In the MetroWest area between Boston and Worcester, Marlborough is a prosperous community of 41,000.
The local economy is bolstered by high tech companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, while for much of its history Marlborough was renowned for its shoemaking.
This, and many other aspects of the city’s heritage are detailed on a new self-guided walking tour, with 24 panels at significant locations downtown.
Since the 1950s Marlborough has earned a reputation for hosting the largest Labor Day parade in New England.
In the 1920s Henry Ford had big plans for a big swath of eastern Marlborough, and there are interesting vestiges of a planned outdoor museum at the Wayside Country Store and the bucolic Wayside Inn Grist Mill.
1. Marlborough Center
Marlborough has an engaging Main Street that warrants some time on a walking tour. Much of what you see goes back to the period from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, when the city was a center of industry.
This applies to the main landmark, Marlborough City Hall (1905), a theatrical Beaux-Arts building with a chateauesque clock tower.
For modern visitors Main Street is an excellent place to eat and drink, with a craft brewery, cafe, a wine bar, and cuisines from fried chicken to Thai.
On the east side is the Union Common, where you can admire the John Brown Bell, recovered in 1892 from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where abolitionist John Brown’s epoch-making slave rebellion had come to an end in 1859.
There’s a summer concert series on the Union Common on Tuesdays, while many of Marlborough Center’s sights are on a self-guided tour, which we’ll talk about next.
2. Marlborough Historical Society Museum in the Streets
Wandering around Marlborough you might notice a series of interpretive panels, mostly installed along Main Street.
These 24 sites comprise the Museum in the Streets, unveiled in 2019 by the Marlborough Historical Society, and the first project of its kind in Massachusetts.
Starting at the grand Carnegie Library (1904), this is an enlightening self-guided walk around downtown Marlborough, taking you east to Union Common and then looping back to Artemas Ward Park.
During the walk you’ll visit historic burial grounds, find out about the city’s 19th-century shoe industry, see the birthplace of suffragist Crystal Eastman (1881-1928) and discover Marlborough’s old trolley system.
There’s also an intriguing panel for the Noble Train of Artillery that crossed Marlborough on the way to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga in the Revolutionary War.
3. Labor Day Parade
One enduring tradition in Marlborough is this annual Labor Day Parade, going back to 1952.
This event was introduced by Mayor Romeo J. Gadbois as a way to bring some joy to the community on the back of the Korean War, and not long after the end of WWII.
The Marlborough Labor Day Parade has since grown to become the largest and most prestigious in the whole of New England, with scores of bands, imaginative floats and entertainers making their way on a 1.3-mile route, mostly aligned with Main Street and Maple Street.
4. Assabet River Rail Trail
You can zip effortlessly between the center of Marlborough and downtown Hudson without using a car as there’s a wide paved rail trail on the former Marlborough Branch of the Fitchburg Railroad, dating back to 1849.
East of Hudson, the route follows the Assabet River, which is where the name comes from. When completed, the trail will be 12.5 miles long and will run unbroken from Marlborough to Acton.
When we made this list there were two sections, from Marlborough to Hudson (5.6 miles), and from South Acton MBTA station to the Maynard–Stow boundary, with a four-mile gap in the middle.
5. Callahan State Park
A large parcel of this sizable recreation area is within Marlborough’s city limits, and spreading out southeast into Framingham.
The landscape at Callahan State park is a mix of hardwood and softwood forest, ponds and expansive open fields.
This is one of the best places in the area to escape the city for a while, with seven miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter.
The park is also on the route of the Bay Circuit Trail, which links numerous parks, greenways and rail trails in a 200-mile arc around Greater Boston.
For those here with a pup, there’s an unofficial off-leash dog park around Eagle Pond near the south entrance in Framingham.
6. Solomon Pond Mall
Opened in 1996, this upscale enclosed mall is on the commercial corridor by I-290, close to the intersection with I-495.
A few of the tenants at Solomon Pond Mall are JCPenney and Macy’s (anchors), as well as Apple Store, Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, Hollister, Pink, Claire’s, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
The Regal Solomon Pond multiplex here has 15 screens with stadium seating. When it comes to dining there’s a small assortment of mall regulars like Cinnabon and Sarku Japan, as well as Dunkin’, Burger King and TGI Fridays.
7. Ghiloni Park
This park in the east of Marlborough is made up of typical community recreation amenities and a large conservation area for nature walks.
At the main, western section along Concord Road you’ll find multipurpose fields, soccer fields, a softball field, a splash pad, playground, skatepark, sand volleyball court and two basketball courts.
The trail system here will lead you to a kiosk for a self-guided nature walk through the woods, with interesting titbits about the natural history of the area.
On the banks of Broadmeadow Brook, you can also enter tranquil stands of red pine and white pine forest on steep slopes that drain into wetlands and vernal pools.
8. Wayside Country Store
Along the Boston Post Road in the east of Marlborough there’s a massive general store with an interesting history.
