White River Junction
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Despite its prominent location at the crossroads of the Connecticut River and two of northern New England’s main thoroughfares—I-89 and I-91—White River Junction is a locale that most visitors to the state journey through, not to.
After the decline of the railway, “WRJ” grew into an ugly industrial sprawl that doesn’t provide the most inviting introduction to the state. Recently, however, the city’s downtown has started to come back to life as artists seeking cheap rents have created lofts and studios, forming a residential community.
That has given the town a funky vibe in some parts, which together with its inexpensive lodgings makes it a convenient stopover on your way to or from nearby Killington.
There are a few reasons to get off on the exit here, however. A dozen miles south along I-91 is the home of what is arguably the best beer made in New England. The Harpoon Brewery (336 Ruth Carney Dr., Windsor, 888/427-7666, www.harpoonbrewery.com, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun.–Wed. and 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. May–Oct.; 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun., Tues., and Wed., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Nov.–Apr.) has won special acclaim for its India Pale Ale, giving Harpoon IPA a regular place on tap at most bars in New England. Just about everything the brewery makes, however, is a master in its class; other favorites are the Octoberfest and Munich Type Dark.
The brewery is a bit stingy in its tastings, limiting visitors to four two-ounce samples per person. If you’d like more (and you will), you’ll have to take a seat at the brewery’s “beer garden,” which serves sandwiches along with freshly poured pints.
New England Transportation Museum
Located at the Amtrak passenger station in town, the New England Transportation Museum (100 Railroad Row, 802/291-9838, www.newenglandtransportationmuseum.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun. late May–early Sept., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Tues. and Fri. Jan.–May, donations accepted) displays exhibits relating to White River Junction’s history as a railroad hub. Highlights are the “Old 494,” a meticulously restored gleaming old steam engine, and an intricate model railroad that speeds by a Vermont scene complete with pine trees and moose. It’s not especially riveting for adults, but it’s guaranteed to be among any child’s vacation highlights.
Montshire Museum of Science
A few miles north from White River Junction, the large Montshire Museum of Science (1 Montshire Rd./I-91 exit 13, Norwich, 802/649-2200, www.montshire.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $10 adults, $8 children 2–17, children under 2 free) is an ambitious local enterprise with exhibits on wildlife, astronomy, and physics. Highlights include a leaf-cutter ant colony and a 250-foot watercourse. Outdoors is a scale model of the solar system, along with several easy-grade nature trails.
Especially good times to visit the Harpoon Brewery (888/427-7666, wwwharpoonbrewery.com) are during the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue in late July—where you can discover how very well ale goes with ribs and grilled chicken—and Harpoon Octoberfest in early October, when the eponymous beer is released.
Laid-back and high-energy at once, Tip Top Cafe (85 N. Main St., 802/295-3312, www.tiptopcafevermont.com, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and–9 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $7–20) is a great blend of bistro and coffeehouse. At lunchtime, the sunny spot serves sandwiches and soups, and at night it brings the candlelight out, alongside entrées like the house specialty, pork and ginger meatloaf.
For a dash of nightlife mixed into your supper, grab one of the coveted tables at Elixir Restaurant and Lounge (188 S. Main St., 802/281-7009, www.elixirrestaurant.com, 4–10 p.m. Tues.–Wed., 4 p.m.–midnight Thurs.–Sat.; winter hours 6:30–9:30 pm Fri., 7–10 pm Sat., $7–14). Along with its groovy vibe, the local hot spot doles out tasty and cleverly named bites like potato gnocchi with rock shrimp and ham (“Pillows of Love”), and steak quesadilla with lime cream and blue cheese (“Blue Your Socks Off”).
© Michael Blanding and Alexandra Hall from Moon New England, 2nd Edition