Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Meals, New England Style in Massachusetts

Concord's Colonial Inn, Concord Mass. (photo by Eric)
Do you enjoy going out for Thanksgiving, having someone else do all the cooking for you?  If so, you'll find no shortage of such places in New England, but the key is to find a destination that will get you in the local spirit. Here are some traditional, historic and charming New England spots in Massachusetts that are sure to provide a fabulous setting for your Thanksgiving Day meal...

The Pilgrims were to first to celebrate Thanksgiving in America, so why not celebrate at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth? This wonderful outdoor living museum that recreates life during the Pilgrim days offers the traditional America's Thanksgiving Dinner, as well as a Thanksgiving Day Buffet. It looks like some seatings are already sold out for both Thanksgiving Day dinners, so we recommend making reservations soon if this event sounds interesting to you. Log onto http://www.plimoth.org/dining-functions/thanksgiving-dining-special-events for more information, or call (508) 746-1622 for reservations.

In Central Massachusetts, the historic Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield provides a beautiful restaurant setting for enjoying the bounty of New England's harvest on Thanksgiving Day with traditional free range oven roasted turkey and appetizers, unique drinks and homemade desserts (the deep dish apple pie is phenomenal!).  If you'd rather have something else than turkey, then broiled salmon and pepper crusted sirloin with gorgonzola cheese are also available. With a roaring fireplace, post and beam design, and 600 acres of beautiful rolling hills, this colonial restaurant -- with part of the building well preserved from the early 1600s -- will surely bring you into the heart and soul of traditional New England.  For more information, log onto http://www.salemcrossinn.com/CalendarEvents/thanksgiving_dinner.htm, or call (508) 867-2345 for reservations.

In historic Concord (birthplace of the American Revolution), Concord's Colonial Inn offers a comprehensive Thanksgiving Day meal with a carving station (yes, including oven roasted turkey with pan gravy!), pasta, fish,  salads, cheese, a raw bar, soup, bread and sides, including fresh vegetables. This restaurant and inn overflows with colonial charm and is located at beautiful Monument Square in the heart of this beautifully preserved town. One of the inn's original buildings was once used, in 1775, for arms and provisions while from 1835-1837, famous author Henry David Thorough (Walden and Civil Disobedience) lived here before moving to Walden Pond.

You can view the full Thanksgiving Day menu at http://www.concordscolonialinn.com/sites/default/files/docs/Thanksgiving%202012.pdf, or call (978) 369-9200 for reservations.

Editor's note: we strongly advise you call ahead for Thanksgiving Day meals details and to make reservations before embarking to the above-mentioned places.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading:
Walking along Plymouth Harbor
20 classic New England travel attractions
10 reasons to love Central Massachusetts

Monday, October 29, 2012

New England Christmas Holiday Season Travel Tips

One of our readers, Stacy, would like to visit New England in December. Here is what she wrote:

We want to do a short trip from Thursday-Monday from Atlanta Georgia in December. We have never been to New England and want to see as much as possible. Any ideas where to start? Where to fly into, rent a car, and possibly stay different locations each night?

Thanks for the question, Stacy! We could write a book on what to see and do in New England during December, but for bandwidth purposes, here are some suggestions that I think you'll love:

Fly into Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, rent a car there, and drive 45 minutes south to Kennebunkport, Maine, where the spirit of Christmas saturates this beautiful small coastal town the first and second weekends of December. Amazing light displays, horse drawn sleigh rides, caroling, holiday musical entertainment, arts and craft shows, and historic trolley rides are just a few of the events that will get you into the holiday spirit.  We strongly recommend logging onto the Christmas Prelude web site for exact dates and times of events to correlate with the days you plan to visit New England. By the way, HGTV voted the Christmas Prelude the #2 Christmas town in America!

For lodging, we like staying at the Rhumb Line Inn Resort and for dining, we recommend Alisson's Restaurant , H.B. Provisions and Federal Jack's, as well as the The Maine Diner in nearby Wells. For more lodging options, long onto our Kennebunkport Hotels Page

While staying in Kennebunkport, you might want to drive about a half hour south to York Beach Maine, where famous Nubble Lighthouse is all dressed up in holiday lights. It's a spectacular scene at one of New England's most beautiful lighthouses.  When in York,, be sure to check out the Festival of Lights Parade scheduled for Sat., Dec. 1.  This wonderful event includes a lighting of the village festivals of gingerbread houses and trees, a Christmas tea, student art exhibit,  arts and crafts, and a holiday sing-a-long. We recommend logging onto the York Parks and Recreation Department Web Site for updates.

We also recommend visiting two lovely small cities, the previously mentioned Portland, as well as Portsmouth, N.H. Both cities are historic, filled with charm, as well as wonderful locally-owned shops and restaurants. Portland and Portsmouth do have big city amenities, but strolling through these two costal gems also brings about a small town feeling. We regard Portland and Portsmouth as two of the best small cities in New England.

Freeport, Maine (20 minutes north of Portland), is also a "destination," especially during the holiday season. This once sleepy town has transformed into a bustling attractive downtown with an impressive variety of outlet stores -- anchored by the  spectacular flagship L.L. Bean. store. It's really a great place to do your holiday shopping.

Hope this helps! Readers, if you have any more suggestions for Stacy's visit to New England, please comment below. Thanks!

We recommend reading the following articles to help with your southern Maine trip planning:
York Beach, Maine
Kennebunkport, Maine
Portsmouth, N.H.
Portland, Maine

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Main Street Market and Cafe in Concord, Mass.

