What do you think about when you hear the words "New England"? Lobster rolls? Funny accents? Baaahstin? Not much else? Yeah, me too. Which is why a trip to all six of the New England states this summer was as educational as it was fun. As a native Midwesterner, New England felt familiar in a lot of ways and completely foreign in others.
And since each state had its own distinctive personality (despite kinda being cut from the same Puritan/colonial cloth, no?), I thought, what better way to make sense of it all than by ranking them based purely on the feeling I -- an impartial Midwesterner -- got while touring around each. Obviously, you're welcome to disabuse me of my snap judgments in the comments below. Thanks.
Anyway, here we go...
"Connecticut is a rich white woman sipping a martini and silently judging all the other states," say Redditors pondering the question: "If each of the 50 states were a person at a bar, what are they doing and what are they drinking?" Honestly, that pretty much sums it up, other than to say Connecticut is THE WORST. So smug. Sure, New Haven has its charm -- a little place you might have heard of named Yale has been called "an outdoor museum of architecture" by the New York Times (legit!) -- but as far as "city life" goes, it leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps, Hartford is better? Stamford? Bridgeport? Never mind. But New Haven did have really good pizza! Not as good as Detroit's, but way better than Chicago's! And the Connecticut coast is beautiful.
Vermonters are kind of assholes about their beer. Like, we GET it, you're proud of your local suds. And you should be! They're delicious! But give it a rest already. Don't be like this guy and claim that seven of the 13 best beers in North America come out of Vermont. They do not. Stop with the West Coast envy, it's embarrassing.
Vermont is most definitely cheese country, which is a big plus (it's basically the next best state after Wisconsin) BUT... it's also the only New England state without an ocean shoreline (yes, I know about Lake Champlain, and I get the irony of a Midwesterner complaining about having no ocean). Still, I'm comparing it to the other New England states. Of which it's also the least populous, with eight times the land of Rhode Island but 60% fewer people.
The state is stunningly beautiful and equally stunningly remote, making it basically a whole entire state of "up North." Which is nice! Except that there's a reason we Midwesterners vacation up North and then head back to our cities. Also, everyone has guns; granted they seem to be more for hunting than for flaunting one's constitutionally protected rights (*cough* New Hampshire *cough*), but it's still a lot of heat.
4. Rhode Island
Of all the New England states, Rhode Island feels the most Midwestern; and that's probably because the Ocean State, like so many Rust Belt cities (Detroit, Cleveland) is redefining itself in a "post-manufacturing economy" -- a polite way to refer to decades of decline. The evidence is everywhere, a lot of blight. Yet, there is a palpable energy here, a "grittiness" (ugh, that word, but still) that persists and makes Providence a pretty special place to see and experience.
Just take a look at the WaterFire sculpture by Barnaby Evans, featuring over 80 bonfires installed on the Downtown's three rivers. Plus there's The Dean, a hipster hotel with a hipster coffee bar and hipster beer hall and hipster karaoke; people keep yammering about how it's one of America's most underrated food cities; also, the city may steal the Triple-A PawSox from nearby Pawtucket; and the rent is WAY cheaper than Boston, which means it is only a matter of time before Providence is anointed as the next "new Brooklyn."
Portland is the new Portland! But seriously, Portland, Maine is pretty terrific, from both a culinary and an everything-else standpoint -- though mostly culinary. So, it's only a matter of time before it's ruined by foodies jumping on the artisanal/gluten-free/fork-to-your-eye bandwagon. In other news, Mainers have the thickest accents with the most obvious dropped R's, probably because they're basically Nova Scotian. Also, Maine is BIG. Seriously, drive the coast along Route 1 for as long as you can stand it, peep all the coastal towns that look exactly the same, and then head your ass back over to 95 because you probably haven't even made it as far as L.L.Bean yet.
Massachusetts is "South of the border," according to the good people of New Hampshire, and it is to be regarded with thinly veiled disdain. Actually, all of New England seems to hate Massachusetts, Boston in particular. Boston is a handsome enough city when viewed from the top floor of Logan International's parking garage at night, but it's also quite possibly the least interesting thing about Massachusetts.
Go ahead, be mad about it. Cape Cod is endlessly lovely what with all the "Cape Cod blue" hydrangeas and the weathered shingle-sided houses and Shire-perfect landscaping and small lakes they call "ponds" that we would totally call lakes in the Midwest because we don't really know the difference. It all looks the same, but in a completely charming way! Plus, Provincetown is pretty much the New Orleans of New England, just without the open-carry laws.
1. New Hampshire
And New Hampshire is the Texas of New England. It's that simple. The state motto is "Live Free or Die," and they are deeply committed to doing just that. Two things stood out: 1) They are really, REALLY into their guns; and 2) They are really, REALLY into their massive highway rest-stop liquor stores. Take THAT, Illinois Tollway oases! Actually, NH consumes the most alcohol per capita of any state in the entire country, although the numbers are a bit padded due to the number of Massholes (that's the right word?) crossing the border to take advantage of the cheap, tax-free booze. Also, I mentioned their near-absolute opposition to taxes (no income or sales tax) when I spoke about living free, right? No? Okay, well, it was implied.
I'll bottom-line this for you: New Hampshire is patently un-touristy but still has all the New England outdoor recreation activities you could want, making it the least pretentious and desperate-for-approval of the New England states. They'll welcome you, but they don't need you -- their sense of pride and independence runs much deeper than just the state slogan. You'll sacrifice chef-driven dining for down-home diners where everything is still made from scratch and sourced locally but they don’t make a fuss over it because WHY. Places like the Nepali Café Momo and Montreal-esque Chez Vachon will surprise you.
Also, their beer game is much stronger than Vermont would have you believe, with excellent breweries like Smuttynose and White Birch. It's a markedly different experience than the rest of New England, and that's what makes it the best. (After all, not every place can or should be Brooklyn.) You keep doing you, New Hampshire.
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Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer who is, according to Thrillist commenters, "a complete f-ing idiot." She looks forward to hearing the ways in which she is wrong about her observations of New England.