These days, curiosity-seekers swing through Exeter, not far from New Hamsphire's seacoast, hoping to catch a glimpse of the town's most famous resident: Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code." One of Exeter's strangest and most famous chapters came in 1965, after a series of UFO reports. The sightings were described by several people, including two Exeter police officers, and chronicled in pieces in Look magazine and a book by John G. Fuller called "Incident at Exeter." But the town also has a more substantial history - George Washington and Abraham Lincoln each visited here - dating hundreds of years. The town became the state's center of activity during the Revolutionary War. In 1985, a copy of the first printed edition of the Declaration of Independence was found in a historic house in town; the discovery is now featured in the American Independence Museum. One of the country's most prestigious boarding schools, Phillips Exeter Academy, has been educating students here since 1781. And today, Exeter remains a mandatory stop for presidential candidates before the New Hampshire primary.
Most of Exeter's restaurants are clustered along Water Street and many are situated so diners can get at least a glimpse of the Exeter River. Enjoy the view from 11 Water Street
(11 Water St., 603-773-5930, www.11waterstreet.com
, dinner $16-$28), a restaurant with a bar and an old-fashioned dining room, serving seafood, steak, chicken, and a few vegetarian options. Another restaurant with a water view is The Tavern at River's Edge
, (163 Water St., 603-772-7393, www.tavernatriversedge .com, entrees $16-$28), with a big menu of both entrees and lighter fare. Pimentos
(69 Water St., 603-583-4501, www.pimentosrestaurantand lounge.com
, entrees $10-$24) is a newcomer to Exeter's burgeoning restaurant scene, with white tablecloths in the upstairs dining room and a more casual lounge downstairs looking out to the river. Divine Cafe & Grille
(50 Lincoln St., 603-773-2233, www.divinecafe.org
, sandwiches and burgers $6.75-$8.95), a veggie-friendly restaurant on the edge of town, serves up vegan burgers that actually taste good. But those craving meat can be happy here, too, with beef burgers and bacon and eggs. The Green Bean
(33 Water St., 603-778-7585, www.nhgreenbean.com
, sandwiches $2.50-$6.75) has a lovely, tree-shaded patio, a perfect people-watching spot for nibbling pastry or drinking coffee. Enjoy sweets at The Baker's Peel
(231 Water St., 603-778-0910), White Lily Teas
(1 Court St., 603-686-5368, www.whitelilyteas.com
), Rogan's Village Bake Shop
(31 Portsmouth Ave., 603-778-8003), or Me & Ollie's Bakery & Cafe
( 64 Water St., 603-772-4600, www.meandollies.com
RestInn by the Bandstand
(6 Front St., 603-772-6352, www.innbythebandstand .com, rooms $139-$239) lies in the center of town in a gleaming 1809 Federal-style house with nine guest rooms and 10 working fireplaces. It was built for George Sullivan (1771-1838), a lawyer who also served as a state representative and senator, state attorney general, and in Congress for a term. The Exeter Inn
(90 Front St., 603-772-5901, www.theexeterinn.com
, rooms $169-$325), near the Phillips Exeter campus, is the town's largest inn, with 46 rooms, and its most formal. It has its own restaurant, Epoch Restaurant and Bar. Around the Corner Bed and Breakfast
(72 High St., 603-778-0058, www.aroundthecornerbedand breakfast.com
, rooms $115-$145) has four rooms spread throughout a three-story Colonial not far from the center of town.
The luscious prints of sea creatures and birds at The Copper Canoe
(155 Water St., 603-772-3141, www.quincypondprint works.com/TheCopperCanoe
.htm) are worth a look. The remarkable prints are the creations of Matthew Smith, an artist and former commercial fisherman who lives in southern New Hampshire in a log cabin he built himself. Exeter is well-stocked with bookstores and one of the best is Water Street Bookstore
(125 Water St., 603-778-9731, waterstreet.booksense.com
) and the adjoining kids' bookstore, Time of Wonder
(131 Water St., 603-778-6027). Colophon Book Shop
(101B Water St., 603-772-8443, www.colophonbooks.com
) specializes in books about books, first editions, and military history. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
(65 Water St., 603-779-1991) carries old and rare books and maps. For less academic pursuits, browse the hip offerings of Luna Chics
(131 Water St., 603-777-9956, www.lunachics nh.com
) from iT Jeans to Juicy Couture jewelry. Don't miss the sale rack.
DoAmerican Independence Museum
(One Governors Lane, 603-772-2622, www.independ encemuseum.org
) pays tribute to the Revolutionary War, especially the role played by New Hampshire, Exeter, and the Gilman family, local merchants who later included a signer of the Constitution. The museum, open through the last Saturday in October, also includes the Ladd-Gilman House
and the Folsom Tavern
, renovated in 2007. George Washington visited the tavern during his tour of New England in 1789. The museum's collections include two original drafts of the US Constitution, the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, and an original Purple Heart awarded by Washington.
The Ioka Theatre
, above (55 Water St., 603-772-2222, www.iokaentertainment.com
), opened in 1915 showing silent films and now runs modern movies beneath its old tin roof. The theater, which still uses a 1940s popcorn maker, has a single "screening room," equipped with a balcony. Exeter also has a series of quirky parks, including Gilman Park
(Bell Avenue, www.town.exeter.nh.us/gilman.cfm
), which features cannons given by the US Naval Department in 1897, with the provision that they could be recalled, if necessary. The Swamscott River
, a tidal river, provides opportunities for scenic walking, kayaking, and canoeing. Stroll along the Swasey Parkway
, (from downtown, head west on Water Street and the parkway will be on your right, 603-772-7392, www.town.exeter .nh.us/swasey/index.cfm
), a paved walking path dotted with benches. The city holds summer concerts here in a pavilion built last year. The Exeter Town Landing
(near the Phillips Exeter Academy boathouse and the corner of Water Street and Swasey Parkway) is a place to put in your kayak or canoe. Limited parking is available.
(55 Water St., 603-778-4652, www.iokaentertain ment.com
), inside the Ioka Theatre building, is a modern reproduction of a 1920s Art Deco nightclub. The club has a bar, a dance floor, and a smoking lounge, where cigars and cigarettes are sold. Bands play and DJs spin here on weekends. The Epoch Bar
(90 Front St., 603-778-3762), inside the Exeter Inn, tends to stay open a bit later than other places in town. The bar serves nibbles from shrimp quesadillas and oyster shooters to Kobe beef sliders until closing. Pimentos
(see Fuel) has a marble-topped bar in its downstairs lounge, which serves martinis and other drinks. But in general, Exeter tends to close down early.
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