Small City State of Mind – Northern New England Edition

A lot of times, when people want to go on vacation they are into seeing the biggest and most famous cities, like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco or Atlanta. And to be sure, they are all great places, tons of stuff to do, a lot of people watching, good sports, great food options. But, with that comes the crowds, the lines, the tourists, the expensive hotel rooms….

So, there could be a solution, what about all those little cities that pack a big punch of excitement? There are some gems all over the United States that offer arts, food, nature and some other fun options, all of which can be a bit friendlier on the budget, and provide a more relaxing experience.

As a fan of small cities, in fact, I’ve lived in two, (I’ve also lived in two big cities), I really find they provide some of the best of both worlds, the extra amenities but not all the extra people.

As a part of a new mini-series, I’ll be featuring some great small cities from a variety of sections of the United States. First up, I start local in my native New England. All of these places have some great food options, a bar scene, plenty of arts and of course, nature – hey this is New England after all.

Check out some of these smaller New England cities when you are thinking about your next vacation. Or, if you leave nearby to some of these, think about taking a day trip or a long weekend and see what it’s all about.

Burlington, VT

I might be a little biased, since I lived in Burlington, but it’s such a cool little city, well I guess its the size of a town in many other states, but we’re talking Vermont here. Burlington has got some of it all, first its snuggled right in the middle of some amazing nature.

Church Street Marketplace in Burlington
Church Street Marketplace in Burlington

You’ve got Lake Champlain at your doorstep for boating, fishing, and kayaking. In the winter you’re about 35 minutes from Stowe and Smugglers Notch for some skiing. There is a rail trail that runs through the city and to the surrounding areas, and of course, it has some fantastic hiking nearby. And if you want a daytrip from your vacation, drive less than 2 hours north to Montreal.

Lake Champlain in Vermont
Lake Champlain in Vermont

More into eating and drinking? Then check out the tours at Otter Creek, Magic Hat and Long Trail, all of which are in the surrounding towns. For some good locally sourced food and people watching stroll down Church Street its a pedestrian thoroughfare that is always buzzing with activity. Be sure to swing into some of the local bars, many nights live music is playing. For my two food tips, cheap and easy baby: the meatball sub at Radio Deli and the gravy fries at Nectar’s, that is all you need to know.

Portland, Maine

Some say that Portland is the biggest little foodie town in America, I mean Jesus, even Anthony Bourdian did a No Reservations there! I’m planning on making a pilgrimage there myself this fall to eat the famous fries and milkshakes at Duckfat. Of course, we all know that the seafood in Maine is where it’s at, and more often than not, you can get a fantastic lobster or clam roll at any shack on the side of the road around Portland.

Portland Sea Dogs
Portland Sea Dogs

If you’re there in the summer and fall, check out the Portland Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox AA team for a little bit of baseball on the cheap. You can also check out the Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics Developmental League team who play their home games in the Portland Exposition Center. Or if you are looking to be a bit more involved in the sports, hop out on a half day deep sea fishing tour out of the harbor.

Flashback Exchange Street looking toward Middle Street

Portland also has a great little cobblestoned area called the Old Port. It’s filled with taverns, breweries, restaurants and lots of boutique shopping. You could easily spend at least half a day just wandering around in and out of the shops. Then of course, there is the beautiful ocean views, all in all, not to shabby.

Leave a Reply