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Best of Connecticut 2017

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Best of Connecticut 2018 is out! Check out our picks and the return of Readers' Choice here.

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For the 20th year in a row we scoured the state to discover, and in some cases, rediscover the best Connecticut has to offer. 

Once again, we explored food & drink, fun & leisure and shopping. We also took a fresh look at our categories and added many more across the board, amassing 213 winners in all.

Alongside some of the winners are bullets (•) which denote repeat Best of Connecticut winners from 2016.

Did we miss some of your favorite places to eat, play and shop? Let us know!

Start with our winners in the Food category directly below, or jump directly to Fun & Leisure or Shopping.


Food & Drink

Mothership

Bakery: Mothership Bakery & Cafe, Danbury, 203-417-6914

Until recently, the beloved pastries, pies, cookies and house-made breads at Mothership were only enjoyed by a select few because the cafe  an even-harder-to-find corporate building on Ridgebury Road. That changed last November, when a second location opened in downtown Danbury. Ever since, the bakery has been fueling downtown revitalization efforts one great pastry at a time.


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BARBECUE

It’s true. You can get great barbecue in Connecticut. As smoked-meat joints have proliferated across our state, competition has bred a marked increase in quality. From Kansas City style to the tastes of the Carolinas, you’ll find all your favorite cuts and flavors at these spots. (You can read our detailed article on all of these great barbecue joints here.)

Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, Hartford, Windsor & South Windsor

Chester’s Barbecue, Clinton and Groton

The Cookhouse, New Milford, 860-355-4111

Hoodoo Brown BBQ, Ridgefield, 203-438-6033

Smokin’ with Chris, Southington, 860-620-9133

Taino Smokehouse, Middletown, 860-358-9828

Walrus + Carpenter, Bridgeport, 203-333-2733


Hops Company

The Hops Company

BEERS & BREWERIES

Beer (IPA): #UnFiltered, Thomas Hooker Brewing Co., Bloomfield, 860-242-3111

When this beer burst onto the Connecticut scene last winter, it immediately became the toast of the town. Lines formed at the brewery, six packs disappeared from liquor store shelves, and beer fans far and wide fell for this less-bitter, unfiltered and fruit-flavored New England-style IPA.

Beer (Approachable): Elm City Pilsner, New England Brewing Co., Woodbridge, 203-387-2222

New England Brewing Co. might be best known for its hop-forward IPAs such as Coriolis, G-Bot and the legendary Fuzzy Baby Ducks, but for a non-bitter, clean, crisp beer, there is no better option than this classic of the Connecticut brews.

• Beer Bar: Eli Cannon’s, Middletown, 860-347-3547

From exclusive Connecticut beers to sought-after international sours, Eli’s has one of the best curated beer lists anywhere. Pairing that with its laid-back, alt-rock vibe, where it is almost impossible not to strike up a conversation with the person next to you, makes this one heck of a beer bar.

Beer Garden: The Hops Company, Derby, 203-734-1616

It’s not just the impressive list of draft beers, house wines and specialty cocktails that sets The Hops Company apart. This garden is Eden because of its spacious 4½ acres devoted to special events, live music, games and contests, not to mention the brats, pierogies and Zuppardi’s pizza.

Brewery: Back East Brewing Co., Bloomfield, 860-242-1793

There are an ever-increasing number of excellent breweries in our state, but none have had the year Back East did. In June, Draft Magazine ranked three of its IPAs among the top 50 in America, Rakautra at No. 21, Intergalactic Lupulinary at No. 16, and Ice Cream Man No. 5. These unfiltered, low-bitterness IPAs have ranked at the top or near the top in blind taste tests members of our editorial staff have participated in and consistently draw long lines of beer lovers.

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Hog River Brewing Co.

Brewery to Visit: Hog River Brewing Co., Hartford

Located in the thriving Parkville neighborhood of Hartford, Hog River Brewing is named after a river that was formerly above ground, but is now buried and inaccessible. Whether or not this is an apt metaphor will be debated, but if you’ve been sleeping on Hartford as a hang-out, you should think again. Hog River’s taproom is a great place to spend time, especially during the Know Good Market street parties on the second Thursday of each month.

Bread: Bantam Bread Co., Bantam, 860-567-2737

Those who hope to one day swear off gluten should do themselves a favor and never bite into bread offered at this shop and wholesaler. With varieties such as rye, semolina batard, whole grain spelt and many more, the bread here makes other breads look like imposters.

Breakfast: Toymaker’s Cafe, Falls Village, 860-824-8168

Beloved by daytrippers and bikers, this one-of-a-kind country kitchen offers some of the best breakfasts we’ve had, including our favorite waffles. It is only open Thursday through Sunday and may require a drive for many readers, but it’s definitely worth the trek.


BURGERS

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Shady Glen

Connecticut, or Louis’ Lunch, to be more specific, is the birthplace of the burger. While Louis’ is still going strong, it’s just one of the many great spots in the state to enjoy this all-American classic. (And if you're still hungry, check out our recent look at all of these places and more.)

B Restaurants, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Milford, Simsbury, Stamford and West Hartford

Burgers, Shakes & Fries, Greenwich and Darien

Bobby’s Burger Palace, Mohegan Sun, 860-862-2277

GoldBurgers, Newington and Hartford

K LaMay’s, Meriden, East Hampton and Wallingford

Louis’ Lunch, New Haven, 203-562-5507

Max Burger, West Hartford, 860-232-3300

Munchies Food Truck, Waterford area, 860-961-6606

Prime 16, New Haven and Orange

Shady Glen, Manchester, 860-649-4245

Ted’s Restaurant, Meriden and Cromwell


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Burrito: Taqueria Mexico, Wallingford, 203-265-0567

This spot is simple. You might not notice it as you race along Route 5 in Wallingford, but believe us, tucked in among the car dealerships is one of the best burritos in the state. This isn’t Tex-Mex, where burritos are stuffed with ungodly amounts of flotsam and jetsam. This is simple, clean and dignified. Rice, cilantro, onions and whatever meat you choose. The breakfast burrito in the morning is also worth getting there early for.

Butcher Shop: Butcher’s Best Country Market, Newtown, 203-364-0013

Visiting this 3,000-square-foot space is often a lesson in meat production and sustainability. The staff is always happy to explain the various cuts of meat, offer cooking tips and talk about the farms they work with. Specialties include local natural meat products such as homemade sausage, steaks, prime rib, tenderloin, pork and chicken. There is also a full deli for takeout meals.

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Sweet Marias

Cake: Sweet Maria’s, Waterbury, 203-755-3804

Whether you need a cake for an extravagant wedding or a 3-year-old’s birthday party, Maria’s hits the sweet spot, and has been for decades. Creativity shines through with themed cakes such as a fun Wheel of Fortune. Each month brings a special new cake creation. September’s is maple blueberry: three layers of light maple cake, filled with blueberry mousse and whipped cream.

