For 19 years, we at Connecticut Magazine have been compiling all the things we love and want to share about the state. And we simply never get tired of bringing you the best of what makes Connecticut such a special place, from burgers to beaches, pizza to performing arts and water parks to women’s wear.
This year we have new categories and lots of new winners. Several categories, in which the competition was particularly stiff, have multiple winners and runners-up.
As always, we invite you to share your thoughts and tell us about places we may have missed. Like you, we’re interested in exploring where we live and finding the best it has to offer. Enjoy!
Eddy’s Bake Shop, Ansonia
WHY IT’S THE BEST: From biscotti to butter cookies, anginettes to apple rugula, the cookies are out of this world. Also worth sampling are Eddy’s breads, rolls, stuffed breads, pastries, doughnuts, danish, cupcakes, cakes and pies. And if you’re really hungry, and have a competitive spirit, head down to Eddy’s on Mardi Gras for the annual paczki-eating contest, in which competitors scarf down as many of the Polish, jelly doughnut-like confections as possible in five minutes.
Hoodoo Brown BBQ, Ridgefield
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Since opening in May 2015, this barbecue joint has drawn long lines and generated lots of buzz. Its cut-with-a-spoon-tender brisket, beef ribs and more live up to the hype.
New England Brewing Co. (NEBCO), Woodbridge
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Fuzzy Baby Ducks, Coriolis, G-Bot — these hard-to-find NEBCO beers are among the most sought after in New England, and they, along with more readily available brews like Sea Hag, have put Connecticut beer on the map.
Eli Cannon’s, Middletown
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Cask Republic (New Haven, Stamford, Norwalk)
Beer Garden at Shippan Landing, Stamford
On Facebook, @TheBeerGardenSL on Instagram
(Photo by Nicole Samela.)
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Where to start? How about 15,000 square feet of dog-friendly outdoor space right on the water, games like cornhole, life-size Jenga and beer pong, a robust selection of beers from Connecticut and across the country, and food trucks offering Asian-style street food, lobster, wood-fired pizza and grilled cheese? It’s worth the trip on fair-weather days Wednesday through Friday until it closes around mid-September.
Hartford Baking Co., West Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With pronounceable ingredients like unbleached wheat flour, water, sugar, butter, milk, sea salt and yeast, Hartford Baking stays true to its “made from scratch” mantra. Baked on site, European-style breads include French country, artisan ciabatta, country sourdough, brioche, sesame semolina and honey wheat. Offering a range of shapes and sizes, Hartford Baking has table and pan loaves, sandwich and dinner rolls, and sliders.
O’Rourke’s Diner, Middletown
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This classic diner offers one-of-a-kind breakfasts and lunches made with passion, care and high-quality ingredients. Try the “Brian’s Breakfast.” Named for chef and owner Brian O’Rourke, this rotating, two-course feast features whatever O’Rourke is inspired to make that day.
BREWERY TO VISIT
Stony Creek Brewery, Branford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Stony Creek packs a double IPA’s worth of wow factor with two expansive decks overlooking the Branford River, a state-of-the-art brewing facility and an intriguing lineup of beers that range from approachable to extreme.
B Restaurants, six locations
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The burgers served at B Restaurants’ six Connecticut locations (Fairfield, Glastonbury, Milford, Simsbury, Stamford and West Hartford, in addition to three out-of-state spots) are fresh ground in house twice daily, hand formed, source verified and never frozen. Equally as important: they taste great.
BURGER (ROADSIDE STAND)
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Full of juicy goodness and topped with a creative smorgasbord of ingredients, these Big (with a capital B) burgers are all made with locally sourced beef. Once tasted, they leave you with a craving you can’t quite kick.
JCakes, North Branford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Start with the frosting. Using European-style butter and no shortening or confectioner’s sugar, JCakes has mastered French buttercream, in all its smooth, rich and not-too-sweet goodness. With a focus on cake products, this specialty shop makes fantastic visions into realities. Popular cakes are tropical passion and chocolate mousse, along with the wedding reception-pleasing golden layer cake.
Marcia Selden, Stamford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: From low-key to lavish, this catering and event-planning service has been delivering dreams for decades. With an American fusion menu, every course, from hors d’oeuvres to appetizers, entrées to desserts, is handled with flair, imagination and beauty.
