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Old 04-05-2014, 07:48 AM
 
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Hey all.... I will be travelling up to Western Mass with my girlfriend in early May for a graduation at UMass Amherst. A good friend of mine lives in Northampton, and while I can rely on his good advice, I'd like some other input on things to see and do in the area. This trip has a dual role for me, as I would like to get a good feel for the area towns as a possible relocation spot in a year or two (We are both nurses and I imagine would try to get jobs at Baystate or Cooley Dickerson). I'd like to walk some of the town centers and get a coffee, craft beers, listen to some music, stuff like that. We are both big on local small businesses and try to avoid big box stores when possible.

Thanks for your help, I've read around a bit, and there are some very insightful people on this board.
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Old 04-05-2014, 10:06 AM
 
Location: North Quabbin, MA
802 posts, read 976,134 times
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Originally Posted by Loque View Post
Hey all.... I will be travelling up to Western Mass with my girlfriend in early May for a graduation at UMass Amherst. A good friend of mine lives in Northampton, and while I can rely on his good advice, I'd like some other input on things to see and do in the area. This trip has a dual role for me, as I would like to get a good feel for the area towns as a possible relocation spot in a year or two (We are both nurses and I imagine would try to get jobs at Baystate or Cooley Dickerson). I'd like to walk some of the town centers and get a coffee, craft beers, listen to some music, stuff like that. We are both big on local small businesses and try to avoid big box stores when possible.

Thanks for your help, I've read around a bit, and there are some very insightful people on this board.
Well you're coming to the right place for great town centers! Northampton is the "urban" core of the Valley, while several other towns have great town centers in their own right. These include Amherst, Easthampton, and Greenfield, as the other sizeable downtowns, along with Brattleboro VT forming the northern outpost of the "Happy Valley." Shelburne Falls is a very quaint and tiny but vibrant town center as well, while Turners Falls is another small center, rougher around the edges but just starting to really come into its own too.

For a quick weekend sampler, I'd suggest walking around downtown Northampton to get a feel for the hub of the valley. Coffee shops? Northampton Coffee has the best quality IMO, but Haymarket has the best atmosphere and has been around the longest. The Roost is a good spot too. Craft beer? Check out Northampton Brewery for brewed-on-site, or Sierra Grille, McLadden's, or Hinge, for great tap lists - Dirty Truth too for beer, way overrated in my mind but good if you want to gauge the hardened Noho hipster atmosphere paired with outrageous prices. Music? Iron Horse Entertainment Group (Iron Horse Entertainment Group : Main -) has the monopoly on most venues in town - Iron Horse is the classic music hall for traveling folk and indie bands, Calvin Theatre hosts any big names that come to town, Pearl Street Nightclub gets harder rock acts and more of a genre variety. The truly local bands avoid IHEG venues because they're a profit-driven group that doesn't typically bother promoting them. The Parlor Room is a great new BYOB performance space that seats only about 50, and features mostly singer-songwriters, folk, and bluegrass, though occasional rock too, and is free of IHEG's icy grip. To find the truly local bands, it's a little harder now because The Elevens closed, and that was the go-to venue for local rock and indie bands - it seems like they've relocated to Florence, a separate part of Northampton, to the 13th Floor Music Lounge, 13th Floor Music Lounge. The Flywheel in Easthampton provides a non-profit arts space for DIY performances, there's a Thursday night music series at Sierra Grille, and there's the occasional show at Feeding Tube Records too. Great restaurants abound in Northampton too, some personal favorites being India House, Local Burger, Eastside Grille, Sierra Grille, Mulino's, or go check out the greasy old utterly classic Joe's Pizzeria, one of the last of the old Northampton spots from its down-n-out days before it became all hip and pricy.

Other highlights in the Valley, outside Northampton, are:

Downtown Amherst - overrun by college students but has some good coffee shops (Amherst Coffee, Rao's), bookstores (Amherst Books; Food For Thought), restaurants (from burritos and pizza slices to fancy and gourmet, like Chez Albert), the Valley's last independent/art film cinema at Amherst Cinema, and plenty of craft beer at two great brewpubs, The High Horse or Amherst Brewing Company, or the fantastic beer bar The Moan and Dove (BYO food!), a couple miles south of downtown. Hadley is kind of a desert strip mall strung along Route 9 separating Amherst and Northampton, but a new arcade-themed bar, The Quarters, recently opened and it's pretty awesome.

