You’ve checked into your dorm and met your roommate, scoped out the campus and located the halls where you’ll have your first classes. It’s time to get off campus and explore this new place called the Pioneer Valley where you’ll likely be spending the next four years or so.
Here in the Valley, aka the Happy Valley, you’ll find excellent food, lots of music, craft beer, inventive art, and some very fun people. The following is a guide to where you can find the best local places for eats, shopping, and day-to-day life stuff. The list is derived, in part, from the Valley Advocate’s 2016 Best Of the Valley Readers Poll, a survey in which readers write-in their favorite businesses in 160-plus categories. The rest of the suggestions come from the funky minds of Advocate staffers.
Do not miss hiking Mt. Sugarloaf in Deerfield. With a breathtaking view of the Connecticut River Valley, Mt. Sugarloaf with its picnicking areas and hiking trails is an excellent day trip for nature lovers. It’s also a fine example of the Valley’s geological history and the summit is accessible by car. The area also boasts the Yankee Candle flagship store, also in Deerfield. Just keep driving Interstate 91 until your nostrils get a snoot full of Mango Lavender Chocolatey Afternoon Breeze Sunset and you know you’re there. We kid, though. Despite the huge store containing thousands of scented candles — in addition to a year-round Christmas shop, fudge, and country-style home decor — the company is adept at keeping the delightful aromas inside and pretty mellow. Also, the Summit House at Skinner State Park in Hadley has an amazing view. Stanley Park in Westfield is the perfect place to bring your kid, and Robinson State Park in Agawam is nicefor just disappearing into nature for a bit.
A little further west, you’ve got to hit up Tanglewood in Lenox, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — which is probably not your go-to band when planning to attend an outside concert, but well worth it. And in the summer, the orchestra performs reworked pop music and movie theme songs. MASS MoCA in North Adams is a must-see. The modern art museum features stunning works guaranteed to inspire and get your mind thinking along new lines. And while you’re in the area, check out the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. The museum features classic artworks from famous artists across the globe.
You’re in Massachusetts now, but the Bay State doesn’t own all the fun things to do in the area. Brattleboro in southern Vermont is a funky paradise. A center for arts and entertainment, Brattleboro’s downtown bustles with life, thanks to growing crowds flocking to some of the town’s amazing venues and festivals, including the 1930s Art Deco Latchis Theatre, the Hooker-Dunham Theater, Brattleboro Music Center, the Vermont Jazz Center, and the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, plus monthly gallery art walks. If you like skiing, Mt. Snow in West Dover isn’t a far drive.
Ready to rock? Great. Go here: Iron Horse Music Hall, an oldie, but a goodie; The Parlor Room at Signature Sounds, a cool new venue on the rise, both of Northampton; or Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton. The Waterfront Tavern in Holyoke and Maximum Capacity in Chicopee are always good to hit up on the weekends for a rock/metal show and sometimes a dance party. The 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence has a more intimate, underground style. There’s also Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls, The Rendezvous in Turners Falls, Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, The Bing and the MassMutual Center both in Springfield, The Arts Block in Greenfield, Bishop’s and The Pines of Northampton.
Where the locals drink: Amy’s Place and The Brass Cat in Easthampton, Packards and Joe’s Pizza in Northampton, The Ale House and Max’s Tavern in Springfield, and The Pizza Shoppe in East Longmeadow. Best bars for tap beer selection include: The Dirty Truth and McLadden’s in Northampton, The Lighthouse in Longmeadow, Kaptain Jimmy’s in Agawam, and The Moan & Dove in Amherst. I hate to say this, but Hooters in West Springfield also has a really good beer selection. It does, however, come with a suffocating slathering of degradation.
Where are you going to get the sweetest, softest T-shirts around? Not in a mall, not at Walmart, and not at a merch tent: they’re at the thrift store. Used clothing or vintage thread shops are abundant in the Valley, and luckily for people who like to dig deep for hot finds and steep discounts, the folks donating have got style. If you haven’t been to one before, hit up the Salvation Army, with locations in Holyoke, Greenfield, Springfield, Pittsfield, Hadley, and Westfield. Bonus: money spent in the stores also helps fund adult rehabilitation centers for those who have lost the ability to provide for themselves. Other awesome thrift shops include Cancer Connection in Northampton, and Goodwill with locations in Springfield, Westfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke. The Agawam Flea Market on Sundays is also a lot of fun and full of hidden vintage gems.
