9 reasons to visit North Conway, New Hampshire

Bacon chocolate peanut brittle.

OK, I thought. I have now officially seen everything.

Zeb's General Store is full of weird and wonderful things, like bacon chocolate peanut brittle. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

Zeb’s General Store is full of weird and wonderful things, like bacon chocolate peanut brittle. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

That was just one of many quirky products that caught my eye in Zeb’s General Store, an “old timey” spot in North Conway, New Hampshire. The place also sells dill pickle-flavoured popcorn, spicy blueberry jelly and “redneck flashlights” made out of beer cans.

Most, but not all of the products, come from across the Northeast—Zeb’s claims to have the biggest stock of New England products in the world—so you’ll also find lots of more practical things. Along with probably every Stonewall Kitchen product ever made, the shelves are stocked with seafood chowder from Maine, chocolate-covered blueberries from Massachusetts and Pez from Connecticut. (You didn’t know Pez originated in Connecticut? Now you do.)

Sure, Zeb’s is as corny as an old episode of the Beverly Hillbillies, with old metal pots and scales dangling from the ceiling, displays of hokey fridge magnets, and a vintage cooler filled with Cokes in eight-ounce glass bottles. But it’s worth a stop in North Conway. Here are eight other reasons to visit this popular New England town.

Craft beer

I wish I'd had a bigger appetite that night at Moat Mountain. The chili was excellent. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

Chili and a beer at the Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

I had a delish dinner with a great Czech-style Pilsner brewed by the Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Company, at the north edge of town. Inconveniently, I wasn’t that hungry (I’d wolfed down a late lunch—see below), so I picked what looked like the lightest thing on the menu: a bowl of Texas-style brisket and andouille sausage chili, which arrived with a sweet, warm chunk of cornbread as well. I was quite sorry I wasn’t hungrier, as the chili was fab. I cheered myself up with the crisp, cold beer, one of 19 Moat House brews; the company also makes everything from blueberry beer to a rye pale ale.

A great downtown inn

Like every New England inn, the Kearsarge inn reminded me of the hotel from Newhart. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Like every New England inn, the Kearsarge inn reminded me of the hotel from Newhart. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

North Conway is a big tourist town, and there are tons of places to stay, including an intriguing-looking theme motel that recently got a shout out in the Boston Globe. However, many accommodations are on the north and south fringes of town. I was glad to be staying at the charming Kearsarge Inn, housed in a 19th-century building in the heart of the village, with many of the main attractions just a short walk away. It made waddling home from breakfast much easier. Which brings me to…

Breakfast at the Stairway Cafe

The Full Monte at the Stairway Cafe was worth every calorie. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

The Full Monte at the Stairway Cafe was worth every calorie. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

It was my own fault, really. When you order a breakfast called the Full Monte and you’re in the U.S.A. (home of the world’s biggest restaurant portions, I swear), you can’t complain when it’s huge. But I couldn’t resist ordering this sandwich of a fried egg, bacon, ham and Swiss cheese between two pieces of French toast, with a side of house-made applesauce at the Stairway Cafe. And it was yummy. It’s just one of many options on the four-page breakfast menu, so there are many other, more diet-friendly choices. The second-floor cafe is immensely charming, too, from the stair risers painted with the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” to the cheery, colourful decor.

Local crafts

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen gallery is a great place for gift shopping. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen gallery is a great place for gift shopping. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen is a bit of a misnomer; there are lots of items by female artisans, too. (I chalked the name up to the fact that the organization was founded in 1932, but, interestingly, it was originally called the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts. Members voted to change to the current name in 1968.) Anyway, it’s a fun spot to browse for glass vases, one-of-a-kind jewellery, pottery, photography and more. The North Conway gallery is one of eight across the state.

A relaxing coffee shop

The Metropolitan Coffee House was an ideal spot for a restorative lunch and a cup of tea. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

The Metropolitan Coffee House was an ideal spot for a restorative lunch and a cup of tea. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

When I arrived in town, I’d been driving for a little over five hours from Ottawa, and I was ravenous. I headed straight for the Metropolitan Coffee House & Fine Art Gallery to grab a late lunch, and it turned out to be a wise choice. Amid artwork by local painters, I inhaled a tasty turkey sandwich on an everything bagel with a cup of decaf Earl Grey tea. (As a non-coffee drinker, I’m always on the lookout for places with a good tea selection, including cafes where the non-caffeinated choices aren’t limited to the dreaded chamomile.) There’s free wi-fi, too.

A do-it-yourself windstorm

Behold, my fellow weather geeks: a museum just for you! Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

Behold, my fellow weather geeks: a museum just for you! Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

The Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center will be of interest mainly to meteorology geeks. (OK, I thought it was really cool, but I’m a bona fide nerd.) The Mount Washington Observatory is located on a nearby summit that bills itself as Home of the World’s Worst Weather, due to its extreme winter temperatures and hurricane-force winds. This small, free museum in North Conway tells the story of the observatory and of New England weather in general. But even if displays about the Beaufort Scale and record floods don’t float your boat, drop by just to experience the replica weather station hut. Push a button and the lights dim. The floor vibrates and the walls start to shake. The pendulum lamp starts to swing and a video of snow blowing sideways plays in the windows. It’s surprisingly realistic and more than a bit unnerving.

Outlet shopping

You can browse for bargains at Settlers' Green Outlet Village. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

You can browse for bargains at Settlers’ Green Outlet Village. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

Here are the magic words that draw many shopaholics to New Hampshire: no sales tax. Like several other places across the state, North Conway capitalizes on this advantage with a big outlet mall. The quality of the deals at Settlers’ Green Outlet Village varies—on the day I visited, the Brookstone store seemed to be stocked mainly with returned, out-of-date electronics—but I did score two nice outfits for US$74 total at Dress Barn. The complex has roughly 60 retailers, including Tommy Hilfiger, Aeropostale and Zales.

A vintage sightseeing train

All aboard! I want to come back to North Conway and ride the rails. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

All aboard! I want to come back to North Conway and ride the rails. Photo copyright Laura Byrne Paquet.

I’m cheating a bit here, as I visited North Conway in March, so the Conway Scenic Railroad wasn’t running for the season yet. I had to content myself with taking many, many photos of the vintage trains and the super-cute train station. The trains run from April to December. I guess I’ll just have to go back. Darn.

If you go

North Conway is about 540 kilometres from Ottawa.


My trip was partially subsidized by the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development, which neither reviewed nor approved this post.


 

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2 Responses to 9 reasons to visit North Conway, New Hampshire

  1. Dan May 14, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    Great list of things to do in North Conway but there is sooo much more! 13 ski alpine and xc centers within 40 minutes. Ice climbing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, Tuckerman Ravine, Mt Washington SnowCoach, amazing winter hiking.

    Summer? Flat-water or river paddling, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, amazing events, tax-free shopping, farmers markets, amazing inns and b&b’s, Mt Washington Auto Road, awesome restaurants …

    • Laura Byrne Paquet May 15, 2015 at 10:02 am #

      You’re right, Dan–I didn’t have nearly enough time to see everything there was to see in North Conway! Also, given that I visited in late March, some attractions weren’t open for the season yet and some winter attractions were winding down. Thanks for all the ideas for future trips!

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