EXPERIENCES

 

Rest & Relaxation

Rest & Relaxation

There are so many ways to unwind during a Connecticut summer – where to begin? A romantic inn by the sea? Great. A tour of classic road food? Yum! A casino show, an island getaway? Check.  Bring on the long days and soft nights!

Connecticut’s Endless Options

Connecticut’s Endless Options

One of the great things about Connecticut is that you can experience so many different pleasures within such a small and easy-to-get-around-in space. After all, your interests are not limited to one area, so neither should be your exploration of Connecticut’s attractions. Here are a few “variety packs” to get you started.

Riffles and Riffs. There’s nothing quite like a ride down the Housatonic River on a summer’s day, and you can do that in a number of ways. Take a look at the offering of Clarke Outdoors in West Cornwall for ideas on canoe and kayak rentals. After your day goes by rapidly (ha ha!), get ready for an evening at Norfolk’s wonderful, intimate Infinity Hall, where you can dine and catch a show from the likes of Hot Tuna or the Marshall Tucker Band, to name just a couple of this summer’s acts.

Belugas and Basketball. By day, satisfy your curiosity about Connecticut shoreline and maritime history with a visit to Mystic, where the many pleasures of Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport await. There is no shortage of restaurants or other attractions in Mystic, either. Then by night, make your way a short distance to Uncasville, where the very different vibe of Mohegan Sun Casino awaits. Here you can dine, take in a show, throw down a pair of aces or cheer for the stars of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, whose schedule you can find here.

Stage and Stream. Laze away a summer day on the banks of the Salmon River, an eastern-central Connecticut stream not only prized for its cleanliness and fast, cold current, but also for its resident population of trout. It’s one of the state’s top spots for fishing, kayaking and hiking. Later, as dusk approaches, get yourself prettied up and head out to the theater – the summer musicals at the nearby, nationally acclaimed Goodspeed Opera House have been a Connecticut staple since 1963. The shows this summer are Guys and Dolls and La Cage aux Folles. For nearby dining and lodging info, look here.

Ancient and Modern. Connecticut’s story is a long, multifaceted one, but you can get a good handle on both ends of it without ever leaving Ridgefield’s Main Street. First of all, there’s the Keeler Tavern Museum, housed in a 1713 structure building that survived an attack by the British in 1777 and now serves as a popular museum that still has a cannonball lodged in one of its walls. Meanwhile, just up the street is The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, celebrating 50 years as an avatar of modern art and design. Don’t believe it? Current exhibits include one called “Shallow Sun,” another called “Flower Mutations,” and a third called “Ghost Versions.”

Classic Drive-Ins

Classic Drive-Ins

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) on Rte. 202, 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.

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.

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.

If you love the taste of burgers and dogs flame-broiled over charcoal, head to Glenwood Drive-In in Hamden. In business on Route 10 for nearly 60 years, Glenwood also offers good lobster rolls, grilled cheese and signature onion rings.

They’re always on a roll at Stowe’s Seafood in West Haven – lobster roll, shrimp roll, scallop roll, squid roll and fried clam roll. You’ll like the across-from-the-beach ambiance and the fact that you can get something to eat right away and take fresh fish or lobsters home to cook yourself.

Danny’s Drive-In has been a fixture in Stratford since 1935, and its menu is a classic – 13 different hotdogs, 11 varieties of burgers and nearly as many sandwiches, platters and sides. Danny’s Dixie Dog with chili sauce and sauerkraut will make your lips sting (but in a good way).

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.

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.

Lovely Drive, Sweet Surrender

Lovely Drive, Sweet Surrender

What could be more romantic than a meandering summer drive through the Connecticut countryside followed by something sweet to eat in a charming setting? Here are three itinerary ideas, all beginning at exits off I-84:

North by Northwest. Leave I-84 at exit 15 in Southbury and head up Route 6 toward Woodbury. You’ll go by Colonial houses and barns, especially once you enter Woodbury. Consider a stop at Glebe House there and its unique Gertrude Jekyll garden. Or you may want to drop in at one of the many antiques shops that line the road – George Champion Modern Shop provides a cool visit back to mid-century design ideas. Up the road a bit, hang a left onto Route 47 for the nice drive to Washington Depot. There, Hickory Stick Bookshop is a superior independent book store well worth a browse and a buy. Get back on Route 47 and at the end go left onto Route 202. About a mile up the road, you can take a right to explore the charming tiny village of New Preston and adjacent Lake Waramaug. Otherwise, continue along 202 until you come to your dessert destination, The White Horse Country Pub, where the very English sweets include Banoffi Pie, Bourbon Bread Pudding and The Grand Duchess Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.