Have you really had the college experience if you haven’t gotten a tattoo or piercing? Of course, but for many people, decorating themselves with personal art is a much anticipated and considered part of going to college. In the area, we’ve got some excellent parlors with great reputations.
Off The Map Tattoo in Easthampton has its regular artists as well as an ever-changing roster of guest inkers. The shop emphasizes education by producing and presenting classes, conferences, discussion panels, and international events for tattoo artists and enthusiasts, both in-person and online. Lucky’s Tattoo & Piercing on Main Street in Northampton has been a downtown staple since the ’90s. And the artists’ work, like the shop, stand the test of time. Haven Body Arts Piercing & Tattoo, also on Main in Northampton, features an insane collection of body jewelry. Nitemare Tattoo in Westfield boasts a couple of the coolest, most talented tattoo dudes in the area.
Get your hair right. The Lift in Easthampton has a huge following and it has a lot to do with how the stylists keep on top of trends and pamper their clients. Salon 241 on Main Street in Northampton and Salon 180 in Easthampton also have reps for sweet cuts. There’s also Salon 322 in Feeding Hills that people rant and rave over.
For many, perfectly polished nails are a must — anything else just drives us crazy, amiright? Peter’s Nails in Hadley consistently wins best place for nails in the Advocate’s Best Of Readers Poll. Kristy’s Nails on Damon Road in Northampton and Brooks & Butterfield, also in Noho, are often recommended as well. Some things are better the second time around, or at least that’s the philosophy at these wonderfully picky consignment shops. Urban Exchange in Northampton, Cinderelli’s in South Hadley and New 2 You in Sunderland all provide their shoppers with quality products, over quantity, and their wares are on point.
Uh-oh. If you need to get yourself medical care — quick — here are the top urgent care facilities our readers recommend: AEIOU Urgent Care on University Drive in Amherst, On Call Urgent Care on Hatfield Street and Baystate Urgent Care on King Street, both of Northampton. Doctors Express Urgent Care in West Springfield is a good spot to get fixed up as well.
Sore? Get a rub down with a therapeutic massage specialist at Elements Hot Tub Spa in Amherst or The Healing Zone in Hadley. Pioneer Valley Pain Relief Therapies, also of Hadley, is also well regarded.
If you’re looking for treatment outside the mainstream, many people in the Valley have good things to say about Clinic Alternative Medicine in Northampton, which provides acupuncture, massage, reiki, homeopathy, dream work, shamanism, and herbal medicine. There is also a retail space, with products curated by the practitioners. Northampton Wellness Associates and Greenfield Community Acupuncture are also great places to get your alternative heal on.
You are what you eat; that’s about as literal statement as you can get. The caf is tasty, sure, but for an extra dose of healthy fare, check out River Valley Co-op on North King and Cornucopia on Main streets in Northampton. There’s also the good-food mecca, Whole Foods, in Hadley. Choice Health in the Westfield Shops is a candy store for your alternative medicine needs, as well as Herbarium in the center of Chicopee.
Not everyone has a car at college, so if you’re one of the lucky ones with wheels you’ll need to know where to get tuned and/or fixed up — and with any luck, the bill will be less than a semester’s tuition.
Here are some places recommended by area readers that have great reputations for giving it to the customers straight.
For anything from an oil change to an alternator replacement, Full Tilt Auto Body in Easthampton has got it covered. A major service the shop provides is dealing with the insurance companies so that customers don’t have to be bothered with the experience. Also in Easthampton are E.S.P. Auto on Pleasant Street and Ed’s Auto Body and Repair on Mechanic Street offering quality car care. Outside of Easthampton there’s Pelham Auto in Belchertown and ACME Automotive in Northampton. When it’s time for new tires or to get a flat fixed you can head to a Town Fair Tire, but the most highly recommended one in the area is on King Street in Northampton, Pete’s Tire Barn, which also has good prices. In Greenfield, Tire Warehouse has got rubbers for your car.
And if you don’t have a car yet, but are in the market to buy one, Valley people recommend the following used car dealers: Nicky D’s in Easthampton, Pleasant Journey in Northampton, and Country Nissan in Hadley.
