Rest & Relaxation
Time slows down in summer, if you let it, and Connecticut is filled with pursuits to help you enjoy those languid hours. Cruise its leafy back roads in search of the perfect burger, meander through the islands of Long Island Sound, spend an afternoon in a garden of earthly delights - in short, take time for yourself and the things (and people) you love.
One of the best parts about being on the road in the summer in Connecticut is stopping at a drive-in for a quick but tasty meal. The state has many such spots, but here are a few of the most tried and true.
Not many places say “summer” the way Clamp’s in New Milford does. Maybe it’s the roadside location (since 1939), or the picnic tables scattered in the shade, or the fact that it’s open only in summer, with no website and no phone. Make it a stop when you’re exploring the Litchfield Hills. Route 202, New Milford.
It’s easy to spot Sea Swirl in Mystic as a former Carvel ice cream shop, but the focus now is on fried seafood, especially clams, scallops and oysters. The whole-belly clams are what bring fans back again and again. Routes 1 and 27, Mystic, (860) 536-3452.
Looking for a real juicy burger? Harry’s Place in Colchester shapes its patties into a ball, puts them on the grill and then gradually flattens them with a spatula. The results have brought customers back every summer for decades. 108 Broadway, Colchester, (860) 537-2410.
The Sycamore in Bethel is known for its steak burgers and homemade root beer, as well as its carhops and 1950s ambience. Beyond that, how much more do you really need to know? Be sure to check out their website for cruise nights and other special events. 282 Greenwood Ave., Bethel, (203) 748-2716, sycamoredrivein.com.
There are many excellent hot dog stands in Connecticut, but none has quite the roadside allure of Blackie’s in Cheshire, which has been around since 1928. The menu is limited, but the relish is spectacular and the white birch soda on tap is a perfect complement. 2200 Waterbury Rd., Cheshire, (203) 699-1819, blackieshotdogs.com.
With some 253 miles of shoreline on Long Island Sound and countless others along and around its rivers and lakes, Connecticut is a good place for islands. By one count, there are 180 of them large enough to be named, more than there are Connecticut cities and towns. So why not enjoy one or more of the state’s islands this summer? Call it your own. Name it after yourself. Have fun.
Connecticut is home to 23 lighthouses along the Sound, but not many are open to the public. That’s not the case with Sheffield Island, off Norwalk, where visitors can hike, picnic and climb up into the lighthouse for a tour. From May through September, the Norwalk Seaport Association runs scheduled cruises to the island.
Depending upon how you define what an island is, there are possibly more than 100 Thimble Islands, off the coast of Branford, but only a couple dozen that are large enough to be inhabited. The Indian name for them translates to “beautiful sea rocks,” and on a calm summer morning you can see why. With their pink granite heads poking above the high-water mark (barely, in some cases), they scatter like a handful of charms across the Sound from Indian Neck to Sachem’s Head. Some of the Thimble Island property is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, an 800-acre preserve of barrier beaches, tidal wetlands and fragile island habitats spread out over 10 parcels on Connecticut's shoreline. Want a closer look? Take a cruise through the islands, complete with history and great stories, by going to thimbleislands.com or thimbleislandcruise.com. Or you can just take out a kayak and make up your own stories.
If you’re looking for a river island, it’s hard to ignore Selden Island in the Connecticut River – at 607 acres, it’s the largest island in the state. Selden was once the westernmost extremity of Lyme that jutted into the river, but an 1854 flood altered the landscape and turned it into an island. Today, as Selden Neck State Park, it’s Connecticut’s only island state park. Its features include marked hiking trails (which pass by the ruins of an ancient farm and a stone quarry, and four boating camp areas – primitive in nature (outhouses and pit fireplaces) but blissfully removed from the workaday world.
Connecticut’s climate, soil and varying terrain make it a wonderful place for growing and observing plants and flowers. One of the state’s most rewarding destinations is the Arboretum at Connecticut College in New London. Established on 64 acres in 1931, the Arboretum has now grown to encompass the college’s entire 750-acre campus, including forests, meadows, wetlands, wildflower gardens and ornamental trees and shrubs. July brings a spectacular show of the Oakleaf Hydrangea, a white to purplish-pink bloom that lasts into autumn. 270 Mohegan Ave., New London, (860) 439-5020, conncoll.edu/the-arboretum.
Similar pleasures can be found across the state at Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens in Stamford. Set on 91 acres, Bartlett describes itself as “a living museum of numerous specimen trees and plants displayed in several distinct natural habitats including woodlands, wetlands, meadows, and in formal gardens.” Numerous trails wind through the various habitats, while educational programs for children and adults highlight each season. 151 Brookdale Rd., Stamford, (203) 322-6971, bartlettarboretum.org.
Elsewhere in Connecticut, single species have their days in the sun, too:
A couple of state forests in eastern Connecticut offer spectacular shows of two of our best-known (and best looking) natives. In season, the Rhododrendron Sanctuary in Voluntown’s Pachaug State Forest is one of Connecticut’s most impressive natural sights. A raised boardwalk takes visitors on a half-mile walk among giant Rosebay rhodies, some growing as tall as 30 feet. Meanwhile, in Union’s Nipmuck State Forest there’s a Mountain Laurel Sanctuary, a mile-long path through stunning displays of our official State Flower. It would certainly be possible to visit both sanctuaries on the same day.
Rose fanciers can take in the color and fragrance of the 800 varieties of roses and 15,000 plants that form the centerpiece of Hartford’s Elizabeth Park. The park encompasses just over 100 acres and features many garden areas, pathways, greenhouses, lawns and a pond. The garden is one of only 22 public All America Test Gardens in the country.
One of Connecticut’s true hidden gems for flower lovers is Cricket Hill Garden in Thomaston, a plant nursery established in 1989 devoted to introducing American gardeners to the beauty and variety of Chinese tree and herbaceous peonies. On seven acres there, the gardeners have created a terraced woodland garden they call Peony Heaven, one of the few such habitats in America. 670 Walnut Hill Rd., Thomaston, (860) 283-1042, treepeony.com.
Finally, if you’re in a buying mood for your own garden or just want to stroll through a world-famous collection of plants and flowers, plan a visit to White Flower Farm in Litchfield. Long a mail-order favorite of avid gardeners, White Flower’s retail location is an attraction in and of itself, with acres of plant and flower displays, flowering trees and shrubs and sample gardens. If you’re around, the Annual Open House in June 22, with lots in bloom and guided tours available. Route 63, Litchfield, (800) 420-2852, whiteflowerfarm.com.
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