The buzz around these parts is that Littleton is teetering on the edge of hipness. Some would argue that it had already achieved that status back in 1941 when Bette Davis came to town to premiere her movie “The Great Lie,” at the Jax Jr. Theater, which is still in operation. In any case, it’s clear that Littleton — located just north of Franconia Notch — is loaded with charm. Most of the action centers on Main Street, named one of America’s best main streets by the Huffington Post last month. America’s oldest ski store and a shop devoted to “bad art’’ are among the downtown storefronts, making Littleton a fun place to knock around after skiing at nearby Cannon Mountain. If you see a small gift randomly placed, you’ve encountered the “Be Glad Project,” an anonymous art effort that encourages people to be glad (or kind, or compassionate.) There might be a little treat or a piece of art inside.
Sadly, the historic Thayer’s Inn, a Littleton landmark, recently closed for an indefinite period because of a ceiling collapse caused by a burst pipe. When up and running, the beloved inn (111 Main St., 800-634-8179; www.thayersinn.com) offers a delightful trip back in time, full of quirky, creaky character, and is home to a well-regarded restaurant and martini bar, Bailiwick’s. Visiting families give high marks to the Hampton Inn Littleton (580 Meadow St., 603-444-0025; www.hamptoninn.com; rates from $148). Located just off 1-93, and less than a mile and a half from downtown Littleton, the spiffy property has a heated indoor pool, whirlpool, arcade, and offers a complementary continental breakfast, plus cookies in the afternoon. If you’re looking for that classic inn experience, choose the 35-room Franconia Inn (1172 Easton Road, Franconia; 800-473-5299; www.franconiainn.com; rates from $153), located about 5 miles from Littleton, with an on-site cross-country ski center and horse-drawn sleigh rides, weather permitting.
Few can resist the old-school appeal of the Littleton Diner, (145 Main St., 603-444-3994; www.littletondiner.com; cash only), where you can get breakfast all day (and you should; the buckwheat pancakes are made with locally milled flour, and the house-made corned beef hash is wonderfully chunky and flavorful.) It also serves diner faves like the Monte Cristo sandwich, but look around — everyone’s eating breakfast. A diner has stood on this spot since 1928; the current one, a Sterling diner, was built in 1940. It’s nothing fancy on the outside, but the aroma coming from the smoker outside the Screamin Boar (40 West Main St., 603-444-8888; www.screamingboarbbq.com; closed Sun. and Mon.; $6.99-$22.99) draws in carnivores to feast on smoked prime rib, Cajun meatloaf, pulled pork, hickory smoked pork ribs, and other barbecue specialties. This is dry barbecue; you sauce it up yourself with one of the house-made potions. For fine dining, chef-owned Tim-Bir Alley (7 Main St., 603-444-6142; cash only) is the place to go. At this small, red-brick-walled farm-to-table eatery (open for dinner only), there are only seven entrees on the menu, but you’ll find something you love — and it will taste even better than you expected. Seafood is a sure bet here, and guests rave about the Moroccan-glazed chicken with banana chutney. Everything is beautifully presented. Don’t pass up a fruit tart for dessert.
DURING THE DAY
A classic snapshot of Littleton would feature a family walking along the covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc River, with each person clutching a white paper bag from Chutters. Home to the world’s longest candy counter (112 feet), Chutters Candy (43 Main St., 603-444-5787; www.chutters.com) is a temple to all things sweet, from actual penny candy in glass jars to novelty treats like Skybars and Mary Janes, plus their own fudge. Once you’ve walked back and forth over the covered bridge (reachable via Mill Street), pop into Bad Art (35 Mill St., Suite B; 603-854-1498; www.badart.us.) This studio/gallery/school promises “eclectic and affordable art for the masses,” and it isn’t bad, but it’s often funny, especially the vintage postcards that are mounted with snarky sayings ($20 each.) On the more reverent side, Fiddleheads (16 Mill St., 603-444-8044; www.fiddleheadusa.com) offers a range of tasteful made-in-America (and often local) artisan goods, including pottery, textiles, jewelry, and blown glass. (Check out the fused glass coasters — very cool.) Littleton’s Main Street is chock-a-block with unique shops, including an excellent bookseller, a mid-century-themed antique shop, and Lahout’s (127 Main St., 603-444-0915, www.lahouts.com), an outdoor clothing shop. You’ll also find a Lahout’s at 245 Union St., which claims to be the oldest ski shop in America. (Herbert Lahout, an émigré from Lebanon, opened a dry goods and grocery store at this spot in 1920.) Shop for brands like Rossignol, K2, Burton, Salomon, and Billabong. Looking for a bargain? Hit their outlet store, just down the street. For sports gear with a bit more edge, plus plenty of demo-ing and advice, try the Badass Outdoors Gear Shop (17 Main St., 603-444-9445; www.badassoutdoors.com.) Locals tend to shop at the Tannery Market Place (111 Saranac St.), a collection of specialty shops like Linny Kenney Leather (www.linnykenney.com). Of course, you’re in the heart of ski country, and you passed looming Cannon Mountain (9 Franconia Notch State Park, Franconia; 603-823-8800; www.cannonmt.com; adult full day lift ticket $72) en route to Littleton. Cannon claims the highest vertical drop (2,180 feet) of any ski mountain in the East, with 73 trails served by 10 lifts plus the 86-acre Mittersill back-country area. For newbies, the 13-trail Tuckerbrook learning area is separate from the main mountain.
Located in an old gristmill, Schilling Beer Co. (18 Mill St., 603-444-4800; www.schillingbeer.com) has won fans since opening last fall for its custom small-batch brews and homey, rustic vibe (exposed beams, uneven wood floors.) In addition to a choice of its own seasonal beverages — currently, porters, ales, and a smoked Kristallweizen — it offers a rotating list of guest beers. The food menu features items from the brick oven, and there are even dessert and beer pairings. On weekends, there’s live music. If you’re in the mood for a movie you can always catch one at Jax Jr Cinemas (32 Main St., 603-444-5907; www.jaxjr.mobi), site of the premiere of “The Great Lie,” in 1941, starring Bette Davis. A plaque commemorating the event hangs in the theater lobby.