Summer Fun

 

It seems like it’s been a long, long wait this time, but the warm weather is here at last, and summer—official summer—is just around the corner.  

These are fleeting days, so it’s best to make some plans. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some ideas on the pages that follow: attractions and events that will make your summer nights special, cool moves for hot days, and Connecticut islands that should be on your itinerary.

Experience it all, enjoy it all—and happy summer!
 

Summer Nights

“Summer sun, something’s begun
But, oh, oh, the summer nights.”

Just like in that old song from Grease, summer days are great, but the real fun heats up once the sun goes down. Sure, the nights are shorter, but that doesn’t mean there’s less to do.

From cruising at drive-ins with classic cars to enjoying Shakespeare in the park to spreading a blanket on the beach to watch fireworks, the nighttime activities this summer are seemingly as numerous as the stars in the sky.

So grab a sweater, hop in the car and head out for the night—there’s plenty to do until the sun comes up!
 

Hot Wheels

We love our cars, and although the days of deuce coupes and roadsters are gone, the appreciation for classic vehicles is as strong as ever. For those who enjoy preserved and restored gems from the American roadways—Corvettes, Cadillacs and more GTOs than you can shake a pair of fuzzy dice at—there’s a cruise night happening somewhere in Connecticut almost every summer night, every night of the week:

• Saybrook Point Inn, Old Saybrook, Mondays, 6-9 p.m.
• The Center at Split Rock, Shelton, Tuesdays, 6-9 p.m.
• Glenwood Drive-In, Hamden, Wednesdays, 6-10 p.m.
• Pleasant View Golf Center, Somers, Thursdays, 6-9 p.m.
• Guida’s Drive-In, Middlefield, Fridays, 5-8:30 p.m.
• The Sycamore Drive-In, Bethel, Saturdays, 6-9 p.m.
• Heavenly Donuts, Derby, Sundays, 5-9 p.m.
 

Movies Under the Stars

Some of our most lasting summer memories are of the local drive-in—the towering outdoor screen, the speaker in the window, the glow of the snack bar, the fogged windows . . .

Drive-ins, although nearly forgotten, are certainly not dead in Connecticut. The Mansfield Drive-In (mansfielddrivein.com) has three screens and offers double features—usually current releases—every night. Wednesday is “Carload Nite”: $18 per car, no matter how many friends you jam in the trunk. Over in Barkhamsted, the Pleasant Valley Drive-In (pleasantvalleydriveinmovies.com/) has only one screen, but also runs double features; “Carload Nite” is Thursday, and is only $16.

A few other outdoor movie-night venues:
Stratford Public Library (stratford.lib.ct.us) screens “Film Classics Under the Stars” starting July 6.
Brookfield Town Hall (brookfieldct.gov) hosts the “Drive-In” Friday night movie series starting July 22.
• Every Tuesday night is movie night at Ocean Beach Park (ocean-beach-park.com) in New London, starting June 28.
 

Shakespeare in the Park

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,” William Shakespeare wrote about a summer’s day. But when the temperature cools, a beautiful summer night is the perfect time to enjoy an outdoor performance of one of the Bard’s plays. Here’s a list of some of the best offerings around the state:

Shakespeare on the Sound’s production of Much Ado About Nothing will be staged along the shore at Pinkney Park in Rowayton June 16-26, and also at Baldwin Park in Greenwich July 5-10 (203/299-1300; shakespeareonthesound.org). It’ll be so easy to catch a presentation by Shakesperience Productions with its newly expanded season. The company brings A Midsummer Night’s Dream to life June 22-26 at Library Park in Waterbury, and Aug. 11-21 at Festival Stratford! on the hallowed grounds of the storied Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford. The troupe also takes the show around the state to a variety of Connecticut vineyards—July 16 at Miranda Vineyard, Goshen, Aug. 27 at McLaughlin Vineyards, Sandy Hook, Sept. 10 at Chamard Vineyards, Clinton and Sept. 17 at Haight-Brown Vineyard, Litchfield (203/754-2531; shakesperience.org). In New London, The Flock Theatre puts on King Lear July 15-31 at the Connecticut College Arboretum, and then performs The Comedy of Errors Aug. 11-21 on the Custom House Pier (860/443-3119; flocktheatre.org). Last, but not least, The Elm Shakespeare Company presents Measure for Measure Aug. 18 through Sept. 4 in Edgerton Park, New Haven (203/393-1436; elm­shakespeare.org). Most performances are free; donations are suggested.
 