Connecticut’s chocolate trail (like its wine trail) includes many decadent stops that serve up a variety of sweet treats. Here are some of our favorite chocolate companies. All are perfect ways to indulge your taste buds.
Bridgewater Chocolate, Brookfield, West Hartford
203-775-2286, 860-570-0707, bridgewaterchocolate.com
Plum Brook Chocolate, Woodbury
Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, Goshen
Fascia’s Chocolates, Waterbury
Munson’s Chocolates, Bolton (and eight retail locations)
Truffle Shots, Essex
S&P Oyster Co., Mystic
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Chowda with a “skosh” of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry or Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky bourbon? Yes, please. But it’s not just the booze that makes it stand out. It’s the generous portion of tender clam and cooked-just-right potato chunks, served with oyster crackers and garnished with sliced scallions.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: At this coffeeshop in Bridgeport’s Black Rock section, owners Courtney and Matthew Hartl turn a coffee-making obsession into an art form. High-quality coffee roasts shine with flavor and complexity in the pour-overs and other manual brews.
Koffee?, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With a lengthy drink list including wine, beer and cocktails after hours, mismatched armchairs, Wi-Fi and a relaxed vibe, this is the perfect coffee shop to spend all day working or meeting up with friends.
NoRA Cupcake, Middletown
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This funky cupcake bakery focuses on artistic creations with non-traditional recipes and boasts more than 200 flavors, at least a dozen of which are available on a daily basis. We’ve loved all the flavors we’ve tried.
Little River Restoratives, Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This throwback bar is all about its cocktails, which are prepared with skill, attention to detail and love by immensely knowledgeable bartenders truly worthy of the overused and abused title “mixologists.”
Rein’s Deli, Vernon
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Hebrew National corned beef and pastrami, house-made salads and real Switzerland Swiss cheese are just some of the wonderful products featured at this old-school New York-style deli.
Sometimes there is no better way to start the day than with a soft and sweet doughnut. We say go for a local shop like the ones below. And don’t forget the doughnut’s perfect companion, a piping hot cup o’ joe.
Neil’s Donuts and Bake Shop, Wallingford
Brooklyn Baking Company, Waterbury
Donut Crazy, Stratford, Shelton, Bridgeport
203-386-1999, 203-538-5560, 203-923-8686, donutcrazyct.com
Dottie’s Diner, Woodbury, Waterbury
203-263-2516, 475-235-2482, dottiesdiner.com
Orangeside Donuts, New Haven
Whitney Donut and Sandwich Shop, Hamden
203-248-9095, On Facebook
FOOD TRUCK (SAVORY)
The Meat Truck, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This mobile shrine to red meat serves up delicacies like the pulled pork El Cubano and the Legend Burger, a half-pound monster that still makes our mouths water. We found ourselves craving food from here long after we tried it.
FOOD TRUCK (SWEET)
Tipsy Cones, Stratford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This Stratford-based truck serves up homemade ice cream made with and inspired by some favorite alcoholic beverages, making it the perfect adult treat. But don’t worry, the alcohol burns off in the cooking process, so it’s perfect for underage sweet addicts, too.
Greer’s Chicken, Bristol
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Yes, it’s off the beaten path and there’s barely room to stand inside the small building, but fanatics of the frialator will love it. While not a traditional, sit-down restaurant, if you’re craving chicken for takeout or catering, this fine, not-too-greasy fowl will not disappoint. And as of March, the same great recipe can also be enjoyed at the new Greer’s and Beers in Southington, along with seating and a more expansive menu.
Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Whether you enjoy this buttery grilled cheese in the restaurant or from the food truck, you’re guaranteed something delicious. Six cheese varieties are melted between two crusty slices of bread and kicked up with a wide variety of ingredients from red onions to pulled pork.
Johnny Salami’s, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: CJ’s Pizza & Giant Grinders, Manchester
Why pick just one? Try them all! From the two-foot Doogie’s dog to the custom-made relish at Al’s, from the “snap!” of the natural-casing Rawley’s frank to the regional varieties of Super Duper Weenie, our state is home to some fantastic frankfurters.
