Park and other historic venues, this tour is perfect if you’ve got only a few hours to spare.
You’ll meet your guide (mine was the bubbly novelist, Jessica McHugh) at Pretzel & Pizza, and then head to N. Market Pop Shop, Brewer’s Ally, along Carroll Creek to Wine Kitchen, to the Theater District (the beautifully restored Weinberg Center for the Arts), a pause in front of Town Hall to capture a photo of “The Clustered Spires” of Frederick’s Churches mentioned in John Whittier’s Barbara Fritchie poem, a stop at the “Spite House,” erected solely to stop the construction of a city road on private property, on to Firestone’s Market and finally for artisanal chocolate at Zoe’s, the “Official Chocolate of the 2011 Emmy Awards.” $89 for three hour tour and copious amounts of food.
Mural Frederick MD
WALK: Frederick Public Art Trail. There are “angels in the architecture” on this 2-mile, self-guided art tour through 17 public art works in Frederick. This is especially apparent when you come upon the downtown “Edge of Gravity” Mural: an Instagram darling, for sure. But of course, there are more surprises in store.
Delaplaine Arts Center Garden
VISIT: Delaplaine Arts Center. A nice inclement weather retreat on your Carroll Creek stroll, this Arts Center offers classes and workshops and current exhibits in seven galleries. Free, Mon-Sat. 9-5, Sun 11-5.
PHOTO OP: Francis Scott Key Gravesite at Mount Olivet Cemetery. A monument to Key is front and center at this final resting place for 34,000 others, including a multitude of soldiers buried in Confederate Row, and Barbara Fritchie, an elderly Union firebrand immortalized in John Whittier’s poem of the same name, who was claimed to have yelled: “shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare this country’s flag instead” as Confederate soldiers marched through town.
Later, it was determined that Fritchie, in her 90’s at the time, would have been much too ill and frail to lean out of her window to shake her flag at the oncoming enemy, but why let facts get in the way of a famous poem?
Carroll Creek walkway Frederick MD
STROLL: Carroll Creek Linear Park. Can’t get to Venice? This one-and-a-half mile canal-walk, ribbed with stone and iron pedestrian bridges, will get you there – in mind at least. The “Community Bridge,” a trompe l’oiel masterpiece spearheaded by artist William Cochran in 1998 that appears to be an ivy-covered stone arch, is the centerpiece of this marvelous downtown park, which used to be the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods.
Bridge over Carroll Creek Frederick MD
Now, the Community Bridge, the larger “Unity Bridge” and several other ornate wrought iron bridges link the two sides over a free-flowing canal, landscaped with Cherry Blossom trees, lily-pads and other colorful blooms. Gorgeous.
TOUR/TASTE: McClintock Distilling Co. Young entrepreneurs, Braeden Bumpers and Tyler Hegamyer, launched McClintock Distilling Co. at the end of 2016. Situated inside a 108-year-old building that housed one of the first auto-mechanic garages in the USA (“pre-Model-T”), McClintock is now known for its award winning gins and whiskeys.
McClintock Distilling exterior Frederick MD
The first organic distillery in Maryland, McClintock uses only the highest quality non-GMO, heritage grains that undergo a pre-Prohibition “Stone Burr” milling process that does not burn the grains. This makes the resulting liquor smooth and clean-tasting enough to win Double Gold in both San Francisco World Spirits and International Spirits Competitions.
McClintock Distilling Spirits Frederick MD
Bumpers and Hegamyer met in college – pursuing Business and Environmental degrees while home brewing on the side – and then worked for other distillers before opening their own. The team brings Ryder (Tyler’s Golden Retriever) and Boon (Braeden’s Coon Hound) in to work every day, and the dogs accompany them on tours.
McClintock Distilling Tasting Room Frederick MD
You can “taste the garden” in the botanical-forward Gin Forager, and sip on summer with lavender infused Gardener’s Gin. But be sure to savor a spot of the multi-awarded McClintock Reserve Gin, which drinks like a whiskey. After six months in barrel, you can taste the fruity cognac notes. Bumpers and Hegamyer plan to expand into a cocktail lounge with an educational component. Their passion is certainly infectious.
TASTE: X Ward Distilling Co. Joining Dragon Distillery and McClintock Distilling, X Ward is part of the revival of Frederick’s former stinky industrial tannery neighborhood. Its slogan, “Ward off Ordinary” prepares you for out-of-ordinary spirits like Caraway Rye Sprit (“tastes like rye bread”). Here’s a cool souvenir idea; bring back a “Home Aging Kit” – a bag of infused wood chips that turn your clear whiskey a caramel color.
SHOP: McCutcheon’s Factory Store. Find all things apple (except whole apples) at this apple products outlet – and more fruit related items, like salsa, butters, jams, honey, pickles, and juice blends. Open Mon-Fri 8-5.
The Pasta Palette Frederick MD
SHOP: Downtown Frederick has some great indie shops, including the “Worlds Best Battery-Free Toys Store,” Dancing Bear, and the fantastically fun Muse Gift Shop where you’ll find locally hand-crafted t-shirts, house wares, jewelry, and stuff you would never buy for yourself but hope someone else does.
TOUR: National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg – 25 minutes N. of Frederick on Rt. 15. In 1803, Elizabeth Ann Seton was a young bankrupt widow with five small children. In 1975, she became the first American citizen to be canonized as a Saint. Learn her incredibly engaging story in the place she raised three daughters, established her school for girls, and where she overcame great obstacles.
Start in the Visitor’s Center. Even if you are not Catholic, the buildings and grounds that make up this Shrine – the Basilica in particular – are stunning. And Seton’s story, though based on her religious fervor, also includes several of our country’s Founding Fathers.
Elizabeth was born in 1774 into an Episcopalian family in New York City. Her father was a doctor (the museum displays his medical bag). She married into the wealthy Seton family, and lived next door to the then lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, who represented Elizabeth’s husband, William, through Bankruptcy proceedings. (Later on, Seton petitioned her friend, John Adams, to recommend her son for a Naval post). William, sick with tuberculosis, moved his family to Italy for a “change of air,” and it was there that Elizabeth was introduced to and was moved by the Catholic faith.
Stone House Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg MD
William died at age 35 in 1803, leaving Elizabeth destitute with 5 children. She returned to Maryland, converted to Catholicism, and established the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph in 1810 to teach girls from poor families. (This adjacent property became St. Joseph’s College, which closed in 1972 and is now owned by FEMA and the National Association of Firefighters).
Sisters of Charity Civil War Nurses diorama at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg MD
The Sisters of Charity School of Nursing, founded in 1822, a year after Seton’s death, became an important source of medical personnel during the Civil War. As a religious order, Sisters of Charity nurses had no loyalty to one side or another. And, because of their insistence on cleanliness (“next to Godliness”), the Sisters had a much higher survival rate than other medical practitioners.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Burial Place Emmitsburg MD
An hour-long tour of the Shrine takes you from the Museum to The Stone House where Seton and her three daughters first lived, and then to the “White House” where she established what became the first Parochial School in the USA in 1810. Seton died at age 46 of T.B. in this very home.
Basilica at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg MD
The Basilica, built in the early 1960’s is worth seeing, even if you don’t take a tour. A Choir of Angles mosaic frames the alter area – and though you can’t see it unless you ask, there’s one tiny missing piece. The artists were instructed to leave out one tile, because “only God is perfect.” Mother Seton rests in the alcove of this Church, which conducts Mass six days a week at 1:30pm for visitors and the community (though is not part of a Parish). Free admission into the Museum and 12 minute film. Mon-Sat. Museum and Basilica open 10-6, Sun 12-6, $8 adults, $6 kids for house and Basilica tours on the hour from 10:30-4:30, Living History Tours at other times (check website for details).
Where to Eat in Frederic MD
White Rabbit Frederick MD
EAT: White Rabbit Gastropub, Frederick. Tucked away behind the Church St. Parking garage, White Rabbit is a great place to hang out for craft beer and good upscale pub food. Signatures draw from a hodge-podge of cultures – from the old South, Chicken Biscuit, to Canadian Crab Poutine, to my fave, the very scrumptious Asian 129 King Pao ($23) – a version of Kung Pao Chicken (or Tofu).
Beetstrami Maxwells Kitchen Frederick MD
EAT: Maxwell’s Kitchen, Frederick. This new contemporary “fast-casual” eatery, across from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, has all the elements of a trendy lunch-dinner-bar. The uber-popular “Beetstrami” – where beets stand in for meat in a Rueben-esque sandwich – conveys so much about the focus of the menu. Though you can get meat dishes here, vegans will be ecstatic. Not merely a sandwich shop (and as “baby brother to Wine Kitchen on the Creek), Maxwell’s is jammin’ for Wine and Beer half-price Happy Hours as well.
Hometown Harvest Ice Cream Flight Frederick MD
ICE CREAM: Hometown Harvest Ice Cream. Right on Carroll Creek, Hometown Harvest celebrates the local community in its unique “Frederick Flight” of four homemade ice cream flavors. You’ll receive small glass vials filled with 1. Red, White, and Blueberry, 2. Dirt Road, 3. Snallygaster (a mythical dragon-like beast said to inhabit Frederick County MD), and 4. To Be Named in a contest. Share with a friend!
EAT: Isabella’s Taverna. Known for tapas – specifically the incredible “Asparagus Fries” – in a cute and colorful space. The Feta-Watermelon-Mint salad is the best of its kind I’ve had anywhere.
EAT: Volt. This is Top Chef finalist, CIA grad Bryan Voltaggio’s hot spot – the restaurant that put Frederick on the culinary map. Food is pricey, but innovative and excellent for the adventurous eater.
EAT: Wine Kitchen. Like its sister WK in Leesburg VA, this place is all about the wine and fresh produce coming through the front door. Local bites – like Fried Green Tomatoes and snappy, light Radish Salad couldn’t be better; unless you enjoy it outside on the patio while watching people stroll Carroll Creek Park.
EAT: Pretzel & Pizza. Opt for the very tasty Turkey Reuben Calzone ($10) assembled with house-made sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. A favorite of the bar crowd, you can also get $3 pizza by the slice along with your beer and wine.
EAT: Firestone’s Market on Market. Go for your classic tavern food at Firestone’s or grab the Hot Pressed Pastrami Sandwich mentioned in the Washington Post at the smaller take-out market next door.
EAT/DRINK: Brewer’s Alley. The old Town Hall used to sit on this site, followed by the Opera House. But since 1996, this former brewhouse (now the brewery is a mile from here) has been a pub as well. Try the pizza made with beer in the crust. Naturally it goes great with the house 1634 Ale.
NOVELTY DRINK: North Market Pop Shop. It will be tough to choose among 300 kinds of sugar-cane sweetened sodas, but here’s one idea for a dear Soviet friend: the strawberry lemonade, Leninaid, marked by a hammer & sickle and the phrase, “when you’re Russian for a treat and there’s no time for Stallin.”
STAY: Inn @ Springfield Manor, Thurmont. Ten miles north of Frederick, this compound on a hill surrounded by farmland encompasses a Winery, Distillery, Brewery, Lavender Field, and Manor House. As such, Inn @ Springfield Manor is a wildly popular venue for weddings. The Johnson Brothers, who owned the nearby Ironworks that turned out cannonballs and armaments for the American Revolution, built the manor in 1730’s. In 2015 it opened as a B&B.Guest Room Inn at Springfield Manor Thurmont MD
The Manor, with original wood floors, and modernized marble bathrooms, features the epitome of the over-used phrase “luxuriously appointed antique filled rooms.” In this case, though, it’s an accurate statement. High ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and comfortable beds: the 8 guest rooms are upscale and quiet, especially midweek.
Breakfast Room Inn at Springfield Manor
Breakfast is included with the room – and it’s a knockout. Mine was composed of a Western Omelet Soufflé, Hash Brown Nest, and two sausages. As pretty on the plate as it was good to eat. Rooms are $225 per night and include a gourmet breakfast for two.
Inn at Springfield Manor Sunrise View from Room
I recommend this Inn highly with two caveats. One, be prepared to call a phone number posted on the front door to let the on-site innkeepers know you’ve arrived. It takes them a minute to get there, but they are welcoming once they do. The other is that internet connection is week, very sporadic, and doesn’t reach some rooms. Good to know ahead of time.
St. Marys County MD: First Catholics in New World
WHY GO: St. Mary’s County MD, a “can’t get there from here” section of Southern Maryland, is bound on three sides by water – the Potomac River, Patuxent River, and the Chesapeake Bay. Deeply historic, St. Mary’s County drew early European settlers, most notably, a group of Catholics escaping persecution and execution in Protestant England.
