Keene, New Hampshire is a quaint little college town in the rolling hills of Southern New Hampshire that makes a great low-key destination for a weekend away.
If you’re looking to experience historic small-town New England at an affordable and accessible pace, Keene is a great place to start. Because of its pastoral roots and the presence of Keene State College, a small liberal arts school that supplies the region with no shortage of youthful energy, Keene’s main streets and public squares maintain a charming, slow-moving vigor.
Keene, moreover, is known for its historic town center, access to numerous local farms and woodland trails, a number of notable hiking destinations nearby, and it’s locally-sourced food scene, which is supplied by the robust network of area farms in the region.
It also gives off micro college town vibes (it has a great natural foods co-op, a locally-sourced butcher, and several restaurants with cheeky names like Phunky Noodle and Machina Arts Kitchen + Art Bars– a great place to drink cocktails with live music).
As a result of this dynamic, there are lots of historic Inns, BnBs, and AirBnbs alongside reliably good burger joints and nice places to get coffee. There’s also a candy shop, a few trendy clothing boutiques, breweries, consignment shops, and annual quirky creativity-focused events like Art in the Park (September) and Keene ArtWalk (June) that make the community feel like a true small town.
The community even celebrates an increasingly popular Keene Wizarding Week, which brings all things magical to stores and restaurants throughout the community.
Ultimately, there’s a wide range of activities constantly unfolding in Keene– as long as you know where to look. The pace of life here is slow and relaxed, even during peak tourism season.
Sometimes, it’s nice just to walk around without a plan and see what you see– Let the pace of your desired day dictate the activity level.
But, if you want something more measured, be sure to check out our weekender’s guide to Keene, New Hampshire, below. Here, we list off our favorite “must do” activities, as well as a few hidden gems that casual visitors often miss.
Enjoy your trip!
Explore Stonewall Farm
Stonewall Farm is a beautifully rustic farm and an education center with a number of attractive amenities for families. The on-site country store showcases local farm products– from raw artisan cheese sticks and organic, grass-fed pudding to herbal spice blends, indigenous grains, summer berries, jerky, locally-made crackers, sauces, farm-to-freezer popsicles, and even house-made ice cream!
Children and curious adults can explore an active bee colony from behind the safety of glass, and kids large and small are welcome to pet the super soft and friendly bunny, whose name as of this writing is Marvin.
There are also cows that you can visit on-site (you might even watch them getting milked!), as well as goats and a very lively chicken coop. It’s all very casual, with people coming and going throughout the day.
Various community events, summer programs, and animal-related activities take place here during the growing season. (And there are horse-drawn wagons in the winter.)
There’s even a small playground near the cow pasture, and when the weather permits, it’s a gorgeous place to go out and explore the property’s extensive shaded trails, wetland bridge, and woodland observation decks. (The 5+ mile trail network beyond the silo is absolutely lovely, immersive, and very calming! Above all, I recommend venturing into the woods during your visit.)
Ultimately, while many people come for the farm store, local produce, and award-winning dairy, the trails are the real hidden gem here. Walking amongst the towering trees is one of the most serene things you can do in Keene.
As a result, Stonewall Farm is great for families with active young children. (Though not so much for strollers, as these can’t make it far on the trails).
Ultimately, Stonewall Farm is a great place to get out in the solitude and serenity of nature without going too far from the community (and a place to go to the bathroom).
The silo of the building where the farm store is housed is so gorgeous and rustic, too. Architecture buffs and design lovers appreciate the farm, for this reason, alone! (See image, above.)
Hike at Horatio Colony Nature Preserve
Horatio Colony Nature Preserve has 5 miles of beautiful, fertile trails that are wonderful for exploring on foot. Plus, it’s a 5-minute drive from Stonewall Farm (above) so you can make a day of it without venturing too far from Keene’s historic town center.
Experienced hikers or avid walkers will love the slight incline that opens this matrix of old growth trails– and poets love the ongoing community arts project that involves taping pages of locally-written poetry on the entry gates.
