All Articles Weekend in Northampton: Cool college community, hiking trails, and authentic eateries

Weekend in Northampton: Cool college community, hiking trails, and authentic eateries

People sitting and standing around Park Central Green
Laura Begley Bloom
By Laura Begley BloomMar 18, 2022 9 minutes read

Given that March is Women’s History Month, I thought it was the right time to point The WeekEnder compass toward one of my favorite places on earth: Northampton, Massachusetts. Of course, I’m biased because I went to school here at Smith College. Smith — one of the few remaining women’s colleges in the country — has been turning out awesome female icons since 1871. Think Gloria Steinem, Julia Child, and Betty Friedan, just to name a few.

Smith’s trailblazing spirit has also spilled over into Noho (as we Smithies call it), which has long been a hub of feminist activism and cultural innovation. Look around and you’re likely to spot T-shirts with the popular local phrase, “Northampton: Where the coffee is strong and so are the women.” In fact, Noho has a long history of activism. “It’s in its DNA,” says Jessica Nicoll, the director of the Smith College Museum of Art. “This has always been a hotbed of liberal thinking, from religious activism in the 17th century to the 19th century when the village of Florence — which is part of Northampton — was founded as an abolitionist community with people thinking about how to end slavery in this country.”

Left: Lynne Graves for SCMA; Middle: Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra; Right: Liz Karney
Jessica Nicoll, photo: Lynne Graves for SCMA (L), Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra (C), Liz Karney (R)

Northampton’s mayor, Gina-Louise Sciarra (who also happens to be a Smithie), agrees: “Northampton feels like a quaint New England town, but we take our activism seriously,” she says. “We’re also serious about being an open, welcoming city that celebrates individuality.”

This is from The WeekEnder series: local insider guides for new destinations a short drive from New York City, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here!

When I first arrived at Smith, I loved the fact that the college campus — with its tree-shaded brick buildings, world-class art museum, and beautiful gardens — was just steps from Noho’s funky restaurants and cool boutiques. Places like Sticks & Bricks, where Liz Karney designs and builds furniture and showcases the work of area artists. Upstairs is an Airbnb that she rents out and describes as a “living showroom,” filled with a rotating collection of artisan-designed art and furniture. One of the things that Liz appreciates about Northampton is that she is surrounded by so many other like-minded women entrepreneurs. “I feel so grateful for all these inspiring small business owners,” says Liz. “It’s a deep network of smart, savvy, creative women.”

So join me as I share insider tips from some of the plugged-in women who make Northampton such an exciting weekend getaway and also open my own little black book.

-Laura Begley Bloom, New York's Senior WeekEnder Writer

Where to stay

Dark wooden room with photo of snowy landscape over bed
Old Mill Inn

The first thing to know about Northampton is that this city is made up of several areas, including downtown (where you’ll spend most of your time) and smaller villages like Florence and Leeds. There aren’t many hotels right in town, so if you’re not staying at the iconic Hotel Northampton, you’ll need to book an Airbnb or veer off the beaten path to find a place to stay.

For history buffs: Hotel Northampton in Northampton - With its classic, Colonial-style decor, this 1927 grande dame is the main game in Noho. There’s nothing like brunch in front of the roaring fire at Wiggins Tavern, which has hosted many presidents over the years.

For living like a local: Sticks & Bricks House in Northampton - Boutique owner Liz Karney runs this stylish Airbnb on Market Street, which is fast becoming a hip corridor lined with up-and-coming shops and restaurants.

Left: Exterior of Hotel Northampton at night; Right: Farmhouse-style dining room
Hotel Northampton (L), Sticks & Bricks House (R)

For animal lovers: Starlight Llama Solar Bed and Breakfast in Northampton - Set on a 120-acre llama farm just minutes from downtown, the Starlight is the first solar-powered B&B in the state. Dine on a breakfast of fresh eggs from the property’s own hens, then chill with the llamas, take a hike, or visit the onsite reproduction of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin.

For adventurers: Sugar Maple Trailside Inn in Florence - A pair of experienced bicyclists opened this inn in an 1865 house right next to a rail trail. The hotel has free bikes for guests to use, plus a breakfast that includes jellies produced by Trappists monks in a nearby monastery.

For Instagrammers: Old Mill Inn in Hatfield - It’s not technically within the Northampton city limits, but this sleek inn in neighboring Hatfield is worth the detour. A river runs right through the property (a former gristmill) and many of the rooms have views of a waterfall.

Where to eat & drink

This is a college town, so — no surprise — Northampton has an eclectic (and delicious) food scene.

