At its Industrial Era prime, Lowell was a manufacturing powerhouse that employed more than 10,000 workers and used innovative technology to mass-produce cotton cloth. By the 1970s, it was just another failing mill town, an economically depressed community synonymous with drugs and crime. Today, Lowell is vibrant again. By embracing historic preservation, nurturing the arts, and aggressively promoting tourism, the city has revitalized itself. It offers riverboat canal cruises, gives walking tours of its Cambodian neighborhoods, and has converted former mill buildings into offices and condos. The legendary Boott Cotton Mills, for example, now houses lofts with striking views of the Merrimack River. And Lowell isn't only for history buffs. It's rich in arts and culture, with more than a half-dozen museums, several performance centers, and a repertory theater. Jocks are welcome, too; Lowell also sports the Devils (an American Hockey League franchise formerly called the Lock Monsters) and the Spinners (a minor-league affiliate of the Red Sox) . Classy restaurants, funky cafes, and art galleries round out the city's profile.
SpendParents intent on spoiling their brood should visit Haus (17 Shattuck St., 978-458-4287, hauskids.com), which sells European toys and stylish children's clothing, and runs "kindermusik" classes for infants and toddlers.
Lush Beads (120 Merrimack St., 978-459-7240, lushbeads.com) stocks voluminous beading supplies, does custom jewelry design, and offers craft clinics. Resembling an upscale antiques store, Welles Emporium Ltd. (175 Merrimack St., 978-454-4401, wellesemporium.com), sells distinctive gifts, clothing, and jewelry.
And how can you not want to spend your money at an art supplies store with a name as witty as Van Gogh's Gear (200 Middle St. 978-970-2100)? But I prefer to relinquish my dough at the Brush Art Gallery and Studios (256 Market St., 978-459-7819, thebrush.org), a nonprofit that provides workspace to about 15 resident artists whose handiworks are available for sale.
Another good reason to open your wallet is to buy a ticket for the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (50 East Merrimack St., 978-454-3926, merrimackrep.org), whose season runs from September through May, or for the Angkor Dance Troup (978-275-1823, angkordance.org), a traditional Cambodian performance group.
RestLowell's main lodging options are two large chain hotels, a Courtyard Marriott (30 Industrial Ave. East, 978-458-7575, marriott.com/bosll) and DoubleTree Hotel Lowell (50 Warren St., 978-452-1200, doubletree.com). The Commonwealth House (87 Nesmith St., 978-452-9071) is a four-room bed-and-breakfast in a residential neighborhood. The Woodland Inn (1581 Varnum Ave., 978-454-4781, bbonline.com/ma/woodland) is run like a B&B but caters primarily to people with developmental disabilities.
And while you can't rent a room there, the lovely, leafy Lowell Cemetery (77 Knapp Ave., 978-454-5191, lowellcemetery.com) is quite restful; the garden-style burial ground, on the National Register of Historic Places, offers seasonal tours.
PlayDuring baseball season, watch the Lowell Spinners (978-459-1702, lowellspinners.com) at Edward A. LeLacheur Park (450 Aiken St.), where many talented players are working their way to the big leagues.
In summertime, the city hosts several festivals that are ideal for children, such as the Lowell Folk Festival (lowellfolkfestival.org), which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and the Southeast Asian Water Festival (lowellwaterfestival.org), which honors Lowell's Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian communities and was inspired by the boat races on the Mekong River. The Lowell Summer Music Series (lowellsummermusic.org) sometimes holds free weekday morning shows for kids.
If your little one has a birthday approaching, consider celebrating it at the National Streetcar Museum (25 Shattuck St., 978-275-1821, trolleymuseum.org/lowell), which throws parties in its trolley-theme amusement park room. Offered from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, canal tours arranged through Lowell National Historic Park (978-970-5000) make educational family outings, providing a close-up look at the gates and guard locks once used to control water for manufacturing purposes.
