Summer Fun - Editor's Picks
There are 100 days of summer in Connecticut. Here are a few of our favorite places to spend those days.
(To check out some of our favorite summer scenes, click here.)
Savin Rock, West Haven.
Even though the roller coasters and fun houses of White City amusement park are long gone, people still flock to West Haven’s Savin Rock to enjoy the sun and shore breezes, and to engage in all sorts of beachy activities. Some come to sunbathe, play volleyball or fish, while others gather to fly kites, socialize, hear music, rollerblade, bike ride or play bocce on one of the well-kept courts. Then there are those who just want to take in the whole scene, content to simply stroll the scenic paved path that curves along the water and listen to the gentle lapping of the waves. And don’t forget the two legendary seafood eateries here—Jimmies of Savin Rock, a full-service restaurant that has been around for 85 years, and Chick’s Drive In, an old-school beachfront destination where friends and beach-goers gather to down some fried clams and watch the sun set on another great summer day.
Butterfly Garden, Meigs Point Nature Center, Madison.
As we all know, even the longest days are gossamer and fleeting. That’s why we’ve always felt the best place to meditate and escape the summer hustle—while getting in a little nature appreciation on the side—is the Butterfly Garden at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Established in the early 1990s and now under the loving ministrations of the Friends of Hammonasset, it’s not very large (under one-quarter acre) and didn’t have the most auspicious beginnings, just a freshwater pond and a few random plants. How it’s evolved! Now packed to the hilt with buddleia and all manner of other glorious flora (irises, lilacs, butterfly weed), it attracts 50 species of butterfly, including morning cloaks, spice bush and tiger swallowtails, sulphur butterflies, and above all, monarchs, which have been known to pass through at a rate of up to 500 a day during their late-summer-early-fall migration. Because the pond is the only fresh water for two miles, the setting is also a magnet to many of the Northeast’s favorite birds: red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches and house finches, cardinals, sparrows and tree swallows. Every Tuesday morning, artists from all over assemble to paint the garden, and the dunes and salt marsh beyond. But the most indelible image is the one left on your soul. Hammonasset Beach State Park, 1288 Boston Post Rd., (203) 245-8743 or (860) 462-9643 or visit friendsofhammonasset.org.
Kayaking through the Charles Wheeler Salt Marsh and Wildlife Management Area, Milford.
The stunning 840-acre preserve, located on Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Housatonic River, is a protected paradise for naturalists. More than 315 different species of shorebirds and waterfowl have been spotted here, making it one of the best birding spots on the East Coast. To experience the vast expanse of the marsh and its incredible avian population, enjoy an easy paddle through its calm inlets and channels. Hunkered down at water level, glide through a trail defined by tall grass where egrets rest as mute swans float by (watch out for the swans) and cormorants sun themselves. Seagulls, terns and red-winged blackbirds soar and swoop above you. Access the area via the public boat launch or take a guided tour from the Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point. For more info, visit lisrc.uconn.edu/coastalaccess; or call the Audubon Center at (203) 878-7440 or visit ctaudubon.org.
Breakfast on Chauncey Peak, Meriden.
For some reason, this exercise is much more enjoyable if you wake up early on a beautiful summer morning and on the spur of the moment decide you can’t possibly go to work. Instead, pack your breakfast of choice and head for Meriden. There, in Giuffrida Park, you will find the section of the blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail that takes you up the steep side of a traprock ridge (there’s a little bit of climbing along the way) to a sight that will make you happy just to be alive. From its various prospects, it seems the views atop Chauncey Peak take in all of Connecticut. To the north, you can see the buildings of downtown Hartford and, farther up, Mount Tom in Massachusetts. To the south, on a clear morning you can see New Haven and maybe even the blue wink of Long Island Sound. Directly below and to the west are Crescent Lake, the city of Meriden and another substantial traprock formation. You may hear the faint sounds of traffic and commerce coming from far below, but ignore them. This is your morning. You earned it. Information on this and many other trails can be found in the Connecticut Walk Books published by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (ctwoodlands.org).
Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford.
Harkness Memorial State Park is something that you’ve just got to see to believe. Words can’t do justice to the sweeping hilltop views of Long Island Sound, glorious landscaping or Eolia, the grand 42-room Italianate mansion located on the grounds. Purchased in 1907 by philanthropist Edward Harkness and his wife, Mary, the mansion served as their summer home, with the surrounding 230 acres a working farm. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, Harkness remains the perfect spot to get away from it all, with lush lawns, a beach and four magnificent gardens designed by renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand. The mansion is open for tours on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and is also available for weddings or private parties from March 1 through Dec. 23. 275 Great Neck Rd., Waterford, (860) 443-5725.