Montague Bookmill, a postcard perfect used bookstore and cafe perched above a waterfall, in the middle of nowhere in Montague Center, 20 minutes north of Amherst & Northampton ("Books you don't need in a place you can't find.")

Downtown Greenfield (20 min north of Northampton) - a great mix of bookstores, restaurants, and cafes, one of America's last independent downtown department stores at Wilson's (strange and retro but interesting), and food highlights that include The Brass Buckle for creative and delicious breakfast/brunch/lunch, Thai Food at Hattapon's, or The People's Pint brewpub, among many others - also it's not overrun by college students, they hardly know it exists, instead it's overrun by an earthy mix of all ages of crunchy middle to affluent class "Happy Valley" people rubbing shoulders with lots of down-and-out folks because it's mostly an old has-been factory town at its core, with little employment opportunity these days. It's a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic, but worth a stop to observe what a somewhat thriving downtown can look like that values local business and all that, but is still pretty affordable and not totally gentrified and propped up by Smith College and transplanted New Yorkers, like Northampton is. Turners Falls too is an interesting old factory town next to Greenfield, with similar but more extreme Jekyll/Hyde thing going on, lots of arts happenings for a very small place, several new great eateries, and is worth a quick stop, but probably not during a quick weekend.

If you want quaint and tucked away, Shelburne Falls (30 min from Northampton) is a beautiful village with cafes and galleries, a big waterfall on the Deerfield River above "glacial potholes", and offers easy access to aimless drives around some of Massachusetts most stunningly beautiful countryside in the surrounding Hilltowns like Colrain, Shelburne, Buckland, and Ashfield.

Also, for the classic views of the Valley, take a ride up Mount Skinner, Mount Tom, or Mount Sugarloaf for magnificent panoramic views of Massachusetts' agricultural bread basket, threaded through by the meandering Connecticut River and marred only by the hideous phallic library skyscraper and concrete 1970s abominations of UMass. UMass is a fine school, but I've often heard its physical homeliness described as "a desert in the middle of an oasis." True statement - such a beautiful region, such an ugly campus!

Easthampton I haven't gone over yet as I don't get there much, but my sense is that it's becoming more vibrant than ever with a slew of refurbished old mill buildings, great bars and eateries, three breweries about to open, and a stable and always evolving local art scene.

This only scratches the surface, as the region is probably Massachusetts' least-known yet extremely high quality of life oasis outside Boston. I've chosen to live in Orange, a forgotten and pretty downtrodden outpost town north of the Quabbin, primarily so I can quickly access the chain-store wasteland of the Twin Cities (Fitchburg & Leominster) in Central MA where I work, yet I can still quickly get out to the Valley to enjoy thoughtful civilization after work sometimes or on weekends. Western Mass is a hard place to leave behind, though many of us have to because it's hard to find a job. Enjoy your visit!

Last edited by FCMA; 04-05-2014 at 10:18 AM..
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Old 04-05-2014, 01:01 PM
 
Location: too far from the sea
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FCMA has said it best, as usual.

You should walk down Main St in Northampton, eat at some place that catches your eye, and look around in the shops.

In Amherst it's really overrun with students but, if you can get in, Judie's is a fantastic unforgettable place to eat. Brunch, lunch, dinner--anything, anytime.

There's not much to see in Easthampton if you're only in the area for a short time because it's mainly residential. For living, it's somewhat cheaper than the other towns though.

A drive down beautiful rte 47 in Hadley will take you to Skinner Park on top of Mt Tom where you can look out over the entire valley. That's well worth doing if it's a nice day.

Of course my very favorite place of all is Historic Deerfield, up rte 5/10 to the north, but that's if you have spare time and an interest in New England history. It's gorgeous there. Deerfield and S. Deerfield are beautiful anyway just for a drive.

You might want to look at some areas near Northampton like Leeds, Florence, or Williamsburg by just driving around. The Florence Diner is fun and it's authentic. Another fun diner is the Blue Bonnet, authentic.