This river and bay area of Maryland was also strategic during the War of 1812, when new Americans thwarted a British attempt to make it all the way up the Potomac to burn down the country’s Capital. In the 1940’s, the population boomed after the Patuxent Naval Air Station (where Navy Test Pilots, some future astronauts, strutted the “Right Stuff”) was established, and it still draws high-tech brainiacs to this quiet section of MD.
St. Mary’s County MD Sunset
You can spend an art-filled day in Leonardtown taking a silver-jewelry or weaving/knitting class, find unearthed “New World” towns, go crabbing, fishing, kayaking and more in St. Mary’s County, on the quiet Western side of the Chesapeake Bay.
Things to Do in St. Mary’s County
TOUR: Watermen’s Heritage Tour – Fish the Bay Charters on the Lisa S. Captain Phil Langley’s ancestors “worked the tobacco fields and the water” way before the Naval Base arrived, back when the area was pure farmland. Seeing the potential in tourism, Langley transitioned to Charter Boat Captain, taking would-be fishermen out on the Chesapeake.
Five years ago, the State of Maryland, the Watermen’s Association, and Conservation groups formed a coalition to address the water’s dwindling natural resources – impelling watermen to get involved in tourism by offering Watermen Heritage Tours. Believing that tourism was a budding local industry, Phil found a Coast-Guard inspected traditional wooden bay boat he could use for this purpose, allowing him to take larger groups out at a time.
Phil’s tour begins after you’ve gotten lost a few times on dirt roads lined with cornfields, and a final few hundred yards on a rutted lawn drive. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you get to a delightful sand-floored covered pavilion set with tables, a fire pit, a grill for cooking the “catch of the day” (for fishing charters), and other geegaws. Langley talks about the Chesapeake environment and conservation efforts, about crabs and oysters, and then invites you to step aboard his Crab Boat, the Lisa S.
Though watermen can use “Trout Lines” in creeks and rivers, crab pots are only allowed to be set in the Bay, so out we go to pull some pots. You’ll learn the difference between young females (Sooks), mature females (Sallys) and males (Jimmys). Females have a “Capitol Building” design on their underside, while the males “apron” looks like the Washington Monument. If you’re lucky, there will be a “sponge crab” in the pot – a female with an exterior sponge-like underbelly that can contain up to 8 million eggs.
There’s plenty of opportunities to help pull up pots, though they are surprisingly heavy when heaved aboard. If the weather cooperates, you’ll head out to Point No Point Lighthouse, built in 1903 a few miles from the Potomac River in the Chesapeake on no point of land (hence the name). It’s in a romantically distressed state, without a resident keeper to take care of it, and though it was put up for auction eight years ago, the US Navy argued that it could not rest in private hands as its situated within target range. Contact Phil Langley to arrange a tour, roughly $30 per person.
TOUR: Historic Saint Mary’s City. One of the most important archeological digs in the United States, the 800 acre Historic St. Mary’s City should be a pilgrimage site for every Catholic American. As Catholics were being slaughtered in England, 140 faithful arrived here in 1634, and stayed with the welcoming local tribe – the Yaocomico People – until the town and the first Catholic Church in Colonial America was built. St. Mary’s City grew for sixty years, then vanished into the cornfields and was lost for 200 years. By 1776, only plowed furrows marked the landscape. Now, archeologists are unearthing evidence of original structures, allowing historians to recreate buildings with complete accuracy.
St. Mary’s City was modeled on an Italian Baroque spoke and wheel design, with the town in the center, the Church on one extreme side and Statehouse on the other: the visceral separation of Church and State. During this time, brick was expensive, so most structures, with the exception of foundations and cellars, were made of wood – explaining the town’s disappearance.
Historic St. Mary’s City Archeologists at Work
You’ll be surprised to find Elizabethan- style buildings here – indicating that first buildings in the new world reflected those back in England, and not the “Colonial-style” that evolved later. But what most people see first here are the “Ghost Frames” that outline the places where homes and buildings once stood.
Part of the joy in exploring Historic St. Mary’s City is in the details about life here in the 1600’s, and comparing it to life today. Like most entrepreneurs, Garret Van Swearingen opened up a private high-end tavern and inn at a time when “Ordinary” establishments were required by law to provide just the ordinary basics. Swearingen’s place is but one of the fully reconstructed buildings on site – with his original cobblestone floor and brick cellar.
Aspiring archeologists from all over the country work summers here for college-credit during the site’s ten-week Archeological Field School. They are currently digging around the ruins of the 1636 home of Leonard Calvert – son of George Calvert who established Maryland. The last mention of this house was in 1685, so this particular find is thrilling to historians who hope to discover other clues of Calvert’s life buried in the earth.
Perhaps the most dramatic recreation on its original foundation is of the large brick Jesuit Chapel, built in 1667. There were only two historic references to this place – one that called it a “Great Brick Chapel” and another that noted “hooligans threw stones through the windows.” Historians researched Jesuit Churches in Europe at the time to get a better picture of how this one might have appeared, and based on all of this information, rebuilt the Church on its original Maryland site. It was the first place in Colonial America where Catholics could pray without fear of execution.
In later 1600’s, the practice of Catholicism in this region was banned (except in the privacy of one’s own home). So, the Jesuits took this church apart brick by brick and moved it a less conspicuous place. The St. Mary’s Sheriff locked the front door in 1695. And when reopened in 2009, the current St. Mary’s County Sheriff unlocked the “same” door. (St. Mary’s County is home to the oldest operating Sheriff’s Office in the USA, and its twitter handle, @firstsheriff, reflects that) In 1990, three 17th century lead coffins were unearthed here – believed to be members of the original Calvert Family. They will soon be returned to the recreated Church and placed in a glass-covered tomb. (They are now on display in Baltimore).
Don’t leave Historic St. Mary’s City before heading down to the river to the replica of the Maryland Dove. This type of ship was the “delivery truck” of the 1600’s. Compared to the 40-ton Mayflower, which shuttled 102 passengers and supplies to the New World, the four ton two mast square rigged Dove would have had a crew of seven – no passengers.
The story of the Dove and its companion 400-ton ship, The Ark, (140 passengers, 40 crew), is a tale wonderfully told by costumed docents, like the lively Joe Greeley, Interpretive Supervisor for Waterfront. On November 22, 1633, the Ark and Dove set off from England, facing a treacherous storm two days later. The crew of the Ark believed that they witnessed the Dove going down, but chose to continue on to the New World.
A mere three months later – on February 24, both ships arrived and sailed together up the Potomac. A month later (in March 1634), they landed first on St. Clements’s Island, which was deemed too small, and then on this site. The 1978 recreation of the Dove gives visitors a good idea of the close quarters and harsh environment seafarers would have endured. $10, adults, $6 kids, open most of the year Tues-Sat 10-5, summer Wed-Sun 10-5.
VISIT: St. John’s Museum. Managed by Historic St. Mary’s City, but located about a mile away on the St. Mary College Campus, this museum, built on the footprint of the 1638 home of landed gentry, evokes the 17th century (though not historically accurate on the exterior). Inside this refreshing climate controlled museum, you’ll find the complete archeological remains of a stone-lined cellar, a partial room with original hearth, and mounds of dirt left to illustrate what an archeological site looks like if left alone.
The museum does an excellent and compelling job conveying day-to-day life in St. Mary’s – including sordid tales of murder, abuse, and a tight-fisted land-owner forced by the English Court to pay his maid. Plan at least an hour here if you love Historical Fiction, because, at least in 1600’s Maryland, truth was stranger than fiction. Open Tues-Sat 10-4, summer Sundays 12-4, free.
Sotterley Plantation Visitors Center, St. Marys County MD
TOUR: Sotterley Plantation. “They think it’s a White People’s plantation, but our roots are here, too and for once, the slaves are included in the story.” The oldest tobacco plantation in the USA, Sotterley tells the complete 300-year history of working the land here from 1710 on, including 160 years of slavery and the tenant farmers who followed. Set right on the Patuxent River, the original farm encompassed 2,000 acres. Sotterley Org now administers the original structures on just 94 acres.
Sotterley Plantation Manor House MD
The first owner of the plantation, James Bowles, was an agent of Royal African Co. – a British slave trading enterprise. Slave ships arrived to a wharf on his land, and because of that, Sotterley is recognized in the Middle Passage Port Marker Project – an organization that provides a means for individuals and communities to formally honor and remember the millions of Africans who died and those who survived the transatlantic voyage known as the Middle Passage.
Sotterley Plantation Manor Home with Asian Staircase and Furnishings MD
The Manor House that the Bowles built in 1703, with extensions added later on, showcases some of the magnificent work of skilled slaves. Its distinct Chinese Chippendale staircase, with rectangular design, could very well be found in a contemporary home, as could the blood red painted walls favored by Mabel Satterlee Ingalls, Sotterley’s last owner.
Docents talk honestly about the horrors of slavery. Unlike Plantations farther south, Sotterley does not romanticize the life of humans who were owned here. Exhibits include chains and yokes, and the 1830 slave quarters, down the hill, was left as it was when its inhabitants worked the plantation under harsh conditions.
Slave Quarters Interior Sotterley Plantation, St. Marys County MD
John Hanson Briscoe – a descendant of a slave owner, and Agnes Kane Callum – a PhD Genealogist and descendent of an enslaved person owned by the Hanson family, served on Board of Directors together – an indication of possibilities for cooperation and dialog. When the museum is not open, the public is invited to to walk on six miles of bucolic trails. Self-paced audio tours in the Visitor’s Center where you can also sign up for a tour of the Plantation House, $10 adults, $6 kids. Open May-Oct. Wed-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4.
Rescue Copter PAX RIver Naval Air Museum MD
GO: PAX River Naval Air Museum. On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely flew a newly built Curtiss “Pusher.” Ely took off from Hampton Roads VA, thus sparking interest from the US Navy. A model of the airplane stands near the entrance to this great museum, which showcases the timeline of Naval Aviation from the 18th century on.
PAX River Naval Air Museum MD
Though it’s cool to see many prototypes and experimental flying ships, some that made it, some that didn’t – it’s even cooler to sit in the cockpit of a vintage F-14 Trainer that was once used as a simulator. For an extra fee ($10 per half hour), you can choose from a dozen or so types of military aircraft, and “fly” and land them without fear of hurting yourself. I “flew” an F-14 and B1 Bomber, and let’s just say, I’m glad they were merely simulations.
Flight Simulator PAX River Naval Air Museum MD
Inside and out, you’ll see the best and weirdest experimental aircraft through time. The nearby Pax River Naval Air Test Center was established to train aviators who would then be adept in Testing and Evaluating the latest aircraft. There’s a Sikorsky UH-3A Sea King, used by the US Marines and Navy for cargo transport, rescue and anti-sub warfare. There’s a Lockheed Martin X-35 Joint Strike Fighter (X stands for “experimental) designed to replace several other planes.
Outside there are fighter jets with names you’d recognize: Hornet, Phantom, Tomcat, along with a stealth Boeing X-32B Demonstrator from 2000-2002, and the strangest looking craft of all – the Grumman E-2B Hawkeye “Eye in the Sky.” Looking like a conventional prop plane capped with a flying saucer, it was used in airborne early warning in the ‘60’s.
Gift Shop PAX River Naval Air Museum MD
Don’t miss the great gift shop where doting grandparents can purchase a NASA Flight suit for their grand-babies. Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5, $9 adults, $4 kids, $10 per half hour block for “sim flying.”
SHOP: Leonardtown. Collaboration is in the air in this artsy town – from the “retail incubator” community of Shepherds Old Field (SOF Market) to the women’s fiber collective, New View Fiber Works, to the fantastic artist collective, North End Gallery. Read on for more information:
SOF Market Exterior Leonardtown MD
SHOP: Shepherd’s Old Field (SOF Market). Helmed by the vivacious and engaging Gerrie Lheureux, the enclosed SOF is a “retail incubator” in a “town within a town.” Twenty vendors sell their unique wares inside the former Old Leonardtown Hardware Store that Lheureux renovated to look like a main street, complete with a concrete floor stamped to look like brick.
Interior SOF Market Leonardtown MD
There’s a “community Brew House” (the stylish Brudergarten) with an outdoor patio and upstairs room dedicated to vets, police, firefighters, nurses – First Responders, all. You’ll find a Farmer’s Market, Fitness Center, and everything from CBD Oil products to jewelry, ceramics, signs, prepared foods, Lori Schendel’s quilts, biodegradable garden markers, crab-shaped sugar cookies, antiques and more. There’s even a Pet Photography Studio. This wonderful assemblage is worth checking out.
