36 Hours in Burlington, Vt.
IT is no surprise that Burlington, a city whose biggest exports include the jam band Phish and Ben & Jerry’s, has a chill, socially conscious vibe. But for all its worldliness — antiglobalization rallies and fair-trade products abound — Burlington has lately turned an eye to the local. The Lake Champlain shoreline has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with gleaming new hotels, bike and sailboat rental shops and parks with sweeping views of the Adirondack Mountains. But perhaps the strongest emphasis on local can be found in the city’s developing restaurant scene, where menus are now filled with heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef from (where else?) Vermont. And you’re practically required to wash it all down with a local microbrew.
1) STROLL, SHOP AND STARE
With its eclectic mix of students, activists, artists, families and professors (the University of Vermont is based here), Burlington offers some interesting people-watching. Take in the sights at the Church Street Marketplace (2 Church Street), a wide, four-block concourse that is the city’s social center and home to more than 100 shops and restaurants. The pace is slow, leisurely and crowded, so be sure to leave plenty of time to explore. Pop into Sweet Lady Jane (40 Church Street; 802-862-5051; www.sweetladyjane.biz) for funky women’s clothes and accessories; Frog Hollow (85 Church Street; 802-863-6458; www.froghollow.org) to check out treasures created by Vermont artists; and Lake Champlain Chocolates (65 Church Street; 802-862-5185; www.lakechamplainchocolates.com), where a hot chocolate doubles as a meal, and we dare you to eat just one truffle.
2) CHIC CHIANTI
Long known as a town for gravy fries, pizza and other collegiate staples, Burlington has had a flurry of upscale restaurants in recent years. L’Amante (126 College Street; 802-863-5200; www.lamante.com) helped lead the charge. If one were to take Tuscany and add a splash of Vermont, the result would be this hearty yet crunchy menu. Try the bruschetta of local baby squash ($10) and New York strip with white beans, tomato and Swiss chard ($27). It’s sleek and low-lit, yet somehow informal, despite an expensive wine list that leans heavily on Italian reds.
3) CAFFEINATED BREW
If there are three things that Burlington does well, they are live music, beer and coffee. Radio Bean (8 North Winooski Avenue; 802-660-9346; www.radiobean.com), a coffee bar with exposed brick walls covered with local artworks, has all three. It’s like hearing a band at a friend’s party, if your friend lives in a ridiculously cool loft. Try the Five Dollar Shake, a brilliant concoction of stout, espresso and maple syrup that satisfies your desire to drink beer and stay awake at the same time. And, yes, it’s $5.
4) PEDAL POWER
Playing outside, be it on the ski slopes, hiking trails or lakes, is a way of life in Burlington, so it’s no surprise that biking has become a popular way to get around. Rent a bike at one of the many local shops like North Star Sports (100 Main Street; 802-863-3832; www.northstarsports.net), starting at $18 an hour or $28 a day. For those who want to see the city, marked bike lanes make it easy to ride, but its steep hills will have your quads thinking otherwise. Along the lake, however, it’s mostly flat, with some 1,100 miles of trails crisscrossing through New York and Canada. Maps are available at www.champlainbikeways.org.
5) WEIGHTLESS SUDS
Chances are American Flatbread Burlington Hearth (115 St. Paul Street; 802-861-2999; www.americanflatbread.com) will be packed with everyone from kids to beer geeks when you get there. But don’t panic; just order one of the Zero Gravity house beers — it specializes in Belgian styles. The crispy flatbreads, baked in a wood-fired hearth, are essentially thin-crust pizzas topped with things like kalamata olives, sweet red peppers, goat cheese, rosemary and red onions ($9.75 for a personal; $16.95 for a pie that can feed two).
