Westport, a gem on the Farm Coast
As salty summer air gives way to crisp fall sun, travelers can be forgiven a bit of indecision: Hit the seashore for one last lobster roll, or head off to the country for the season's first apple picking? Westport, Mass., promises both, just an hour from Boston. A sleepy town bordering Rhode Island, Westport is part of what is known as Massachusetts' "Farm Coast" — seaside villages where tractor-dotted farmland slopes gently to the beaches of Buzzard's Bay, and cornfield vistas and winding roads are every bit as majestic as the ocean views towards Martha's Vineyard. This Westport is often confused with its fancier Connecticut counterpart and that's just fine with the locals, who will tell you the best part about the Farm Coast is that so few people know where to find it. Add in a travel route that avoids some of the state's busiest stretches, and the promise you'll be home before bedtime and you can't lose.
Start your day at Partners Village Store in the heart of Westport. Don't let the name undersell this place. The shop is a combination bookstore, gift shop, café, and clothing boutique, all "partnering" together in a homey old Victorian house. It's basically everything that makes a lazy Saturday great. If it is a mild morning, take your still-warm muffin or sandwich outside and sit on the shaded porch, or in the garden that overlooks rambling stone walls, and several adjacent art galleries. If it's cold, cozy up in the reading room with one of their books. Partners takes care to stock lots of local authors and maritime reads. The experience of hunkering down at an independent bookstore with the creature comforts of steaming coffee and homemade treats feels luxurious. And with a café lunch menu as tempting as the breakfast one, it would be easy to get lost here for a few hours. Saturdays in the fall, they even offer Harvest Yoga, a donation-based class on the lawn outside from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Perfect for working up an appetite. (865 Main Road, Westport, 508-636-2572, www.partnersvillagestore.com, open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Located at the east branch of the head of the Westport River, Osprey Sea Kayak
Adventures offers kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddle rentals, along with a variety of tours and lessons taught by knowledgeable, approachable staffers who are as good with kids as they are with adult first-timers. If you're adventurous, set off for a vigorous 8.5-mile paddle toward where the river empties into the open water of Buzzard's Bay. As the weather turns colder, the inland location makes for a more protected trip downstream, and a charming spot to be on the water, even on a brisk fall day. (489 Old County Road, Westport, 508-636-0300, www.ospreyseakayak.com. Fall hours, Wednesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
In the warmest months, Westport's farm stands are one of town's biggest draws and the produce surplus here lasts well into the fall. By mid-September, the stands are overflowing with apples and pumpkins. At Orr's Family Farm Stand, a town favorite, the early apple varietals — Cortland and Ginger Gold — are already heaped high. By late fall, the family has plans to add a pick-your-own pumpkin operation. But drive down just about any of Westport's winding country roads and you're likely to find a farm stand worth a stop to stock up on healthy stuff for the week ahead. (Orr's Farm, 187 Adamsville Road, Westport, 508-636-4274, open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
If you've heard of Westport, it's probably because of Westport Rivers Winery. The three-decade-old winery helped put this town on the travel map, and it is well worth a visit. The farmhouse tasting room is sophisticated enough to impress the discerning oenophile, but inviting enough to wear your flip flops post-kayaking and ask lots of questions. They even opened a wine bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. During the autumn harvest, they offer Saturday hayride tours into the vineyards, complete with a stop to pick your own pumpkin.
But if you're searching for an even less pretentious sip, head half a mile down the road to Buzzard's Bay Brewing, where you can sample local brews in the rustic tasting room on a sprawling farm that feels a bit like Vermont ("From our farm to your brew"). Once the fall hits, they get the fire pit going outside on Saturday afternoons. A hoppy, hand-crafted beer, a warm fire, and farmland views — hard to argue with that. (Westport Winery: 417 Hixbridge Road, Westport, 508-636-3423, www.westportrivers.com, open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wine bar open Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 8 p.m. Closed Sundays). (Buzzard's Bay Brewing, 98 Horseneck Rd, Westport, 508-636-2288, www.buzzardsbrew.com, Open Tuesday to Friday, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to7 p.m.).
The Bayside Restaurant is the place you went for a lobster roll before lobster rolls became the culinary "it" kid. These are the ones served with butter, not mayo, overflowing with sweet, fresh meat. Sit outside on the crushed-shell patio overlooking the ocean and the Allen's Pond Wildlife Sanctuary on an early fall day, or at a wooden booth inside the whitewashed shingled restaurant. Well-dressed summer types mingle with just-off-the beach families in swimsuits. Lobster rolls weren't the only thing they were doing before it was hip. The Bayside's family owners have long been committed to sustainability and worked to make it the first certified green restaurant in Massachusetts. Farm-to-table vegetables, fish, and even the beer and wine are nearly all locally sourced. And then there's the pie. Oh, the pie! Not fancy stuff, but simple homemade confections with sweet berries, tart rhubarb, and buttery crust. Worth a few more calories before the drive home. (1253 Horseneck Road, Westport, 508-636-5882, www.thebaysiderestaurant.com, Fall Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.).