Main Street Market and Cafe, Concord MA (photo by Eric)
When visiting Concord, Mass., last week, a local recommended dining at the Main Street Market and Cafe. Great recommendation!

 The building is historic, the setting "old-timey" and the crowds bustling at this spot that acts more like an upscale townie restaurant than a market (really not much of a market to speak of here). The brick walls, wooden floors counters and low and high rise tables will make you feel right at home and the location in the heart of downtown Concord is ideal for grabbing a breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I tried a bowl of beef chili with butternut squash and loved it! At first, I thought this might be too odd a dish -- that is, replacing beans with butternut -- but the combination turned out to be better than the traditional recipe. From Belgium waffles and baked goods to hot grilled paninis to pistachio crusted salmon filet, the Main Street Market and Cafe's menu is certainly extensive.

The Main Street Market and Cafe also has a dining spot out back in a charming, clean alley that serves burritos, pizzas, hot dogs, sandwiches, smoothies and ice cream. Having lived in Concord many years ago, one of my few complaints was lack of a downtown restaurant with quick service and a good selection of food at reasonable prices -- nice to see that the Main Street Market and Cafe has filled a much-needed niche in this beautiful town.

The Main Street Market and Cafe is located at 42 Main Street in Concord, MA. Tel. (978) 369-9948

Editor's note: tell us your favorite "local" restaurant in your New England hometown by posting a comment below. This will be a great help to those looking for a bite to eat in your area!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Barnacle Billy's, Ogunquit, Maine, is a Timeless Dining Tradition

Barnacle Billy's restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, seems like a rite of passage into the Maine summertime.

Rarely do you find someone in New England that doesn't know about this landmark seafood restaurant specializing in fresh Maine lobster, steamed clams, chowder, lobster rolls, lobster stew, over sized drinks and, well, barbecue chicken (don't laugh, it's really good).

It's not that Barnacle Billy's is better than other local restaurants, specializing in seafood. It's just that Barnacle Billy's has a well-known presence, a timeless tradition, a waterfront location and excellent seafood that results in this dining incumbent constantly being reelected by thousands of visitors and locals every year looking for a trusted, dependable restaurant.

Barnacle Billy's actually has two locations, virtually right next to each other. Barnacle Billy's, Etc., offers more ambiance than the original location, but either restaurant is fine as you get the same outstanding seafood. We do prefer Billy's, Etc., however, as it's a bit more spacious and comfortable, and the views of the harbor and ocean from the expansive sundeck are really spectacular -- especially at sunset. Plus, after lunch or dinner you can explore beautiful Perkins Cove with its quaint little seaside shops as well as walking Marginal Way -- a spectacular mile and a half path along the rocky coastline of Maine. Ogunquit Beach, one of Maine's best sandy ocean beaches, is at the other end.

I've been coming here since I was a kid, and have always had a great meal. Some things never change, and it's nice to see Barnacle Billy's appeal to multi-generations of visitors to southern Maine through the years. Hope you get to experience this slice of southern Maine dining bliss!

Barnacle Billy's is located at 50-70 Perkins Cove Rd. in Ogunquit, Maine. Tel. 1-800-866-5575 

Perkins Cove (photo by Eric)
Marginal Way (photo by Eric)

Related articles and resources: 
Visiting the southern Maine seacoast
Book a hotel room in Ogunquit

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bar Harbor, Maine: Wouldn't You Like to be There Now?

When creating our New England Pinterest pinboards, I came across one photo that I keep coming back to:  a colorful picture of downtown Bar Harbor, Maine.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Bar Harbor is the lively commercial center of the Acadia National Park area. Just minutes from Acadia where the ocean meets the mountains, Bar Harbor has an enviable and impossibly beautiful harbor location with enough shops and restaurants to keep the most insatiable shopper and diner happy throughout the vacation. Tree-lined in many parts and with a relaxing town common, Bar Harbor might be too hectic from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend for those in touch with the spectacular natural, pristine setting of Acadia National Park, but let's remember, too, that it's not exactly one of those tacky, souvenir-laden tourist traps. Sure, you'll get elements of that here, but, all in all, Bar Harbor has an attractive, often beautiful walkable downtown with almost all of the shops and restaurants running on a pride of ownership platform. The town also has some amazing historic inns that add a touch of class like the Primrose Inn and Bar Harbor Manor. Bar Harbor is really the perfect companion and foundation for your Acadia National Park vacation.

My favorite downtown things to do? Visiting the West End Drug Store (105 Main St.) for the old-fashioned soda fountain, Island Artisans (99 Main St.) for hundreds of locally-made handmade crafts, Roslie's (46 Cottage St.) for delicious hand-tossed pizza and tunes on the Wurlitzer jukebox, and Testa's (53 Main St.) for delicious lobster, seafood and pasta.

That's just a fraction, however, of what's in Bar Harbor.  You could spend several hours here, but in the name of fair and balanced, I would first get out to see Acadia National Park and then leave enough time to enjoy downtown Bar Harbor. That way, you get the best of both vacation worlds!

Log onto the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce web site for more information on Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and the surrounding region.

Related articles and resources:
Visiting Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park
Exploring Sand Beach at Acadia National Park
Relaxing at Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park
Book a hotel room in Bar Harbor

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nantasket Beach Still Has That Special Summer Feeling

The Paragon Carousel at Nantasket Beach (photo by Eric)
Many people felt like they were being taken for a ride when Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass., closed its legendary amusement park in 1984.

The better part of a century brought a joyous beach and amusement scene that exuded a classic New England summer tradition with, to name a few staples, the unbeatable combination of rides, arcades, souvenirs, waves and ice cream. Who can forget that wooden roller coaster or the bumper cars?

