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Best of Connecticut 2020: Fun & Leisure

  • 17 min to read

It's back and better than ever! To create this year’s “Best of Connecticut”® list we debuted a new, souped-up reader survey, and we were blown away by your response! Here now are the winners — and the finalists from which they were chosen — in over 125 categories of food, fun and shopping. It’s our biggest list ever of the best the state has to offer — and we couldn’t have done it without YOU!

Also see the winners and finalists for the Best of Connecticut 2020 in Food & Drink and Shopping, and check out our writers' picks for "More Stuff We Love"

Finalists were nominated by readers and selected by Connecticut Magazine staff (* designates staff picks). The winners were selected from the finalists by our readers. More about the process here.

ADVENTURE PARK

Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park, Portland

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Best Adventure Park: Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park in Portland

It’s a popular day-camp destination, and thousands of kids (and adults) have spent the day at Brownstone, open daily through Sept. 7. Between 14 zip lines, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, water inflatables and more, Brownstone is all about adventure. A day here is a great way for families to spend time together, and your kids won’t even miss being off their devices. 866-860-0208, brownstonepark.com

Adventure Park finalists: Adventure Park at Storrs • The Adventure Park at the Discovery Museum, Bridgeport • Fields of Fire Adventure Park, Mystic* 

FARMERS MARKET

Coventry Farmers Market, Coventry

Farmers markets are all about getting up close with farm-fresh fruits, veggies, herbs and foods and the producers who bring them to market. But during the pandemic, markets have been forced to adapt. A fan favorite for more than 16 years, the Coventry Farmers Market is open Sundays for pickup (online ordering only) through October. Vendors include a half-dozen farms, Granny’s Pie Factory, Quiet Corner Fudge, Soleil & Suns Bakery and Stonewall Apiary. 860-742-4062, coventryfarmersmarket.org

Farmers Market finalists: Chester Sunday Market • CitySeed farmers markets, New Haven • Collinsville Farmers Market • Ellington Farmers Market • Woodmont Farmers Market at Robert Treat Farm, Milford 

ESCAPE ROOM

Escape New Haven, New Haven

In escape rooms, families and friends work together to solve clues to be able to escape a room within an hour. Escape New Haven offers four puzzletastic rooms set up as an ancient crypt, a game show, a mysterious cabin with a werewolf, and an art gallery full of puzzles to decipher. The games are all designed and built in-house. For now, all games are private and daytime individual games are open weekdays. 860-576-9997, escapenewhaven.com

Escape Room finalists: Lara’s Labyrinth, Wethersfield and East Haven • Mystified Escape Rooms, Mystic • Trap’t Escape Room Adventures, Stamford • Wigwam Escape at The Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington* 

HIKING SPOT

Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden

This 1,400-acre park with more than 30 miles of hiking trails is so popular it was regularly packed to capacity during the state’s coronavirus shutdown this spring. Occupying a stretch of mountain ridge that from a distance looks like a giant in repose, Sleeping Giant became a state park in 1924. The most popular hike is the Tower Trail, a 1½-mile walk up switchbacks and hills to the crest of Mount Carmel (aka the giant’s left hip) where a stone tower provides panoramic views of the area. 

Hiking Spot finalists: Air Line State Park Trail, East Hampton • Bushy Hill Nature Center, Ivoryton • Collis P. Huntington State Park, Redding, Newtown and Bethel • Devil’s Hopyard State Park, East Haddam • Kent Falls State Park, Kent* • Steep Rock Preserve, Washington* • Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury* 

SKIING

Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort, Middlefield

With skiing as well as boarding and tubing on over 200 acres with more than a dozen trails, five lifts and four terrain parks, Powder Ridge is a winter sports specialist. The renowned training center has long been teaching students how to ski, and freestyle and racing programs are popular here. Annual events like the Slopestyle competition and the Slush Cup are not to be missed. 866-860-0208, powderridgepark.com

Skiing finalists: Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Cornwall • Mount Southington • Ski Sundown, New Hartford 