Sure, you could go to Barnes and Noble or order your books online, but it feels a whole lot better to support local booksellers who are truly doing the Lord’s work by promoting local authors and keeping literature a lively part of the community by hosting poetry slams, workshops, and readings with exciting authors. In the Valley, we have a good selection of indie booksellers including Broadside Bookshop and Raven Used Books, both of Northampton; The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, a pillar of the local literary community; Grey Matter Books in Hadley, Red Brick Books in Springfield and World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield.
If ethical shopping is something you pride yourself on, head down to Ten Thousand Villages in Northampton — the place that has been doing fair trade before there was even a name for it back in the ’50s. The longtime Northampton staple sells artisanal crafts from around the globe at fair trade prices that help sustain the artists. The store often has jewelry, scarves, art, ceramics, watches, and glassware you can’t find anywhere else without getting on an airplane.
Did you join a band yet? Want to but you’re missing a guitar string, drum head, or instrument? The Valley’s got your jamming needs covered. Musical instrument shops that have been serving the area’s musicians with stellar service and pitch-perfect pieces include Downtown Sounds in Northampton, Gerry’s Music Shop in South Hadley, Falcetti Music in Springfield, and Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton, which in addition to fixing up and selling classically awesome guitars, at night also hosts the most get-down-iest acoustic sets around.
By the time you’re reading this, five more vape shops have probably opened in Western Mass. Smokeless tobacco has taken off in the Valley. Indie shops mixing their own juices and providing aficionado-level vaping services include The Enthusiast in Greenfield, which also sells marijuana supplies; Jim Buddy’s Vape Shop in Chicopee; Gorilla Vapes in Westfield; and Voltage Vape Shop on State Street in Springfield.
Sex is great, especially when it’s extra sexy. Liven up your bedroom — or wherever it is you get down — by checking out some of these shops: Gazebo on Center Street in Northampton is an independent lingerie store that has been giving women undergarments that fit their bodies just right for 38 years. Check out Oh My! Sensuality Shop in Northampton for a porn and sex toy shopping experience geared toward comfort and education. If you want something completely familiar, there’s a Victoria’s Secret in Holyoke. Adam & Eve in Greenfield and Bookends in Enfield are independent lingerie-and-more shops selling dildos, vibrators, butt plugs, porn, lube, silk ropes, latex, and so on. The nice thing about these places: just like with Gazebo, the independent stores have been around for about 40 years or more each — the staff know what’s up.
You know how it takes forever to figure out where you and your mates want to eat? Yeah, just pick a restaurant off this list. You’re welcome.
For yummy American fare: Paul and Elizabeth’s in Northampton’s been doing farm-to-table since before it was cool. The restaurant, which overlooks downtown, is especially well known for its fish and vegetarian dishes. The family-owned eatery works with BerkShore, a Holyoke-based company that connects restaurants with small-batch fishermen.
Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland is a romantic, upscale restaurant that delivers on the promise of excellent food. The Alvah Stone in Montague is a drive, but the staff’s attention to detail and the restaurant’s incredible dam view sets it apart. Center Square Grill in East Longmeadow has fine dining and deliciously creative cocktails. Coco & The Cellar Bar in Easthampton is a chic restaurant that has the best damn fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Seriously, you can’t get that shit without a reservation — even on a Tuesday.
Ginger Garden in Amherst is authentic Chinese cuisine. The spices used at the eatery alone are hard to get — they have to be specially shipped. The establishment boasts a new sushi chef hailing from a Michelin-star restaurant in Manhattan. The Great Wall in Florence is beloved by the community and Oriental Flavor in Amherst is a favorite among the late-night crowd.
About 80 percent of the items on the menu of the upscale Hadley eatery Alina’s Ristorante are family recipes, mainly traditional Italian dishes. Mulino’s Italian Restaurant in Northampton produces classic Italian dishes with a modern twist. Don’t know what to get? Order the Pappardelle Bolognese, aka Italy in a pan. It’s prosciutto, beef, pork and garlic sauteed in tomatoes and red wine with bright oregano. Spoleto in Northampton also serves up some great Italian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere. Parthenon in Agawam has yummy American/Italian comfort food and Figaro’s, with locations in Enfield, Connecticut, and Springfield, is legendary.