It's pretty expensive around that area due to the influx of New Yorkers with lots of money and people live as far away as Greenfield just to work in Northampton. and Amherst. If you were to work at Baystate you could live further south in a somewhat cheaper town in a more conventional type of area.
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Old 04-05-2014, 01:06 PM
 
46 posts, read 83,483 times
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Wow, the amount of awesomeness your post is hard to quantify. Thank you so very much. I was excited to visit before, but now I def am looking forward to it. Cheers
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Old 04-05-2014, 01:35 PM
 
46 posts, read 83,483 times
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Originally Posted by in_newengland View Post
FCMA has said it best, as usual.

It's pretty expensive around that area due to the influx of New Yorkers with lots of money and people live as far away as Greenfield just to work in Northampton. and Amherst. If you were to work at Baystate you could live further south in a somewhat cheaper town in a more conventional type of area.
Thanks for your help. Both you and FCMA have swayed me too check out Greenfield also, I really enjoy history.

I have heard that Northampton in general is expensive. Where would you consider living if you wanted a safe and at least semi-walkable place close to Baystate? I have heard as a general standard that Springfield and the surrounding areas are less than desirable.
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Old 04-05-2014, 01:56 PM
 
Location: Sneads Ferry, NC
11,277 posts, read 19,833,664 times
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Originally Posted by Loque View Post
I have heard that Northampton in general is expensive. Where would you consider living if you wanted a safe and at least semi-walkable place close to Baystate? I have heard as a general standard that Springfield and the surrounding areas are less than desirable.
I would suggest Easthampton. It is quite safe, reasonably walkable and less expensive than Northampton. Parts of town have a nice view of Mt Tom.
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Old 04-05-2014, 03:37 PM
 
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Impressive post FCMA. I will reference this next time I head out that way!
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Old 04-05-2014, 07:01 PM
 
Location: too far from the sea
19,912 posts, read 18,921,677 times
Reputation: 33861
Quote:
Originally Posted by Loque View Post
Thanks for your help. Both you and FCMA have swayed me too check out Greenfield also, I really enjoy history.

I have heard that Northampton in general is expensive. Where would you consider living if you wanted a safe and at least semi-walkable place close to Baystate? I have heard as a general standard that Springfield and the surrounding areas are less than desirable.
I lived in Easthampton and if you live toward the southern part, you just take rte 141 over the mountain and you can get to rte 91 to work at Baystate. Lots of cute little houses in that area near the mountain. The town itself improved a lot after they got a great mayor about 15 years ago who made positive changes and now they have their second mayor. It's not a fancy town but it's livable. Some areas are still run down but there are old factory buildings now called East Works that have been rehabbed with shops and galleries.

You have a grocery store in Easthampton and one in Southampton right on the town line so you don't have to drive all the way to Northampton for food. Southampton is more rural and expensive and not as accessible to anything.

You wouldn't want to live in Springfield or Holyoke--they were nice at one time, not anymore. There are suburbs that are nice though, some like Longmeadow are very upscale, and there are places like Agawam or West Springfield that are probably pretty cheap but not close to much of anything very interesting. That area of towns around Springfield is pretty boring and plain residential.

If you work at Cooley Dickinson it wouldn't matter where in Easthampton you live--I lived about a 10 minute drive from Smith College and had easy access to rte 9 (Main St) in Northampton.

I really wouldn't recommend Greenfield. It's been trying to make a comeback since...whenever the Tap & Die went out of business, decades ago. It just never does make it. There is an earthy side to it but there is also a seedy homeless type side to it. I don't think it's changed much since the '50s--which is good in some ways but it can be depressing and backwards.
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Old 04-07-2014, 01:28 PM
 
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If this is not too late, the Norman Rockwell museum was a great take. Loved it. Was actually a house of his I believe and either in Great Barrington, or Stockbridge. (I thought it was Great Barrington, but googled it). Great Barrington was another neat little town to tour around.
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Old 04-07-2014, 01:35 PM
 
46 posts, read 83,483 times
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Originally Posted by Bob Lanata View Post
If this is not too late, the Norman Rockwell museum was a great take. Loved it. Was actually a house of his I believe and either in Great Barrington, or Stockbridge. (I thought it was Great Barrington, but googled it). Great Barrington was another neat little town to tour around.
Thanks for the advice, that doesn't seem to far so maybe we will check it out.
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