Cynthia Rosenblatt Patina and Stone Leonardtown MD
MAKE/SHOP: Patina + Stone Studio. Come in to ogle exceptional silver jewelry by Cynthia Rosenblatt, and if so inclined, arrange a guided project “Jewelry Party” for two to six people. After 1 ½ to 2 hours, you’ve made a piece of silver jewelry to take home ($40-$60 per person depending on the piece). A tiny shop, walk in and there’s Cynthia working at her desk.
New View Fiber Works Leonardtown MD
MAKE/SHOP: New View Fiber Works. Misti Dayton declares that though she “owns” this shop, it’s really a 20 women strong cooperative of local artisans and farmers. New View supports a large community of yarn spinners, and in fact this establishment is a dealer for a specific brand of spinning wheels. Though not a “yarn shop” (you’ll find mostly finished textiles, lace, and supplies), you can take knitting, crochet, felting, weaving, tatting, and, yes, spinning classes here.
North End Gallery Leonardtown MD
SHOP: North End Gallery. For 33 years (22 in this location), 25-30 artisans have been exhibiting and selling juried, high-end and unique pieces of jewelry, sculpture, ceramics, furniture, paintings, photography, and more at great prices. I’d go so far as to say this is one of the best craft galleries of its kind in the region for uncommon, extraordinary, and wonderful objects d’art.
Whimsical Clock by Jim Doussard, North End Gallery Leonardtown MD
Discover lots of talent with great back-stories. Jim Doussard, a graphic designer at an architectural firm, makes whimsical clocks – aka “Curious Chronometers” from the likes of old movie projectors and other machine parts. Diana Manchak creates sculptural ceramic bowls and jars with a “surprise” (e.g., lobster top with “pats of butter” inside). And 82 year old Mickey Kunkle still turns out funky beaded light plastic jewelry “for women who love to be seen.”
Bourbon and Bows Leonardtown MD
SHOP: Bourbon & Bows. Fantastic on-trend clothing for women, and a fun shopping experience. B&B was incubated in the SOF Market, and is now fully fledged in town.
Leoardtown Wharf MD
WALK: Leonardtown Wharf. For a few moments of serenity on the Potomac River, head to Leonardtown Wharf and esplanade – a short walk from downtown.
KAYAK: PAC Paddle Sports, Leonardtown. Paddle with Dave Lane, owner of Patuxent Adventure Center, or one of his guides, on a meandering woodland river float – McIntosh Run – into the stock-still waters of Breton Bay (2.4 miles). You’ll begin just out of town near Leonardtown Winery and end up at Leonardtown Wharf – a stunning waterfront park. Or, opt for the “Illuminated SUP Tour” – bringing you out to the calm bay at night with LED lights illuminating the base of the boards, or the Wed. Night Paddle and Wine ($50) – ending at the Leonardtown Winery. Great, innovative ways to get on the water for sure. Open Wed – Sun 9-6 in season.
VISIT: New Towne Neck State Park. Maryland’s newest State Park, New Towne Neck was the site of the second Jesuit Mission and encompasses the still-operating St. Francis Xavier’s Church – the second Church on the site (first built in 1662, this one in 1731). On hundreds of acres, most leased farmland, you can kayak from here, ride horses and hike.
VISIT: Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum, and Historic Park. Begin at the Visitor’s Center which has a small gallery and exhibits, to learn about the U-1105 “Black Panther,” the first “stealth” German WWII submarine that ended up – though a confluence of events – in the waters a mile off Piney Point. Then mosey over to the larger Museum building to be immersed in the life of ubiquitous Chesapeake watermen.
Finally, stroll out to the white saltshaker Lighthouse – framed by the industrial towers and pipes of the LNG pipeline directly behind it. Built in 1836 on the Potomac, the lighthouse was here when Civil War gunboat patrols, organized by the Union Government, intercepted (or failed to intercept) Confederate blockade-runners. Apparently, locals were southern sympathizers who, in the dark of night, would help rebels cross through the blockades.
On your way to the Piney Point lighthouse, note the modest beach homes and their respective fanciful private gazebos built across the street right on the beach.
VISIT: Point Lookout State Park. You’ll find beautiful beaches, great kayaking and the most haunted lighthouse in the USA according to many. The lighthouse, built in 1830, was part of a Civil War prison complex housing 52,000 Confederate soldiers, 4,000 of whom died due to disease-bearing mosquitoes, heat and lack of food.
Two generations at Generations Vineyard, Leonardtown MD
TASTE/WINE: Generations Vineyard. Don’t be put off by this little tasting shack on Amy Van Cleaf’s 250-acre Wheatleys Content Farm (150 acres leased to a soy farmer, 2 ½ acres of grape vines). It is adorable and welcoming and the first phase of more vineyard attractions to come. Van Cleaf began to release wine in 2018 (from vines planted in 2012): the first, Wheatley’s Content – a combination of Chambourcin and Petit Verdot grapes. Though most vintages are dry, the slightly sweet Berkman’s Blend is a “front porch, relax and enjoy, sipping wine.” Picnicking, kids and pets are allowed on Fridays (5-9) and Saturdays (12-5) when there’s live music and the occasional food truck.
TASTE: Port of Leonardtown Winery. This winery is as local as it gets, utilizing “no juice from other countries” in its wines. A collective of 15 growers and one winemaker, Port of Leonardtown turns out Chardonnays, Merlots, the sweet table Breton Bay Breeze, and the best-selling Vidalacato ($14.99), a Moscato-type wine described as a “fruit cocktail in a glass.” Slightly effervescent and refreshing, it’s the vineland version of 7-Up.
DO: Charlotte Hall Farmers Market Northern St. Mary’s County is home to a large Amish community. For the best in Amish produce and products, stop at this Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of the Charlotte Hall Public Library. The vegetables are photo-perfect, but the abundance of well-tended flowers will amaze. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the body. Open year round, every Wed & Sat.
Where To Eat in St. Mary’s County MD
EAT: Front Porch, Leonardtown. Set inside the stately Sterling House, the Front Porch had gone through three iterations before this one found success. Built in the 1850’s and purchased in 1911 by Lynwood and Ruth Sterling (who raised their 17 children here), the home was repurposed as a restaurant, but retains its period charm. Old photos, artifacts and shadowboxes throughout bedrooms that now serve as intimate dining rooms illustrate the lively Sterling family – some who are still around and return to talk about life within these walls. Dished, like the popular salads and burgers, are good and fresh, with meat and produce from “down the street” and the Amish Produce Auction.
Social Coffeehouse and Craft Cocktails Leonardtown MD
EAT/DRINK: Social (Coffee and Cocktail Bar), Leonardtown. Government contractor, Lisa Kotyk wanted to own/run a coffee shop. So she and her partner, Sean Coogan bought a former speakeasy, “Behind the Bookcase” and turned it into a coffee shop in the front and bar in the back – the best of both worlds.
Opened in 2018, Social has become quite the downtown Leonardtown sensation, turning out artisanal craft cocktails like “30 is the New 20” – an “adult cream soda, and “Honey, I Do” with Blackwater Distilling Honey Vodka, Fresh Mint, and Lemon on the rocks. You can also purchase bottles of spirits from Blackwater Distilling and other local spirit-makers for the same price you’d pay at the Farmer’s Market.
The Slice House Leonardtown MD
EAT: The Slice House, Leonardtown. Wood-fired “NY Pizza” by the slice – and a great bar. What’s not to like. Plus – you can score a can or six-pack of your favorite craft beer on tap. The Slice House has its own instant canning machine.
Courtneys Seafood Restaurant St. Marys County MD
EAT: Courtney’s Restaurant, Ridge. This way, way, way, out of the way Southern St. Mary’s County “slow food” Mom and Pop spot is right on the waterfront. With its own fishing boat. So, you know your fish is fresh caught that day. Far from any industry or development, this restaurant is as low key as it gets.
Enso Artisan Bakery Historic St. Marys MD
EAT: Enzo’s Artisan Bread and Bakery, St. Mary’s City. On the campus of Historic St. Mary’s City, line up with visitors and archeologists for fresh hearth-baked bread and goodies made in a modern kitchen with elements of the 1600’s.
St. Inies Coffee Lexington Park MD
COFFEE: St. Inie’s Coffee. This local roaster/coffee shop/used bookstore is the passion project of mother of 4, Catherine Grube, who created this super popular community hub in 2017. A comfy blast from the past meeting place on an otherwise commercial strip, St. Inie’s excels in Cold Brew coffee. A must-go coffee house in St. Mary’s County, whether you drink it inie or take it outie.
PAX River Ale House Lexington Park MD
EAT: PAX River Ale House, Lexington Park. A popular spot for people who work on Base, PAX River Alehouse has good brews on tap, of course, but also gooey bites like Bavarian Pretzel Sticks ($9.5) and Onion Ale Soup made with onions stewed in ale and sherry, topped with toasted croutons and gruyere cheese ($6.50)
EAT: Ruddy Duck Seafood and Alehouse, St. George’s Island. Right next door to the Island Inn and Suites, this second Ruddy Duck outpost is all about the water views on both sides. Try “Duckballs” over mashed potatoes ($8), Fish Tacos ($14.50), Brewmaster ($11) – a large bratwurst poached in Ruddy Duck IPA on a baguette, or a crab dish, like the popular “Steak and Cake” ($42) a Ribeye and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake. Order a frosty, the likes of Peach Nouveau and Apricot Wheat, brewed at the other Ruddy Duck Brewhouse in Solomons MD. The place is jumpin’ every night of the week. For a quiet corner of the Southern Shore, this is a happening place.
EAT/PICNIC: St. Inigoes General Store. You’d just pass by this nondescript side of the road convenience store, unless you know better. The boxed lunches are better than most – fresh, gourmet, and perfect for a picnic table or boat cruise. But even cooler, St. Inigoes General Store has one of the largest collection of unique and rare sodas to be found anywhere. Come in for a tasting: butterscotch, glow-in-the-dark and others will blow your mind, even if modest owner, Tim Blasko, thinks its no big deal.
Where to Stay in St. Mary’s County MD
St. Jerome Creek Chesapeake Bay MD
STAY: Swanendele Inn, Ridge. On a promontory at the Southern tip of St. Mary’s County MD, where the Potomac River meets Chesapeake Bay, the Swanendele Innis the perfect hideaway for stressed out intellectuals, nature lovers, and really anyone seeking a slow-paced few days away from the grind. Opened in June 2019, it’s one of the most elegant and interesting spots to stay in Maryland. A Maven Favorite, you can read our complete write on its own page here.
STAY: Island Inn and Suites, St. George’s Island. Cross the causeway (where a sign states: “British Landing Prevented”) onto this arrow thin entrance to St. Mary’s County’s least commercially developed island, St. George’s. Check in to this 28-room boutique inn and you’ll be forced to answer one question: “do want sunrise or sunset views?” Wedged between the Potomac River and St. George’s Creek, you can’t really go wrong with either one. Rooms have just been updated with wave-patterned carpeting and delightful bright hued bedding.
And, the incredible thing? A standard room – which includes those stunning water views, starts at just $75 offseason and “goes up to” $99 in season. Astoundingly, you can score a large two-bedroom suite with kitchen (the size of a NYC apartment) for just $230 per night at the height of the season. Even better, the hotel lets guests use bicycles and kayaks for free (or, in season, for $5 for two hours). An unheard of deal. Lovely updated rooms from $75 per night include free use of bikes and kayaks.
STAY: Inn at Brome-Howard. On St. Mary’s City property, this historic home features four pretty rooms. Rooms $140 weekdays, $185 weekends, includes hot breakfast.
Troy NY: Considerably Hip
WHY GO: Troy NY, formerly ratty, now considerably hip, has been undergoing a slow renaissance for a couple of decades. Troy is the “Official Home of Uncle Sam,” as the War of 1812 beef purveyor, Sam Wilson, lived here. But it’s also known as “The Collar City,” for the detachable collar invented in 1825 by a woman, Hanna Montague, who hated cleaning her husband’s whole shirt when only the collar got filthy.
Since 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has endowed Troy with some pretty significant nerd cred. While earning his degree in Civil Engineering in the 1870’s, George Washington Ferris studied a Troy based industrial water wheel that inspired the amusement park ride that bears his name.
Troy was a wealthy Hudson River textile mill and iron works town and then, in the latter-1900’s, it went to seed. And became a place no one even dared go.
