Hanging around the house is something we all do, but usually in an unfocused, squished-between-chores-and-obligations sort of way. But when you stay home for vacation, your dwelling can become a sanctuary, free from the day-to-day grind. If you can’t afford to get out of town, treat your home like a resort: stock it with your favorite goodies, splurge a bit on something comfy, and postpone responsibilities for a while. Indulge in the bounty of your own backyard.

In the Pioneer Valley, we’re lucky to have lots of places to go and things to do right here, making local staycations fun, exciting, relaxing, and affordable. For anyone thinking about staying home for vacation, the Advocate has put together this handy guide on how to chill right where you are.

— Kristin Palpini,  editor@valleyadvocate.com

Family Fun

By Kristin Palpini

If you’re doing a staycation with kids, it’s going to be hell without activities: So, get planning. The following are some places to be and things to do with children that are also parent-friendly.

The beach

You don’t have to drive to Cape Cod, New Hampshire, or Connecticut to hit sandy beaches, we’ve got some right here in the Valley. Beaches were made for family fun: there’s nothing out there the kids can break, they can be as loud as they want, and when they get dirty you can just rinse them off in the lake. Here are some chill Valley beaches (entrance fees charged at state parks):

Robinson State Park, Agawam (fee); Burbank Park on Onata Lake, Valentine Road, Pittsfield; Green River Swimming and Recreation Area, Nash’s Mill Road, Greenfield; Windsor Lake, intersection of Bradley Street and Kemp Avenue, North Adams; Chicopee Memorial State Park, Chicopee; Brimfield State Forest and Dean Pond, Brimfield; Lake Mattawa, Lake Mattawa Road, Orange; DAR State Forest, Cape Street, Route 112, Goshen; Puffers Pond, State Street, Amherst; and Musante Beach, Reservoir Road, Leeds.

Music Festivals

Hot air balloons lift off behind a field filled with attendees of the Green River Festival on the campus of Greenfield Community College, Saturday July 11. Recorder/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder/Matt Burkhartt

A music festival might be the last place you’d think to bring your family — they’re basically weekend bacchanals. While mega festies can include long slogs to the stage, high ticket prices, and tiny camp sites, local music festivals are more low-key. And many of them now have kids activities, camping, and music. I recently brought my 5-year-old to Strange Creek, a long-running jam fest in Greenfield, and she says it was the best weekend of her life. It’s not hard to see why: We camped among hundreds of families with kids her age and right next to a jungle gym. Volunteers organized a scavenger hunt, games, and free face painting. Those were all things for the kids, but she also enjoyed what I came for: pigging out on junk food, staying up late dancing to music, and playing around.

Some signs that a festival is family-friendly include: Designated family camping, a schedule of kids activities, features chill music (folk, jam, reggae, genres that attract an older, more mellow crowd), has volunteers working the family area, and a child registration program (usually, involves giving children bracelets with their parent’s contact info on it).

One of the best family-friendly fests coming up is The Green River Fest: July 14-16, Greenfield Community College, Greenfield.

Performers will include Lake Street Dive, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Mavericks, Houndmouth, Funky Meters, and John Brown’s Body.

This year will feature the Next Wave Stage where on Friday night the best local bands with age-18-and-under members will perform. For Friday night only, anyone 18 or under gets in for free. For kids activities there’s the garden arcade, carnival games, a swim shuttle down to the Green River, and hot air balloon rides.

Tickets: Kids 10 and under are free. Single day passes are $34.99-$64.99 each. Camping is $29.99 per day. A weekend pass to all three days of the festival, plus camping, is $169.99.

Playgrounds and Splash Pads

Debora Nieves,5, of Holyoke

Debora Nieves,5, of Holyoke

It’ll be hot and if you’re not into swimming, but your kids are, splash pads next to playgrounds are a good compromise and a low-laid back way to spend an afternoon or two. Here’s a list of some of the best splash pads around with a note if there is an entry fee: Unity Park, Turners Falls; Hillside Park, Greenfield; Look Park, Northampton (fee); Nonotuck Park, Easthampton (fee); Buttery Brook Park, South Hadley; Beachgrounds Park, South Hadley; Pulaski Park, Holyoke; Springdale Park, Holyoke; Szot Park, Chicopee; Forest Park, Springfield (fee); School Street Park, Agawam; Municipal Park, Westfield; Chapman Playground, Westfield; Hampden Memorial Park, Hampden; and The Common, Pittsfield.

Pick-Your-Own & Farmers Markets

Show kids where their food comes from, and pick up some tasty produce for home, at local pick-your-own farms and farmers markets. Farmers markets have expanded. Many of them now include live music, entertainment, crafts, and goodies, as well as produce, locally made products, and veggie starts. You can find options for both at buylocalfood.org.

