South County is in Central Massachusetts. It is in the southwest corner of Worcester County and is home to roughly 80,000 people. This region consists of rolling hills peppered with milltowns and semi-rural suburbs.
- 1 Charlton & Oxford- Charlton is a sprawling exurb whose primary attraction is the famous Tree House Brewing Company. Neighboring Oxford is the birth place of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton
- 2 Southbridge-The Eye of the Commonwealth is still a center of optical manufacturing.
- 3 Sturbridge - Small town filled with antique shops, restaurants, and Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum.
- 4 Webster & Dudley- Webster is a mill town undergoing a downtown revitalization, has the largest natural lake in Central Massachusetts, and the Indian Ranch concert venue. Neighboring Dudley is more rural, but contains some spillover from Webster's downtown and Nichols College.
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.
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 the Massachusetts Turnpike (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 the Massachusetts Turnpike and becoming I-290. I-395 provides access from Eastern Connecticut to the south and via I-290, all points north and northeast. Traffic at the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-84 can be quite bad during summer weekends.
Although you will still need a car to reach South County, travelers from further afield could fly into Boston or Hartford, both of which are about an hour away. There is also a small airport in Worcester located 15-30 minutes from most places in the region.
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.
South County's scenery consists of gently rolling, forested hills dotted with farms. Southbridge and Webster are both classic New England mill towns and much of their industrial heritage is still on display, if not used for its original purpose. Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum, is the most popular attraction in the region and allows visitors to experience life as it would have been in early 19th century New England.
See a concert at Indian Ranch in Webster, one of the largest venues in Central Massachusetts or take a paddle on Webster Lake. While there are no mountains or strenuous hiking opportunities in South County, there are a number of wildlife sanctuaries where visitors can take a quick stroll.
South County has many antique shops, with the largest concentration in Sturbridge. There are no major shopping malls in the region, but Sturbridge and Oxford have several Big Box retailers if something is needed in a pinch.
South County is a bit of a locally relevant dining destination due mostly to Sturbridge, whose location at the intersection of busy I-84 and the Massachusetts Turnpike as well as its proximity to the Brimfield Antiques Fair have generated more quality restaurants than would usually be expected for a town of its size. Most towns have a reliable diner and at least one Greek pizza place.
There isn't much nightlife in South County, but there are bars in most towns. Sturbridge has fancier restaurants that can make a solid cocktail or pour a decent glass of wine. There are several breweries in the region, by far the most famous of which is Tree House Brewing Company, a nationally renowned craft brewery with an expansive facility in Charlton.
Most hotels in South County are located in Sturbridge, which has both national chains and locally owned hotels and Bed & Breakfasts. Many additional hotels can be found in nearby Worcester and Auburn.
South County is a relatively safe area. The main hazards are from winter weather, which can make the roads quite dangerous, and from other motorists. Route 20 in particular is used as a way to avoid traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike for drivers between Connecticut and Boston. The road is not divided for significant stretches, has poor sightlines in spots, and drivers frequently travel 20+ MPH over the posted speed limit. Accidents are unfortunately common, however the Commonwealth has plans to improve the safety of the Route 20 by 2030.
Visit the Heart of the Commonwealth in Worcester
Head west to the Pioneer Valley
Explore America's industrial heritage in the Blackstone Valley