Candy Shop: CandiTopia, New Haven, 203-498-0330

As the city that gave the lollipop its name, New Haven knows a thing or two about sweets. It doesn’t get much sweeter than CandiTopia. A fairly recent addition to The Shops at Yale, this bag-your-own candy shop specializes in old favorites and hard-to-find treats. Peanut brittle, Cow Tales, candy bracelets, moon pies, epic jawbreakers, ribbon candy and much more can be found here. The jelly bean selection is also out of this world. And do yourself a favor: try a chocolate s’more from the chocolates case.

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Russo's Bakery, Enfield

Cannoli: Russo’s Bakery, Enfield, 860-741-7844

Russo’s has decadent cakes and mouth-watering pastries, but the specialty it has undoubtedly perfected is its seemingly endless variety of cannoli. With flavors inspired by breakfast cereals, candy bars and cookies, you’ll want to try each one … probably twice. The brownie Oreo fudge cannoli will make your eyes roll back in your head.

Cheap Eats: Scott’s Jamaican Bakery, Hartford, 860-246-6599

Also included in the Cheap Eats list from our May issue, Scott’s Jamaican Bakery is a Hartford institution. From their spot on Albany Avenue you can get beef, chicken and veggie patties for under $3. From the main restaurant on Main Street, you can go further into Jamaican cuisine with curried goat and chicken, oxtail and beef stew.

• Chocolate: Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, Goshen, 860-309-2545

“It all begins with the cows,” says Kimberly Thorn, who conceives and makes all the farm’s chocolate creations. Thorn, along with husband Clint and their sons, raise and lovingly care for specially selected breeds of milk cows, which daily provide rich, sweet milk that Kimberly uses to make the freshest milk chocolates anywhere. Creative selections from Thorncrest’s 92 varieties of handmade chocolates include black pepper and ginger truffles, Earl Grey tea truffles, and, for the holidays, milk chocolate eggnog and milk chocolate gingerbread chocolates.

Clam Chowder: Take Five Cookery, Hartford, 860-524-9669

We are very jealous of the people who work in the Gold Building in downtown Hartford, because not only is Take Five Cookery in the basement surely one of the greatest office cafeterias in the state, they also serve our pick for best clam chowder. There are plenty of good New England clam chowders out there, but a truly great one is hard to get right. Chef Kevin Moran only makes the stuff once a week on Fridays, and still we picked it. It’s that good.

Coffee: Coffee Pedaler, New Haven, 732-595-6414

Owner Ryan Taylor and his staff treat coffee-making as an art and science. Carefully measuring every variant in the process (amounts of water versus coffee, brewing time, etc.), the result is some of the best coffee you can find anywhere. We particularly like the pour-overs and cappuccinos.

Coffee House: Klekolo World Coffee, Middletown, 860-343-9444

There is something very Middletown about Klekolo World Coffee. Italian-speaking construction workers drinking espresso, punk or emo or metal music on the stereo, and an endless parade of interesting characters. Klekolo speaks to the essence of this offbeat, not-quite-college town. Tons of varieties of coffee. Live music. Constant eavesdropping and people-watching opportunities.

Cupcakes: NoRA CupcakeMiddletown, 860-788-3150

Craft Cocktails: Little River RestorativesHartford, 860-403-0340

Dairy Shop: Arethusa Farm, Bantam and New Haven, 860-361-6600

With two dairy stores, one in the extreme north and the other at the far south, much of the state now has fairly easy access to Arethusa’s artisan milks, cheeses, yogurts and ice creams. All produced at a state-of-the-art farm on South Plains Road in Litchfield, Arethusa’s line is of the highest quality. And, like Thorncrest Farm’s chocolates, it all starts with their cows.

Deli: Rosa’s Deli, Wallingford, 203-265-1487

This Wallingford institution started in the early ’80s, but the building itself has been home to some form of Italian deli or grocery for more than 100 years. A lot of Italian delis have “Italian grinders,” so why does Rosa’s stand out? Forget bologna, pepperoni and ham. Rosa’s gives you prosciutto, sopressata and capicola on their Italian. Rosa Landino opened the deli as a 21-year-old immigrant in the early 1980s, and still works there today.


Laurel Diner

Laurel Diner

DINERS

The diner is as indelible a part of our landscape as autumn foliage. They are chrome relics where working people come together to eat cheap, filling food, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow human. The diner is humble, it is functional. We love diners — so much so that last June we took a detailed look at these and more great diners around the state.

Dottie’s Diner, Woodbury and Waterbury, 475-235-2482

Elm Street Diner, Stamford, 203-325-1141

Georgie’s Diner, West Haven, 203-933-1000

Laurel Diner, Southbury, 203-264-8218

Monica’s State Street Diner, New London, 860-701-0573

Norm’s Diner, Groton, 860-405-8383

O’Rourke’s Diner, Middletown, 860-346-6101

Post Road Diner, Norwalk, 203-866-9777

Sandy Hook Diner, 203-270-1270

The Winsted Diner, Winsted860-379-4429

Uncle D’s Diner, East Berlin, 860-828-8981


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Doughnuts: Neil’s Donuts, Wallingford, 203-269-4255

You can go to this legendary spot in the Yalesville section of Wallingford at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, and there will be a line out the door, waiting for doughnuts. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. Neil’s doughnuts will make people do unreasonable, unhinged things, like crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn on their day off to get some doughnuts.

Fish Market: Atlantic Seafood, Old Saybrook, 860-388-4527

Planning a Feast of the Seven Fishes this Christmas? You’ll have a full menu in no time if you stop by this famed seafood market on the Post Road. The fresh, straight-from-the-ocean offerings include lobster, shrimp, wild sea scallops, clams, oysters, as well as a wide variety of fish. A nice selection of appetizers and chowders complete your feast. And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are prepared foods such as salmon cakes, cod cakes, lobster cakes and crab cakes.

Food Truck (Savory): Green Grunion

Paul Mannion’s food truck offers San Diego-style burritos, which are tightly packed, panini-like and precision-seasoned, with heated ingredients. They are unlike any other Mexican-American food offered in the state, and soon Mannion will be serving them at Bethel’s Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery, expected to open later this year.

Food Truck (Sweet): Hardcore Sweet Cupcake Truck203-768-0200

A winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, this Watertown-based bakery cranks out more than 150 different varieties of cakes, including a repertoire of 13 topped with various meats. HSC has the traditional sweet treats down, but its confection selection is truly hardcore.

Fried Chicken: Hen House Fried Chicken, Southington, 860-276-0798

No frills, just good ol’ fashioned, country-style fried chicken. This spot has been around for nearly 30 years, hiding at the back of a plaza on Route 10 in Southington. There have been a host of new barbecue places springing up across the state, as it seems to be the current in vogue food trend. Some are good and some are not. The Hen House offers all types of traditional Southern barbecue, but the fried chicken is the standout. It’s crispy, while juicy, and not terribly expensive.