Rhythm of the Night

Nights heat up when the music starts in a variety of summer concert series. Take a seat in the amphitheater or relax on the lawn at Ives Concert Park in Danbury. This season’s lineup includes Peter Frampton on July 1, Earth, Wind & Fire on July 2, Steely Dan on July 25, Alison Krauss and Union Station with Jerry Douglas on July 27 and The Beach Boys on Aug. 14 (203/837-9227; ivesconcertpark.com). In Westport, more than 50 nights of free music, dance, comedy and family entertainment take place by the Saugatuck River at Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts June 26 through Aug. 28. Series highlights include the Alternate Routes on July 9, the Connecticut Ballet on July 28 and South African rockers Civil Twilight on Aug. 27, as well as the free dance lessons, offered before the RiverSwing concerts. Kids shows feature The Magic of Lyn on July 6 and Trout Fishing in America on July 20 (203/221-2153; levittpavilion.com). Evening concerts have become a tradition at Music Mountain, the venerable music festival that comes to life each summer in Falls Village. Enjoy chamber music by the Daedulus String Quartet July 16, the Amernet String Quartet Aug. 6 and the Shanghai String Quartet Sept. 3; on Saturdays at 6:30, Twilight Concerts feature dancing to big-band swing, jazz and country music June 25 through Aug. 27. For a complete schedule, call 860/824-7126 or visit musicmountain.org.
 

Fireworks

Skies above towns around the state will explode in color in honor of Independence Day. Some of the most elaborate displays take place after the Fourth of July. Riverfest—Mohegan Sun’s daylong extravaganza of family entertainment that takes place July 9 in Morten-sen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford as well as in Great River Park in East Hartford—ends with a grand finale of spectacular fireworks over the Connecticut River (860/713-3131; riverfront.org). And Sailfest—The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Casino’s weekend-long celebration that runs July 8-10 in New London—presents one of the largest fireworks displays on the East Coast over the Thames River also on July 9. Arrive early for best parking (860/444-1879; sailfest.org).
 

Sports Night

Connecticut is home to dozens of professional teams and sporting events throughout the summer, many of which compete during the evening.

Minor-league baseball is popular, perhaps nowhere more so than in New Britain, home of the New Britain Rock Cats, the state’s oldest continuously operating professional sports franchise. It’s the AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and current major leaguers such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau got their starts wearing the Rock Cat uniform; Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Jeff Bagwell also spent time in New Britain before breaking into “the show.” There are special promotions, themes and giveaways at every game, and after every Friday night contest, there are fireworks.

For faster-paced action, the Waterford Speedbowl (speedbowl.com) offers NASCAR racing on Saturday nights, featuring SK modifieds, stock cars, legends and more. The 3/8-mile asphalt track—where racers in certain divisions can exceed 100 mph—celebrates its 60th season this year with all sorts of special events, including a throwback racing night on July 30. The bowl also hosts Wild ’n Wacky Wednesday nights, where amateur racers battle it out, as well as “show and go” drag racing on Friday nights—open to anyone with a license, street-legal car and a need for speed.

On Aug. 19, the New Haven Open at Yale (newhavenopen.com), formerly the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament, serves up two weeks of exciting women’s tennis, with both day and night action. Although the field isn’t set until a few weeks before the event, this year’s tourney has already drawn a commitment from World No. 1 player Caroline Wozniacki, who walked away with the trophy last year. In addition to the terrific hard-court action, there are plenty of family activities and fun. The WTA Tour event also energizes downtown New Haven for two weeks with all sorts of related happenings, including concerts and shows, plus unique dining and shopping opportunities.
 

 

Island Hopping

As befits a state 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 estimate, there are 180 of them large enough to be named, more than there are Connecticut cities and towns. And they are named after all sorts of things. There’s Peach Island and Potato Island, Umbrella, Sixpenny, Cut in Two and East Stooping Bush. There are a lot of islands named after animals: Hen, Horse, Rat, Pelican, Goose, Goat, Fox, Duck, Deer, Crow, Cat, Clam, Bear, Ram, Peacock and Mouse. The largest is Selden Island, in the Connecticut River, at 607 acres. The smallest is little more than an anonymous lump that reveals itself at low tide and then menaces local boat traffic after the tide comes back in.

There are many ways for you to enjoy Connecticut’s islands this summer. You can walk out to Charles Island off Milford, kayak through the Thimbles off Branford, take a boat and a picnic out to Sheffield Island off Norwalk, or spend an afternoon with a cooler and a beach chair on Dart Island, just off a bend of the river shoreline in Middletown. If you’ve got the inclination and the dough, you can even buy a Connecticut island (at least two are for sale) and name it after yourself. Until that day arrives, enjoy the islands around you. It’s a good way to spend a summer day in Connecticut.
 

Lighthouse Views

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, following a pleasant boat ride, visitors can hike, picnic and climb up into the lighthouse for a tour.