PartyBeing a college town, Lowell has a healthy night life. The Brewery Exchange (201 Cabot St., 978-937-2690, thebreweryexchange.com) is a complex of bars, clubs, and restaurants, including the Brewhouse Cafe & Grille, Kegs Sports Bar, Stix Billiards, Hops Dance Club, and the Lowell Brewing Co .
The historic Worthen House (141 Worthen St., 978-459-0300, greek-fest.com/worthen), Lowell's oldest tavern, has live entertainment and an outdoor patio. Athenian Corner (207 Market St., 978-458-7052, atheniancorner.com), which claims to offer New England's widest variety of Greek food, is filled with belly dancers and live Greek and Middle Eastern music on weekends.
On Friday nights, Mambo Grill (129 East Merrimack St., 978-458-1739), a cheap-eats taqueria, has live music and margaritas. For a tamer evening, Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus (61 Market St., 978-454-2739, brewdawakening.com) is an alcohol-free gathering place for live music and poetry.
DoMake your first stop the Lowell National Historic Park visitors center (246 Market St., 978-970-5000, nps.gov/lowe), which has excellent exhibits on Lowell's industrial history, informative park rangers, a gift shop, and brochures on nearly every attraction in the city.
You could spend a whole weekend just visiting Lowell's museums, listed at museumsoflowell.org. Lowell's rise, fall, and rebirth is traced through videos, a replica 1920s textile weave room, and operating power looms at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum (115 John St., 978-970-5000). The New England Quilt Museum (18 Shattuck St., 978-452-4207, nequiltmuseum.org) is dedicated to antique, traditional, and contemporary quilts, while the American Textile History Museum (491 Dutton St., 978-441-0400, athm.org) chronicles American cloth production from the Colonial era to the present.
The Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center (40 French St., 978-275-1826) is a restored 1830s boardinghouse that tells the story of the textile industry's workforce, including immigrants, "mill girls," and organized labor. The Whistler House Museum of Art (243 Worthen St., 978-452-7641, whistlerhouse.org), birthplace of painter and graphic artist James McNeill Whistler, showcases his work and that of other New England artists. The Revolving Museum (22 Shattuck St., 978-937-2787, revolvingmuseum.org), a self-described "evolving laboratory of creative expression," has fun, fascinating exhibits that test the boundaries of what art can be.
Also check the event schedules at Lowell Memorial Auditorium (50 East Merrimack St., 978-454-2299, lowellauditorium.com) and Paul E. Tsongas Arena (300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 978-848-6900, paultsongasarena.com) for sports, music, celebrity speakers, and more.
FuelMany of Lowell's eateries are concentrated in the city's historic downtown. They range from the elegant La Boniche (143 Merrimack St., 978-458-9473, laboniche.com), a small bistro serving gourmet French cuisine, to Life Alive (194 Middle St., 978-453-1311, lifealive.com), an earthy-crunchy organic cafe fond of brown rice and wheat grass, to the European-style Caffe Paradiso (45 Palmer St., 978-454-6073, caffeparadiso.com).
The adorably named Olive That & More (167 Market St., 978-275-1931) is a specialty market and gourmet deli. For super-cheap eats, Gormley's Luncheonette (139 East Merrimack St., 978-452-8134) reigns; its priciest menu item is $5. Head to Angkor Kingdom (602 Merrimack St., 978-275-0884) or the self-descriptive Southeast Asian Restaurant (343 Market St., 978-452-3182, foodventure.com) for a Southeast Asian meal, Cavaleiro's (573 Lawrence St., 978-458-2800, cavaleirosrestaurant.com) for Portuguese fare, and Udupi Bhavan (1717 Middlesex St., 978-654-6653) for wonderful vegetarian Indian food.
Brazilian food is sold by the pound at Oasis Grill (910 Gorham St., 978-452-0833, oasisgrill.us), a friendly churrascaria with a massive rotisserie loaded with skewered meats. And I adore the Lowell Portuguese Bakery (930 Gorham St., 978-458-3111), which sells inexpensive sweets and gorgeous loaves of bread that come twisted, braided, raisin-studded, coconut-dusted, sugar-sprinkled, and every variation in between.