July 27, 2011

By Rebecca Ojserkis ’12

Amherst students love the protection and comfort of the so-called college “bubble,” but we all need to escape into the real world from time to time. For most of us, summer is a great time to do just that—get a break from campus and return home or go elsewhere. But what about the students who stay at Amherst for the summer, interning or doing research? As one such undergraduate, I’ve found that, unlike during the school year, my fellow students and I have been able to spend a lot of time exploring the town of Amherst and the Pioneer Valley.

It makes sense, when you think about it: Many of us are living, for the summer, in residential halls close to town—the residence halls on The Hill, Cohan, Newport and Seligman, for example—and our jobs or studies often give us the flexibility to work in places other than the libraries and classrooms where we spend so many of our waking hours during the academic year. As a result, we’ve been able to get to know the Pioneer Valley in ways that snow, schoolwork and a hopping campus life often preclude.

I decided to informally survey my friends and classmates about their favorite things to do in Amherst during the summer. What follows are just 23 suggestions:

A student has a reflective moment at the Peace Pagoda

1.   Visit the New England Peace Pagoda: Take a 15-minute drive to Leverett, Mass., to see the beautiful scenery, a commanding pagoda, a Japanese rock garden and large Buddha statues. This is a perfect place to reflect, read a book or spend a quiet afternoon with friends.

2.   Grab a bite at Bub’s BBQ: Bub’s—in Sunderland, Mass., about 10 minutes from campus—is a personal favorite. With your entrée comes all-you-can-eat sides. This deal is amazing. Beans, collard greens, dirty rice, impeccably seasoned French fries, orange-glazed sweet potatoes and more made me fall in love with Bub’s. The pulled pork is excellent, as well. Don’t eat pork? My friends recommend the chicken or the catfish

3.   Cool off at Puffer’s Pond: Though it’s crowded with college students during the weeks of Orientation and Commencement, Puffer’s is a family destination during the thick of summer. The pond is quite large and offers areas to lie out or swim. A cliff across the way provides excitement for many daring swimmers who choose to jump off it. I prefer to sit in the sun with my thesis reading. 

4.   Float down the Deerfield River: A bunch of Amherst students had the great idea of purchasing inflatable mattresses and floats and spending the day on the Deerfield River. For them, it was a creative and fun change of pace from Puffer’s Pond! 

5.   Participate in Trivia Night at The Harp: Every Tuesday night in Sunderland, this bar hosts a Trivia Night. No matter who wins, a delicious spread of food is put out at the end of the night for everyone to enjoy. While only those over 21 can drink, all ages are welcome to participate. 

6.   Go blueberry or strawberry picking: Love fruit and need a fix before apple-picking season in the fall? Go strawberry or blueberry picking! There are various farms throughout Western Mass that allow customers to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only is this activity great fun in the moment, but so is cooking and consuming what you’ve picked! 

7.   House-sit for a faculty or staff member: These short breaks from dorm life are great and include larger beds, private bathrooms and air conditioning. A family who asks a college student to house-sit is probably doing that undergraduate a favor more than the other way around. When I house-sat last week, for example, I was able to eat fresh produce grown in a backyard vegetable garden—a real treat!

8.   Patronize one of the area’s drive-ins: There are a few drive-in movie theaters in the greater Western Mass area, including one in Shrewsbury and another in Northfield. The movie theaters in town and at the Hampshire Mall are great, but how can you beat watching a movie under the stars?

Blueberry picking at a local farm

9.  Catch a concert: While music performances in Northampton occur year-round, I went to my first concert this summer at the Iron Horse Music Hall, a great venue that provides a dance floor, for those who prefer to groove, and tables, so you can order food. There are also outdoor concerts, such as the upcoming Bon Iver concert on Aug. 6 at Mountain Park.

10. Patronize one of Amherst’s farmers’ markets: Every Saturday and Wednesday, there are farmers’ markets in Amherst. They last into the early months of the school year, but the produce is particularly fantastic during the summer. I’m also a big fan of the yogurt and flowers sold there.

