Fun and Leisure
Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park
Portland, (866) 860-0208, brownstonepark.com
With scuba diving, cliff jumping, zip lining, wakeboarding and rock climbing, Brownstone Park aims to bring out the adventurer in all of us, but it doesn’t end there. For those that want less of a thrill, but crave excitement and relaxation, there is swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. With day passes, season passes, group discounts and even corporate passes, family—or business—fun day has never been cheaper. Make sure to test your skill set in the annual Guts & Glory Challenge on Sept. 13, which includes quarry swims, log carries and a 3K run.
Why it’s the best: Whether you’re a thrill seeker or simply seek relaxation, Brownstone Park has a never-ending list of activities sure to please everyone.
Durham, (860) 349-9495, durhamfair.com
Entirely run by volunteers, the Durham Fair has taken place for more than 90 years, proving the importance of cooperation and community. From Sept. 25 to 28, the agricultural fair will include a farm museum complete with antique farm equipment to bring you back to simpler times. With pie-eating contests, balloon stomp competitions and bubble stations, children of all ages are sure to be entertained. Music shows, animal pulls and contests—including watermelon spitting, wheelbarrow racing and toilet seat tossing—always make it a fair to remember.
Why it’s the best: Mouthwatering food, family activities and live music are the reasons more than 200,000 people attend the fair every year.
Bethlehem, (203) 266-7721, marchfarm.com
From their family to yours, March Farm is a third-generation family farm in the rolling hills of Litchfield County. It’s a perfect destination to take the kids for a day of fruit picking and fun. Strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples can be picked through the seasons. Stop by the farm store for delicious goodies including pastries, honey, jam and ice cream. Also be sure to check out the Hayloft Playscape, Pond Side Animal Yard, hiking trails and seasonal hayrides, corn mazes and harvest festivals.
Why it’s the best: There’s fun for the whole family, from apple picking to hay rides.
Golf Course (Mini)
Saybrook Point Miniature Golf
Old Saybrook, (860) 395-3152, oldsaybrookrec.com
It’s not often that you can say a devastating storm made things better, but thanks to Hurricane Sandy, Saybrook Point Mini Golf received a much-needed upgrade. The new 18-hole course, mere feet from the gentle waters of Saybrook harbor, is as inviting as its scenic location. All the features of the holes—including local landmarks and classic mini golf challenges—are fresh and brightly painted, while the greens are true and in top condition. And at only $5 per round, every visit feels like a hole-in-one!
Why it’s the best: A fun, family-friendly mini golf course with quite arguably the best view in the state.
|Photo by Joe Lambert|
Golf Course (Public)
East Haddam, (800) 943-1903, golfthefox.com
We talk to folks who play the same golf course all the time, and/or are happily handcuffed to a country club. Such a shame; they’re missing so much in Connecticut. Fox Hopyard Golf Club, which has sister award-winning courses in Massachussets (Crumpin-Fox Club) and Florida (Fox Hollow Golf Club Tampa), is located in a gorgeous part of the state—adjacent to the Devil’s Hopyard State Park—and plays at nearly 7,000 yards from the back tees. Fox Hopyard has also drawn its share of celebrity golfers, including Michael Jordan, Reggie Jackson and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Why it’s the best: The Clubhouse, sitting atop a 30-foot rock ledge and offering a commanding view, is home to On the Rocks restaurant, one of the best 19th holes in the state.
Place to Stargaze
Leitner Family Observatory & Planetarium
New Haven, (203) 285-8840, lfop.squarespace.com
This state-of-the-art observatory has not one but two permanently mounted telescopes. One is the observatory’s historic 8-inch Reed refractor, which was purchased by Yale in 1882 to study the transit of Venus across the face of the sun that occurred that year. Refurbished in 2004, the telescope is currently used for visual observations of planets and stars. There is also a more modern computer-controlled, 0.4-meter reflecting telescope. Both provide breathtaking views of the cosmos. If that isn’t enough for astronomy buffs, the observatory is also home to an HD planetarium theater where high-resolution full- dome videos are presented to the public.