Now, eye-catching brick industrial and commercial buildings have been repurposed into chic boutiques, restaurants and galleries. An independent bookstore occupies a significant corner of downtown, and above it, Warner Brothers Games NY just moved in. Artisanal bakeries and ethnic shops and restaurants (African, Moroccan) are cropping up. The annual winter “Victorian Stroll,” considered the largest free outdoor holiday festival in the country, draws thousands of people to this small city.
Downtown streets parallel and lead to the Hudson River – a transportation artery that a century ago moved manufactured goods from this once-industrial town, and now brings tour boats from Canada, New York City, and Chicago. Private yachts from Europe stop here on their way to the Erie Canal.
With a walkable town, great public transportation, and affordable homes, there’s increased interest in Troy, especially among artsy types who have been priced out of NYC and other metropolitan areas. This, of course, is a boon to visitors, who will find incredible shopping, eats, and the quirky attractions that the Getaway Mavens love to tout. Read on….
The museum is much larger than it looks from the town-home street entrance. One whole back room – the original carriage house – houses an original un-restored 1830 Curtain Quarter Coach and the large red blazing neon “South End Tavern – Ladies Entrance” sign.
There are exhibits about the Civil War era horseshoe industry (Troy was also called the “Horseshoe Capital” as it supplied all of the horseshoes for the Union Army), and ornate iron stoves made in the foundries scattered throughout the county.
But if you time it right, you’ll want to gawk at each of the ten or so 18 ft high rooms at the Hart-Cluett House, on the National Historic Register, next door and accessed from inside the museum. With hand-painted French wallpaper, exquisite furniture, and impressive décor; interior designers come here for ideas. Tours available Second Saturdays during warmer months.
Refreshingly (and unusual for a historic home) the whole museum is fully accessible – with small elevators to second other floors – making it a perfect stop for those in wheelchairs. Open Feb – mid Dec., Thurs-Sat 12-5, adults $8, kids $5. Hart Cluett House open 2nd Sat. March-Nov, $15 adults.
TOUR: Burden Iron Works Museum. This tough to find museum outside of town in an industrial area is well worth your time. Executive Director, Michael Barrett, presides over what first appears to be a jumble of iron, glass cases, posters and architectural renderings, but on closer inspection are significant pieces of history that emerged from Burden Ironworks. And Barrett has a dramatic story for each and every one.
The iron industry began in this region in 1807. Advantaged by flat-water for transportation (Hudson River) and falling water to power water wheels (Wyantskill River), Troy became an industrial and shipping hub.
In 1852, Scottish immigrant, Henry Burden, built a 62 ft. diameter spoked iron water wheel, known to be the most powerful energy source in the world at that time. The Burden Water Wheel was the Instagram darling of its day: visitors to Troy would take “selfies” while standing in miniscule proportion to the famous “Niagara of Water Wheels.”
When George Washington Ferris attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the late 1870’s, he studied this famous invention, and lo and behold, in 1893, created the Ferris Wheel for the World Expo. At this point in the tour, Barrett holds up a photo of the Ferris Wheel next to one of the Burden Water Wheel to illustrate the similarities between them. “Was this the inspiration for Ferris’s claim to fame? Both have the same number of spokes. The industrial Wheel has 36 water buckets; the Ferris wheel has 36 people buckets. So you tell me.”
Burden Ironworks was among the four largest bell-making concerns in the world. In fact, the 2,000 lb 1876 Centennial Bell that tolls every hour from Independence Hall in Philadelphia was forged in this very spot. In the early 1900’s Burden Ironworks manufactured the Women’s Liberty Bell that suffragists took on tour to raise funds for the Women’s Vote. Its clapper was soldered to the wall so it wouldn’t ring, emphasizing the fact that “women had no voice.”
But here at the Burden Ironworks Museum, you are encouraged to ring bells large and small – their sound pure, rich, and joyful. Be prepared to stay an hour or more, as Barrett’s tantalizing take on Troy history leaves you wanting more. Mostly open Mon-Fri 10-6, but call first. Or, take a chance and go to the back door and ring the doorbell during those hours. $10 suggested donation.
SHOP: Market Block Books. When owner Stanley Hadsell opened this indie bookstore in Troy in 2004, he was a pioneer, albeit a bit nuts he’d be the first to admit. The first to rent in this abandoned 1844 building; there were no other shops on the entire street.
The Troy Library offered Hadsell a beautiful mahogany bookcase, and other going-out-of-business establishments offloaded handsome shelves and furniture before they moved out – providing Market Block Books with a rich-looking Victorian-era ambiance for a song. A college town, the bookstore has a large millennial clientele. Most books are sold online, but the interior of this well-positioned store is so fine, you’ll want to come in and take a look.
SHOP: Adorn. Representative of the merchants moving in, Valerie Mamone refurbishes vintage furniture and sells pieces, along with home decor priced just above wholesale, at such affordable rates I was tempted to redo a room or two sourcing just from her. Adorn is sure to be a hit with hipsters looking to feather their coolly styled nests.
SHOP: Weathered Wood. You can’t miss this place – it’s got a couple of 7 ft. tall driftwood horses ($1000 each) on display out front. Made by Weathered Wood co-owner, Danny Killion with driftwood handpicked from the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, these pieces of art (Trojan horses?), as well as furniture made with reclaimed wood, set this gallery apart from others in Troy.
SHOP: Truly Rhe. Comfy clothes and accessories for travel. More hippie than hipster, and also perfect for stylish women of a certain age.
MORE SHOPS: Anchor #5 sells nautically themed T-Shirts, bags, jewelry and note cards. You’ll find both ceramic items and ceramic classes at The Broken Mold. And for “natural” wine aficionados, stop in to 22 2nd St Wine Co. – the only store in the Capital Region that exclusively sells farmed organic or bio-dynamic wines made with native yeast fermentation and little to no sulfites.
PHOTO OP: Cohoes Falls, Cohoes, 4 miles from Troy. Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to this waterfall overlook in the center of tiny Cohoes, identified by an iron archway into Fall Views Park. These dramatic whitewater spills generate 190,000-megawatt hours annually (powering 26,000 homes) through five turbine generator units in the adjacent Hydroelectric Power Plant. An engineering marvel of 1915, it’s still going strong.
GO: Crailo State Historic Site. Tour one of America’s oldest buildings, where Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army physician, coined Yankee Doodle to describe less than dapper Connecticut troops. Museum exhibits illustrate Dutch colonial history in the Hudson Valley.
GO: Captain JP III Cruises. A summertime favorite, specialty cruises run several times a week, ranging from the Sunday Brunch to the Prime Rib Dinner Dance. Prices range $35-45 for a 2.5-3hour cruise.
DO: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Renowned for its outstanding acoustics even though it opened in 1875, long before modern sound architecture, the Music Hall hosts the Albany Symphony Orchestra, chorale ensembles, and music legends such as Art Garfunkel.
SEE: EMPAC. You don’t so much see as you experience a show at EMPAC, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI.) Year round calendar draws heavily on media created at hosted residencies and workshops, performances push the boundaries between arts, science, and technology.
Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out these great weekend getaway ideas in New York’s Capital District:
COFFEE/PASTRY: The Placid Baker. Fans show deep appreciation for The Placid Baker’s breads and croissants, the latter deemed, “Best in the World” by repeat customers. Watch baked goods emerge from the ovens in a room behind the counter, and order something warm and flaky. You’ll think you’ve been beamed to Paris.
EAT/BRUNCH: Illium Café Bistro. Murals, remnants of the Sim Peirson’s Jewelry Store that once occupied this space, and painted by the interestingly named Mrs. Lusty – a Sims Family relative – cover the walls of this café/bar. Dine on Cannoli Cream Stuffed Waffles ($10.95) in the morning and salads, sandwiches and soup for lunch and dinner.
EAT: According to locals, there’s been a “surge of great restaurants.” Among those recommended: Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchen and K-Plate for Korean farm-to-table, Sushi King for Ramen, Plumb Oyster Bar, the chef-incubator Troy Kitchen for innovative food, Tara Kitchen for great Moroccan food, and Whistling Kettle for brunch.
Last Minute Patriotic Getaways in the Northeast USA
Need a last minute idea for a 4th of July escape? Try one of these most patriotic getaways in the Northeast USA.
Minuteman Statue Lexington Green MA
Lexington – Concord MA: The “Shot Heard Around the World” in Concord, and the accidental battle that preceded it by a few hours in Lexington.
Philadelphia PA: Museum of the U.S. Constitution. Liberty Bell. Grave of Benjamin Franklin. Museum of the American Revolution. Philly is the best city for learning about our country’s origins.
Boston MA:One if by land, two if by sea…..Paul Revere, Old State House (Boston Massacre, reading of the Declaration of Independence from a broadside), Freedom Trail, USS Constitution.
Mount Vernon Neighborhood Baltimore MD
Baltimore MD: American Flag flying over Fort McHenry after “bombs bursting in air” during the War of 1812 impelled Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. The Flag Museum tells the story of that massive flag.
Bristol RI: Longest running 4th of July Parade in the country, with Red, White, and Blue center street lines.
Richmond VA: St. Paul’s Church where, three months before the Shot Heard Around the world, Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,” thus spurring a Revolution.
Boston Massacre Trial Transcript, 1770, American Independence Museum Exeter NH
Exeter NH: 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. 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. 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) acts of rebellion in the Revolutionary War – a year before the Shot Heard Around the World in Concord MA.
Albany NY: Beavers, Hamilton, and Artful Architecture
WHY GO: Beavers. OK, now that I have your attention: Albany NY history begins with a slick little creature, whose pelts were coveted in the 1600’s by the fashion plates of Europe, and were found in abundance in this Hudson River region.
Exhibit on European settlement in Albany, New York on permanent display at the Albany Institute of History and Art.
So, traders came to the new Dutch settlement, followed by colonists who flourished and became Bold Faced Names of the American Revolution. One of these rebels was Alexander Hamilton, who married an Albany gal, Elizabeth Schuyler, in her parental home. This home, of course, is open for tours and has become a popular attraction due to the success of the Broadway show.
Inside the formal parlor room at Schuyler Mansion where Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler were wed.
But Albany has other charms. It is the New York State Capital City, with a neo-classical Capitol Building that stands in juxtaposition to the lean, modern structures on the Empire State Plaza. There are parks and neighborhoods, excellent museums and historic sites, a haunted pub and other terrific eateries, and one lovely upscale Inn close enough to walk downtown, yet far enough to experience peace and quiet. The Getaway Mavens let you in on the best places to eat, snack, and stay. Follow along here…
Things To Do in Albany NY
START: Discover Albany Visitors Center at Quackenbush Square. Listen to the “clip-clop” of a horse and carriage as you enter the “Welcome to Albany Exhibit” at the Visitor’s Center. With its abundance of beavers whose pelts were in demand in Europe for beaver-skin coats, this Hudson River town became an important New World trading port.
Built in 1736, Quackenbush House was considered the oldest house in Albany, New York until it was discovered that 48 Hudson Avenue was constructed in 1728.
In 1754, Benjamin Franklin met with representatives of seven northern colonies to develop the “Albany Plan of Union” in defiance of the French during the French and Indian Wars. In 1825, the Erie Canal linked Albany to Buffalo and the Great Lakes, and in 1881, the city was wealthy enough to hire “starchitect” HH Richardson to design the Romanesque City Hall. By the end of the 19th century, the grand neo-classical New York State House, costing more than the U.S. Capitol Building, was completed.
The NY Capitol now anchors one end of the uber-modern Wallace Harrison designed Empire State Plaza that again put Albany on the architectural map in the 1960’s and 70’s. Pick up brochures and advice from Visitors Center staff, and head out to explore.
TOUR: Schuyler Mansion State Historic Park. On December 14, 1780, Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler at her home in Albany, New York. Eliza was one of fifteen children born to Philip and Catherine Schuyler, a prominent family who often hosted the crème de la crème in their mansion, a city landmark on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Thus began a long and fascinating relationship between one of America’s founding fathers and the City of Albany.
Shades of yellow and the infamous flock wallpaper at Schuyler Mansion.
It’s no surprise that visitation to the Schuyler home has increased by up to 600% since the musical, Hamilton, became a Broadway hit. Elizabeth married the famous Founding Father right in the front parlor – now undergoing restoration to its original colors. A second parlor, fully decorated in a profusion of golden yellow, would make a cage full of canaries jealous.