Paragon Park's closure gave way to housing development -- great for the people that live there by the ocean -- but sad for us to see Paragon Park and the memories associated with it just drift away. It was so close to home (about a half hour south of Boston, FYI), and really the ultimate day trip.

While we'll probably never see a return of Paragon Park, there are still significant remnants that still make Nantasket Beach a worthy New England travel destination:

The historic Paragon Carousel has been well-maintained. It's a beauty and is as good as ever!

The old clock tower is next to the Paragon Carousel, thus adding a touch of traditional dignity to Nantasket Beach. The clock is also in good condition and brings back such great memories.

The Carousels and Ships souvenir shop and the Dream Machine arcade line the main drag to remind us of those carefree, slightly tacky days gone by. The Fascination site remains -- kind of a mysterious, clandestine place to kids, but well-known to adults -- a destination that sort of mixes a table version of skee ball and bingo.  You can also find at Nantasket Beach a good, huge, gooey slice of pizza at places like Joseph's, ice cream at Carousel Creamery (right next to the Paragon Carousel), as well as play miniature golf at Nantasket Mini Golf.

Today's Nantasket Beach has an added element that didn't exist, as a whole, in the older days -- many high quality seaside restaurants and outdoor cafes are popping up all over the place. I like Jake's Seafood the best -- the water views are nice, the staff is efficient and pleasant, and the seafood always seems to be fresh. No surprise, given that they have a seafood market on the premises.

Yes, we find no "amusement" in Paragon Park being taken away from our kid-like hearts and souls, but Nantasket Beach is still a worthy  vacation destination. It's close to Boston and... oops, I almost forgot (not really, just writing that for effect)... the beach itself is worth a trip. Five miles of sandy ocean bliss, including harbors and bays to boat or fish make this not only one of the best beaches in the Boston area, but in all of New England. The roller coaster of emotions about Paragon closing will perhaps never go away, but the appeal of a great beach town with still plenty to do keeps us coming back.

The beach is simply beautiful -- expansive and with plenty of room for you! (photo by Eric)

You can see the condos on the far right, but the beach still dominates (photo by Eric)

The Dream Machine arcades (photo by Eric)

Carousels and Ships offers a classic gift shop scene to Nantasket Beach (photo by Eric) 

What would the beach be without a good ice cream place? (photo by Eric)

Sunset at Nantasket Beach. Beautiful! (photo by Eric)

Related articles and resources:
Visiting the Paragon Carousel 
Booking a room at Nantasket Beach
Family of four spends only $5 dollars for a day trip to Nantasket Beach
Ten ways to beat the heat on a hot summer day in the Boston area

Monday, May 21, 2012

Commonwealth Barbecue in Wrentham, Mass., Serves Authentic BBQ Cuisine

Ancient New England proverb: when it comes to barbecue food, it's better to have slow cook food than food from a slow cook.

The Boston, Mass., area offers several great places for well-prepared slow cook barbecue foods (definition: utilizing less heat than grilling over a longer period of time), including Blue Ribbon BBQ in Arlington and Newton, Redbone's in Somerville, Mass., and Firefly's in Marlborough. All these dining spots have chefs that clearly know what they are doing, which is great given that there's also a good number of local barbecue restaurants that miss the mark. Real barbecue cuisine does not equate to rotisserie! Often, we can do better on our own with some high quality barbecue sauce and meats bought from the local butcher and proper use of the grill.

It's nice, however, when someone else with a virtual PhD in barbecue cooking does all the work for you. Thankfully, a newcomer to the Boston area barbecue dining scene, brings perhaps the best barbecue foods to this area: Commonwealth Barbecue in Wrentham, Mass. It's located about a mile from beautiful downtown Wrentham and the Wrentham Premium Shopping Outlets.

Employing a south of the Mason Dixon line roadside shack look, this order-at-the-window barbecue joint shows amazing promise from the start with the aroma of smoked barbecue meats permeating the air the minute you step out of the car. Those aromas were born out of a lengthy process: the smoked meats are cooked for several hours over hard woods and that translates into "real" barbecue foods in the form of ribs, pulled pork or chicken, beef brisket and sausage. Another plus is that you can adjust the amount of BBQ sauce you want on your meal as there are large containers of sauces of varying spiciness at the counter. Sides like "cowboy beans," corn bread and southern fried pickles drenched in buttermilk add additional southern food ambiance to this unpretentious, outdoor dining scene at the picnic tables under the pavilion. Yesterday, I had some mouthwatering pulled pork that was just out-of-this-world good -- tender, flavorful and plentiful!

Although it's not a southern staple, soft serve ice cream is a dessert highlight with very low prices and huge portions served for small, medium and large. It's a nice way to end a satisfying, full-bodied barbecue dining experience at this "south" of Boston mom and pop drive-in!

Commonwealth Barbecue is open for lunch and dinner and is located at 659 South St. (Route 1A), Wrentham MA. Tel. (508) 384-9676.

Pulled pork, cowboy beans and butternut squash from Commonwealth Barbecue (photo by Eric)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Four Bike Trails in New England That Are "Wheel" Good

Cape Cod Canal Bike Trail (photo by Eric)
Do you like riding a bike but are afraid of the crazy drivers out there on the road or the awkwardness of passing pedestrians on the sidewalk? Well, the good news is that many bike trails have emerged in New England (a good number of them converted from old railroad tracks), offering paved trails and great scenery. Here are four bike trails in New England that we highly recommend:

Cape Cod Canal Trail The amazing canal water views make this seven-mile trek a  "must-visit" destination for the outdoor enthusiast visiting Cape Cod. Beautifully maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Cape Cod Canal Bike Trail is convenient, too, located virtually at the gateway to Cape Cod. The trail spans from Sandwich to Buzzards Bay. The views of the gigantic Sagamore and Bourne Bridges -- connecting the mainland to Cape Cod -- are worth the visit, too!