Stars in the East. Jump off I-84 at exit 73 in Union and take Route 190 to Route 171, perhaps detouring right away into beautiful Bigelow Hollow State Park, where you can hike or even take in a mountain laurel sanctuary. Anyway, continuing on 171 will take you to Route 169 in Woodstock. Here you can take a turn north for the short drive to see fascinating Roseland Cottage, where the house and gardens depict the summer life of a prosperous family in 19th-century America. Or just head south on 169, one of Connecticut’s most picturesque roadways. You’ll go through Pomfret, Brooklyn, Canterbury (check out the Prudence Crandall Museum there) and Lisbon, where you’ll want to go east on Route 138, then right on Route 201 in Griswold to a left on Route 165 and your sweet surrender at Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream, one of Connecticut’s best for homemade ice cream. Try the Almond Coconut or Orange Pineapple sitting outdoors next to a field of sunflowers and you won’t care if you ever get back.

Up the Housatonic. Here, you exit I-84 at exit 5 in Danbury and head off north on Route 37. You’ll pass through some of the city and outskirts until you get to New Fairfield. At an intersection there, you can choose between staying on Route 37, which will take you up into the country toward the New York line, and Route 39, which will take you over and around picturesque Candlewood Lake, which may be crowded during summer months. In any case, the two roads meet up again in Sherman (you might drop in at the White Silo Farm & Winery here), where you should take 39 north to Route 55, and soon you will be joining Route 7 north.  In this part of Connecticut, Route 7 hugs the Housatonic River – and you will, too, right into the town of Kent, where you’ll gorge on chocolate at the Kent Coffee & Chocolate Company. See if you don’t take a pound or so of Sea Salt & Walnut Dark Chocolate Caramels home with you.

Island Hopping

Island Hopping

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. 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.

You’ll get good views of another island in the Sound when you climb aboard Grass Island Cruises’ Charly More. The one-house shoreline cruise departs from the Guilford Lobster Pound Dock and takes in the sights and sounds of neighboring waters.

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.

Growth Properties

Growth Properties

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.

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.

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.

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 is June 21, with lots in bloom and guided tours available. 

Foodie Frenzy

Foodie Frenzy

One way to enjoy a relaxing stay in Connecticut is to explore its many outlets for fresh, native foods. In the last 10 or so years, the state has experienced an explosion of outlets offering local treats ranging from cheese and meat to ice cream, fruit and vegetables. Here are a few of the most notable offerings:

Cheese. Suddenly, Connecticut cheese is on everyone’s lips. Small dairy farms now make and sell their own cheeses or pack them off to retailers. There’s even a Connecticut Cheese Festival every fall. For now, we’ll concentrate on a few outlets you can get to this spring. Cato Corner Farm in Colchester raises 40 free-range Jersey cows and makes and ages farmhouse cheeses for sale in its Cheese Room Store ranging from “mild and milky to runny and pungent to sharp and firm.” Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme offers a variety of cheeses (Feta, Pleasant Cow and Nehantic Abbey, for instance) as well as yogurt and raw milk. Litchfield’s Arethusa Farm raises champion dairy cows, and their products are available at its farm store in Bantam. Cheeses include Al Tavolo, Bella Bantam and Camembert. Fresh milk, yogurt and ice cream are also available.

Meat. If you’d like to take a break for the supermarket meat selections, there are all sorts of meats and meat products now on sale from small Connecticut farms, including beef, bison, lamb, chicken, pork, turkey and veal. You can get a complete rundown on them all here, but here are a few to consider putting on your shopping list. The bison meat offered at Creamery Brook Bison in Brooklyn is hormone- and antibiotic-free and lower in calories and cholesterol than beef. But if it’s beef you prefer, you might head for Eagle Wood Farms in Barkhamsted, where pork and eggs are also on sale. In Granby, Maple View Farm sells its own grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork as well as local eggs and maple syrup. Finally, there’s Nodine’s Smokehouse’s retail store in Goshen, where its wonderfully tasty hams, bacon, sausages and other treats can be found.

