Those girls are kissing!
Yes, there's a lot of 'girl-on-girl' in these parts. Lovely Smith College has been providing scenic Northampton with L.U.G.s (Lesbian Until Graduation) for decades. It's nothing new and it's nothing extrodianary. Please, don't stare at the lesbians.
Norwottuck Rail Trail
The Norwottuck Rail Trail is an old railway line linking Northampton with Amherst, and which has been converted for use as a bike/running/walking trail (for the most part, it runs close to route 9). It's a great resource, starting near the Connecticut river (you cross an old trestle bridge at that point) and stretching east for over 8 miles. It is well-shaded in many sections, which makes it perfect for running, even on quite a warm day, and if you are staying at a motel along route 9 it's generally easy to access. As you might, expect, it gets plenty of use: in our experience, users were very good at sharing, with bike riders giving plenty of warning and 'thank yous' as they rode by.
Northampton and the Five College Area
With five colleges and thousands of students/former students (and hundreds of faculty) in the area, it's no real surprise that the area around Northampton has so many cultural opportunities, with small movie theatres, many music venues, bookstores, art galleries, beautiful campuses, and a wide selection of decent restaurants. Downtown Northampton, in particular, has a large number of eating locations, and three or four bookstores within a few hundred yards of each other, as well as the lovely Smith College campus (including its unique botanic gardens) at one end of town. The entire area is lushly green, with great biking and hiking possibilities (including Mount Tom, which can be seen from the Smith campus, as well as a lovely converted railway line now used for biking/running).
On the downside, and perhaps linked to the presence of all those college graduates, the stores in Northampton have a tendency to run to the pricey end of the spectrum: while there are lovely artsy stores, some featuring locally-made crafts and paintings, the prices don't encourage casual purchases! Perhaps paradoxically, there's also quite a grungy vibe in parts of downtown, with Northampton having its share of local characters. Leave your intolerance at home, though: Northampton is famously, and proudly, tolerant, and the lesbian/gay population is more out here than in many a large city.
'Textbook' College Town
"Northampton is hip"
I lived here for 6 months, and I found Western Massachusetts to be my favorite region on the East Coast. Combined with nearby town of Amherst (and Sunderland - about 30 minutes north) there are loads of restraurants including:
Judies, in Amherst. This place has great lunch specials for $6 or $7. Huge portions of "ecletic american".
CIRCA, in Northampton. French cuisine. Not cheap, but great food and atmosphere.
'Bread in a Bottle', Sunderland. Great sandwiches, and vegetarian dishes too. Very fresh ingredients. The restaurant/town is overlooking a river. Well, Sunderland is great as you can cross the bridge of flowers, and see glassblowers - a bunch of 25 year olds - at work. Then, head back to NoHO.
The Northampton/Amherst area is known as the "5 college area", and there are about 50,000 college students around. Very liberal and a good vibe. Just remember that the weather is freezing during the winter. I wasnt too happy about that.
Northampton has a great music scene. Apparently one guy owns 5 venues including the CALVIN, a historic theatre hosting big ticket names, and the Ironhorse, which has one or two performers nightly (not always Mon or Tues) for cheap. Before I left, Winton Marceles was playing there on a Wed night. It's a dive, but has some great music.
If you meet anyone from Smith College, ask them if they're a BUG or a LUG.
Northampton, the biggest little town in Western Ma
I spent a few years in Northampton and really love it here. At the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, it is a beautiful place filled with hills, trees, creeks, and is, generally, a pretty hip town. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is a college town and part of the 5 College Consortium.
I remember when I was attending school here, 20/20 did a piece on Northampton celebrating it's notoriety as "the" place for lesbians in the US. Why is this? It could be that there are two prominent women's colleges in the area and the one in Northampton itself is the alma mater to two renowned feminist thinkers of the 20th century--Gloria Steinem (hello...Ms. Magazine among many other things) and Betty Friedan (wrote "The Feminine Mystique" and founded NOW--the National Organization for Women). It could also be that Northampton boasts the highest percentage of businesses run by women. It could also be that big lesbian festival they hold every summer.
Whatever the reason, the town really is New England quaint, has lots of great bookstores, some of the best ice cream in the country (Bart's or Herrell's), tons of cute restaurants, and, most importantly, a really liberal and cool atmosphere.