Children’s Theater: Oddfellows Playhouse
Middletown, (860) 347-6143 (oddfellows.org)
If your kids are interested in theater, Oddfellows is the place to send them. This nonprofit is a creative haven for kids of all ages. There are classes for everyone from toddlers to teens, ranging from theater basics to specialized subjects like stage management, playwriting, directing, voice, improv and theater history. Oddfellows even has a Traveling Circus Company for young people who want to learn and perform circus entertainment. One of the best parts? Generous tuition aid—no child is turned away for financial reasons.
Country Fair: Goshen Fair
Goshen, (860) 491-3655 (goshenfair.org)
This is a spectacle that incorporates everything you expect in a country fair. Along with fireworks, this year there’s Vater’s Monster Truck Show, Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix, a skillet throw and an adult spelling bee. Goshen Fair is held every year on Labor Day weekend, and this year celebrates its 101st anniversary. The wildly popular event also has livestock shows, musical acts, carnival rides, farm products, homemade goodies, arts and crafts, contests and games of all kinds. It’s the ultimate summer-fun event for kids of all ages.
Farm/Orchard Experience: Silverman’s Farm
Easton, (203) 261-3306 (silvermansfarm.com)
It ain’t bragging if it’s true, so when Silverman’s Farm claims to offer “the total farm experience,” you can believe it. Founded originally as a cider mill by Ben Silverman in the 1920s and still run by the Silvermans (including Ben’s son Irv), the farm now offers pick-your-own peaches, apples and plums, a fully stocked market (featuring 16 varieties of fresh-baked pies) and an animal farm where children can feed and pet buffalo, llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, emus, fallow deer and more. There are also numerous family-friendly activities throughout the year including concerts, face-painting and tractor rides.
Kids Destination: Essex Steam Train
Essex, (860) 767-0103 (essexsteamtrain.com)
In an age of high-tech gadgets and gizmos, it can be hard to get your kids to unplug and experience life’s simpler pleasures. A leisurely ride on the venerable Essex Steam Train provides just such an opportunity. During a 12-mile round-trip journey through the verdant Connecticut River Valley, the train gently steams its way past picturesque meadows, quaint farms and nature preserves. A highlight of the trip is a glimpse into the natural habitats of a wide array of birds, including swans, geese, egrets and herons. Time your excursion right, and you may even see a bald eagle or two. “Angry Birds” can’t compete with that.
Mini-Golf: Riverfront Miniature Golf
Farmington, (860) 675-4653
This mini-golf and ice cream haven right by the Farmington River is a wonderful, fun-for-all-ages spot, where the golf is both fun and challenging. Course impediments—like dips and hills and water—fit right in with the scenic setting, making it more like an outdoor retreat than a cheesy obstacle course. And after you finish the 18 holes, you can reward yourself—or wipe away your loss—with an ice cream cone.
Park for a Family Picnic: Savin Rock
West Haven (203) 937-3666
This beautiful park running along the west side of New Haven Harbor is a prime spot for a picnic by the water—once you’ve had your fill, there’s no need to go inside. Bring the kids on a stroll after your meal, and take in the sights: flying kites, locals walking their dogs, hopeful fisherman casting from the piers, perhaps even some older adults shaking a leg during a group dance session on one of the communal walkway’s patios. Visit the monuments dedicated to generations of veterans. Should you decide to get out of the sun, check out the Savin Rock Museum to learn the history of West Haven and see memorabilia from Savin Rock Amusement Park, which entertained generations of kids on this site from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries.
Place to Have a Drink with Kids in Tow: Maggie McFly’s
Middlebury, (203) 577-2205, and other locations (maggiemcflys.com)
Every parent knows the challenges of finding an eatery with a menu that will satisfy the whole family but also has a respectable variety of quality adult libations. Enter Maggie McFly’s, with locations in Middlebury, Southbury, Glastonbury and Brookfield. In addition to a menu chockful of American cuisine (from sandwiches to steak and seafood), there’s a kids’ menu sure to please even the pickiest young palates: mac ’n’ cheese bites, chicken fingers, pizza and quesadillas, plus multiple delicious gluten-free options. As for parents seeking attitude adjustment—Maggie McFly’s offers more than 75 craft beers, an extensive wine list and myriad mojitos, margaritas and martinis. That should make everyone happy, right?
Place to Stargaze: Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium at Yale University
New Haven, (203) 285-8840 (leitnerobservatory.org)
Yale’s observatory and planetarium are open to visitors on Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons for free planetarium shows and, when the weather is clear, free viewings of the night sky through powerful telescopes. On the first Tuesday of the month (during the academic year), Leitner hosts lectures by Yale astronomers. What’s more, the observatory opens to the public for special celestial events. That this state-of-the-art facility is available to the public is a marvel—though maybe not as stunning as the ones you’ll see through Leitner’s lenses.
Thrill: Brownstone Discovery Park
Portland, (866) 860-0208 (brownstonepark.com)
Credit the owners of the Brownstone Discovery Park: Where some people might’ve seen the former quarry as nothing more than a wet hole in the ground, they saw what’s become one of the most exciting and fun attractions in the entire state. Thrill-seekers can come here to soar through the sky on zip lines, jump off cliffs, ride wakeboards, climb rocks, scuba dive, kayak, hike and bike. There are also plenty of less taxing yet still exciting activities like swimming and snorkeling. On Sept. 14, hard-core thrill enthusiasts can participate in the Guts & Glory Challenge, which includes quarry swims, cargo net climbs, zip line races, log carries and a 5K run. Get your thrill on!
Walking Tour: the Dinosaur Place
Montville, (860) 443-4367 (naturesartvillage.com/thedinosaurplace)
Southeastern Connecticut might not be the first place you’d expect to see more than 40 life-sized dinosaurs, but these giants dominate The Dinosaur Place’s more than 50 acres of woodland trails. The park also provides an educational adventure for kids and fun for the whole family with an easy, 1.5-mile walk through the woods.
Water Park: Crocodile Cove at Lake Compounce
Bristol, (860) 583-3300 (lakecompounce.com)
If the summer heat has you wilting, you’ll find the perfect way to cool down at Lake Compounce. With wave pools, rafting rides and thrilling high-speed water slides, Crocodile Cove Water Park is the destination for splashing around. New in 2013 is Bayou Bay, a wave pool (with a Big Easy theme) that’s more than double the size of the park’s current pool. And when it’s time to dry off, take a spin on one of the park’s three roller coasters—you’ll be dry in no time.