Best breakfasts

Miss Florence Diner in Florence - Built in 1941, Miss Flo’s is one of the oldest diners in the United States and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. My favorite dish: the corned beef hash, served with two eggs and toast.

Coffee break

Left: Chalkboard menu and lit-up "5"; Right: Exterior with "coffee" in large letters
The Roost (L), Café Balagan (R)

The Roost in Northampton - A beloved downtown coffee shop owned by Robyn Goodmark, a powerhouse entrepreneur who used to be in a rock band, featuring designs by Liz Karney.

Woodstar Cafe in Northampton - “This cafe is the commissary for the Smith College Museum of Art,” says Jessica Nicoll.

Café Balagan in Northampton - Intelligentsia coffee, fresh juices, local baked goods, and — in case you’re into it — a sister cannabis shop next door.

Familiars in Northampton - “I love this new well-designed coffee shop,” says Liz Karney. “They do creative stuff with their lattes.”

Lunchtime

Bacon cheeseburger and fries
Local Burger & Fries

Local Burger & Fries in Northampton - Burgers piled high with all the fixings: grilled chiles, crumbled blue cheese, bacon-and-maple mayo.

Amanouz Café in Northampton - Moroccan spices and Mediterranean flavors blend beautifully at this tiny storefront spot. “Get the chicken couscous or the royal feast, a vegetarian platter,” says Ilana Panich-Linsman, a journalist who grew up in Northampton and is now based in Austin, Texas.

Casual bites

Exterior of lit-up brewery at night
Northampton Brewery

Joe’s in Northampton - The lighting is dim and the thin-crust pies are worth the wait at this hole-in-the-wall pizza joint.

Northampton Brewery in Northampton - Lagers, ales, and IPAs made right on site, plus burgers and delish pub grub (crunchy Thai salad, brussel sprouts with chipotle mayo). If the weather is good, grab a seat in the beer garden.

Global bites

Left: Indian dishes; Right: Sushi chef working
India House (L), Moshi Moshi (R)

La Veracruzana in Northampton - Authentic Mexican food in a casual grab-and-go setting (you can even get margaritas to go). A fan favorite: the Enchiladas de Domingo with a chipotle and beer-spiked salsa borracha.

India House in Northampton - The first time I ever tried Indian food was at this homey restaurant decorated with Jaipuri artwork and brass inlaid tables and owned by a husband and wife team. It’s still just as good.

Moshi Moshi in Northampton - Sushi and other Japanese favorites, from udon to yakitori, plus a few Korean treats like bulgogi and barbecued short ribs.

Date night

Left: spaghetti and meatballs; Right: Patrons sitting at restaurant and tray of food
Homestead (L), Paul & Elizabeth’s (R)

Homestead in Northampton - This intimate Italian bistro is known for its locally sourced ingredients, a rotating seasonal menu, and handmade pasta. “It’s the most interesting food in Northampton right now,” says Liz.

Paul & Elizabeth’s in Northampton - A family-run pescatarian and vegetarian restaurant rooted in macrobiotic cooking and Japanese training. “No visit to Northampton is complete without a visit to this lovely restaurant,” says Jessica.

Spoleto in Northampton - A time-honored Tuscan mainstay that was one of my favorite splurges in college. When the weather is good, there are outdoor dining and live music.

Drinks

Three cocktails atop a wooden bar
The Tunnel Bar

The Tunnel Bar in Northampton - Buzzfeed called this moody spot the top bar to “drink at before you die.” It’s carved out of an old pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks in Northampton’s historic Union Station.

The Dirty Truth in Northampton - A craft beer and wine bar with a made-from-scratch menu that highlights local suppliers and producers. Don’t miss the beer-pairing dinners.

Sweets

Left: sprinkle-covered cone with three scoops of ice cream; Right: Slice of pie
Herrell’s (L), Florence Pie Bar (R)

Herrell’s in Northampton - I think I gained most of my freshman 15 at Herrell’s, thanks to the homemade ice cream made right on site. Choose your toppings and the staff will do a “smoosh-in,” blending the ingredients right into the ice cream.

Hungry Ghost Bread in Northampton - An artisanal bread shop with a wood-fired oven. “Try the banana cream tart or the cookies, which are out of this world,” says Ilana.

Florence Pie Bar in Florence - “You can get savory pies, sweet pies, coffee with your pie, wine with your pie,” says Jessica. “The food is delicious and the culture is charming.”

Other food experiences

Stacked wooden crates of vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and kale
Grow Food Northampton

Grow Food Northampton - This group hosts wildly popular markets in every season, showcasing local farmers and producers. In winter, the market is held on Saturdays at 67 Conz Street; in mid-April, it moves behind Thornes Marketplace and is filled with farmers, pizza booths, live bands, and more.

