Just a short hop over the Massachusetts border, Derry is New Hampshire's fourth-largest community, and while that doesn't mean it's a booming metropolis, it is a worthy destination for a day trip. The town is home to two noteworthy historical sites: the Robert Frost Farm and Taylor Mill. Its small but bustling downtown has an artisans gallery, boutique shops, numerous restaurants in all price ranges, several great bakeries, a few day spas, and even a children's museum. And it boasts a surprisingly vibrant arts community (even a fiddling group), with a variety of theater, music, and dance performances held at Adams Memorial Opera House. Derry is also the proud hometown of Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space. And, in a bit of infamy the town would probably prefer to forget, it's where the notorious Pamela Smart, now serving a life sentence for conspiring with her 16-year-old lover to kill her husband, committed the crime that inspired the Nicole Kidman movie "To Die For."
Derry's chief claim to fame (especially among English majors) is the Robert Frost Farm (Route 28, 603-432-3091, robertfrostfarm.org), a 30-acre property where the poet, at age 26, moved with his wife and daughter in 1900. Frost wrote more than 40 poems at this serene place, now a National Historic Landmark, and attributed his literary success in part to the seclusion and peace of mind it gave him. No trip to Derry is complete without a visit. The grounds are open year-round, the farmhouse and barn from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
Derry occupies a unique niche in state forestry history as home to Taylor Mill (242 Island Pond Road, 603-431-6774), New Hampshire's only "up and down" sawmill. The mill, which uses a water-powered system of pulleys and wooden gears to cut logs by driving a saw blade up and down, is now used solely for demonstrations.
While you're in the area, dart over to neighboring Londonderry, just two miles away across the Interstate 93 interchange, and visit the organic dairy Stonyfield Farm (10 Burton Drive, 603-437-4040, stonyfield.com), which gives factory tours and free samples of its delicious yogurts. Nearby, Mack's Apples (230 Mammoth Road, 603-434-7619, macksapples.com) and Sunnycrest Farm (59 High Range Road, 603-432-9652, sunnycrestfarmnh.com) sell apples, pumpkins, cider, honey, preserves, and other scrumptious stuff.
What Derry lacks in lodging, it makes up for in restaurants. Serving only breakfast and lunch, Mary Ann's (29 East Broadway, 603-434-5785, maryannsdiner.com) is a popular diner that looks straight out of the sock-hop era. Specials include meatloaf bennie (eggs Benedict with meatloaf) and an almond joy waffle (with almonds, coconut, chocolate sauce, and vanilla ice cream). Rig A'Tony's (38 West Broadway, 603-425-6116), an Italian take-out shop, serves hot and cold prepared foods, frozen pastas, pastries, and delicious roasted peanuts.
True to its name, Blackberry Bakery (14 East Broadway, 603-434-8110) sells lots of pastry, but it also makes hot Italian foods, including pizza, pastas, meatloaf, chicken Marsala, and the best eggplant calzone I've had in a while. Get your red meat fix at Depot Square Steakhouse (1 East Broadway, 603-437-4200, depot-square.com) and such Yankee fare as smothered beef, baked lamb, and lobster pie at the old-fashioned C&K Restaurant (3 East Broadway, 603-432-9875).
Derry has little in the way of lodging. Near the Robert Frost Farm, the Robert Frost Motor Inn (185 Rockingham Road, 603-432-5567) is basically a budget motel. If weather allows and you're willing to rough it, Hidden Valley RV Park (81 Damren Road, 603-887-3767, hiddenvalleyrv.com) is open May to October and offers camping, golf, and an 800-acre outdoor recreation area.
Get rest of a different sort -- the pampering kind -- at one of Derry's small beauty-and-wellness day spas. Firefly (18 East Broadway, 603-965-0317, fireflysalonspa.com) offers sugar rubs and seaweed body wraps, while you can indulge in ultrasonic facials and hot stone massages at Revive (6 West Broadway, 603-425-2484, 866-722-0462 ).
Want a bird's-eye view of the Merrimack Valley and much of southern New Hampshire? Schedule a hot-air balloon ride with High 5 Ballooning (4 Joseph St., 603-893-9643, high5ballooning.com), which flies year-round, seven days a week, weather permitting.
Described as a "museum for growing children," the Children's Metamorphosis (6 West Broadway, 603-425-2560, childrensmet.org) is a nonprofit educational play space for tykes (ages 1-8).
Derry's robust arts community caters to children and adults alike. The Greater Derry Arts Council (603-437-0505, derryarts.org) is an excellent source of information about performances, classes, and arts groups, such as the Kids Coop Theatre (kids-coop-theatre.org), Derry Dance Center (derrydance.com), and 3rd Sunday Fiddlers (3rdsundayfiddlers.com). Events are often held at Adams Memorial Opera House and Pinkerton Academy's Stockbridge Theatre.
Skip the usual chains and box stores, because downtown Derry has several charming boutiques. Wisteria Flower Shoppe (16 East Broadway, 603-434-4600, wisteriaflowershoppe.com) is a florist, yes, but it's also a cozy gift shop selling locally made arts, crafts, and specialty foods. Le Beaderie (6 West Broadway, 603-432-2700 , lebeaderie.com) sells countless beads and stones for creating personalized jewelry. Scrapbook Island (16 Manning St., 603-421-2881, derryscrapbookisland.com) has accessories galore for making scrapbooks and a large workspace for do-it-yourselfers.
Poles Apart (5 West Broadway, 603-432-7474, polesapartgifts.com) is a charming artisan gallery with stained glass, wind chimes, jewelry, pottery, and a gracious staff that will offer you a cup of tea, which I recommend pairing with the fantastic chocolates, caramels, truffles, and other waistline-obliterating pleasures at Priscilla Candies (25 Crystal Ave., 603-432-3838, priscillacandies.com).
There's not much nightlife in Derry, other than whatever's playing at the opera house or movie theater. But on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights the FireHall Pub & Grille (32 West Broadway, 603-421-0012, thefirehallpub.com) opens its elegant upstairs martini piano bar. The brick building was originally a fire station, and a renovation preserved its historic and architectural beauty, including fireplace, stained glass, chandeliers, and gorgeous windows. A downstairs restaurant, open all week, serves salads, sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, and more formal fare, such as salmon and filet mignon.
Those looking for a less sedate activity could stop by Derry Paintball & Skateboard Shop (40 West Broadway, 603-432-4499, derrypaintball.com, derryskateboard.com), which has every supply you need for some rollicking paintball, including paint pellets in every color in the crayon box and paintguns in a shockingly realistic range of styles.