Why it’s the best: It more than lives up to the legacy of educational excellence suggested by the Yale name, and it’s open to the public for stargazing.
Chelsea Piers Stamford
Stamford, (203) 989-1000, chelseapiersct.com
No matter what your sporting passion is, odds are you’ll find it at this sprawling 465,000-square-foot palace of physical exertion. Opened in 2012 by the team behind the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment complex in New York City, this sporting institution features two indoor ice rinks, an Olympic pool and indoor water park, a 14,000-square-foot gymnastics training center, multiple squash courts, seven tennis courts, five batting cages and a 12,000-square-foot Adventure Center featuring a multi-trampoline fun space, a 24-foot high rock wall and a Little Athletes gym for children 6 months to five years old. If that was not enough, the venue is expanding and a new 65,000-square-foot membership health and fitness facility is expected to open in late fall.
Why it’s the best: Simply put, when it comes to sports this place has it all.
Crocodile Cove at Lake Compounce
Bristol, (860) 583-3300, lakecompounce.com
If you’re looking to break away from the pool-and-BBQ routine that tends to be the go-to weekend plan, head to Lake Compounce for a change of pace—whether that means slowing down and drifting along the Lazy River or speeding down a winding water slide. As the biggest water park in Connecticut, Crocodile Cove is ideal for any family “day-cation.” After soaking up the sun in the wave pool at Bayou Bay, a family raft ride down Mammoth Falls and countless trips down the tunnel slides, enjoy the rest of the afternoon drying off on old-fashioned roller coasters and thrill rides.
Why it’s the best: With a variety of slides, rides and pools, Crocodile Cove is the perfect summer spot for the entire family.
Foxwoods, (860) 312-5130, foxwoods.com
Located on the 24th floor, with a wall of windows offering commanding views out over the countryside, Paragon is Foxwoods Resort Casino’s premier restaurant. It has been awarded the AAA Four Diamond Award of Excellence for 10 years in a row. The charming and talented Jack E. Madry soothes the experience of guests from behind the grand piano in the lounge, and Chef de Cuisine Scott Mickelson falls into the talent bracket that has the James Beard Foundation team up with him on special events. His menu includes treats like native shellfish and lobster bisque, which warm up the path to classics like steak frites, with Piedmontese sirloin, Boeuf Bourguignon and Stonington lobster. Everything is based on the most prime ingredients; the sirloin entrée is Japanese A-5 Wagyu, for example.
Why it’s the best: Paragon is engaged in an ongoing series of special wine dinners, which pair the chef’s delicious cuisine with some of the world’s top wines, like Caymus Vineyards in June and Cakebread Cellars in August.
|Photo courtesy of Foxwoods Resort Casino|
Entertainment Venue (Large)
Foxwoods, (800) 369-9663, foxwoods.com
When it comes to presenting big, extravagant shows from A-list performers in the prime of their career, no one does it better than Foxwood’s flagship theater. The sprawling multi-level venue has hosted a who’s who of performers from rock stars to comedians and there are major shows every weekend. Performers who have played the venue include Jerry Seinfeld, George Lopez, Diddy, Jay-Z and so many more. Upcoming performances include Lewis Black (Sept. 6), Whoopi Goldberg (Oct. 10) and Judas Priest (Oct. 11).
Why it’s the best: It puts on big, bold and impressive shows just like a large venue is supposed to.
Entertainment Venue (Small)
Mohegan Sun, (888) 226-7711, mohegansun.com
Sitting at one of the tables circling the stage in this intimate 350-seat theater is like stepping back in time to the days when the Catskills were a tourist attraction and Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack held court in the entertainment world. Enjoy acts like Tony Orlando, Port Chuck and Frank Sinatra Jr. as well as comedians like Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling, who have all performed here.
Why it’s the best: Full of class and style, it is able to attract big names without subtracting from the small cabaret feel.
