I’ve been visiting Concord, New Hampshire, for more than ten years now. The main draw for me is family: My brother, sister-in-law and adorable nephews live nearby. Every now and again I have a business meeting there, or I stop on my way to somewhere else to grab a quick bite to eat, or do some shopping. It’s conveniently located where Interstates 89 and 93 cross.
Concord is New Hampshire’s capital city; and with about 40,000 residents, it has its share of chain restaurants, hotels, and shopping. However, there’s quite a lot of depth to Concord, too. It’s not just an easy place for a pit stop on the drive to somewhere else. If you spend an afternoon, a day, a weekend, or your life there raising a family like my brother and his wife decided to do, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a vibrant community with a thriving local arts and culture scene, with lots of independently-owned restaurants and shops, and wonderful educational and recreational opportunities.
Concord is the kind of town that warmly invites you to stay a while. If you plan to visit overnight, The Centennial Hotel, a 19th century Victorian-era building located on Pleasant Street, combines historic charm with flashes of contemporary–dare I say “hip” without making myself sound “un-hip”–style. If you stay here, don’t miss brunch, but don’t wait for me to order because I cannot decide. Hmmm, Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict with Spinach, Tomato and Capers or a Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote, Whipped Cream, Toasted Almonds and NH Maple Syrup.
Less than one mile from the Centennial, you’re in the heart of Concord on South Main Street. And the first stop is the League of NH Craftsmen Gallery. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. The current exhibit is Hot Stuff: Feel the Heat!, a multi-media, exhibition designed to spark inspiration and light up the senses.
The works in the Gallery are for sale, but if you want to buy something that is hand-crafted locally and a bit more budget-friendly just walk down the street to one of The League of NH Craftsmen Retail Galleries.
Of course, when I am on that side of South Main, I need to make a few stops before heading down the street. Get ready to spend some time in the independently owned (since 1898) Gibson’s Bookstore.
There’s also an enormous kids’ section with books and toys. Oh, and a cafe that serves coffee and beer. In fact, they have 603 beer on tap. (If you aren’t from New Hampshire, you may not know that is our area code.)
I also love bona fide goods. Their mission is to serve “the highest standards in eco-criteria and social responsibility with the lowest impact to the earth and its inhabitants” My kitty cat loves the organic catnip mouse toy I bought for her.
And since I am on this side of town I might as well visit New England Cupcakery.
New England Cupcakery is a one-woman bakery. And that woman is Lia Liporta, who bakes all the sweet treats on-site daily, using only the finest ingredients; although the day I stopped by, Lia’s mother was helping, but that was really because Valentine’s Day was around the corner, a busy time for cupcake makers. (If you’re still craving sugar, be sure to visit Granite State Candy Shoppe, a third generation-run company, located at 13 Warren Street. They’ve been making premium chocolates in New Hampshire since 1927.)
On this end of South Main, you’ll also find the independent Red River Theatres (for movies) and Capitol Center for the Arts. The latter, a 1,304-seat theater presents Broadway shows, dance performances, pop and country stars, family shows, international performances, school-time shows and business conferences and seminars. Nearby, you can take in a show at The Audi, Concord City Auditorium. Open since 1904, it has served as Concord’s community arts and entertainment venue.
Keep walking and you’ll pass by storefronts occupied by more independently-owned shops.
My favorite stop for a sweet potato burrito is Dos Amigos.
To continue the buy local theme, Concord even has a Winter Farmers’ Market.
According to Charlie Cole, “The Winter Farmers’ Market at Cole Gardens has become a regular Saturday food stop for many local residents who are buying for Saturday night’s dinner, or purchasing for the week. It has grown to support over thirty vendors.”
If you need some exercise, you can head to Evo, an indoor climbing gym. Don’t get intimidated by the fear of advanced athleticism. They have easy routes as well as really challenging climbs.
And then of course, there’s the classic winter scene at White Park with a sledding hill, a skate pond, and even an outdoor hockey rink.
Photo credit: Timothy Taber, McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
And if all of that isn’t enough, a visit to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will put you over the moon. Okay, maybe not literally, but the Discovery Center’s collection of interactive exhibits that cover astronomy, aviation, Earth and space sciences is remarkable.
There’s so much more to explore in Concord than the slice of it I shared with you. I hope the next time you see the gold dome from the highway, you’ll get off the exit for a visit.
For more information about a trip to Concord, visit: concordnhchamber.com.