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Take the Kids

Take the Kids: Head to Keene for a day of fun, food and farming

  • The climbing wall at the Cheshire Children's Museum in Keene offers some adventure for kids.<br/><br/>Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

    The climbing wall at the Cheshire Children's Museum in Keene offers some adventure for kids.

    Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

  • Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

    Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

  • A playroom at the Cheshire Children's Museum offers something for kids of all ages.<br/><br/>Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

    A playroom at the Cheshire Children's Museum offers something for kids of all ages.

    Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

  • The climbing wall at the Cheshire Children's Museum in Keene offers some adventure for kids.<br/><br/>Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum
  • Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum
  • A playroom at the Cheshire Children's Museum offers something for kids of all ages.<br/><br/>Courtesy of the Cheshire Children's Museum

It’s easy to think of Keene as just a college town, or as the once-a-year host to the state’s biggest pumpkin festival. But this city, the hub of New Hampshire’s Monadnock region, is an appealing destination any time of year, especially for families. Here’s an itinerary that will let the kids play to their hearts’ content, break for a lunch the grownups will like, too, and then get delightfully dirty on an honest-to-goodness farm.

Start your day at the Cheshire Children’s Museum, located at the Colony Mill Marketplace and just a few blocks from the center of town. This small museum, which opened just last year, offers a range of hands-on exhibits to engage the littlest ones as well as bigger kids.

The museum’s “munchkin area” lets infants and toddlers explore. Under a mural of Mount Monadnock, youngsters get a safe, colorful space all to themselves, where they can tumble on soft building blocks, “harvest” a vegetable garden and roam freely out of reach of older kids.

In the museum’s main space, other exhibits encourage youngsters to engage with play versions of the real world: a mock veterinary hospital, a weaving studio and a small puppet stage. Some exhibits are just plain fun – a kid-sized ship, for instance, with toy fishing rods. Others have more of a pointed educational aim, though play is always at the center of the lesson: a rotating exhibit on Brazil includes a toy soccer field and dress-up Carnival costumes. A child-sized grocery store lets kids fill their own shopping carts amid subtle lessons on the importance of balanced meals. For more active, older kids, there’s a small climbing wall, set against a mural of Mount Washington.

The museum also hosts a busy calendar of special events, including a haunted house tour leading up to Halloween.

When your children tire of the museum, head downstairs to the Toadstool Bookstore, on the marketplace’s first floor. This shop, part of a local chain, is a great place for any book lover, but the children’s section is particularly worth a visit.

When lunchtime arrives, head back downtown, where you’ll find a number of family-friendly restaurants, diners and cafes along Main Street. On our visit, we settled in at one of the newer additions – Local Burger. The name pretty much sums up the approach at this casual spot: a simple menu of burgers and fries, but with an emphasis on local ingredients as well as some wonderfully upscale twists. The burger of the week was a lamb “gyro” burger from a local farm, and the options for adults included sangria made with fresh blueberries and lavender.

Order at the counter, where you can build your own burger (including turkey and veggie patty options) or choose one of the specialties. Hand-cut fries come on the side. The open, bright dining room, decorated with local artwork, is plenty accommodating to active kids, and while we were there, the other patrons tended to smile rather than scowl at our little ones’ shenanigans.

Keene’s wide, tree-lined Main Street is a pedestrian-friendly strip. Thanks in large part to nearby Keene State College, there are plenty of funky, independent shops to explore. One, Hannah Grimes Marketplace, features locally made crafts and artwork. It also has a small kids’ section that includes a New Hampshire-themed bookshelf that holds, among other titles, G is for Granite, The Farmers’ Almanac for Kids and Tractor Mac’s Farmer’s Market.

Those looking for something sweet will find plenty of options in Keene as well. Life Is Sweet, Ye Goodie Shoope, Yolo Frozen Yogurt and Piazza Ice Cream, all along Main Street, have all types of sugary treats to wash down lunch.

Afterward, you can continue window-shopping along Main Street – or head to the outskirts of town to experience Keene’s rural side.

Stonewall Farm, just a few miles west of downtown, is a working organic dairy farm that encourages young visitors to explore agricultural life. Even as you approach by car, you may sense that this is a special place, nestled in a quiet valley where cows regularly line up to cross the road to their pasture.

Park near the Discovery Center, where kids can play with miniature backhoes, pet bunnies or farm-themed toys and puzzles.

Pens, scattered around the farm, house llamas, goats, chickens, horses and calves. A small farm store, open daily, sells eggs, cheese, yogurt, beef and syrup produced on site. A playground sits alongside the creek that cuts across the property, and there are several miles of walking and biking trails to explore.

In summer, you’ll find an ice cream stand serving treats made from Stonewall’s own organic milk.

And there are plenty of events through the end of autumn, including pumpkin carving, Halloween hayrides and – in late November – a farm fair featuring 30 food and craft vendors.

If you’re there close to 4:30 p.m., head across the road to the main dairy barn to watch one of the daily milkings. There, you’ll see Stonewall’s couple dozen cows waiting in their pens, each underneath a personalized nameplate. For kids who have only known city life, the smell of a real-life dairy barn may be a bit much at first. But it’s kind of cool to see where that yummy ice cream came from.

If you go

Cheshire’s Children Museum: Colony Mill Marketplace; open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.; Cheshirechildrensmuseum.org.

Stonewall Farm: 242 Chesterfield Road; Learning Center and Discovery Room open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; grounds, animal pens and dairy barn always open; Stone
wallfarm.org.

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