Here, visitors can safely explore Keene’s quietly serene woodlands in close proximately to downtown. (We recommend sturdy footwear as these trails have knotty tree roots, but the canopy is dense and lush, so there’s plenty of shade.)
For those who want an extra-long hike, this complex of nature trails now connects with Pisgah State Park (detailed below) through a 9.4-mile trail called the Keene Connector, a preservation project designed to establish a contiguous greenway of protected land between the two properties. If you want to make a day of it, start early.
Other than that, the preserve’s woodlands are left in pristine condition, un-tampered with. As a result, walking here on a sunny day can be a really blissed-out experience.
Get Breakfast at The Works Café (Hoppin’ Spot for Farm-to-Table Brunch)
The Works Café is Keene’s best-kept secret that is hoppin’ for breakfast and lunch on the weekends, always. They do awesome breakfast burritos and bagels with locally-sourced vegetables and cheeses, as well as pasture-raised eggs, local smoked salmon, and locally-made baked goods, to boot.
With its assortment of coffee, smoothies, and pastries, this small town New England chain sort of feels like a boutique farm-t0-table version of a Panera, in a good way. (They do paninis, salads, and soups for lunch, etc.)
The difference here, however, is that everything is thoughtful and locally rendered.
For example, the cheese they use in their smoked salmon cream cheese schmear is from nearby Grafton, Vermont. The salmon itself is sourced from a local fishery in Maine. They have signs detailing where everything is from, and it’s fabulous. You get the idea.
We love the GMO-free breakfast burritos– the Sunrise Grilled Burrito features local cage-free eggs, organic quinoa, avocado, caramelized naturally-cured nitrate-free bacon, sweet potato, local Vermont cheddar and pico de Gallo (so good!); the Veggie Burrito keeps it simple with local cage-free eggs, baby spinach, roasted artichoke, feta, red onion, tomatoes, and pesto.
Their organic ancient grains power bowls and chef-inspired salads made with local greens are also lovely. This spot is ideal if you’re looking for a healthy meal in Keene– or even if you aren’t.
Get Coffee at Prime Roast Coffee
Even though The Works Cafe also serves coffee, we prefer to get ours at the dedicated coffee shop Prime Roast Coffee Co, which is located right in the center of town. Prime Roast Coffee Company, moreover, is a perfect spot for a quick in-and-out coffee morning, just a quick walk from most residential inns, rentals, and hotels in the center of town.
They make and roast “darn good coffee” and lovely treats like cinnamon buns, scones, and muffins– as well as biscotti, granola bars, and chocolate-dipped pretzel wands. Most of their hot coffee is endearingly “serve yourself”, unless you order one of their seasonal frozen blended drinks or something over ice.
(Think: “Butterbeer” made from white chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, and coffee– or Cappuchino Cooler made from blended frozen mocha. Choose your own adventure!)
The staff are super friendly and nice, and it’s a good place to check out the bulletin board for upcoming community events, from local kayaking regattas and yoga to farm tours and music festivals. They always seem to have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in and around Keene.
Dine/Drink at Machina Arts: Kitchen & ArtBar
If you’re in the market for a gorgeous and artful organic meal, Machina Arts: Kitchen & ArtBar is the Keene restaurant for you. This community art, food, and cocktail space serves thoughtful farm-to-table cuisine in a fun environment.
The menu features organic and local food, with internationally-inspired flavors. (Think: Jordanian appetizers and Middle Eastern Cuisine on the same menu as oysters on the half shell and housemade biscuits with whipped pink peppercorn butter.)
You can also expect signature takes on Farmers Platters (featuring local cured meat, cheeses, pickled vegetables, and preserves) as well as surprisingly excellent appetizer riffs like vegan potstickers made with tofu, kale, and seaweed in a sweet chili sauce. (<— A recent batch of these were surprisingly awesome.)
And if you’re in the market for specific one-off entrees like Chicken Schnitzel (hey, who isn’t?) you’d be hard-pressed to find a place that local foodies like better for it.