Al’s Hot Dogs, Naugatuck
203-729-6229, On Facebook
Bridge Street Wienery, Stamford
203-569-4990, On Facebook
Glenwood Drive-In, Hamden
Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield
From farm-stand creameries to ice cream parlors with enough different flavors to make Willy Wonka jealous, Connecticut is blessed with some truly great ice cream. In fact, there are so many excellent places, this is one of the categories in which we couldn’t choose just one winner.
Il Bacio, Danbury
Ferris Acres, Newtown
Rich Farm, Oxford
Arethusa Farm, Bantam, New Haven
860-361-6600, 203-390-5114, arethusafarm.com
UConn Dairy Bar, Storrs
Sweet Claude’s, Cheshire
Inishmor Pub, Colchester
WHY IT’S THE BEST: No phone number or take-out? No worries. When it opened in late 2014, the owner decided to forgo a phone due to its small kitchen, deciding to focus on preparing pub fare for its dine-in folks. Some of the highlights are corned beef and cabbage, iron-skillet shepherd’s pie, Reuben sandwich and oven-baked and fried wings. And it wouldn’t be a pub without the suds, with dozens and dozens of the craft and draft varieties.
Lobster Landing, Clinton
860-669-2005, On Facebook
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Willimantic Brewing Co.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: It’s fair to say the First Class Corn Tortilla Nachos at Willibrew — which has a wonderful beer selection, of course — are simply loaded. They’re layered with heaping portions of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, diced tomatoes, scallions and jalapeños. House-made picante salsa comes on the side. For a few more bucks, add grilled or blackened chicken, veggie chili or pulled pork. Don’t try to tackle this beast alone.
Kawa Ni, Westport
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Mecha Noodle Bar (Fairfield, Norwalk)
203-255-0800, barcelonawinebar.com/ location/fairfield
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With seating for 85, the outdoor patio is an ideal spot to hang out with friends and family and enjoy delicious tapas and tempting sangria, margaritas and mojitos. Attached to the 1940s Hotel Hi-Ho off the Merritt Parkway, Barcelona is open into the wee hours of the morning, when the patio becomes a nighttime hot spot.
OUTDOOR DINING (FORMAL)
Apricots Restaurant & Pub, Farmington
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Located in an old trolley barn, Apricots includes a casual pub on the first level and two more formal dining areas upstairs, but the real reason to dine here is the spacious patio that overlooks the Farmington River. The spectacular view enhances any dining experience.
OUTDOOR DINING (CASUAL)
The Place Restaurant, Guilford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Bishop’s Orchards, Guilford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Baked fresh on the premises, Bishop’s Orchards’ pies can be a sweet ending to any family meal. The orchard has been growing apples and making pies for more than 140 years. They are available for sale fresh or frozen at the farm store in Guilford. Warm a pie up and enjoy a piece of American tradition.
RUNNER-UP: Lyman Orchards, Middlefield
We admit it: we went overboard. But how could we possibly choose between the legendary New Haven spots? The hot oil of Colony? The top-notch ingredients of Bufalina? The amazing Middletown pair of Krust and Mondo? The best part? There is no wrong choice.
New Haven, Fairfield, Manchester, Danbury, West Hartford, Mohegan Sun (Uncasville), Waterbury (scheduled to open in spring 2017) pepespizzeria.com
Modern Apizza, New Haven
Sally’s Apizza, New Haven
BAR, New Haven
Da Legna, New Haven
Colony Grill, Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Milford
Krust Pizza Bar, Middletown
Brick + Wood, Fairfield
Fire Engine Pizza Company, Bridgeport
203-735-0494, On Facebook.com
Oyster Club, Mystic
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Shell and Bones, New Haven
Rooftop 120, Glastonbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This four-season deck is the largest in New England and offers impressive panoramic views of Glastonbury. Grab a drink from the large two-sided bar and lounge on a patio sofa all night long.
The Soup Girl, Hamden
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The brainchild of one woman (the soup girl, obviously), this small shop serves up a wide array of soups, from homey chicken noodle to spicy gumbo. Three fresh soups rotate every day and others are available cold in the cooler. Check The Soup Girl’s Facebook page to see what’s cooking each day.
