Burlington, Vermont: a tale of two cities.
Having lived the last four years in Burlington, I have come to love the small town and appreciate its quirks. The mountains, music scene and town itself, make Burlington, along with their few residents, a very unique breed.
During the summer, seemingly the entire town is out and about, whether that be walking down Church Street; eating at cafés, listening to local street bands, and observing the small scale protests, or down at Lake Champlain; swimming, sailing, cliff jumping, or simply enjoying the nice weather.
However, when the winter chill takes over, a new side of life appears. Church Street and the lakefront are eerily quiet…yet the inhabitants are no less active or outdoorsy. Instead, Burlington is up early, heading to Stowe, Sugar Bush, or Jay Peak in order to ski, or out late trying to stay warm and forget the stifling cold at a crowded bar, music venue, or restaurant.
No matter the season, Burlington always has something fun and interesting to offer. Without further adieu, here are the top 10 most “mindful” must sees in and around Burlington.
1. Lake Champlain
The first place anyone should go when in, or around Burlington, is with a doubt Lake Champlain.
A restoration effort over the past decade has worked to remove a lot of the industrial machinery and waste left on the shoreline by years of large logging and shipping industries, and now the lakefront is a beautiful place to spend a sunny afternoon.
They have added a boardwalk with hanging benches, a small, hands-on aquarium, a boatyard, tons of small local restaurants, and miles of bike paths leading to dozens of small beaches and parks. Oak Ledge is one of these beaches where you can soak up some sun on the rocks, have a picnic in the park, or get your feet wet and jump off some of the cliffs. Just a little past Oak Ledge is Red Rocks, another beach where you can rent kayaks, or, if you look hard enough, can find a perfect group of cliffs ranging from 10 to 75 feet and crawling with young adventurous people.
Lastly, in the opposite direction of Red Rocks and Oak Ledge is North Beach, one of the bigger beaches on the lake. Here there is an endless barbeque with hundreds of locals playing football, soccer, and of course cooling off in the beautiful lake.
2. Mt Mansfield/Stowe
Mt Mansfield is the perfect example of a bipolar Burlington. As the tallest mountain in Vermont, it towers of Burlington, always making its presence felt. In the winter, Stowe, arguably the best, but certainly the most developed ski resort in Vermont, controls a good portion of the mountain. Nevertheless, the winter resort not only gives you access to the mountain through ski lifts, but also allows one to climb to the summit for fresh tracks, and steeper terrain. Just a few months later, throughout the summer, the mountain becomes one of the most sought after hiking destinations in Vermont with incredible views of seemingly the entire state of Vermont as well as half of New York and New Hampshire.
Bolton is another Mountain, mainly known for it winter resort only 20-30 minutes outside of Burlington. While it is pretty small, if offers a cheap and easy way to get out of town, get on the hill, and feel the wind in your face, all the while working on your goggle tan! In the summer though, Bolton is known for a group of waterfalls, fondly nicknamed the Bolton buckets or Bolton Potholes. One can swim, jump of the cliffs, or just hang on the rocks and enjoy the short-lived Vermont summer days in the beautifully tranquil surroundings.
4. Church St
The landmark of Burlington’s town is undoubtedly Church Street – a small outdoor street mall filled with boutiques, restaurants, shops, and bars, including the original Ben and Jerry’s. During the summer, all of the cafes and restaurants fill out the sidewalks with outdoor tables, the bars play live music, and there is almost always some sort of event going, whether it is glass blowing competitions, protests, or little street festivals. Once the sun goes down, the nightlife takes over by hundreds of people flocking to the lively bars.
Nectars is one of the best known bars in Burlington, located directly off of Church Street, on Main Street. It famously gave Phish their first break while they were attending local Burlington schools UVM and St. Mike’s. Nowadays not much has changed: every night brings live music from young up and coming bands or longtime Burlington favorites.
6. Higher Ground
Higher Ground is the biggest music venue in Burlington.
The sentiment of the venue is set upon one’s first step into the building, where a gigantic guitar statue sits in front of you signed by all of the members of The Grateful Dead. Although the venue is fairly small—housing about 2,500 people—they manage to book pretty big bands (Yonder Mountain String Band, Medeski Martin and Wood, Galactic, The Black Crowes, and Sound Tribe Sector Nine, just to name a few)—all while maintaining the intimate show setting.
7. Radio Bean
The Radio Bean is one of the most unique bars I’ve ever been in.
By day it’s a coffee shop. By night, this locally-owned bar becomes a small-scale music venue. Each night has its own theme; jazz, honky-tonk, bluegrass, rock, and funk. Even Mike Gordon, Phish’s bass guitarist and Burlington local, can often be seen there with either a bass or a beer in hand. It’s simple: the people are interesting, the beer is good, and the music is always on point.
What else can you ask for?
8. Ben and Jerry’s
Burlington, if nothing else, will be remembered in recent memory as the birthplace of Phish and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Centrally located on Church St, the Ben and Jerry’s store constantly has lines out the door, during the summer; nonetheless the wait is well worth it. With flavors like Cherry Garcia, Phish Phood, and Whirled Peace, not only has the company created amazing ice cream flavors but has become a beacon for socially conscious and environmentally friendly organizations.
In addition, just minutes outside of Burlington is the Ben and Jerry’s factory where you can take a tour with all of the free ice cream you can handle
9. Mt. Pilo
Mt. Pilo is a small mountain just outside of Burlington where a short but steep 30 to 45 minute hike will get you to a summit with views of Lake Champlain and the town of Burlington. It’s peaceful as can be, with an open grass field surrounded by deep east coast forests and tons of sun.
Mt. Pilo is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Adirondack Mountains while getting some quick and rewarding exercise.
10. UVM campus
Whether it is the Williams fire escape to watch a beautiful sunset over Lake Champlain, play some Frisbee or slack line in one of the wide-open greens, or watch a game at the athletic facilities, the University of Vermont campus is one of Burlington’s highlights.
Especially during hockey season, nearly all of Burlington is on campus, cramming into the Gutterson Arena to wildly root for their Catamount hockey team.
John Spina was born in Denver, Colorado, graduated from Denver East High School, and currently attends the University of Vermont in Burlington. He loves music, literature, being outdoors with his dog, and any and all sports.
Most recently he has begun to work for the Mountain Ear, a local Nederland paper; and intern for Elephant Journal.