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Located 35 miles from Hartford, Connecticut and just 10 miles from Northampton, Massachusetts, Holyoke doesn't quite fit into the clean scrubbed visage of the Pioneer Valley, a region recognized for its upscale boutique shopping and arty vibes. Once known as the Paper Capital of the World, visitors find Holyoke's industrial past everywhere, from the old canals and abandoned historic factories at the eastern edge of town to the micro-brewery that throws open house parties inside its raw warehouse. Despite Holyoke's decline in size, the streets are busy downtown, where visitors find some of the best Hispanic food in the region, along with funky thrift stores and many small parks. Holyoke's history and cheap rents hold a special appeal for artists, who are growing in number, and the town has kept its small businesses alive, celebrating every year by throwing a Saint Patrick's Day parade that is second in size only to New York.

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Rent Trends

As of August 2017, the average apartment rent in Holyoke, MA is $661 for a studio, $687 for one bedroom, $1,039 for two bedrooms, and $1,108 for three bedrooms. Apartment rent in Holyoke has decreased by -0.6% in the past year.

Beds
Avg Sq Ft
Avg Rent
Studio
545
$661
1 BR
714
$687
2 BR
957
$1,039
3 BR
1,164
$1,108
Beds
Avg Sq Ft
Avg Rent

Ratings

71 Walk Score® Very Walkable
38 Transit Score® Some Transit
0 Bike Score® Somewhat Bikeable

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Restaurants

Restaurants in Holyoke serve up home-style cooking without the fuss, from Hispanic lunch spots to buckets of Maine steamers at the roadhouse seafood joint. Instead of a destination restaurant district, the town's many options wait throughout town, from Italian, Irish and Indian to casual American places, pizzerias and sandwich shops.

For authentic Puerto Rican, locals head to the Fernandez Family Restaurant, where the Cidra-born owners dish up large portions of what many say is the best Spanish food in the Pioneer Valley. Customers line up cafeteria style for the daily menu at budget prices, from comforting yellow rice and pigeon peas to specialties such as tripe or alcapurria. Regulars praise the roast pork served with sweet plantains and the mofongo, a garlickly mash-up of plantains and pork crackling.

Locals go to Susan's Cafe for stacks of chocolate pancakes over leisurely coffee with friends and tabs so low you'll be fighting over who picks up the check. Customers can see their meal being made in the open kitchen, which whips up daily specials, and the hodgepodge decor includes a vintage soda fountain counter, plastic tablecloths and fresh flowers. Standouts include the massive, fluffy pancakes.

Nick's Nest delivers soft serve cones and hot dogs with a side of nostalgia. Opened as a roadside popcorn cart in 1921, the tiny establishment has an old-school layout with stools by the window and a pull chain behind the counter to open the door for customers. The short menu still includes popcorn, along with fountain sodas and floats. Regulars admit that the restaurant's history is half its appeal but appreciate the steamed, New England style buns served warm.

At night, locals head out to the many bars throughout the neighborhood, from pubs and tavern to sports bars and dives, with the most options downtown along Hampden Street and the blocks off High Street. Four stories up inside of an old graffitied warehouse, the Paper City Brewery throws a party every Thursday and Friday night, when the raw, cavernous space fills with crowds sampling the brewery's craft ales and stouts on the cheap. A purchased plastic cup entitles patrons to as many refills as they can swill before happy hour ends, and live bands play on Friday nights to the motley crowd.

For laid-back nights with friends, Highland Tap/Pickle's Pub pours a solid selection beer to working class joes, including Paper City and McNeil's on tap, and during warm months, music fans from the Pioneer Valley come to see favorite bands at Mountain Park, a lush outdoor concert venue that's hosted such names as the Decemberists and the Flaming Lips.

History

Once home to the Algonquians, English farmers settled Holyoke in 1745 as West Springfield expanded, but the town didn't take off until the mid-1800s when dams harnessed the power of the South Hadley falls. Industry skyrocketed when an advanced stone dam was built in 1900, powering textile and paper factories along newly dug canals and earning the small city the nickname "Paper Capital of the World".

Today, visitors glimpse into this past at the Wistariahurst Museum, a 26-room mansion built in 1874 that also hosts student ballets by the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet and concerts in the music room. Holyoke loves a parade, and over 400,000 turn out on Saint Patrick's Day to hear dozens of bands and watch tartan-clad bagpipe players and Clydesdales march through town. On Puerto Rican Pride Day, locals wave flags while cheering on a procession of dance troupes, homemade floats and ruffled Jibaro dresses.

