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South County is in Central Massachusetts.
South County is the name sometimes used to refer to the area of Central Massachusetts southwest of Worcester. The name does not refer to, as it might seem, the southern half of Worcester County. This would include Worcester and the entire Blackstone Valley. The region is not quite rural, not quite suburban. Former mill towns are surrounded by farms and very low density housing development. Sturbridge, despite being the smallest of the towns in South County, is home to most of the attractions because of the build-up of tourist oriented businesses surrounding Old Sturbridge Village.
South County consists of the following towns:
- Charlton-Occupies nearly a third of the land area of South County. Very spread out.
- Dudley-Mostly rural, although most people live in the denser sections next to Webster. Home to Nichols College.
- Oxford- Small town with a mix of rural and suburban features.
- Southbridge-Largest of the towns by population. Former manufacturing center with a fairly urban downtown.
- Webster-Compact town that used to be a manufacturing center and is now primarily known for its lake.
- Sturbridge is technically part of South County, but has its own article.
Nearly all visitors to South County will arrive by car. The area is bounded on three sides by major highways. To the north, the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) runs east-west with exits in Sturbridge and Auburn that can be used to reach South County. I-84 runs through Sturbridge from Hartford, CT, connecting with I-90. This is the most likely route for travelers coming from all points southwest. I-395 runs north-south along the eastern edge of the region with exits in Webster and Oxford before intersecting with I-90 and becoming I-290. I-395 provides access from Eastern Connecticut to the south and via I-290, all points north and northeast.
You will need a car to explore South County. It is a sprawling region without a center. Traffic on local roads is usually not an issue. Neither is traffic on I-395. However, traffic on I-90 and I-84 can back up for miles radiating out from their intersection in Sturbridge. This is not due to local traffic, but the fact that most traffic between Boston and New York City passes through the region. U.S. Route 20 parallels I-90 and is more useful for intra-regional travel since it intersects with more roads.
- Indian Ranch, 200 Gore Rd, Webster, MA, 01570, ☏ . Large concert venue and campground located on a lake.
- QVCAH-The Arts Center, 111 Main Street, Southbridge, ☏ . The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities is located in a stately old mansion in the heart of Southbridge. Gallery exhibits, lectures, workshops, classes, art classes, puppet shows, fashion, music and vibrant seasonal and annual events are offered to the public and the center hosts the Gateway Players Theater.
- Gateway Players, 111 Main Street, ☏ . Gateway Players is an all volunteer, non-profit, educational community theater organization that brings theater performances and workshops to Southbridge and surrounding communities. Gateway Players is located in a refinished barn behind the Arts Center on 111 Main Street.
- Cohasse Country Club, 426 Eastford Rd, Southbridge, ☏ . 9 holes, private.
- Webster-Dudley Golf Club, 80 Airport Rd, Dudley, ☏ . 9 holes, semi-private.
- Heritage Golf Course, 1 Sampson Road, ☏ . Golf Course and Driving Range. Mon-Fri 6:30AM-11AM $38 for 18 holes, cart and lunch ($32 for seniors 55+). Mon-Fri 11AM-4PM $34, $47 with cart. Mon-Fri after 4PM: $21, $34 with cart. Weekends & Holiday until 3PM: $42, $55 with cart, Weekends & Holiday 3PM-6PM: $25, $38 with cart, Weekends & Holiday after 6PM: $10, $15 with cart. Children 15 and under play for free with paying parent..
- Buffumville Lake Park (Old Oxford Rd and North Buffumville Shore Road), ☏ . The park offers picnic tables and grills, volleyball court, horseshoe pits, a swim beach, (no lifeguards, swim at your own risk), a nature trail and hiking trail, a boat ramp, and two picnic shelters. Unreserved shelters are available for use on a first come, first served basis. Interpretive programs are provided by our Park Rangers The recreation area is open from Third weekend of May through the second weekend of September from 8AM to 8:00pm. During the rest of the year, you are invited to walk into the park during daylight hours.
- Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary, 56 Capen Road, Charlton. Visitor Center hours: 9AM to 2PM Monday-Friday. Trails are always open!. Great place to take children.
- Westville Dam Recreation Area. Border of Southbridge and Sturbridge. Kayaking is very popular here. Great spot for a picnic, multiple fields with the river and trees surrounding you. There are a couple of trails leading around the Dam, with views of the river and woods. Very relaxing.
Outside of the antiquing options in Sturbridge, you won't find much shopping in South County. There aren't a lot of stores to begin with and most serve local residents (pharmacies, hardware, etc.)
- Charlton Antique & Flea Mkt, 90 Worcester Rd, Charlton, ☏ .
South County isn't quite a culinary deadzone, but its close. Sturbridge has many restaurants, some of them quite well reviewed, and is an easy drive from most points in South County. Worcester isn't that far away either. Otherwise, you will mostly find greasy spoons and pizza/subs.
- Metro Bistrot, 176 Main St, Southbridge, ☏ .
- Vienna Restaurant & Inn, 14 South St, Southbridge, MA 01550, ☏ . Elegant Austrian/German restaurant attached to a historic inn.
South County has recently become something of a destination for beer aficionados. The site Rapscallion now occupies has been a brewery since the early 1990's. In the last few years, Bentley and KBC have opened up and both have recently expanded with Bentley moving to a new taproom in the same building and KBC relocating from a roadside shack to a large taproom and beer garden in downtown Webster. Visiting all three in an afternoon is easily doable.
- Rapscallion Brewery, 195 Arnold Rd, Fiskdale, MA 01518, ☏ . Brewery located on an old apple orchard. They give impromptu tours on weekends and have a taproom that hosts live music. The site was formerly Hyland Brewery and Pioneer Brewing before Rapscallion took over the operation.
- Bentley Brewing Company, 12 Crane Street Southbridge, MA 01550. Saturday 2-6PM. Small brewery with tastings, affordable growler fills, and a few bottles for purchase. Located in an old mill building. Bentley has recently (Spring 2015) re-done their taproom and it now features your stereotypical micro-brewery accoutrements like chalkboards and dark wood. There is also a display of skateboards done by a local artist. They carry 8 beers that you can taste for $6, which includes the tasting glass. Bentley beers display a wide range, from mild Scotch ales to hoppy double IPAs. Growler fills are around $7.
- KBC Brewery & Beer Garden, 9 Frederick Street, Webster, MA 01570, ☏ . Small brewery and taproom located on the banks of the French River in downtown Webster. KBC has a relatively new taproom filled with wood and lots of seating. Sometimes there is live music. The beer is German oriented as the head brewer is particularly fond of lagers. They do have other styles, including the seemingly mandatory IPA. Outside is a beer garden that overlooks the river. KBC doesn't serve food, but you are encouraged to bring food with you, especially from local restaurants. Unfortunately, Webster isn't really a food town so your options are mostly pizza & subs, but those are still pretty good with beer, right?
- Charlton Orchards Farm & Winery, 44 Old Worcester Rd, Charlton, MA 01507, ☏ . Pick your own fruit and a small winery.