PLACE TO WATCH A GAME IN PERSON

Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford

This was the summer of no minor league baseball, and Connecticut fans are among the most deprived. With the Hartford skyline looming over the right-field wall and the still-new amenities providing fans with a major league-quality experience, Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a gem in our capital city. Making the best of a bad situation, the Yard Goats offered Dinner on the Diamond on summer weekend nights with tables set up across the infield. 860-240-5591, milb.com/hartford/ballpark/ddp-navigation

Place to Watch a Game in Person finalists: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs (UConn basketball)* • Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville • Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport (Bridgeport Sound Tigers hockey) • XL Center, Hartford (UConn basketball, Hartford Wolf Pack hockey) • Yale Bowl, New Haven (Yale football) 

GOLF COURSE (PUBLIC)

Grassy Hill Country Club, Orange

Playing 6,208 yards from the tips, Grassy Hill rivals any private golf club with regard to course conditions, services, professionalism and the quality of golf one can expect. The course offers gently rolling hills and meticulously manicured fast greens with an open feel off the tee. Attesting to its quality, Grassy Hill has hosted numerous qualifiers for state tournaments. 203-795-1422, grassyhillcountryclub.com

Golf Course (public) finalists: Fenwick Golf Course, Old Saybrook • Fox Hopyard, East Haddam • Lake of Isles Golf Club and Resort, North Stonington* • Simsbury Farms Golf Course, Simsbury 

GOLF COURSE (MINI)

Mini-Golf at Saybrook Point, Old Saybrook

Town owned and located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, this putter’s paradise is well maintained, with imaginatively decorated holes. Seasonally open May through mid-October, those who “putt a round by the Sound” will be challenged and entertained. It’s great fun for families; a bonus is enjoying sunsets on the water if you play that time of day. 860-388-2407, oldsaybrookrec.com/info/facilities

Golf Course (mini) finalists: Blue Fox Rock n’ Bowl, Simsbury • Matterhorn Mini Golf, Canton • Safari Golf, Berlin • Sonny’s Place, Somers 

WEDDING VENUE

Saint Clements Castle, Portland

Overlooking a mile-long stretch of the Connecticut River, Saint Clements Castle is quite the picturesque wedding venue. With two dazzling ballrooms (holding up to 210 and 260 guests), the castle oozes charm and history with no shortage of breathtaking natural backdrops for photos. The staff is meticulous and brides are made to feel like royalty here. 860-342-0593, saintclementscastle.com

Wedding Venue finalists: Amarante’s Sea Cliff, New Haven • Anthony’s Ocean View, New Haven • Aria, Prospect • Cascade Fine Catering, Hamden • Lounsbury House, Ridgefield • Saybrook Point Resort & Marina, Old Saybrook • Tarrywile Park & Mansion, Danbury*

AX-THROWING VENUE 

Blue Ox Axe Throwing, Wallingford

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Best Ax-throwing Venue: Blue Ox Axe Throwing in Wallingford

Regardless of the season, Blue Ox Axe Throwing in Wallingford will have you wanting to put on your boots and a red flannel. We can thank owners Jerry Ferraro and Graham Kelley for bringing this Midwestern activity to the Northeast after they discovered it in Minneapolis in 2018. The duo say they knew it would be the perfect New England activity. Ax throwing is a great way to burn some calories and get your competitive juices flowing. 203-626-9425, blueoxaxethrowing.com 

Ax-Throwing Venue finalists: Montana Nights Axe Throwing, Newington • Odin’s Keep Axe House, Enfield • Pine & Iron Axe Throwing, Hartford* 

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Best Beach & Best Campground: Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison

BEST BEACH & BEST CAMPGROUND

Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison

As the state’s largest beachfront park with more than 2 miles of shoreline, Hammonasset is more than a beach. People can swim in the relatively calm waters off the Sound as well as walk the boardwalk or the great trails. You can also relax and watch the ospreys nesting, as the Audubon dubbed it an important bird area. Camping is another favorite activity, with more than 500 campsites available. 860-424-3200

