Even with school back in session, there are plenty of ways for you and your kids to enjoy Connecticut. Check out all the ways for your family to enjoy “only in autumn” sites and bites, explore fall on a Connecticut farm or find a haunted house that’ll make for an October to remember.
“Only in Autumn” for Kids
In Connecticut, many a kid’s memories are made in fall. The seasonal highlights are a bit different than summer’s, but the crowds are down and so are some of the prices. Why not put together a family weekend that takes advantage of many of the season’s pleasures?
Pick a fall Saturday and get everyone off and running by picking up late morning cider and donuts at Beardsley’s Cider Mill in Shelton. Beardsley’s grows its own apples and presses them onsite for cider. As for the donut part of the equation, you should go with the cider donuts, one of Connecticut’s great taste treats. You can stop to eat them at nearby Indian Well State Park in Shelton, with views of the Housatonic River.
No, it’s not big-time college football anymore, but games at New Haven’s storied Yale Bowl summon up 100 years of autumn Saturday afternoons there, and kids love wandering around the grounds, playing football on the fields out by the parking areas and getting to go out onto the field after the game. So roll your car up onto the grassy parking lot, fire up the grill or break out the sandwiches and toss the ball around. Home games this year include Lehigh, Army, Dartmouth, Colgate, Penn and Princeton.
After the game, or even sooner if you wish, make the hour-long drive out to eastern Connecticut along the shore and find a place to spend the night. There are plenty of good spots in the area.
In the morning, after breakfast, get down to Mystic and B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill, the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the United States. Clyde’s was first established in 1881 and still knows how to turn out the goods, including hard ciders and apple wines, jams, jellies, local honey, maple syrup, fudge and baked goods. On Saturdays and Sundays in October and November there are cider-making demonstrations.
Get over to Mystic Aquarium for what at this time of year should be an uncrowded, unhurried visit. The African penguins, Beluga whales and sharks are waiting, so are the 4-D theater and the memorable “Titanic - 12,450 Feet Below” exhibit on the doomed ocean liner.
Now all you need is a nice pumpkin to take back home with you. For this, we suggest Holmberg Orchards in nearby Gale’s Ferry, where the pumpkins are ready for your inspection by mid- to late September. You may also be tempted by the squash, gourds, Indian corn, mums, cornstalks and hay bales.
Fall on the Farm
This fall, dozens of Connecticut farms are ready to host you and your family for an ever-increasing variety of outdoor activities. The kids can run off their energy in the fields and you can bring home a bag full of goodies. What’s not to like? Below are a few examples of what you can find. For a comprehensive list, look here.
For over 150 years, the Jones family has been working the land on Jones Family Farms in Shelton. It’s a place where you can pick your own produce, and the kids can take in a children’s farm education program while you sign up for a cooking class and even shop for a bottle or two of Jones Winery wine, named Best of Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine.
The cornfield maze has become very popular in the last few years, and one of Connecticut’s best can be found at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield. In fact, there’s very little that can’t be found at Lyman Orchards, from fields of pick-your-own produce, to a full schedule of weekend activities, to one of the great farm stores in the state.
If you’re angling closer to the Hartford area, get out to Flamig Farm in Simsbury, which bills itself as “New England’s Premier Agritainment Destination.” Flamig Farm has been around since 1907, and these days it offers hayrides, pony rides, a petting zoo and other family-friendly activities, including a brand-new overnight accommodation that will make your crew feel like a part of farm life.
Assuming you’d like to take a little something home from a Connecticut farm, why get out to Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury? Opened in 1908, Rose’s is the largest blueberry farm in Connecticut, with over 40 acres of blueberry plants, and in fall you’ll find apples, pumpkins and maybe even some late-season raspberries to pick. If it’s a Sunday morning, you might want to plan your visit to Rose’s for a taste of its famous “Breakfast with a View.”
The Age of Giant Reptiles
You may not normally associate Connecticut with dinosaurs, but think again. There are attractions here that will enthrall any self-respecting junior paleontologist, and provide a little extra learning along the way. Here are a few of the highlights.
The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven has long been a place where kids felt they got their first feel for how big, varied and interesting dinosaurs actually were. In fact, the Peabody is home to one of the world’s top paleontology collections. Inside the Great Hall, you’ll see a juvenile Apatosaurus skeleton, a mesmerizing and world-famous 110-foot-long mural, “The Age of Reptiles,” painted by Rudolph Zallinger, and a fossil of the largest known turtle species, Archelon.