If you ask anyone who has been in Northampton for a while where to get good Japanese food, they’ll probably mention Osaka Japanese Restaurant on Old South Street in Northampton. The fusion kitchen has been killing it for decades. And if fish sushi isn’t your thing, you’ve got to try their tasty veggie sushi platter. Also they’ve got a small, charming outdoor eating area that’s worth a visit. Moshi Moshi Japanese Restaurant on Main Street in Northampton has a fun and celebratory atmosphere. Sit at the sushi bar and dish with ebullient Chef Sam. If you order the “Sam I Am” roll, the chef will make you something unique and unbelievably wonderful on the spot. K’s in Westfield is also awesome.
Thai Garden in Northampton has a great table at the front window and supremely excellent Thai food. Get the tamarind duck and thank us later. Also wonderful are Thai Blue Ginger in Greenfield and Siam Square, also in Northampton.
Sometimes all you want is some good grub, you know, like Mom used to make. For that, you’ve got to hit up one of the area’s excellent diners. First up, a pillar of local history: Bluebonnet Diner on King Street in Northampton originally opened in 1950 and is open every day, except Sunday, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can’t miss the iconic Miss Florence Diner, the neon sign will see to that. The Main Street (Florence) restaurant has been slinging sandwiches, eggs, and hash for so long, they’ve got it down to a science.
Got a sweet tooth? Sate it at La Fiorentina Pastry Shop in Springfield and Northampton, Cerrato’s Pastry Shop in West Springfield, Glazed in Amherst and Northampton, Tart and Woodstar, both of Northampton, Old San Juan Bakery in Holyoke or Koffee Kup Bakery or Mercolino’s Bakery, both of Springfield.
Breakfast often comes with eggs, cheese, maple syrup, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, fresh bread, muffins, bagels, et. al. so, yeah, it’s the best meal of the day. Get a good base going at Sylvester’s in Northampton. After 33 years of business on Pleasant Street, Sylvester’s and breakfast go together like bacon and eggs — organic eggs, to be precise. Jake’s, also of Northampton, is another great breakfast place. Located next to the Calvin Theater, Jake’s serves up plate-sized pancakes and stone cut oats.
Hipster haven The Green Bean on Main Street in Northampton serves top-of-line food that’s also quite ethical. Esselon Café in Hadley is a near guaranteed good time. I say near, because really nothing is perfect, but Esselon comes so close. The food is great, the atmosphere is chill, the coffee is supreme, and the outdoor eating area makes you feel like you’re munching in the Secret Garden.
If you love burgers you must get yourself to a Local — they’ve got spots in Northampton and Williamsburg. The burgers are made with local, grass-fed, hormone-free beef and hell, yeah, you can taste the juicy difference. Also locally sourced are the restaurants fries and milkshakes. Sam’s Pizzeria and Café in Northampton is known for its delicious and creative pizza — get the Salvadoran with rice and beans and wonderful spices — but the restaurant’s best kept secret is that all of its other foods are equally phenomenal. Of particular delicious interest are their brownies — best in the Valley, according to Advocate staff — and smoothies. And, if you’ve been on a campus in Hampshire County for more than five minutes, you’ve probably heard of Antonio’s, an excellent NY-style pizzeria with funky toppings. They’ve got locations in Easthampton and Amherst. In Springfield Peppa’s, Primo’s, and Red Rose are at the top of the pizza food chain.
No Pioneer Valley guide of any kind would be complete without a section telling you where to get the best BBQ and ribs: Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, Wildwood Barbeque in Hadley, and Theodores’ Blues, Booze and BBQ. Order the Burnt Ends for an app — they’re the most tender pieces of Theodores’ legendary brisket. Wish I was eating it right now. This place isn’t BBQ, but it’s outstanding and you should go because Chef Wayne isn’t getting any younger and keeps telling us that every time we interview him: Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield is a hidden — I’d say gem, but that doesn’t do this place justice — it’s a hidden diamond coated in other more valuable diamonds, then shot into space turned into a meteorite and shot back to Earth even more bedazzled and valuable than before. The food is stick-to-your-ribs good and succulent. You will lick this plate of Creole soul cuisine clean. It’s BYOB and the chef does a killer brunch. Whenever you decide to go, get there early, it’s a small place on Liberty Street and after 6, there’s going to be a line.
We’ve given you the knowledge you need to make the most out of your time in the Valley. Now get out there and live it!
Contact Kristin Palpini at email@example.com.