Grilled Cheese: Whey Station food truck860-342-8737

Based out of Middletown, more specifically Wesleyan University, husband-and-wife team Jillian and Josh invite you to track down their truck and “Get Wheysted.” Take them up on the offer. Their 10 gourmet grilled cheeses and truck-made tomato basil bisque will have you sideways in no time.

• Grinder: Johnny Salami’s, New Haven, 203-777-7906

From cold cuts to eggplant parmesan, the ingredients that top the sandwiches here are always top notch, as is the bread itself. This is one of our favorite lunch spots in New Haven and that’s saying a lot.

• Health Food Store: New Morning MarketWoodbury, 203-263-4868

It’s home to the largest organic produce selection in the area and an extensive supplement and homeopathic department. It also has a fresh prepared foods counter, the Provender, that is a gourmet source for delicious, ready-to-eat natural and organic foods.

• Hot Dogs: Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield, 203-334-3647

There are plenty of Connecticut stands that offer great dogs. But the superpower of this house of hot dogs is the variety and quality of its homemade toppings. Its specialty dogs include the New Englander, topped with sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish and raw onion. As for the weenie, it’s split and grilled until a slight crust forms before being placed in a fresh-baked roll and covered with your favorite toppings.

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Ferris Acres Creamery

• Ice Cream: Ferris Acres Creamery, Newtown, 203-426-8803

Located on Ferris Acres Farm in Newtown, this legendary spot offers great ice cream at affordable prices on a beautiful farm setting. Does it get any better than that? To answer our own question: no, it does not.

Irish Pub: Maple Cafe, Hartford, 860-956-1181

What does it mean to be a good Irish pub? Any old place can throw a map of Ireland on the wall and serve Guinness and call itself an Irish pub. In Ireland there is a phrase for those weak American imitations: “plastic paddy.” A genuine Irish pub has other important considerations: community and history (and can they pull a pint of plain properly?) The Maple Cafe is not a plastic paddy bar. It’s been around since 1975, located in what was once one of the most Irish neighborhoods in Connecticut. For history, stroll down to “Bobby Sands Circle” at the corner of Freeman Street, where stands the only monument to the IRA hunger striker in the U.S.

Late-night Bite: Mamoun’s Falafel, New Haven, 203-562-8444

Mamoun’s is open till 3 a.m. every night. Every … single … night. You want some fresh, hot falafel on Christmas Eve? How about early morning New Year’s Day? Mamoun’s has you covered. Other Middle Eastern favorites like tabbouleh, mjedra and lamb kebab fill out the menu. It’s also BYOB, in case the party just won’t stop.

• Lobster Roll: Lobster LandingClinton, 860-669-2005

A quarter-pound of claw and tail meat is served up on a toasted sub roll garnished with lemon and melted butter — delicious. It’s best enjoyed on the restaurant’s wooden deck that overlooks Long Island Sound.

Nachos: Archie Moore’s, New Haven, Fairfield, Milford, Wallingford and Derby

Best known for their wings, these pub-grub spots also knock it out of the park with their gooey, delicious nachos. Four varieties beckon, including the regular, with melted Monterey Jack cheese and jalapeños, served with tomato salsa and sour cream, the grande with spicy beef, and a version with grilled buffalo chicken. But for our money, the standout is the pulled pork, which delivers a wonderful taste confluence of tangy barbecue sauce, salty tortilla chips and the kick of jalapeños, along with other toppings.

New Restaurant: The Lockup, Salisbury, 860-596-4371

Opened Thanksgiving of last year, this restaurant wowed us with its Italian-inspired cuisine and impressive space: there’s an elegant dining room, old-school lounge and even a separate area in the back for kids to play games.

• Noodle House: Kawa Ni, Westport, 203-557-8775

Owner Bill Taibe brings the same excellence he’s delivered to other Connecticut restaurants like The Whelk. Try the pork and garlic ramen; you won’t be disappointed.

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Down the Hatch

Outdoor Bar: Down the Hatch, Brookfield, 203-775-6635

Truly laid back with majestic views of Candlewood Lake, this is the spot to enjoy an adult beverage while experiencing what those in the area call #LakeLife. Come by car or boat, in flip-flops or jeans, and soak up the sun with a cold one in hand.

• Outdoor Dining (Casual): The Place RestaurantGuilford, 203-453-9276

The Place is like a great summer clam bake. Enjoy wood-fired clams, lobsters, fish, chicken, steaks and sweet corn while seated on tree trunks at large outdoor tables. Bring your own sides and drinks during the season from May 1 through September and on weekends through October.

Outdoor Dining (Formal): Shell & Bones Oyster Bar and Grill, New Haven, 203-787-3466

With an outdoor deck that can accommodate several dozen and the best views in New Haven, Shell & Bones offers a stunning dining experience. Lovely Lighthouse Point Park is visible from the City Point restaurant. In the summer, retractable glass panels pull back to allow the interior dining room to enjoy the salty breezes. Throw in an excellent menu, including fresh raw bar selections, and you have a winning combination.


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Lyman Orchards

PIE 

Should you find yourself at a dinner party, and one of these pies will be served, do yourself a favor and save room for dessert. From the pecan bourbon sweet potato at Danbury’s Mothership Bakery to the apple crumb at Shelton’s Oronoque Farms Bakery, these pies will have you reaching for a second slice. (Read our full article on these delicious desserts here.) 

Bishop’s Orchards, Guilford, 203-453-2338

Granny’s Pie Factory, East Hartford, 860-291-1164

Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, ​​​​860-349-1793

Michele’s Pies, Norwalk, 203-354-7144

Mothership Bakery & Cafe, Danbury, 203-417-6914

Oronoque Farms Bakery, Shelton, 203-925-4237

The Pantry, Fairfield, 203-259-0400

Sixpence Pie Company, Southington, 203-376-0606

Soleil and Suns Bakery, Woodstock, 860-928-4977


• Pizza in New Haven: Modern Apizza203-776-5306

This pick is sure to spark some disagreement. But with a city as pizza rich as New Haven, there’s really no way around that. At Modern, the pies are fired in a brick oven fueled by oil rather than coal. The result is a chewy thin crust with lovely char. The classic Pizza Margarita with fresh mozzarella, the clams casino pie with bacon and peppers, and the Italian Bomb with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper and garlic are all must-tries.

• Pizza outside New Haven: Bufalina, Guilford, 203-458-1377

Bufalina takes its name from bufalina pizza, a type of Neapolitan pizza made with local buffalo mozzarella. The pizza is one of the many specialties at this restaurant where chewy, charred pie crusts are baked in searing-hot, wood-fire ovens, and pizza lovers are never disappointed.

• Raw Bar: Oyster ClubMystic, 860-415-9266

The menu is written daily and showcases food that travels the shortest distance from “farm & sea to table.” The result is fresh-as-possible raw bar offerings that consistently rank among the state’s best.