6) MONSTERS AND SHIPWRECKS
Lake Champlain isn’t just what makes Burlington so picturesque. It’s a huge ecosystem that is the home of one of the world’s oldest coral reefs and hundreds of species of fish and plants. The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center (at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, 1 College Street; 877-324-6386; www.echovermont.org) explores the scientific, ecological and cultural and historical importance of the lake with hands-on exhibitions, including the remnants of an old shipwreck and an installation that gives visitors new respect for frogs. Children will enjoy working in a recreated paleontologic dig box, and adults will marvel at the lake’s offerings. The center even explores Lake Champlain’s biggest mystery: Is Champ a mythical lake monster or real? Try to spot him from the second-floor deck.
7) NO PAGE UNTURNED
Reading and recycling are art forms in Burlington, and no place combines both better than the Crow Bookshop (14 Church Street; 802-862-0848; www.crowbooks.com). Stroll on the creaky wooden floor and browse a trove of used and rare books as well as publisher’s overstocks, ranging from gardening guides to gently used copies of Shakespeare. Let the children explore their part of the store while you hang out on one of the couches and thumb through a stranger’s old textbook.
8) PARIS IN VERMONT
In a city where style is inspired more by Birkenstocks than Birkin bags, Leunig’s Bistro (115 Church Street; 802-863-3759; www.leunigsbistro.com) is a welcome dash of French flair. With its cherub lamps, cozy booths and alfresco dining, it remains a social center. Go for a traditional beef Bourguignon ($24) or spice things up with tangerine and yellow curry scallops ($25).
9) DANCES WITH WOOL
Follow the thumping bass to Red Square (136 Church Street; 802-859-8909; www.redsquarevt.com), a friendly nightclub that draws club kids and music lovers. Live bands usually play the first half of the night or, if the weather permits, on the outdoor patio. Late night is for D.J.’s spinning hip-hop, rock and reggae to college students in halter tops, T-shirts and knit beanies. On the mellower side, head to Nectar’s (188 Main Street; 802-658-4771; www.liveatnectars.com), the club where Phish got its start (and is named for its album “A Picture of Nectar”). Not interested in live music? Walk to Green Street (86 St. Paul Street, 802-651-9669) for a nightcap on a cushy sofa.
10) GREEN EGGS OR TOFU
Prefer tofu in your scramble? Try the Magnolia Bistro (1 Lawson Lane; 802-846-7446; www.magnoliabistro.com), where eggs are always interchangeable for tofu, and homemade granola is on the menu. For meat eaters, there are the open-faced steak sandwich with Cheddar ($9) and the tarragon chicken sandwich ($8.50). Magnolia also claims to be one of Burlington’s most environmentally friendly restaurants, which means it must be really, really green. Indeed, everything is recycled, and it’s the only spot in town certified by the Green Restaurant Association.
11) TREETOP PLAYHOUSE
Not sure of the time? Find out at the Burlington Earth Clock, a 43-foot-wide sundial at Oakledge Park and Beach (end of Flynn Street) made of slabs of granite from local quarries. Stand in the middle and look toward the mountains; the stones in front of you represent where the sun sets during equinoxes and solstices. On the other end of the park is a studio-size treehouse, suspended among nine large trees. It’s a childhood fantasy come true.
Burlington is a short flight and a pretty drive from New York City. Delta and JetBlue fly direct to Burlington from Kennedy Airport; Continental from Newark; and US Airways and United from La Guardia. November flights start at about $171 round trip, depending on the weekend. Driving up scenic Route 7 takes a little under six hours.
Burlington is a city that, even in the bad weather, is best when walked, although cheaper budget hotels are on the city’s outskirts. If you do drive in, parking is plentiful, but street parking can be tough as snowbanks become higher.
The no-frills Anchorage Inn (108 Dorset Street; 802-336-1869; www.vtanchorageinn.com) is close to the airport and great for families on a budget, offering a pool and a backyard picnic and barbecue area. Rooms start at $45.95.
The Courtyard by Marriott Burlington Harbor (25 Cherry Street; 802-864-4700; www.marriott.com/btvdt), offers easy access to Church Street. Rooms start at $169.
The nearby Hilton Burlington (60 Battery Street; 802-658-6500; www.hilton.com) is another good bet, though the rooms can be small. Like the Marriott, it faces Lake Champlain. Rooms start at $170.