At Rocky Hill’s Dinosaur State Park, see 500 authentic sandstone dinosaur tracks (one of the largest collections of preserved Jurassic tracks on the continent), explore an arboretum filled with plants from families that flourished during the Age of Dinosaurs, and touch fossils in the Discovery Room. Then your kids can head to the museum’s casting area to make a trip souvenir – a plaster cast of a Eubrontes footprint. For details and tips about the casting process (a change of clothes is a good idea), check the website.
At the Connecticut Science Center overlooking the Connecticut River in downtown Hartford you find lavish displays in more than 150 permanent exhibits. Check out the soaring Pterosaur and hear the roar of the life-like animatronic Dilophosaurus. See a real fossil and find your own in the dig pit and then take a stroll to the Rooftop Garden to meet Julius the Apatosaurus in the children’s garden. The museum’s state-of-the-art theater may even be featuring a dinosaur-themed 3D movie.
You can also spend some time in Montville at The Dinosaur Place, an outdoor park with easy walking trails that lead past 25 life-size dinos crafted from concrete and steel. In Monty’s Playground (named for the massive T-Rex that towers over the parking lot), kids can climb on a 3-dimensional climbing web and an enormous (but not real) Pachyrhinosaurus skull. If it’s raining, or even if it’s not, head inside to Nature’s Art, an activity building where kids can dig for “fossils” in the Bone Zone, pan for gold and search for gems.
For more dinosaur-related attractions, deals and ideas, visit the CT Dino Trail.
Halloween has become a month-long celebration in Connecticut, especially among older kids who want to scare themselves half to death. To help them do just that, a creepy world of haunted houses, scary hayrides and cemetery tours have popped up to ratchet up the fear factor. You can find a full lineup here, but we’ll get you started with a few highlights. Be warned that most of these attractions are not for young children.
The Trail of Terror in Wallingford is perhaps Connecticut’s best-known haunted house tour. This fall’s story line goes like this: “In 1991 an object was tested, a facility abandoned, a terror unleashed . . . “ You can take it from there and let your imagination run wild.
A mild-mannered batting cages and mini-golf facility in North Haven called The Only Game in Town will be transformed on certain nights in October into The Only Scream in Town, eerily promising “the longest half-mile you will ever walk.”
Waterbury joins the ghoulish parade of bad-news house parties with Nightmare on Wolcott Street, promising “55 rooms of terror.” That’s a long way to go before you can find an exit!
Finally, there are somewhat milder outings as well. A number of local farms, such as Fair View Tree Farm in Shelton, offer haunted hayrides. And then there is always a nice walk through a cemetery at night - a walk filled with tales of murder, death and destruction, such as A Haunting at Mill Hill in Norwalk.
But you better make your plans soon - the haunting season doesn’t last forever!
There’s nothing like an animal to stir a kid’s interest, and if they’re big and maybe a little menacing, well that’s okay, too. Just off I-95, Connecticut offers three such experiences, not only for kids but for their parents as well. And not all of the creatures are beastly, some are downright friendly.
It’s not every day you can look a shark in the eye or spend time with a harbor seal – or observe river otters, rays, sea turtles and jellyfish. But you can do all that at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. You can even get cute with meerkats, And don’t forget the aquarium’s IMAX movies; June 21 brings the debut of Tornado Alley. Hold onto your hat!
A few miles up the turnpike is Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo whose 300 animals include a Siberian tiger, Andean condor, spectacled bear, red wolf and golden lion tamarin. Out on the Hoofstock Trail, you’ll find bison, pronghorn and white-tailed deer. And in the South American Rainforest, exotic reptiles and alligators slink through the lush vegetation. Check in for admission deals, discounts on carousel rides and other special offers.
A little further up the coast, Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration has long been a must-see for families visiting Connecticut. The one-acre beluga whale habitat is a huge draw, as are the enormously entertaining 25 African penguins and the endangered Stellar sea lions. In addition, there are shows at the marine theater, a 4-D theater (check the schedule) and “Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below,” which recreates the last hours on April 14, 1912, of the “unsinkable” ship through recovered artifacts and the inspiring personal stories of its passengers.
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