Beach finalists: Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford • Ocean Beach Park, New London • Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme • Silver Sands State Park, Milford • Walnut Beach, Milford • West Haven beaches 

Campground finalists: Camp Harkness at Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford • Cozy Hills Campground, Bantam • Odetah Camping Resort, Bozrah 

SPORTS COMPLEX

Sports Center of Connecticut, Shelton

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Best Sports Complex: Sports Center of Connecticut in Shelton

Perfect for birthday parties, company outings or a first date, the Sports Center has a double-decker, heated and weather-protected driving range, mini-golf course, bowling, arcade, batting cages and target paintball. And in addition to being the site for numerous hockey games for all ages, The Rinks at Shelton provide year-round ice skating activities and programs. 203-929-6500, sportscenterct.com

Sports Complex finalists: CFC Park, Bethany* • Chelsea Piers Connecticut, Stamford* • Connecticut Sports Center, Woodbridge • NYA Sports & Fitness Center, Newtown* 

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Best Food Festival & Best Music Festival: Milford Oyster Festival

BEST FOOD FESTIVAL & BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL

Milford Oyster Festival

Often called simply “Oysterfest,” this annual celebration has been heating up the Milford Green each August since 1975. Drawing more than 50,000 attendees each year, you can expect kids’ crafts and activities, several live-music stages, amusement rides, and tons of local food — plus all the oyster shucking you can handle. Organizers had to cancel this year’s event due to the pandemic but are looking to get back in action in 2021. milfordoysterfestival.com

Food Festival finalists: Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival, Bethlehem* • Milford Food Truck Festival • Southington Apple Harvest Festival* • Sun BBQ Fest, Mohegan Sun* • Taste of Fairfield* 

Music Festival finalists: Goshen Stampede* • Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz* • International Festival of Arts & Ideas, New Haven* • Litchfield Jazz Festival* • Norfolk Chamber Music Festival* • Rose Arts Festival, Norwich* • Sailfest, New London* • Stafford Springs Blues Fest* 

Craft Beer Festival finalists: Brewers Ball, Derby • Connecticut Brewers’ Guild CT Craft Beer Fest, Wallingford • Smoke in the Valley, Derby • Thread City Hop Fest, Willimantic 

COUNTRY FAIR

Durham Fair

Although COVID-19 prompted the cancelations of country fairs in 2020, the Durham Fair is planning a triumphant return in fall 2021. Begun in 1916, it has long been a favorite and is one of the country’s largest volunteer-run country fairs. It embodies the spirit of the best agricultural fairs with rides and a midway, animals, ox and horse pulls, competitions, food (oh, the food), arts and crafts, shopping and more. 860-349-9495, durhamfair.com Country Fair finalists: Bridgewater Country Fair • Guilford Fair • Haddam Neck Fair • Hebron Harvest Fair • Woodstock Fair

CULTURAL INSTITUTION: ART

The Wadsworth Museum of Art, Hartford

The oldest continuously operating public art museum in America, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is home to nearly 50,000 works. Hudson River School? Check. Salvador Dalí? Got it. The museum is also dedicated to contemporary art; its Matrix Gallery was among the first of its kind in the country, providing many well-known artists like Carrie Mae Weems and Richard Tuttle their first solo museum shows. 860-278-2670, thewadsworth.org

Cultural Attraction: Art finalists: The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield • Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme • New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain • Yale Center for British Art, New Haven • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven 

CULTURAL ATTRACTION: HISTORY

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic

When Mystic Seaport temporarily closed during the state’s shutdown in March, rumors began swirling online that the closure was permanent. The panic and outright grief felt by those who believed this was palpable. Fortunately, rumors of this Connecticut treasure’s demise were greatly exaggerated, and the museum reopened in the spring. Its beloved attractions include a 19th-century village complete with a blacksmith’s shop, and several tall ships including the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaleship. 860-572-0711, mysticseaport.org

