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Why Southbridge, MA is a Brilliant Weekend Getaway

A tranquil New England getaway is less than an hour west of Boston.
Want a tranquil mini-vacation in Massachusetts? Read on.

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.

Such great family activities around Central Massachusetts!
Our family had a great time in Central MA! Devi says, “Ooo yes.”

Where to Stay in Southbridge, MA

The Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center is the winner for convenience and comfort, and what a fascinating story it has! (See latest pricing at this affiliate link.)

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.

Southbridge hotel and conference center in the American Optical building
I love how the hotel maintains its historic tower from American Optical.

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 sunny lobby of the Southbridge Hotel.
The sunny lobby of the Southbridge Hotel.
The hotel kept the graceful spiral staircase from American Optical.
The hotel kept the graceful spiral staircase from American Optical.

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!

Central Massachusetts was the perfect birthday trip, and the hotel even left me this cake!
Thanks for this birthday cake, kind hotel!
Scarfing the fancy cheese plate left by our Southbridge Hotel!
Scarfing the fancy cheese plate left by our Southbridge Hotel.

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…

Our inviting Southbridge Hotel room.
Our inviting Southbridge Hotel room.

Where to Eat Near Southbridge, MA

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.

Gazing at a gourd at The Duck restaurant in Sturbridge, MA.
Gazing at a gourd at The Duck restaurant in Sturbridge, MA.

Though my husband Colin is a supposed “vegetarian,” he makes an exception for grass-fed, local food (and also 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!!!

Giant steak in front, baby in back.
Giant steak in front, baby in back.

Coffee in Southbridge, MA

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.

Good coffee, good food, and nature. A perfect vacation.
Good coffee, great food, and nature. A perfect vacation.

BBQ Nearby in Sturbridge, MA

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 — right up there with our Troy, NY fave, Dinosaur BBQ. Our meal (pictured below) was out of this world… and fed us for two whole days. YUM!

BBQ at B.T.'s Smokehouse, Sturbridge, MA
Insanely good BBQ at B.T.’s Smokehouse.

Nearby: Old Sturbridge Village!

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 here of Old Sturbridge Village.

New England is lovely in all seasons, but autumn is my favorite.
New England is lovely in all seasons, but autumn is my favorite.

Southbridge, MA Museum Fun

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. (Enjoy glass? Click to see my giant round-up of functional and beautiful glass around the world! Also check out “21 Cool, Fun Museums” which includes this one.)

Southbridge, MA Optical Museum
The last glass manufactured on site.

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! 

Devi modeling "fantasy frames" at the Optical Museum in Southbridge.
Devi modeling “fantasy frames” at the Optical Museum in Southbridge.

Hiking Near Southbridge, MA

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!

Our picnic spot at Bigelow Hollow State Park, CT.
Our picnic spot at Bigelow Hollow State Park, CT.

Bigelow Hollow State Park, CT

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…

Happy autumn colors in Bigelow Hollow.
Happy autumn colors in Bigelow Hollow.
Don't you feel relaxed just looking at this photo? I loved our hike.
Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at this photo? I loved our hike.
I love the tent-shape formed by these tree branches.
A beautiful tent-shape formed by tree branches.
Like a stoplight: Red, yellow, and green.
Like a stoplight: Red, yellow, and green.
A roof of golden leaves.
A roof of golden leaves.
One of several lakes in the park.
One of several lakes in the park.

In closing, if you’re seeking easy, affordable, and delicious weekend getaways in New England 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!

Sigh... New England is the best.
Swoon… New England is the best.

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!

Devi enjoyed pushing the luggage cart around the soaring lobby.
Traveling with a toddler is a hilarious workout!

We were guests of the Southbridge Hotel, but all opinions and BBQ scarfing are my own.

 

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Mary

Tuesday 16th of July 2019

Margeaux's Deli is another great place to eat in Southbridge!

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 17th of July 2019

Thanks for the tip, Mary! I'll have to try it out!

jon steppic

Tuesday 3rd of November 2015

the best way to see southbridge and surrounding attractions is by bicycle next time stop by southbridge bicycles the fine staff there will usually have someone available to take you on a scenic tour off the area attractions and then some

Lillie

Tuesday 3rd of November 2015

Awesome idea! Next time, bikes!

Mary Gabbett

Saturday 31st of October 2015

Beautiful photos. Those fall colors are amazing! We get some pretty fall foliage up in the North Georgia Mountains, but I think Mass may have us beat. I glad to learn you had a chance to get away.

Meg Jerrard

Friday 30th of October 2015

Sounds like a fabulous family trip! So amazing that the hotel was so thoughtful to get you a cake! I love those small little gestures - really makes the experience great! Happy Birthday! X

Don

Thursday 29th of October 2015

Next time visit the metro bistro. A three minute walk from the hotel. A hidden jewel of French fare. Fantastic

Vanessa Lewis

Friday 30th of October 2015

Hi Don! I've never heard of the Metro Bistro. Where is it located in Southbridge?

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