Orchard Stores. It doesn’t have to be fall for you to go to an orchard store. These are now year-round retailers, offering the best of Connecticut farms, orchards and fields, and often with baked goods and other products as well. The Apple Barrel farm store at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, for example, has its own bakery as well as mounds of their own orchard apples, pears and berries. Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford goes back 140 years, but the farm market there is totally up to date, with local honey, eggs, flowers, bread and more to go along with the orchard’s own fresh produce. You can find many more possibilities for your summer pick-your-own wanderings right here.

Romantic Inns by the Sea

Romantic Inns by the Sea

Few things feed romance like a cool summer sea breeze and a room with a view. Whatever it is you choose to do during the day, you can count on a romantic inn at night. It’s just one of those things that we do extremely well in Connecticut.

Inn at Stonington. Stonington Borough is one of Connecticut’s most charming areas – walkable, historic, surrounded by water and dotted with shops and restaurants. The Inn at Stonington is the perfect spot right in the middle of it all.

Bee & Thistle Inn. Old Lyme is a venerable old Connecticut seashore town, replete with wonderful old houses and views on both the Sound and the Connecticut River. The Bee & Thistle Inn on the Lieutenant River has garnered many “Most Romantic” accolades over the years.

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa. Located right where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound in Old Saybrook, the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa offers fine dining, a terrific spa and comfortable rooms – not to mention romantic walks along the water. True romantics should check out the inn’s adults-only guest house called Three Stories.

Inn at Harbor Hill Marina. Niantic enjoys one of Connecticut’s most picturesque waterfronts, and the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina has a view of it all from its lofty perch. Stay in a room with a private balcony and the panorama of water, sky and boats bobbing in the marina will be yours alone.

Water’s Edge Resort & Spa. Do you crave waterfront lodging with all the bells and whistles? Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook fills the bill with sea-view rooms, extensive grounds, fine dining (including an extraordinary brunch) and a welcoming spa. Your romance will get all the back-up it needs.

Madison Beach Hotel. Do you like the idea of being right on the water, with nothing between you and Long Island Sound except for a strip of sand? Then the Madison Beach Hotel is for you, with fine dining, seaward views galore and the sound of the waves lapping at night.

Covering the Casinos

Covering the Casinos

Connecticut is home to a pair of truly world-class casinos - Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods - separated by only a few miles in Southeastern Connecticut. There are many good reasons to visit them both, of course, (live shows, great food, comfy rooms, lots of games to play) and here we cover some of them in detail. Come hide away for a long summer splurge!

Pampering. What’s a casino without a luxury spa? Not much, we’d guess, but our casinos are more than prepared to pamper. The Elemis Spa at Mohegan Sun offers a complete menu of services and beauty treatments, while the G Spa & Salon at Fox Tower Hotel gets very high grades from Internet reviewers. There’s even the Norwich Spa at Foxwoods for those who’d like to overnight and truly decompress in a spa setting.

Live Shows. Among the shows scheduled at Foxwoods this summer are Sheryl Crow, Jerry Seinfeld, Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick. Mohegan Sun features Shania Twain, Bette Midler, Santana and Idina Menzell (not to mention nightly free concerts in the Wolf Den).

Golf. Foxwoods built 36 holes at Lake of Isles – 18 are private, but the other 18 holes are open to the public in one of the finest layouts in New England. You can find a golf package that includes lodging, a round of golf, vouchers for food and gaming and a complimentary drink. Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun is pumping millions into its Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug. If you like uniquely challenging greens, it’s a great place to try.

Shopping. Whether you’re browsing or buying, there’s a vast array of shops at Connecticut’s casinos. At Foxwoods, you’ll find Bulgari, Chopard, Pandora and Omega. In addition, Foxwoods now has its own 80-store cluster of outlet stores, including Nike, American Eagle and Calvin Klein. Mohegan Sun, meanwhile, offers everything from Coach and Chico’s to Tiffany and Tommy Bahama.

Steak. Do you like steak and other steakhouse fare? If so, the casinos will satisfy your hunger in the most remarkable ways. At Mohegan Sun, there’s Michael Jordan’s Steak House and Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain. At Foxwoods, there’s David Burke Prime and Cedars Steak House. Make sure your appetite is sharp!

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