Pick now: Strawberries at Atlas Farm, River Road, Deerfield; as well as Brown’s Provin Mountain Farm, North West Street, Feeding Hills; Dickinson Farm, South Street, Granby; and Kosinksi Farms, Shaker Road, Westfield.

Mid-July: Blueberries at Jameson’s High Meadow Farm, Skyline Trail, Chester; as well as Art’s Berry Farm, Parker Street, East Longmeadow; and Kosinksi Farms, Shaker Road, Westfield.

Children’s Museums

I don’t always understand the “museum” part of children’s museums — nothing of significance is stored, per se, in the ones I’ve visited. They’re mostly a warehouse of themed play rooms with costumes, and pulleys, and levers, and balls, and blocks, and water toys, and slides, and — they’re just mega awesome, okay? The Valley is home to two exceptional children’s museums.

The Childrens’ Museum at Holyoke, on Dwight Street, is beloved in the area. The long-running, two-story kid fantasy features a floor-to-ceiling “curvy climber,” a bubble table, ambulance and vet clinic, grocery store and kitchen/diner, a TV studio with working cameras, a water table, and more blue foam blocks than you could count. It’s open every day, except Monday and holidays. Admission is $7.50, children age 1 and younger are free. Members go for free; a one year pass for one adult and one kid is $60.

Amelia Park Children’s Museum, on South Broad Street in Westfield, features a toddler zone, construction area, doc’s office, cafe, bank, a giant slide and the best part: An area decked out to look like outer space where kids can grab orange foam balls, stuff them into air-powered cannons and launch them around the room. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission for babies under age one and members is free; for everyone else it’s $7. An adult-child membership costs $60.

Summer Escapes

By Christin Howard

The idea of a staycation is all very well and good, until you find yourself on your third day and all you’ve done is binge watch Netflix. The whole point of a vacation is to escape the humdrum of your daily life right? Escaping routine or stress or pressure or — yikes! — people. These summer escapes can offer you a chance to get out of your comfort zone and try something new with your family, friends or solo.

Northfield Drive-In, Hinsdale, New Hampshire

Ah drive-in theatres — one of the only places where you can watch two movies in a row without feeling guilty about wasting your summer inside. Located just north of the Massachusetts border in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, the Northfield Drive-In is one of only 20 drive-ins left in New England. At Northfield, tickets are $11 for adults, $6 for kids, and you get two back-to-back movies per ticket. They start around 8:30 p.m. , Friday-Sunday, for the season. The theater features new movies and changes its line up frequently. Upcoming shows will include: Despicable Me 3, Transformers: The Last Night, Cars 3, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Bring lawn chairs and blankets, your kids, and even your dogs ( leashed, quiet pets are allowed). Lawn games and your own homemade picnic are welcome, but no grilling. Everything is cash only. There is, of course, a snack bar selling popcorn and burgers. (603) 239-4054, northfielddrivein.com.

Puzzled Escape Games, Easthampton

Taking the theme of “escape” a little more literally, Puzzled Escape Games offers the experience of digging for clues and solving mysterious puzzles to beat the clock and the game! Escape rooms are an interactive adventure game, where a group of people are “locked” in a room and have to solve a multi-step mystery using clues found only in the room in order to “escape,” usually within an hour. Puzzled Escape Games in Easthampton has two mystery puzzle rooms. In the first, a professor of the occult has gone missing, last seen in his study. Mysteriously a coworker, several police officers, and a maid have also gone missing while searching the room. You and your team must find out what happened to them or you too might go missing! In the second game, your trip south of the border has taken a turn for the worse, and you find yourself trapped in a drug kingpin’s secret lair. You must escape in an hour to avoid an unpleasant fate. (Okay, nothing bad is actually going to happen to you if you don’t make it out in a hour, but it’s way more fun to pretend that there is!) You can play with 2-8 people, though the more people the easier it may be to solve the game. To play, it’s $25 per person and it’s recommended you book a puzzle ahead of time. You don’t want to show up and wait an hour for someone else to finish. Though, if you did, Puzzled Escape Games is located in the Eastworks Building, 116 Pleasant St., which has lots of stores and restaurants ato visit. (413) 203-5519, puzzledescapegames.com.

That’s the Spot: Spas

Escape sore muscles with a trip to one of the area’s numerous spas. East Heaven, in Northampton, is a great place to relax in the Pioneer Valley, as it features not only great massages and facials, but also indoor or outdoor private hot tubs. Half hour tubs start at $25 a person. (413) 587-0000, eastheaven.com.

If you are looking for a relaxing massage, but don’t have a lot of money, the Massage School, in Easthampton, has you covered. Advanced students training to be masseurs need willing participants on whom to practice their techniques. For $30 you could be a very happy guinea pig for a full hour. I have gotten several massages from the Massage School, and each one has been excellent. The students are well-trained and take any direction you give them. The only downside is that you’re in a room with several other masseurs and their clients, but for $30I would say it’s well worth it. The Massage school has options for inexpensive student rubdowns on Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. Call for an appointment. (413) 529- 2900, themassageschool.org/clinic.

