Montpelier, Vermont | The Smallest State Capital Offers a Plethora of Shops, Food, Arts, and Culture
Let’s start out with a couple of facts: Montpelier, Vermont, is the only state capital without a McDonald’s; and based on population, it is the smallest state capital in the country (under 8,000 residents). Within a few short blocks, independently-owned shops and restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder. There’s a vibrant bustle in the air as visitors, dogs, residents, and those working their nine-to-five gigs buzz about in this sweet little Vermont city . Or town. Or village.
However you classify Montpelier, it’s a fun place to explore on foot. You’ll discover a scene that is brimming with arts, culture, great food, friendly dogs (and people), and diverse shops. Park your car; be sure to feed the meter; then head off.
Start your day near the Vermont State House. You’ll be welcomed by Ceres, the goddess of agriculture who stands perched on the golden dome above the Capitol building.
From July 1 through the end of October, tours are led by volunteers on the hour and half hour at the State House. You can also borrow a ‘magic wand’ from the Sergeant of Arms for a self-guided tour when tours are not in session or if you prefer to skip the official tour. Click here for more information.
Before heading up State Street towards Main, pop into the Visitor Center, just across the street from the Capitol.
This electric fleet car is just one little example of initiatives Vermont has established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities. (Read more about Drive Electric Vermont here.) “As a state, Vermont has established aggressive goals of reducing emissions from 1990 baseline levels as follows: 25 percent by 2012; 50 percent by 2028; and, if practicable using reasonable efforts, 75 percent by 2050, ” according to Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources Web site. This sort of green initiative makes Ceres, and all of us who love the Green Mountains, happy.
The State Office Building is not a tourist attraction, unless you miss hanging out at your local DMV, but it gives you a taste of the diverse architectural beauty in Montpelier.
As you head down State Street toward Main, you should visit The Vermont History Museum. Their “Freedom & Unity” multimedia exhibit covers Vermont’s history from 1600 to the present. Every other year, they also host a two-day event at Tunbridge Farigrounds. This year’s Vermont History Expo is June 21-22, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On a day like today, there’s no need to sit inside and watch a movie, but it’s nice to know there are two independent theaters in the smallest state capital in the country. Here’s the first: Capitol Showplace. As you can see on the marquee, they run big-studio and blockbuster movies.
Yes, beautiful architecture is a recurring theme in Montpelier. This is Christ Episcopal Church. We’re still on State Street.
In the parking lot adjacent to the church, on Saturday mornings during the growing season, you can load up on fresh veggies, fruits, flowers, produce, locally-made food, arts and crafts at the Capital City Farmers’ Market. You can also load up on margaritas, chips, and salsa at Julio’s on the other side of the parking lot; however, this might be better to do later in the day. I have first hand experience at Julio’s, but not at the Episcopal Church. (What can I say other than I am Methodist.)
For a house-roasted brew, Capitol Grounds serves up the perfect cup. Unless your olfactory functions don’t work, you’ll know when they’re roasting their beans. They’re also a great stop for breakfast and lunch. The garlic-olive cream cheese is highly addictive for garlic lovers. In fact, speaking of sense of smell, I would recommend ordering the loose Jasmine tea if you plan on talking to anyone for the next three days after eating your bagel with a garlic spread. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can eat dinner and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.
On to the toy store. Every small city/tiny village/whatever you want to call Montpelier needs to have one and Woodbury Mountain Toys has fulfilled Montpelier’s needs for more than twenty years. I’m not sure who is quoted as saying that Woodbury Mountain Toys is the “Best Toy Store, Ever!!,” but I’m pretty sure that most kids would agree. In fact, I agree.
And, yes, the pizza at Positive π Pie is delicious (hand-tossed thin crust), though you can also get salads, starters, sandwiches, burgers, and pasta dishes. You need to read the menu to understand what kind of food these folks cook up. It’s not your grandma’s kind of pizza joint; it’s more like your hip cousin who spent some time in Portland (Maine, Oregon, I don’t know, just some place with a great food scene) kind of pizza joint.
Just above Positive Pie is Ski Vermont. (I used to work there so I decided to say hello.) As you can see, everyone is in really great spirits, except Heidi, the dog in the chair. She’s disgruntled because she has to spend the day at work while all her non-human friends are having fun. (Stay with me on this and you will see where I am going with it.)
…Like this doggie in the window who has not a care in the world.
…And this little puppy Bella who enjoys visiting the Quirky Pet, “an emporium of way cool pet stuff” at 5 State Street. Bella was recently adopted from the folks at Lonestar Pyr and Paws. She might look a little pooped here, but that is because she just came from a wild play date.
Aria, a Bergamasco Sheepdog runs the shop with Cindra, the human person of the operation.
Next stop is Capital Kitchen which has a wonderful collection of kitchenware. Drool.
Lunch at Mad Taco.
The ultimate dive bar.
At Splash Naturals, owner Kelly offers expert advice and knows her products. She helped me find just what I needed: a paraben-free, and other bad-stuff free, SPF 30 face moisturizer.
Bagels, beer, local food, and live music at Bagitos!
To get the local flavor of Montpelier, check out these poster boards for happenings.
The Savoy Theatre shows independent movies.
Right next door to the Savoy is the Drawing Board. This store inspires you to get your art on.
The Winooski River, a tributary of Lake Champlain, weaves through Montpelier. Winooski is the Abenaki word for onion.
Yum. Sarducci’s bustles from lunch through the dinner hour. Eat here. (My favorite: Mista Salad–with blue cheese dressing and huge chunks of blue cheese, followed by the Linguine al Pescatore.)
It’s pretty common to see people strolling around town or sitting on a bench playing musical instruments in Montpelier.
Bear Pond Books for new books.
Classic diner: Coffee Corner.
Artisan’s Hand Craft Gallery is packed with the best from Vermont’s craft community.
There are so many deliciously scrumptious places to eat in Montpelier. These are just suggestions. Don’t eat everywhere I am recommending because you will explode.
La Brioche Bakery and Cafe is part of New England Culinary Institute which is based in Montpelier and Burlington. (Alton Brown graduated from NECI in 1997.)
Public service announcement.
Drink here: Three Penny Taproom.
Buy and sell your used books here.
By the way, we’re on Langdon Street now.
Now, it’s time to head back to your car. Hopefully, your parking meter didn’t expire, or you will have a ticket.
Head out on Main Street (take a left from State and head past the Inn and Montpelier) then follow the signs to Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. Tasty and educational! Required eating: maple creemee.
Time to burn some calories. Head back to town toward Hubbard Park.
I couldn’t remember how to get to The Tower in Hubbard Park, so I had to ask Lilly for directions. The payment: a dog treat.
A half mile up the hill starting at the “New Shelter Pavillion” and you will find The Tower.
Destination: The Tower.
Parting shot: Montpelier.
Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.