Birds of Prey and Barbeque. Northampton’s Got It All.

Western Massachusetts is known for leaf-peeping and apple-picking, but there’s plenty of culture and entertainment to be had, even when autumn is far off in the future. Tucked between the rolling green hills of this hiker’s paradise is a wealth of culture and entertainment. From thriving art galleries and quirky gift shops to barbecue joints and historic ice cream parlors, Northampton and surrounding Hampshire County have surprises in every nook and cranny.
Commune with nature hands-on with your new fine-feathered, falcon friend.

Commune with nature hands-on with your new fine-feathered, falcon friend. PHOTOS BY JOEL BENJAMIN

Whether you’re ziptripping from Amherst or another nearby city in Western Massachusetts, be sure to make a stop in Hadley for a unique experience: falconry. At New England Falconry(115 River Drive, Hadley, MA; 413-896-4899; newenglandfalconry.com), you’ll experience what it’s like to be a handler and fly a trained Harris’s Hawk while learning about how raptors prey and have interacted with man. Master Falconer Chris Davis has been training hawks for over thirty years and conducts research on threatened species for Federal and State wildlife agencies. He’ll walk you through raptors’ unique biology (think ultraviolet vision) and why protecting these creatures is so important. As their habitats dwindle, more birds of prey can be found even in the city. (Tip: Make sure to book your lesson in advance; they fill up fast!)

BBQ, BAKED GOODS, BREW

Just a year old, Wildwood Barbeque is fast becoming a comfort foodie’s favorite.

Just a year old, Wildwood Barbeque is fast becoming a comfort foodie’s favorite.

After a morning of watching hawks eat, you’ll be hankering for your own grub. There’s no better place to get your carnivorous fill than Wildwood Barbeque (235 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035; 413-584-4227; wildwoodque.com). Known for succulent smoked meats (ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and tea-soaked wings), this relatively inexpensive BBQ joint boasts plenty of country charm. It is a great lunch spot with tables inside and tons of picnic benches outside. Wildwood has a special gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan menu: “No Meat, No Wheat, No Problem!” Beer fans can wash down their lunches with a taste of one of their best regional craft lagers and ales. Even if you only stop by for a snack, check out the home-baked pies and chocolate desserts. (Pie’s a snack, right?)

FUNNY FACES

Adorn your abode — and yourself — with groovy goods from Faces.

Adorn your abode — and yourself — with groovy goods from Faces.

If it’s cool and quirky, you can find it at Faces (175 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060; 413-584-4081; facesmainst.com). The NoHo (what the locals call Northampton) institution has been on Main Street since 1986, selling clothes, accessories, and gifts you won’t find anywhere else. Grab a couple friends and see who can spot the wackiest wares, movie montage-style. Don’t miss the downstairs level that’s all housewares, perfect for the pal with a new pad. And before you go, use the provided Polaroid to snap a selfie for their “mug shot” wall.

CANDY IS DANDY, BUT CREAMY IS DREAMY

Diet, schmiet. This here’s ice cream history.

Diet, schmiet. This here’s ice cream history.

Love gourmet ice cream? Thank Steve Herrell. The founder of Herrell’s Ice Cream (Thorne’s Marketplace, with an entrance at 8 Old South Street, Northampton, MA 01060; 413-586-9700; herrells.com) altered his commercial freezer to produce the first rich and creamy “super premium” ice cream in 1973. Another highlight: Herrell’s mixed in our fave candies and treats as “smoosh-ins,” creating hugely popular flavors like Heath Bar Crunch and Cookies ‘n’ Cream. Definitely don’t leave this flagship shop without drenching your scoop in their famous hot fudge; we suggest taking a jar of it to go.

CULTURE PIONEERS

You don’t need to be an art history major to enjoy Smith’s on-campus art museum; it’s open to all.

You don’t need to be an art history major to enjoy Smith’s on-campus art museum; it’s open to all.

No trip to NoHo is complete without stopping by Smith College. The liberal arts institution has a worthwhile Museum of Art (20 Elm St, Northampton, MA 01063; 413-585-2760; smith.edu/artmuseum). You’d expect the Seven Sisters member to have a thoughtful collection of art by women, and they don’t disappoint. Photography fans should stop by the Cunningham Center, where there are over 5,700 photographs — some that date back to the invention of the medium — as well as many other original works on paper. Remember your artistic afternoon by grabbing a postcard or two from the museum shop.

PASTA, PLEASE

Fresh pasta made in-house and bread baked to order? We’re in carb heaven.

Fresh pasta made in-house and bread baked to order? We’re in carb heaven.

After a full day of exploring, nothing sounds better than a big bowlful of pasta. At Viva Fresh Pasta Co. (249 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060; 413-586-5875; vivafreshpasta.com), linguine and fettuccine, ravioli and rotini are made fresh in-house daily with organic ingredients. For those who want it their way, you can build your own bowl, starting with fresh pasta like garlic and parsley fettuccine, and then add your choice of sauce, vegetables, and protein for a truly custom creation. Celiacs and vegans won’t miss out, either: the brown rice rotini is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. (We haven’t sampled it, so report back if you try it out.) Southern European entrees, a full tapas menu, and a sizable selection of wine and beer offer something for everyone (including a cappuccino for the designated driver).