Foxwoods, (860) 312-3000, foxwoods.com
Again and again this nightclub is ranked among the best, not just in the state but in the world. Nightclub & Bar named Shrine in the Top 100 in 2014—the fifth year in a row—and it’s also been placed among the Top 35 clubs in Las Vegas, New York City, Los Angeles and Miami. It’s easy to see why. There’s the 21,000-square-foot Asian-inspired club and lounge, complete with an 18-panel LED video wall and Funktion One Sound System. Add to that the outdoor lounges, open-air dining terraces and appearances by celebrities—including Kim Kardashian, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Diddy—and you’re sure to have a memorable night at Shrine.
Why it’s the best: The LED video wall and top-notch sound system will have you dancing all night long.
The Shops at Mohegan Sun
(888) 226-7711, mohegansun.com
When you roll high and win big, you need to celebrate with some (tasteful) bling. With Lux Bond & Green, Tiffany & Co., a Swarovski crystal shop and Galina’s designer jewelry and accessories, Mohegan Sun has you covered. The shops here number nearly 40 and—unlike some malls—they feature everything a discerning “winner” might want, not just some aspects of life. That means everything from Robert Graham and Tommy Bahama fashions to Coach leather goods, Bare Minerals makeup, the indulgent “necessities” of Brookstone, the Fabergé eggs and objets d’art of Landau, Once Upon A Time Toys, Dylan’s Candy Bar with more than 5,000 types of candies, and even The Old Farmer’s Almanac General Store.
Why it’s the best: The shopping is intermingled with dining options that are far superior to what you find in any mall, and all of the shops are open (really) late.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Greenwich, (203) 661-9800, delamargreenwich.com
This spacious day spa located on the second floor of the Delamar Hotel in Greenwich offers the ultimate in relaxation. There are 1,500 square feet of soothing Mediterranean décor including two treatment rooms where you can reward yourself with a variety of massage therapies, facials and body treatments. Try the Delamar Four-Handed Massage where two therapists perform a 60-minute choreographed massage for your pleasure. They also offer a variety of masks, eyebrow shaping, manicures and pedicures by Beautiful Nails. Pamper solo or with your partner in the couples’ treatment room.
Why it’s the best: Delamar is all about pampering, with an extensive menu of massages, therapies and facials.
Esana Med Spa
New Haven, (203) 562-7662, esanamedspa.com
Looking to maximize all the beauty that you have to offer? Under the supervision of board-certified plastic surgeons Dr. Deborah Pan and Dr. Javier Davila, Esana offers a wide range of aesthetic care procedures, from liposuction to Mommy makeovers—a combination tummy tuck and breast surgery. If you’re uncomfortable with surgical options, noninvasive enhancement procedures are also abundant: laser hair removal, injectables (Botox, Restylane), CoolSculpting (a contouring treatment to help reduce fat) and Ultratherapy, an anti-aging treatment that tightens and tones skin using sound waves.
Why it’s the best: An array of beauty and cosmetic procedures is available, all performed by highly trained experts in a professional environment.
The Spa at Norwich Inn
Norwich, (860) 886-2401, thespaatnorwichinn.com
Sure, you can get spa services at a variety of places, but when you want a true total rejuvenation getaway, The Spa at Norwich Inn is waiting! With 100 rooms and suites situated on 42 scenic acres (featuring century-old oak trees, perennial gardens, ponds and a reflecting pool), the spa is an inviting haven in itself. Then add in the glorious amenities—valet parking, nightly turn-down, fluffy bathrobes, etc.—and the full range of luxurious spa services, from traditional restorative massages and therapies to specially designed treatments, and you realize that this is what a spa visit is truly all about.
Why it’s the best: If you’re going to pamper yourself—and you should on occasion—you’re not going to do a better job of it than at The Spa at Norwich Inn.
New Haven, (475) 238-8335, and Stamford, (203) 348-2275, caskrepublic.com
With more than 50 craft beers on tap from local, national and international brewers, these beer-drinking destinations are carbonated Taj Mahals with barley in their blood and hops in their soul. Mini kegs are used for the majority of taps so the beer is always fresh and doesn't sit in the tap lines too long. Beer purists love the cask-conditioned ale, a traditional style of beer served at a warmer temperature and featuring natural carbonation, that is always available here.