Stowe Recreation Path  Forests, meadows, rivers, arched bridges and mountain scenery highlight this 3.5 mile pathway in one of New England's most idyllic little towns. Stowe is a gem of a place with its quaint downtown and beautiful mountain views, so having a bike trail is really a godsend for those that love biking.  Not a long trail, but every second of the way is like a lifetime of scenic Vermont memories. Although we think of summer as an ideal time to bike, fall is also a fantastic time to visit the trail as the foliage is spectacular in Stowe.

Minuteman Bikeway Nice for those living or vacationing in the Boston area, the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway spans about 11 miles from Cambridge (right next to Boston) to Bedford. Our favorite part is Lexington where you can take a break and explore this attractive suburb that is best known, along with Concord, as the where the American Revolutionary War had begun in 1775. In summer, tours are available to view the historic sites around town (including the Lexington Battle Green, the Lexington Minuteman Statue and Minuteman National Historic Park. Downtown Lexington is also nice for its pleasing mix of mom and pop shops, restaurants and tree-lined streets with historic homes.

East Bay Bike Path This 14-mile bike path spans from scenic Bristol to bustling Providence. Along the way on this well-maintained 10 ft. wide bike path, you'll experience wonderful views of the Narragansett Bay and the chance to experience more of this scenic splendor at the 464-acre Colt State Park.

Related articles:
Bristol, R.I. the all-American town
Cape Cod family summer travel ideas
40 reasons to visit Lexington and Concord
The rebirth of Providence, R.I.
Visiting Stowe, Vt.
Beautiful Colt State Park

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Newport Mansions Offers A "Rich" Travel Experience

Belcourt Castle, Newport, R.I. (photo by Eric)
Touring the Newport mansions in Newport, R.I., might seem like an obvious New England travel attraction, but it's definitely a "rich"  experience worthy of a visit.

Once "summer cottages" to the rich and famous from the Gilded Age (beginning in the mid-19th century), many of the Newport mansions  remain in great shape and available for tours. The Preservation Society of Newport County offers the majority of house tours, including The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff. The tours can take up to 90 minutes, given the size, details and nuances of each home. My recommendation would be to see no more than two homes a day, as the experience can eventually become overkill.  By purchasing a multi-house ticket, you can spread out the visits on different days. Speaking of tickets, you can order online or on site at any participating house. Log onto the Preservation Society of Newport County web site for full details.

You can also take private tours of Newport mansions not owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, most notably the Belcourt Castle.  The Belcourt is actually my favorite Newport mansion with its combination of old-world, French-style charm and Norman, Elizabethan English and country German design. The home showcases  Gilded Age "King" and "Queen" chairs and Russian crystal chandelier with 13,000 prisms in the main room, stained glass, carved oak wainscoting, grand staircases and a replication of a coronation coach.  Wow! You can request a tour through the Belcourt Castle web site.

Enjoy the tours, it's a definite highlight of New England travel!

Friday, May 18, 2012

What it's Like to be at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn.

Two miles of beach, a boardwalk, 558 open camp sites and also extensive open spaces away from the beach to walk: what's not to like about Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn.?

Hammonasset Beach is the largest beach in Connecticut, and certainly one of New England's finest. Located on Long Island Sound,  the extremely well-maintained beach is situated on 919 acres with every step of the way a utopia for beach enthusiasts. Not only do you get some beautiful New England ocean beach scenery, but soft sand, relatively warm water in the summer, attentive lifeguards on duty, a concession stand, picnic areas and a nature center as well as walking, biking and rollerblading opportunities within the park. Most importantly, you get a generally well-behaved crowd here -- many families and peaceful types with few showoffs. Perhaps the best way to visit Hammonasset Beach is to secrure a camp site. Why take a day trip when you can spend several days by the coast? That's not to say a day trip pales in comparison: when you have beaches like Hammonasset, take advantage of every moment and feel blessed to experience such an ideal beach -- especially during the Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend timeframe.

I often think that if someone was assigned to build the perfect beach, Hammonasset would be the prototype. No need to, however, as Mother Nature has once again provided us with yet another moment of splendor in New England with this wonderful ocean beach scene -- along with a nice move by the State of Connecticut to create a publicly accessible beach here!

Hammonasset Beach is located at 1288 Boston Post Rd., Madison, CT. Tel. (203) 245-2785

Thursday, May 17, 2012

3 Rhode Island Seafood Shacks to Make You As Happy as a Clam

Evelyn's Drive-In, Tiverton (photo by Eric)
Cape Cod and Maine tend to get most of the accolades when it comes  to the best New England seafood shacks. Let's not forget, however, about the small state of Rhode Island that comes up big with countless outstanding roadside seafood spots. Here are three examples:

Seafood lovers will certainly not feel underwater when visiting Evelyn's Drive-in in Tiverton. This plain-looking seafood shack features an amazing Rhode Island clam chowder (with a thinner broth), mouthwatering clam cakes, the unusual lobster chow mein, huge fried seafood platters, lobster rolls and grilled salmon, to name a few. The atmosphere feels like a coffee shop by the water -- nothing fancy and with quick, to-the-point diner-like service. Located on scenic Nanaquacket Pond, Evelyn's also features a very pleasant outdoor patio dining area where the pond has more of a coastal feel than inland. Evelyn's is so good that the Food Network's Guy Fieri featured this tiny seafood shack on his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives television show!  Evelyn’s Drive-In is located at 2335 Main Rd. (Rte. 77). Tel. (401) 624-3100