If you’re looking for a little more than just a massage or a soak, check out the highly-rated Brooks & Butterfield Day Spa in Northampton. Founded in 2001, Brooks & Butterfield has a well-educated staff that is passionate about wellness. (413) 586-0366, brooksandbutterfield.com.

Mind Body Skin spa in West Springfield is another great place to go. This spa offers all the traditional facials and massages, but also includes full body skin/muscle rejuvenation treatments, including mud baths, reiki, and body wraps. (413) 734-7470, mindbodyandskin.com.

Sportsman’s Marina Boat Rental

Jim Brassord of Amherst unties his Little River Heritage 18 rowing skiff from the dock April 11, 2017 at the Sportsman's Marina in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Fla., to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will be opening in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay.

Jim Brassord of Amherst unties his Little River Heritage 18 rowing skiff from the dock April 11, 2017 at the Sportsman’s Marina in Hadley.

Escape the heat with a relaxing day of boating on the Connecticut River with no boat necessary. Sportsman’s Marina Boat Rental Co. in Hadley offers canoe, kayaks, pontoon boats, and even fishing boats for half days (4 hours) or full days (8 hours). Water craft rentals start at $35. Sportsman’s, by the Coolidge Bridge, has its own launch site and staff can offer guidance on the best routes to take on the river depending on your chosen activity. Grab some buds and your sunscreen and enjoy a hot day on a cool river. (413) 584 7141, smihadley.com.

Euphoria Float Spa, Northampton

Float tanks are quickly becoming a new craze, and if you’ve never tried one I can’t recommend it enough. If you haven’t heard of float tanks bear with me. Float tanks, devised in (yes, you guessed it) the late ’60s are pools filled with exactly body-temperature water with an extremely high salt-content. This means that it is effortless to float on the water, some people even say they enjoy sleeping in it! You can choose to keep the lights on or off. With the water at exactly your body temperature, and the salt keeping you buoyant without effort you will experience the sense of absolute weightlessness. It is one of the most relaxing sensations imaginable, and you can use the time to meditate or just relax. There are also many physical benefits to the experience as floating is perhaps one of the only times you can experience absolutely no strain or pressure on any part of your body. I was skeptical when I first tried a float, especially because I’m usually a bit of the restless and claustrophobic type. I didn’t expect just how weightless I would feel, and once I shut off the lights I couldn’t even tell I was in a small space. I have always had trouble meditating, but with the aid of weightlessness, darkness and relaxing music, I found it no trouble at all. When I got out I was totally blissed-out and my body felt stretched and rejuvenated. The float center in Northampton also offers facials and skin care services if you would like to extend the relaxation. Floats start at $65 for 60 minutes. (413) 586- 8086, euphoriafloat.com.


By Chris Goudreau

The great outdoors — a majestic beauty that has been captured in poems and songs since the dawn of recorded history. Why sit inside all day and binge watch your favorite crime drama when you could spend your staycation out in the glorious bounty of nature?

Hiking Trail Adventures

Whether you’re up for a quick jaunt through the woods or out to climb a steep rocky trail, there are plenty of places to go hiking that will satiate your inner mountain man or woman. In South Deerfield, there’s Sugarloaf Mountain with a picturesque view of the Connecticut River from its two summits and 500 acres of parkland to explore. Mount Tom State Reservation in Holyoke offers 22 miles of hiking trails and towards the base of the mountain, there’s Lake Bray for fishing, canoeing, or just having an afternoon picnic beside the calm waters. In Greenfield, one of the most distinct locations is the Poet’s Seat Tower, a sandstone observation constructed more than 100 years ago that looks like it should have been built in the Middle Ages. The tower gets its name from local 19th century poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, who was inspired to write by the breathtaking view from this historical and epic landmark.

Flowers, Flowers, and Flowers

This garden of flowers is an iconic part of the historic Shelburne Falls village. It began as a trolley bridge in 1908 and was transformed into a garden about 20 years alter. In the early 1980s, after years of neglect, more than 500  individuals, businesses, and organizations contributed to the campaign to restore the garden. Every plant, tree, and shrub was removed from the bridge and cared for in private gardens during the restoration project.  Today, you’ll find hundreds of flowers along the bridge spanning the length of the sleepy Deerfield River. Depending on what time of year you visit the bridge, you’ll likely see different types of flowering plants in bloom. In the second half of June, there’s perennials such as goatsbeard, plume flower, bellflower, mountain bluet, foxglove, and honeysuckle as well as shrubs like azaleas and kousa dogwoods and Japanese snowball trees. What better way to enjoy the outdoors than taking the time to stop and smell the flowers. bridgeofflowersmass.org.

