Skip the summer traffic— here are 10 great things you can do much closer to home.
If all the time you spend in Connecticut is driving to New England’s summer retreats (Cape Cod, Maine or Vermont, anyone?), you’re really missing out. Apparently–and embarrassingly–I’d been missing out for a while. Like the whole 13 years I’ve been a Connecticut resident. The travel angels must have realized it was time I got to know some of the better things to do in my home state and lifted the veil. Here’s what I learned:
1. Go to summer camp
We spent a weekend at the North Stonington KOA campground near Mystic, CT. A camping resort filled with the things you remember from summer camp, we had fun cooking over a campfire (we could have joined a community cookout, too) swimming, jumping on the air pillow (think of a trampoline but bigger and easier), hiking local trails, making crafts, and best of all, making s’mores over an open fire. KOA is known for RV sites that provide guests with water, electricity, cable and Wi-Fi, but guests have many ways to stay, from tents to RVs (you can rent one for your vacation!) to very comfortable, spacious log cabins, which is where we stayed (these are actually RVs too–they are on wheels and can be moved anywhere you want). Staying in a cabin gave us the best of all worlds: camping and outdoor fun but also, the ability tool around Mystic and sightsee. Rates are about $125 a night for a cabins; $80 for an RV site and $50 for a tent site; local hotels range from $125-275 or more per night. GoRVing.com provides tips on what to bring, when to go and even road-trip games for the kids.
A video posted by AGirlsGuidetoCars (@A Girls Guide to Cars) on Jun 19, 2015 at 3:10pm PDT
2. Stay in a furniture showroom
Who knew Ethan Allen, the furniture company, has a hotel? And it’s filled with the company’s elegant, classic yet modern furniture. Ethan Allen built the hotel in the 1970’s to host executives and furniture buyers visiting the company’s Danbury, Connecticut, headquarters. After undergoing recent renovations, this dog-friendly hotel has a warm and inviting feel in both the lobby and public spaces as well in the guest rooms, most of which feature a living room and bedroom, with the company’s finest furniture. The hotel is a great central location for visiting Connecticut’s charming Litchfield County villages, restaurants, wineries, and farms, or to see a show at Ives Concert Park at Western Connecticut University, a wonderful outdoor amphitheater. Rooms from $129
3. Sample local wines
Ah yes, winery tours. What state doesn’t have vineyards and wineries these days? But Connecticut’s deep roots in farming are a natural, and the weather and rocky terrain are ideal for growing grapes. Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, CT, transitioned its dairy farm to a vineyard in 1979 and takes wine making seriously. Hopkins wines are made from 85% or more of the winery’s own grapes and the vineyard is consistently recognized for its wine-making excellence. Set in a charming converted barn, you can take a winery tour, sample the winery’s best at the tasting bar ($8 to sample 7 wines and you get to keep the glass), have a glass or two at the lively wine bar, or have lunch at the second floor restaurant and take in the amazing views of Lake Waramaug.
Ready to taste wine! #HopkinsVineyard #CTVisit A video posted by @scottyreiss on Jun 27, 2015 at 1:11pm PDT
4. Sample classic New England foods
Just 10 minutes from Hopkins Vineyard is a classic Connecticut restaurant, the GW Tavern in Washington Depot. Historic in its feel but very modern in its execution, the GW surrounds its delicious menu of New England classics like pork chops and pot pie (and also more modern offerings like crab cakes and veggie burgers) with the charm of a vintage tavern. The barn-like restaurant is complete with rustic views, twinkling lights, cheerful bartenders, great wines and often, live music.
5. Eat lobster
Maine isn’t the only place to find great lobster. We stopped at the Sea View Snack Bar for a lunch of lobster rolls, which are simple and delicious: lobster tossed in a light dressing and a bit of celery served on a grilled soft roll. Lobster rolls need to be eaten outdoors, preferably near the water, and with a view of boats. We also love Fords in Noank, just down the road from Mystic, and Abbotts Lobster in the Rough (which is as much about the experience as it is about the lobster). At Abbotts you sit outside and watch the daily parade of boats up and down the Mystic River.
