Chic restaurants, world-class museums, elegant inns, and active arts programs make parents’ weekend at these New England universities something unexpectedly special.
For college students, heading back to school in the fall means a return to twin beds, cafeteria food, and lots of ramen noodles. But moms and dads don’t have to endure the indignities of college life just because they’re coming to campus for a visit. College towns across New England have posh digs, hip restaurants, and fun places to play that will make parents’ weekend feel more like a relaxing retreat than a freshman-year flashback. Check out our picks for parents that have earned some extra credit.
The weekend: Brunswick is a midcoast Maine gem located just 30 minutes north of Portland along the Androscoggin River. Although there are several well-known cities nearby, including Bath and Freeport, visitors won’t have trouble filling a weekend within the Brunswick town limits. Drop your bags at the sleek and stylish Inn at Brunswick Station, where 48 guest rooms and four suites are decorated with not only Maine’s hardwoods, but also the black and white of Bowdoin’s school colors. The Inn is located adjacent to the Bowdoin campus, which in itself is well worth a visit beyond a trip to Junior’s dorm room. The extensive Winslow Homer collection is a highlight of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and features letters, paintings, personal objects and memorabilia, photos, and works on paper devoted to the artist who lived and painted in his later years in nearby Scarborough. Brunswick is also tailor-made for strolling, whether it’s along the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path, on the mile-long loop trail in the old-growth forest of the Bowdoin Pines, or in and out of the quaint shops on Main Street. For some “wicked good” seafood, try the lobsters and clams at the cove-side Gurnet Trading Co.. Or if you want art and culture with your dinner, stop at Frontier (explorefrontier.com), where live music and local art are paired with dishes like fish tacos, vegan tempeh Reubens, and “Market Plates,” which are inspired by the food markets of France, Italy, Spain, and the Middle East. For some laid-back fun, go retro at Fat Boy Drive In, which serves up burgers and fries in the classic 1950s car-hop style, preserving a little sliver of Americana on the Maine coast.
The weekend: Hanover, just over the Connecticut River from Vermont, is a picturesque, brick-paved town surrounded by woods and rolling hills. You can’t get any closer to the Dartmouth campus than by staying at the just-refurbished Hanover Inn. Although much of the inn’s new design is modern, it retains classic Dartmouth-inspired touches, from the bookshelves filled with old college yearbooks to the board that lets guests know when alumni are staying at the inn. Relax in one of the inn’s signature white rocking chairs outside to take in happenings on the famous college green before heading to dinner at Pine Restaurant, where small plates and entrees like root vegetable chips, celery root soup, and fettucini with duck confit will satisfy even the most discerning palates. Also, don’t miss Pine’s early 20th-century-inspired “restoration cocktails” like Troubles Halfway, a modern, nuanced take on the classic whiskey sour. Work off dinner the next morning with a hike on the Appalachian Trail, a portion of which passes through Hanover, and check out the Velvet Rocks Shelter, one of the many backcountry shelters that hikers use to pass the night along the trail. Or take a hike of the retail variety by visiting the many shops along South Main Street. Back on campus, marvel at some of the 65,000 works at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, which is renowned for its ethnographic collections of Native American, African, and Melanesian art. At the Hopkins Center for the Arts, next door, enjoy live theatre and ballet, films, visual art exhibitions, and performances from musical ensembles like the Handel Society of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra.
The weekend: Nestled at the edge of Lake Champlain and surrounded by gorgeous mountains, Burlington combines outdoor ambiance with college-town cool. For an upscale B&B experience, check in at the Willard Street Inn, which serves a traditional Vermont breakfast to guests who stay in the circa 1881 Victorian mansion. Then head downtown to the Church Street Marketplace to shop for everything from handmade pewter to loose-leaf tea to designer clothes. When you’re all shopped out, take in a show at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, a historic Art Deco theatre that began its life in 1930 as a vaudeville hotspot and is now home to theatre, dance, music, and film programs. Head there this September, and you’ll be able to catch performances by Celtic Thunder, Bill Cosby, and Graham Nash. Art lovers will appreciate the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art, which boasts more than 20,000 pieces spanning millennia around the world, from 3,000-year-old pre-Columbian artifacts to works by contemporary artists like Andy Warhol. Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate Burlington for its pretty Waterfront Bike Path, a 7.5-mile route along the Lake Champlain shoreline that links six area waterfront parks. And those who crave an even more up-close Champlain experience can head out onto the water for a scenic, narrated, or themed cruise on one of the Spirit of Ethan Allen ships, which depart from the Burlington Boathouse through mid-October. Although working up an appetite isn’t hard in Burlington, choosing where to eat might be, as it is known for its restaurant scene. Hang with the locals and sip award-winning craft beers, like Karlswalde Russian Imperial Stout, at the Vermont Pub & Brewery. Or, for more refined fare, try L’Amante Ristorante, which fuses Italian cuisine with locally sourced ingredients for dishes like grilled Vermont quail with fingerling potatoes and pancetta.
The weekend: Providence is the capital city of the Ocean State, and it has the bustling, sophisticated vibe to prove it. An elegant lodging choice is the Hotel Providence, a boutique hotel less than a mile away from Brown’s campus, where the suites are named after authors and classic novels fill the shelves. Located in the main dining room of the Hotel Providence, Rosmarin offers a modern take on European classic dishes showcasing ingredients from local New England farms. For even more dining choices, visit the College Hill neighborhood, which is packed with restaurants serving up kabobs, sandwiches, late-night burritos, burgers, crêpes, Korean BBQ, sushi, tapas, and everything in between. You could spend all day at Roger Williams Park, visiting its zoo, Carousel Park amusement center, and botanical garden, but if you did, you’d miss out on exploring places like the “Little Italy” neighborhood of Federal Hill and the RISD Museum. For a striking view of Waterplace Park, attend a nighttime public art installation by WaterFire. Bonfires burn above the surface of the Woonasquatucket, Moshassuck, and Providence rivers, while music and scented smoke fill the air. (Note: Be sure to check event schedule for exhibition dates.)
The Study at Yale
The weekend: Parents will love The Study at Yale hotel, where a studious aesthetic is inherent in everything— from the Yale alumni-authored books for sale in the lobby to the Yale photographs that adorn the walls to the campus views from the guestrooms and suites. The hotel also offers packages that help guests discover the school’s rich cultural heritage, such as the Repertory Package, which includes an overnight stay and opening night tickets to one of the Yale Repertory Theatre’s shows, plus admittance to the opening night party with the cast and crew and breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Heirloom. Fall semester shows this season include A Streetcar Named Desire, Owners, and Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Yale’s theatrical productions, sports events, and renowned museums, including the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center of British Art, and Yale Peabody Museum, make it entirely possible to enjoy a weekend without ever leaving campus. But there are plenty of places in New Haven that beckon visitors away from the ivy-covered walls. For instance, just across from the Yale Old Campus, you’ll find Claire’s Corner Copia, which has been a favorite for healthy, organic, vegetarian fare since 1975. Also try the farm-to-table ZINC restaurant, which serves new American creations like Smoked Duck Nachos and Vegetable Korma with Fig and Lime Pickle Chutney. Foodies will also love the culinary walking tours from Taste of New Haven, which explores different regions of the city, including the Canal Quarter and Theatre District. Those looking to spend more time outdoors can visit East Rock Park, which is home to the namesake East Rock. Climb to the top for views of New Haven, New Haven Harbor, and Long Island Sound. The park also boasts a rose garden, greenhouse, and environmental center.