Rooftop Bar: Elm City Social, New Haven, 475-441-7436

There’s something wonderful about a rooftop bar, the way it can lift you up out of the hustle and bustle of city streets and put you in a totally different mind space. While there are undoubtedly other rooftop bars in the state with more panoramic views, Elm City Social’s has a certain treehouse or secret clubhouse feel to it that distinguishes it. It’s a perfect spot for after-work drinks.

Soda: White Birch Beer, Foxon Park, East Haven, 203-467-7874

For this category, there was only ever one choice. From its East Haven headquarters, Foxon Park sodas have been the go-to local soda for nearly 100 years. The flavors are unique without being gimmicky, and pair perfectly with New Haven-style apizza. The most distinctive is the White Birch Beer. Really, why would you ever drink Coca-Cola?

Sandwich: Meat and Co., New Haven, 203-776-6328

There are sandwiches, but then there are sandwiches. If that doesn’t make sense, then get yourself to Meat and Co. to understand what we mean. The offerings here are deep, complex takes on classic sandwiches. The Sam Sifton (only available on Tuesdays) will leave you thinking about it for weeks.

Soup: Bobette’s Take Out, Milford, 203-874-9414

The soup at Bobette’s has personality. The menu changes daily, with a rotating cast of what we think are some of the best soup offerings in the state. Particular attention is devoted to the mussel chowder, but don’t miss the lobster bisque, either.

Spirit: Litchfield Distillery’s bourbon line, 860-361-6503

Litchfield Distillery has soared to the top of the state spirit scene in two short years, and the proof is in the bourbon. There are six varieties to choose from, including vanilla bourbon and coffee bourbon whiskey (with an assist from Windsor-based roaster Baronet Coffee).

Tacos: La Patrona, New Haven, 203-600-4085

We are almost hesitant to tell you about this one. The reason? It’s a pretty regular lunch spot for us and we don’t want the lines to get too long. The tacos are simple, with a clean, fresh taste. Cilantro, onion and lime top whatever meat you want, and there are a lot of options. We recommend the carnitas and the chorizo.

• Vegetarian/Vegan Food: G-Zen RestaurantBranford, 203-208-0443

The husband-and-wife team of chefs Mark Shadle and Ami Beach-Shadle are crafting vegetarian and vegan dishes in their restaurant and on their food truck so delectable you’ll forget they’re meatless. They are dedicated to sustainable, mindful cooking and eating. They grow organic products on their Durham farm, use them in their restaurant and compost the remnants.


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Sharpe Hill Vineyard

WINERIES TO VISIT

Visiting a winery is about so much more than drinking wine. It’s about location, atmosphere, food, friends and taking some time out to taste what life has to offer. Connecticut has a bouquet of destinations perfect for spending a weekend afternoon.

Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, 203-453-2338

Chamard Vineyards, Clinton, 860-664-0299

Connecticut Valley Winery, New Hartford, 860-489-9463

DiGrazia Vineyards, Brookfield, 203-775-1616

Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford, 203-265-5526

Hopkins Vineyard, Warren, 860-868-7954

Jonathan Edwards Winery, North Stonington, 860-535-0202

Jones Winery, Shelton, 203-929-8425

Preston Ridge Vineyard, Preston, 860-383-4278

Sharpe Hill Vineyard, Pomfret, 860-974-3549

Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, 860-201-4654


Wine Bar: Sarah’s Wine Bar at Bernard’s, Ridgefield, 203-438-8282

Located upstairs at Bernard’s, Sarah’s Wine Bar has a wine list so long it seems like it was written by Victor Hugo. More than 1,300 wines are featured from the U.S., France and around the world. They are categorized by country, grape and region.

• Wine Shop: The Wine ThiefNew Haven, 203-772-1944

The two New Haven shops (on Whitney Avenue and Crown Street) are curated and the staff is knowledgeable. Don’t know what you want? Ask and you shall receive an education and recommendation for something satisfying.

• Wings: J. Timothy’sPlainville, 860-747-6813

The “dirt style” wings, which are sauced before and after being fried, are irresistible, with just the right amount of crunch and sticky sweetness.


Jump to Food & Drink or Shopping


FUN & LEISURE

ACTIVITIES

• Action Park: Brownstone Exploration & Discovery ParkPortland, 866-860-0208

Whether you’re a full-on thrill-seeker or casual recreation enthusiast, Brownstone has an activity for you, including cliff jumping, scuba diving, zip lining, wakeboarding, rock climbing, snorkeling, kayaking and even extreme rope swings.


Ocean Beach Park

Ocean Beach Park

BEACHES

One of the things some lifelong Nutmeggers take for granted is the fact that, no matter where you are in the state, you’re never more than two hours away from the ocean. But there’s not much time left for a day at the beach in 2017. Pack up the car and get to one of these spots ASAP! (If you can't decide, read our roundup from last year on these beaches and activities.)

Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk, 203-854-7806

Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison, 203-245-2785

Ocean Beach Park, New London, 860-447-3031

Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme, 860-424-3200

Sherwood Island State Park, Westport, 203-226-6983 (a great place for a day trip!)

Silver Sands State Park, Milford, 203-735-4311


• Country Fair: Durham Fair860-349-9495

This fair takes over the town of Durham every year when about 200,000 people come from far and wide for all the fun they can handle. There’s something here for everyone, including agricultural prizes, amusement rides, fair food and live entertainment.

• Farm Orchard: Lyman OrchardsMiddlefield, 860-349-1793

This family-run orchard is celebrating 275 years of farming in Connecticut this year. “Pick Your Own” has always been a cornerstone of the business model, and you can find strawberries, jostaberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, nectarines, pears and pumpkins throughout the year.

• Farmers Market: Coventry Farmers Market

 This weekly market is a throwback to farmers markets of days gone by with fresh produce from local farms, homemade baked goods and products, artisan crafts and wares, kid-friendly activities and live entertainment.

• Golf Course (Public): Lake of Isles Golf Club and ResortNorth Stonington, 888-475-3746

A bit of a challenge for experienced players, this par-72 course with wide fairways sits next to Foxwoods Resort Casino. The Rees Jones-designed layout offers a variety of holes with rolling terrain, island greens and great views. The clubhouse and pro shop also receive high marks.

• Golf Course (Mini): Safari GolfBerlin, 860-828-9800

It’s a jungle out there! Or at least it is at this mini golf course on the Berlin Turnpike. With jungle animals set up throughout the 18-hole course, either to encourage or taunt you (depending on your skill level), it’s sure to be a big hit with the kids. The greenery is lush, the waterfalls cascading and the streams babbling.

Halloween Attraction: Trail of Terror, Wallingford

The lines in October for the Trail of Terror in Wallingford tell you all you need to know about how good this annual extravaganza is. The trail opens Sept. 30, and is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout October, though not on Halloween itself. Be sure to get your tickets ahead of time for this one.


HIKING

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Kent Falls

There are too many great places to hike in the state to pick one winner. Below is a list of some of our favorite spots. (You can read more in our June article on ways to enjoy the great outdoors.)