George's of Galilee in Galilee (photo by Eric)
What better place to feast on seafood than in a live fishing village where seafood is delivered to restaurants right off the boat? That's the scenario in Gaililee, a Narragansett neighborhood. Here, larger seafood shacks like George's of Gaililee Waterfront Seafood Restaurant and Champlin's constantly bring in the crowds that love a great shore dinner and amazing views of Block Island Sound (particularly nice at sunset). George's is a little bit more built up and has a restaurant feel, while Champlin's has an undeniable seafood shack atmosphere with you order at the window, can sit at long dining tables and buy from the seafood market on the first floor -- and fish that come in right off the commercial fishing trawlers, and off-shore and in-shore lobster boats. George's and Champlin's both have second story outdoor deck and indoor dining with water views while serving some of the best locally caught lobster around as well as New England dining staples like steamers, chowder, whole belly clams, and fried seafood platters. George's extends a bit beyond Champlin's offering more broiled and grilled seafood dinners, an extensive wine list and sushi, but they can't fool us: this is still a classic NewEngland seafood shack! Ice cream lovers should take note, too, that both restaurants have ice cream stands -- always nice after a seafood dinner! George's and Champlins are located right across from each other, the former at 250 Sand Hill Cove Rd. (Tel: (401-783  2306), and the latter at 256 Great Island Rd. (Tel. (401-783-3152).

Champlin's Seafood in Galilee (photo by Eric)

Do you have a favorite Rhode Island seafood shack. Please comment below!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

12 Great Downtown Districts in New England

Do you love a good downtown? We have a few favorites in our region that offer small town New England appeal, stores, restaurant, historical preservation and traditional ways, and an overall welcoming feeling. Without further ado, here are some of those great downtown districts where we'll let the pictures do the talking...

Salem, Mass.
Bristol, R.I.

Keene, N.H.

Mystic, Conn.

Milford, N.H.
Northeast Harbor, Maine

Hanover, N.H.
Chatham, Mass. (Cape Cod)

Wickford Village in North Kingston, R.I.
Newburyport, Mass.
Portsmouth, N.H.

Springfield, Vt.

Do you have a favorite downtown in New England? Tell us a little about it by commenting below. Or, please feel free to comment these downtown districts featured in this post. Happy travels!

City-Like Dining in Suburban Spaces at The Raven's Nest in Walpole, Mass.

Apple goat cheese salmon with asparagus, rice,
and cinnamon and cranberry balsamic glaze from
The Raven's Nest, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)

Driving into the city for a "date night" out can be such a pain -- fighting traffic and rude drivers, paying more for parking and tolls than a meal, and having our car value go down about 60 percent in one night from hitting pothole after pothole.

Fortunately, the past 10 or 15 years have been good to us Boston suburbanites looking for a quality meal, close to home. Many restaurant business types, chefs and entrepreneurs have opened up restaurants in the suburbs closer in concept and quality to those high-profile city restaurants that I think sometimes have more appeal as a conversation pieces than places we'd like to go.

We have found a southwest Boston suburban dining gem called The Raven's Nest Pub and Eatery in downtown Walpole, Mass. Built much like the Irish pubs owner Mark McAuliffe grew up with in this native land, the Raven's Nest is very cool and cozy -- an upscale yet casual dining spot without an ounce of trendiness or pretension.  The comfortable dining room with fireplace, long wall with hand-painted bricks, handsome front-to-back bar, the open air windows, high ceilings, attractive lighting, seven plasma televisions and outside patio create an overall atmosphere that makes for an extremely accommodating atmosphere. Add 15 different draft beers, an extensive wine list and many signature cocktails to its impressive food choices -- along with live Irish music on Sundays from 4-7 p.m. -- and you have a restaurant where it's easy to become a "regular." The Raven's Nest also features a brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Because of the appealing hometown atmosphere, professional but friendly service, and high quality food, The Raven's Nest certainly qualifies as a date night place, but also a family-friendly spot where you don't have to dress up. That's the beauty of the place!

The "contemporary cuisine and upscale pub fare" dishes we have experienced at The Raven's Nest are as good, if not better than at some of the date night restaurants we've tried in Boston. Good news, too, for the "budget-minded": the prices are much lower than many higher-profile Boston restaurants. We would first recommend the mouthwatering apple goat cheese salmon with asparagus, real mashed potatoes (or rice), and cinnamon and cranberry balsamic glaze. Phenomenal! Another fantastic dish is the pistachio chicken, a breast of chicken with roasted pistachios, grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes, pesto cream sauce and balsamic nectar. The Raven's Nest also makes a great baked mac and cheese, steak tips, roasted pork chops (with honey and cinnamon glaze, roasted potatoes, honey-glazed carrots),
Shepherd's pie, eggplant Parmesan, burger and grilled pizza (especially the "Goat Broke Loose" with goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella). I also have frequent cravings for the delicious pesto chicken sandwich with grilled chicken, basil pesto, roasted peppers, cheddar American cheese and rosemary. I could eat that sandwich every day!

