Even though North Conway has been a resort town since the nineteenth century and a ski resort since the 1930s, it still has the small town feeling that appeals to visitors. In the center of North Conway is expansive Schouler Park, a large open space that in winter hosts a free open-air skating rink. It also provides a view of the town’s beautiful Victorian railroad station, home to the Conway Scenic Railway (sorry, it doesn’t open until April). There are many things to do in town that don't involve skiing and the list of alternative things to do is large.
Small town boutique shopping at its best
Wandering along Main Street is a joy. Zeb’s General Store is a must-stop for all visitors. Just about everything sold in this store is made in New England, much of it in New Hampshire. It has a long penny candy counter, jams, jellies and relishes of every description, clothing, souvenirs, snacks, and just about anything else you can think of. Say hello to the “old man” by the stairs and don’t miss the moose on the second floor.
The Conway 5¢ and 10¢ Store, filled with things you haven’t seen in years, is a good place to pick up something to read in your B&B. Just off Main Street, at 10 Seavey Street, Essence of Art has a good collection of handcrafted pottery, hand-woven table linens, clothing and jewelry. Further down Main Street look for the outstanding NH League of New Hampshire Craftsmen shop. Across the street from it, the Bavarian Chocolate Haus is well worth browsing.
For vintage clothes and designer wear, stop in My Girlfriend's Consignment Boutique in the Eastern Slopes Inn, and for a dazzling selection, from handmade jewelry and household decor to risqué gifts, look into the Penguin Gallery. These are just a few of the interesting places found along Main Street, and doesn’t begin to cover the dozens of outlets stores in the shopping plazas just south of town along Route 16. Look there for LL Bean, EMS, Columbia and the outlets of just about every major clothing manufacturer.
Checking out the mountain views
And don’t overlook old fashioned sightseeing: The White Mountains views show up best in winter, when the leaves are off the trees and you can see wide vistas of snowcapped mountains -- views that are far more open than in summer.
While there is still snow on the mountains and the trees bare is a good time to circle Mount Washington. Drive Route 16 to Glen and then continue on Route 302 through Crawford Notch. At Twin Mountain take Route 3 north a few miles and then Route 115 to the right. At Route 2 turn right (east) to Gorham and then right (south) on Route 16 down through Pinkham Notch.
Another nice circle drive, but longer, is to take Routes 16 and 302, as above, but at Twin Mountain turn left onto Route 3 south. Route 3 will meet up with I-93 north of Franconia Notch and take it south through Franconia Notch, exiting at North Woodstock-Lincoln for Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway. The Kancamagus is a 34 mile long ride through mountain wilderness, check you gas before starting out. It ends at Route 16 in the village of Conway. Turn left onto Route 16 north and back to North Conway.
Check out the Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center
On Main Street, opposite the Eastern Slopes Inn, the Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center is worth several hours spent learning about how the highest mountain in the northeast affects the weather. While kids become engrossed in its many interactive displays, it also grabs the attention of adults. I get a particular kick out of the cabin that replicates the sensation of having been on the top of the mountain when the world’s highest recorded land wind (231 MPH) struck 80 years ago April 10th.
Places to stay
North Conway has a multitude of places to stay from rustic cabins to bed and breakfasts and multi-star resort hotels. There is something to fit everyone’s whim, taste or pocketbook. A favorite of ours is Spruce Moose Lodge on Seavey Street. It has a number of options and some of them are pet friendly. B&B rooms in the main house are comfortable, inexpensive and home-like. Breakfast here is also a homemade treat. They also have Jacuzzi suites and individual cabins with full kitchens and it is only a couple of blocks from downtown, and is at the foot of Mount Cranmore. Ask about pet friendly options. The Kearsarge Inn, with beautifully decorated rooms in a Victorian mansion, also on Seavey Street, is within walking distance to town but does not serve breakfast though there is a bakery nearby.
Getting to North Conway
From greater Boston and eastern Massachusetts take I-95 north to Portsmouth and following the signs for Route 16 and the NH Mountains to North Conway. West of Boston Take I-93 north to Lincoln, NH, and then taking Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway, to Route 16 north at Conway. From western Massachusetts and Connecticut take I-91 north from Hartford to I-90 (Mass Pike) east. From I-90 take I-495 north to I-95. At Portsmouth follow the signs for Route 16 and the NH Mountains to North Conway.