The Appalachian Trail, From Sherman to Salisbury

Bear Mountain (Mount Riga State Park)Salisbury, 860-424-3200

Bigelow Hollow State Park, Union, 860-684-3430

Bluff Point State Park, Groton, 860-444-7591

Devil’s Den Nature Preserve, Weston, 203-568-6270

East Rock, New Haven, 203-946-6086

Kent Falls State Park860-927-3238

Macedonia Brook State Park, Kent, 860-927-3238

Mount Tom State Park, Litchfield, 860-567-8870

Ragged Mountain, Berlin and Southington

Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden, 203-287-5658

Steep Rock, Washington Depot, 860-868-9131,

Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury, 860-242-1158

White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, 860-567-0857


Outdoor Ropes Course: The Adventure Park at Storrs860-946-0606

The wooded splendor of the Quiet Corner is on full display at this aerial forest adventure park, the sister site of the Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. Suitable for ages 7 and up, the Storrs location offers a variety of ropes climbing, zip lines and seven separate trails, enough to make you feel like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys rollicking in the forest heights.

Place to See a Game: Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford, 860-246-4628

Good things come to those who wait. Very little went smoothly from the time it was announced the New Britain Rock Cats would take 9 North to 84 East and become the Hartford Yard Goats — construction delays, a lawsuit, the 2016 season spent entirely on the road. But the end result is a beautiful, 6,000-seat stadium in downtown Hartford.

Place to Stargaze: Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, Yale University, New Haven, 203-432-3000

The Leitner Planetarium at the top of the Prospect Hill neighborhood of New Haven is one of the great jewels of the city. With plenty of families coming to the weekly Tuesday planetarium shows, it’s certainly a kid-friendly atmosphere, and the public can look through the telescope and learn about the astrological events visible in the New Haven night sky.

Ski Resort: Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Cornwall, 860-672-6100

Mohawk offers the most trails (25) and the biggest vertical drop (650 feet) among the state’s mountain resorts. It also boasts eight lifts, including five triples and three surface lifts (“magic carpets”), along with robust snowmaking and well-maintained slopes. While it won’t be ready for snowy adventures until around Thanksgiving, stop by the mountain on Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the annual Blue Moon Sale, in which rental equipment is available to buy for deep discounts.

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Chelsea Piers Connecticut

• Sports Complex: Chelsea Piers ConnecticutStamford, 203-989-1000

This 465,000-square-foot Stamford complex has it all — two ice rinks, an Olympic-sized pool, indoor water park, gymnastics training center, squash and tennis courts, soccer and lacrosse fields, basketball and volleyball courts, batting cages, an indoor rock climbing wall, trampoline fun space and a fitness center.

Water Adventure: Farmington River Tubing, New Hartford, 860-693-6465

Renting a tube and life preserver from Farmington River Kingdom at Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area, then hopping in the river and letting the current carry you downstream is one of the great Connecticut daytrips. The journey includes three sets of intense rapids and lots of laidback drifting.

• Water Park: Lake CompounceBristol, 860-583-3300

It’s home to Crocodile Cove, Connecticut’s largest water park, with multiple wave pools, heart-stopping water slides and areas devoted to young children. Float down the Croc-O-Nile river, splash in the surf of the gigantic Bayou Bay, slide down in the darkness of Lights Out, raft Mammoth Falls and get the competitive juices flowing on the Riptide Racer.


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Cultural Attraction (Art): Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 203-432-0600

What can be said about the Yale University Art Gallery that hasn’t been said in these pages in the past? It is, simply put, a treasure. It’s a free, world-class museum that would equally please the casual museum-goer and enthuse the Ph.D. in art history. Who needs New York City?

Cultural Attraction (History): Mystic Seaport860-572-0711

Mystic Seaport is a special place. One of the globe’s premier ship museums, it is home to the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship. The recently opened Thompson Exhibition Building has made the place even cooler. Currently, the seaport is hosting the eye-catching Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre.

Cultural Attraction (Kids): The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk203-852-0700

What’s not to love about getting up close with seals, lobsters, jellyfish, otters, sea turtles, sharks and many other sea creatures? You can even sleep with the fishes on family and Scout sleepover nights! Or bring your toddler to storytime every Wednesday. And check out Connecticut’s largest IMAX theater — it’s six stories tall — which shows a variety of educational material as well as Hollywood blockbusters.

Movie Theater (To See Indies, Classics): Cinestudio, Hartford, 860-297-2463

This gem of a cinema on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood is the kind of place where you can take in films you’d normally have to go to New York City to see: new prints of classic films and new small and limited releases. Since 1970, programming director James Hanley has made Cinestudio one of the most important cultural institutions in the state.

Movie Theater (To See a Blockbuster): Prospector Theater, Ridgefield, 203-438-0136

Modeled on the grand theaters of old, this majestic first-run theater was designed with the wow factor in mind. In addition to the showstopping theaters themselves, there is also a cafe that serves coffee, beer and wine. On top of this, the Prospector is a nonprofit formed to provide job opportunities and job training to adults with disabilities.

Performing Arts Venue (Large): College Street Music Hall, New Haven, 203-867-2000

After lying vacant for some 12 years, College Street Music Hall opened in 2015, and over the last two years has built up real credibility as the go-to place for the best artists on tour. Acts that would normally just skip Connecticut on their way between Boston and New York now play regularly. (The Pixies are here this month!) Much of the credit goes to Connecticut’s homegrown booking agency Manic Presents, which has been bringing important musicians to the state for some 15 years.

Performing Arts Venue (Small): Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Old Saybrook, 860-510-0473

The Kate, an intimate, 250-seat theater in a historic Main Street building, is a love letter to the late, great Katharine Hepburn. It even has a small museum honoring her in its lobby. Catch all manner of performing arts here, including music, theater, opera, dance, comedy, film and children’s programming. In September, the Boston Comedy Festival offers a night of Irish- and Italian-themed laughs (Sept. 9), C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band brings the sounds of zydeco (Sept. 15), there will be two showings of the Hepburn classic The Philadelphia Story (Sept. 19), and three tribute bands will take the stage, including practitioners of the music of Fleetwood Mac (Sept. 23), the Rolling Stones (Sept. 28) and Billy Joel (Sept. 29).

Performing Arts Venue (College): WCSU Visual & Performing Arts Center, Danbury, 203-837-9000

Sometimes you get what you pay for. Western Connecticut State University’s 130,000-square-foot Visual & Performing Arts Center cost $97 million to build. The result of that investment is a jaw-dropping space. The main theater and separate acoustically designed musical hall are, in a word, breathtaking.

Radio Station (Music): WPKN 89.5, Bridgeport, 203-331-9756

Let’s get weird. While it was founded as the radio station at the University of Bridgeport in the 1960s, WPKN has been independent since 1989. And we mean independent. This listener-supported community radio station plays the kind of music you’re not likely to find anywhere else on the dial. (Our personal favorite is Antique Blues on Sunday night from 7-10.)