Cultural Attraction: History finalists: Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam • Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington* • Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center, Ridgefield • Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford • Thames River Heritage Park, Groton and New London • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven 

CULTURAL ATTRACTION FOR KIDS

Mystic Aquarium, Mystic

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Best Cultural Attraction for Kids: Mystic Aquarium, Mystic

Mystic Aquarium is home to thousands of marine species spanning mammals, fish, invertebrates and reptiles. Families can view and encounter beluga whales and African penguins, catch a seal and sea lion feeding, and enjoy one of several touch experiences — from the smooth backs of stingrays to the hardened scales on snakes and lizards. There’s also a new augmented-reality exhibit, Wild Arctic, that immerses kids in a frozen adventure. 860-572-5955, mysticaquarium.org

Cultural Attraction For Kids finalists: Connecticut Science Center, Hartford • Pantochino Productions, Milford • Pez Visitor Center, Orange • Roaring Brook Nature Center, Canton • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven

SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER

eweather

This Higganum-based social media powerhouse is passionate about the weather and photography. It’s a passion shared by tens of thousands of followers in Connecticut and beyond, particularly on Facebook, where the likes and comments on the account’s daily posts and forecasts flow as heavy as the Connecticut River after a tropical deluge. Though the content creator prefers to remain anonymous, his photos and videos have been featured on The Weather Channel and Good Morning America, and across local media outlets. @eweather13 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Social Media Influencer finalists: Alexa Curtis “Life Unfiltered”* • Charli D’Amelio* • Connecticut Weather & News on Facebook • CTFoodGirly • Daymon Patterson “Daym Drops”* • Eva Amurri Martino “Happily Eva After”* • Kallie Branciforte “But First, Coffee”* • Kevin and Lill* • Local Moms Network (Layla Lisiewski, Megan Sullivan and Jessica Blouin)* • Marissa Meade “Style Cusp”* • Nonee Ngazimbi-Cunningham “Nonee’s World”* 

CONNECTICUT PODCAST

Where We Live

Lucy Nalpathanchil hosts Where We Live, a call-in talk show that addresses the topics of the day in Connecticut and the nation, four days a week at 9 a.m. on WNPR. Politicians, business owners and everyday people with a story to tell join Nalpathanchil as she deftly directs the conversation. It is, obviously, available in podcast form as a 49-minute serving of substance to keep you in the know. 860-275-7272, wnpr.org/programs/where-we-live

Connecticut Podcast finalists: Beer Man Beer* • Crappy Friends* • Grating the Nutmeg, The Podcast of Connecticut History* • The Mangina Dialogues* • NEXT (Connecticut Public Radio)* • Pantochino Podcasts* • A Zero’s Journey*

BEST PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (SMALL)&BEST THEATER FOR ORIGINAL SHOWS 

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam

The imposing 1876 white mansard roof of the Goodspeed Opera House was once a beacon for weary sailors on the Connecticut River. Now it’s a beacon for theater lovers across New England and beyond. Some of the well-known shows you can expect to see here are South Pacific, Oliver and Because of Winn Dixie. The venue has evolved leaps and bounds since its opening in 1960, and the Terris Theater, an intimate second venue in Chester, puts on several original shows a year. 860-873-8668, goodspeed.org

Performing Arts Venue (Small) finalists: Hartford Stage* • Ivoryton Playhouse, Ivoryton • The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Old Saybrook • Milford Arts Council (The MAC) • Ridgefield Playhouse • StageOne at Fairfield Theatre Company, Fairfield* 

Theater for Original Shows finalists: Hartford Stage* • Ivoryton Playhouse, Ivoryton • Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven* • Pantochino Productions, Milford • TheaterWorks Hartford* • Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven* 

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Best Performing Arts Venue (large) & Best Theater for Touring Shows: The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts in Hartford

