Best. Summer. Ever. 27 Ways to Fall in Love with New England All Over Again

new england summer 0

Make a splash at Bartlett Falls, in Bristol, Vermont. / Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants

We won’t be modest: It’s pretty much impossible to top summer in New England. We have miles of pristine coastline. Gorgeous mountains. The freshest seafood. Excellent ice cream, too. Arts? Culture? Sports? Yes, yes, and yes, to all of the above. But these pastimes are just a springboard to the region’s many hidden wonders. From next-level adventures and essential eats to quirky, nowhere-but-here experiences, this is your definitive guide to a delightfully offbeat New England summer.

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Edited by Kara Baskin
Photographs by Little Outdoor Giants

new england summer

Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants



Swing from the Treetops at Ramblewild

Set amid more than 1,400 acres of Berkshires wilderness, this “tree-to-tree” aerial park in Lanesborough encourages adults and kids alike to channel their inner Tarzan on eight obstacle courses through the foliage—high wires, zip lines, balancing logs, rope ladders, and more—some as high as 120 feet above solid ground. Ride a suspended kayak across a 140-foot ravine! Skateboard through the canopy! Parking at Good Harbor seems almost tame after this.


new england summer 2

Because nothing says summer like a slice of coal-fired pie from Frank Pepe. / Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants



Hit the Sauce on a New Haven Pizza Crawl

If you’re going to make the pilgrimage to Elm City for those famous crisp, charred pies, you might as well try ’em all. Ahead, our hour-by-hour apizza itinerary.

11 a.m. — Frank Pepe | Start your day on an empty stomach and savor each perfect coal-fired bite of clam and minced garlic. Not breakfast-y enough? Add some of Pepe’s famously smoky bacon on top. 203-865-5762,

1 p.m. — Modern Apizza | After some digestive sightseeing around Wooster Square Park, trek over to Bill Pustari’s temple of New Haven pie. Toppings are king here, as evidenced by Modern’s “Italian Bomb” (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, and garlic). But we recommend a simple anchovy pizza offset by a refreshing Foxon Park white birch soda. 203-776-5306,

4 p.m. — Sally’s Apizza | If the Consiglio family’s tomato pie was good enough for Frank Sinatra, it’ll be good enough for you. Enjoy the same combination that Frank loved: charred dough, herbs, and Sally’s blend of tomatoes. You won’t even miss the mootz (that’s mozzarella to you outsiders). 203-624-5271,

5:30 p.m. — Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop | Time for a sweet interlude. This nearly century-old bakery’s cappuccinos and flaky sfogliatelle are the perfect antidotes to all of that sauce and cheese. 203-772-0380,

7 p.m. — Tony & Lucille’s Little Italy Restaurant | Yeah, we get it. A calzone isn’t a pizza. But Tony Sacco’s burnished half-moons, brimming with ricotta and served with a side of marinara, come shockingly close to challenging the “apizza” at New Haven’s big three. 203-787-1621.

8:45 p.m. — Bar | Just one more pie to go. At this Yalie favorite, the brick oven is gas-powered and mashed potatoes are an essential pizza topping. Angle for a window seat in the Brü Room and people-watch over a house-brewed stout. 203-495-1111,

new england summer 3

Photographs by Little Outdoor Giants



Examine Other People’s Brains

Visit Yale’s Cushing Center to browse an array of medical oddities: Most spectacularly, you’ll find hundreds of human brains, skull specimens, and tumors in paraffin. Just be sure to visit after enjoying your New Haven pizza crawl.



Watch the Boston Pops Fireworks from a Prime Perch

If you’re on a date, you should Swoon at Lederman Park/Charlesbank Playground, for the hush-hush, unobstructed view past the Longfellow Bridge and across from Mass General.

If you’re athletic, you should watch from the water with Paddle Boston, for the opportunity to gaze from your own kayak (or aboard a party canoe for 10).

If you’re craving Instagram followers, you should pose at MIT’s Killian Court, for the area’s most prime skyline backdrops.

If you’re patriotic, you should camp out at Somerville’s Prospect Hill Monument, for the stars and stripes (and fabulous panoramas) at the corner of Munroe and Bigelow streets, where many claim George Washington raised the first U.S. flag.