6. Check out the wild life
Mystic Aquarium was the first thing my teens wanted to do in Mystic. OK, a bit puzzled (I was sure shopping was top of the list!) we headed in and were charmed by the exhibits, the animals and the trainers. From seals to whales to penguins, birds and lizards, the aquarium’s exhibits and shows not only bring you a bit closer to the marine life experience, but also help to preserve it. We loved the 4D theater and feeding the colorful and friendly birds in the Birds of the Outback aviary exhibit. Tickets: $35 for adults, $25-29 for kids, under 2 are free, family membership is $195 and includes a year of free visits
7. Check out living history
How boats work at @MysticSeaport #MysticCountry #GoRVing #TMOM A video posted by AGirlsGuidetoCars (@A Girls Guide to Cars) on Jun 20, 2015 at 12:28pm PDT
Who knew that the first oil boom wasn’t about petroleum at all, but whale oil? Whale oil changed the world, a small fact we learned when we took a tour through Mystic Seaport, a living history village that showcases maritime crafts, life, and history through demonstrations and curated exhibits. We toured an antique sailing vessel, saw craftsmanship at work, learned the science behind sailing, and sampled life of a different era. Tickets: $25 for adults, $16 for kids; family membership is $120 and includes a year of free visits
8. See the world’s most expensive wallpaper
Because if you live in a glass house, that’s what you have: expensive wallpaper. That’s what famed architect Philip Johnson said of his home, Glass House, when he began building in 1949 in New Canaan, CT. Johnson took the idea of a glass house—building a glass house is an architect’s ultimate challenge— and expanded it to encompass all he valued in art, nature, friendships and life. He passed away in 2005 (at age 98) and his 49-acre estate, including the Glass House, his studio, painting gallery, sculpture gallery, guest house and more, was turned into a museum overseen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours are given May 1-November 30; tickets $25+; reservations are recommended.
9. See the million-dollar views by kayak
Who doesn’t love a great real estate tour? See how the other half lives in waterfront mansions, their boats, pools, and waterside lifestyle, all from the comfort and convenience of your own little kayak. Or, you can focus on the estuaries, birds and other wildlife that makes up the Connecticut coast. Guided tours are available or you can strike out on your own in single or double kayaks. If you don’t have a waterproof camera you can buy a waterproof bag for your phone for $5 and other than that, no special equipment is needed. Our tour with Downunder Kayaking took us up the Saugatuck river in Westport, Connecticut, a short hour-long ride from I-95 to Route 1 and back. We could have also chosen a stand up paddle board excursion or participated in Downunder’s Paddleboard yoga. Yup. Yoga on a board in a river. Now THAT takes balance. Kayak and paddle board rentals: $30/hour; $45/2 hours; tours, packages include instruction, tours, clambakes and more.
10. Eat and shop
All that upper body exercise from kayaking (not too strenuous, just enough to work up an appetite) readied us for lunch. Just next door to Downunder Kayaking is The Whelk, a seafood restaurant from Connecticut’s own celebrity chef, Chef Bill Taibe. Across the street Taibe operates Craft Butchery, a butcher shop and cafe that is transitioning to a full service restaurant. But we headed into town to the charming and historic Tavern on Main in downtown Westport. If you want the tavern experience, eat at the bar or in the main dining room; or, venture out on the covered terrace and soak in all the charm of Westport. Then, after lunch, walk around and see the town’s cute shops, a blend of national favorites like J. Crew and LuluLemon, and local names such as Simon Pearce (hand blown glassware and tableware) and Great Stuff (women’s wear).
Dinna times with some ladiez @megmccaff15 @grace0045 @marjoriepowers #thewhelk #100happydays day 27 ?? A photo posted by Annie McCaffrey (@annieeoakley) on Jul 8, 2014 at 8:20pm PDT
And then, when your vacation is done, hop in the car and smile; your trip home will be all that much shorter.