BEST PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (LARGE) & BEST THEATER FOR TOURING SHOWS

The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts, Hartford

Sure, Connecticut may have venues with a bit more seating capacity, but for comfort and style, The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts rules supreme. Built 90 years ago this year, the 2,800-seat William Mortensen Hall is an Art Deco wonder. Its ceiling mural, Drama, is the largest hand-painted ceiling mural in the U.S. The smaller, newer Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theater across the plaza offers a more intimate option with 906 seats. Up on the stage, the Bushnell has seen the likes of Marian Anderson, Luciano Pavarotti and Mikael Barysnikov perform. The famed hall is also the place to see the hottest Broadway touring shows from Dear Evan Hansen to, yes, Hamilton (due to come back for its second run in the summer of 2021). 860-987-5900, bushnell.org

Performing Arts Venue (Large) finalists: College Street Music Hall, New Haven • The Garde Arts Center, New London • Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville • Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford • Shubert Theatre, New Haven • Xfinity Theatre, Hartford 

Theater for Touring Shows finalists: The Garde Arts Center, New London* • Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam • Palace Theater, Waterbury* • Shubert Theatre, New Haven • Warner Theatre, Torrington* 

PLACE TO SEE A LOCAL BAND

Toad’s Place, New Haven

Temporarily closed during the pandemic, this legendary live music venue has had the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan and other monsters of rock grace its stage. But most nights it hosts up-and-coming area and regional bands, featuring rock, soul, rap, jazz and more. The sound system is clear and heart-pumping, and multiple rooms and bars make it a great night out. 203-624-8623, toadsplace.com

Place to See a Local Band finalists: The Acoustic, Bridgeport* • Bridge Street Live, Collinsville* • Cafe 9, New Haven • The Cellar on Treadwell, Hamden* • Strange Brew Pub, Norwich 

INDIE CINEMA

Madison Art Cinemas, Madison

State-of-the-art digital equipment combined with fine customer service (owner Arnold Gorlick often greets filmgoers or queries them afterward to hear their thoughts on the film they saw) makes this a landmark cinema house in downtown Madison. Sadly, with the movie industry on hiatus due to the pandemic, no new films are scheduled for release soon but arthouse cinephiles are eagerly awaiting a return. 203-245-3456, madisonartcinemas.com

Indie Cinema finalists: Avon Theatre Film Center, Stamford • Bantam Cinema* • Bethel Cinema • Cine 4, New Haven • Cinestudio, Hartford* • Prospector Theater, Ridgefield* • Real Art Ways, Hartford 

Comedy Venue

Hartford Funny Bone, Manchester

Hosting such crowd favorites as Godfrey, Brad Williams and Chris Porter, the Hartford Funny Bone strikes comedy gold with reasonably priced shows and a dining-in option with a full menu. And, of course, the menu is a nod to comedy with such dishes as the Almighty Caesar salad and the Bernie Mac and cheese. As Sid Caesar himself might have said, the Hartford Funny Bone is your club of clubs. 860-432-8600, hartford.funnybone.com

Comedy Venue finalists: Comix at Foxwoods, Mashantucket • Fairfield Comedy Club • The Stress Factory, Bridgeport • Treehouse Comedy Productions, Westport, Seymour, Windsor Locks and West Haven

DAY SPA

The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich

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Best Day Spa: The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich

With 37 treatment rooms, sauna, salon, fitness center, indoor pool and more, it’s simple to fully personalize your experience here. Pamper and revitalize yourself from head to toe with cosmetology services, exercise classes, tarot and angel lessons, massage treatments, and customized programs for those with special medical challenges. 860-425-3500, thespaatnorwichinn.com

Day Spa finalists: Del Soul Spa, Newington • Polaris Lash Studio, Southington • Spa at Winvian Farm, Morris* • The Spa of Essex • Tranquility Mind & Body Wellness Spa, Milford 

MED SPA

Revitalize MedSpa & Skincare Center, Old Saybrook

Using leading-edge technology and medical expertise, popular services here include intense pulsed light (IPL) laser treatments for skin resurfacing, hydrafacials and chemical peels. Also offered, in a warm, welcoming environment, are a variety of dermal fillers, as well as Botox for treating signs of aging, including deep lines and wrinkles. A skincare super-spa! 860-391-8821, revitalizemedspact.com