Score a Growler at Hill Farmstead Brewery

Chances are, you’re not going to find Hill Farmstead at your favorite bottle shop. And unless you stop by Worcester’s Armsby Abbey, you won’t find kegs of Shaun Hill’s Earl stout kicking around. It’s the consequence of producing the best, most-limited-edition beer in the world. So how can you procure these elusive brews? Via a long, sunny journey up through the dirt roads of Greensboro, Vermont. The brewery’s crowd is a veritable U.N. conference, with tourists mingling from as far away as Australia, all hoping for a sip of perfection.


new england summer 4

Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants



Paddle in Thoreau’s Wake

In the summer of 1839, Henry David Thoreau and his brother John dropped a skiff in the Sudbury River and spent the next week navigating the Concord and Merrimack rivers all the way up to Hooksett, New Hampshire. These days, it’s still possible to retrace much of the route that the great transcendentalist forged. For authenticity, start at the corner of Main and Thoreau streets in Concord and find a spot to plunge your canoe or kayak into the Sudbury River. Odds are good you won’t make it all the way to the Granite State, but you’ll still find inspiration aplenty.

new england summer 5

Photograph by Roland Hopkins



Grab the Brass Ring on Oak Bluffs’ Flying Horses Carousel

The brass-ring challenge is banned at most carousels (lunging for that shiny metal disk is considered an insurance risk), but the tradition lives on at the country’s oldest platform carousel. The prize? A free ride, plus bragging rights.




Order a Flo’s Hot Dog, Unscathed

On a dusty stretch of Route 1 between the Kittery outlets and the glitz of Kennebunkport lies Flo’s, a drooping hot-dog shanty in Cape Neddick with lines out the door. Travelers gather from miles around to order these relish-laced, steamed dogs—once served by Florence Stacy and now tended by her sassy daughter-in-law, Gail. Remember Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? Gail’s a cheerier version. She makes delectable dogs, but there’s a definite protocol you’ll need to follow when ordering.

  1. Shut the screen door. Do not linger with it wide open while standing in line. You’ll let the bugs in, and you’ll get scolded.
  2. Duck! The roof is low. Anyone over 6 feet should wait outside or prepare to stoop.
  3. Dispatch someone to claim a picnic bench. There are only a few, and there’s nowhere to sit otherwise. Hover like a vulture until those lazy tourists get up.
  4. Name a number. Do not tell Gail about your chosen accoutrements unless you enjoy cold stares. She only wants a quantity—four, six, nine. You’ll give further instructions later.
  5. Inch forward a bit and, when prompted for your toppings, request the special. You want your snappy little dog lined with mayo, Flo’s secret tangy brown relish, and a dash of celery salt. That’s it. Do not inquire about varieties of mustard or sides of French fries. They have chips; that’s it.
  6. Wash it all down with a can of Moxie. Sharp and a bit bitter, the official soft drink of Vacationland makes a perfect pairing.
  7. Order a jar of relish for the road. Pour it on eggs, burgers, fries—you name it. In the dead of winter, you’ll be grateful.
  8. Pay in cash. C’mon, are you from out of town?



Ride the Ogunquit Trolleys

Seasoned Maine vacationers (especially those with squirmy kids) never navigate Ogunquit by car. Instead, they avoid gridlock aboard a charming antique trolley run by the Ogunquit Trolley Company—part of the Shoreline Explorer transportation network, which connects the Maine coast from York to Kennebunk. The trolley names are cute—Molly, Lolly, and so on—and the breeze feels amazing after a long, sweaty beach day. And at $2 per ride, it sure beats parking at Perkins Cove.




Perform at Old Sturbridge Village

It’s more than just an elementary school field trip; it’s your chance to become a star! Yes, it’s true: Old Sturbridge Village, paean to 19th-century America, employs adult volunteer performers. Rehearsals happen all summer long. Ready to churn butter? Here’s how.


