In a state known for firsts, Massachusetts' third-largest city located 90 mi/145 km southwest of Boston, Springfield, claims its fair share: the first U.S. automobile, the first motorcycle, the first gas pump (which, we presume, was installed for the car and the motorcycle) and the first game of basketball (invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1892). Fittingly, the Basketball Hall of Fame is there, showcasing the history and stars of the game. You can't miss its new home, nearly double the size of the old facility: Just look for the 93-ft/29-m sphere at the entrance.

At the center of the historic downtown is a handsome urban square surrounded by the Greek Revival-style City Hall, Victorian-era buildings (including the Armory, where the first Springfield rifles were made) and Symphony Hall. Leave time to visit Springfield's Quadrangle, which has two excellent art museums, a historical museum and a science museum (with the country's oldest planetarium). Tucked amid the Quandrangle's serious museums is the fanciful Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, with playful bronze figures of the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and other characters that sprang from the imagination of Theodor Geisel—author, illustrator and Springfield native son.

Springfield is the southern gateway to an area called Pioneer Valley, once a major industrial center (thanks to power provided by the Connecticut River).

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