Extreme Outdoor Fun Times

The Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort in Charlemont is where extreme love of outdoor activities is commonplace. There’s white water rafting on the Deerfield River, kayaking, rock climbing, and ziplining. There are 11 ziplines at Zoar Outdoor that give you an aerial canopy tour of the region during a three-hour trek that features two sky bridges and three rappels. There are packages for weekend long excursions and lodging at one of the cabins at the resort. zoaroutdoor.com. Looking for adventure higher in the sky? Look no further than Misty River Ballooning in Florence. It’s a three-hour hot air balloon ride across the Pioneer Valley. Riders float quietly above the Connecticut River and, on a clear day, you can see the vast expanse of mountains extending into Vermont and New Hampshire. mistyriverballooning.com.

A Camping We Will Go

The smell of marshmallows roasting on an open fire, a pitch black sky covered in a blanket of stars, and being curled up in a sleeping bag as the early morning rays of the sun illuminate your tent’s interior. These are some of the joys of camping and there’s plenty of campgrounds in the Pioneer Valley at which to spend a night or two camping. There’s the DAR State Forest in Goshen with 51 wooded camping sites, and two lakes for swimming or just spending a lazy afternoon basking in the warm sun. In Monson, there’s Sunsetview Farm Camping Area, which is a lot less wilderness and more oriented towards family fun whether that means playing shuffleboard, horseshoe, basketball, volleyball, or triumphantly defeating your opponent and boasting about your victory at the campground’s indoor video game arcade. And at a moment’s notice, you could also be hiking the trails, going for a dip in the swimming pond, or taking a hot shower after all that wholesome camping goodness.

Cycling the Trails

You want to ride your bike from Hadley to Belchertown, no sweat. The Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail is an 11-mile long paved trail for walking, running, jogging, speedwalking, or, of course, biking. The trail opened in 1992 and it’s part of an even larger cycling trail called the Mass Central Rail Trail, which is anticipated  to span 100 miles across the state once completed. However, right now, you’ll have to be content with the Norwottuck Trail. Want to ride across a county in Massachusetts? There’s the Franklin County Bikeway, which covers 240 miles across Franklin County. Much of the bike network consists of shared roadway sections with low amounts of vehicle traffic, but after all, traveling a scenic byway surrounded by wooded mountainous roads and a clear blue sky are all part of the charm.

In Hampden County there are shorter, but no less gorgeous trails: Southwick Rail Trail, 7.1 miles in Westfield; Redstone Rail Trail, 1.4 miles in East Longmeadow; Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway, 5.4 miles in Springfield; and the Chicopee River Canal Rail Trail, 0.21 miles in Chicopee.

Staycation Eats

By Chris Goudreau

During  your staycation you might be tempted to  make the same old stuff at home for dinner. But think about it for a second: If you were traveling on vacation would you be cooking dinner or would you be feasting and letting someone else do the dishes? Why not explore your own backyard? Treat yourself.

Jumbo Culinary Curiosities

In Chicopee, one of the most distinctive restaurants is Bernie’s Dining Depot. It’s a former passenger train converted into a restaurant that serves up jumbo steaks the size of your head. It’s homestyle cooking at Bernie’s, whether you’re ordering prime rib, a French meat pie with gravy, or the baked meatloaf.

In Agawam, you can order a cold cut grinder made from an entire Italian loaf of bread and filled to the brim with your choice of deli meats at Pajer Superette. It’s an old school Italian market where you can find desserts, pasta, and other food selections straight from The Boot. Just a head’s up though, Pajer’s is cash only.

If you want a behemoth slice of pizza that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, look no further than Mimmo’s Pizza in downtown Northampton. The combinations are the really interesting thing about Mimmo’s. Want a pesto bacon chicken pizza? No problem.

Perogies, Galumpkis, Kielbasa, Oh My!

The Pioneer Valley has a deep Polish heritage. There’s even a Polish Center of Discovery and Learning based in Chicopee. With that cultural imprint on the region comes one of the great perks — Polish food. In Westfield, there’s Janik’s Pierogi Cafe. The restaurant makes traditional Polish food fresh. The perogies are made daily. You can order a bowl of borshch with meat dumplings, a foot-long kielbasa dog loaded with sauerkraut and mustard, or indulge in the “Polish Plate” — a hearty combination of Polish classics such as pierogi, kielbasa, and the cabbage roll golabek. Hanna’s Diner & Deli Shoppe in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield also dishes out Eastern European food that includes goulash stew, Vienna schnitzel, fresh bread, and Polish pastries.

But if you really want to gorge on Polish delights, you’ve got to hit Chicopee where Polish food reigns supreme. Great Polish eateries to check out include: The Collegian Court on Park Street, Pulaski Hall on Norman Street, Bernat’s Polish Meat Products on Meadow Street; Gawron Rudy & Sons, on Fuller Road, The Polish National Home Cafe on Cabot Street, and Chicopee Provision, Co., on Sitarz Avenue.