11. Stop by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: Did you love The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a child, too? Then you will love The Eric Carle Museum, located at Hampshire College. This museum definitely isn’t just for kids. College students and adults can enjoy.

12. Try the all-you-can-eat wings at the Hangar: The restaurant offers this deal during the school year, too, but it is significantly less crowded over the summer. For $6 every Monday and Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m., you can eat all the wings your heart desires (or your stomach can handle). The restaurant serves honey barbecue, honey mustard and buffalo-style wings. Learn to pace yourself, though; otherwise you’ll be in a food coma within the first 15 minutes.

13. Check out the Quabbin Reservoir: Nearby Belchertown is home to this huge man-made public water supply. Swimming is not allowed, but the trails are pleasant and the views fantastic.

A summer evening at Bub’s BBQ

14. Don’t miss the Taste of Amherst: Every June, restaurants from town set up stands on the town green and sell small portion sizes (for $3 or $4 each) of lunch and dinner. Ever feel like you cannot decide between a burger and Korean? No need! Check out the booths for Amherst Brewing Company, House of Teriyaki, Paradise of India, Black Sheep, Moti and Panda East, among many others. But make sure to stop by Atkins Farms or some of the ice cream stands for dessert (if you have room left)!

15. Browse the stacks at The Montague Bookmill: This location is a favorite of mine during the school year and the summer months. The cozy café, delicious restaurant, breathtaking view and mouthwatering collection of books create a great atmosphere to study or hang out. Their motto is fitting and hysterical: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” It’s well worth the search.

16. Brunch at Stables: While it is difficult to resist the appeal of Valentine Dining Hall on weekends during the school year, the trip to Stables on Route 9 is well worth it during the summer. The amount of food you get for the price you pay is astounding. The “Starving College Boy” option is a favorite of many.

17. Satisfy your Bard craving via the Hampshire Shakespeare Company: Outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays? Yes, please! Performances this summer have included The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale, and they occur in the Great Meadow of the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst. 

18. Sample the Valley’s famous ice cream: It’s too cold during most of the year to even think about sitting outside with an ice cream cone. Not true in the summer. Two places to get some of the best ice cream around are Flayvors in Hadley and Herrell’s in Northampton. At Flayvors, eat some delicious, fresh dessert while checking out the cows that made it possible. At Herrell’s, brave the long lines for whatever tasty flavor you like, but make sure you get the chocolate whipped cream.

19. Take a tour of the Emily Dickinson Museum: Even though the home of the poet Emily Dickinson is virtually on the college’s campus (it’s closer to many academic buildings than my current residential hall!), many students, myself included, have never been to the museum. The summer is a perfect time to learn a little more about the history surrounding the Belle of Amherst. It’s also a great place to intern, which my friend did last summer.

20. Ride a roller coaster: Want to go to a water park? Jump on the Batman or the Cyclone? Enjoy a concert? Go to Six Flags New England for a day with a group of friends at discounted prices. It is located less than a half hour from Amherst in Springfield, Mass.

21. Hike The Notch: I must admit—I have not yet tackled the Notch, a mountain in the nearby Mount Holyoke Range. I have seen pictures from the top, though, and they are glorious. Students love hiking this spot during the warm months of the school year and the cool evenings of the summer. This is a trip I have to make before I graduate. Who’s with me?

22. Pick up some handmade goods at the crafts fair on the Common: Every summer, there is at least one crafts fair on the town green. Stands sell jewelry, decorations, tchotchkes and more. Stop by to browse for yourself, find a gift or just appreciate the talent in the Pioneer Valley.

23. Meet with professors: One of the best parts about Amherst is getting to know one’s teachers during office hours. An even better part is getting to know them outside of the academic setting entirely. I had a great time last week having coffee with my former professor and a fellow student. Three hours flew by as we discussed everything from current events to our future plans to campus life. As I approach my senior year, I realize the two things I’ll miss the most about college are my friends and my professors. I know the relationships I’ve formed with them will stay with me long past my four years here.