From May through September, the Norwalk Seaport Association’s 45-foot catamaran runs scheduled cruises to the island, where the lighthouse tower provides views of Long Island Sound and, on a clear day, the New York City skyline. The 10-room lighthouse, which first went into service in 1868, displays period furniture, and a glimpse of  what life was like for the families of 19th-century keepers.

Another attraction of Sheffield Island is the nature trail that runs through the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge. A variety of wildlife including nesting herons and other birds can be observed from viewing platforms.

For further info, call (203) 838-9444 or visit seaport.org.
 

Walk This Way

You know when it’s low tide along the shore at Silver Sands State Park in Milford. That’s when the pathway to Charles Island opens up, above, allowing for one of Connecticut’s most peculiar hikes. The island is connected to the mainland by a sand/gravel bar (wear sturdy waterproof shoes if you go) that resubmerges at high tide. The notorious pirate Captain Kidd is said to have buried some of his treasure on the island in 1699 just before he was captured. If you go looking for some of his gold, be sure it’s during the off-season. Charles Island’s interior is closed May 1 through Aug. 31 to protect heron and egret rookeries.
 

Big Island

The islands that dot Long Island Sound are the most photographed and famous, but it’s not so well known that the Connecticut River, as it runs through Connecticut, is home to 15 islands. Chief among these is Selden Island, at 607 acres the largest 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, separated from the shore by Selden Creek. Today, as Selden Neck State Park, it’s Connecticut’s only island state park. With its many put-ins, it’s a popular destination for boaters, especially on summer weekends. The island’s 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. For further info, visit ct.gov/dep.
 

Little Gems

Depending upon how you define what an island is, there are possibly more than 100 Thimble Islands, 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.

What’s more, each island has a story to tell—how it got its name, what Capt. Kidd buried there, where the horse came ashore and so on. One good way to hear these stories is to take a cruise among the islands. You can do this by going to thimbleislands.com or thimbleislandcruise.com. Or you can just take a kayak out and make up your own stories.
 

Refuge

It would be hard to devote any sort of space to the subject of islands in Connecticut without mentioning the great natural treasure known as the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

Spread across some 950 acres of barrier beach, tidal wetland and other habitats in 10 locations along the shore, the refuge provides a protected environment for shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, and even endangered species such as the roseate tern. Here, the birds can nest, feed or just rest as they make their way up and down the Atlantic Flyway. Adjacent waters serve as wintering habitat for brant, scoters, American black ducks and other waterfowl.

The islands in this archipelago include Outer Island in Branford, Falkner Island in Guilford, Chimon, Sheffield, Goose and Peach islands in Norwalk and Calf Island in Greenwich. Outer Island and Sheffield Island are accessible by ferry; some of the others can be accessed by private boat.
 

Your Own Island

The thing about the other islands on these pages is that you have to share them with others. Not so if you buy one of your own. Horse Island in Guilford, for instance, is for sale. It’s a 3/4-acre saltwater refuge in Long Island Sound, above, with a private dock, deeded beach access on the mainland and a four-bed, one-bath cottage. The price was recently reduced from $2.5 million to $1.8 million. Go to realliving.com for details.
 

If it’s freshwater you crave, there’s Underwood Island, a 2-acre gem in Coventry Lake, Coventry. It’s got 2,000 feet of shoreline, a recently renovated 400-square-foot cottage and a spring/summer clearance price drop from $545,000 to $495,000. See details at owners.com/ct/coventry.
 

 

Keeping Cool

Whether you achieve it by savoring a refreshing boat cruise on the open water, overindulging in your favorite ice cream, enjoying a Sunday afternoon jazz brunch, splashing away merrily in a water park attraction or lazing a whole day long at the beach, summer “cool” is pretty much a state of mind. Here, we explore just a few of the many ways you can keep those Farenheit highs from bringing you low.
 

Deep Freeze

When they’re overheated and b-o-r-e-d by the summer doldrums, munchkins don’t roll far from the parental doughnut. Just like us, they need remedy, fast! Spell relief—and give them the bonus of a stunning educational experience—by visiting the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center and immersing them (via elevator or escalator) in the permanent exhibit’s simulated Glacial Crevasse, where they can see the dripping water, feel chilling air and hear the sounds of creaking ice and whistling winds. Thus mellowed, they’ll be ready to take in the 85,000-square-foot center’s wealth of dioramas, films, interactive exhibits and archaeological collections illustrating the rich history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as well as the region’s natural history. (pequotmuseum.org)
 