Underrated Asian Food

Chinese takeout food doesn’t represent the full gamut of Asian culinary dishes, folks. There’s plenty of local Korean, Thai, authentic Chinese, and Vietnamese restaurants that can broaden your food horizons. In Hadley, there’s Gohyang Korean Restaurant, where you can order a kimchi pancake and sing a round of karaoke. Next is Pho Saigon in Springfield where the traditional Vietnamese soup is king. Pho is a hearty soup typically served with noodles, herbs, poultry, beef, or tofu that comes with a hefty portion of bean sprouts and a slice of lime. Besides the pho, you can order other dishes such as sugarcane shrimp or durian ice cream for dessert. When you see the rickshaw in the front window, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Pho Saigon. Thai Blue Ginger in Greenfield brings a bite of Thailand with its “Spicy Seafood Madness” dish served with peanut sauce as well as its pan fried menu items such as the wild boar basil, beef macadamia, or the ever wonderful pad thai classic.

Please, Sir, I Want Some More

Kevin Gutting photo

The buffet. Is there any better way to embrace gluttony without a care in the world? In Northampton, Bombay Royale has one of the best Indian lunch buffets in the Pioneer Valley. From chicken tikka masala simmered in a red tomato sauce to endless gulab jamun (a sweet honeyed dough ball that melts in your mouth), it’s hard to pass up Bombay Royale’s buffet. Another great Indian buffet is Pintu’s Indian Palace in West Springfield, which offers its own unique takes on staple dishes from the subcontinent. Sakura Buffet in Northampton is all-you-can-eat sushi and Chinese/Japanese fare right on King Street.

The Art of Fancy Dining

Why not kick it up a notch and dine in a fine restaurant during your staycation? There’s Alina’s Restaurant in Hadley for fine Italian dining entrees such as carne saltimbocca — your choice of meat, layered and rolled with fresh garlic, spinach, sage, provolone, and prosciutto, and finished with roasted red peppers and Chianti wine sauce. At The Federal Restaurant in Agawam, do partake in the “pallet of meats,” which includes wild boar sopressata salami, duck prosciutto, and 18-month prosciutto di parma. You can even order a bucket of risotto balls with fresh black truffle butter and snipped chives. Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland was named the Valley Advocate’s Best of 2017 for romantic dining and this upscale restaurant with its intimate seating and a warm inviting fireplace offers menu items that are locally sourced.

Being A Western Mass Tourist

By Dave Eisenstadter

Real New Yorkers don’t visit the Statue of Liberty, so they say. Why bother? It’s always right there. We, too, have our own tourist destinations often taken for granted by the residents here. Staycations offer a chance to become a tourist and check out the famous sites of Western Mass (or “West Mass” if you’re a real tourist).


The Boston Pops performs at Tanglewood in Lenox. Wikimedia Commons image

The Boston Pops performs at Tanglewood in Lenox. Wikimedia Commons image

I went once for a recording of the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. I’d long heard about Tanglewood, and it really is an amazing campus dedicated to classical music and other live events. The place has a vibe somewhere between the Smithsonian on the National Mall and that band camp your parents shipped you off to in middle school. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s famous “summer home” has a vast lawn where people can relax and eat before the start of evening performances. There are performances you probably expect to see, like the July 7 opening night concert featuring Mozart and Mahler, and some you might not, like a Boston Pops performance of the music of E.T. on Aug. 25. Get there early, as Lenox fills to the brim with traffic during popular Tanglewood shows. And remember while you’re waiting that those 50 cars in front of you are full of devotees of the arts, just like you. The performance I saw was in the “music shed,” a misnomer because the “shed” seats more than 5,000 people. Don’t despair if you’re not close to the stage, however. Live cameras zoom in on what the performers are doing and display them on screen. bso.org.

Six Flags New England

I am intrigued by this roller coaster Six Flags in Agawam calls “The Joker (TM).” The Joker (TM) is a 4D ride. What is the fourth D? Probably dizziness or disorientation. The ride uses “onboard magnetic technology” in order to determine where you will go, whether you go upside down once, twice, or eight times, according to the website. Six Flags has thrill rides, but also family and kids rides, Looney Toons characters that walk around, magic shows, and a percussion band that uses trash cans and buckets ( the Trash Tones). Maybe you went there as a kid and can relive your misspent youth. Maybe your parents never took you and this can be your sweet revenge. $66 at the gate, with some discounts for buying online. 1623 Main St., Agawam. https://www.sixflags.com/newengland.

