6 Connecticut Beach Getaways Last Updated 9/19
By Kim Knox Beckius
Albert Turner walked the entire Connecticut shoreline in 1914. His mission, as the first State Parks employee, was to identify Connecticut’s best spots for coastal recreation. You probably don’t have time to hunt that hard for beach-day bliss. So, this guide to saltwater adventures on Long Island Sound will help you choose the sandy expanse that’s right for you.
Plunge into Nature in Madison & Clinton
More than two miles of fine sand make Connecticut’s largest beach a natural magnet. Swim, sunbathe, collect seashells. Sling a hammock between two trees and snooze. Camp overnight and drift off while the surf sings you a lullaby. Your days at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison can be completely restful if you choose. But you’ll miss out on this 1,100-acre coastal refuge’s wild side. There are 460 acres of salt marsh within the park, inhabited by myriad plants, fish, birds and animals. The “Birds of Hammonasset” even have their own Facebook page, where you can learn to identify the sandpipers and cedar waxwings, great blue herons and glossy ibises you might spy on a hike or bike ride. Visit Meigs Point Nature Center to further explore the park’s biodiversity.
Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale serves up the day’s fresh catch on the Madison shore. The town also has a Sculpture Mile to explore, and The Audubon Shop offers guided bird walks on the beach. If you immediately think of yoga poses when you hear “swan” or “eagle,” you’ll be happy to know Body Karma Studio in nearby Clinton regularly conducts yoga classes on Hammonasset Beach. When you’re ready to wind down after an active day, nature’s gifts can fill your glass and your plate at Chamard Vineyards’ farm-to-table bistro, also in Clinton.
Ride More Than Waves in New London
You’re smiling, and it’s not just because your little ones are already snoozing in the backseat. Truth is, you had as much fun as they did. New London’s Ocean Beach Park is endlessly entertaining even for multitasking types who fear beach-day boredom. Waves that lap a wide half-mile of powdery sand are the main attraction, of course. But a water spray park and Olympic-size pool provide cool refreshment, too. And an 18-hole miniature golf course, game room, water slides and amusement rides enhance the beach’s all-ages appeal. Grownups can even retreat from the sun and surf for an oceanview workout inside the health club. The park also features many nightly events. Choose from fireworks displays, popular movie nights on beach blankets, entertainers for the kids, concerts and sock hops with a DJ. If dancing on the wood-plank boardwalk doesn’t whisk you back in time, the weekly classic-car Cruise Nights will.
Want to dive even deeper into the past? New London is home to Fort Trumbull State Park, where kids can embark on a scavenger hunt while you explore coastal fortifications and exhibits highlighting 225 years of military history and ingenuity. Nearby is the departure point for Cross Sound Ferry’s popular Lighthouse Cruises. Nothing revs hunger like sea-salted air, so find your way to Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock for clam fritters and hot lobster rolls.
Fulfill Kids’ Dreams in East Lyme
Think of it as a magic portal. Step through the tunnel under the railroad tracks at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, and on the other side, you’ll find shimmery blue water and a half-mile curve of beach where simple pleasures still captivate children. High on a rocky bluff, a majestic stone structure—the Ellie Mitchell Pavilion completed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936—is all the inspiration they need to build their own sandcastles. But even kids intently focused on construction leap to their feet to cheer when a train rumbles through. With picnic grounds, hiking trails and 160 affordably priced campsites, this 710-acre, state-owned treasure is an ideal place to grant kids their biggest wish: more fun-filled hours with you.
Families will find plenty to do in the East Lyme village of Niantic, too. Perfect beach reads are guaranteed to be among the half-million used volumes that cram shelves at The Book Barn. Hands-on activities at the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut enlighten and challenge kids under 10. At Gumdrops & Lollipops—a 1950s-style diner and ice cream parlor—sweet endings to unforgettable vacation days await.
Explore the Shore in Westport
Each rise and fall of the tide reconfigures the mosaic of pebbles and shells strewn along the beach within Fairfield County’s largest shoreline park. Frequent visitors to Westport’s Sherwood Island State Park know this is more than a place to splash and cool off. Meet mysterious creatures like hermit crabs and moon snails at the nature center. Fish from shore for striped bass and flounder. And walk—after September, your leashed dog can join you—and appreciate how Long Island Sound has sculpted this mile-and-a-half of Earth. Out at Sherwood Point, from which lower Manhattan is visible on clear days, Connecticut’s 9-11 Living Memorial inspires contemplation.
Stroll the theme gardens at Gilbertie's Herb Garden, the largest herb grower on the east coast. Stay for one of their demonstrations or workshops, and seasonal events. Stop at the favorite "joint" in town, Black Duck Cafe for lunch or dinner, which is located on the scenic Saugatuck River. Catch live music at The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, which hosts 50 Free Nights Under the Stars each summer. On Wednesday evenings, Westport Astronomical Society volunteers at the Rolnick Observatory will show you the heavens up close through Connecticut’s largest public telescope.
Beach Hop Like a Local in Old Saybrook
Do you and your sweetheart long to live in a beach community? It’s time to stop dreaming and start pretending. The nonresident parking fee at town-owned Harvey’s Beach in Old Saybrook is a small price to pay for access to this pretty patch of sand. You could be content here all day just watching marsh grasses shiver in the breeze and savoring Connecticut-made Libby’s Italian Ice—available from the concession truck.
One of Connecticut’s oldest shoreline towns is ideal for romantic getaways. Walk hand-in-hand along Old Saybrook’s Main Street to browse specialty shops and linger over a great meal at any of the popular restaurants. Stop into Fromage Fine Foods for the makings of a memorable picnic: fresh-baked breads, pâtés, cured meats and more than 100 cheeses. Indulge in soothing treatments at Sanno Spa at the Saybrook Point Inn. And don’t miss whatever’s on stage at The Kate, named for Old Saybrook’s most famous local: late film star Katharine Hepburn.
Feast Your Senses in Guilford
There are no signs to guide you to Jacobs Beach in Guilford, unless you count the dead-end sign at the top of Seaside Avenue. When you discover just how picture-perfect this petite sandbox is, you’ll understand why residents are thankful their town’s public beach is well hidden. You’re in for a visual feast, as clouds and blue sky reflect in clear water. In the distance, the lighthouse on Faulkner’s Island—the second oldest beacon in Connecticut—still performs its vital role. In town, the Henry Whitfield State Museum also honors the area’s history and welcomes visitors to tour the oldest house in Connecticut, built in 1639.
Why not surprise someone special with a day in Guilford that indulges all of the senses? Start with Hen & Heifer’s handcrafted pastries. They’re almost too enchanting to eat. Shoreline Segway will show you how remarkably easy it is to command one of these personal transportation vehicles, then take you on a tour through this historic town. Guilford Lobster Pound is around the corner from Jacobs Beach, so before or after your dip in the Sound, relax on their deck and taste the freshest lobster rolls around.