The outdoor seating area at YUP Coffee, which has a free library and a view of the river.
Photo Credit : Katherine Keenan
Looking for wallet-friendly drinks, affordable restaurants, and free activities in Northampton, Massachusetts? You can skip the expensive dinners and pricey shops and still find lots to do, with the help of our budget guide to Northampton.A few hours from both Boston and New York City, Northampton — aka “Paradise City”— sits smack in the middle of western Massachusetts. It’s an academic, artistic, and countercultural hub that bears a feisty unofficial slogan: “Where the Coffee Is Strong and So Are the Women.” The surrounding region, known as the Pioneer Valley, provides many sightseeing opportunities and is home to several colleges and universities.
Budget Weekend in Northampton, Massachusetts
Given the focus on budget-friendly locations, we’ve included many specific prices in this post. Please note that prices and menu items are always subject to change. It never hurts to double-check with a phone call before heading out.Despite numerous high-end restaurants and bars (think farm-to-table entrées and craft cocktails), Northampton can be reasonable if you know where to look. Because of its large student population, Northampton boasts a wide array of budget-friendly alternatives for food and drink. Similarly, because of the surrounding trails and green spaces, visitors could spend days exploring the outdoors for free. Keep in mind that you may have to venture beyond the main drag or drive a few minutes out of town in order to get to some of the best deals.
Start off your day with a breakfast sandwich from one of the many coffee shops in town. A few of our favorites: Located in a renovated diner car on Strong Avenue, Familiars offers reasonably priced breakfast sandwiches ($3.50 and up) and coffee ($2) in a cool vintage space. On King Street, try an egg sandwich from Tandem Bagel Company($3.24 for an egg on your choice of bread, bagel, or wrap). We’re partial to the pesto-Parmesan bagel, by the way. At Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters – with locations on King Street and Main Street — you can pick up a toasted-coconut cold brew ($2.75) and a “Buckland” breakfast sandwich (breakfast sausage, egg, cheddar, and maple syrup on a bagel for $6.75).Right next door to Northampton is Florence, where you can take advantage of the weekday breakfast specials (if you’re willing to get up before 9 a.m.) at the Miss Florence Diner: two eggs, toast, and home fries for $3.99 and bottomless coffee for $1.99.
During the Day
At the Botanic Garden of Smith College, a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Botanic Garden,” you can enjoy temperate surroundings no matter the weather outside. Entry is by donation — just pay what you can. Afterward, meander around the Smith College campus, which has many peaceful spots where you can lounge on the grass and watch people pass by.
Feel like getting some exercise? Pay a small fee for a single-trip or one-day pass on an electric-assist bike from the ValleyBike bike-share program, and take a ride down the Norwottuck Rail Trail. The trail stretches from Northampton through Hadley and into Amherst, making it a great way to see the local area. If indoor fun is more your speed, how about going on a crawl of terrific used bookstores? Start in Northampton at Raven Used Books, with its delightful maze of stacks and shelves, and the Old Book Store, which sits below the sidewalk on Masonic Street, tucked away nearly out of sight. In nearby Hadley you’ll find Grey Matter Books, a used bookstore so big you’ll be wondering if it’s actually possible to see every shelf. Finally, the legendary Montague Bookmill is worth the 30-minute drive from Northampton: Located in an old grist mill on a beautiful river, it has all sorts of nooks and crannies where you can curl up with a book. On sunny days, hanging out at a local swimming hole is hard to beat. One of the most popular options is on the Mill River, near the Brushworks building in Florence, and includes a cascading waterfall. You can scout the scene with a drink in hand at nearby Yup Coffee Roasters, which overlooks the river; when hunger strikes, swing over to the Florence Pie Barfor a savory or sweet midday snack (we recommend the banana cream pie, $4.50 a slice).
For wallet-friendly dining, how about a picnic in the park? Find provisions at the State Street Fruit Store, where you can choose from classic deli sandwiches ($3.75 half/$5.95 full) or grab some cheese and a few locally crafted cold ones (from the Artifact Cider Project, for instance, or Fort Hill Brewery), and pick up bread at Hungry Ghost Bread, conveniently located just across the street.If you’re more in the mood for walking around town while snacking on a slice of pizza, stop by Mimmo’s for an extra-large cheese slice ($3.75). For a heftier bite, check out the piled-high chicken-bacon-ranch slice ($5) at Pinocchio Pizzeria. Pita Pockets is known for cheap, vegetarian-friendly fare, including a falafel wrap ($7) and tzatziki with pita ($4). Café Evolutionin nearby Florence is another favorite vegan/vegetarian spot. We love the Saint Reuben, a pumpernickel bagel with tempeh bacon, avocado, sauerkraut, clover sprouts, and Thousand Island dressing ($6.95).
Fans of dive bars will feel right at home at Joe’s Café, a local hangout filled with faded murals and relics of Northampton in days gone by. On Wednesdays, get there early for $5.95 plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Other affordable options include pizzas and pastas, which feature a terrific homestyle meat sauce. Any college student you meet will likely vouch for the food at Local Burger, a bustling counter-service spot that turns out burgers, hot dogs, fries, and shakes. There’s something for everyone, from a portobello burger with roasted red peppers and blue cheese ($7.39) to a hot dog crusted with Cap’n Crunch and topped with buffalo sauce ($4.39).Tasty Mexican food at reasonable prices is what you’ll find at La Veracruzana, where you can order a large bowl of guacamole for the table for only $4.25. For the best prices, stick to the basics, like a plate of two tacos or a burrito ($6) or a quesadilla ($5).Over in nearby Easthampton, Daily Operationhas made a splash with its casual American-international fusion fare. Although this place can get pretty busy, it’s worth the wait. Nothing costs more than $10, and the many can’t-miss creations include a dry-aged cheeseburger, Sichuan cabbage salad, and kung pao cauliflower.For dessert, look to Northampton’s famous gourmet ice cream purveyor, Herrell’s, where you can check out the list of celebrity patrons while savoring a scoop. Better yet, if it’s your birthday, you can claim a free small sundae.
Northampton’s bars and breweries range from local dives to upscale speakeasies. If you’re on a budget, stick to the former and check out the many top-notch local beers and ciders. A popular coffee shop by day, the Roostbecomes a watering hole after dark, serving beers, wines, and cocktails until 11 p.m. most nights. At $2.50 for a Narragansett and $4 for an Artifact cider, the prices are hard to beat. So is the ambiance: Stop by on a movie night if you can (check website for schedule), or just hang out and play a board game.Ye Ol’ Watering Hole is the place to go for cheap beer, pickleback shots (Jameson whiskey chased with pickle juice), and free pool (on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays). Those who favor IPAs will want to try the citrusy Dirty Girl ($5 a pint), from Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton.
And if at the end of the day you find yourself with a little extra cash to spare, why not grab a bar stool at upscale pub the Dirty Truth? You can order a variety of 10 oz. pours to get a taste for all that local brewers have to offer, and while you’re at it, order a bowl of large fries: for $10 you’ll have enough to feed a whole table.What are your favorite places to eat and drink on a budget in Northampton, Massachusetts?