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One day a woman stopped me in the street of downtown Worcester and asked what she and her girlfriends could do while their husbands were at a convention. I didn't give them a very great answer, so now I seek to redeem myself - for any of you that find yourselves in Worcester for whatever reason, here is my two cents on things to do, see, and places to eat
Hands down, my favorite place to dine in town. Walking into Zia's Grill is like walking into a family member's kitchen who is a really good cook. The ambience is home-y, not fancy and the food and choices of food are superb. Paula always has great specials and often has vegetarian and vegan items. You can go there for lunch or dinner or she's open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. As much as I love the Worcester diners, Zia's Grill, for just a few dollars more, makes excellent breakfast/brunch that are not super greasy. And you always get free watermelon - yum! Zia's Grill is BYOB for dinner. Oh and she does have child-friendly seating and in the warmer months, there are benches out on Shrewsbury Street so you could bring your well-behaved pet. It's a great place to come with a group or is also very comfortable to come alone because there are generally fun and exciting conversations flying around the restaurant that you can join in on. Just in case the maps aren't good enough - Zia's Grill is located in the same building as Scano's bakery and is close to the intersection of Shrewsbury Street and Adams Street. There is generally parking on the street out front. If you are staying downtown, Zia Grill is about a mile and a half walk from the back of City Hall. You could also take Bus 15 which goes once an hour on the half hour from the back of City Hall.
Although not quite in the center of town, Elm Park, especially in the warmer months is the heartbeat of Worcester. Go here for a jog or walk around this beautiful Olmstead designed park. It's about a mile around the whole park and they usually shovel in the winter so it's a good place for jogging. You can also bring a picnic here - there's a playground for kids. In the summer months on Thursday nights, there are free concerts that are really good. Check out the City of Worcester's website www.ci.worcester.ma.us and go to the Department of Public Works page for the history of Elm Park. Oh and when you're done, you can take a stroll down Highland Street for some coffee/sweets at the Bean Counter and check out the fun little stores - the Futon Company, Unique Boutique, Saori Worcester, etc. If you walk up Park Avenue, you'll run into Worcester's other small shopping area worth noting, with the Perfect Package.
Best little bar in town - close enough to walk to from downtown if your hotel is there. This is an unpretentious but also not scary bar with a great selection of beers and good music esp. Thursday nights.
If you're looking for something a bit more adventurous and really Worcester, you should see what is playing at Ralph's. It's a diner/restaurant - they have good burgers and it's a bar - affordable beer and upstairs they play music. I've seen everything here from sweet folk shows to loud punk rock to French rappers. Just depends on the night. For those of us who still have eardrums it does tend to be a bit loud so you may want to pick up some earplugs if it's a real rock show.
Ok you may be thinking - a bird sanctuary is part of your "best of" Worcester list? And I say yes! it is. First of all those peeps at the Brook,as it is fondly known, are always coming up with great activities for families. Check out their website. So if you are in town with children and need to get some exercise or get outdoors or take a break from your family :-) I highly recommend Broad Meadow Brook. In the winter, you can rent snowshoes there for about $3/hour. The fall colors are beautiful and in the spring and summer, there are lots of little frogs, birds, flowers, etc. to entertain you along the well marked paths. They have nice exhibits inside and a cute gift shop. You may get lucky and see beavers if you take the longest trail! Also, Broad Meadow Brook is powered in part by solar panels and they are working on aain garden so you can check out how those sustainable designs work. It's easiest to get to by car, but you can even take the bus there from downtown, although you'll have to time your hike well to get the once an hour bus back to town. www.therta.com - bus 22 as of late 2007.
If you are staying in dowtown Worcester or at the Marriot, it's an easy walk over to this lovely museum. It's large enough and diverse enough to feel worth the visit and admission price and small enough that you won't feel overwhelmed or as if you missed something. I especially like the top floor with pre-colombian art and on the first floor, the chapel they transported from somewhere in France, brick by brick, pretty neat.
This blues club used to be pretty big back in the day, then fell into disrepair and closed down for a long time. It has recently been restored and has reopened. It's a little bit more expensive than some of the other places in town ($10-$12 cover some nights - but check the website or call for more details). This is a great cross section of Worcester - a mix of Clark students dancing and jiving and some of Gilreins and Worcesters' longest blues fans (also generally dancing).
Take a drive through Worcester's historic neighborhood and end up at one of the unique architectural gems of Worcester :-) - Bancroft Tower. "They" don't like loitering especially at night but you could bring a picnic there during the day...