Why it’s the best: The SKÅL Restaurant Group, which owns Cask Republic and its sister Ginger Man bars, is not simply cashing in on the current craft beer craze—they’re passionate beer lovers who are serious and skilled at what they do. It doesn’t hurt that the food is great, too.
East Side Restaurant
New Britain, (860) 223-1188, eastsiderestaurant.com
Most great beer gardens have German roots and this outdoor beer drinker’s Garden of Eden is no exception. Drink al fresco in an authentic German atmosphere that will make you think you’ve been transported to Deutschland. The waitstaff is decked out in traditional German garb, there’s often an accordion player, and the menu includes favorites like German potato pancakes, herring and a wide variety of schnitzels. And yes, there’s a great selection of German beer served (when requested) in cartoonishly big 1-liter beer steins, by a waitstaff that often sings as they serve.
Why it’s the best: It’s fun, ethnic and full of heart—and did we mention they serve beer by the liter?
Hartford, (860) 722-5161, ontwenty.com
Located on the 20th floor of One State Street, this upscale restaurant and bar literally takes the art of cocktail making to new heights. The team of bartenders shake, garnish, chill and pour with the best of the best. Local favorites include the ON20 Margarita (made with dark rum, cherry liqueur and fresh lime) and the Chocolate Espresso Martini (featuring Kahlua, chocolate and vanilla vodka, hazelnut liqueur, and a shot of freshly made espresso).
Why it’s the best: The staff mixes artisan ingredients with the skill and dexterity of ninjas, plus the views are the perfect complement to the cocktails.
Hartford, (860) 525-1600, citysteam.biz
Happy hour at this sprawling multi-level brew pub is truly happy. From 4 to 7 p.m. beer and drink lovers can enjoy a discounted bar, food and merchandise menu. Choose from a variety of $3 bites including New York-style pretzels, mini mac ’n’ cheese and Oriental dumplings, while sipping $6 martinis and enjoying $5 off when you purchase one of the bar’s t-shirts. There’s also $2 off each handcrafted pint including the brewery’s flagship beer the Naughty Nurse, which is distributed across the state and has become a Connecticut institution.
Why it’s the Best: As other brew pubs have gone out of business, City Steam has thrived since 1997 because of its winning combination of food and home brews—and during happy hour you get to enjoy both at bargain prices.
The Study at Yale
New Haven, (203) 503-3900, studyatyale.com
This sleek, modern bar is situated on the ground floor of the swanky “lifestyle” hotel in the heart of Yale University’s art campus. Fully visible from Chapel Street through the expansive front windows that span the entire first floor, the Heirloom Restaurant bar attracts hotel guests and New Haven visitors alike. The wine collection features boutique labels, the beer selection pulls from around the world with an emphasis on New England breweries, and the signature cocktails use house elixirs and infusions.
Why it’s the best: There’s a mixed crowd between sophisticated New Haven workers, Yale students and hotel guests.
Tigin Irish Pub
Stamford, (203) 353-8444, tiginirishpub.com
Located in the heart of downtown Stamford, this hip nightspot has everything you could want in an Irish bar. There’s live music, properly poured Guinness, soccer on almost every TV and a menu that goes beyond mere pub grub and features expertly prepared old country favorites such as mini shepherd’s pies, fish and chips and Smithwick’s ale-flavored burgers.
Why it’s the best: It’s filled with regulars but still welcoming and jovial for newcomers—that’s what an Irish pub is all about.
Sidedoor Jazz Club
Old Lyme, (860) 434-0886, thesidedoorjazz.com
Owner Ken Kitchings’ passion for jazz can be felt in every inch of his acoustically designed, intimate and cool-as-a-cucumber jazz club. The club is located in a side door space of the Old Lyme Inn (which Kitchings and his wife Christine purchased in 2011) and has the feel of a secret New York City or Chicago club. But the secret has not been well kept—jazz aficionados have flocked to The SideDoor and it’s also drawn a who’s who of performers including Jimmy Cobb (the drummer who performed on Miles Davis’ iconic album “Kind of Blue”).