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Photograph by Dan Butler


 Connecticut   Vermont 

Rev Your Engine

Ah, there’s nothing like cruising the open road in a convertible, wind in your hair, on a warm day. But your shiny ride can only go so fast on the open road. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, book a lesson with the Racing School, which lets wannabe NASCAR drivers get behind the wheel of a 560-plus-horsepower racecar for a spin around one of three pro tracks in Connecticut and Vermont. After a 45-minute safety and operational primer, you’ll be ready for up to 50 laps of high-octane thrills, all the while maintaining radio contact with your instructor (ride-alongs with the pros are also available). It’s a joy ride with plenty of joy and none of the consequences.


new england summer 7

Photograph by Jason Nobody/Flickr



Walk Gloucester’s Greasy Pole

Where: Pavilion Beach
When: June 24–26
What you’ll need: A bathing suit and the balancing skills of an Olympic gymnast.
What you’ll do: Attempt to walk or run across a 45-foot-long telephone pole that’s slathered in grease and tethered horizontally above the ocean.
Why? Tradition, of course. The first greasy-pole competition dates back to 1931. Now it’s part of the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, which honors the patron saint of fishing.



Soothe Your Soul in the Berkshires

When you crave a retreat from the sand and salt air, head to the land of Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow—but make it offbeat.

Sleep — A country estate right next door to Edith Wharton’s home, Lenox’s Seven Hills Inn transports guests back to the Gilded Age—anyone up for a croquet tournament on the rolling lawn, perhaps? 413-637-0060,

Eat — Visit Lenox’s criminally unheralded Brava for tapas in a dark, cavernous setting, filled to the brim with salty locals and the occasional famous face. 413-637-9171,

Stretch — Stockbridge’s Kripalu is known as an exclusive yoga retreat, but guess what? It’s possible to snag a day pass. Arrive at 6 a.m. for workshops, yoga and dance classes, lectures, sauna time, chanting circles, and three full (and virtuous!) meals—all starting at a manageable $100. 413-448-3152,

Shop — Funkify your surroundings at Great Barrington’s Griffin, a mellow hive of vintage clothing, art, and furniture presided over by Connie Griffin and Paul Giroux, a pair of New York expats. 413-528-5000,

Gawk — Don’t hit the Pike without driving by Tyringham’s Santarella, which looks just like a melting gingerbread house inhabited by hobbits. 413-243-2819,



Zen Out at the New England Peace Pagoda

It turns out the path to enlightenment runs through the foothills of western Massachusetts. Nestled in the woods of Leverett, the New England Peace Pagoda—with its lily-pad-covered pond and kaleidoscope of Tibetan prayer flags strung among the trees—is an idyllic outdoor escape that welcomes everyone, whether you seek an unusual spot for a picnic or nirvana.

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Where’s the bun? Red’s Eats rolls are piled high with sweet, tender lobster meat. / Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants


 Maine   New Hampshire 

Eat These Three Essential Lobster Rolls

Because nothing says summer in New England like a bun overflowing with sweet, mayo- or butter-laced claw and tail meat.

Scarborough, Maine
Bayley’s Lobster Pound

At more than 100 years old, Bayley’s claims to be the first restaurant in the Pine Tree State to sell a lobster roll. And yet they’re still as fresh as can be, with a magical “mayo-to-meat” ratio. Pleasantly uncrusty service, too.


Rye, New Hampshire

This biker hangout on Route 1A offers cocktails in little plastic cups, lobster bisque thick enough to coat a spoon, and a justifiably famous lobster “roll” served on a burger bun, quaking under the weight of heaping mounds of tender meat. Watching even the most wizened Harley rider reduced to glee upon first bite makes the long lines bearable.


Wiscasset, Maine
Red’s Eats

This dainty shack seems like a throwback to another time—a time when people had hours to stand in line for lobster rolls. It’s worth the wait, though, for the meaty chunks of lobster, warm toasted bun, and thimble of butter on the side.


new england summer 8

Photograph by Ooh_Food/Flickr



Find a Perfect Slice of Cape Cod Paradise

If you have kids, visit Skaket Beach, in Orleans, for the calm bayside surf

If you like to explore, visit Old Silver, in Falmouth, for the clear water, tidal pools, and plentiful sandbars.

If you want a scene, visit Nauset, in East Orleans, for the dramatic surf (and surfers), plus a snack bar with good onion rings and even better people-watching.

If you are a history buff, visit Head of the Meadow Beach, in Truro, for the more than 1,000 shipwrecks. In fact, the wreck of the Frances is still visible at low tide. Wear a life preserver?