In the 1920s the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford purchased this site to create an attraction composed of relocated historic buildings and antiquities, as a precursor to Greenfield Village in Michigan.
One building to make the move was Sudbury’s Parmenter-Garfield General Store (1790), which had served as a general store, post office and a school that had once employed 20th President James Garfield (1831-1881) as a teacher.
The Fords sold the site in the 1940s, and the Wayside Country Store is today renowned as one of the largest penny candy stores in the country.
Be sure to see inside the 1790 building, and take a stroll at the back to see the pond, flocked with ducks and swans in the warmer months.
9. WWII Memorial Beach
The city maintains this public beach, covering 13 acres of shorefront on the Hosmer St side of Fort Meadow Reservoir.
The beach is open for swimming seven days a week, from around mid-June to Labor Day, and the water is tested weekly throughout this time.
There are lifeguards on duty, and the beach is bounded by a large grassy space shaded by trees, with BBQ areas, picnic tables, changing rooms, restrooms all at hand.
WWII Memorial Beach is open free of charge to Marlborough residents, while there’s a parking fee for non-residents.
10. Trombetta’s Farm
This local business, on Farm Rd off U.S. 20, is a few things rolled into one. First off, Trombettta’s Farm is a large greenhouse/nursery and garden center, and since 1978 this has been joined by an ice cream stand.
Trombetta’s Farm even has a small fleet of ice cream trucks serving nearby events and farmers’ markets.
There are 40 regular ice cream flavors to choose from, as well as soft serve, sorbets, sherbets, sugar free varieties and a big menu of toppings.
Also on site and open all year is an 18-hole indoor mini golf course, set in a greenhouse and blended with shrubs, flowers and two waterfalls.
11. Wayside Inn Grist Mill
Further east along the Boston Post Road in Sudbury, Ford also purchased an historic inn. Dating back to 1716, the Wayside Inn is the oldest continuously operating inn in the country, counting the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) in its prestigious list of guests.
If you’re just passing by you can visit the 100-acre grounds, which are dotted with interesting sights, including a relocated one-room schoolhouse and chapel. Another is a working water-powered grist mill that Ford constructed in the 1920s.
The mill is a picture-perfect scene, and if it looks familiar it served as the inspiration for the Pepperidge Farm logo. More than just a romantic backdrop for a picnic, the Wayside Inn Grist Mill offers tours, showing separate stones grinding wheat and corn.
12. Apex Entertainment
One of the four branches for this chain of indoor family entertainment centers can be found in Marlborough.
In one massive building, Apex Entertainment combines a go kart track with electric Sodi RTX karts, a bowling alley (10-pin and candlepin lanes), laser tag, an arcade, a blacklight mini golf course, bumper cars, sports simulators and a ropes course.
There’s also Apex Kids, a giant play space with inflatables and a 3,000-square-foot jungle gym.
The tavern here also has a large menu, from pizza to salads to burgers and sandwiches, as well as a choice of regional craft beers and a signature cocktail menu for grownups.
13. Desert Natural Area/Memorial Forest Reservation
Also in the east of Marlborough is 615 acres of tranquil outdoor space long known as The Desert.
The well-draining sandy soils here once formed the bed of the ancient Lake Sudbury, and were deposited when the glacier retreated north.
These soils now support stands of scrub oak and pitch pine forest, and are part of a vibrant ecosystem teeming with wildlife, from blue jays to beavers.
The forest is interspersed with maple swamp, floodplain marshes, shrub swamp and vernal pools, and there are two coldwater streams flowing through the landscape.
This land has been in the care of the Sudbury Valley Trustees for some 25 years, and welcomes the public for hiking, birding, picnicking and cross-country skiing in winter.
14. New England Sports Center
Marlborough boasts the largest ice skating facility in New England, with eight full-size rinks and two mini rinks over two stories.
All on more than 20 acres, that ice is complemented by more than 65 locker rooms, a giant pro shop, function rooms, a full-service restaurant, snack bar, skate sharpening and skate rentals.
The New England Sports Center is home ice for the Minuteman Flames, Minor Hockey Association is one of the top Elite and AAA Programs in New England for boys and girls.
Also in the long list of organizations based here are the Haydenettes synchronized skating team, the Skating Club of Boston MetroWest, Boston Junior Bruins Hockey and the Central Mass. Outlaws.
If you’re here just to have fun on the ice there are public skating sessions almost daily, and plenty of time slots for stick time.
In the same enormous complex as Apex Entertainment you can check out this classy escape room attraction. At the time of writing, Breakout had five physical escape rooms, for teams of up to eight people.
The rooms are private, so you’ll never be placed in a team with strangers, and each one has a time limit of an hour. Using collective brainpower, teamwork and lateral thinking you have to find clues, break codes and solve puzzles to get out in time.
When we made this list, the themes varied from thriller (The Kidnapping) to caper story (Museum Heist), all with rich attention to detail in each room, and just enough help from your gamemaster.