Pioneer Valley Food Tours - Local chef Deborah Christakos runs cool trips around the Pioneer Valley, from beer-and-wine biking expeditions to tastings in downtown Northampton.

What to do

Outdoors

Two kayakers on water
Adventure East

According to Outside Magazine, the Northampton area has some of the best road cycling in the Northeast, but that's just one of the many ways to enjoy nature.

Biking - Myriad bike-friendly trails give visitors endless places to cycle, including the Mass Central Rail Trail (which follows the former Boston & Maine Railroad and takes you past farmland and over the Connecticut River) and the Manhan Rail Trail (a six-mile path extending from downtown Northampton). Rent a bike from Northampton Bicycle or check out ValleyBike, a local sharing program.

Hiking - There’s so much great hiking and walking in the area, from Smith College — which is like a living arboretum — to local mountains like Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom to the trails listed above, which welcome walkers as well as cyclists.

Bird watching - “The Meadows Conservation Area is a giant farmland by the Connecticut river that is beautiful for walking and bird watching,” says Liz Karney.

Adventures - Whether you want to kayak on the Connecticut River or take a guided hiking or biking trip, it’s likely that Adventure East, a new outfitter, can make it happen.

Arts and culture

Left: Sculpture with buildings in background; Right: Patrons lined up outside at night
Art on the Smith College campus (L), Academy of Music (R)

Northampton’s cultural roots run deep. In fact, the legendary opera singer Jenny Lind (often called the “Swedish Nightingale”) lived here in the 19th century and performed at the Academy of Music. “She called Northampton the ‘paradise of America’ and gave the city one of its nicknames: Paradise City,” says Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra.

Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton - An astonishing collection spanning from antiquity to the present with iconic works of art. “The college has been quite mindful of representing women artists and artists of diverse identities,” says Jessica Nicoll. A tip: Be sure to take a bathroom break. “They were designed by artists and feel like installations,” says Jessica.

Smith College Botanic Garden in Northampton - Stop and smell the flowers at this Frederick Law Olmsted-designed space, which will transport you to a tropical garden far away.

Academy of Music in Northampton - The first municipally owned theater in the nation has hosted all kinds of performers over the years, from film star Mae West to illusionist Harry Houdini. “It’s a fantastic place to see world-renowned groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo,” says Jessica.

Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum in Northampton - “If you’ve ever visited a presidential library, this is a surprise: It’s in a small room at the local library (which is a beautiful building), but it’s fun to visit,” says Jessica.

Hestia Mural in Northampton - “This fantastic mural downtown was painted in 1980 by a group called the Hestia Art Collective and shows the history of women dating back to 1600,” says Jessica.

David Ruggles Center in Florence - “This is the place to learn about the underground railroad in this area,” says Jessica. Here, you can also get maps for local walking tours, from an African American heritage tour to a women’s history tour.

Shopping

Two leather woven chairs with brick wall in background
Sticks & Bricks

Many of Noho’s coolest spots are run by fearless women. “It’s a community filled with independent women doing amazing things and risking so much to pursue our dreams,” says Amy Cahillane, a Smithie who is now the executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association, a group that works on everything from advocacy to beautification.

Sticks & Bricks in Northampton - Liz Karney’s cutting-edge store features furniture that she designs and builds, as well as work by other local artists.

Forest Flowers in Northampton - Owner Marisa Filippone has a unique, creative eye for floral designs and also likes to showcase works by local artists.

Kestrel in Northampton - “It’s an inspired homewares shop with lovely jewelry and plants,” says Liz.

Thornes Marketplace in Northampton - This mini-mall in an 1873 dry goods store is a Noho cornerstone, filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques, food shops, and more.

Webs America’s Yarn Store in Northampton - “For anyone who is a knitter or into fiber arts, this is a Mecca,” says Jessica. “It’s the largest yarn store in the country.”

Pinch in Northampton - A pottery store that has so much more than pottery, with designs from local artists and makers.

Ananda Khalsa Jewelry in Northampton - Exquisite gemstone jewelry inspired by nature. The tattooed designer, Ananda Khalsa, works with her mom, who runs the front of the store.

Broadside Bookshop in Northampton - “We have so many small local bookstores and Broadside Bookshop on Main Street is one of the best,” says Jessica.

Laura Begley Bloom
Laura Begley Bloom is a travel expert and content strategist who writes for a wide range of magazines and websites and appears regularly on television outlets ranging from the Weather Channel to CNN. Journalism is part of Laura's heritage. Her great great grandfather was a Civil War correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. You can learn more about Laura on laurabegleybloom.com.
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