Med Spa finalists: All About You Medical Spa, Fairfield • Aria Medical Aesthetics, Southington • Esana Plastic Surgery Center & MedSpa, New Haven • Re:nu 180 Medspa, Southington and Newington • Versailles Medical Spa, Darien* • Wisdom and Youth, Westport 

HAIR SALON

Luscious & Co., Shelton

Specializing in a variety of treatments including airbrush makeup, bridal makeup, eyelash extensions, hair color, and hair extension (temporary, semi-permanent, long, short, thick and thin hair), the salon prides itself on staying an industry leader by both attending and hosting educational workshops. They answer all women’s beauty needs. 203-513-2446, lusciousandco.com

Hair Salon finalists: Annmarie’s Hair on Madison, Bridgeport • Kalon by Karina, Trumbull • Kimberly & Co., Milford • Studio B Hair Design, Wilton • Studio D, Branford • Style Points Salon, South Windsor 

YOGA STUDIO

Yoga on North, Willimantic

A wide variety of yoga classes, workshops, events and stress-reduction sessions featuring reiki, an ancient, non-invasive technique used to promote body and mind well-being, sets this oasis apart. They have social distancing down pat, as nothing beats the energy shared between everyone in class, whether working on a new pose together or meditating as a group. 860-372-2883, yogaonnorth.com

Yoga Studio finalists: Bloom Yoga Fitness Studios, Southington* • Breathing Room Yoga, New Haven • Center Yoga + Wellness, Clinton • Luna Vinyasa Hot Yoga Studio, Middletown • Saybrook Soul Sweat, Old Saybrook 

FITNESS CLUB OR GYM

Empowered Indoor Cycling Studio, Glastonbury

The original goal of co-founders Jocelyn DeMaio and Neil Parisi when they opened in 2016 was to create a community based on health, wellness and balance, and to serve all levels. Done! A wide variety of cycling, strength and barre classes give enthusiasts options aplenty. They are designed for all fitness levels and are low-impact to help build the body, not break it. 860-430-2170, empoweredstudio.com

Fitness Club or Gym finalists: CrossFit High Order, East Haddam • CrossFit, Simsbury • PoleFly Aerial Fitness, New Haven* • Ramos Athletic Conditioning Center, Milford

BED & BREAKFAST

Connecticut River Valley Inn, Glastonbury

Old-world style on the outside with modern-day touches on the inside, this exquisite B&B is in the heart of the town’s historic district. The restful, peaceful atmosphere is enhanced by hosts Pat and Wayne, who aim to please, and succeed. Rooms are well decorated, with ultra-comfortable bathrooms. Breakfasts are hearty and varied. A true throwback to a gentler time. 860-633-7374, crv.inn.com

Bed & Breakfast finalists: Chatfield Hollow Inn, Killingworth* • Daniel Rust House, Coventry • Riverwind Inn, Deep River • West Lane Inn, Ridgefield 

CITY LODGING

Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, New Haven

Combining New England style with richly appointed guest rooms and suites, the hotel is two blocks from Yale University, the New Haven Green and the Shubert Theatre. Renovated in 2012, beds have soft duvets and feather pillows, while bathrooms include robes and makeup mirrors. There is also a full-service, on-site spa. 203-772-6664, omnihotels.com/hotels/new-haven-yale 

City Lodging finalists: The Blake Hotel, New Haven* • The Goodwin, Hartford* • Hartford Marriott Downtown* • The Study at Yale, New Haven* 

HISTORIC STAY

The Griswold Inn, Essex

Can it get more historic-sounding than the Griswold’s phone number? Having actually opened in 1776, and located in a seaport village, the property exudes the charm of days gone by but is anything but dated, with sophisticated cuisine, an extensive wine menu, comfortable accommodations and modern amenities. 860-767-1776, griswoldinn.com