Radio Station (Talk)WNPR 90.5/89.1/88.5, Hartford, 860-278-5310

With two daily shows, three weekly shows and a podcast about the Hartford Yard Goats, WNPR is a must-listen in the Connecticut media landscape. Both Where We Live from 9-10 a.m., and the The Colin McEnroe Show from 1-2 p.m. are unique, funny and enlightening. We are lucky to have such a thriving NPR affiliate producing excellent local content.

New Britain Youth Theater

New Britain Youth Theater

Children’s Theater: New Britain Youth Theater, 860-515-8115

After putting on three shows in its inaugural season in 2010-11, the New Britain Youth Theater has grown more ambitious each year. What started as, essentially, an after-school program has blossomed into a professionally run community and educational theater. Auditions start this month for the December production of Annie Jr.

Theater for Original Shows: Long Wharf Theater, New Haven, 203-787-4282

Long Wharf has had an excellent season. Among its many triumphs was the world premiere of The Most Beautiful Room in New York, a musical by cultural critic and journalist Adam Gopnik. Long Wharf has done an excellent job of attracting top-tier talent away from Broadway to our corner of the world.

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The Belding stage at the Bushnell, Hartford

• Theater for Touring ShowsThe BushnellHartford, 860-987-6000

If you’re looking for big names and a wide variety of performances, from Broadway plays to major musical acts, this is your spot. Upcoming events include the Russian Grand Ballet's Swan Lake (Sept. 29), Les Misérables (Oct. 3-8), Jay Leno (Oct. 13) and An Evening with David Sedaris (Oct. 14)

Small Theater: TheatreWorks, New Milford, 860-350-6863

Not to be confused with the bigger TheatreWorks in Hartford, this extremely small, intimate country theater packs a ton of quality into a tight space. We’ve been moved by one-woman shows here, as well as ensemble pieces. This year marks its 50th anniversary; here’s to 50 more great years.


CASINOS

Casual Dining: Pequot Cafe, Foxwoods, 800-411-9671

Located at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Chef Sherry Pocknett beautifully executes a seasonal menu of not only New England favorites (clam chowder, quahogs, butternut squash), but traditional Native American dishes (turtle soup, venison stew, blueberry slump) in a family-friendly environment.

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Mohegan Sun Arena

Entertainment Venue (Large): Mohegan Sun Arena888-226-7711

If there’s a big act out there, chances are it will eventually make its way to this 10,000-seat arena. From music superstars (Katy Perry, Sept. 21, and Tony Bennett, Sept. 30) to premier sporting events (Connecticut Sun and NCAA basketball, championship boxing and MMA), as well as stand-up comedy, it’s all happening here.

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Place to Spend Your Winnings: Lux, Bond & Green, Mohegan Sun, 860-862-9909

Let’s be honest. Should you hit it big at the casino, do you really want to sock all your winnings away in savings? Should you succumb to the urge to splurge, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot than this jeweler. With traditional and contemporary pieces, watches, precious metals, gems and giftware, you’ll walk out shining bright like a diamond.

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The Wolf Den

• Entertainment Venue (Small): Wolf DenMohegan Sun, 888-226-7711

This eye-catching concert venue provides free shows in the center of Mohegan Sun’s casino. Past performers include MC Hammer, Jerrod Niemann, Blue Öyster Cult, Gin Blossoms and Eddie Money.

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• Fine Dining: Vue 24Foxwoods, 800-369-9663

Named for the panoramic views from the 24th floor of the Grand Pequot Tower at Foxwoods Resort Casino, this new fine-dining restaurant is a delicious stop after you win big in the casinos. The cuisine is classic Continental, and each dish (like beef bourguignon and veal Oscar) is expertly prepared.

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Avalon

Nightclub: Avalon, Mohegan Sun, 860-862-7042

The Avalon nightclub franchise opened a location at Mohegan Sun four years ago. The sights and sounds emanating from the 10,000-square-foot venue have had clubbers, and a whole lot of celebrities, coming back every Friday and Saturday night since.

Shopping: Tanger Outlets, Foxwoods, 860-383-4340

If money starts to burn a hole in your pocket and you’re not quite sure how to put out the fire, Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods provides a plethora of options. It’s home to Nike, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, H&M and about 100 other stores … all under one roof.

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G Spa

Spa: G Spa, Foxwoods, 860-312-4772

With a menu longer than a chain restaurant’s, G Spa provides every nurturing, relaxing and replenishing service and treatment you could ever desire from head to toe. Literally head to toe. Use the “design your own package” option to get a haircut, facial and pedicure.


NIGHT LIFE

Nightclub: BAR, New Haven, 203-495-8924

You’re forgiven if the first thing you think of when you hear “BAR” is mashed potato and bacon pizza. You’re not alone. You also won’t be alone if you’re there on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night when a live DJ will help transform a pizza place/brewery by day into the hottest club in the state by night.

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Side Door Jazz Club

Live Jazz: Sidedoor Jazz Club, Old Lyme, 860-434-2600

This Old Lyme newcomer has made a splash in the jazz scene since it opened in 2013. Owner Ken Kitchings has a real sense for running a jazz club, because he’s a serious jazz fan. The small club is purpose built for jazz music, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. In a small coup, Lonnie Smith is booked for Sept. 8!

LGBTQ Bar: O’Neill’s Brass Rail, New London, 860-443-6203

Located in the heart of one of the best nightlife scenes in the state, O’Neill’s Brass Rail on Bank Street is an absolute firecracker of a bar. It has karaoke, drag nights, and a gorgeous back deck that looks out over the spectacular New London waterfront.

• Open Mic: The AcousticBridgeport, 203-335-3655

This Tuesday open mic night (sign-up starts at 7:30 p.m.) has long been a launch pad for up-and-coming musicians and a testing ground for established ones. Sign up to participate or go as a civilian to enjoy local talent.

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• Place to Hear Local Bands: Cafe NineNew Haven, 203-789-8281

It’s known as “The Musician’s Living Room,” and it’s obvious that bands are comfortable playing here, as there are live performances most nights. The intimate setting, just about as big as the average living room, makes it an ideal listening room.


OVERNIGHTS

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The Wallingford Victorian Inn

Bed and Breakfast: The Wallingford Victorian Inn, Wallingford, 203-265-1200

In addition to five romantic suites, the 8,000-square-foot Queen Anne Victorian offers a library, parlor, music room and an English garden. Each morning, a gourmet breakfast is prepared by a chef and served by candlelight in a lovely dining room. If you’re looking to escape the bustle of the modern world for a night or two, this turn-of-the-century gem provides a perfect tonic.

Country Inn: Copper Beech Inn, Ivoryton, 860-767-0330

Whether you stay in the Carriage House, built in 1889, or the Comstock House, completed in 2007, luxurious accommodations and an award-winning restaurant await. Perfect for romance, relaxation and everything in between, centuries of charm and elegance are evident in Essex.

