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Millis, Massachusetts, a Beautiful Small, Family-Friendly New England Town

Quaint Downtown Millis, Massachusetts

The landmark Niagara Fire Engine Company #4 building with downtown Millis on Exchange St. in the background.

Article and photos by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 11/15/17.

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Whenever visiting Millis, Mass., I always get a good feeling.

The mix of suburbia and rural areas is appealing, the people friendly, and the general vibe unassuming and unpretentious. Route 109 has a 1950s feel with many small businesses and roadside restaurants dotting the landscape while some of the country roads leading to neighboring Medway and Sherborn showcase stately farms, open spaces and a big sky. The Charles River, off Route 109, is a scenic gem, too, with the river and seemingly endless fields providing a sense of relaxation--  perfect for kayaking, in particular. In the winter, it's pure joy driving past all the older homes on or around Route 115 dressed up in holiday decorations. Millis is really a beautiful, little New England town!

With some other high-profile towns pounding their elitist chests and saying "Look at me, look at me!," this southwest Boston suburb in the heart of Norfolk County has somehow got lost in the mix to the point where I've heard many times in conversation, "Where is Millis?"

Route 109 in Millis, Massachusetts.
Downtown Millis district on Route 109.

Their loss, no doubt. Millis is not a precious foodie town, a trendy suburban darling, or a place to show off one's riches as a means of social climbing. Millis is more of a close-knit middle class town, the way we used to know life. The population is small -- about 8,000 people -- and the focus is clearly on community and schools. Although Millis is much more affordable than many Boston suburbs, the commitment to education is impressive to the point where Millis High School has been named one of the best high schools in the United States by Newsweek.

Recently, I took a walk through the very tiny but pleasant downtown district on Exchange Street, and four of the seven people I passed initiated a friendly "hello." Believe me, this doesn't happen too much in the Boston suburbs. Additionally, when entering Isabella's Deli on Exchange St. for a sandwich, I was welcomed like a king while others packing this tiny little sandwich shop were treated the same. At Roche Brothers Supermarket at Milliston Plaza, I also often find the local hired help treating people the same way -- not the surly or disinterested approach that you sometimes find at other supermarkets. At Roche Brothers, you can also see that everyone seems to know each other -- it's almost like an unofficial social gathering place.

When in Millis, I almost feel like I'm in Mayberry RFD -- so laid back and congenial!

Speaking of the downtown, Millis is in the process of developing more of a central district with a beautiful new public library opened a few years ago and a commitment to attracting new stores and restaurants.

For all its quiet ways, Millis, however, has lots of fun things to do. Here are some highlights:

Tangerini's Spring Street Farm  Tangerini's is a wonderful farm stand to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, cut flowers, perennials, hanging baskets, and annuals. The 67 acres are quite beautiful, including rolling fields and, often, amazing sunsets. Tangerini's also features seasonal fruit picking, a farm animal area and an ice cream stand. 139 Spring St., Tel. (508) 376-5024.

Tangerini's Spring Street Farm in Millis, Massachusetts
Tangerini's Spring St. Farm.

Ann and Hope Warehouse Store Ann and Hope used to be a major New England department store chain, but eventually transformed into one of the biggest curtain and bath outlets in the six-state region. The Millis outlet store is phenomenal -- a huge building with an incredible selection of discount curtains, window treatments, bedding and home decor. The gardening center is equally impressive. 725 Main St. (Route 109), Tel. (508) 376-1192.

Millis Wonderland (CLOSED) This December Christmas display has caught the attention of the national media with its amazing variety of colorful lights and more than 45 detailed and lovingly crafted displays featuring Santa’s friends, family and elves. With the myriad displays and traffic that follows, it often takes 20 minutes to a half hour to navigate the property by car. Located at a local businessman's property on a lovely country road, Millis Wonderland is a surefire way to get in the holiday spirit. 60 Causeway St. The email is meehan@milliswonderland.com.

The Black Cow Let's face it, most homemade ice cream is not homemade and often shipped in from somewhere else. The Black Cow is different, truly making their own ice cream and using 16 percent butterfat content -- not good for the waistline but oh-so-good for the taste buds! Many ice cream spots infuse a lot of air into their ice cream, so the taste isn't as densely flavorful. Also, the Black Cow's ice cream parlor setting is pleasant with seating and spotlessly clean surroundings. I like the gingersnap and orange pineapple flavors best. The homemade fudge isn't bad, either! The Black Cow is open April to September. 1397 Main St. (Route 109), Tel. (508) 376-4884

Ryan Family Amusements This modern candlepin bowling alley and game room/arcade alley is family-friendly and  also a good spot for birthday parties. Adults can enjoy a brew or some wine, while the entire family can munch on snacks. 1170 Main St. (Route 109), Tel. (508) 376-1101

Bowling alley fun in Millis, mass.
Ryan Family Amusements bowling alley.