Ultimately, paired with the fun ambiance (the restaurant feels like one-part eclectic eatery and two-parts speakeasy) Machina Arts is somewhat of a unicorn gathering space in Keene– a late-night spot where food, art, and community cohere. There’s frequently live music and even themed dance parties on the weekends, which tends to draw an eclectic crowd.
The menu, meanwhile, is seasonal– so the specifics are constantly changing, but the finesse with which the refreshments are executed does not. The food here has a real salt-of-the-earth quality to it.
The cocktails (like the Machina Mule, the “Debbie Don’t”, the classic Negroni, and the “Apocalypse Later” made with chili vodka, pineapple, lime, curacao, and basil–) remain a constant area favorite. They even purify all the water used in their food, drinks, and ice!
They also serve great mocktails, wine, beer, locally-sourced hot coffee, and a full selection of hot organic tea. As a result, many locals deem Machina Arts the “best restaurant in Keene”– and it’s undoubtedly one of the trendiest places in the area to grab a drink. Try it and see for yourself!
Hiking at Mount Monadnock
Mount Monadnock is not only the premiere hiking venue in Southern New Hampshire and a designated National Natural Landmark– but it’s also the most-climbed mountain in the world (like, actually)!
Clocking in around 3,165 feet tall, the mountain lives within a park that’s also home to thousands of acres of protected highlands. Together, they form Monadnock State Park, which draws local residents and students from Keene and beyond. New Englanders, moreover, have been hiking here for decades.
Ultimately, it’s great for experienced hikers and those who want the option of more challenging terrain.
The mountain itself is 30 minutes from Keene, but Keene is where everyone stays when visiting from out of town. While Mount Monadnock is technically located in nearby Jaffrey, New Hampshire, its presence can be felt all over the region.
^ This is the peak you see in the distance when driving back to the center of town after visiting Stonewall Farm (above) or dining at Aldworth Manor (below). Monadnock also creates micro-climates that inform regional agriculture and weather. And, most enduringly, she’s a beacon of natural beauty on the horizon.
As a result, this is a popular place to hike and camp; reservations are strongly recommended as park rangers limit entry to protect both nature and user experience; they will turn away latecomers after the parking areas reach capacity. (“Visitors are not allowed to park elsewhere and walk into the park,” sayeth the website.)
You can make a reservation no later than 3 PM on the day of your visit, but tickets often sell out a day or two before the weekend. A parking pass day fee is $15 + a $1 transaction fee, which guarantees a parking spot and includes admission for up to 6 occupants in one vehicle.
For more information or to make your reservation, go here.
The Stage Restaurant (for Dinner)
A popular spot for weekend dinners and lunches, The Stage Restaurant is ideally situated in the heart of town, with ample outdoor seating and particularly great appetizers and salads.
As a true American Bistro, the Stage offers classic American staples like pork chops, salmon, short ribs, and burgers with a generous food twist. (Think: Pork Chop Milanese with gnocchi, sauteed prosciutto, basil, roasted red peppers, white wine & cream; or Seared Salmon with Lemongrass Pesto Vinaigrette; Braised Short Rib with gouda mashed potato; and a Bacon and Bleu cheese burger.)
The food is hearty (and definitely rich) and crafted with soul. Stick around for “The Boss’s Best Coconut Cream Pie” if you’re feeling like dessert. Otherwise, linger over a martini and enjoy the lively atmosphere across from Central Square.
Shop Local at Monadnock Food Co-op
Monadnock Food Co-op is a great place to gather picnic items, quick healthy snacks, or just to explore if you are a farmers-market-loving foodie.
They sell the best organic flowers, awesome raw milk cheeses, local maple syrup, a wide selection of locally-sourced produce + dairy (including harder-to-find varieties like green figs, yellow kiwis, and champagne grapes), as well as boutique sundries like Jack’s Crackers, which are notably locally-made.
In addition to grocery essentials and a hot food bar, they also sell gourmet items like organic creamline grass-fed maple milk and coffee milk, olive oil-only hummus, Tourmaline Spring “sacred living water” from Maine, local ice cream, fresh-baked madeleines and blueberry buckle, farm-to-package energy bars, and more.