“Ruins of Rome” wallpaper hand-painted by Italian artist Paolo Panini. This one at Schuyler Mansion’s entry foyer and second floor is a reproduction. Originals are so rare, only two are found in the USA. The one in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art comes from the demolished Van Rensselaer Mansion, also known as Rensselaerwyck.
There’s been much written about the home and its elements – wallpaper, paint colors, period furniture. It was, for the time, the height of luxury. The hand-painted Panini “Ruins of Rome” wallpaper in the entry foyer was meant to wow visitors. While the flock wallpaper from France, seen in several rooms, cost as much as one tenant farmer would pay in rent over the course of 13 years.
But what’s really exciting about this tour is hearing both the whitewashed version of Philip Schuyler (“major player in the military during the Revolutionary War”) and, shall we say, the “off-color” version (to grab land, he destroyed Iroquois villages, leading to the death of 5,000 – 15,000 Native Americans; he abused laudanum, an opioid solution, to assuage pain from gout; he drank gallons of Madera Wine; and he was a fan of erotic books, the porn of the day. “15 kids – understandable,” quipped the guide).
Katherine, a Van Rensselaer and the “10th wealthiest American in history,” was but a teen when Philip courted her. She and Philip were married just five months before their first child, Angelica, was born. Only eight of their 15 kids survived beyond childhood, and only six outlived Katherine.
Alexander Hamilton began his law practice in Albany NY where he had access to his father-in-laws legal library, the 2nd largest in New York at the time. Later, historians believe that he wrote 3 of the 85 Federalist Papers at Schuyler Mansion.
The hour-long tour covers slavery (the Schuyler’s owned 8 – 15 enslaved humans), Schuyler personalities, and the room in which Alexander Hamilton wrote three of his Federalist Papers. Open Mid-May – October, Wed-Sun 11-5 (in July and August opens at 10am), $5 adults, 12 and under free.
TOUR: New York State Capitol. The neo-classical New York State House, designed by Isaac Perry and completed in 1899 at a cost of $25 million, is worth stopping into if only to see the Great Western Staircase. Better known as the “Million Dollar Staircase,” four flights of sandstone steps are festooned with ornate carvings and 77 stone faces of celebrities of the day, including Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Lincoln, it’s said by some, still haunts the place.
Capped by a skylight that was covered over during WWII, and restored to its original stained glass beauty in 2002, this magnificent stairway needs no other art or embellishment.
On the 4th floor you’ll find the State Assembly Visitor’s Gallery, with a bird’s eye view of the proceedings in a magnificent room. In the fall, sign up for chilling Capital Hauntings tour. One hour tours are free, Mon-Fri. 10, 12, 2, 3, Sat. 10am, 1pm. In the fall, sign up for the chilling Capital Hauntings tour. Or take this self-guided audio tour during working hours 7am-7pm.
WALK: Empire State Plaza Concourse from the Capitol building to New York State Museum. Take the escalator from the lobby of the NY State Capitol Building to the lower level Concourse, a quarter mile hall that extends beneath the entire Empire State Plaza and is lined with vendors, the Empire State Plaza Visitor’s Center, and a unique collection of Mid-Century Modern Art (including a Robert Motherwell carpet, of all things).
Visitors can stroll at their leisure to explore the labyrinthian underground city that leads to the New York State Museum. Plaza Visitor’s Center open Mon-Fri 8:30-4:30, Tours of Empire State Plaza Art Collecton every Monday at 1pm (except government holidays), free.
The New York State Museum has the largest collection of artifacts from the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
VISIT: New York State Museum. Climb into an old NYC Subway car. Go into the Adirondack wilderness without leaving Albany. Meet the loggers who wrestled with nature and the rugged individuals and native animals that make this mountain range their home. Tuck into an Iroquois longhouse or come face-to-face with a woolly mammoth. Don’t miss a free ride on the Historic Carousel on the 4th floor that runs every 15 minutes.
The New York State Museum presents endless corridors devoted to the flora and fauna of the Empire State, as well as exhibits about NY’s human story – from the joys of Sesame Street to the tragedy of the World Trade Center’s Rescue, Recovery, and Response. Free, donations are accepted, Monday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Last ride on Carousel at 4:30.
EXPERIENCE: Empire State Plaza & Corning Tower. If you got to the Museum through the underground Concourse, you’ll want to get above ground to the Plaza heading back. The best overview of the whole shebang is from the entrance of the NY State Museum – the vista is of a reflecting pool and ten graceful modern buildings that surround it. “The Egg” – a six-story performance hall that looks more like a flying saucer – is the most iconic.
But tourists flock to the Corning Tower for the swift elevator ride to the 42nd Floor Observation deck and its unsurpassed views of the Hudson River, Albany, the Catskills and Adirondacks (NY), Green Mountains (VT), Berkshires (MA), and beyond. Corning Tower openMon-Fri. 10-4, free.
In winter, ice skating on the plaza is one of the most romantic things to do in the Capital Region. While in summer, the Capital Concert Series, which includes a spectacular fireworks display on the 4th of July, draws huge crowds.
VISIT: The Albany Institute of History & Art (AIHA). Though small, this art and history institution, first opened in 1907, has a first rate collection of Hudson River School paintings; a school of art that seems to be coming back into vogue. Yes, there are well-curated galleries containing artifacts from Ancient Egypt and another depicting the Character and Culture of Albany and Upper Hudson River (heavy on pelt trading, Dutch settlers, and West Indies influence).
The cornerstone of AIHA, however, is its 3rd floor gallery, showcasing a large collection of paintings – 83 in all – from the Hudson River School of Art. You’ll find the full spectrum – from the flaming sunsets of Frederick Church, to works by the “Father of the Hudson River School,” Thomas Cole, and even a rare landscape by Sarah Cole, Thomas’s sister, that she painted in the mid-1830’s. Works from William Hart and Homer Dodge Martin figure prominently. This ongoing exhibit is thrilling for all who appreciate mountain and river landscapes suffused with the poetic romanticism of the mid 1800’s. Open Wed-Sat 10-5 (until 8pm Thurs), Sun 12-5, $10 adults, $6 kids.
GO: The First Church. Albany NY is the oldest chartered city in the United States, dating back to 1686, although evidence of European settlement can be seen in architecture dating back even further back.
Imported from the Netherlands in 1656, the oldest pulpit in America still serves its purpose at First Church.
The Schuyler family belonged to the First Church (designed by Philip Hooker in 1798), which is home to the Reformed Church in America. Established in 1642, this is the second oldest congregation in the United States.
TOUR: USS Slater (Destroyer Escort Vessel). Those who appreciate naval ships from WWII won’t want to miss a tour on the USS Slater. Launched in Tampa Florida in 1944, it was named for 22-year-old Frank Slater, killed in action off Guadacanal in 1942. Open April – Nov, Wed-Sun 10-4, $9, must take guided tour.
TOUR: Dutch Apple Cruise. Modeled on the Hudson River dayliners of an earlier era that ferried passengers between Albany and New York City, Dutch Apple Cruises offers sightseeing tours of the Hudson River. Couples love the sunset tours; special events such as the Father’s Day BBQ or Golden Oldies tour sell out quickly. Open April – Nov, see calendar for tour schedule.
TOUR: Shaker Heritage Society. Only two Shakers remain–at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Glouster, ME–of the visionary religious group that shaped American culture. But the very first Shaker Settlement–established in Albany, New York in 1776– persists as a living history museum, with educational workshops and a popular crafts fair. (Barn weddings here are especially beautiful.) Open March – Nov, Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm; Nov-Dec, Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm.
Interested in Shaker culture and history? Consider a visit to the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, an active site until recently.
EXPLORE: Washington Park. If you can, time your visit to historic Washington Park during the annual Tulip Festival. It’s quite a sight to see over 100,000 bulbs in bloom. But, any time of year, the Olmsted-inspired green space is one of Albany’s loveliest attractions.
WALK/NATURE: Albany Pine Bush, One of the largest Pine Barrens in the world, Albany Pine Bush’s sandy soils host fields of wild lupines that feed the endangered Blue Karner Blue Butterfly. And that’s just one of many uniquely beautiful attractions at this preserve that makes it a great place to get fit while battling NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder).
Recreational pursuits at the Albany Pine Bush, designated a National Natural Landmark in 2014, change with the season. This is Albany, after all, and we know how to revel in snow. Winter brings plenty of the white stuff for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Come the warmer months, and choices expand to include hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing – fly fishing is a cardio sport, right? Free, The Preserve trails are open year round, 24/7, Discovery Center open Mon-Fri. 9-4, Sat & Sun 10-4.
HIKE: Thatcher State Park. Passing under Minelot Falls and along the fossil rich ledges of the Helderberg Escarpment, the 1-mile Indian Ladder trail is a relatively easy and scenic hike. Other attractions include the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center and the new Wild Play Adventure Course. The park is open year round, 7am until sunset, but the Adventure Course and hiking trails are subject to seasonal closures.
EXPLORE: Upper Madison. This ever-evolving neighborhood encompasses the popular Madison Café (see Where to Eat), a seemingly under-renovation Theater, a tidy coffee shop (Skyline Coffee) notable for it wall murals and cold-brew tower, and an assortment of restaurants including the new and growing in popularity Madison Pour House.
WANDER: Lark Street. Bohemian artists, brownstone buildings, and trees line what Metroland, the Capital Region’s alternative newsweekly, describes as the “warm pulse within Albany’s black heart, the flower busting up through the concrete edifice of the Empire State.” Purple prose perhaps, but Lark Street (between Madison and Washington Avenues, larkstreet.org) inspires passion from visitors and residents alike. Art on Lark is the second largest street festival in upstate New York, second only to LarkFEST, the largest one day street festival in New York.
GO: Palace Theater. Once the third largest movie theater in the world, Albany’s Palace Theater was built as an RKO movie palace in 1931. And it’s still a grand place to take in classic movies like “Rebel Without a Cause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
A number of touring musicals, comedy performances, and famous artists pass through each year. But as the home of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, it is the adventurous programs spearheaded by the Capital Region’s beloved Grammy Award-winning conductor, David Alan Miller, that capture the hearts of young audiences.
SEE: NIPPER. Look up to the roof to spot the world’s largest Nipper statue. Best known as the RCA Records mascot, the terrier mix adds a dash of whimsy to the Albany skyline. 7 Tivoli Street, Albany, NY
Where To Eat in Albany NY
EAT/BREAKFST-BRUNCH: Café Madison. This popular breakfast spot, decked out in vibrantly colored walls enhanced by equally vivid Toulouse Lautrec-ish art, is consistently packed, often with lines out the door. Near St. Rose college in the recently branded “Upper Madison” section of Albany, Café Madison dishes out plenty of clever egg concoctions, but also yummy Asian Buffalo Cauliflower Salad ($12), Tofu Scramble ($12), Fried Oatmeal (2 slices with maple syrup, $6), and other fantastic tweaks on the morning meal.
EAT: The Cuckoo’s Nest. This Southern food joint just proves that you can succeed in the “College Ghetto” of Western Ave (near Frats and Sororities) if you’re good enough. And The Cuckoo’s Nest is. In spades. Munch on small bites, like Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese, Bacon and Buttermilk Dressing ($10.50), choose from among the “Biscuit Situation,” ($9-$11) or “Soul Bowls” ($14 – $16, one with “Hot Chicken”), or order my new favorite lunchtime temptation – the FGBLT (Fried Green Bacon Lettuce Tomato) Sandwich, which will put you off of the bland red tomato version forever. Seems like chef/owners Devin Ziemann and fiancé Kaytrin Della Sala, who also own Crave across the street, have another hit on their hands.
CLASSIC DINNER: Jack’s Oyster House. An Albany institution just a stone’s throw from the Capitol Building, Jack’s Oyster House has seen its fair share of politicking. Since it opened more than a hundred years ago, this local classic has hosted every sitting governor and even an American president for at least one meal. Any day of the week, New York’s lawmakers and lobbyists hash out schemes ensconced in turn-of-the-century décor and service.
Most recently, Executive Chef Larry Schepici streamlined the menu to a limited core that’s supplemented by seasonal features. The menu is very much of the steak-and-lobster variety; standouts include Jack’s famous 1913 recipe Manhattan clam chowder and a wedge salad (no longer on the menu, but available upon request.)
DRINK: Olde English Pub (next to the Albany Visitors Center in Quackenbush Square). Built in the 1730s, this old drinking dive is one of the oldest pubs in America, and of course, haunted. Employees have seen loaves of bread fly off shelves, heard all the kitchen timers go off at once (and then stop abruptly), and sense a whispering presence at the foot of the stairs. The ghosts, they say, are “not malicious,” just “here.” But of course, that’s not the only reason to patronize this historic spot. There are 16 beers on tap, and Pickle Back Shots are only $6.
