This city on the northern border of Rhode Island has transformed itself from a Blackstone River blue-collar industrial center to an eclectic destination for dining, music, and local culture. But everywhere are traces of the past: new businesses and attractions stand next to others that have served the community for generations. You can even hear it. Owing to a large influx of French-Canadians seeking textile mill jobs in the early 20th century, the city proudly retains traces of that French-accented heritage, as visitors will catch snatches of the language still being spoken in stores and on the street.
An old-school motel in the thick of the city is the Woonsocket Motor Inn (333 Clinton St., 401-762-1224, www.woonsocketmotorinn.com, rates from $68), a family-owned, 39-room motel with free Internet and cable TV, featuring clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates. For couples, a more romantic option would be the Pillsbury House (341 Prospect St., 800-205-4112, www.pillsburyhouse.com, rooms $88 each through March 31, then from $95) in the city’s historic north end, a four-room Victorian with guest kitchenette on the second floor. Each morning guests are treated to a full hot breakfast, featuring fresh fruit and homemade baked goods. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. Business travelers and the business-weary will find much to like at the Holiday Inn Express (194 Fortin Drive, 401-769-5000, www.holidayinnexpresswoonsocket.com, rates from $121) with a business center, fitness room, free breakfast buffet, and a free newspaper delivered to your room.
Grab a stool at New York Lunch (8½ Main St., 401-762-9619, www.facebook.com/pages/New-York-Lunch-Inc/115695161816049, breakfast from $2.25), a local dining institution for more than a century that specializes in
Rhode Island-made hot dogs at $1.25 apiece, fully loaded by counter whiz Edna Caron, who serves up good-natured barbs on the side. Up for Mexican? Try The Burrito Co. (104 Cass Ave., 401-597-6400, www.theburritoco.com, lunch from $5.95), where diners can savor dishes that owners Anthony and Denise Sierra call “California-style Mexican”: well-seasoned but not too hot. Try a 2½-pound burrito, washed down with homemade sangria or fruit-infused margaritas, particularly the popular blueberry-lemon. Hearty sandwiches of all stripes can be had at Kay’s Restaurant (1013 Cass Ave., 401-762-9675, www.kaysrestaurant.com, sandwiches from $6.95), a local favorite since 1968. Here, the daily menu is hand-printed on napkins, and many regulars will point you to the whopping steak sandwich topped with cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and onions on a fresh buttered roll. Grab some grub any time of the day or night at the 24-hour, shiny-silver beauty, Patriots Diner (65 Founders Drive, 401-765-6900, www.patriotsdiner.com, dinners from $8.95), with a full range of meals of chicken, steak, fish, and pasta.
Music lovers should check out family owned Al Drew Music Center (526 Front St., 401-769-3552, www.aldrewmusic.com), serving the music needs of amateurs and pros alike since 1964, including supplying instruments for Cheap Trick, Alabama, and Emmy Lou Harris. The store itself is a star: It was used for location filming for the 2009 Richard Gere movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” Taking up residence in an old mill by the river is The Village at Le Moulin (68 South Main St., 401-474-7704), home to artsy shops like Beaudoin Rose (401-497-0344, www.beaudoinrose.com), selling antiques, artwork, and vintage goods; Cindy’s Custom Creations (617-775-5908, www.facebook.com/Cindyscustomcreations), maker of blankets for professional sports teams, handmade soaps, and artwork; and Crafting With the Frolicking Goddess (www.thefrolickinggoddess.webs.com, 508-498-5782), where they teach the art of making crafts. Bring back youthful memories at Juvenile Automobiles Pedal Car Co. (291 High St., 401-766-9661, www.juvenileautomobiles.com) open by appointment only but worth it for antique-toy lovers. Here you’ll find more than 300 pedal cars, toy trucks, Art Deco tricycles, wagons, comics, and more, in a seemingly chaotic jumble that owner Matthew Vaznaian knows like the back of his hand. In the dead of winter, a great family take on the day is a spin around the outdoor rink at River Island Park (off Bernon Street, 401-762-6400, www.woonsocket.org/skating.html ), free for all comers. After a few turns, join the crowd around the massive wood-burning stove and warm up a bit.
Music figures big in the Woonsocket night scene, and a great place to check it out is Vintage (2 South Main St., 401-765-1234, www.vintageri.com), with Thursday night jazz — which has featured the likes of the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio —
theatre.com), built in 1926, with 1,110 seats and tons of productions, including the Peking Acrobats on Feb. 2, Eagles tribute band Feb. 15, and “A Chorus Line” starting a three-day run Feb. 22. Shake it up at night, physically and emotionally, at Stage Right, Studio for Arts and Wellness (68 South Main St., 401-356-0255, www.stagerightstudio.org , all classes $5), a place where visitors can express themselves in all forms of art, including performing before small audiences, and where they have classes in dance, yoga, drawing, and Zumba.