Often, there are additional pop-up vendors in the back. (On a recent visit, Walpole Creamery gave away free samples of their “cow to cone” ice cream!)
They grow their own delicata squash in the parking lot (literally!), and they even have organic local sunflowers that they sell wrapped in chic recycled flower paper. (<— Pick one of these “field foliage” bouquets to brighten your hotel or Air BnB during your stay, and you’ll be happy as a clam.)
Hannah Grimes Marketplace (for Local Art, Fine Crafts, Kids Stuff, Decor, & More!)
Hannah Grimes Marketplace is a cute little local-products-focused fine art and decor shop in the center of historic Keene. Here, they sell local art, fine crafts, lovely children’s toys, vintage & repurposed jewelry, prints, handblown glass objects, and more!
Look here for locally-made West Hill Studio Pottery, glass art pieces from Hot Glass Art Center, and funky feminist tea towels from Overseasoned. (Just a few warm examples.)
They also sell soap, candles, woodwork, select gourmet foods, pet supplies from local makers, and gift baskets. Basically, it’s the best place in Keene to buy a truly locally-sourced souvenir.
Catbird Flower Farm for Fresh Cut Flowers
Catbird Flower Farm is a seasonal urban cut flower shop that offers a variety of cheery flowers throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Their roadside flower stand lives inside a converted 1956 Ford truck trailer, which is parked at 87 Ashuelot Street.
The truck operates on a self-serve honor system, which is a huge part of the charm. (They accept cash, Venmo, or Paypal only.)
In April through October, expect to find fresh, colorful bouquets sourced from their urban farm (things like sunflowers, zinnias, and parrot tulips vary with each respective season). In November and December, they sell evergreen holiday wreaths during daylight hours.
Stay up to date with their latest offerings by checking them out on Instagram.
Oh yeah, and the truck is known affectionately as “Miss Myrtle”. It’s a small town landmark with a personality all its own.
~ Honorable Mention ~
Other cool things to do in and around Keene–
including area gems for those who don’t mind a short drive.
Get Egg Sandos at The Harrisville General Store
The Harrisville General Store is a bucolic 2-minute drive outside of Keene, and well worth the drive. This Harrisville, New Hampshire hot spot serves delicious farm-sourced egg sandwiches as well as other deli items, housemade baked goods, coffee, and the usual sundries you’d expect to find at a community watering hole, like locally-made stationary and chocolate bars.
This general store has been in operation since 1838, and it’s the best spot in town to go for fresh breakfast (until 2 PM!) and lunch daily. The egg sandwiches here are astoundingly good and fresh, made with local cage-free eggs, vegetables, locally-sourced meats, and options like house-made English muffins or multigrain bread.
They also sell award-winning deli items like boutique kale salad; fresh peach danish in the summer; homemade yogurt parfaits featuring store-made granola; local, grass-fed beef burgers and BLTs; seasonal salads and pies, and house-made pizzas. Everything– including the assorted breakfast pastries– is made in-house every morning.
In the Fall, expect seasonal treats like apple cider donuts and pumpkin-filled curiosities. They also sell Walpole Creamery ice cream by the pint, and locally roasted Terra Nova Coffee (the most frequently purchased meal add-on, no doubt) is always available.
But really, it’s all about the egg sandwiches. Stop by and dine on-site (there’s indoor and limited outdoor seating) or take some to go for the best picnic brunch around. 🙂 This is a thriving community hot spot that will quickly endear even jaded folks to the rural New Hampshire lifestyle.
Forest Bathing in Pisgah State Park
Pisgah State Park is a 30-minute drive southwest of Keene, and well worth the time. This woodsy state park in Winchester is home to over 13,300 acres of rough forested terrain, ideal for hikers and immersive nature lovers.
This park is the largest property in the New Hampshire state park system, measuring in at a whopping 21 square miles. If you really want to get lost and immerse yourself, this is the Keene-adjacent park for you.
