We have developed a noticeable soft spot for small, New England towns. After booking a month in New York City, we’d intentionally set our Airbnb sights on the beautiful and rejuvenating Cherry Valley Farm. As has become tradition in our full time travels, as soon as we’d unpacked, we went out in search of takeout. Ten minutes down the road we found ourselves delighted by the discovery of Littleton, New Hampshire. With its bustling Main Street and stunning river front, this is a town that exudes optimism. With a touch of whimsy and a clear commitment to community, we popped over to Littleton almost every day during our six week stay in the White Mountains. Here’s what we loved most.
Downtown Littleton spreads across two more-or-less parallel roads. Main Street makes a straight shot from one end of town to the other with brick buildings and lively store fronts hugging each side. Here we found historic inns, the library, the post office, the movie theater, several churches, and the Diner offering waiting customers a comic choice between a matching pair of benches labeled for “Democrats” and “Republicans.” Just behind Main Street, another road loosely follows the same direction, hosting a second collection of shops, restaurants, and walking paths nestled up against the curve of the Ammonoosuc River. Balconies extend out over the water and a covered bridge leads to a small trail to the other bank where the farmers market is held each Sunday.
Pollyanna and Her Glad Game
The street lamps throughout Littleton were peppered with bright yellow signs proclaiming that we were in “The Glad Town”. This clue was enough to send us down the Wikipedia rabbit hole from which we emerged knowing this. Eleanor Porter was born in Littleton in 1868 and went on to author of the children’s book Pollyanna (this explained the joyous statue of the character in front of the town’s stately library). In the story, Pollyanna–despite being orphaned and sent off to an unhappy Vermont town to live with an unhappy aunt–could find in each situation something to be glad about. She spread her “Glad Game” throughout the town until she had transformed her neighbors, and eventually her aunt, into happy, grateful folks.
Pianos in the Streets
Littleton has embedded Pollyanna’s ethos throughout the town. There are petunias overflowing from every lamppost, bright umbrellas floating playfully above connecting walkways, and then there’s the music. Instruments have been placed throughout the town for any passerby to explore and enjoy. Along the riverside walking paths, oversized percussion instruments and inviting mallets have been added to the park. Scattered up and down Main Street are brightly painted pianos tucked under a waterproof tent accompanied by lamented sheet music. This is the Littleton Piano Project. And here’s the thing: they get played constantly! By very talented pianist no less. We’d be walking about after dinner or on our way to a movie, and the street would be filled with the music. Sometimes it was an all-out performance and sometimes it was a curious kid dabbling with the eye-level keys.
Zumba in the Opera House
With its wood floors, chandeliers, and phenomenal acoustics, the town’s historic Opera House serves as the fabulous host to a very 21st century activity: Zumba! Each Tuesday and Thursday evening, the Opera House rocks out to Latin music as the wonderfully talented (and perfectly named) teacher, Patience, leads the group through a series of intuitive dances that leave everyone clapping, laughing, and sweating like crazy. The combination of the music, the community, and the endorphins left me on cloud 9 after each class and the uplifting residuals would linger into the next day. (Even Jay noticed my happiness uptick after a good dose of Zumba.) If you happen to live nearby, I can’t recommend Patience’s Zumba class enough. And if you’re looking for a little push, I loved this post Patience put on her Facebook page: “Try Zumba. Remember: You burn the same number of calories if you turn to the left instead of to the right.”
Food and Drink
The food we found in Littleton could rival any place we’ve stayed to date. Here were the places we couldn’t stay away from.