Why it’s the best: It’s all about the music at this sleek club that has Bogart and Bacall-style class.
Open Mic Night
The Acoustic Café
Bridgeport, (203) 335-3655, acousticcafebpt.com
This popular open mic night that begins at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays has long been a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians and a testing ground for established ones. You can sign up to participate or go as a civilian to see the stars of tomorrow, all while enjoying the happy hour drink specials, available from 8 to 9 p.m.
Why it’s the best: The Acoustic Café fosters an unparalleled community of local musicians.
Milford, (203) 874-7947, stonebridgerestaurant.com
On Friday and Saturday nights you may have to wait in line to get into this place, but believe us, it’s worth it. The covered outdoor patio overlooks the Wepawaug River and the historic Treat bridge, offering a beautiful view throughout spring, summer and fall. The bar has a wide selection of beer, wine and cocktails to satisfy everyone’s taste. Enjoy your beverage alongside the restaurant’s menu, which specializes in casual American fare including fresh seafood, steaks and pub-style dinners.
Why it’s the best: Fine cocktails at a happening place in a historic setting.
Place to Hear Local Bands
Hamden, (203) 288-6400, thespacect.com
“We are a venue run by musicians for musicians,” proclaims The Space’s website and it’s a slogan that it more than lives up to. Since opening in 2003, the 150-person venue has hosted hundreds of national, regional and local acts in its intimate space. In addition to a wonderful listening room with a roomy stage, the Space has a vintage boutique (called The Attic) and an ’80s arcade upstairs. There’s no alcohol, which makes it the perfect place for younger musicians to strut their guitar-God stuff and for listeners of all ages to kick back and enjoy a variety of shows that can include but is certainly not limited to rock, folk, acoustic orchestra, SKA, hip-hop, reggae indie and funk.
Why it’s the best: At many music venues local bands are never given a chance. Here they’re treated like, well, rock stars, and that translates to the audience.
Cromwell, (860) 635-1860, chicagosams.com
Let’s face it: If you want to see a particular game, there is no shortage of places to go, so what makes Chicago Sam’s special—you know, aside from the 100 TVs (45 of which are big screens) and three Hi Def movie screens—is all the extras: a 120-foot-long bar with 20 seasonally changing draft beers on tap and 30 bottled beers; an extensive pub menu (serving till midnight) with wings, burgers, sandwiches and more; computer trivia games; entertainment multiple nights a week; drink and food specials; and more than 10,000 square feet of bar, ensuring there’s room for every fan.
Why it’s the best: Did we mention that literally wherever you look, there’s a TV with the game on, plus great pub grub and 50 kinds of beer?
West Hartford, (860) 206-4648, federalrestaurants.com
This wine and tapas bar in the heart of West Hartford’s Blue Back Square offers an unprecedented 60 different wines, including reserve selections, by the glass. At this sister restaurant to Federal Restaurant & Bar in Agawam, Mass., each wine can be ordered by the 1-ounce taste, 3-ounce half glass or 6-ounce full glass. They take the wine seriously here, storing bottles at proper temperatures with state-of-the-art WineStation technology. Enjoy a glass with any variety of modern American tapas that range from meat and cheese plates to assorted desserts.
Why it’s the best: All 60 wines can be ordered by the taste or glass.
The Manor House
Norfolk. (866) 542-5690, manorhouse-norfolk.com
The Manor House has all of the rural charm you could ask for in a quaint bed and breakfast. Built in 1898 by renowned architect E.K. Rossiter, this estate has maintained its classic feel while updating the amenities to ensure a top-of-the-line experience. In-room massages, fresh-made picnic baskets, bicycles and various tours are available when you stay in the inn itself. Each of the guestrooms has a beautiful view. And for nighttime entertainment, stop by the nearby Infinity Hall for live music and quality dining.
Why it’s the best: This B&B with all the amenities offers a weekend getaway without going very far.
