Sitting on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border, Bellingham is a growing town crossed by I-495.
This puts Bellingham on the Metropolitan Boston’s outer belt, and endows the town with a commercial corridor where there’s a newly updated Regal Cinemas location, and branches for Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods.
Bellingham shares a boundary with the city of Woonsocket, RI, putting you in easy reach of important cultural attractions like the Stadium Theatre, an ornate movie palace-turned performing arts center.
Away from the highway, Bellingham is a rural idyll, with the region’s largest bonsai nursery, and assorted farms for exceptional fresh produce and specialty items like alpaca yarn.
1. Silver Lake Park
Created for industry some 200 years ago, the gorgeous Silver Lake became a resort at the turn of the 20th century. Trolleys brought visitors to relax on the shores, come boating and be entertained by band concerts and vaudeville acts.
With the decline of the trolleys, Silver Lake faded as a destination, and has only found a new lease of life since it was purchased by the town in the 1990s.
The park is on the southern shore, and the beach here has lifeguards on duty late June through Labor Day.
To go with this there’s a sizable grassy space for picnics, as well as playgrounds for younger and larger kids, and a splash pad.
2. New England Bonsai Gardens
The largest bonsai nursery on the East Coast can be found in Bellingham. Dating back to 1987, the New England Bonsai Gardens is on eight sprawling acres, with eight separate greenhouses, one of which houses the oldest bonsai on display in the Northeast.
You can head here to browse what might be the finest assortment of bonsai trees in the nation, complemented by the most comprehensive selection of pots, tools and other supplies.
There’s also a range of educational programs, from beginner introductions to the two-year Kaikou School of Bonsai.
3. Stadium Theatre
There’s a celebrated performing arts venue just minutes away in Woonsocket at this restored Vaudeville theater built in 1926.
The Stadium Theatre spent most of the 20th century as a movie theater, before coming through a restoration in 2001 and being reborn as a stage for live entertainment.
Since that time, famous performers like Cher, Liza Minelli and George Winston have appeared at the Stadium, but the venue is also a key hub for community performing arts, hosting dance, theater and music groups.
Part of the joy of the venue is its lavish decor in the lobby and auditorium, replete with frescoes and intricate gilded stucco.
4. The Beef Barn
In the last few years this much-loved roast beef place, founded in North Smithfield, RI, in 1969, has opened a second location in Bellingham.
The menu at the Beef Barn has changed little in the last 50+ years, apart from a few poultry options.
The beef is cooked slowly, for eight hours, and sliced thinly to order throughout the day and heated in au jus.
If you’re here for the first time, it goes without saying that the essential menu item is the roast beef sandwich, served on a plain or toasted roll. The price is reasonable, considering the quality, and the classic sauce is a house BBQ.
5. Quissett Hill Farm
This family owned and operated farm in nearby Mendon has a variety of specialties.
First up Quissett Hill Farm keeps a herd of alpaca for their exceptional fleeces, but the farm also produces its own high-quality maple syrup and grows a range of pumpkins, including modern hybrids and heirloom varieties.
Things open up during the fall, and there are specific days when you can stop by to see the cute alpacas up close, or visit the pumpkin patch for a wonderful selection of gourds and ornamental pumpkins.
6. GlenPharmer Distillery
A stone’s throw away in Franklin, this artisan distillery and restaurant is set in the old Brookdale Mill, built from granite around 1883.
If you’re interested in the craft of making high-quality spirits, you can visit GlenPharmer Distillery for a tour, seeing the spectacular two-story copper and stainless steel steam-jacketed pot stills, as well as the stainless steel fermenters, and the 800-gallon combination Mash Tun/Lauter Tun.
The upmarket tasting room pours these signature spirits, which also go into a roster of classy cocktails, from a Mai Tai to a Gin Fizz.
The food menu is typically upscale, boasting the likes of lamb shank, duck confit, and seared tuna, as well as the likes of flatbreads, a Nashville chicken sandwich, and pulled pork.
7. Cook’s Valley Farm
A regular at farmers’ markets in Attleborough, Woonsocket and Franklin, this produce farm in Wrentham also has a quaint little stand that you can visit.
In an undulating green landscape on the remote West St, Cook’s is a no-nonsense operation, letting its first-rate fruits and vegetables speak for themselves.
Before you visit you can check a harvest schedule on the farm’s website, telling you when everything from the corn (a local favorite) to the blueberries, peppers, apples, pears and squashes are ready.
The stand also has a selection of other homemade or locally-sourced items including honey, preserves, cider, corn stalks and gourds.
8. Franklin State Forest
Along Bellingham’s eastern boundary is almost 900 acres of secluded forest. What will strike you about Franklin State Forest is how little this property has been developed for tourism; instead you can make your way through deep stands of pine along meandering trails and fire roads.
