Fun Things to Do With Kids in Hampshire County, Massachusetts!
Just two hours west of Boston and three hours north of New York City, the town of Amherst, Massachusetts snuggles amid rolling hills. Are you seeking a New England getaway destination that’s yummy for kids and adults alike? Read on, because this region brims with delights… and donuts.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Destination 1: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is amazing. It turns out that several high-profile children’s book illustrators have lived in Western Massachusetts, including Eric Carle, the creator of the beloved text, (affiliate link) The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Now there’s a museum to revel in this art!
History of the Eric Carle Museum
In 2002, Carle launched the museum: a light-filled beauty that houses more than 13,000 objects related to the art of picture books. It is the only full-scale museum of its kind in the entire country, and will provide hours of joy for you and your family.
A Hands-On Kids’ Art Center in the Carle Museum
The picture book art that lines the walls of the collections is astounding, but what I love most about the museum is its hands-on kids’ art center, pictured above. The museum frequently provides trained artists to lead crafts projects with visiting youth, usually linked to the works of featured illustrators. Each table hosts different activities, meaning kids can choose what most moves them.
Activities for All Ages at the Picture Book Art Museum
The day I visited I was traveling with my little baby, leaving our 3-year-old at home with his Daddy, but I am definitely popping back to the fun museum soon with Devi in tow. I know the little guy would go wild for the art room. “Mommy, I wanna make a capi-piller!”
The Picture Book Library in the Carle Museum
The museum also has a large library of children’s books, but with a twist: they are organized on the shelf by illustrator, not by author! This must be a refreshing change for the artists who have been second in the literary hierarchy for so long.
During my visit, my 9-month-old was more interested in reading the inside of her eyelids, snoring throughout our trip, but when I return to the museum with Devi I plan to cuddle and read for hours on the library’s cushy sofas.
Eric Carle and the Very Hungry Caterpillar
The story of Eric Carle is a powerful one. Born in 1929, he arrived in the United States from Germany in 1952 with just $40 in his pocket. Now in his late 80s, Carle has sold more than 138 million copies of his 70+ picture books around the world! Of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the most famous title, but Carle has created many more works to love. (Click this affiliate link to see Carle’s full book list.)
My son’s favorite is (affiliate) From Head to Toe because it’s so fun to do the movements while we read. Most people don’t realize that Carle’s bright illustrations are created by hand-painting paper, then cutting and layering those pieces with glue!
(Related note: If you want some fun short illustrated kids’ stories, click that link to see my new site where I give you just that — for free.)
Teacher and Educator Workshops at the Carle Museum
What I find particularly moving is that Carle could have simply bathed solo in his success, but instead, he created the Museum of Picture Book Art — a nonprofit organization, no less — to bring the beauty of illustration to over half a million visitors so far.
The museum also offers frequent performances in its theater, rotating new exhibits, and professional development workshops for educators. (I’m reminded of the famous Fallingwater house in southwestern Pennsylvania, and how it offers lots for teachers as well.) What a great destination for our beloved state the Eric Carle Museum is! But what’s that grumbling tummy sound? Are you getting hungry?
Cider Donuts at Atkins Farms, Amherst
Destination 2: Once you’ve worked up a Hungry Caterpillar-sized appetite ogling all that picture book art, head two minutes away to Atkins Farms Country Market. Started in 1962 from a 1887 apple farm, this large market features groceries, meals, snacks, gifts, and most importantly… apple cider donuts!
Atkins Farms was voted one of the 12 best donuts in the country by Saveur Magazine, and churns out 10,000 delectable O-shaped confections during peak autumn season. Do not miss picking up a donut pack, because they are HEAVEN.
The Yiddish Book Center, Hampshire County
Destination 3: Still got energy? The Yiddish Book Center is just down the street from the Carle Museum, and though we didn’t get a chance to check it out on this visit, it looks excellent.
Mill 180 Park: Indoor Playground in Easthampton, MA
Destination 4: Although it’s a 30-minute drive from Amherst in Easthampton, MA, I simply cannot skip mentioning Mill 180 Park which is a FREE, giant indoor park with mind-blowingly cool activities for kids, plus a cafe for adults! (October 2023 update: Readers are reporting that Mill 180 Park is now sadly closed.)
It is absolutely worth any slight detour to stop by on your Hampshire County adventures. Trust me and check it out.
So Many Fun Kids’ Activities Near Amherst, MA!
I hope these destination tips help create magical fun for you and your family. Massachusetts has so much to offer travelers. Further east there is Old Sturbridge Village and Southbridge, MA. Going west towards the Berkshires, MA, we delight in Mount Greylock, Bash Bish Falls, and even an Alpaca Farm!
I can’t believe, as a lifelong Bostonian, that I am only now discovering the “other side” of my state. What a place!
Hotels near Amherst, MA:
Note: These are affiliate links which provide a small commission at no extra cost to you.
- Two well-reviewed B&Bs in Amherst are the Amherst Inn and Lord Jeffrey Inn.
- The Hadley Courtyard is great for families.
- We enjoyed staying in this hotel in Northampton, 20 minutes away.
So what do YOU think? Have you been to Amherst? Would you like to go? Do share!
Hampshire County Tourism helped make this trip possible, but all opinions and donut obsessions are my own. Affiliates in this article support this site at no extra cost to you. Thanks, and happy travels!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!