Mark and his wife Maura have been so embraced by this friendly little New England town that they have decided to open a coffee shop called The Coffee Perch a few doors down from The Raven's Nest. As the Walpole community has been in need of a coffee shop for several years, the arrival of the Coffee Perch should also be embraced by Walpole. The Coffee Perch web site describes its soon-to-be-opened coffeehouse as a "place to rest, chat with with friends, escape in a great read, write your first novel, catch up on work, surf the Internet, gaze at beautiful art, sketch your next masterpiece... all while enjoying exceptional coffee, delicious pastries, eclectic music - in a comfortable neighborhood coffeehouse!" Like The Raven's Nest, The Coffee Perch will overlook the beautiful Walpole Town Common -- a great spot to relax after a cup of coffee, or take in the Walpole Farmers Market during the summer and fall on Wednesdays, 2-6 p.m.

We'll let you know at the Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette when The Coffee Perch grand opening takes place.

Back to The Raven's Nest: isn't it nice to have restaurants like this not too far from where you live? Please feel free to share your favorite date night "neighborhood restaurants" in New England by posting a comment below.

The Raven's Nest is located at 998 Main St., Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 734-9377

Editor's note: for full disclosure, The Ravens' Nest is an advertiser on VisitingNewEngland.com. Its status as an advertiser does not affect our opinion on this Walpole restaurant. We are paying customers that write straight from the heart -- and our taste buds! You will never find a good-review-for-an-advertisement scenario on our web sites. We have too much pride and integrity for that nonsense!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce is a Great Starting Point for Visiting Wolfeboro, N.H.

What a great introduction to Wolfeboro, N.H., when the Chamber of Commerce is located in an absolutely beautiful, historic building called Wolfeboro Station!

We highly recommend visiting the nice folks at the Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce before exploring Wolfeboro, N.H., and surrounding communities. Wolfeboro -- nestled on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee -- goes beyond just being a place with a lake and some cute, little shops, inns and restaurants. It is a classic New England small town with lots to do, but not in an overbearing programmed "Hey, everybody, look at how much fun I am having" kind of way. Museums, sightseeing tours, theater, concerts, arts and crafts shows, community dinners, hiking trails, scenic back roads drives and boating, fishing and swimming opportunities await you in a truly underrated area of New Hampshire. It just feels normal here, not some phony manufactured marketer's dream.

Known as the "Oldest Summer Resort in America," Wolfeboro might not have that high profile personality of some other New England travel destinations where every vacation element is at your doorstep. To me, Wolfeboro has so many memorable vacation peaks and very few valleys -- a place where you might have to explore a little more to capture the true magic of the area. I have experienced this feeling time and time again, starting as a kid and getting to know the area better as a young adult. You come away with an added appreciation upon every visit, it seems.  Now well beyond a young adult, I hope to get to know this Lakes Region town even better after not visiting for several years.

Again, we highly recommend chatting with an expert on the region at the Wolfeboro Chamber to fully maximize your Wolfeboro vacation. I regard them as some of the nicest, most knowledgeable Chamber people I've talked with around New England.

If you have been to Wolfeboro, we'd love to hear your comments!

Related article:
Wolfeboro, NH offers rest and relaxation in America's oldest resort community 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Visiting Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream in Mystic, Conn.

Let's continue the ice cream blogging one more time by giving a shout-out to Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream in Mystic, Conn. Now, it's always good to find an ice cream place in a great travel destination like Mystic, and even nicer when the ice cream, atmosphere and service are outstanding. The ice cream is definitely more expensive, but it's well worth the slight increase in price. The reason: most ice cream has a higher volume of air, which means less taste. You'd be surprised how many well-known ice cream places employ this method. Creating one batch at a time of creamier, superior tasting ice cream with premium ingredients, as well as frozen yogurt and sorbet, really elevates this ice cream into our personal "Best of New England" category. When visiting here, I always get the "Lemon Chocolate Kiss," a mouthwatering combination of, surprise, lemon and chocolate!

The atmosphere is bustling and the frequent lines move right along due to some skilled, well-trained employees. What's more, we love sitting outside in the summer on the narrow deck overlooking the Mystic River. Right next to the Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream is the Mystic Drawbridge, an awesome sight. The 21 ft. long Mystic Drawbridge has a counter weight of 230 tons each and movable span length of 85 ft.  That means the moving parts are really heavy and the overall size of the operating elements of the bridge gigantic!

Mystic Drawbridge also serves sandwiches, wraps, salads, fresh baked pastries, and some very good coffee, but we like the ice cream the best!

Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream is located at 2 West Main St., Mystic CT. Tel. (860) 572-7978. We recommend checking the Mystic Drawbridge Web Site for seasonal hours.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kimball Farm is Westford, Mass., a Classic New England Ice Cream Stand

We all love those classic New England ice cream stands -- rural ambiance and all -- but it does absolutely no good if the ice cream is lousy. Fortunately, Kimball's in Westford, Mass. (about an hour northwest of Boston), has kept its long-time quality tradition intact by serving what we feel is some of the best ice cream we've ever sampled in New England. Whether a traditional vanilla or a creative gingersnap molasses, the ice cream is always richly flavorful here -- and served in generous portions. Kimball's also has two state-of-the-art miniature golf courses, an outdoor grill and seafood shack a bumper boat area, an animal petting area, arcades, a golf putting area, driving range and batting cages. The setting is beautiful -- not touristy at all -- and the overall experience some of the most fun we had when traveling New England last summer.

I remember when Kimball Farm was just an ice cream stand. Those were truly memorable times driving in my dad's wood paneled station wagon 40 minutes west of our home to enjoy ice cream as the sun went down. I think of all the special memories back then; however, I like Kimball Farm better in the 21st century. With more flavors of ice cream and all the other activities going on here, it's easy to spend a morning or afternoon at this landmark ice cream stand -- so you just don't go for an ice cream cone and then drive home. Kimball Farm is clearly more of a complete New England travel attractions destination now! Be sure to get here if you're in the area!