Basketball Hall of Fame

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. Wikimedia Commons image

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. Wikimedia Commons image

Are you a fan of basketball? I’m not, but I am always impressed driving by the Basketball Hall of Fame on the highway. It’s round. The lights are colorful! Located in Springfield (the birthplace of basketball, don’t you know!), the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame boasts 40,000 square feet of basketball history. It’s also the site of yearly enshrinement, where those who make the cut join basketball’s finest. There have been 300 inductees honored so far. This year the ceremonies are on Sept. 7-8. 2017’s inductees are: Tracy McGrady, Bill Self, Rebecca Lobo, Muffet McGraw. Robert Hughes.

It costs a pretty penny to attend — $99 for the balcony and up to $1,000 for the premium package. But before that, the Hall of Fame is hosting 60 Days of Summer with appearances, autograph signings, magicians, trick dribblers and jugglers. Basketball Hall of Fame is open 7 days; $16-$24. hoophall.com.

Basketball not your thing? The International Volleyball Hall of Fame is just to the north in Holyoke (the birthplace of volleyball, don’t you know!). Saturday, Aug. 12, is the annual Summer Volleyball Festival, featuring a chance to sign up for volleyball tournaments, and enjoy food, music, and entertainment. Volleyball Hall of Fame — open Thursday through Sunday, $5-$8. volleyhall.org.

Hiking (or Driving) Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf, just across the river from I-91 in South Deerfield (off of Rte. 116) is a two-summit “butte” (pronounced “beaut”). At 652 feet, the popular south summit is no grueling slog, but you can drive right up as well. The parking fee is $6, but only $5 for us Massachusetts types. The iconic view of the bend in the Connecticut River would be well-worth a much longer hike (or a much steeper parking fee). The two-story observation deck allows visitors to take in the sites while indoors and has bathrooms (a nice touristy touch). The north summit is 791 feet and only accessible by foot, for those who want to avoid cars. The views are good in both places. The mountain also doubles as a movie-tourism destination site, as it was a site in the 2010 Mel Gibson film Edge of Darkness. Finally, photos taken here and posted to Facebook are guaranteed to get at least 50 likes. Try it out yourself!

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

The museum established by The Very Hungry Caterpillar writer and illustrator Eric Carle is located at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst, very close to the Hampshire College campus. Open Tuesday through Sunday, and open on Mondays during July and August, the museum celebrates Carle’s life as well as picture book art from illustrators around the globe. An exhibit on Caldecott Medal winner David Weisner and the art of wordless storytelling is on display through Nov. 5. The grounds are gorgeous, with gnarled fruit trees that blossom in the spring, and the lobby is impressive — four enormous paintings in yellow, green, blue, and red lead visitors on to the exhibitions. The museum opened in 2002, founded by Carle and his late-wife Barbara after they visited similar museums in Japan. Since then, they have welcomed 600,000 visitors. Don’t miss the reading library, with 4,500 picture books to explore. $6-$9. carlemuseum.org.

Arts & Culture

By Kristin Palpini

We’re lucky to live in an area where most towns organize summer concert series, summer theater is plentiful, and mind-blowing museums are just a short drive away.

Summer Theater

The Valley can has a right to brag about its theater scene: how many rural areas can boast a dozen or more theater companies?

We’ve got: TheatreTruck, Silverthorne, Hampshire Shakespeare, the Majestic Theater, Stageloft Repertory Theater, Hampshire Shakespeare Company, New Century Theater, PaintBox Theatre, Real Live Theatre, Serious Play Theatre, Til Lalezar Theatre, Eggtooth Productions, UMass Theater, Double Edge Theatre, Chester Theatre Company, and Barrington Stage Company. And I’m pretty sure they’ve all got summer shows planned. Offerings will include Hamlet, Stupid Fucking Bird, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, The Music Man, Kunstler, Speech and Debate, The Life and Death of Queen Margaret, and You Don’t Know Jack.

Free Town Concerts

Many communities host their own free summer concert series, often sponsored by the community’s parks and recreation department or a local service club, like the Rotary Club. Here are some of the series happening now:

West Springfield Summer Concert Series: Thursdays, 7 p.m. The location changes between the Town Common, High School auditorium, Storrowton Village Green Gazebo, and a few other venues. Upcoming performers include: The Kings, and Ethel Lee Ensemble. (413) 781-3020, wsparkandrec.com.

Agawam SummerFest: Thursdays, 7 p.m. School Street Park, which has concessions and a water spray park. Upcoming performers include: Pandemonium, Storm Front a Billy Joel Tribute. wsparkandrec.com

East Longmeadow Rotary Club Concert Series: Various days, 180 Maple St.; Shows start around 6:30-7 p.m. Upcoming acts include: Trailer Trash, and Sam Falcetti’s New England Digital Accordion Orchestra. elrotaryclub.org.

MusicFest: Thursdays, 7 p.m. on the Park Square Green or the lot at 55 Elm St. Upcoming performers include: Eaglemania, Stumpy McToad. westfieldonweekends.com.