 Rhode Island 

Swim with Hungry Sharks

Ready to rattle some cages? Spend a day with Snappa Charters Captain Charlie Donilon. He’ll take you 40 miles off the Rhode Island coast before plunking a custom-made dive cage into waters infested with blue sharks. If the conditions are clear, Donilon is happy to let advanced divers swim freely with the stealthy predators. “I’ve had eight people get bit,” he says, assuring us that no one has been hurt and that the nips are just curious sharks “feeling with their teeth.” Not scuba-certified? Donilon’s cage is specially designed so snorkelers can swim on top for a bird’s-eye view.




See Century-Old Motorcars Compete

If your wildest dream is to live out a steampunk version of Mad Max, then the ultimate summer adventure awaits in Stow. Every July, the antique-vehicle-preservation gearheads at the Collings Foundation host the Race of the Century, a two-day vintage-vehicle scrum that’s equal parts Jules Verne and Top Gear. Watch antique cars race horses and buggies, and behold the terrifying wood-and-canvas flying machine that is the Blériot XI.


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Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants


 New Hampshire 

Sleep with a Ghost

Looking for a truly otherworldly getaway? Consider the Omni Mount Washington Resort, in Bretton Woods. Railroad tycoon Joseph Stickney built the regal hotel, and his legacy lives on in the form of his wife, Caroline Foster, who died in 1939 and is rumored to still wander the hallways in Victorian garb. For a close encounter, book Room 314, where some guests have spotted her sitting on the four-poster bed—the very same one she once shared with her husband.


new england summer 12

Photographs by Little Outdoor Giants


 Maine   Massachusetts 

Seek Out a Singular Snack

Jordan Pond House, inside Acadia National Park, is famous for its popovers. A turkey leg from Canterbury Kitchens is a must at Carver’s King Richard’s Faire, which opens before Labor Day. Which is worth the trip?


Anatomy: A salty muffin-shaped roll with a crispy, hollow top.
Historical Bona Fides: Plumping up tourists since 1896.
Portions: A dainty duo with strawberry jam and butter on the side, plus a beverage of your choice.
Ingredients: Eggs, milk, flour, and salt.
Prep: Mixed a day ahead, then poured into muffin tins and baked in a convection oven.
Guilt, in Calories: 150


Anatomy: A thick, meaty monster drumstick, smoked until tender.
Historical Bona Fides: Sustaining wenches since 1982.
Portions: Two husky pounds.
Ingredients: The leg and thigh of a 40-pound adult male turkey.
Prep: Cured in a salt brine and pre-smoked off-site. Baked upon request.
Guilt, in Calories: 1,520.

new england summer 10

Photograph by Rusty Clark


 New Hampshire 

Spend a Cheesy Day at Hampton Beach

So it’s not Nantucket. That’s part of the charm. Here’s your playbook.

9 a.m. — Tuck into breakfast at Ashworth-by-the-Sea’s Wharfside Café (603-926-6762, Omelets, eggs Benedict, and corned-beef hash? All under $10. This is good, because you’ll want to save your pennies for some arcade fun.

11 a.m. — Skeeball is a must at the Playland Arcade (603-926-3831). Many regulars love the rush so much that they’ll simply hand you their tickets after winning. Cash them in for stuffed-animal prizes doled out by gawky teens.

12:30 p.m. — Hit the beach! To avoid crowds, consider driving a few miles north toward Rye; Jenness Beach is less frenzied, and there’s usually parking along the side streets or at meters.

4 p.m. — Hampton might get a bad rap as a land of muscle tees and fried dough, but there’s far more to behold: Ocean Boulevard is lined with magnificent estates and miles of gorgeous, rocky coastline.

6 p.m. — Fuel up for an evening of boulevard-cruising at the Galley Hatch (603-926-6152,, a very civilized restaurant offering pizza and seafood several blocks from the main drag. Entrées come with your choice of side dishes—a pleasantly throwback touch.

8 p.m. — Time for drinks at Bernie’s Beach Bar (603-926-5050, part tiki lounge, part MTV reality show. After a few candy-hued margaritas, you’ll be ready to…

9 p.m. — Hit the strip. Maybe you scored tickets to a show at the storied Casino Ballroom (603-929-4100,, host of such legendary acts as Whitesnake and the Monkees. If not, grab dessert at Blink’s Fry Doe (603-926-8933), known for its long, thin, doughy creations.

new england summer 13

Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants


 Rhode Island 

Be a Lighthouse Keeper

At Narragansett Bay’s Rose Island Lighthouse, near Newport, test your chops at running a lighthouse—raise the flag, track weather patterns, maintain the rainwater-gathering system, and sleep on-site for a cool $2,300 weekly during the high season. The Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation cedes management to caretakers from Sunday to Sunday for an hour per day, or longer if you’re feeling rugged.