Favorite ice cream flavors:
Gingersnap molasses
Orange pineapple
Black Raspberry
German chocolate fudge
Cherry vanilla chip

Kimball Farm is located at  400 Littleton Rd., Westford MA (Route 110). Tel. (978) 486-3891. I'd recommend visiting the Kimball Farm Westford Web Site to find out seasonal hours and what's open and what isn't!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Baked Ziti Reigns at Mario's, Lexington, Mass.

Mario's Italian Restaurant in downtown Lexington, Mass., has been around, seemingly, forever. A small, slightly noisy and always crowded restaurant, Mario's makes some amazing homemade baked ziti with the right combination of layers of pasta, seasoned ground beef and tomato sauce, and a creamy cheese Bechamel sauce cooked to a golden brown. Mario's also makes some very good pizza and other pasta dishes, but I always make it a point to get the baked ziti here. There's nothing quite like it in my restaurant book -- and that includes those pricey, higher profile restaurants in the area. Hope you get to try some, whether as a local or a tourist visiting historic Lexington!

 Mario's is located at 1733 Mass. Ave in Lexington, Mass. Tel. (781) 861-1182

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Best Lobster in New England Pinterest Pinboard

We were fishing for some new ideas for Pinterest pinboards and thought it would be a great idea to create a "Best Lobster in New England" pinboard.

Highly visual and showcasing some of the best lobster shacks and full-service restaurants in New England that we and our friends embrace, these are definitely "go-to" dining spots for local lobster and lobster rolls. Some lobster dining destinations you'll see on this Pinterest pinboard: Barnacle Billy's in Ogunquit, Maine, Abbott's Lobster in the Rough, Noank, Conn., Woods Seafood in Plymouth, Mass., and Markey's Lobster Pool in Seabrook, N.H. That's just a sampling so for a full-course online tour of more incredible lobster destinations in New England, we recommend following this appetizing pinboard for current photos and descriptions and future updates!

Related articles:
The best lobster rolls in New England
Maine lobster salad from the Maine Diner
Seafood dining, Rhode Island style

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bath, Maine, Earns a 2012 "Great American Main Street" Award

Congratulations to Bath, Maine, for being chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a 2012 Great American Main Street Awards winner. The National Trust chose only five communities in the United States "whose successes serve as a model for comprehensive commercial district revitalization." Other winners include Culpepper,Va., Jacksonville, Ill., Valley Junction/West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, Mo.

I know it must have been a daunting task for the Preservation to choose towns and cities for this award, as so many communities in our great country have worked so hard to improve their downtown districts. Locally, I think of, in addition to Bath, Melrose, Mass., Wakefield, Mass., Bellows Falls, Vt., and Saco, Maine, as shining examples. That being said, I believe that Bath was a fine choice for this accolade. Last time, I visited in 2008, Bath really impressed me with its nice mix of stores and restaurants, and the renovated historic commercial buildings displaying good signage and American flags. There's clearly a pride of ownership element going on here.

As a sucker for the "Main Street USA" look, it was a revelation to see the independently-owned Wilson's Drug Store, Bath Book Shop, Bath Sweet Shoppe, the historic-looking J.R. Maxwell and Pub bringing and other local businesses bringing an appealing back-in-the-day look to downtown Bath. All in all,  it was really a pleasure to visit this revitalized downtown! I suppose that's what happens when there's a mandate for equal representation amongst Bath businesses, residents, and city government to improve its community. Every town and city should follow this model!

"It's the dedication behind the 'Main Street' team that really helped change Bath," said Samantha RickerGoad, the director's assistant at VisitBath. "The downtown has completely turned around from 10 years ago. The people here can be proud of where they live. We've always been known as the home of Bath Iron Works, which is very special, but I always knew it could be so much more...It's definitely the quintessential New England downtown."

As a kid in the 1970s, I remember a more different Bath. If my memory serves me correct, downtown Bath looked like any other gritty small industrial city. I didn't want to be here as a place to stop for lunch, especially after visiting beautiful Acadia National Park and Boothbay Harbor.

Now it's a different story in Bath. Although you can still see some gritty elements, I believe this works to Bath's advantage -- that is, the "roots" of this city remind us of the great shipbuilding industry while keeping the community from becoming just another gentrified, overly precious reclamation project. I look forward to seeing continue relevant, appropriate development in what is one of my favorite small cities in all of New England!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

There's Nothing Common About the Salem (MA) Town Common

We couldn't resist showing you a few more perspectives of Salem, Mass., this one from the Salem Common. Founded in the 17th century, this large, historic district provides a wonderful setting for a downtown district stroll. Amazing, well-preserved 18th century homes surround this eight-acre Common that also features a beautiful gazebo (pictured below), well developed paths, plenty of benches and an overall sense of peace and quiet. Directly across from the Salem Witch Museum and a couple minutes' walk to the impressive downtown Salem shopping district, be sure to put this on your list of things to do when visiting Salem! Book a room in Salem MA at the lowest available rate

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Sweet Cupcake Experience at Butter Cafe and Bakery in Walpole, Mass.

Cupcake display at Butter Cafe and Bakery, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)

We have tasted many fine cupcakes through the years, but Butter Cafe and Bakery in Walpole, Mass., comes up with flavors that "take the cupcake" in the Boston area.

Root beer, blueberry pie, red velvet, orange creamiscle, Andes mint, ice cream sundae, peanut butter cream, Boston Creme Pie, and their own version of a Hostess cupcake (much, much better than the Hostess brand!) are just a few of the cupcakes offered at Butter Cafe and Bakery that are nothing short of mouthwatering.