Bartaco, Westport, West Hartford, Stamford
203-222-8226, 860-586-8226, 203-323-8226, bartaco.com
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The best thing about Bartaco is that you can mix and match tacos to get your perfect bite. Unlike other restaurants that typically give you three of the same kind of taco in an order, Bartaco lets you select as many different varieties as you like. Standouts are the Mahi Mahi and duck tacos.
G-Zen Restaurant, Branford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Ballou’s Restaurant & Wine Bar, Guilford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Wine flights, anyone? The typical beer-bar model has been translated to vino at this cozy bistro in Guilford. Select from the restaurant’s arranged flights or make your own off the lengthy wine list. Individual glasses and bottles are available, as well.
Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar, Ridgefield
WHY IT’S THE BEST: These sister restaurants (Sarah’s Wine Bar is located upstairs at Bernard’s) have 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.
The Wine Thief, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
WINERY TO VISIT
Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The view from this vineyard overlooks Lake Waramaug and is best described in a word: wow. Visitors can soak up these sights while sipping a variety of quality wines, then enjoy dinner at the Hopkins Inn across the street from the vineyard.
J. Timothy’s, Plainville
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The “dirt style” wings, which are sauced before and after being fried, are irresistible, with just the right amount of crunch and sticky sweetness.
RUNNER-UP: Dew Drop Inn, Derby
Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park, Portland
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
WHY IT’S THE BEST: A million people can’t be wrong, can they? That’s how many people venture to this two-mile stretch of sand a year. This is the most popular park in the state, and not just because of the spacious beach. There are also hundreds of campsites and the Meigs Point Nature Center, which is open year round.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Goshen Fair
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Coventry Farmers Market
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Submarine Force Museum, Groton
WHY IT’S THE BEST: It is the only submarine museum operated by the United States Navy, and maintains the world’s finest collection of submarine artifacts. Its centerpiece is the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine and one of the most celebrated and fascinating subs ever to “sail” the seas.
Seaside Shadows Haunted History Tours of Mystic and New London
WHY IT’S THE BEST: You may not see a spectral figure materialize before you. But you can count on the storytelling of Courtney McInvale Reardon to transport you back hundreds of years as you stroll through local streets and graveyards, all the while being regaled with stories of the giggling ghost of Mystic, the legend of the Mystic Pigman and Revolutionary ghosts. True believers and history buffs alike will get a kick out of this.
GOLF COURSE (MINI)
Safari Golf, Berlin
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
GOLF COURSE (PUBLIC)
Lake of Isles Golf Club and Resort, North Stonington
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Haunted Graveyard, Lake Compounce, Bristol
WHY IT’S THE BEST: On weekends every October, Lake Compounce goes from thrills to chills — and scares — with haunted houses, each with unique themes and frights, and a graveyard all linked by a labyrinth of scary trails, as well as more than a dozen attractions and rides still operating.
Connecticut is a beautiful state with many great places to hike. In the list below we’ve included our favorites. Some made the list because they provide short but scenic hikes that are relatively non-strenuous, while others were selected for their extreme trails leading to breathtaking views.
Bigelow Hollow State Park, Union
Bluff Point State Park, Groton
Devil’s Den Nature Preserve, Weston
East Rock, New Haven
Steep Rock, Washington Depot
Macedonia Brook State Park, Kent
Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury
Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden
Kent Falls State Park
White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield
Mount Tom State Park, Litchfield
Bear Mountain (Mount Riga State Park), Salisbury
Chelsea Piers Connecticut, Stamford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Lake Compounce, Bristol
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Quassy Amusement Park, Middlebury
BED AND BREAKFAST
Inn at Kent Falls, Kent
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Located right around the corner from Kent Falls State Park, this beautiful B&B offers all the New England charm you could ask for. It is situated in a historic home built in the 1740s and features six comfortable suites and rooms plus a pool and a meticulously designed garden.
Madison Beach Hotel, Madison
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This beautiful hotel offers the quiet seclusion perfect for a romantic getaway, complete with a fine-dining restaurant and amenities situated right along Long Island Sound. It’s a five-minute drive from downtown Madison, making it easy to get out and explore with your loved one.