The remoteness appeals to mountain bikers, who can take on some challenging singletrack trails slaloming through the woods.
On its south end, the forest is also crossed by the Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT), a rail trail beginning here in Franklin and traveling across Bellingham on its 22-mile route to Douglas.
9. Regal Cinemas Bellingham
When we wrote this article this 14-screen multiplex had just been renovated at a cost of $6 million.
This involved installing reclining chairs in several of its stadium auditoriums, and adding a bar, serving alcoholic beverages for the first time.
Perhaps the biggest change of all is the RPC Regal Premium Experience screen, equipped with an outsize screen, high-end digital projectors and uncompressed surround sound.
The theater is in a commercial corridor along I-495, with branches of Whole Foods, Old Navy, Michaels, Barnes & Noble, and the Home Depot all closeby.
10. Walnut Hill Bowl
Just over the state line in Woonsocket is one of the best bowling alleys for miles, with 32 state-of-the-art lanes.
Walnut Hill Bowl also includes the cozy Back Alley Pub, serving fresh baked pizza and burgers, but also booking plenty of live music.
As with most modern bowling alleys, weekend evenings after 9pm are intense here, with Cosmic Bowl bringing blacklight and party music. For a more affordable game, there are great value specials for lane and shoe rentals Monday-Thursday.
11. Urban Air Trampoline Park
There’s a location for this national chain of indoor trampoline parks in Bellingham, ideal for kids and teenagers with energy to burn.
Urban Air packs a big choice of attractions, including a large freestyle court, climbing walls, a Gladiators-style battle beam, an indoor ropes course, stunt trampolines, a tumble track for gymnastics, a hoop for slam dunks, and an adventure course reminiscent of Ninja Warrior.
Each attraction has its own height requirements, but there’s plenty for smaller children too, at the multi-story Tubes Playground, helping wee ones develop fine motor skills and a sense of self-assurance.
12. The Big Apple Farm
In the same family since 1950, this 200-acre fruit farm and cider mill in Wrentham is a short but scenic drive from Bellingham along country roads.
The Big Apple Farm is open June through December, for a variety of seasonal activities. Top of the list are PYO blueberries in summer and then apples in fall, when you can take a hayride up the hill.
The farm grows a wealth of other fruits, like peaches, apricots, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries, as well as an assortment of vegetables.
The farm stand is a must, baking apple cider donuts, turnovers, cookies, pies and blueberry muffins, and also stocking a trove of local goodies like honey, maple syrup, jams and jellies.
13. St Ann Arts and Cultural Center
Dubbed by one magazine as “The Sistine Chapel of America”, this profusely decorated Renaissance Revival church was built in the 1910s for Woonsocket’s French-Canadian community.
The architect was Walter F. Fontaine (1871-1938), who was locally born and also had French extraction.
The church closed in 2000, and has been turned into a cultural center to help fund long-term preservation efforts. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit this building and savor what is claimed to be the largest single collection of frescoes in North America.
Traced by detailed moldings, these awe-inspiring paintings adorn the walls, the barrel-roofed ceiling of the nave, as well as the crossing, transepts and the apse.
Featuring 475 individual faces, all using locals as models, the work was carried out by Italian-Canadian artist Guido Nincheri (1885-1973).
14. Southwick’s Zoo
About 15 minutes west of Bellingham you’ll come to the largest zoo in Massachusetts, couched in 250+ acres of oak woodlands.
Opened in 1963, Southwick’s Zoo is still run by the Southwick and Brewer families, and is home to more than 750 animals from 100+ species, all in naturalistic enclosures.
Among the exotic species are cheetahs, African leopards, Bengal tigers, lions, Brazilian tapirs, capybaras, white rhinos, and ostriches.
The zoo is renowned for its collection of primates, the largest in the region, comprising squirrel monkeys, chimpanzees, ring-tailed lemurs, white-handed gibbons and many more.
Beyond all this, Southwick’s Zoo stands as an excellent family day out, with pony rides, camel rides, a petting farm, a 12-minute train ride, a maze, and a variety of kiddie rides.
15. New England Country Club
Right on the MA-RI border, New England Country Club has a name that sounds exclusive, but is a public course, attracting players from across the region since it opened in 1990.
Designed by Hale Irwin, this 18-hole championship course is in a rambling landscape, with rollercoaster fairways walled by thick woodlands. In keeping with the rural character, you may catch sight of deer or foxes on your round.
There are four tee boxes on every hole, each offering a different challenge, suiting a wide spectrum of skill levels. You’ll be inspired by the scenery throughout the course, and this is at its prettiest late in the season during the fall months.