Williamstown and North Adams in Berkshire County, Mass., are a feast for the weekend visitor. Both towns were settled in the 18th century and became centers of art: North Adams is home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the largest museums of contemporary art in the United States; and Williamstown is home to the Clark Art Institute, a world-renowned museum and arts education center.
Both towns are also brimming with historic architecture, from the gigantic warehouses of North Adams to the historic buildings of the liberal arts school Williams College (founded in 1793) in Williamstown.
The two neighboring towns, located just a ten-minute drive apart, are best explored in tandem. Here is the best of each.
The Williams Inn, centrally located on Spring Street, is an ideal base for those wishing to explore Williamstown on foot, just a 15-minute walk from The Clark and minutes from Williams College. The hotel has a fitness center, meeting spaces and spacious suites. For hearty comfort food, head to the hotel’s restaurant, The Barn, which serves dishes such as seared cod with cauliflower ‘risotto’ and maple-rubbed roast chicken.
Arguably the hippest spot in the area is TOURISTS at North Adams, a very hip boutique hotel co-founded by Wilco bassist John Stirratt in 2018. Facing the road on one side and the Hoosic River from the another, TOURISTS was inspired by the classic American Motor lodge. With only 48 rooms, it has an intimate atmosphere, while nature takes center stage.
Cross the hotel’s suspension bridge to discover the magical Carillon Chapel, an installation of wind chimes, as well as sculptures scattered throughout the property’s pretty wooded pathways. Take a dip in the heated saltwater pool. Or read with a view on the terrace before returning to the avant-garde minimalist design accommodations. Children are also welcome; Just be sure to request a room with bunk beds.
Head straight to The Airport Rooms, located on the TOURISTS property, for chef Ty Hatfield’s playful menu that includes canned fish with pickles, ossetra caviar with creme fraiche and fries, and orecchiette with mushrooms black trumpet. The restaurant and cocktail bar — which serves retro classics such as Singaporean slings and Harvey Wallbangers — is set in a quaint 1813 farmhouse, filled with old-fashioned wallpaper and dim lighting.
For lighter fare, try the hotel’s lodge. The former 1962 ranch now serves drinks and snacks next to a crackling fire. Nostalgic for your childhood? Take the nut butter and jam sandwich and wash it down with orange wine.
Craft beer enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Bright Ideas Brewing on the MASS MoCA campus in North Adams, a perfect spot for a post-museum drink. While the vibe is utilitarian (all concrete and wood), the beers are anything but. Try Horchata Cream Ale, brewed with rice, cinnamon, vanilla and milk sugar, or Sour Splash Tangerine, a tangy citrus kettle. Hunger? Head next door to A-Ok Berkshire Barbeque for some of the best pulled pork in town.
For something a little more upscale, head to The Break Room Restaurant and Bakery, located at Greylock WORKS, a 240,000 square foot former cotton mill converted into a creative and commercial space. The industrial-chic setting of The Break Room is tastefully executed and steeped in history: the trays are made from old wooden floors and there is even a goods lift from the old mill above the bar . Ingredients are the stars here in a deceptively simple menu that features dishes sourced from local farmers.
While at Greylock WORKS, enjoy a tasting at both Forager Gin, a small-batch distillery that uses botanicals harvested from the local mountains, and the Berkshire Cider Project. The latter believes that ciders (in this case, made without added sugar) should be treated like a good wine: their rosé is co-fermented with grape skins while their champenoise method cider is bottle-aged for 12 months and disgorged. by hand. . If you’re from the area, donate your apples to the Community Cider Project. All apples are pressed in-house and donors receive free bottles.
It’s worth spending a day dedicated to The Clark in Williamstown, one of the few institutions in the world that functions as both an art museum and a center for research and higher education. The museum was founded by Sterling and Francine Clark to house their art collection; it opened to the public in 1955. An expanded museum building, with interiors by Selldorf Architects, added an additional 2,200 square feet of gallery space and now houses Clark’s permanent collection, with more than 6,000 works by art dating from the 15th to the beginning of the 20th century. Featured artists in the collection include Albrecht Dürer, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Camille Pissarro.
If you come for the art, however, you stay for the surroundings. The Clark has 140 acres of lawns and free-to-use walking paths, and the museum overlooks a whimsical three-tier reflecting pool. Be sure to walk up Stone Hill, which offers views of Williamstown and Vermont’s Green Mountains. Sculptures and installations, too, are often present along the trails. Clark’s art history library, life performances, and rotating exhibits by contemporary artists, such as Haitian American Tomm El-Saieh, are also worth a visit.
For even more art, head to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), housed in a former 19th-century Arnold Print Works factory building in North Adams. The impressive industrial architecture of the huge museum (which spans over 250,000 square feet) houses works by artists such as James Turrell, Taryn Simon and Glenn Kaino. The space lends itself particularly well to large-scale installations and there is also an ever-growing list of life performance art.
Other cultural sites of interest include the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown Historical Museum, and the North Adams Museum of History and Science. Nature lovers can discover the nearby Cascade Waterfall and Lake Windsor. Hop in a car and drive forty minutes to Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.
The author was a guest at the Clark Art Institute.