The Inn at Saybrook Point
Old Saybrook, (800) 243-0212, saybrook.com
At this inn you can wake up to the gentle waters of Long Island Sound. Book your stay in any of the 82 guest rooms, villas, or newly created guest house, Three Stories. There’s no shortage of room options here, and also no limit to the amount of fun you can have in Saybrook. Spend days on the Sound, take in a show at The Kate or explore the town’s marina vistas. You can enjoy the amenities at the inn’s top-notch Sanno Spa and have dinner at the restaurant, Fresh Salt, which uses only the freshest local ingredients.
Why it’s the best: Wake up next to the Sound, get a facial at the Sanno Spa and enjoy fresh seafood at Fresh Salt.
Hotel (Romantic Getaway)
Morris, (860) 567-9600, winvian.com
Everyone has heard about Winvian’s Helicopter Cottage, which contains a fully-restored 1968 Sikorsky Sea King Pelican HH3F helicopter, its rotor blades embedded in the ceiling. You can have cocktails in the cockpit and watch a film in the fuselage. Talk about love taking flight! The resort is set on 113 acres, anchored by a 1775 manor house and embellished by 18 architect-designed cottages that reflect key Connecticut themes. There’s an on-site luxury spa in its own gorgeous building, and to cap it all this Relais & Chateaux property is a Mobile Five Diamond winner for both lodging and dining.
Why it’s the best: Chris Eddy, Winvian’s chef, whose cooking is rated “extraordinary to perfection for food” by Zagat, has taken the farm-to-table ethos into the culinary stratosphere. It’s now seed-to-table, as Eddy has a farm on the property, growing produce and raising his own chickens, pigs and more.
Middletown, (860) 347-6143, oddfellows.org
For nearly 40 years, the Oddfellows Playhouse has been teaching Connecticut’s newest generations performing arts through song, dance, storytelling and acting. With programs for children in groups ranging from “Little Fellows” to the “Teen Repertory Company,” Oddfellows remains the state’s largest youth theater. This nonprofit organization is comprised of trained local professionals who help kids and teens of all ages build confidence, work in groups and develop new talents. Whether your little one is just starting out, or your oldest would like private singing lessons, this theater has a perfect session for any skill set.
Why it’s the best: As one of the most active year-round youth theaters, there’s bound to be a session for your family, or you can go to any one of their special events and sit back and enjoy the show.
TheatreWorks New Milford
New Milford, (860) 350-6863, theatreworks.us
This small-town theater gives new meaning to the word “intimate.” In a performance space barely larger than your living room, this little-theater-that-could (and does) delivers big drama, laughs and comes as close as any theater to breaking down the fourth wall separating performers and audience. Be it comedies, dramas or musicals, this true hidden gem of a performance space stages moving performances with high-quality sets, lighting and sound.
Why it’s the best: The performances are so good we questioned whether it could truly be considered a community theater.
Concert Venue (Large)
Toyota Oakdale Theatre
Wallingford, (203) 261-1501, oakdale.com
Sixty years after founder Ben Segal put up a tent in an alfalfa field to host summer stock productions, it’s safe to say that the Oakdale has come a long way—today’s 4,600-seat venue has been graced by sold-out performances from big-name acts including Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban and Jerry Seinfeld. And although today’s Oakdale is much larger than the old revolving theater-in-the-round of the 1960s and ’70s, it still has that cozy feel, with nary a bad seat in the house. This month sees the return of Steely Dan on the 16th, with more great acts on the horizon.
Why it’s the best: Big enough that there are plenty of seats, but intimate enough to enjoy the A-list talent that regularly plays there.
Concert Venue (small)
Old Saybrook, (877) 503-1286, thekate.org
Named for legendary Old Saybrook resident Katharine Hepburn, the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on Main Street in Old Saybrook, affectionately known as The Kate, has logged more than 1,000 performances in its first five years—including Art Garfunkel, Joan Osborne, Janis Ian, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and Jonathan Edwards. The programming also includes dance, theater, movies and much more. The magic happens in a beautiful 250-seat theater treasured by both performers and audiences for its intimacy and acoustics.
Why it’s the best: We turn to Ann Nyberg of WTNH, who was instrumental in the effort to launch The Kate: “It’s a gem of a place with a movie star name.”