Shilling Beer Co
The one and only problem with this place is that we discovered it the very first weekend we were in town, which meant that our budget took a little hit every subsequent weekend until we left the state. We couldn’t get enough! With its exquisite beer and addictive food, local music and laid back vibes, Shilling Beer Co has surpassed all other stops during our year of travels to become our favorite microbrewery in the US. Housed in the old Grist Mill, the restaurant and brand new tasting room next door have a prime view of the river. Deservingly popular, we never found a time of day or day of the week when Shilling wasn’t packed. Our own admiration led us to buy a growler so that we could enjoy their beer along with the stunning views from our porch at the Cherry Valley Farm. After a year of minimalistic packing, the Shilling growler is one of the only souvenirs we’ve kept, carefully surrounding it with soft stuff when we finally had to pack up the car and leave.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Combover and Pompadour, pretzel twist (get the beer cheese AND the mustard), maple bacon chicken pizza, mac n cheese
We stumbled across Bagel Depot while filling up the car before a Saturday road trip to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in nearby Vermont. It turned out to be an even more decadent food day than we’d originally planned. With the car full and a small morning appetite, we followed the waving yellow flag across the street to find the bagels it promised. We walked into a low-key room with diner booths, vintage signs, and a full-size Mrs. Packman game in the corner to discover the best. bagels. ever. And we had just spent the previous month eating bagel after bagel in Brooklyn. Now look, we know we use a lot of superlatives in this blog–we love where we’ve traveled! But we kid you not, Bagel Depot’s owner Jeremy has perfected this food. Which meant that every Saturday that followed, we were back in line ordering breakfast from him again.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Everything bagel with scallion cream cheese
Following the recommendation of Cori, the great stylist who gave Jay a long overdue haircut at The Fresh Salon and Day Spa, we made our way to the bubble-gum pink awnings and went into the local candy store, Chutters. Home to the Longest Candy Counter in the World, there are over 100 feet of hefty jars stacked three layers deep with nothing but candy. Positioned catty-corner to the movie theater, this place was busy. We made our way to the fudge counter, where we’d been told there was a “buy one pound, get a half pound free” deal, which we promptly participated in. Beautifully crafted and deliciously diverse, we had fudge in our Airbnb freezer for the rest of our stay, picking off a little bite after most meals.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Maple walnut fudge
Littleton Food Co-Op
Brimming with fresh produce and hand-crafted food, we adored the Littleton Food Co-Op for two reasons. First, its commitment to nearby food producers could be felt in every aisle, from the vegetables to the cheeses to the frozen pizzas. Halfway through our trip we realized that the fresh basil and lettuce mix we were buying each week was from the Meadowstone Farm situated between the Co-Op and our Airbnb. Talk about local! The second thing we loved about the Co-Op was it’s bulk section. This is a full-time travelers dream! Our diet has become increasingly repetitive as we try to avoid wasting food on the road. With the bulk section, we could get just what we needed: 1/2 cup of farro, 1/4 cup of pine nuts. There was even an aisle with bins filled with infinite varieties of trail mix, before which we’d spend spend way too much time deliberating.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: Cheese island! (or at least that’s what we heard a store clerk call it) basically an overwhelming amount of delicious local cheese
The White Mountains
Marketing itself as Main Street of the Mountains, Littleton is the perfect launching off point to explore all this stunning mountain range has to offer. For us, there were two memorable highlights, one peaceful and the other filled with adrenaline.
Not long after we arrived in New Hampshire, a record breaking heat wave moved into the northeast and stubbornly lingered for over a week. By the end of day two, we had tracked down beach towels and floating noodles in town, and headed for our host’s recommended swimming hole: Echo Lake. Just fifteen minutes from Littleton, Echo Lake is tucked in Franconia Notch State Park. This is the same park where the famous Old Man of the Mountain looked out until his rock formation finally gave way in 2003. (If you’ve seen a New Hampshire license plate, you’ve seen this famous rocky profile. If you’re still curious, you can learn more here).
For two kids from Kansas, where the majority of lakes are man-made, swimming in Echo Lake felt like an experience worth well more than the four dollars the state park charges for entry. Strong mountains jut upwards as the water mirrors their reflection beneath. Bobbing in the water below, we could see ski paths carved out of the thick evergreens above. The beach is meticulously maintained and the park has canoes, paddle boats, and a festive collection of floaties (including a memorable and gigantic hot pink flamingo) all available to rent. While the park was packed during the July 4 heat wave, return visits were progressively less populous as we honed our arrival time after the midday kid energy but before the sun’s light dipped behind the mountain. And if we got up and out early, we could have the whole place to ourselves like this.
Ride to the Sky
And finally, there’s Mount Washington, boasting both the highest peak in the northeast and the worst weather in the world. There are three ways to the top: visitors can hike, take the trolley, or drive up to reach the 6,288 foot summit. In camping trips as a teenager, Jay had checked off two of the three routes, leaving the car drive left to become my inaugural trip up the mountain.
When we reached the entrance of the Mount Washington Auto Road, which opened in 1861, a lone billboard with oversized lettering clued me in to what we’d set out to do. It read: “ATTENTION: The Mount Washington Auto Road is a steep, narrow mountain road with no guardrails. At mid-mountain, there is one mile of gravel road before returning to pavement. If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience. Guided tours are available.” I immediately flung open the driver-side door and Jay gleefully switched side. In exchange for our credit card, the guide handed us a packet with instructions, a bumper sticker that read THIS CAR HAS CLIMBED MOUNT WASHINGTON, and a CD with two tracks: an audio tour for the way up and another tour for the way down. With that, we headed up the mountain: me with a useless, white-knuckle grip on the passenger door’s handle, Jay happily gearing up the audio tour with one hand on the wheel, and before long Dot, our beloved (and very old) car settling into low gear for the first time in her decade of driving.
As we climbed the 157 year old road (it’s been updated of course), the dense forest gave way to spectacular views. For a place with such notorious weather, we had stumbled onto a summer day clear as glass. And with the absence of any clouds or guardrails, the road floated in an unobstructed sky. When we reached the top, we parked overlooking the climb we’d just made. We sat on a log marking the spots for each car and pulled out our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as our nerves calmed. Over the last year, we’ve driven from coast to coast, through mountain ranges of all sorts, dipped down into Death Valley and climbed back out of it, but never before has our little hatchback looked more victorious than she did at the top of Mount Washington. Then of course, we had to navigate our way back down.