The Study at Yale, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This chic “lifestyle” hotel in the heart of Yale University’s art campus offers stylish accommodations, exceptional service, an inviting restaurant (Heirloom), a 24-hour café and a gallery with a rotating exhibit of works by Yale students.
Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Set along Niantic Bay, every room in the inn’s two buildings — the Main Inn and the newly opened Captain Clark House — features stunning water views. You won’t find better service around. Innkeepers Dave and Sue Labrie pride themselves on building personal relationships with all guests and ensuring a first-class stay.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Oddfellows Playhouse, Middletown
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The state’s largest youth theater, the nonprofit Oddfellows has been working with children for nearly 40 years, teaching all aspects and skill levels of the performing arts, including singing, dancing, acting and storytelling.
THEATER FOR ORIGINAL SHOWS
Hartford Stage, Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: A perennial favorite of Connecticut theatergoers, this past season the Hartford Stage produced two Broadway-bound productions: Anastasia (the bestselling show in the theater’s 53-year history now scheduled to debut at the Broadhurst Theater in April) and Rear Window (which starred Kevin Bacon).
THEATER FOR TOURING SHOWS
The Bushnell, Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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 Swan Lake, performed by the Russian Grand Ballet (Sept. 21), Joan Baez (Oct. 6), Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It, starring William Shatner (Oct. 15), famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (Oct. 17) and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Oct. 25-30).
Ivoryton Playhouse, Essex
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The Ivoryton Playhouse was the first self-supporting summer theater series in the nation when it opened with its first show in 1930 and it continues to be committed to excellent theater to this day. Don’t miss Man of La Mancha from Sept. 7 to Oct. 2 and Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story, which runs from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13 and closes the 2016 season.
PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (LARGE)
The Oakdale, Wallingford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With good views, including from the sides and the balcony, and sweet acoustics, both the main auditorium and The Dome offer a fun, intimate experience. Shows on the horizon include Gary Clark Jr. (Sept. 7), Styx (Sept. 25), Brian Wilson (Sept. 27), Switchfoot and Relient K (Oct. 14) and Elvis Costello and the Imposters (Nov. 5). Also in November, a two-week engagement of Wicked will take the grand stage.
PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (SMALL)
WHY IT’S THE BEST: A lot of places like to say they don’t have a bad seat in the house. At the 225-seat StageOne, it’s the gosh-darn truth. Run by the Fairfield Theatre Company, there are few venues in the state where you can get closer to the performers. Newer and even more versatile is The Warehouse, which can fit 640 and is adjacent to StageOne.
PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (COLLEGE)
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, UConn at Storrs
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This public performing arts venue located on the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs compiles a dynamic and diverse schedule of acts each year. It’s worth the drive to see the youthful country duo Maddie & Tae on Oct. 1, The Mythbusters on Nov. 4 and the Boston Pops Holiday Concert on Dec. 3.
CULTURAL ATTRACTION (ART)
New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This museum has been dedicated to showcasing the wide range of spectacular American art for more than 100 years. Wander the galleries by yourself, take a tour, join an educational class or stop by for one of the museum’s many events throughout the year. Don’t miss the upcoming exhibition, As We See It: The Collection of Gail and Ernst von Metzch, which opens on Oct. 21.
CULTURAL ATTRACTION (HISTORY)
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The Peabody, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in October, is one of the world’s great natural history museums. Its famous paleontology collections include the mounted skeleton of a Brontosaurus. In October the museum will open a cutting-edge gem and mineral hall highlighting its collections of more than 40,000 mineral specimens and more than 400 meteorites.
CULTURAL ATTRACTION (WITH KIDS)
Connecticut Science Center, Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: First of all, with its glass exterior and magic carpet roof, it’s a futuristic marvel that simply looks cool. But once you’re inside, the magic doesn’t fade, with 150 hands-on exhibits in 10 galleries, a state-of-the-art digital 3D theater and four educational labs. Here you can see Leonardo da Vinci’s machines in motion, explore deep space, encounter dinosaurs and get blown away in the hurricane chamber.
Firehouse 12, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: There’s no better place to enjoy live jazz than at the intimate performance space of Firehouse 12. The room, which seats only 75 people, doubles as a recording studio, meaning that what you hear is aurally perfect. The annual fall jazz series begins Sept. 16. Before or after the show, grab a drink at the full-service bar downstairs.