Positively Holyoke Summer Concert Series: Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m., at Heritage State Park on Appleton Street. Entertainers will include: Brass Attack, Out of the Blue, and Ireland Parish. A beer and wine garden is on site and this year, drinks can be taken back to your seat. Holyoke.org.

Chicopee Library Summer Concert Series: Thursdays, 6:30 p.m., in the Emily L. Patruka Central Library’s amphitheater. Upcoming acts include: Appalachian Still, and Sarah the Fiddler. (413) 594-1800, ext. 3; cbagley@cwmars.org; chicopeepubliclibrary.org.

Summer Concert Series at the Village Commons, South Hadley: Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. Upcoming acts include: Union Jack, Leather and Lace, and West Summit. Southhadleyma.gov.

Downtown Beats Summer Music Series: Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. on the Amherst Town Common. Featured bands will include: Mamma’s Marmalade, Shokazoba, and The Alchemystics. Amherstdowntown.com.

Downtown Northampton Summer Concert Series: Starting July 21, Fridays, 6 p.m. on the Courthouse lawn or Pulaski Park. Vendors will be present. Upcoming bands include: Midnight Snack, Nomad v. Settler. northamptonartscouncil.org.

Concerts in the Park: At Greenfield Energy Park on various days throughout Some of the upcoming acts include: Tret Frue and Mark Erelli. greenfieldrecreation.com.

Building 6 at MASS MoCA

With the recent opening of the Robert W. Wilson Building at MASS MoCA (B6), the contemporary arts museum has doubled in size. The new mill building-turned arts space features, well, art, music, and a bike path through the building. Right now, the building is featuring the work of artists Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and Gunnar Schonbeck. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “arts” person, MASS MoCA is a great museum to visit. The modern art is enormous in scale and impact. The exhibits are whimsical, fun, and, on occasion, all-encompassing. MASS MoCA out in North Adams, always makes for a good day trip, but with the new building, there’s even more reason to check it out. Gallery admission is $8-$20; kids under 6 are free. Plus the ArtBar, with art-making projects for kids, is open during weekends and school breaks.

Arts Nights Out

Arts Nights Out celebrate a community’s culture. Galleries and music venues throw open the doors and invite the public in. Restaurants often offer deals, shops stay open late, and performers roam the streets.

Arts Night Out Northampton is the second Friday of every month, 5-8 p.m.

ArtWalk Easthampton: Second Saturday of the month.

Amherst’s First Thursdays Arts Night Plus: First Thursday of the month.

Gallery Walk, the first Friday of the month in downtown Brattleboro, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

First Fridays, Greenfield.


Here’s what we got and why you should go: Amherst College Museum of Natural History, Amherst College: Local dinosaur bones

Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and the Evergreens, Main Street, Amherst: She lived here, you guys

Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Vernon Street, Brattleboro: Building, exhibits, and a view

Edwards Memorial Museum, North Road, Chesterfield: Features a Victorian parlor and old organ as well as period dresses and antique furniture

Historic Deerfield, Old Main Street, Deerfield: A complex of old buildings and artifacts culled into a museum

Wistariahurst Museum, Cabot Street, Holyoke: Preserving the home and tremendous landscape of the richie-rich Skinner family

The Museum of the Gilded Age at Ventfort Hall, Walker Street, Lenox: An imposing Elizabethan-stayle mansion built in 1893 for J. P. Morgan’s sister, Sarah.

Smith College Museum of Art, Elm Street, Northampton: More than 25,000 items in the archives

The Berkshire Museum, South Street, Pittsfield: Art, natural science, and history all together

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, Holmes Road, Pittsfield: He wrote Moby Dick here, as well as three other novels

The Museum of Fine Arts, Edwards Street, Springfield: An Art Deco-style museum.

Springfield Science Museum, Edwards Street, Springfield: It’s been a while since you’ve seen the giant T-Rex, hasn’t it?

Dr. Seuss National Memorial, Edwards Street, Springfield: Brand new and ready for you!

The Pan African Historical Museum, Main Street, Springfield: Awesome collection of local African American history

The Titanic Museum, Main Street, Indian Orchard: Collecting artifcats from the Titanic since before it was cool

Norman Rockwell Museum, Glendale Road, Stockbridge: The worlds’ largest collection of original Rockwell art

The Clark, South Street, Williamstown: Fine art never looked so good. The museum was recently renovated and is a must see for any art lover.

… And All The Rest

By Dave Eisenstadter

Every region has its own special and unique places to go. Don’t miss your chance to check out those in your own backyard!

Contra Dancing

Tina Olsen, 73, of Brattleboro, dances with David Cantieni, Master of the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield during a contra dance Saturday, October 8.

Tina Olsen, 73, of Brattleboro, dances with David Cantieni, Master of the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield. Matt Burkhartt photo.

