For many people Sturbridge is synonymous with Old Sturbridge Village, the living history museum nearly every child growing up in New England visits on a family outing or a school field trip. The challenge for such attractions is to create reasons for people to come back, said Jim Donahue, who will take over as president and CEO on July 1. Donahue said the village has spent between $1.5 million and $2 million in the last year or so refurbishing the physical plant and exhibits. Among the improvements are the restoration of the water-powered saw, carding, and grist mills . Plans also call for reopening restaurants and catering services by summer so the village will once again host weddings, corporate events, and family celebrations. The challenges Old Sturbridge Village faces are the same as those of any living history museum in the 21st century, when leisure time is decreasing and options for filling it are increasing, Donahue said.
PlayTake the kids back to Old Sturbridge Village (1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, 508-347-3362, 800-SEE-1830, osv.org, $20 adults, $18 seniors, $6 ages 3-17). Chances are they haven't visited Kidstory. This 1,600-square-foot learning gallery, which opened in 2004, features areas for children ages 3 to 10 to try on period costumes and imagine life in a 19th-century household, on a farm, or shopping in an early New England country store. Adults may enjoy a new exhibit, "A Place to Take Root: America's Flowerpots -- Regional Styles From the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries," which continues through September.
Children of all ages can make their own sundaes at E.J. Candies, Inc., formerly Hebert Candies (1 River Road, 508-347-3051, $3.25-$5.20).
RestThere's something for everyone at the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center (366 Main St., 508-347-7393, sturbridgehosthotel.com, doubles $79-$169). Along with an inground pool in a lobby designed to resemble a small village, the hotel offers swimming and boating on Cedar Lake and a miniature golf course. It has just completed a renovation of all 233 guest rooms.
The Publick House (277 Main St., 508-347-3313, www.publickhouse.com, doubles $89-$145) is Stur bridge's signature historic lodging. Dating from 1771 , the rooms in the main inn offer 18th-century ambience combined with 21st-century comforts such as private baths and air conditioning. In the dining room you can order Thanksgiving dinner every day, along with other traditional New England favorites, and there's a terrific bakery downstairs where guests and visitors can enjoy coffee and pastry.
If you're ready to rough it, try Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort (30 River Road, 508-347-9570, jelly stonesturbridge.com, campsites $50-$60 in season, cabins $79-$99), where you can park your RV, rent a cabin, or pitch a tent. There's a lake with a beach, pool, Jacuzzi, and waterslide.
DoThe Hyland Orchard & Brewery ( 195- 199 Arnold Road, 508-347-7500, hylandorchard.com, pioneerbrewingcompany.com), set on a 150-acre property, cranks up for fall, when visitors can pick apples, watch cider making, take wagon rides, pet zoo animals, and enjoy live music on the weekends. In early spring you may be able to snag some of the locally produced maple syrup. Adults can sample the microbrewery's half-dozen beers year - round.
Depending on the season, you can hike or snowshoe in Tantiusques (Leadmine Road, 978-840-4446, thetrustees.org), where in 1633 Nipmuck Indians (who pronounced it tan-tas-qua) first mined the vein of soft black graphite rock. A meandering 1.5-mile loop trail leads through woods filled with mountain laurel, where ditches, tailings, and a mineshaft are still visible.
PartyThe Stageloft Repertory Theater (450A Main St., 508-347-9005, stage loft.com) offers American musicals, comedies, children's productions, and thrillers year - round. The 2007 season continues with "South Pacific" June 15-July 8.
Above the elegant Whistling Swan Restaurant, the cozy Ugly Duckling Loft (502 Main St., 508-347-2321, thewhistlingswan.com/theuglyduckling loft) has a sunken bar and live entertainment seven nights a week. Acoustic performances allow for quiet conversation. We enjoyed folk blues and rock by guitarist and singer Rob Adams, who plays there regularly.
Admiral T.J. O'Briens (407 Main St., 508-347-2838) offers a DJ on Thursday nights and a live band Friday and Saturdays starting at 9. There are a few tables, but most patrons sit at a big horseshoe-shaped bar, where they're greeted by friendly servers offering reasonably priced pub fare.
SpendSturbridge is famous for shops focusing on Colonial decor and primitives. While there are many specialty stores, The Handmaiden (538 Main St., 508-347-7757) has a wonderfully eclectic inventory: gingham and plaid curtains and linens, pottery and ceramics, pierced tin lampshades, grapevine baskets, twig furniture, primitive quilts and coverlets, braided rugs, and miniature wood animals, houses, and barns. We particularly liked the selection of fabric wreaths.
You may actually feel your shoulders relax when you enter Susan's Secret Garden (531 Main St., 508-347-9303, susanssecretgarden.com), a Victorian-inspired oasis of lace, scents, silk flowers, home decor, bath and beauty products, and gifts for brides and babies. Owner Susan McDonough told us her best sellers are lace panels and two baby items: "Sleep Sheep," a stuffed animal that plays mother's heartbeat, ocean, rain, or whale sound, and "Twilight Turtle," which projects astronomically correct constellations onto walls and ceilings.
Potters Gary and Ann Malone display their work in stoneware, porcelain, and raku at Sturbridge Pottery (99 New Boston Road, 508-347-9763, sturbridgepottery.com). Ann Malone's glass platters decorated with irises are particularly striking. If you're lucky, you can watch the potter at work in the adjoining studio.
For those more interested in new age therapies than Colonial decor, Earth Spirits Herbal Apothecary and Holistic Center (407 Main St., 508-347-1180, earthspirits-herbals.com) offers fresh and dried herbs in bulk, herbal teas, homeopathic remedies, crystals, crafts, and books.
FuelAlong with old favorites such as the Publick House (see Rest), Sturbridge has several new restaurants with up-and-coming chefs. Bin 479 Wine Bar & Restaurant (479 Main St., 508-347-9952, bin479.com, dinner entrees $19-$36) is an intimate dining room in black and white with a comfortable lounge with leather chairs. Chef Adam Larkin has worked at Pettibone's Tavern in Simsbury, Conn., and the Emperor at the Linden in Hartford. The restaurant hosts live jazz in the lounge on Wednesday evenings.
Housed in an elegant old home, Cedar Street Restaurant (12 Cedar St., 508-347-5800, cedarstreetrestaurant .com, dinner entrees $15-$23) features a menu that changes with the seasons and an array of fanciful martinis. Chef-owner William Nemeroff's signature dish is cedar plank salmon topped with wilted baby greens, toasted pine nuts, and green onion crème fraîche.
Rom's Restaurant (179 Main St., 508-347-3340, roms restaurant.com) is a blast from the past. In operation since 1952, it is best known for its buffets. We thought the Friday night Italian buffet with salmon, haddock, meatballs, sausages, and pasta ($10) was a good take, but our waitress said the big draws are the Wednesday dinner with shrimp and roast beef ($16) and Thursday lunch ($7) buffets, both featuring "tons of desserts."
For a light lunch try the Soup to Nuts Cafe in the Sturbridge Marketplace (559 Main St., 508-347-9771, $5-$8), which for 25 years has been offering excellent homemade soups, quiche, salads, and sandwiches on wonderfully fresh bread as well as local and imported beers. The most popular soups, according to our waitress, are seafood chowder and corn chowder; we loved the Hungarian mushroom.