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Canoe on the West and Connecticut rivers.
Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the Vermont Canoe Touring Center. (Caleb Kenna for The Boston Globe)

All natural

Vermont town celebrates its stripped-down, organic living

Email|Print| Text size + By Kathy Shorr
Globe Correspondent / June 20, 2007

In Brattleboro, warm weather brings naked people. Last month the local paper reported the first public sighting, a man in his 60s walking down Main Street in the nude. Main Street also sports Save the Corporations From Themselves , a store featuring natural-fabric clothing. Brattleboro is often described as a college town without a college, and the back-to-earth movement has stayed strong here. That means that, among other things, you'll find an emphasis on organic, locally raised food and on that hard-to-define quality called community. There's also locally roasted coffee, a 1930s movie palace, an abundance of summer music festivals, and, of course, the Green Mountains.

PLAY

The great outdoors is pretty much everywhere you turn, and easily accessible to the newcomer. If you drive west on Route 9 out of town, there are parking lots and trailheads along the road. If you've got a bicycle, you can use the bike lane to follow the West River up Route 30. There are spots to pull off the road where you can jump in for a swim.

Or take the Putney Road (Route 5) north of town to the Vermont Canoe Touring Center (451 Putney Road, Route 5, 802-257-5008, $20 for two hours, $30 half day, $40 full day). You can park your car, rent a canoe or kayak, and take off from this waterfront location where the West and Connecticut rivers meet.

It's raining, your baby's crying, and your third-grader is climbing the walls. Bring them to Kids PLAYce (20 Elliot St., 802-254-5212, kidsplayce.org, adults free, children $6). It's just one example of what's built Brattleboro's child-friendly reputation. It's geared to youngsters from newborn to age 8 , with places to climb, arts and crafts, a spot to read, and frequent performances and other activities.

SPEND

Boomerang (12 Elliot St., 802-257-6911) is the go-to place for polka-dot shoes, striped tights, and a mix of new, used, and vintage clothes.

If your style's more Woolrich and North Face , check out Sam's Outdoor Outfitters (74 Main St., 802-254-2933, samsoutfitters.com ). Sam's has been in town since 1932 and is still family-owned. It's got a big selection of outdoor clothes, shoes, and gear, plus free popcorn while you shop.

Boston may have more indie bookshops, but Brattleboro beats it easily for independent bookstores per capita. One not to miss is Everyone's Books (25 Elliot St., 802-254-8160, everyonesbks.com ), which focuses on social change, the environment, and multicultural children's books. Walk across the street and get lost in Brattleboro Books (34 Elliot St., 802-257-7777) , which bills itself as the largest store for used books in southern Vermont.

If you've been thinking "Where's my chocolate body paint?" you're in luck. It's made in Brattleboro by Tom and Sally's Handmade Chocolates (485 West River Road , 802-254-4200, 800-827-0800, tomandsallys.com).

PARTY

The first Friday of every month is a street party that shows why Brattleboro is known as one of the nation's best small towns for art. Gallery Walk (802-257-2616, gallerywalk.org) takes the show beyond the galleries , as dozens of shops, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses hang art, put out food, and invite you in. It runs 5:30-8:30 p.m.

The Mole's Eye Cafe (4 High St., 802-257-0771, moleseyecafe.net, $5 cover weekends, otherwise no cover) has live music five nights a week from 9:30 on. Tuesday bring your own guitar for a bluegrass jam. Wednesday is acoustic night, Thursday open mike. Dance bands play Fridays and Saturdays.

Few towns have a club for the under-21 set, but a group of locals banded together to open The Tinder Box (3d floor, 17 Elliot St., myspace.com/thetinderbox, generally $5-$10) for art studios and frequent music shows.

DO

New England Youth Theatre (100 Flat St., 802-246-6398, neyt.org, adults $10, children $5-$8) makes professional actors out of 8- to 17-year-olds. "The Importance of Being Earnest" plays in late June, but summer is devoted mostly to theater camp .

At the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (10 Vernon St., 802-257-0124 , brattleboromuseum.org, $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 students, children 6 and under free), don't miss the current show, which includes "The Bird Book," a children's alphabet by artist Brian D. Cohen . Each letter is represented by a hand-colored relief etching of a bird (H is for hummingbird, etc.) and rhyming couplet. The exhibit also has supplies for children to make their own version on the spot.

Latchis Theatre (50 Main St., 802-246-1500, latch is.com, $5.50-$7.50 movies, price varies for live events) is one of the last big-screen theaters around, showing mostly indie films and periodic live events. If you don't like the show, you can admire the hand-painted murals, gilded statues, and Art Deco and Greek Revival decor.

REST

If you want to overlook the action downtown, check into the Latchis Hotel (50 Main St., 802-254-6300 , 800-798-6301, latchis.com, $75-$115 double). The straightforward rooms have Art Deco touches, as well as mini-fridges, coffeemakers, air conditioning, and WiFi.

Just a few blocks from downtown is Forty Putney Road Bed & Breakfast (192 Putney Road, 802-254-6268, 800-941-2413, fortyputneyroad.com, $139-$239 double). New owners have just taken over, but they're keeping the child- and pet-friendly policies in place in this gracious 1930 house, which includes a small pub and gardens overlooking the West River.

For a country experience , try the Meadowlark Inn Bed & Breakfast (13 Gibson Road , West Brattleboro, 802-257-4582, 800-616-6359, meadowlarkinnvt.com, $130-$200). The view rocks, and so does the breakfast, by innkeepers who graduated the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.

FUEL

Mocha Joe's (82 Main St., 802-257-7794) isn't much to look at, just a few tables in a below-ground room. But the owners roast their own coffee and some residents swear it's the best in the world.

If you had to eat all three meals in one spot, you might pick the tables overlooking the river in Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe (113 Main St., 802-251-1071, $1.75-$2.50 pastries, $5.50 sandwiches, $4.25-$9 salads). The pastries are knockouts, and sandwiches come served on their own fresh-baked bread .

For ethnic food, try the Slow Fire Cafe (50 Elliot St., 802-258-4906, items $2.50-$10) for mix 'n' match Mexican and Middle Eastern.

Continental cuisine and deep red walls make Peter Havens (32 Elliot St., 802-257-3333, entrees $22-$27) fancy enough for a special occasion. But longtime co-owner Thom Dahlin and his staff make you feel like an old friend even if it's your first visit.

On a nice day, put together a picnic of organic cheeses, breads, and produce from the Brattleboro Food Co-op (Brookside Plaza, 2 Main St., 802-257-0236, brattle borofoodcoop.com).

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