Sunsets, Cider, and Lake Monsters: A Guide to Burlington, Vermont
Burlington is on a roll these days. The city continues to win awards and accolades for being one of the best places to live in the country. With a population of just 40,000 people, Burlington is known for being healthy, active, progressive, and a little offbeat. Home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College, Burlington is much more than your average college town. Its outdoorsy vibe, artistic flair, vibrant local food, and scenic setting along Lake Champlain make Vermont’s largest city worth visiting again and again. Plus, it’s a four-hour drive from New York City and Boston (in other words, totally doable)*.
THE ART OF THE CITY
No trip to Burlington is complete without a visit to Church Street Marketplace (Church St.; 802-863-1648; churchstreetmarketplace.com). The city’s brick and cobblestone pedestrian marketplace showcases dozens of restaurants, boutiques, food carts, cafés, and shops. Established in 1981, Church Street is the heart and soul of Burlington, drawing thousands of visitors and locals each year to shop, dine, and stroll.
At the southern end of Church Street, next to City Hall, is the BCA (Burlington City Arts) Center, a former firehouse building now used for rotating local and national exhibitions (135 Church St.; 802-865-7166; burlingtoncityarts.org). Offering free admission, the BCA Center includes two floors of contemporary art exhibitions, as well as music, film, and performance events. The origins of the BCA Center date back to 1981, when outspoken, man-of-the people U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was the mayor of Burlington. One of Sanders’ first acts as mayor was to establish an all-volunteer mayor’s arts council to make arts more accessible to the community. Job well done, Bernie.
A few doors down is the Danforth Pewter retail store (111 Church St.; 802-860-7135; danforthpewter.com), which showcases elegant and colorful handcrafted pewter items. Thomas Danforth II opened a pewter workshop in 1755 in colonial Connecticut, and 220 years later, his great-great-great-great-great grandson, Fred Danforth, continued the tradition by opening Danforth Pewter in Vermont. (Talk about keeping it in the family.) But this is not your grandmother’s pewter; Danforth uses lead-free pewter to create classic, contemporary, and even whimsical items.
To complete your exploration of Vermont artists, stop by Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center (85 Church St.; 802-863-6458; froghollow.org). The gallery features the work of dozens of juried Vermont photographers, woodworkers, weavers, glassblowers, potters, and painters in a bright, inviting space. Frog Hollow has been in Vermont for more than 40 years and was named the first state craft center in the nation in 1975, making it a must-visit for local creativity.
LEAVE YOUR FLANNEL AT THE DOOR
When you think of Vermont, chic fashion doesn’t usually come to mind — unless you’re Rachel Strules, owner of Sweet Lady Jane (40 Church St.; 802-862-8051; sweetladyjane.biz). Strules is always searching for the latest styles and trends, which means her merchandise is always fresh, hip, and ever-changing. The store, one of the best boutiques in Vermont, is stocked with designer handbags, jeans, tops, and accessories from Free People, Emu, Hobo and French Connection. Nearby, Sweet Lady Jane’s sister store, Trinket (32-1/2 Church St.; 802-861-3035; trinket-vermont.com), sells handbags, shoes, belts, and jewelry, making it a (nearly) one-stop shop for high fashion.
EAT AND DRINK LIKE A LOCAL
Vermont is famous for its craft beers, but hard cider is quickly becoming another favorite libation in the Green Mountain State. Some of the tastiest hard ciders around are made by Citizen Cider (316 Pine St., Suite 114; 802-497-1987; citizencider.com) Founded in 2011, Citizen Cider opened its Pine Street location in Burlington earlier this year, complete with a tasting bar, food menu, and plenty of seating. Hard ciders with names like The Full Nelson, Northern Spy, and The Dirty Mayor are sold on tap, by the bottle, or growler. (An apple a day, right?) Of course, we must remind: Please designate one sober Zipster for the drive home.
Laptops in coffee shops are so passé. Earlier this year, August First Bakery & Café (149 South Champlain St.; 802-540-0060; augustfirstvt.com) received national attention for deciding to be a laptop- and tablet-free café — and business is booming. Located in a converted garage, August First is a local favorite for breakfast, lunch, and a good ol’ cup of coffee. For breakfast, try the egg, spinach, tomato, and cheese sandwich. At lunch, order the roasted sesame chicken bowl, complete with broccoli and sweet potatoes. No matter the meal, put your computer away and enjoy some delicious, hearty food.
In search of a farm-to-table restaurant serving grass-fed burgers, tasty cuisine, and craft beer? Look no further than The Farmhouse Tap & Grill (160 Bank St.; 802-859-0888; farmhousetg.com). The restaurant, once a humble McDonald’s, uses ingredients from a wide range of Vermont farmers and food producers. Depending on the season, about two thirds of their food is grown, raised, and produced in Vermont. Year-round, the Farmhouse offers two dozen beers on tap from Vermont and around the world — and no McNuggets in sight.
Care for some culture with your cuisine? Burlington’s Pine Street is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with art galleries, shops, and restaurants popping up in this former industrial area in the city’s South End. ArtsRiot (400 Pine St.; 802-540-0406; artsriot.com) is part concert venue, part event space, part bar and restaurant. (In the warmer months, ArtsRiot hosts a popular outdoor food truck night on Fridays.) The former industrial warehouse space is just enough off the beaten path where you can grab a cheeseburger and hand-cut fries, enjoy a hard cider or craft beer, hear some live music, and truly feel like a local.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Lake Champlain is 120 miles long, 400 feet deep, and sometimes called the nation's “sixth great lake” (who knew?). The lake is even deep enough to harbor its own legendary creature, “Champ,” Vermont’s own Loch Ness monster. It’s also home to one of the world’s oldest coral reefs and hundreds of species of fish and plants. The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center (One College St.; 802- 864-1848; echovermont.org) is where you can get a close-up look at lake sturgeon, channel catfish, American eels, long-nose gar, and 15 frog species from six continents. Located on the Burlington Waterfront, ECHO is also where you’ll learn about the 300 historic shipwrecks sitting at the bottom of Lake Champlain (Champ, did you do that?). Be sure to head up to the third floor and enjoy exceptional views of the lake and the Adirondack Mountains to the west. If it’s a sunny day, stick around for the best sunset ever.
*You get 180 free miles a day through Zipcar, so a three-day weekend would cover the mileage for this trip!