Butter Cafe and Bakery is also a great spot for breakfast and lunch with some creative, delicious dishes like the braised short rib grilled cheese and pressed duck sandwiches -- but be sure to not to miss out on these delicious cupcakes!

Butter Cafe and Bakery is located at 935 East St., Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 668-2123


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cheese Rolling Competition Rolls into Belfast, Maine, July 20-22

Today's New England public service announcement (PSA) podcast focuses on a cheese rolling competition to be held this summer in the beautiful coastal town of Belfast, Maine. This calcium-rich event is one of the more unusual attractions that has come across our news desk in quite sometime, but it sounds awfully fun and an event we might just attend ourselves! For full details, click on the audio clip above.

Thanks to the Office of Maine Tourism for tipping us on the event. If you have a travel-related PSA that you'd like to hear announced through our blog, drop us a line and we'll consider it for broadcast. Thanks, and happy travels!

Book a room in Belfast Maine, at the lowest available rate

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dude, That Pinterest Social Media Site is Unbelievable!

Last night, I had this rather interesting dream about a social media competition, and the judges were Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler from American Idol. Their focus was on judging the hot social media site, Pinterest.

In the dream, Randy started out by saying, "Yo, yo, yo! Dawg, every time I think I have seen it all, someone like you comes along and gives its own special voice to social media. When you hit your visual note, I was like, "yo," this social media site can rock! You are definitely in it to win it! Dude, you were unbelievable! I mean, that was dope, man!"

Next in the dream, J Lo said, "Pinterest, you know how much I love you -- you know, that you make your social media site so visual and full of pretty images like flowers, arts and crafts, and fashion. And it's that visual element that makes you so special. I know you're new to the social media game, so you've got to keep believing in yourself. You've been great all along and I think you have what it takes to be in the finals of social media (BIG SMILE)."

Then, in my dream, Steven Tyler said about Pinterest, "That was beautiful, man, you've nailed this social media thing. Great job!"

Now I don't know what Randy, J Lo and Steven think of Pinterest in real life, but I can tell you that it has been a godsend for my social media program here at our VisitingNewEngland.com web sites and blogs. Quite simply, Pinterest allows us to give our readers a comprehensive visual tour of New England unlike anything we've ever done before.  You can start following our Visiting New England pinboards right here.

Ultimately, Pinterest allows us to help you, the reader, with your New England trip planning  -- whether it be a vacation or a day trip. It's like the online version of taking a touring bus across New England. Ever wondered what pristine Acadia National Park in Maine looks like? We've got some amazing photos on our pinboards. Curious about what it feels like to be on sunny Cape Cod in the summertime? We have personality-filled downtown and beach shots of quintessential Cape Cod on our pinboards. Looking for a hidden New England travel destination, but worried that it will be too boring or more aligned with the movie "Deliverance?" Don't worry, you'll be able to get a taste of the what the area is like through photos and, often, descriptions -- or links leading to detailed articles. Curious about what our New England cities are like. We have lots of photos that, figuratively, rise above the skyline!

I'm liking the way our New England pinboards are coming together, and hope you do, too. For your browsing ease, we have categorized pinboards that include Favorite New England Places, Bucket List New England Hotels, New England Restaurants, Affordable Travel, Family Friendly Lodging in New England, Romantic New England Dining, Date Night Restaurants, Diners and Roadside Restaurants, Best Shopping and Classic Family Attractions. We also have locally-flavored pinboards on Food and Drink, Wicked Good Ice Cream in New England, The Amazing York Beach (Maine), Main Streets Across New England (my personal favorite!), Connecticut Scenery, Maine Scenery, Massachusetts Scenery, New Hampshire Scenery, Rhode Island Scenery and Vermont Scenery. We have also set up "Share Your New England Vacation Photos," as well as a "Goodwill in New England" pinboards to get the word out on New England businesses and organizations that do a lot of good in the community.

I hope you get to see what Pinterest in all about, and looking at our New England pinboards. Happy travels and we hope you find New England to be unbelievable, dude!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Podcast: Maine Outdoors Adventure Announcement

 We are excited to bring you our first New England Travel News Network podcast, focusing on a great resource for outdoor adventures in northern Maine. You can access this news by clicking on the audio player above.

Thanks to the Office of Maine Tourism for tipping us on the valuable resource!

If you have a New England travel related news item that you'd like to hear announced at the New England News Network, drop us a line at feedback@VisitingNewEngland.com. Have a great New England day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring is a Great Time to Visit Kennebunkport, Maine

I was thinking this morning about a nice place to visit in New England on a great spring day like this.  Kennebunkport, Maine, instantly came to mind.

In reality, I won't be able to travel there due to prior work commitments, so the following pictures will be a prime motivator to put Kennebunkport on the "very near future" travel calendar...

Colorful Dock Square (pictured above), is such a fun place to shop -- so many neat, colorful mom and pop shops there. For dining, we always go to Allison's for a great cup of chowder and 
fresh catch" seafood special...

There's nothing quite like getting out to Goose Rocks Beach and enjoying the spring solitude while strolling the expansive beach...

Or enjoying some windy weather and fantastic water views by the rocky Maine coast at Cape Porpoise...
Driving along Ocean Avenue (pictured below), is always a treat with more great water views. Farther up the road from Dock Square, you'll find some amazing waterfront resorts and inns like the Colony Inn and Nonantum Resort.

Beautiful, isn't it? I guess the moral of this story is "When you're in doubt on where to travel in New England during the spring season, go with Kennebunkport!"

Book a room in Kennebunkport, Maine at the lowest rate



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