Oak Grove Park A great example of an exceptionally well-kept town park, this scenic oasis features extensive walking trails, a playground, soccer and ball fields.You'll feel like you're out in the country here as the air has a sweet smell and the open spaces and forest areas take one far away from the Boston suburbs. The Millis Historical Commission is also located here, set in a beautiful old farmhouse. Route 115 near the Sherborn line.

Uncle Ned's Fish Factory Fish experts will tell you that Uncle Ned's is the place to go for buying fresh and saltwater fish (some quite rare), as well as learning more about proper care and the right products to purchase. 1590 Main St. (Route 109), Tel. (508) 533-5969

Town and Country Antiques  This small, friendly store is jam-packed with antiques and collectibles (including jewelry). Town and Country Antiques is yet another example of a local antique store you probably haven't heard of, but when there makes you glad that you discovered the place. Call for hours before visiting! 37 Exchange St., Tel. (508) 376-8888.

For a small town, Millis has a surprisingly high number of quality restaurants. Kravings (979 Main St.) looks like a fast-food restaurant but goes way beyond that genre with masterfully-created club sandwiches, homemade soups, giant salads, Greek specialties like gyros and spinach pies and one of the best fried seafood platters in the region. Everything here tastes fresh and homemade.  They even serve Richardson's ice cream!

Club sandwich with sweet potato fries from Kravings in Millis, Mass.
Tuna club with sweet potato fries from Kravings in Millis.

Napper Tandy's Millis (969 Main St.) recently opened and exudes a classic Irish pub atmosphere with a great drinks selection and a real focus on the quality of the food. The burgers are better than most of those trendy burger places and the Shepherd's Pie is a must-try. Budabing's (1060 Main St.) is a colorful 1950s style cafe with booths and counter that serves up huge delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I love the roast turkey dinner and the haddock Caesar salad with a giant piece of fish! In downtown Millis, Saigon (180 Exchange St.) features Vietnamese cuisine, Victory Lane (32 Exchange St.) delicious steak tips, burgers and pasta dishes in a restaurant/bar setting, and Isabella's (20 Exchange St.) "real" subs, homemade pasta, Sicilian pizza, as well as Italian pastries from the North End of Boston. The Lilac House (34 Milliston Road) is a solid Chinese restaurant, serving favorites like Lo Mein, Kung Pao chicken, moo shi dishes, pork fried rice and pu pu platters. Twist Bakery and Cafe (30 Milliston Rd.) got its name right: baked goods and sandwiches with a "twist," given its commitment to fresh seasonal ingredients (and organic whenever possible). Most items are gluten and peanut free. I recently had a whoopie pie here that made me say "Whoopie!" It was delicious! Primavera (20 Pleasant St.) serves some excellent Italian cuisine, features an impressive Sunday brunch and has a nice outdoor patio dining room and lounge. The overall atmosphere is casual but with a slight upscale feeling. Primavera is also quite popular for weddings and other events.
Jalapa Mexican Grill, at 929 Main St., states on its storefront windows, "The Best Mexican Food." From our estimation, that is a thoroughly truthful statement. Colorfully designed, cozy and friendly, Jalapa Mexican Grill offers an outstanding selection of familiar and lesser-known Mexican dishes, as well as a good drinks list. Highly recommended: the Fajita Mixed Combo with sizzling marinated tender pieces of steak, chicken or shrimp sauteed with bell peppers and onions and served with rice, beans, warm tortillas cheese, sour cream and guacamole. The King Street Cafe, at 39 Main St., is one of those classic roadside breakfast places with huge portions of eggs, bacon and pancakes and some of the freshest, chock full of fruit muffins. The prices are rock bottom and the overall experience ranking right near the top of best breakfast restaurants in the Boston area. 

Millis is certainly not a tourist destination, just part of the authentic fabric that makes New England so special.  Residents love it here and visitors like me feel right at home while visiting one of the many attractions. If in the area, I hope you get to visit Millis!

Also be sure to read:
Visiting Walpole, Mass., the friendly town

Explore Massachusetts travel! Read the Massachusetts Town Greens book -- Discover New England's first travel attractions: town commons. Includes chapters on nearby Walpole, Norfolk and Franklin!

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