Transportation

Downtown along High Street, residents run errands on foot, but just a few blocks away, suburban streets and stretches of abandoned red brick factories make for less walkable terrain. Most locals here drive to get around town, though an extensive local bus network provides direct service to Northampton and Springfield, as well as destinations such as area supermarkets and Mount Holyoke college, making it possible if not practical to get around without a car. Though phone-hailing apps like Uber haven't reached here yet, local taxi companies can give you a lift.

Drivers have easy access to I-91 for weekend getaways, reaching Springfield, Massachusetts in under 15 minutes or Hartford, Connecticut in under 40 minutes. Parking rarely poses a problem except on High Street, where the metered street spots can fill up during the day. However, the municipal garage on Dwight Street provides monthly parking at reasonable rates.

Despite limited biking infrastructure, Holyoke has a growing cyclist community, spurred on by bike clubs and races in nearby Northampton and Amherst. In addition to a couple of dedicated lanes in town, cyclists can ride the riverfront loop in Pulaski Park or head to the Mount Holyoke Range State Park for challenging mountain bike trails.

Cost

Though life in Massachusetts costs more than other states, the Holyoke cost of living averages 14 percent less than the state average, due in large part to cheaper housing. The average one-bedroom here rents for $688. Gas prices typically run 10 percent higher than the national average, but a one-way fare on the local bus goes for $1.25. The many budget restaurants help keep down costs, and a beer can be had for under $3.

Shopping

Small shops line High Street, from tailors and hardware stores to clothing boutiques and shoe shops. Downtown Holyoke caters to locals, but visitors find local gems here and can also head to the huge Holyoke Mall for the Apple Store, Abercrombie & Fitch and Forever 21.

Bargain hunters at Mother Mary's Thrift Store on High Street find steals on Calvin Klein, Levi jeans and brick-a-brac for under $1, as well as the occasional off-beat item, such as a mid-century mod chair with ornate gilded legs or a chandelier with sconces made from kitchen colanders. The shop has a good selection of furniture, and leather love seats or dining tables often pop up for under $50.

For beautiful engagement rings and personalized jewelry, family-owned Hannoush Jewelers provides a beautiful selection in the Holyoke Mall. This shop has been in business for over 30 and offers excellent customer service and quality pieces. A favorite among locals, Hannoush holds several events throughout the year that are open to the public.

Residents shop for weekly groceries at Save-A-Lot or Stop and Shop, while small markets and bodegas line High Street for quick errands downtown. Locals with special dietary needs love shopping at the Nature's Grocer. This gluten-free marketplace and bakery carries a wide selection of organic and natural foods. Shoppers can also browse a variety of freshly baked gluten-free desserts.

During the warm months, residents visit the farmers market every Thursday on Chestnut Street near Veterans Park for fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, meat and eggs. The market, which is one of the oldest in the country, also sponsors cooking demonstrations and lunches prepared by local culinary students.

Parks

Dozens of small parks, playgrounds and open fields dot Holyoke, along with a large state preserve for undisturbed wilderness. On summer afternoons, families picnic on the grassy lawns of the Holyoke Heritage State Park, where kids ride for a modest fee on the restored antique Merry-Go-Round or have a play date at the Children's Museum, where admission includes a water table and the Curvy Climber, a maze of enclosed hanging platforms perfect for swinging and climbing. Over at Avery Field, older kids have a playscape, baseball diamond and two half basketball courts, and parents with small children should check out Ingleside Playground, a playground designed for ages 3 to 5. Pups play off-leash at the Wyatt Harper Dog Park, a fenced-in area at Community Field that's big enough for racing and wrestling.

For quiet nature walks and long runs, locals prefer the scenic Ashley Reservoir, where shaded trails lead down to a glassy waterfront, and visitors find turtles sunning on logs or baby geese playing. 5K races are held here, and runners and cyclists choose from several long trails looping around the reservoir or through the woods.

Hikers come to Mount Tom State Reservation for 22 miles of trails and panoramic views of the Connecticut Valley, especially in autumn when changing leaves add dramatic color to the canopy. Families can bring older kids along on the easy hikes, and wild blueberries grow near the peak, while the abandoned stone remains of the Victoria-era Eyrie House Hotel makes an intriguing spot for breaks. Fishermen can try for bass in small Lake Bray, and cross country skiers come in the winter. Vehicles pay a modest entrance fee, but the 2,100-acre park also has a play area for kids and picnic tables, along with well-kept bathrooms.

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