A dreamy New England getaway with family is possible just an hour west of Boston! For my birthday weekend, I had the opportunity to explore the area around Southbridge, Massachusetts, and I officially declare it a hidden gem. Here are tips on where to stay, eat, and play in the area.
Where to stay: The Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center (click for rates and availability) is the winner for convenience and comfort, and what a fascinating story it has! The hotel is housed in the refurbished former building of American Optical: the famed company that pioneered glasses manufacturing in the U.S. (including spectacles for John F. Kennedy), and innovations such as fiberoptic cables, night-vision goggles, and laser sights.
When American Optical closed, the building lay fallow until the late 1990s, when it was fully refurbished and turned into a Department of Defense training center! (Surprised?) Of the hotel’s 200 rooms, only 8 were open to the public… until now. In 2014, the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center shifted its contract and became a full hotel, with ALL of its rooms and facilities open to people like you and me.
The Southbridge Hotel is spacious and sunlight-filled, and has amenities ranging from multiple restaurants, to a pool, to a fitness center. I also loved the level of service. Not only did the staff leave us a fancy cheese plate (good for my pregnant belly‘s midnight cravings), but when they found out it was my birthday, they also left us a cake!
The Southbridge Hotel is a perfect place to stay in the area, not just because it’s so pleasant, but also because it’s within a 5 to 18-minute drive of the eateries and attractions I’m about to relate. Proceed with caution if you’re hungry…
Where to eat: We had some fabulous meals around Southbridge. The first restaurant we tried, located less than 15 minutes from the hotel in Sturbridge, MA, was called The Duck, and featured locally-sourced yummies in a converted barn setting. When we visited, there was a live band playing Billy Joel, and Devi danced up a storm… the cutest storm ever.
Though my husband Colin is a supposed “vegetarian,” he makes an exception for grass-fed, local food (and also zany snacks in China like chicken feet, but that’s another story), so at The Duck, he ordered the most massive steak I’ve ever seen, pictured below. He ate the whole thing!!!
Moving on. For coffee lovers, there’s an exceptional spot right in Southbridge called Sturbridge Coffee Roasters. It features coffee so artisanal and scrumptious that rumor has it some people come all the way from New York to sample it! A chat with the charismatic owner, Elvis, is worth the trip alone.
Finally, the highlight of our eating around Southbridge was B.T.’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge, MA. This is barbecue so amazing that it has been named in the top 100 BBQ restaurants of the United States! Our meal (pictured below) was out of this world… and fed us for two whole days! YUM.
Where to play: Of course, the #1 attraction of this region is Old Sturbridge Village, the wonderful living museum of 1800s New England. This spot is so unmissable that I wrote a whole other article about it. Read about and see beautiful photos of OSV by clicking here.
Next, we found the Southbridge Optical Museum (right near Sturbridge Coffee Roasters) to be an unexpectedly fascinating spot. Before touring this museum, I never realized what huge contributions American Optical made to our world’s technology.
On a less historical and more hilarious note, one highlight of the Optical Museum was the pair of novelty glasses that visitors such as my handsome son are allowed to try on. Doesn’t Devi look chic? Work it, baby!
Talk about hidden gems, I can’t believe I’d never before heard of the final attraction I’m about to share. Bigelow Hollow State Park, Connecticut, is less than 20 minutes from the Southbridge Hotel, and just over an hour from Boston, and it is now one of my favorite parks that I’ve ever been to!
Bigelow Hollow is ideal for families, as there is an inviting picnic table area facing the sparkling lake pictured above, and the trails are easy enough for young kids or a jogging stroller, while still feeling completely immersed in nature. Just check out these idyllic photos from our hike…
In closing, if you’re seeking an easy, affordable, and delicious weekend getaway close to Boston, set your sights on the Southbridge and Sturbridge, Massachusetts area. Do report back what other great spots I missed in this article, and if you know the area well, tell me what additional tips you’d add!
Let me leave you with a glimpse into traveling with a toddler: A photo of Devi running away from us in the hotel lobby, gleefully pushing a luggage cart marked, “Do not let children play with this cart.” Sigh!
We were guests of the Southbridge Hotel, but all opinions and BBQ scarfing are my own.