Hotel (Modern): J House Greenwich203-698-6980

Each room at this ultra-sleek, ultra-modern hotel features in-room Apple iPads that control things such as room service, housekeeping and spa requests. There is also a 55-inch TV in the bedroom and 15-inch TV in the bathroom, and both are mirror TVs (they look like a mirror when off). The hotel also features an elegant restaurant and coffee bar.

Hotel (Romantic): Winvian Farm, Morris, 860-567-9600

This five-star hotel achieves the trifecta — luxurious lodging, a world-class restaurant and a rejuvenating spa. On 113 acres among the Litchfield Hills sits a centerpiece 1775 manor house surrounded by 18 architect-designed cottages, each offering a unique stay experience. Amenities include organic gardens, fitness classes, a 40-foot swimming pool and many activities. For ultimate relaxation, the Winvian Farm Spa offers 5,000 square feet of luxurious indulgence.


HEALTH & BEAUTY

Day Spa: Spa at Delamar Greenwich, 203-413-3520

This world-class retreat offers a variety of services, including massage, facials and nail treatments. The spa partners with Biologique Recherche (BR), a luxury skin-care line, and Valmont to provide guests with high-quality treatments in a Mediterranean-inspired space that emphasizes rest and relaxation.

Med Spa: Esana Plastic Surgery Center and MedSpa, New Haven, 203-580-6544

Dr. Deborah Pan, the first female plastic surgeon in New Haven, and Dr. Javier Davila, both Yale-educated physicians, opened Esana in 2006. Their combined philosophy is to restore or improve one’s natural appearance, rather than attempting a drastic alteration, and provide an honest evaluation and realistic expectations.

Relaxation Treatment: PuREST Float, Trumbull & New Haven

Billed as the “most relaxing place on earth,” the sensory deprivation salt baths at PuREST Float offer intense relaxation. Alone in the darkness and silence of the private baths, it’s impossible for the noise of daily life not to disappear. A second location in New Haven was recently opened.

Spa Splurge: Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington, 860-868-9466

The spa at this 58-acre hotel estate offers “destination wellness” programs that will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated. The spa menu includes organic facials, couples yoga, connectedness meditation, sound therapy and a variety of massage, manicure and pedicure options.

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Blissworks Yoga and Healing

Yoga Studio: Blissworks Yoga and Healing, New London, 860-448-9642

Blissworks owner and director Tricia McAvoy offers yoga classes for all levels — slow, challenging and contemplative — in a warm and welcoming space. The studio also has yoga teacher training, a variety of massage therapies, reiki, reflexology and workshops to get your mind and body back in perfect harmony.


 Jump to Food & Drink or Fun & Leisure


SHOPPING

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Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets

Shopping Destination: 

Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets, Clinton, 860-664-0700 

Shopping isn’t a guilty pleasure here. With discount prices found at more than 70 stores, there’s no guilt involved. And petites, rejoice! You’ll find special sizes that chains don’t normally carry in mall stores. If your hands aren’t filled with shopping bags, fill ’em with snacks and drinks at one of the food trucks frequently parked on the property.

BOUTIQUES

Children’s Clothing: Wiggles & Giggles, Darien, 203-309-5109

In a retail world increasingly dominated by corporate giants, Wiggles & Giggles is a refreshing throwback. The independently owned store offers clothing and products for newborns and all kids under 10 and features top brands including Cabana Life, Funtasia Too, Anavini, One Kid, Mulberribush, Magnolia Baby, Ollie and Bess, Skylar Luna, and Wee Ones.

Consignment: Consignment Originals, Avon, Cheshire, Orange, Rocky Hill, Manchester and Wallingford

Established in 1982, this group of Connecticut consignment shops not only provides high-quality curated items to customers, it is also dedicated to sustainability. “We’re championing the consignment revolution to expand the life-cycle of everyday items,” says a statement on the company’s website.

Men’s Wear: R. Derwin Clothiers, Litchfield, 860-567-0100

Take a stroll down West Street in the center of lovely Litchfield and stop in this men’s shop to sharpen your look. Combining the best fashions of Europe and the U.S., along with a marrying of country and city styles, you’ll walk out ready for a war in the boardroom or a leisurely afternoon at the vineyard. Chambray shirts, tweed blazers, wool ties, vintage jeans, classic footwear and accessories, not to mention Scottish and Italian cashmere, it’s all here.

Vintage Clothing: Tova’s Vintage Shop, Old Saybrook, 860-395-1955

Sometimes the current fashions just don’t cut it. If you’re looking for that throwback look, whether it be gowns from Hollywood’s golden age, costume jewelry from the Roaring ’20s, handbags from the 19th century or leather box purses from the 1960s, Tova’s is your one-stop shoreline stop. The staff is knowledgeable and there to help you complete your vintage outfit.

• Women’s Wear: Stackpole Moore TryonHartford, 860-522-0181

The Hartford fine fashions landmark is a treasure trove for women, offering a blend of classic and timeless designs and labels with more adventuresome younger looks. Personal service is prized here, and emerging designers are highlighted to stay on point with the cutting edge.

Women’s Accessories: Kimberly Boutique, West Hartford, 860-523-4894

When you’re lookin’ good but still need to make that outfit pop, Kimberly Boutique has purses that pack a punch, necklaces that make a statement, and even floppy hats for your beach vacation. The shop is all about the small-but-noticeable details that help you stand out from the crowd and make you feel ready for the runway.

GENERAL

Music Store: Banko’s Music, Ansonia, 203-734-0461

There’s a nice little renaissance happening in Ansonia’s downtown, with new food spots and shopping locations opening in recent years. But Banko’s has been strumming along for decades. New tunes have been coming out of Banko’s of late, however, after new owner Joseph Shapiro took over for Joe Salvati. Just as the previous owner lived for music, so does the new one. A revamped inventory of more than 200 instruments, a new performance space, lessons and a summer music program for kids will keep this a Naugatuck Valley institution for years to come.


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The Book Nook

BOOKSTORES

A bookstore is one of the few stores we go into with the hope that we get smarter. Cicero said that a room without books is like a body without a soul. Get some soul, and check out our favorite independent bookstores. (Read more about them in our bookstore roundup from March.)

Bank Square BooksMystic, 860-536-3795

Bank Street Book NookNew Milford, 860-354-3865

The Book BarnNiantic, 860-739-5715

Brick Walk Bookshop, West Hartford, 860-233-1730

Byrd’s BooksBethel, 203-730-2973

Diane’s BooksGreenwich, 203-869-1515

The Hickory Stick BookshopWashington, 860-868-0525

House of BooksKent, 860-927-4104

R.J. Julia BooksellersMadison, 203-245-3959

Traveler RestaurantUnion, 860-684-4920

Whitlock’s Book BarnBethany, 203-393-1240


Gifts: The Red Owl Jewelry & Gifts, Cheshire and Meriden, 203-439-0401, 203-235-6228

Ever get invited to a birthday party for a 1- or 2-year-old and have no idea how to buy a gift for someone who hasn’t developed a personality yet? The Red Owl has you covered! There’s also plenty of stylish gifts for the home in addition to items that fall under the categories of fun, cute, thoughtful and practical.