The park’s six trailheads offer various lengths and difficulties for exploring the park’s natural features. These are open year-round. (Unless it’s been inordinately muddy, in which case they close gates for safety.)
Thus, because the footprint is so vast, you always feel like you have the place to yourself, even in high tourism season. Walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers are welcome, as is ATV and snowmobile use for exploring deeper into the backcountry. (Do so at your own risk!)
Tavern Nights at Aldworth Manor
Located on 180 acres in nearby Harrisville, NH, Aldworth Manor is the area’s premiere wedding and event venue, located on a picturesque stretch of wild meadow abutting a secluded old-growth forest with lovely views of Mount Monadnock.
The estate– “where picturesque New England meets historic elegance”– looks like a Tuscan villa with gorgeously-planted, stylishly messy gardens, as well.
The property is the area’s premiere historic setting for parties– but now it’s also accessible to those not attending any on-site events, and it’s a great spot for plant- and nature-lovers who want to feel immersed in the nature surrounding Keene.
Enter: Aldworth Manor Tavern Nights, a public opportunity to dine on-site and enjoy the bucolic surroundings from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM on Thursdays, as well as Fridays from November to May. (Check the manor’s website for most recent hours.)
Here, you can enjoy the tavern-inspire menu in the cozy lounge or seasonal patio area with quick bites, beer flights, and/or seasonal cocktails. Reservations are not required.
Arrive before sunset to witness golden hour on the property for the full experience. The gardens here are really lovely– lush and wild with a distinct “New Hampshire woodlands” vibe.
Explore Jenna’s Butcher Deli & Market
Jenna’s Butcher Deli & Market is more than your typical butcher; it’s a whole experience for omnivorous foodies. They have great to-go sandwiches, hot subs, and wraps (turkey with brie, arugula, and raspberry jam; or hot options like pulled brisket or hot cubans) as well as organic produce, and locally-sourced meat from local livestock.
You can also expect to find foodie-favored curiosities like cornbread “cupcakes” made with mashed potato “frosting” and short rib topping. Yes, this is a real thing. 🙂
Moreover, the bright, airy, industrial-chic interior feels more like something you’d see in a chic part of Brooklyn. (The walls are lined with subway tile, there’s lots of natural light, customers carry woven baskets as they shop, and boutique products gleam invitingly from orderly stacks on wooden shelves and tables.)
They even sell locally-made cutting boards (or you can rent and return them for making a cool one-off charcuterie board in your Air BnB– you decide!).
Happy Hour at Elm City Brewing Company
Elm City Brewing Company is a full-service restaurant and brewery that’s been in operation for over 25 years! With its “hoppin'” location on West Street, this family-operated brewery has cozy mahogany booths and an enclosed sunroom for year-round enjoyment. (There’s also a seasonal landscaped patio that fills in the summer months.)
For beer lovers, this is a classically homey Keene beer pub. Their on-tap menu features house-brewed seasonal varieties of everything from IPAs and Porters to German Lagers and Belgian Dubbels. (Their Abbey Dubbel has won gold medals at both the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival, FWIW.)
The food, meanwhile, is sourced from the Monadnock region whenever possible. Even the bar fare– things like baked spinach & artichoke dip, beer-battered onion rings, and buffalo chicken tenders– come from farmers in the area. As a result, dishes like the Vermont Spinach Salad exhibit the local terroir just as much as the beer does.
Experience Craft Libations at New England Sweetwater Farm & Distillery
New England Sweetwater Farm & Distillery is a craft distillery in Winchester with award-winning farm-to-bottle spirits. Their spirits are handmade, right down the Maple Moonshine that, yes, is definitely a thing here.
Stop here for libations or souvenirs after spending the afternoon in nearby Pisgah State Park (detailed above). This family-operated farm, distillery, and tap room offers tours of the distillery and samples of spirits on the weekends. (Friday through Sunday, 12 PM to 6 PM.)
Related: 9 Lovely Things to Do in Cumberland, Maine. (Another New England destination featured in our Small Town America series for G&L’s Travel Well column. Check it out!)
Leave a Reply