Sometimes it takes leaving a place to make you realize how much you miss it. I’ve recently moved away from Connecticut, the state that has been my home on-and-off for the last twenty-five years. Each time I leave, usually to pursue some form of education or another, I find myself appreciating all of its good qualities that all too often go ignored while living there. In my travels around the (western) world, I have traditionally encountered people with three four different perceptions of Connecticut, my beloved Constitution State.
- “Connecticut. Where is that?” They have never even heard of it! It is often overlooked because of its small size, which causes it to be eclipsed by its better-known neighbors.
- “Oh, that state between New York City and Boston. Yes I’ve driven/ridden a train/bus through there.” –Too bad all you’ve seen is rest stops and fast-food joints!
- “The place with all the rich people? And the Gilmore girls?” –No, not everyone here is ‘rich’ and Stars Hollow is a fictional place.
- “Yes, that’s where Yale is. New Haven, right?”- This is the newest, I’ve received, and only in the past month!
I’d like to take the opportunity of this post to right some of these misperceptions and generalizations. Even though it’s the third smallest in the United States, the state of Connecticut holds many little-known gems in its confines. I promise I’ll try to stop sounding like a cheesy, albeit effective, “Visit Connecticut” advert now. I do have to admit, however, that their most recent campaign, “Still Revolutionary,” is rather successful and a good resource for visitors. However, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite spots, haunts, and off-the-beaten path attractions.
Connecticut beaches offer the beauty of the Northeastern U.S. Atlantic (well, the Long Island Sound portion] without the chaos of the tourists of Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore. I could visit the beach anytime of year, but even during the summer these spots, while being busy and bustling are not so packed that one can’t enjoy their time at the shore. I’d advise avoiding the busiest days, such as the 4th of July or the weekends near it and visit during the middle of the week. I also prefer partly-cloudy days at the beach, to find some respite from the summer sun (Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen!).
After discussions with my Midwestern friends who have to travel for hours or fly to reach a beach, I realize how spoilt I’ve been having lived within a half-hour drive of the ocean my entire life. Some of my favorite beach spots include Hammonassett State Park or Rocky Neck State Park. While your down that end of the state there are many extracurricular activities to participate in. Stop by the outlets at Clinton Crossing to do some bargain hunting. Visit Lyman Orchards for their local fruits, vegetables, and baked goods (mmm Apple Cider donuts!). and their seasonal activities like a sunflower maze, a corn maze, or pumpkin picking! Or stop by Guida’s for a hot dog on the way home, like Connecticut kids have done for decades (it was one of my dad’s favorite traditions growing up and he passed it on to us).
Enjoy the picturesque foliage of a New England autumn while collecting some of Connecticut’s local produce. After picking as many apples as you can carry, head home and enjoy their crisp juiciness or whip up a yummy dessert, like apple crisp to enjoy with some local apple cider (in the States, cider is a non-alcoholic beverage that is richer than pasteurized apple juice, British friends). If you’re feeling a lack of culinary inspiration, local farm stands, will have some of these autumnal treats available. If you’re a real Apple fanatic, be sure to check out the Southington Apple Harvest Festival and brave the line for the world-famous Apple Fritters (even though they’re available for 2 weeks/year, they have their own Facebook page!).
If you’re a foodie, you can’t miss out on New Haven Style Pizza! Head down to the Elm City to decide for yourself which of the local favorites wins the prize for your favorite pizza. The decades-long debate has focused upon the rivalry on Wooster Street between Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (Pepe’s for short), which is known as one of the first pizza houses to bring the Italian street-food to America, and Sally’s Apizza. Sample all and decide for yourself, or read up on other’s opinions before you go to choose the pie that’s right for you. I’ve tried them all, and love aspects and items offered by each, but I won’t create any biases for you!
As one of the first American colonies and subsequently states, Connecticut has a host of historical sites to visit. In fact, one of my favorites is the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. The Wadsworth, founded by Daniel Wadsworth in 1842 is the longest continuously operating public museum in all of the United States [Aside: If you know anything about Connecticut history, you might know that we’re home to a lot of longest continuously operating things, such as The Hartford Courant- newspaper, and Lake Compounce– amusement park]. In addition to the museum’s superb collection of Hudson River School paintings, which were a favorite of the museum’s founder, the collections of European and Contemporary Art hold a variety of masterpieces, ranging from works by Caravaggio to Dali. Also to see are the collections of American Decorative Arts, which contains pieces said to be made from the famous Charter Oak tree after it was destroyed in a lightning storm. Finally, don’t miss all the pieces donated by one of Hartford’s native sons, the financier and collector, J.P. Morgan, who left a portion of his extensive collections to his hometown, including some excellent pieces of European Decorative arts. The rich collections are easily accessible in a day’s visit, and much less overwhelming than a visit to a larger museum. Also, check out the nearby Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses, which are right next door to each other and offer a glimpse into the lives of these Victorian writers.
You might think that it would be impossible to find good local wine, forget a plethora of vineyards in the state whose winters often stretch from late October to April, but Connecticut has a lot of viticulture to offer the wine connoisseur. Most of these vineyards offer both indoor and outdoor seating so that their products can be enjoyed year-round. To me there’s nothing better than a lazy Sunday summer afternoon spent with friends, a bottle of wine, and some good cheese musing on the beauty of the vineyards and their picturesque surroundings. Still on my list of things to do: Enjoy the same good food and company huddled next to a roaring fire at my favorite Connecticut vineyard.
If you’re looking for the quintessential New England town with cute cafes and shops, check out Canton Center (Collinsville). While the Stars Hollow of Gilmore Girls fame might not really exist (sorry, for those who didn’t know), this town was obviously one of the influences for the show’s creators. Once you’ve enjoyed the downtown atmosphere, head up into the hills to enjoy farm-fresh ice cream from Tulmeadow Dairy Farm (open for ice cream April-October) or pop over to The Shoppes at Farmington Valley to shop or to visit a variety of restaurants.
UCONN country: Head up to the Northeast corner of the state to explore the rural collegiate culture of Connecticut. Stop by the Nathan Hale homestead to learn about the man (a 21-year old school teacher turned patriot). Once you’ve had your fill of history, head on over to the University of Connecticut campus to pick up some collegiate gear and maybe meet Jonathan the Husky (both the real dog and the plush mascot are very cute). Before you go, stop by the Dairy Bar for some homemade ice cream. The Dairy bar was established in the 1950s and maintains a retro vibe. All the ice cream is made from milk produced by UCONN’s own cows. If you’re lucky, you may even be there while they’re making the ice cream!
Well I could go on for pages about things to do in Connecticut, but I don’t want to bore or overwhelm you. So I’ll leave you with the words of Henry James, “The warm, the very warm heart of ‘New England at its best,’ such a vast abounding Arcadia of mountains and broad vales and great rivers and large lakes and white villages embowered in prodigious elms and maples. It is extraordinarily beautiful and graceful and idyllic –for America.” -(Letter to Sir T. H. Warren, May 29, 1911 in The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, 2nd edition, edited by Hugh Rawson and Margare Miner, (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2006), 163).
This is my Connecticut.
– by Katie, a guest-blogger and Connecticut native turned expat, who misses her home state and hopes you enjoy your digital or actual visit!