The Acoustic Café, Bridgeport
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
PLACE TO HEAR LOCAL BANDS
Café Nine, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Bobby’s Burger Palace, Mohegan Sun
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The brainchild of celebrity chef Bobby Flay, this diner-style restaurant features burgers and shakes so good you’ll feel like a winner here no matter how you fared at the card table.
Vue 24, Foxwoods
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
ENTERTAINMENT VENUE (LARGE)
Foxwoods Grand Theatre, Foxwoods
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The schedule of talent booked at Foxwoods Grand Theatre is top notch and runs the gamut from popular comedians to Grammy Award-winning musicians. There’s no better place to take in an A-list show. Book your tickets for The B-52s on Sept. 4, Anthony Bourdain on Oct. 8 and Bob Newhart on Nov. 4.
ENTERTAINMENT VENUE (SMALL)
Wolf Den, Mohegan Sun
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: It features a 21,000-square-foot, Asian-inspired club and lounge, outdoor lounges, open-air dining terraces and has hosted celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Puff Daddy.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Spa at Winvian Farm, Morris
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Tucked among the rolling hills of northwest Connecticut, Winvian Farm is the perfect place to escape for a day of rest and rejuvenation. The spa, which offers 5,000 square feet of luxurious indulgence, offers many treatments and therapies, including massages, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy and skincare services.
Versailles Medical Spa, Darien
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Versailles Medical Spa specializes in all types of non-surgical cosmetic enhancements including wrinkle reduction, skin rejuvenation, fat reduction, laser hair removal, permanent makeup and much more. All procedures are done under the supervision of a board-certified medical director.
Water’s Edge Resort & Spa, Westbrook
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The Water’s Edge Resort & Spa is located quite literally on the edge of the Long Island Sound in picturesque Westbrook. Start your day with a rejuvenating spa treatment like a massage, body wrap or facial, and then book a room and spend the night in luxury. You can walk right out onto the sand and relax in the sun.
Blue Back Square, West Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Nestled in trendy West Hartford Center, everything feels high end and well manicured. From shopping choices like Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble and REI, to dining destinations like The Cheesecake Factory, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and World of Beer, chances are BBS has what you’re looking for. In the warmer months, local musicians can be heard performing in the open areas.
HOME & GARDEN
Stratford Antique Center
WHY IT’S THE BEST: It’s the big blue building off Interstate 95. You can’t miss it! With 16,500 square feet of antiques and collectibles in all price ranges from more than 200 dealers, you can spend hours browsing through the aisles. A favorite of dealers, with an accommodating staff, it features vintage furniture, glassware, china, pottery, jewelry and artwork, along with a large selection of mid-century modern items.
Nathan Liverant and Son Antiques, Colchester
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Tillie’s Antiques, Woodbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
The Elephant’s Trunk, New Milford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Fleurescent Flower Shop, Milford
203-283-7880, On Facebook
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With a small shop in downtown Milford, you can put this one in the “hidden gem” category. But in terms of selection, quality of arrangement, customer service and value, Fleurescent is in a class by itself. If you’re looking for a gorgeous, one-in-a-million wedding bouquet, be sure to check out this place.
The Shops at Saybrook Country Barn, Old Saybrook
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This business has grown from a home furnishings store to now include furniture showrooms, a women’s boutique and a Martha Stewart furniture gallery. And don’t forget the curtains, rugs, hardware and lighting, candles and potpourri, silk florals and everything else to make your house a home.
Van Wilgen’s Garden Center, Branford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The fifth generation of the Van Wilgen family is starting to get its hands dirty at this 56-acre nursery in Branford. This is the place to purchase annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, house plants and more. In 2010, the family opened the Guilford and Old Saybrook Garden Mart, followed by the Milford Garden Mart in 2011, to bring their plants to more gardeners.
Roses for Autism, Guilford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
ARTS & CRAFTS
Hull’s Art Supply & Framing, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This New Haven art supply store has been providing artists with the “tools for the imagination” for nearly 70 years. Those tools include paint, pencils, brushes, crafts and so much more. They offer items unavailable at big-box art stores, including a collection of architectural model-building supplies and museum boards.
