Discover an Autumn Gem in Central Massachusetts

A fall getaway to Sturbridge is a perfect preview of all this region has to offer.

By Yankee Editors

Aug 14 2023


Autumn leaves add a spark of color to the outdoor living history museum Old Sturbridge Village, a perennial visitor favorite in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

Photo Credit : Old Sturbridge Village

By Andrea E. McHugh; sponsored by Discover Central Massachusetts

Even as daylight grows shorter and warm afternoons begin to slide into brisk evenings, the end of summer is far from a bittersweet time in New England. Instead, it heralds the coming of a season whose splendor is no better celebrated than in the town of Sturbridge, a hub of history and culture in the heart of Central Massachusetts. Long hailed as the “Crossroads of New England,” Sturbridge is a treasure chest of the region’s famous autumn delights — from orchards brimming with ripe apples, the fruit like bright red confetti sprinkled under a blue sky; to the aromas of cinnamon sugar and hot cider wafting through the crisp air; to that world-renowned backdrop of brilliant fall foliage.

Is picking apples on your fall to-do list? Just a short drive from Sturbridge is the family-owned Brookfield Orchards, where you can load up on juicy Macs, Honeycrisps, Cortlands, Galas, and more.
Photo Credit : Brookfield Orchards

Situated within an easy drive from cities like Boston, Hartford, and Providence and just a three-hour jaunt for weekenders from New York City, Sturbridge delivers the best of the autumn season with a cornucopia of events and experiences for visitors of all ages. Heritage attractions, home-grown craft breweries and distilleries, a shopping scene that spans au courant to antique (including the legendary Brimfield Antique Flea Market, just few miles down the road), arts and culture, lovely rural landscapes — all these and more make Sturbridge and its surroundings the ideal destination for a fall getaway.

Held right in the heart of town each fall, Sturbridge’s annual Harvest Festival offers a weekend of open-air fun that spans shopping for handmade gifts to enjoying local music and food — with plenty of kids’ activities to boot.
Photo Credit : The Publick House Historic Inn

Settle in and get your bearings at The Publick House Historic Inn, where past and present intertwine. A testament to Sturbridge’s enduring hospitality, The Publick House has welcomed visitors from far and wide since 1771; now updated and expanded to encompass 125 rooms in four lodging facilities, two restaurants, and a spa, the property still boasts period decor in the main inn as a reminder of days gone by.

Set among New England hardwoods that blaze crimson, orange, and yellow in autumn, The Publick House is also a picturesque setting for October’s annual Harvest Festival weekend, a longstanding family tradition that lets visitors dive right into local community spirit, too. Spread across the inn’s grounds and the Sturbridge Town Common, the Harvest Festival invites you to peruse the wares of talented crafters and artisans, shop farm-fresh bounty, enjoy live entertainment, and treat your palate to a variety of flavors from specialty food vendors. And be sure to cast a vote in The Publick House’s Scarecrow Contest, where plenty of eerie creativity will be on display.

Famed for its re-creation of early rural life in New England, the living history museum Old Sturbridge Village puts an eerie spin on visitors’ experience with its special Halloween-season program, Phantoms by Firelight.
Photo Credit : Old Sturbridge Village

Jump into spooky season with both feet at Phantoms by Firelight at Old Sturbridge Village, a monthlong event that offers a rare nighttime look at New England’s largest outdoor history museum. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings throughout October, visitors can explore the myths and folklore of Halloween among the village’s 40 antique buildings; adding to the spine-tingling fun is the appearance of a “mysterious” troupe of performers.

Of course, Old Sturbridge Village is just as fascinating by day, with its endless exhibits, demonstrations, and stories of early 19th-century rural New England life. Make a mental note to pop by the new Ox & Yoke Mercantile, right outside the village’s entrance, to stock up on unique finds with a sense of place — from village-made redware pottery and iron hooks forged in the village blacksmith shop, to hand-dipped candles from Sturbridge’s Mole Hollow Candles and cider syrup from Carr’s Ciderhouse in nearby Hadley. 

