The Greatest Hits of Greater Burlington, VT

My sister Merin moved to Vermont for grad school in 1999 and never (really) left. She meant to, but a few months shy of wrapping up her master’s at UVM and moving back to California like she planned, she met a sweet Irish guy in a bar downtown. They started dating, she graduated and moved home… and then promptly moved back, suspecting this guy was The One. It turns out she was right. Two decades later, she and that guy, my now-brother-in-law James, live in a lovely home in a cute South Burlington neighborhood with their two awesome kids, Conor (15) and Josie (13).

I’ve been visiting my sis in Vermont on the regular for as long as she’s lived there. First when I was living in New York, and I’d grab a cheap weekend flight to party with her and her grad school friends, then later when I was back in California, often with my mom for holidays and eventually with Dan in tow. I went solo and stayed a couple of weeks right after each of her kids was born, and our whole family set up camp there for three weeks when Fi was only a few months old. My sister has always generously welcomed us whenever and for however long we want to stay, and her place has become a little like a second home.

The pandemic being the pandemic, we hadn’t been to Vermont since the fall of 2019. So this 10-day visit, as both a return to a place we’d been gone from too long and the last stop on our five-month adventure, was doubly special. And what did we want to do to commemorate it? All the stuff we usually do, that’s what! Yup, after almost three years away, we just wanted to get back to doing all our favorite Vermont-y things in all our favorite Vermont-y places. Including (in no particular order)…

Church Street

I’ve always been charmed by Burlington’s downtown pedestrian mall, with its convivial carless-ness and delightful of mix street performers and food stalls, hippies and boutique-hoppers, families and college kids. A destination I used to associate with late-night drinking and dancing, it’s now more of a place to spend a chill weekend afternoon, which is just what we did on our first full day in town. We ambled, we people watched, we window shopped, we lunched at Farmhouse Tap & Grill, one of our (you guessed it!) favorite spots. It was all very low-key and lovely.

Shelburne Farms

With tractor rides and turkeys and cheesemaking and cow-milking, Shelburne Farms is an awesome place for kiddos (and adults too, come to that). And since Fiona didn’t remember way back to our last visit there, it was extra fun to reintroduce her this time. Josie joined Dan, Fi and me on our excursion, braving a hot walk from the parking lot (we just missed the tractor!) that made Fiona extra grumpy. She cheered up once we reached the barn, though, where there were plenty of baby animals and fluffy bunnies to lift the spirits, plus games to play and stuff to climb. Dan, predictably, ran into someone he knew from San Francisco, Josie chose names for all the pigs and we managed to catch the tractor ride back when we were done. A successful visit all around!

The Echo Center

The Echo Center is like a mini version of Cal Academy on the Burlington waterfront. I loved going there when Merin’s kids were little and then taking Fi when she was a toddler, but this time was especially fun now that she’s bigger and more independent. Josie joined us on this outing too, and, even though she’s a little old for Echo herself, was a great sport in showing her younger cousin the ropes. Unexpected bonus? The special exhibit that just happened to be there when we were was all about mythical creatures. And that means UNICORNS, people!

Ben & Jerry’s

Despite being kind of a madhouse, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory is, IMHO, as good as tourist attractions get (and we’ve experienced quite a few over the last several months). I’d been before with my niece and nephew, but this was Fiona’s first visit. We booked a tour (in advance, thankfully, as they were all sold out when we arrived) and boy do these guys know how to run one: upbeat, informative, concise, full of cow puns (if you’re into that sort of thing) and it all ends with free ice cream! Plus, there’s a freezer in the gift shop full of pints of ice cream in flavors you can’t get anywhere else. AND there’s a Flavor Graveyard where you can pay your respects to the flavors that are no longer with us. Moo-ving stuff. (The puns are irresistible, I tell you!)

The Long Trail

Dan’s going to say more about our hiking adventure in his next post, but as those of you who knew me pre-Dan know, I wasn’t much for outdoorsy pursuits back then. So hiking in Vermont only became a thing for me since he started tagging along on my trips there. And I guess I’m pretty glad it did.


After getting our Sound of Music on in the Stubai Valley and Salzburg, a trip to Stowe was essential to close our von Trapp loop. For those of you who aren’t up on your von Trapp trivia, the family eventually settled in Vermont after fleeing Austria and now Maria and the Captain’s kids and grandkids run a big old lodge and brewery in Stowe. We visited them both (the lodge and brewery, not Maria and the Captain), plus did some ambling and shopping around downtown Stowe, which is adorable.

Breweries (and Cideries!)

So, beer is kind of a big deal in Vermont. They make good stuff and we do our part by partaking when we’re in town (if not us, WHO?). This time, we hit up a mix of new (to us) spots and old favorites. The new: delicious Austrian-inspired beers and food at von Trapp Brewing (see above); big ol’ IPAs and tasty snacks in the warehouse-y Burlington Beer Co. taproom; and flights and bites (and Jenga!) at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, VT (which isn’t especially close to South Burlington, but was sort of on our way into town from Amherst). The tried and true: darn good beers and darn good pizza at next-door neighbors Fiddlehead and Folino’s Pizza; dude drinks and upscale pub fare for Dan and James at Zero Gravity; fresh, satisfying brews and food at Lawson’s Finest Liquids; and refreshing ciders with a side of lunch at Citizen Cider.

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is big and varied, with quiet little beaches where I remember taking toddler Conor to throw rocks and vast expanses of open water that are a blast to travel by boat. This time we had two lovely excursions to the lake, the first at my sister’s family’s “camp” (which, apparently, is the New England word for a little lakeside cabin they rent out during the summer). We happened to be there over a rare weekend when it wasn’t occupied, so we drove out to North Ferrisburgh for an evening to avail ourselves of the deck, the grill and the views. The following weekend, on another part of the lake entirely, we took some pizza and chairs to the Burlington Surf Club, a low-key beach resort where you can be very active or not very active at all (I’ll let you guess which one I decided to be) while watching a pretty killer sunset.

Sissy’s House

There’s lots to do when we visit Vermont, but the very best part is always just plain hanging out. Even when Merin and James are working and their kids are running around to camps and classes and friends’ houses, spending a leisurely 10 days there means there’s plenty of time in the gaps for playing and watching movies and cooking and catching up… which is really why we go in the first place.

All in all, it was very, very good to be back in Vermont. Next stop? The place we left our home, lives and hearts five whole months ago…

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Hits of Greater Burlington, VT

  1. Julie, I’ve been hearing about trips to Vermont for years but never in much detail. This account fills me in completely as to why you consider it your second home. What a magical place and family, too!


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