Banksville Designer Fabrics, Norwalk
WHY IT’S THE BEST: If you’re in the market for more than just any old fabric, this New Canaan Avenue shop likely has something for you. Offerings from top designers like Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan at deep discounts? Check. Fine natural fibers for clothing and home-decorating fabrics? Check. High-end textiles including silks, linens and brocades priced well below retail. Yup, Banksville has those, too.
Scene Art Bar, Unionville
WHY IT’S THE BEST: The paint bar trend has swept the nation as a fun activity for families, friends, corporate outings and girls’ nights. This art bar is run by two locals and situated in a historic ball-bearing mill. Step-by-step instruction guides any level of painter to a beautiful piece of art. Enjoy wine, beer or non-alcoholic beverages and snacks while you explore your creativity.
Tiny Threads, North Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: After a 35-year career in the legal field, Linda Fiore pursued her passion for children’s clothing by opening this shop in 2000. Whether you need a christening gown designed from grandma’s wedding dress, a crocheted sweater or a flower girl outfit to coordinate with the wedding party, Fiore can create it. Of course, you can find fine lines of kids clothing. But it’s the personalized care that sets Tiny Threads apart.
Consigned Designs/Ella Encore Couture, Greenwich
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Consigned Designs — and its even more luxurious sister shop next door, Elle Encore Couture — are a dual paradise for those who want the best labels at the best prices. Brands like Prada, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Kate Spade are represented.
V. Ferrucci, Ltd., New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Vincent P. Ferrucci, an immigrant from Italy, opened V. Ferrucci, Ltd., in 1967. Vincent F. Ferrucci, his son, joined him in 1989. Today the clothing shop specializes in custom clothing — “the best way to create a natural expression into each piece of clothing for a better fit” — and also provides ready-to-wear clothing and furnishings.
Darien Sport Shop
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This place, spread across three floors with popular brands for men, women and children, goes way beyond sports equipment. If you’re looking for trend-setting accessories and fashion staples, including belts, handbags, hats, jewelry, scarves, socks, sunglasses and wallets, this shop has you covered.
Stackpole Moore Tryon Tuesday’s, Hartford
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Jewelry Designs, Danbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: There’s no shortage of jewelry stores in Connecticut, but this jeweler sets itself apart by designing and crafting most of the items in store, piece by piece. Rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and so much more can be found at this shop, along with expert services.
Quality Gem, Bethel
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Quality and care come first at this family operation. Customers choose from a wide selection of jewelry items, and the friendly staff, led by owner Dennis Janosky, always help customers find exactly what they’re looking for at prices that often can’t be beat.
R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison
WHY IT’S THE BEST: This shoreline institution is for book lovers, by book lovers. Its quaint, welcoming space is filled with a diverse inventory. The staff is dedicated to finding you the perfect read, and there’s a cute café to enjoy, plus more than 350 author events annually.
The Book Barn, Niantic
WHY IT’S THE BEST: There’s nothing quite like The Book Barn. There are books covering every wall and piled to the ceiling in outbuildings all around the properties. They buy books every day, so return again and again for rare gems.
The Bowerbird, Old Lyme
WHY IT’S THE BEST: With 4,500 square feet of “impulsive necessities,” this is the perfect place to find a gift for anyone in your life. More than 2,000 vendors provide everything from home décor to stationery and jewelry to collectibles.
HEALTH FOOD STORE
New Morning Market, Woodbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Necker’s Toyland, Simsbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: Whether you’re looking for an educational toy for your little genius or just one for some silly fun, you can find it at this Simsbury institution. From dolls to wheeled toys, arts and crafts to musical instruments, and everything in between, Necker’s carries an impressive line for infants all the way up to teens.
Outdoor Sports Center, Wilton
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, New Haven
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
RUNNER-UP: Danielson Adventure Sports, Danielson
Woodbridge Running Co., Woodbridge, Brookfield
WHY IT’S THE BEST: 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.
Rankin Sporting Goods, Danbury
WHY IT’S THE BEST: In a world increasingly dominated by big-box stores and one-click internet shopping, it’s refreshing to stop in at this family-owned and -operated business that is big enough to have what you’re looking for, but small enough that there is someone to help you find it.