Ideal for travelers who love unearthing treasures at local boutiques, Lake Road Living in Sturbridge offers a thoughtfully curated selection of New England–inspired fashion, accessories, decor, and gifts.
Photo Credit : Lake Road Living via Facebook

Still in need of retail therapy? Just up the road you’ll find contemporary shopping at Lake Road Living, situated in a stately c. 1836 Greek Revival mansion. Opened in 2020, Lake Road Living bills itself as a New England fashion boutique — and it is — yet it feels more like a local style maven has let you right into her home, an intimate, tasteful space filled with covetable clothes, accessories, and décor.

For those who like to do their browsing in the great outdoors, nothing beats an apple orchard in autumn. Central Massachusetts is peppered with family-owned farms, most found tucked off quiet winding roads traced by craggy stone walls, but it’s worth seeking out Brookfield Orchards in particular: With more than a century’s worth of harvest seasons under its belt, the always-family-owned farm delivers a classic fall experience. Located in North Brookfield, about a 20-minute drive from Sturbridge, the orchard greets you with the scent of just-made cider doughnuts before you’ve even left your car. Bring muck boots or a sturdy pair of shoes for walking as you fill a peck or two from the orchard’s 5,000 apples trees; there are more than 20 varieties here, all ready to be tucked into lattice-topped pies or crumbly apple crisps, or eaten right from your hand.

Pale ales and other beers of summer give way to darker, headier brews when the weather turns crisp and cool. At Rapscallion Pub in Sturbridge, look for the return of seasonal favorite Raps Porter in October.
Photo Credit : Rapscallion via Facebook

And while your brimming bag may inspire dreams of homemade cider-making, we advise checking out what the pros can do with autumn’s bounty at Common Ground Ciderworks, just a mile down the road. At this semi-alfresco country compound, you can kick back and relax with some hand-crafted, small-batch hard cider (wine and beer, too). There’s frequent live music, as well as simple, tasty fare such as flatbreads, burgers, and nachos; meanwhile, nature’s colorful backdrop is a constant delight. For an array of traditional craft brews, meanwhile, head back to Sturbridge to check out local favorite Rapscallion Pub. Serving beers from their microbrewery in nearby Spencer, this tavern is casual and comfortable, as is their menu. Savor the juicy, hazy flavors of a classic New England IPA or go dark with a hearty coffee stout — or perhaps sample a seasonal special, such as Peter Pumpkin Lager. Wines, cocktails, and mocktails ensure everyone in your group can raise a toast to the changing season from their front-row seats on the outdoor patio.

A spinoff of the original Baba Sushi founded in Worcester by master chef Wilson Wang, Sturbridge Baba Sushi is a great place to sample Wang’s award-winning modern Japanese cuisine.
Photo Credit : Baba Sushi

Given the range of culinary talent throughout the Sturbridge region, your FOMO may go into overdrive when it comes to choosing places to eat. Relax, and start with some of the town’s tried-and-true refueling spots. For breakfast, it’s hard to top the served-all-day menu at Cedar Street Café at Wight Farm. Choose from breakfast burritos, fluffy pancakes and omelets, skillets filled with everything from corned beef hash to roasted veggies, and other creative eats (e.g., The Elvis breakfast sandwich, featuring banana, bacon, and peanut butter smothered in vanilla bourbon–infused maple syrup and wedged between slices of egg-dipped sourdough). More-worldly flavors can be had at Baba Sushi Sturbridge, where diners choose from traditional and creative sushi rolls or other modern Asian dishes, and at Avellino, which celebrates the gastronomic traditions of Italy. Upstairs from Avellino in their shared 1865 Greek Revival building is The Duck, a more causal “barn loft”-style restaurant (think: vaulted ceilings with exposed beams throughout) offering lunch and dinner both inside and, when the weather is favorable, outside on the patio. If you seek hearty steaks, seafood, and burgers, The Duck will have you waddling home most happily.

So while all of New England may be clamoring for attention at this time of year, beating its proverbial chest with its world-renowned fall foliage display, you’ll find no place that better merges the region’s past and present, its foliage and flavors — and simply invites you to see where the road takes you — than Sturbridge, a true gem of Central Massachusetts.