Japanese Jive

A visit to the Mark Twain House & Museum combined with a Sunday buffet brunch of Japanese cuisine and American breakfast favorites at the museum’s Murasaki Café, topped off with a session of live jazz: That’s a crazy quilt of cool. On June 19, Murasaki’s “Café Eiko” celebrates Father’s Day with songwriter, pianist and raconteur Jimmy Roberts, composer of the long-running off-Broadway show I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Blues singer Antoinette Montague, smoldering in the style of her mentor Etta James, raises the temperature July 24—luckily, the museum’s geothermal wells keep the air conditioning circulating evenly and greenly (as befits the first museum in the country, and the first building in Connecticut, to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] certification from the U.S. Green Building Council). There are two seatings each date at 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.; $40 covers everything except alcoholic beverages, available for an additional charge. We’ll have plenty of hand-cut sushi and a tempura Twinkie, please (the best justification a Twinkie ever had). Reservations a must. (860/280-3130; marktwainhouse.org)
 

Officially “Chill”

Through its 252-year history Norfolk has always been The Icebox of Connecticut, reliably colder than anywhere else in the state year-round, no matter what other towns may lay claim to the deepest freeze from one snowfall to the next. This point of pride, declared on blue-and-white banners downtown, is at least partly attributable to geography—rising 1,770 feet above sea level, Norfolk is one of the state’s highest elevations. So it’s the first place we head when the rest of Nutmegland gets sultry, and for good reasons. Among them: Yale School of Music’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, on the grounds of the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate in July and August; Infinity Hall, the rocking bistro-cum-concert-hall hosting Todd Rundgren June 26 and the Lovin’ Spoonful July 17; and three state parks, including Campbell Falls, which crosses state lines into New Marlborough, Mass.
 

The Sweet Spot

Of course we all scream for it, but in today’s economy, that doesn’t mean we want to drain the gas tank (or raise our body temperature) searching out mom-and-pop ice-cream stores across the state every time we have a craving. Thanks to The Farmer’s Cow, a consortium of six Connecticut dairy farms—Hytone Farm in Coventry, Cushman Farms in Franklin, Mapleleaf Farm in Hebron, Graywall Farms in Lebanon, Fort Hill Farms in Thompson and Fairvue Farms in Woodstock—homemade satisfaction is only as far as your local Stop & Shop. In year one, eight all-natural flavors (including Hay! Hay! Hay! Vanilla, Black Raspberry Moo Chocolate Chip, Milking Time Cookies & Cream, Heifer Nutter Peanut Butter Cup and Cow Barn Chocolate) are already stocking store freezers, and have been honored with a 2010 Green Coast Award for “promoting sustainability” and “improving the health of the planet.” Sit on the couch in front of the fan and dig in. (thefarmerscow.com)
 

Feel the Breeze

Cruising along on the breezy open water is a sure way to cool down on these hot summer days. Mystic Whaler Cruises (800/697-8420; mysticwhalercruises.com) offers a variety of options aboard its 110-foot schooner, including a sunset lobster dinner cruise, overnight trip and five-hour day-sail excursion. Ports of call include Block Island, Newport, Shelter Island and Martha’s Vineyard. Lady Katharine Cruises (866/867-4837; ladykatecruises.com), departing from Hartford, Middletown, East Haddam or Haddam, offer entertaining cruises along the Connecticut River. Try the Sunday Brunch Cruise, Jazzy Lunch Cruise or Entertainment Cruise.
 

Fun With H2O

To keep the kids (and you!) refreshed and entertained, a water park is the way to go. Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find one, as we’re home to Lake Compounce in Bristol (860/583-3300; lakecompounce.com), America’s oldest theme park. Water attractions abound here, including Anchor Bay (featuring a lazy river and water slide), Mammoth Falls (a raft adventure) and Clipper Clove (with a 300-gallon water bucket, water cannons and slides). On the next real scorcher, try Saturation Station at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury (203/758-2913; quassy.com), which offers more than 30 ways to get soaked, from cascading fountains to water cannons to bucket waterfalls. There’s also the gigantic Tunnel Twister waterslide, with more than 400 feet of twisting, turning water action. The kids will thank you if you take them to Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland (866/860-0208; brownstonepark.com), where they’ll get to experience cliff jumping, wakeboarding, kayaking, watersliding, snorkeling and swimming—how’s that for cool?
 

Take a Dip

Sometimes your only option to beat the heat is to pack up and head to the beach. Hammonassett Beach State Park in Madison is Connecticut’s largest shoreline park, offering two miles of beach for swimming, sunning, or strolling along the boardwalk. Nearby Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme is another ideal option, with a gentle, sloping, stone-free beach and a large stone pavilion that makes for a great picnic spot. Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven not only features a nice beach, there’s also a Splashpad, a super-fun series of freshwater fountains designed to delight and cool at the same time.
 

Summer Fun

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