Guide: Best of Vermont
Vermont is a destination that has something for everyone. Foodies delight in the farm to table restaurants, fashionistas love the small boutiques in downtown Burlington and nature lovers will be hard pressed to find a more picturesque state to hike, camp, ski or fish. Known for Ben and Jerry’s, Phish, Bernie Sanders, maple syrup and Cabot cheese among other things, Vermont is nothing if not unique. As a native Vermonter I’ve had the pleasure of seeing pretty much everything the state has to offer, from the far flung, lawless and beautiful North Eastern Kingdom to the posh farmhouses lining the Shelburne Bay. Planning a trip to Vermont can be tough because there is so much to see, but the best place to start is in Burlington, where you’ll likely fly in.
Burlington & The Surrounding Area
Where to Stay: Hotel Vermont
Burlington is the biggest city you’ll find in Vermont, it sits on a hill overlooking beautiful Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains in the distance. It is very much a liberal college town, home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College, which is both a blessing and a curse- in the summer parking is copious, in the fall, winter and spring things get crowded. Staying at Hotel Vermont will make things easier for you parking wise and you’ll have a great central location with plenty of fine dining and casual eats just steps away.
What to do:
Depending on the season checking out the waterfront is a great idea. Take a walk along the shore or you can rent a bike for about $30 at The Ski Rack a few blocks away from the pier. Make sure to grab a maple creemee at Burlington Bay in the park. A creemee is Vermonter speak for soft serve ice cream, and the hype is real when maple is involved. IF you are saving your calories though- wait for the creemee at Kingsland Bay since it is the best in the state. If you visit in the summer, go over to North Beach just 2 miles away and rent a paddle board for $30/hour.
The Fire House Gallery
The Fire House is a Contemporary Art Gallery on Burlington’s main drag, Church Street. There you’ll find local and international artists displayed in a renovated firehouse with beautiful floor to ceiling windows.
Church Street Marketplace
A great place to go shopping at the local boutiques or to sit outside and have dinner al fresco. Church Street is an open air mall in the French sense of the world, meaning there are no cars allowed on the boutique lined street. It is a great place for people watching and sipping an aztec hot chocolate from Lake Champlain chocolates nearby. Try out Dear Lucy for on trend women’s fashion with an eclectic vibe, or hit up Ecco for luxe casual wear for the ladies and guys.
Day trip to Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh
Kingsland bay is my favorite state park. The water in the bay is so clean, the boat rentals are inexpensive and the park itself is really cute, with old wooden buildings, lush green grass and weeping willows all around. Rent a kayak and boat around the bay for a few hours to get incredible views of the Adirondack and Green Mountain ranges. One of the remarkable parts about this area is the lack of development, sure you’ll see a couple beautiful houses here and there, but for the most part it is just epic, verdant mountains rising out of the lake. Before you go you need to head over to the Cookie Love Creamery, where they make the best ice cream in the world (Ben and Jerry’s will never be your top dog again). The key to the ice cream there is the local grass fed jersey cow milk, which has a really high milk fat content, and don’t forget to add the fresh whipped cream and semi sweet fudge on top.
Dining in Burlington
Eating on Church Street is a must especially if you want to sit outside. There are plenty of places off the main drag with unique menus and great ambience too, here are a few of my favorites both on and off Church Street.
- Leunig’s: A Burlington institution. This French bistro has an old world charm and a farm to table menu that will please picky eaters and adventurous souls alike. This is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner, though I’d say dinner on the patio is the best time to go.
- Penny Cluse Cafe: My all time favorite brunch spot. Penny Cluse always has the best fresh tangerine juice and incredible smoothies. Their menu has the perfect blend of brunch classics and some different takes on breakfast and lunch fare. My favorite breakfast item is the huevos rancheros and my favorite salad of all time is the grilled tofu salad, which comes with peanut dressing on a bed of pineapple, mixed greens corn and so much more.
- Pizzeria Veritas: A wood fired pizza joint with imported and farm to table ingredients. The ambience is stellar, with a minimalist look. My go to is the fig and gorgonzola pizza with a side of hot honey. The hot honey is local honey infused with peperoncino peppers and is the perfect drizzle on top of any pie.
- Pho Hong: This is the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been too- anywhere in the U.S. Everything is super fresh, inexpensive and so so tasty. The cashew stir fry and the panang curry are must trys.
- El Cortijo: A very ‘heady’ Vermont take on tacos. Everything here is seasoned well, and the location is a a retro-fitted old school diner. Great drinks too!
Where to Stay: Top Notch
Stowe is a great mountain headquarters for your time in Vermont. Not only is the scenery perfectly quaint, you’ll also find some incredible dining options here. Home to Mt. Mansfield, the tallest mountain in the state and close to many other important hikes, you’ll have plenty of options for getting active outdoors. Of course if it is ski season you’ll want to hit up Stowe mountain resort, otherwise hiking is a great option.
Hiking: Mount Mansfield
The hike is a moderate/hard level and is about 6 miles, depending on the trail you do. I prefer the Laura Cowles trail because it is a quick route up- but it is also very steep and taking the Sunset Ridge trail on the way back down is a better option for the knees. You’ll see panoramic views of the Champlain Valley, The Green Mountains, The Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. This really is quintessential Vermont. You can also go to the Sterling Ridge Trail for a shorter day hike that takes about 3 hours total. Check out www.alltrails.com for trail maps and more info. Camel’s Hump isn’t too far away if you’d like to hike another one of the bigger mountains in the area.
Dining in Stowe:
- Piecasso: A hip and funky Stowe staple. This pizzeria is a great family friendly spot with delicious farm to table (seeing a trend here??) wood-fired pizza in a cozy farm house style dining room.
- Plate: Rustic new American fare in a beautiful old farmhouse. This is great spot for date night.
Other things to do:
- Visit the Cabot Creamery store: you can sample all their cheeses and meats and get some great goodies to take back home with you.
- Cold Hollow Cider Mill: If you visit in fall be sure not to miss this! They have the most mouth watering sweet and crisp apple cider around as well as cider donuts coated in cinnamon sugar…mmmmmm.
- The Ben and Jerry’s Factory: This place is a gem. Filled to the brim with quirky Ben and Jerry’s memorabilia and a flavor ‘graveyard’ where all the retired flavors go to rest beneath silly headstone tributes. Here you can take a tour of the factory, which includes a movie, a view of the taste testers and the different parts of ice cream making/ production floor and a free ice cream.
Though I’ve only touched on a few of the unique experiences you can have in Vermont, I feel these places and activities really embody my favorite parts of Vermont. Enjoy!