Record Store: Redscroll Records, Wallingford, 203-265-7013

It is shameful, a state disgrace, that neither New Haven nor Hartford has a decent record store. (Lookin’ at you, entrepreneurs.) Luckily for those in New Haven, the phenomenal Redscroll Records is just up 91 in Wallingford. Redscroll has a storied history in the Connecticut independent music scene, putting out important records. Today, the brick-and-mortar store has one of the best selections around.

Toy Store: Evan’s Toy Shoppe, Hamden; Jesse’s Toys, Orange; Jordie’s Toy Shoppe, Guilford

Three stores, three towns, one company, one family. With so much shopping these days done online, it’s easy to forget the value of a knowledgeable, friendly, attentive staff — especially at a mom-and-pop (and-three-sons) outfit like this one. The toys are hand picked, unique, and the gift wrapping is free.

HOME & GARDEN

Antiques (Multidealer): The PAST Antiques Marketplace, Montville, 860-437-3615

With more than 90 vendors and 14,000 square feet of antiques, collectibles and crafts, you never know what you might find in this showcase at the growing Nature’s Art Village complex in southeastern Connecticut. Items change frequently, but you’re sure to always find a great selection of furniture, vintage wares, jewelry, framed art, coins and more.

• Antiques (Solo): Nathan Liverant and Son AntiquesColchester, 860-537-2409

Start with the historic location: a former Baptist meetinghouse along Colchester’s main drag. Fill that with beautiful 18th- and early-19th-century American furniture, paintings, silver, glass and more. Mix in owner Arthur Liverant, a third-generation antiques dealer, and you have a collector’s paradise.

• Affordable Antiques: Tillie’s AntiquesWoodbury, 203-263-2115

With affordable and quality items, there’s something for everyone at this diverse and unique shop on Route 6. Knowledgeable and friendly owners offer an eclectic selection of furniture, glassware (featuring Waterford), porcelain, china and a large selection of jewelry, including gold, sterling, Mexican pieces and costume. A great source for decorators and designers, Tillie’s also has Asian items and a wide array of lamps and artwork. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind vintage item that won’t break the bank, this is the place.

• Consignment Furniture: Middlebury Consignment203-528-0130

Expansion is a sure sign a business is doing something right. That’s certainly the case with Middlebury Consignment, which now has three locations in town — the main shop on Whittemore Road and the Annex (32,000 square feet of furniture showroom space) and the Outlet (with a massive array of gift items), both on Southford Road. Middlebury Consignment is the ideal place to buy and sell antique and contemporary furniture and home decor.

• Exotic Plants: Logee’sDanielson, 888-330-8038

Started in 1892 as a cut-flower business, Logee’s has grown into a purveyor of rare and unusual specimens over the last 124 years. Five greenhouses explode with wild tropical plants and rare finds. More than 1,500 plant varieties are available, including begonias, orchids, fruit trees and hibiscus.

• Flea Market: Elephant’s TrunkNew Milford, 860-355-1448

It’s a New England experience that generally attracts more than 500 vendors and is regularly featured on HGTV’s Flea Market Flip. Plus, hungry treasure hunters can choose from an ever-changing mix of food trucks on site.

Florist: Wallingford Flower Shoppe, Wallingford, 203-265-1514

Despite being a Wallingford institution since 1950 — owned by the same family in the same Center Street location — the bloom is definitely not off the rose. “Fresh” and “long lasting” describes not only the product, but the company as well.

Home Decor: Terrain, Westport, 203-226-2750

Terrain isn’t a store you visit when you’ve got a packed schedule — it’s somewhere you go when you’ve got time to discover everything you never knew you wanted for your home but suddenly can’t live without. Twinkle lights, earthy tones and decor incorporating plants and flowers abound in every direction, making it feel less like a store and more like a secret garden.

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Country Flower Farms

Nursery: Country Flower Farms, Middlefield, 860-349-3690

Situated on 20 acres of a working farm, numerous greenhouses provide the perfect growing environment for annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, trees and plants. Stocking everything from mulch to tropical plants, the selection is seemingly limitless. Special touches such as the koi pond and free snacks go a long way in letting customers know they are valued.

• Roses: Roses for AutismGuilford, 203-453-2186

This nonprofit is committed to offering meaningful employment to individuals with autism and career training and mentorship to transition age youth. The business operates out of the historic Pinchbeck greenhouses in Guilford and employs more than 100 people living with autism. Stop by or go online to order their beautiful cut roses, lilies and Gerbera daisies.

JEWELRY

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Quality Gem

Jewelry Designer: Quality Gem, Bethel, 203-748-4239

Look around in the cases of this family operation and you’ll scan over countless custom-designed pieces. If you have an idea for your own unique piece of bling, the craftsmen at Quality Gem, led by Dennis Janofsky, will get to work on making your dream become reality.

Jewelry Store: Becker’s Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, West Hartford, 860-521-3202

Diamonds and fine jewelry are right there in the name, but Becker’s offers so much more. This family-owned gem is your one-stop shop for engagement rings, wedding bands, estate jewelry and pre-owned watches. Becker’s also has a service and repair studio, custom-design department, GIA graduate gemologists, master goldsmiths, and top-notch customer service. 

RECREATION

Outdoor Sports Center

Outdoor Sports Center

• Action Sports: Outdoor Sports CenterWilton, 203-762-8797

Just walking into this family-owned superstore makes us want to climb a mountain, hike the Appalachian Trail and kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board our way across Long Island Sound.

• Bike Shop: The Devil’s Gear Bike ShopNew Haven, 203-773-9288

A small, friendly shop with an unsurpassed passion for bicycling makes for a great bike-related experience every time you walk through the door. Devil’s Gear is also deeply involved with the community, whether it be organizing events and classes or sponsoring special rides throughout the year.

• Running Gear: Woodbridge Running Co.Woodbridge and Brookfield, 203-387-8704, 203-775-1065

The right footwear is everything, especially when you’re a runner or doing some other strenuous exercise. As runners themselves, the staff at Woodbridge Running Co. works to find the ideal shoe for every customer. All the big brands are here (or can be ordered), as well as clothing and gear like watches, inserts and energy products.

Sporting Goods: Farr’s Sporting Goods, Manchester, 860-643-7111

This place has you covered for pretty much any activity in which you can break a sweat. Since 1955 Farr’s has provided the gear for camping, fishing, biking and hiking, in addition to traditional sports and backyard games. Winter is coming, but Farr’s can handle that, too, with ice skates, ski equipment, sleds and snow tubes.

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The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.