EAT: New World Bistro Bar. Food Network’s Chopped celebrity Chef Ric Orlando brings a colorful rock n’ roll sensibility to local, seasonal, and organic. His passion for farm-to-table means that whichever eclectic ethnic menu you choose, and there are several: vegan, gluten-free, brunch, large plate, small daily specials; you can count on locally sourced ingredients. And secrets are revealed: local farms, wineries, and breweries are listed by name. His signature Jerk Chicken is not just free range but also from Free Bird.
Come as you are, the feel is urban chic – exposed brick and repurposed Art Deco mahogany bar originally from the 1939 World’s Fair. A co-venture with funky Spectrum 8 Theaters owners Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes, New World Bistro Bar anchors Albany’s newly energized entertainment and culinary arts “DelSo” neighborhood. This is where you’re likely to run into local media celebrities and discerning restaurant critics.
EAT: Cafe Capriccio. The renowned 4-course family style feast at Café Capriccio’s Chef’s Table is as memorable for the authentic regional dishes as it is for cultural lessons shared by author and proprietor, Jim Rua. Staff and guests are encouraged to develop regional expertise on organized trips to Italy which offer first-hand research and partnership opportunities with farms and wineries such as Fattoria Lavacchio in Tuscany.
Dress up to dine in this intimate establishment popular with Albany elite. Despite a 30-year history as one of the Capital District’s best restaurants, this is not a polished restaurant. The atmosphere is low key and homey, with soft carpeting, knotty pine walls, old posters and opera music playing; it’s like eating at a friend’s house…if your friend is an award-winning chef who grows his own herbs and heirloom tomatoes.
EAT: Orchard Tavern & Restaurant. A rotating display of photographs and memorabilia documents The Orchard Tavern’s rich history of service to generations of workers at the New York Central Railroad’s West Albany yards. Open since 1903, longtime patrons worried that the neighborhood institution would change when Kris Monforte purchased it in 2018. However, the new owner promised minor cosmetic changes but that the menu, with its beloved rectangular pizza, would remain the same.
EAT/DRINK:City Beer Hall. It’s hard to say whether or not The City Beer Hall’s passionate following is a result of free pizza with beer. Who can resist free food? Not when it comes with a selection of 18 beers and ciders on tap, plus many more by the bottle.
Beer pairings and leisurely brunches are almost weekly events. For a gastronomical splurge, reserve tickets to “Wild Game Nights” when one brewery is matched to an assortment of exotic meats for an unforgettable 4-course meal.
Different thematic areas of the bar include a Main hall with communal tables, an outdoor beer garden, and a newly-renovated Rodeo Bar that hosts a dance floor on weekend late nights.
EAT/INSIDER TIP: When the tulip festival makes its annual return to Washington Park, local fish fries all through the Capital Region open for the season to serve a fried culinary masterpiece found nowhere else. A long narrow piece of fish, about a foot long, fried to perfection, is served in a hot dog bun sometimes with condiments, sometimes not. Available any day of the week, local custom is to take the whole family to the fish fry after softball games on Friday afternoons. Opinions vary greatly as to the best fish fry in the Capital Region. In Albany, folks swear by Ted’s Fish Fry, but the general consensus is that top honors go to Gene’s Fish Fryin East Greenbush.
SNACK: Cider Belly Donuts. Historians tell us that the earliest doughnuts can be traced to the olykoek cakes that Dutch settlers introduced to America. Thus, you can’t fully appreciate New York’s Dutch heritage without sampling donuts, and you can’t do better than to taste the Original Cider Doughnut. Baked fresh daily, open Monday-Friday, 6:30-3pm, Sat-Sun, 8am-noon, or until they run out.
Where To Stay in Albany NY
STAY: Morgan State House. Arrange to stay in one of the six lovely rooms in the Historic 1884 Mansion at what is considered the best B&B in downtown Albany. (There are 11 more modern rooms in Morgan State House’s condo at the end of the block).
These rooms – on three walk-up floors – are spacious and tastefully decorated in elegant traditional furnishings, some featuring bay windows overlooking the Frederick Law Olmsted designed Washington Park. Starched sheets and down comforters wrap guests in blissful luxury.
In the morning, converse with fellow travelers while enjoying a Continental Breakfast (complementary with room) around a large dining room table or outside on tranquil backyard garden patio. Room rates in the Mansion from $179-$249, and from $149 in the Condo, include Continental Breakfast and parking.
STAY: Both the upscale Renaissance Hotel and Hilton Hotel offer full-service amenities just steps from the Capitol Building and Empire State Plaza.
Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out these great weekend getaway ideas in New York’s Capital District:
New Bedford, MA: A Working Port With Literary, Culinary, And Historic Appeal
Harbor View from New Bedford Whaling Museum MA
WHY GO: Called “The City That Lit the World,” New Bedford MA, once the planet’s premier whaling town, claimed more millionaires than any other city in America. From the 1820’s until whaling’s demise in 1925, when the last whaling ship sailed out of New Bedford Harbor, this city dominated the industry. More pure, smokeless spermaceti (whale oil) came from New Bedford than from anywhere else on earth.
From the Pulpit Seamens Bethel New Bedford MA
In its heyday in the mid 1800’s, 750 whaling vessels plied the Seven Seas from U.S. shores: Of those, nearly 450 hailed New Bedford alone. One was the Acushnet, on which a 22-year-old Herman Melville toiled for over a year. His experiences, of course, were chronicled in his classic novel, Moby Dick.
Though it’s been through several booms and busts, New Bedford remains today the number one fishing port in the country in profits – based largely on the tonnage of weight-in-gold scallops caught by New Bedford fishermen each year.
In 1996, Congress designated a segment of New Bedford as a National Historic Park, deeming it the best place in America to tell the story of whaling. Since then, the city has transitioned into a burgeoning tourist mecca, and within the past five years has been attracting countless creatives and New Yorkers due to its “exploding art scene” and low real estate costs.
Exterior Moby Dick Brewing Co. New Bedford MA
With upgraded infrastructure, a second boutique hotel, trendy wine and beer bars, and picture-perfect cobblestone streets, this Getaway is perfect for history buffs, Melville fans, and art aficionados who wish to explore a working waterfront and be well-fed in the process.
Things To Do in New Bedford, MA
TOUR: New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. Begin at the Visitor’s Center for a 22-minute movie, “The City That Lit the World,” and then peruse exhibits that expound upon The Lure of Whaling, Life in a Port City, Faces of Whaling, and Women in Whaling.
Cobblestone Street New Bedford MA
From here, you can take a free 45-minute walking tour of this diverse town. Several narrated walks center on the History of Whaling, Herman Melville, and the Underground Railroad.
In the mid-1800’s New Bedford was “a hotbed of abolitionism” – encompassing a large Quaker community that believed God did not discriminate among his creations. Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna, fled from slavery to New Bedford, and were housed by free blacks, Polly and Nathan Johnson. Douglass swept church floors, caulked ship hulls, and then, with his brilliant mind, found his footing as an abolitionist crusader.
Whaling Captains, in particular, were color-blind; jobs on a whaling ship were based on merit only and each ship housed a virtual United Nations. Sailors were forced to get along, as teamwork increased the whaling profits that were divvied up at the end of each voyage.
Reading cushions form wall art while not in use in “Makers Space,” New Bedford NHP Visitor’s Center MA
The Visitor’s Center newest sensation is The Maker Space upstairs – where hands on exhibits serve as “inspiration, not information.” Besides watching an artist-in-residence at work, you can participate in games, activities, and craft making. There’s a comfy reading nook, and a 3-D printer. Best of all, on hot days, it’s air conditioned and free to enter. Visitor’s Center open daily 9am-5pm. Maker Space open daily July-Sept. and weekends throughout the year. Free.
SEE: Ruth and Abby. Join the fun, the gossip, the banter between two 1850’s busybodies, Ruth and Abby. Dressed in period garb, they dish about the food of the times, their neighbors, shopping and running a home at the height of New Bedford’s wealth. Mid July – end of August; Thurs 5pm – 6:30pm, Friday 11am-2pm, Sun. 2pm-4pm, Free.
VISIT: New Bedford Whaling Museum. Four fully articulated whale skeletons hang from the ceiling in the entry hall of one of the best Whaling Museums on the planet. There’s a Humpback, a North Atlantic Right Whale with her ten-month-old fetus, and a Blue Whale – the largest mammal on earth.
This juvenile Blue, killed accidentally by a tanker in 1998, is half the size of one full grown, and one of only four on display in the world. Amazingly, even after the bones were cleaned and bleached for months, its sinus cavities are still leaching oil, which drips into a Lucite pan fitted beneath the skull and then transported by hose into a graduated beaker kept at eye level.
Mother Baby Whale Skeleton New Bedford MA Whaling Museum
This is just one of many wows! you’ll experience among 750,000 artifacts, from the Worlds Largest Collection of Scrimshaw to the Worlds Largest Ship Model (at half scale, the Lagoda Whaling Ship, which can be boarded, was built by aging shipwrights in 1916 inside the then brand new museum hall), to products made from bones and baleen, to harpoons – which were kept so sharp, the sailors shaved with them.
Penny guiding New Bedford Whaling Museum MA
For an exceptional overview of the Museum – and stories about whaling ships, sailors, and the whales themselves – be sure to join a one-hour tour docent led tour. My guide was the uber-knowledgeable Penny. Her sweeping narrative covers everything from economics to biology, spotlighting the grim, precarious, but incredibly lucrative business of catching and killing these sentient beings, and rendering their body parts into oil, corsets, home goods, and scrimshaw art.
Lagoda New Bedford Whaling Museum MA
Jobs on a whaling ship – each vessel a self-contained oil factory with all the reeking, bloody, slippery, and dangerous conditions you can imagine – attracted three different kinds of sailors: second-and-subsequent-born farm boys who were not in line to inherit property; adventurers like Herman Melville; and fugitive slaves. Eventually, whaling merchants sought cheaper labor in the Azores off of Portugal, and Cape Verde off of Africa, diversifying the crews even further.
With its head cavity full of spermaceti oil the Sperm Whale was the most coveted of the species – though ships had to travel around Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean to find them. Thus, whaling was the first “globalized industry.” Sailors returned home with souvenirs, exchanging language and art with people of Asian cultures and beyond.
Scrimshaw New Bedford Whaling Museum MA
Oil from the ground and Edison’s light bulb ultimately killed off the whaling industry, at which point New Bedford transitioned into a textile-manufacturing hub. When that industry went kablooey, it took some time for the city to reinvent itself as a living history museum and art mecca. $17 adults, $7 kids, May-September 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily. Jan-March Tues-Sat 9-4, Sun 11-4. Docent led tours at 11am. Penny’s tours on Tuesday afternoon.
Seamens Bethel New Bedford MA
VISIT: Seamen’s Bethel. In the heady days of the great whaling ships, New Bedford’s docks thrummed with bars and brothels. Resident Quakers sought to counteract the “licentious” temptations of the waterfront, first by boarding boats at dock to sermonize and hand out bibles, and in 1832, by building a house of worship for the sailors: The Seamen’s Bethel.
Known as “The Whalemen’s Chapel” in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the Seamen’s Bethel underwent a $3.2 million renovation in May 2017 to save it from complete collapse. Stucco was removed from the exterior walls, leaving its original pre-Melville stone intact.
A modern breezeway, linking the Bethel to the adjacent Mariners Home, is the Church’s new main entrance and features a reception desk made from 150 year old lumber reclaimed from the renovation.
Bow Sprit Pulpit Seamen’s Bethel New Bedford MA
The bow-shaped pulpit – from which Reverend Enoch Mudge (Father Mapple in Moby Dick) spoke to his parishioners from 1832-1844 – juts into a small bench-lined room. Melville’s pew, the second to last row on the left as you walk in, is of course a photo-op favorite.
New Bedford was unique in that sailors shipping off from here were required to register by name, age, height, complexion, eye color, ship’s name and Captain, and so family members came to New Bedford to determine the whereabouts of their loved ones.
Cenotaph Seaman’s Bethel New Bedford MA
Marble cenotaphs (“empty tombs”) of men who did not return from the sea line the sanctuary walls. One is believed to be Melville’s inspiration for Captain Ahab: Captn. Wm. Swain, who “after fastning to a whale was carried overboard by the line and drowned on May 19th 1844.” Another cenotaph memorializes poor 18-year-old Charles Petty who, in 1863, was killed by a shark while bathing off the African coast. Apparently whales weren’t the only sea life to be wary of on these dangerous voyages.