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Get ready for the ultimate thrill ride: The Mount Washington Cog Railway ascends the Northeast’s highest peak. / Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants


 New Hampshire 

Ride the World’s First Mountain-Climbing Train

Acrophobes, you’ve been warned: This is not your average railroad. The Mount Washington Cog Railway, in Bretton Woods, chugs up the Northeast’s highest peak at a roller-coaster-like incline, with an average slope of 25 degrees. A national historical engineering landmark, the 146-year-old railway offers three-hour round-trip tours: Book a vintage coach powered by a steam locomotive, or ride an eco-happy biodiesel engine. Once at the summit, you’ll get an hour to literally chill (the peak withstands negative temperatures for more than 65 days each year) and take in the best view in New England. When skies are clear, you’ll enjoy a panorama of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, with a peek toward Canada and the Atlantic.




Dig into the Real Boston Cream Pie

Sure, it’s on every tourist’s list of gimmicky Boston activities, right there next to the duck boats and Quincy Market. But admit it: You’ve never tried the original, either. Get thee to the Omni Parker House, where the oft-imitated, never duplicated Boston cream pie—served at the hotel since 1856, and now Massachusetts’ state dessert—is filled with pastry cream and topped with a swirl of white and semisweet chocolate fondant.



 New Hampshire 

Take a Kid to Story Land

Wanna know a secret? The best amusement park is right in our backyard. Nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Story Land, in Glen, celebrates classic kids’ tales like Alice in Wonderland and Humpty Dumpty. Toddlers can “drive” farm tractors and antique cars and pose at Cinderella’s castle; older children can plunge into the water aboard Bamboo Chutes or ride the Roar-o-Saurus coaster. No endless lines or strobe lights here, just plenty of G-rated charm.


new england summer 16

Photograph by Little Outdoor Giants



Tour a Crumbling Religious Eden

Most of us have snuck into beaches after dark. But have you ever tried to slip into an old religious theme park? It’s never too late: Just take exit 22 off Route 84 in Waterbury and look for the imposing 52-foot-tall cross—lit by roughly 4,500 LED lights—leading the way toward Holy Land USA. The 18-acre attraction opened in 1957, boasting biblical replicas of the Garden of Eden and Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In 1984, it closed and fell into a state of creepy disrepair, quickly turning into a hot spot for teens willing to sneak past the front gates. If a little light trespassing isn’t your speed, you can still visit for free with permission from the two nuns who oversee the property (just knock on the nearby convent’s doors first). Efforts to revitalize and reopen the park are now under way, which means a more ticket-friendly entrance to paradise could be coming soon.

new england summer 15

Photograph by Laura 47/Flickr



Join an Art Rave at Firefly

You don’t need to wait for an engraved invitation from Lord Summerisle to take part in the exuberant art weirdness that is Firefly, New England’s answer to Burning Man. With a little creativity and perseverance (and maybe a little luck), you can stake out your own spot in this counterculture paradise amid the woods of central Vermont.

Find Your Tribe | Make friends with the Boston burner community by attending one of their year-round events, which range from DJ nights to cookie-baking parties. Or take an LED-lighting class at maker-culture temple Artisan’s Asylum, a favorite haunt of Firefly VIPs.

Get Tickets | Roughly 1,000 people converge on Firefly every year—and if you’re going to be one of them, you’ll need to register for the über-competitive ticket lottery. Stuck on the waitlist? One intrepid hacker has coded up a shell script to help you keep tabs on your status.

Join the Caravan | Even though Firefly is held on 90 acres (the exact location is revealed only to ticketholders), parking is limited. Not keen on carpooling with the group hauling pork for the “Bacon, Strippers & Heavy Metal” theme camp? Hop on the bus departing from Boston.

Pack Smart | You’re camping in the forest, so make sure your rucksack is packed with the essentials. Such as: glow-in-the-dark Hula-Hoops, chain-mail bikinis, and, oh yeah, maybe some extra socks and industrial-strength bug repellent.

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