Western Massachusetts is home to some of the best contra dances anywhere in the world. What is contra dancing? It is shocking to me that contra dance, which is sort of the lefty-liberal version of square dancing, remains relatively unknown outside the people who do it. I randomly walked into my first contra dance in New Hampshire about 15 years ago without much in the way of dancing prowess, and a whole world opened up. Live music. People of all ages. Movement and mingling with people. I met my wife contra dancing in Greenfield. Could it happen to you? Possibly. The Guiding Star Grange at 401 Chapman St., Greenfield, hosts contra dances on most Fridays and every Saturday. There are Wednesday night contra dances in Amherst at the Masonic Lodge on 99 Main St., most weeks. Brattleboro hosts dances on second and fourth Sunday nights at 118 Elliot St., and there are dances every second Saturday of the month at 65 Walker Street in Lenox. Admission usually runs $8-$10. No partner is necessary. The culture of contra dance is to change partners often. And you might see me out dancing — or calling from the stage. contradancelinks.com/schedule.html.

A Literary Tour

One day while taking Amtrak through Amherst, the conductor came over the loudspeaker and said: “Famous Amherst poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, ‘Because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me’… we will be stopping in Amherst shortly.” Massachusetts is home to so many of the literary greats, and we have our fair share west of Walden. Any literary pilgrimage should probably include the Emily Dickinson Museum, 280 Main St., Amherst. During the summer it is open every day, except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. emilydickinsonmuseum.org.

For those who like a nice stroll with their reading, Monument Mountain, in the Berkshires north of Great Barrington, is the site of a famous meeting between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. But beware, the two of them had to seek shelter from the rain. thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/berkshires/monument-mountain.html. In nearby Lenox is Edith Wharton’s summer home on 2 Plunkett Street, where are tours (including a “ghost tour”) and weekly literary round tables on Thursdays. edithwharton.org. Don’t forget about the newly opened Dr. Seuss Museum at 21 Edwards St., Springfield. springfieldmuseums.org/about/dr-seuss-museum.

Tackle Home Upgrades

The staycation is also a time when you can tackle those long-standing home projects you never seem to find the time to do. And remember: It’s not housework when you’re doing something truly awesome. Build that treehouse for your kids you’ve been putting off. Paint your whole house gold. Plan out an awesome flower garden that will be the envy of the neighbors. Rework that “spare room” or basement into a cool bar, or workshop, or playroom. Disadvantage: you’re working on your vacation. Advantage: the rest of your life will become all the more awesome. These projects don’t have to be large scale, either. Since moving this spring, my wife and I have yet to hang our posters, paintings, or other wall hangings that used to decorate our old apartment. Will it take a staycation to finally do it? Quite possibly. Also, we still haven’t tried using that pasta maker we got for our wedding …

Achieve Peace

The Peace Pagoda in Leverett is seen with water lilies blooming in a nearby pond.

The Peace Pagoda in Leverett is seen with water lilies blooming in a nearby pond.

One of the more horrifying evenings I’ve had recently was when I attended a talk at the University of Massachusetts Amherst by Noam Chomsky. The topic was basically that if by some chance we escape nuclear war, climate change will probably kill us all. The antidote? How about a trip to the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett? Inaugurated in 1985, the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument to inspire peace and help unite people. Located at 100 Cave Hill Road, Leverett’s is one of about 80 peace pagodas that exist in the world, many of them in Japan. Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii built the first of them following the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 150,000 people. In addition to the pagoda is a new temple, inaugurated in 2011, where prayers and ceremonies take place. Fujii said: “When we believe in the just truth of the law of causation, we must completely abolish armaments, not only nuclear weapons, but all tools of killing and destruction and all means of war … Preserving the precept against taking life taught by the Buddha is the assurance of peace and tranquility in this world.” Good words to think about during the tranquility of a staycation.

Take in the Oddities of the Valley

There’s a lot of beauty in Western Mass. There’s also a lot of weird stuff. Like the Eyrie House ruins in Holyoke, located at the end of a two-mile hike off of Christopher Clark Road. After a successful run in the hospitality business, William Street was struggling with too much competition from other hotels in the Holyoke range. Unfortunately for him, one night, alone in his hotel, the building burned to the ground in a horse cremation gone wrong. Or how about the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum, located in South Hadley, Mount Holyoke College at 50 College St.? Open Wednesdays and Sundays, it features a collection of 7,000 objects including suits of armor, a hippopotamus skull, and a 150-pound meteorite. Then there are the glacial potholes in the Deerfield River at the base of Salmon Falls in Shelburne Falls. The swirled rocks were formed about 14,000 years ago, and the erosion that formed the unique patterns continue today. And of course, who doesn’t love wide trees! The Buttonball Tree on North Main Street in Sunderland (you can’t miss it), some claim, is the widest tree east of the Mississippi and the largest in Massachusetts. Basically, it’s a BIG tree. And old. The sycamore is at least as old as the Constitution. So check that one off your bucket list.