By Jess Wisloski
More than skiing, biking or even pausing to take in beautiful panoramas, Vermonters have a longstanding tradition that often goes unnoticed: Town-hopping. The bucolic downtowns and sweet side streets that pepper the countryside can make a languid Sunday afternoon something like a spectacular way to squander a day. Here’s our roundup of the top places in the area for a great four-hour jaunt. Go get lost in these places, but first, read some suggestions on where to eat and what to do when you get there.
Burlington – Downtown
What to do: While Church Street continues to draw shoppers, the waterfront walking path, which you can get to by way of the free College Street shuttle, is a beautiful, breezy retreat and there’s plenty of unique scenery to enjoy, including sailboats going to and from the sailing center and the slick moves of skaters at the new skate park. Perkins Pier, on the southern side of the marina area, has plenty of benches and marvelous sunsets, too.
Breakfast: Magnolia Bistro has a large menu and is vegan-friendly; Mirabelle’s is the place for pastry-lovers. Henry’s Diner is also a local favorite.
Lunch: Burlington Bay Market is good for snacking down at the waterfront; Leunig’s blends French bistro style cuisine with farm-to-table freshness; Red Onion on Church Street is the quintessential Vermont sandwich shop.
Watch for: The Saturday Farmers’ Market takes over not only City Hall Park, but the side streets, as well. If you love the crowd, it’s not to be missed, but if a quieter jaunt is what you like, come to town after 2 p.m. those days.
Burlington – South End
What to do: This stretch of town could be called a junker’s paradise: Pine Street hosts a number of shops that celebrate reuse and unique finds: ReSOURCE, a salvage center; Recycle North, for refurbished goods; Barge Canal Market is filled with vintage goods; Speaking Volumes for books and records; Conant Metal & Light artfully rehabs found objects; The Lighting Shop re-envisions classic works and BTV Flea is a bazaar of various crafters/finders. Visit SEABA, the South End Arts & Business Association, for a map and guidance or enjoy liquid lunch at the breweries: Zero Gravity, Switchback, Queen City Brewery and Citizen Cider.
Breakfast: The Spot is uniquely Hawaiian, with a fun and funky surfer vibe and ample portions, and Citizen Cider brunches have gained a following for the family-style feel at giant, communal tables.
Lunch: Four Corners of the World is easily missed, but the sandwiches are unforgettable, imbued with international flavors in each bite. Quick breakfasts or slow lunches can be found at the two wildly different bagel makers: Feldman’s Bagels, doing traditional New York bagels complete with whitefish and bialys, and Myer’s Bagels, a longstanding shop offering wood-fired Montreal-style bagels.
Watch for: The South End Art Hop, each fall, a sprawling, multi-day event with public art and performances on the streets and open studios.
What to do: The small, adorable and historic walking district has surprises around every corner, from the Shelburne Craft School with classes in stained glass or wood-turning to the Shelburne Country Store, which sells equally perfect local crafts, essentials and creemees. Enjoy the green on a Saturday, when the small-town Farmers’ Market brings out varied crafters, as well as farmers selling their wares. Or meander through the Shelburne Museum for a historically recreated village or its massive collections of Impressionists’ work, American art, folk art and more.
Breakfast: The Inn at Shelburne Farms is worth it for the views and waterside walk alone, and has world-class spreads, but reservations are usually needed. Rustic Roots, a boutique breakfast-only joint, is great for a cosmopolitan sit-down experience, and for small bites, Village Wine and Coffee has pastries and coffee fit for a connoisseur.
Lunch: Harrington’s serves up wonderful sandwiches and desserts, while both Barkeater’s and Cucina Antica have more formal fare. For casual fare, head to Archie’s Grill on Rt. 7.
Watch for: Apple-picking season is beautiful at Shelburne Orchards. The trip goes well with a tasting at the Shelburne Vineyards — which has outdoor concerts — or dinner at Folino’s Pizza with a Fiddlehead brew from next door.
What to do: The walkable Stowe Village Historic District makes it easy to park and mosey through the quaint downtown and window shop or dine. Pick up the Stowe Recreation Path behind the Community Church for a walk or ride that twists over and around the Little River’s West Branch, and don’t miss the eclectic sculptures along the way.
Breakfast: PK Coffee is new, but has a big fan base already; Flannel is known for the brilliant mountain views. Travel back in time for buffet brunch at the Trapp Family Lodge.
Lunch: Green Goddess is great for diverse country-kitchen style sit-down meals with emphasis on sandwiches and salads; Idletyme Brewing Company for the gastropub types; and Edelweiss Mountain Deli is a sure win for the quick sandwich and fresh ingredients.
Watch for: The Stowe Foliage Arts Festival in early October brings the most beauty Vermont has to offer together in one place; another fun day trip is the short but steep Stowe Pinnacle hiking trail, which at three hours total, offers breathtaking views.
What to do: Still sometimes called the Speedway, the traffic circle in Winooski has made walking around and enjoying the streetscape relatively easy — and leads Main Street walkers to a pile of parking in the garage across from Rotary Park. While construction continues, it’s worth it to visit the “Brooklyn” of Burlington for the world-class eateries and riverside walk, the Champlain Mill Path.
Breakfast: Sneakers is the legacy brunch spot and it opens early on weekends; Waterworks Food & Drink, renovated and reopened after many years, is great for late-breakfast dining.
Lunch: Feeling adventurous? Misery Loves Company, a James Beard-nominated restaurant, does a late Sunday brunch that coincides with the Sunday Farmers’ Market, and also has happy hour service. Tiny Thai is a local favorite, and Spice Traders Kitchen, up Route 2, makes superb banh mi sandwiches. Vegans can enjoy a full menu of tasty offerings at Pingala Café, across the river from the Champlain Mill at 1 Mill Street.
Watch for: Waking Windows, a three-day music festival in the spring, and the massive, illuminated pumpkin display next to the police station every Halloween.
Both the campus of Middlebury College and the friendly and fun-filled downtown make this place a wonderful day tripping spot. Follow Maple Street to the Marble Works, a business district within a former mill — especially on Saturdays, when the Farmers’ Market is bustling. Otherwise, it’s a great place to eat lunch on the river or take a break from gallery-hopping.
Breakfast: Hungry Mind Cafe is a favorite of students and professors, and muffins are the way to go.
Lunch: Storm Cafe, located right over Otter Creek, has gorgeous views; American Flatbread is a town favorite; and Noonie’s Deli makes an artful sandwich down in the Marble Works district.
Watch for: The chili festival in March has become a statewide draw, and the town goes all out in decorating through the December holidays.
Both the state capitol and Barre, one of the earliest migration centers in the state, are worth visiting for the attractions, and have walking centers ripe for exploration, as well. Montpelier’s State Street is an active corridor filled with both intriguing shops and historic buildings. The granite sculptures at the Hope Cemetery are world-class; brochures for self-guided tours can be found at Studio Place Arts, a three-story visual arts center in Barre.
Breakfast: Philamena’s does Italian brunches and Kismet features farm-to-table American in Montpelier, while Espresso Bueno is a beloved coffee shop in Barre.
Lunch: In Montpelier, North Branch Cafe is a gem for light fare and tea service; Mad Taco nails it at truly authentic-tasting tacos (and is worth the wait if there’s a line), while Pinky’s on State is a stealth winner for sandwiches. In Barre, the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen has become a local staple.
Watch for: Montpelier’s First Night, on New Year’s Eve, still attracts some top-notch acts, and the Vermont Historical Society has ongoing events in Barre.