These inscribed tablets remain touchstones for the modern fishing community who come to pay respects to those lost. Additionally, every year since Memorial Day 1866, the 1835 church organ is wheeled down to the waterfront in a decorative wheelbarrow, and played during the memorial service for New Bedford fishermen lost at sea.
MA Life Ring Found in France Seamens Bethel New Bedford MA
Don’t miss artifacts on display in several other rooms – one, the Life Ring from a 1988 wreck off of Nantucket that was found on a French beach in 2010, and wonderful drawings of New Bedford by the New Yorker Magazine artist, Sergio Garcia Sanchez. Though, this church does not operate as a house of worship on a regular basis, it’s a popular wedding and baptism venue.
Fishing Heritage Center New Bedford MA
VISIT: New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center. Bring a fishing boat into port, quickly don survival gear, and learn what it’s like to be a commercial fisherman in this small but excellent museum that opened quite by accident. What started out as an office for the annual Working Waterfront Festival has turned into a bricks and mortar space celebrating the “fishing industry of New Bedford Past, Present, and Future.”
Survival Gear Fishing Heritage Center New Bedford MA
This interactive museum is divided into the various aspects of the fishing life. You can watch the construction of a fishing vessel “from keel to launch;” see several oddities in an “Unusual Catches” display; read a whole wall of crazy fishermen nicknames; tie nautical knots; and scroll through an interactive website that details ships that went down, incident reports, and bios on those who died (one of the most utilized exhibits for those who lost loved ones).
There’s a makeshift wheelhouse composed of a navigational simulator (programmed with many American harbors) and all the electronics found on a modern vessel. You’ll even hear radio chatter from corresponding bridge and harbor masters.
Shell Art Fishing Heritage Center New Bedford MA
The most popular activity for teens, though, is the 60-second challenge to dress in survival gear: an endeavor much more difficult than it sounds. Open Thurs-Sun 10-4, free, but donations gratefully accepted.
Fish Auction Warfinger Building New Bedford MA
VISIT: Waterfront Visitors Center in the Wharfinger Building. The small brick structure, built in 1935, once housed the once robust, live New Bedford Fish Auction. You’ll get a sense of the frantic 20 minute New York Stock-Exchange-like negotiations that took place here before proceedings went online in 1985.
New Bedford MA Fishing Fleet
Afterwards, head to the docks for captivating views of the harbor, and if you time it right, you’ll find some of the 200 commercial fishing boats of New Bedford – scallopers and trawlers – offloading catch. Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. year round Saturday and Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day
SEE: Behind the Customs House was the local recruiting station for the 54th Regiment, the first African American civil war regiment brought to public attention in 1989 by the movie “Glory” staring Denzel Washington. More than 350 New Bedford men of color – both escaped slaves and those born free – served in the Union forces between 1861 and 1865.
New Bedford MA Historic District
TRIVIA: Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE). WHALE’s unofficial motto is “two days after the fire — one day before the wrecking ball,” and has been instrumental in preserving the authenticity of New Bedford’s landmark buildings — going so far as to move several to prevent them from being demolished.
TOUR. New Bedford Harbor Tour. It’s a harbor tour unlike any other – after an hour on the water, you’ll come away knowing why scallop boats are not painted completely, and learn all about one hard-working, fastidious, trash-talking Azorean, known as “The Codfather,” who came to the US dirt poor but managed to amass a fleet of 30 fishing boats (worth tens of millions). If the forecast is bad, you may see the whole fleet at the docks – and get as close to them as possible without being on deck. You’ll also glide through the longest hurricane barrier (9,100 feet) in the world, which is also the largest stone structure on the East Coast, and hear stories of whaling ships and oil tycoons. Mid-June through end of September, Daily 12 Noon, 1:30, 3:00 & 4:30 PM. September –Weekends Only – Saturday & Sunday, same times. $15 adults, $8 kids.
The Blue Lane New Bedford MA
WALK: The Blue Lane. An elevated waterfront path atop the rocky Hurricane Barrier bulwark linking the Covewalk, Harborwalk, and soon-to-open Riverwalk, this newly sleek and contiguous esplanade has enhanced the 4.5 mile long shoreline experience for New Bedford residents and visitors alike. It’s lit up at night and pet and stroller friendly, too. 24/7, free.
New Bedford City Hall Elevator New Bedford MA
RIDE: New Bedford City Hall Elevator. Here’s something that not many guidebooks will recommend. Stop in to City Hall to find the Oldest Operating Elevator in the US – a 1912 Otis human-run steel and wrought iron cage with a curved cushioned bench large enough for six. Ask for a ride to the top floor – the 4th. It’s a time machine for sure. Mon-Fri. 8am-4pm. Free.
VISIT: New Bedford Museum of Glass. Once hidden in the back of the former Wamsutta Textile Mill, the Museum of Glass is moving into new digs at the Wamsutta Club in the James Arnold Mansion up on the hill, and will be reopening sometime in 2019. Glassmaking was a huge New Bedford industry in the 1860’s; tableware, quality cut glass, and fancy chandeliers were all manufactured here.
The Museum of Glass showcases glass of all kind from ancient to contemporary – much of it rare, including shelves of Vaseline Glass, made with uranium, which glows green under ultraviolet light in a dark room. (Listen to the insistent Geiger counter in one of the cases). You’ll find Stuben, Orrefors, Tiffany and Chihuly masterpieces. If you have any interest in decorative glass at all, this unassuming museum is a must-see. Check website for updates on opening, hours, and entry fees.
Rotch-Jones-Duff House New Bedford MA
TOUR: Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum. This stunning manor on the hill, built in 1834, gives visitors a glimpse at the lifestyle of wealthy whaling merchants. The gardens are truly enchanting. Open May-Oct. Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun. 12-4, Nov-April Tues-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4. $6 adults, $3 kids.
New Bedford Art Museum Gift Shop MA
VISIT: New Bedford Art Museum. President Obama’s official photographer, Pete Souza, is from New Bedford, so proud locals came out in droves when, in April 2019, this small art museum mounted an exhibit of his best work (up until June 19th 2019). Though NBAM exhibits rotate several times a year, you can count on the Museum Store to stock one of a kind crafts, clothing, and jewelry. Open Wed-Sun. 12-5, Thurs 12-9pm, $5, free Thurs nights from 5pm-9pm.
UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts New Bedford MA
SEE: Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. Be it a staged show, a ballet, symphony orchestra, or other performing art, there’s always something going on at this historic, renovated theater. Check website for calendar.
Jacob the Red Panda Buttonwood Park Zoo New Bedford MA
GO: Buttonwood Park Zoo. As of Friday, May 3, 2019 Buttonwood Park will be home to the Zoo’s first ever red panda, Jacob, who was born on June 20, 2017 at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Buttonwood Zoo, has been deemed one of the Best Small Zoos in America.
Fort Taber New Bedford MA
GO: Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Military Museum. Even if you aren’t into armaments or cannon/gun history, come to this seaside granite fortification, built in 1860, for the expansive views of Narragansett Bay.
GO: Kilburn Mill. This is not the first textile mill to be repurposed into artist studios (see Lowell MA), and it won’t be the last. Here, you’ll also find other enterprises and plenty of events and programming. Check website for info on Farmer’s Markets, music, comedy, and beer events.
SHOP: Calico Boutique, for the latest ladies fashions, cute one of a kind accessories, and “Neue Beige” (New Bedford in Portuguese) t-shirts.
Anthi Frangiadis owner The Drawing Room New Bedford MA
SHOP: The Drawing Room. Architect Anthi Frangiadis owns this newly opened “shop for artful living,” where you can find ceramics, jewelry, paintings, topographical wooden maps, and hefty bronze doorknockers among other statement pieces.
Alison Wells Gallery New Bedford MA
SHOP/LESSON: Alison Wells Gallery. From Trinidad, Alison Wells adds a splash of island color to her paintings. She also hosts guest exhibitions, mixed media shows, and classes for kids, teens, and adults. Sign up for a weekend workshop online.
Brothers Artisanal Jerky New Bedford MA
SHOP/PLAY: Brothers Artisanal Jerky (across from the Whaling Museum). Dehydrated spiced beef, turkey, and pork never tasted so amazing. Though pricey ($8.99 per 2 oz. package), you’ll savor every organic-grass-fed nibble. Brothers is also a funky rec-room of sorts, with billiards, picnic tables, beer and wine bar, and an excess of space.
SHOP: At Bedford Merchant Gift Shop you’ll find typically “resort” like gifts at very reasonable prices. Festoon yourself with craft jewelry from BeJeweled for a lot less than you’ll pay in other cities. You’ll find apparel stamped with everything New Bedford (and mermaid) at The Landing Gift Shop and Chandlery on Front St. Also, be sure to wander the cobblestone streets of the Historic District and stop in to as many of the Art Galleries and studios as you can.
Best Restaurants in New Bedford, MA
Merrills on the Waterfront New Bedford MA
EAT: Merrill’s (on the Waterfront). Right across the parking lot from Fairfield Inn and Suites – diners wishing to stare into the cockpits of scallop boats at dock, while eating, won’t find a better location than this. Besides the proximity to the fishing fleet, if the weather is clear, it’s a safe bet you’ll also observe a dazzling sunset that casts the ships in a rosy-gold hue.
Merrills sunset view New Bedford MA
Views are fine, but the food is, too. Honestly, how can you go wrong with any scallop dish when the source of said shellfish is right out the window? The Pan Seared Orange-Ginger Scallops ($26) are fresh from the sea delectable. And so is the Signature Oven Roasted Cod with Littlenecks, braised kale, and white beans ($25). Not into seafood? Steaks every which way (Filet Mignon – $30), are formidable options.
Ishm-ale Moby Dick Brewing Co. New Bedford MA
EAT/DRINK: Moby Dick Brewing Co. A block from the docks, Moby Dick Brewery is a labor of love for seven co-owners who saw opportunity in this literary-culinary-beverage-brewing mashup of a place. Formerly a chandlery, a marine electronics store, and then a fruit wholesaler (banana hooks are all that’s left in a room downstairs once flooded with carbon monoxide to kill stowaway tarantulas), Moby Dick Brewery opened in March 2017. Brew names refer to Melville’s novel: Ishm-ale (Red Ale), Simple Sailor (Lager), Quick Eternity (West Coast IPA), Sailor’s Delirium (Double IPA), and more.
Fish Tacos Moby Dick Brewing Co. New Bedford MA
The beer is top notch, fresh, and tasty, and the food, gobble-up good. My particular favorites are the Fish and Chips ($17) or Fish Tacos (3 for $18), both with light and airy fried cod, and billowy thin fries. If I lived closer, that would be my go-to dish on the daily.
New Bedford Harbor Hotel Restaurant and Bar
EAT/DRINK: New Bedford Harbor Hotel. The head bartender here takes his cocktails and especially, his craft-draft seriously. You’ll discover new brews, and beer you won’t find anywhere else (like my now personal fave, Jali – a Jalapeño-Apricot Sour from Maine’s Hidden Cove Brewing Co.). The restaurant is currently morphing from traditional entrees to elevated pub grub – Whaling Captain style from around the world and heavy on seafood. Try Little Necks sautéed in olive oil with roast garlic ($14), Shrimp Mozambique ($18), and the lightly battered, fried, and succulently flavored Calamari ($13) – my pick for best dish.
Exterior Tia Marias European Cafe New Bedford MA
EAT: Tia Maria’s European Café. Owned by locals who were thrilled when this Historic District location became available, Tia Maria’s, an adorably homey eatery across from the Whaling Museum, specializes in Portuguese cuisine at reasonable prices. Signature dishes include the broth-based Caldo Verde ($3.15, cup) – a potato-kale-sausage soup served in a rustic crock; Bifana Sandwich – pan fried pork steak topped with hot peppers; Sao Jorge Pizza ($7.50) with Portuguese sausage and Sao Jorge cheese; the often requested Shrimp Cakes with a slight citrus kick; and Chicken Mozambique Sandwich ($8.50) made up of chicken breast in a saffron garlic sauce.
The Baker New Bedford MA
BREAKFAST/LUNCH: The Baker. Whenever locals talk about this bakery and sandwich shop, their eyes light up. Pastries are flaky, not cakey, and bagels are so fresh and chewy as to give your jaw a workout. In a very good way. All accolades are well deserved.
