Summer Bargain Blitz

 

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Let’s face it: Pinching pennies can be painful—especially when there aren’t all that many pennies left to pinch. Is that a glimmer of hope we see on the horizon? We’d certainly like to think so, but still, we’ve scoured the state in search of the best bargains, and the results, we’re happy to report, are worth going the extra mile. In what follows, we’ll tell you just where to go to score free parking at one of the shoreline’s most beautiful beaches and free admission to a dozen (mostly nice, cool air-conditoned) museums across the state. We’ll tell you where you can get a pedicure for a mere $11, where to fine-dine on the cheap and where to bring the kids for free movies and bowling all summer long—and that’s just for starters. This is going to be fun.

Park It Here

Blue skies, bright sun, sparkling water and silvery sand—what could be better on a hot summer day? How about free reign to enjoy all of the above? Silver Sands State Park (203/735-4311 or ct.gov/dep) in Milford, arguably one of the most attractive beaches in the state, also happens to be one of the shoreline’s best bargains. That’s right: There’s no charge for parking here (unlike at other state and local beaches, where fees can top $40 on weekends). The 310-acre park features a 900-foot beachfront and two wooden boardwalks, as well as picnic tables and grills for throwing on some burgers and dogs later. Those in the know plan their visit to coincide with low tide, when little kids chase hermit crabs in the tidal pools and big kids follow a rocky path out to Charles Island, where, legend has it, Capt. Kidd did some digging around 1699. Just watch the tide—the way home is underwater at high tide. (Note: The interior of the island is closed through Aug. 31 to protect bird rookeries, but you can still come ashore.)

Other state parks that offer free parking include peaceful Southford Falls in Oxford, Devil’s Hopyard in East Haddam (a favorite for birders) and Housatonic Meadows along a gorgeous stretch of the Housatonic in Sharon. For free parking during the week, top picks include Kent Falls in Kent, Lake Waramaug in Kent for a nice cool dip and Sleeping Giant in Hamden for a hike that ends with a castle on top. 

If you’re 65 and older you can sign up for a free Charter Oak Pass, which provides unlimited access to all state parks and forests. As for you young ’uns, give your local library a call before you head out to see if there’s a free state park pass you can check out.

How About a Free Movie?

Regal Entertainment Group’s Free Family Film Festival (regmovies.com/nowshowing) runs every Tues and Wed. at 10 a.m. through Aug. 18. Participating locations include Stratford Stadium 14 and Brass Mill Stadium 12 in Waterbury. Marquee Cinemas’ (marqueecinemas.com) 2010 Kids Summer Movie Series runs Tues. and Wed. at 9:30 a.m. through Aug. 18 at Westbrook Cinema. Bow Tie Cinemas’ (bowtiecinemas.com/summer_2010.html) Kid’s Club Film Series is Tues. and Wed. at 10 a.m. through Aug. 18 and includes the Palace 17 in Hartford, Landmark 9 in Stamford and Marquis 16 in Trumbull. National Amusements’ Bookworm Wednesdays (nationalamusements.com/programs/bookworm.asp) offers free movies at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays through Aug. 11 at Showcase Cinemas in Bridgeport—kids just have to bring along a book report. Finally, it’ll cost you a buck at AMC Entertainment Inc.’s Summer MovieCamp (amcentertainment.com/smc) every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. through Aug. 10. Theaters include AMC Loews Plainville 20 and AMC Loews Danbury 16.

Big Thrills, Little Prices

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Isn’t that what your mom used to say? It doesn’t have to if you keep these kid-friendly bargains in mind. Plan your visit to Quassy Amusement Park (203/758-2913 or quassy.com) in Middlebury for a Friday night this summer, when all rides after 5 p.m. are just 50 cents. Yep, that includes everything from the Flying Dragon to the Frog Hopper, the grand carousel to this season’s brand-new Free Fall ’N’. Can’t make it on a Friday? Squeeze everyone in for bargains by the carload on Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., when $25 buys you unlimited rides for everyone.

When the kids get a little bigger, of course, they (and probably you, too) will begin clamoring for a trip to Lake Compounce (860/583-3300 or lakecompounce.com) in Bristol, pictured below, where those with some big-time fun in mind will head for rides like Boulder Dash, DownTime and Zoomerang—not to mention the watery wonders of Splash Harbor. Admission to Lake Compounce is regularly $34.99 for adults and $25.99 for juniors but if you arrive after 5 p.m., you pay just $17.99—and still have three, four or five more hours (depending on the night) to get in plenty of screams. New this season: Text2Ride, a cell phone-based system that allows you to reserve a time to ride the park’s most in-demand rides.

Visit kidsbowlfree.com and register the kids for a free Summer Fun Bowling Pass entitling them to two free games a day all summer long at AMF Lanes in Milford, Old Saybrook, East Haven, East Hartford and Norwalk. To join them, purchase a Family Pass for around $25; it entitles four adults to the same two free games per day. If you don’t have your own shoes, you’ll have to rent them—but it’s usually under $5.

Summer Bargain Blitz

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