LUNCH: No Problemo. A bevy of patrons, from tattooed skateboarders to boardroom executives, line up for the fantastically fresh burritos, tacos and all manner of handheld Mexican Food. When asked about a favorite restaurant, most locals mention this for deliciousness, freshness, speed and low price. Tacos start at $3.00, Tortas at $6.00.
Destination Soups New Bedford MA
LUNCH: Destination Soups. Are the soups “Soup Nazi” good? I’d say very close, but without the attitude. Don’t restrict yourself to soup alone, however. This place does an excellent job with specialty Grilled Cheese, as well, like the Rick Cheese – stuffed with apple, bacon and balsamic vinegar ($3.80 small, $6.00 full size).
EAT: Freestone’s City Grill. The chowder served within this former 140 year old Citizens National Bank Building keeps winning awards. You’ll see why. Close to the Whaling Museum, Freestone’s has been a local favorite for years.
EAT: Churrascaria Novo Mundo. Walk into this less-than-nondescript building and you’ll be rewarded with what I’ll go out on a limb to say is one of the top 10 chicken dishes this side of the Azores. Toasted to perfection on an unusual Portuguese indoor barbeque spit, these flattened half chickens come to the table with heaps of fries and rice for just $6.99.
SIP: Travessia Urban Winery. You won’t see a vine in sight, but what you will see, and sip, are some great wines. Travessia sources grapes from within a ten-mile radius and produces cases of award-winning, light, sweet Vidal Blanc and pleasurable Pino Noir Rose. Buy local. Buy a bottle or two of each. Open Wed – Sat Noon – 6pm, Sun. Noon – 5pm.
The Black Whale big chair New Bedford MA
DRINK: There are several bars in repurposed waterfront buildings that attract Vineyard Ferry travelers like frat boys to keg parties. Find vibrant nightlife scenes at Cork Wine and Tapas(for wine flights), Rose Alley Ale House (beer flights), and the newest The Black Whale (oversized Instagram-perfect chair outside).
EAT: Locals also love Café Italia (opening up a second location soon), Brick Pizzeria, and, if you ask, almost every restaurant in town for something or other.
Best Lodging in New Bedford, MA
Reception New Bedford Harbor Hotel MA
STAY: New Bedford Harbor Hotel. Sitting about a quarter mile up Union St. from the waterfront, the brand new New Bedford Harbor Hotel, opened in July 2018, fills a downtown lodging niche close to museums, historic Town Hall, and the cobblestoned Historic District. Like all trendy boutique hotels, the reception area is small, but personable. And rather dramatic. An enlarged photo of a whaling ship takes up the wall behind the desk, and for a moment you feel as if you’re onboard – sailing away.
Main Floor New Bedford Harbor Hotel MA
Carved from a former department store and then office building, the commercial meets maritime vibe is evident on the main floor. Though the soaring industrial ceiling could potentially make the massive space seem stark and cavernous, the room is divided into seating areas, a hopping bar, and restaurant: cozying it up quite a bit. (FYI – the 70 rooms on five floors are serviced by one slow elevator, so, hoof it upstairs or be patient.)
Suite New Bedford Harbor Hotel MA
Tidy, contemporary guest rooms are each configured differently. Some have original hardwood floors, and long narrow entry halls, with brick walls and lots of windows that overlook the distant harbor (over city rooftops).
Long view from New Bedford Harbor Hotel MA
Pared down bathrooms are pristine with granite sinks and subway tiled showers.
For dining – see Food/Drink section.
Rooms Rates $110-$259 include Continental Breakfast
STAY: New Bedford Fairfield Inn and Suites. The Mavens don’t usually extoll the wonderment of chain hotels, but this is one of the few exceptions. In punchy blues and orange hues, this establishment hard by the working docks took a big leap of faith when it opened several years ago. Now, rooms are nearly 100% occupied in season, because more and more tourists traveling to Boston or the Cape or who come off the high-speed Vineyard/Nantucket Ferry across the street are choosing to stay overnight. With helpful friendly staff, this franchise feels more like a B&B, offering a free shuttle within a five-mile radius, free Wi-Fi, a small fitness room that overlooks a sparkling indoor pool and complementary hot breakfast. Rates – $129 to $269 – vary with size of room and season includes internet, hot breakfast, parking, tea and coffee 24/7, and complimentary shuttle.
STAY: Orchard Street Manor. A former 1845 Captain’s home “on the hill,” Orchard Street Manor is filled with antique gleaned from the world travels of hosts Al and Suzanne Saulniers. Enjoy hot homemade muffins and fresh fruit salads each morning in a unique oval dining room, and great insider information about New Bedford from your gracious hosts. $125-$250 per night includes gourmet breakfast.
Fairhaven, MA: Ambrosial Scallops and Astonishing Architecture
Fairhaven MA High School
WHY GO. Fairhaven MA wasn’t a company town; it was a lucky town. Henry Huttleston Rogers, President of six (out of 13) Standard Oil Trust Companies (who happened, also, to be a major benefactor of Mark Twain), was overly magnanimous when it came to his hometown, endowing it with public buildings that rival those in the greatest European cities. Sharing a harbor with New Bedford, Fairhaven has also been a center of shipbuilding since the 1700’s. High profile vessels, ferries, fishing boats and freighters come here for repair. This town is also famous for something quite unique; it was where the very first Japanese person to ever live on US soil found a home – back in 1843. In addition, Fairhaven is a pilgrimage site for Seventh Day Adventists, as one of the Church’s founders, Joseph Bates, was born and raised here. This trip, which can be paired easily with New Bedford across the Historic Route 6 Bridge, brings Rogers, Twain, shipbuilding and Japanese-American History together in an enlightening, unexpectedly entertaining Getaway.
Things To Do In Fairhaven, MA
VISIT: Fairhaven Visitor’s Center. Set inside a 1798 One Room Academy, you’ll find relics from Fairhaven’s far as well as recent past. A collection of Gold Bond tins rest inside glass shelves – Fairhaven was the manufacturing home of Gold Bond Power from 1909-1985, when, according to a local “it was just four or five guys packing the stuff” in a small factory by the river. In addition, Atlas Tack Co. turned out millions of these office staples (favored, too, by school pranksters) in Fairhaven from 1867-1985. Most industry has left this seaside town, but one industrious guy is still plugging away; the One Man Band Fairhaven Tourism Director, Chris Richard. Unless Richard is out giving one of his entertaining costumed walking tours, you can find him at the Fairhaven Visitor’s Center. Anyone who makes this town their base for even a day or two is bound to meet him. Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri., Sat. 8:00am-4:30PM. Weekly Huttleston Marketplace every Sat. June-Sept. 10-4.
WALKING TOUR: Henry Huttleston Rogers Tour. With pocket watch in his Victorian businessman striped vest, Chris Richard (Thurs, Bob Foster on Tues) leads this illuminating 90-minute walking tour of Roger’s life and legacy in Fairhaven. Partners with Rockefeller in the successful Standard Oil Co, Rogers was purportedly ruthless in business but gentle and generous with his homies. He befriended and financially supported Mark Twain and funded Helen Keller’s education in addition to “creating an EPCOT in this little Yankee seafaring town.” The French-Gothic Town Hall, dedicated by Twain, the Italian Renaissance Millicent Library – built in memory of Roger’s daughter who died at age 17 – and the English Perpendicular Gothic Unitarian Church, a 15th Century Cathedral with 1 ¼ ton cast bronze doors, are among the incredible buildings you’ll visit.
If you are a Mark Twain groupie (like this Maven), you’ll thrill to see his handwritten notes to the Library Trustees, as well as his Town Hall dedication speech just hanging out above a periodical cabinet in the Millicent Library. Just ask the friendly folks at the desk, and they’ll point them right out. Henry H. Rogers Walking Tours, Tues and Thurs. mornings, 10:00 a.m. June through September. Free.
Fort Phoenix Fairhaven MA
TOUR: Pirates & Privateers Presentation at Fort Phoenix. (Formerly the Minuteman Tour). Attacked and destroyed by the Brits on September 5th 1778, Fort Phoenix “rose again” and went on to guard Fairhaven during the War of 1812 and the Civil War as well. It’s a swell setting for this myth-busting presentation about pirates and privateers back in those days. Abby Black, whose husband died at sea, explains how she dresses in men’s clothing and serves as a doctor onboard. Mr. Church tells historical stories about being a ship’s cook, and Andrew the Powder Monkey climbs on a cannon and explains how it’s fired. Chris Richard MC’s, with a “magic trick” at the end. Fridays, June-September, 10am. FREE.
New Bedford Fairhaven Hurricane Barrier
SEE: New Bedford Hurricane Barrier. The hurricanes of 1938 and 1954 nearly decimated New Bedford and Fairhaven, so in 1962, the Army Corps of Engineers built this bad boy. At twenty feet tall and 3.5 miles long, the Hurricane Barrier is so large, you can see it from many vantage points – in fact, it is the largest manmade stone structure on the East Coast. Besides via boat going through the 150 ft wide gates, or from a helicopter, your best view of the exterior barrier wall is from Fort Phoenix.
Joseph Bates Boyhood Home Fairhaven MA
VISIT: Joseph Bates Boyhood Home, Co-Founder of Seventh Day Adventist Church. First a Merchant Ship Captain, and then a follower of William Miller, Joseph Bates suffered a “Great Disappointment” when Miller’s prophecy of a Second Coming did not happen on the first, and then the second appointed date.
Interior Bates Home Founder of 7th Day Adventists Fairhaven MA
Bates surmised that when Christians began to celebrate the Sabbath on the first, not the seventh day of the week, it threw Miller’s calendar completely off. To rectify this, he called for worship on Saturday, becoming the “Father of the Sabbath Message.” There are currently millions of Seventh Day Adventists all over the world. Bate’s newly renovated boyhood home is open for guided tours through rooms with original floors and 18th century wallpaper and another (in a space added on at a later date) designed like a ship’s hold.
Ruins of 1676 Fireplace behind Bates Home Fairhaven MA
Don’t miss the stone ruins of a ten foot wide fireplace behind the house. This is all that is left of the thatched roof cottage built by Thomas Tabor, son-in-law of Mayflower passenger, John Cooke. Cooke lived with his daughter and son in law for a time, and might very well have warmed himself by the fire here. It remains a mystery why William Wood built a home inches from the ruins in 1742 ( which was then sold it to Bates, Sr in 1793). Tours April-October (by appointment) relate stories of those who lived here and their influence worldwide.
VISIT: Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship House. In 1841, Whaling ship Captain William Whitfeld discovered 14 year old Manjiro Nakahama shipwrecked on an uninhabited Pacific Island. Bringing the Japanese boy back to America with him, the widower Whitfield arranged to have Manjiro stay with a local family, and sent him to The Old Stone Schoolhouse to learn English. After ten years, Manjiro returned to Japan where he was influential in urging his country to trade with the United States. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Manjiro became an instructor in navigation and ship engineering at the Naval Training School in what is now Tokyo. Though relations were strained with Japan after WWII (to say the least), in 1987 Crown Prince Akihito – now Japan’s Emperor – visited Fairhaven in memory of Manjiro and to promote peace between communities. June-Labor Day, Sat, Sun noon-4pm.
SEE: Old Stone Schoolhouse. A touchstone for the Japanese, and Fairhaven’s oldest school, this is where Manjiro Nakahama, learned English. He returned to Japan and acted as an interpreter for Western visitors.Tours by appointment only.
Euro of Phoenix Fairhaven MA
SHOP: Euro/Phoenix. What began as a ships supply store for fisherman changed when owners started adding “gifty stuff.” Now, Euro is a virtual general store, with clothing, shoes, home goods, cards, gifts, toys, pet items, and anything else you’d ever want or need.
What To Eat In Fairhaven, MA
Margarets Fairhaven MA
EAT: Margaret’s Restaurant.It’s just a little 43-seat place, but first bite of Margaret’s grilled scallops, sweet and juicy, and fresh from the boat out back, and you’ll be hooked. Established by a scalloper of Norwegian heritage, Margaret’s also excels in crepe-like buttery Norwegian Pancakes – the best choice for breakfast. File under “find.”
EAT: Elizabeth’s. It’s Margaret’s – but a bit more upscale and with a liquor license. Owned by the same people.
Where To Stay In Fairhaven, MA
STAY: Delnano Homestead, Fairhaven. FDR’s grandparent’s home is now an upscale B&B. Stately and fine, you’ll be immersed in history as you stroll the same backyard in which young Franklin frolicked. $130-$160 per night.
STAY: Seaport Inn. Right on the waterfront, this motel-like lodge is undergoing renovations, with rooms updated to clean and modern standards. Rooms from $129-$179.