Historic Stay finalists: Daniel Rust House, Coventry • Old Lyme Inn • Wallingford Victorian Inn* • The Whaler’s Inn, Mystic 

ROMANTIC GETAWAY

Saybrook Point Resort & Marina, Old Saybrook

With the perfect balance of Northern extravagance and a touch of Southern hospitality, guests are treated to a truly charming experience. The resort is nestled between Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River. Relax with a day at The Spa, enjoy award-winning dining at Fresh Salt, retreat to intimate accommodations, or explore the inviting marina. 860-395-2000, saybrook.com

Romantic Getaway finalists: Copper Beech Inn, Ivoryton* • Daniel Rust House, Coventry • Madison Beach Hotel • Old Lyme Inn* • The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich

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Best Luxury Stay & Best Stay On The Water: Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook

BEST LUXURY STAY & BEST STAY ON THE WATER

Water’s Edge Resort & Spa, Westbrook

For more than 30 years, this property on Long Island Sound has kept its presence as a top New England beachfront resort for vacations and getaways. Perfectly landscaped gardens, acres of grounds overlooking the water, a private white-sand beach, restaurants, entertainment, a premium spa and so much more make it worthy of dual honors. 860-399-5901, watersedgeresortandspa.com

Luxury Stay finalists: Homestead Inn, Greenwich* • Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington* • Saybrook Point Resort & Marina, Old Saybrook • The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich • Winvian Farm, Morris 

Stay on the Water finalists: Delamar Greenwich Harbor* • Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic* • The Inn at Stonington* • Madison Beach Hotel • Saybrook Point Resort & Marina, Old Saybrook 

CASINO PERFORMANCE VENUE

Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville

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Best Performance Venue (Casinos): Mohegan Sun Arena

The 10,000-seat arena allows concerts to have an intimacy about them. Huge acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Jay Z and Keith Urban have appeared, and concerts have been scheduled weekly for years. A major plus for most folks is that events always start on time, so there are no crazy late nights. Look for the shows to resume in the spring. 888-226-7711, mohegansun.com

CASINO NIGHTCLUB

The Scorpion Bar, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket

Featuring authentic and innovative Mexican-inspired cuisine, an energetic environment with today’s top hits and classic music radiating throughout, this hot spot is party central, regardless of how well you did at the gaming tables. Outdoor and indoor dining options are available, and a DJ takes over once the fun starts. 860-312-5201, scorpion barfoxwoods.com

Nightclub finalists: Avalon Nightclub, Mohegan Sun • Centrale Fox Tower, Foxwoods • The Lansdowne, Mohegan Sun • Novelle, Mohegan Sun* • Shrine, Foxwoods 

CASINO FINE DINING

Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville

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Best Fine Dining (Casinos): Michael Jordan’s Steak House at Mohegan Sun

The NBA legend’s aura may draw you in but the restaurant’s staying power, especially with so many other casino food choices, requires superb cuisine and a great dining experience. Slam dunk! Reviewers have praised chicken and fish dishes as well as the epic steaks. Don’t expect to see MJ there much, but his quest for perfection makes this an all-star choice. 860-862-8600, mjshconnecticut.com

Fine Dining finalists: Ballo, Mohegan Sun • Cedars Steaks & Oysters, Foxwoods • David Burke Prime, Foxwoods • Todd English’s Tuscany, Mohegan Sun • VUE 24, Foxwoods 

CASINO CASUAL DINING

Bobby’s Burger Palace, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay lives up to his reputation with this old-school burger-and-shakes shack. The burgers are tender and perfectly cooked — order it medium and its middle will be pink just the way it should be — the fries are hand-cut daily and the shakes are topped with thick, freshly whipped cream. We can’t make a trip to or near Mohegan Sun without stopping here. 860-862-2277, bobbys burgerpalace.com

casual Dining finalists: Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Kitchen & Bar • MJ23 Sports Bar & Grill, Mohegan Sun • Seasons Buffet, Mohegan Sun • SolToro, Mohegan Sun • Stony Creek Brewery, Foxwoods* • Sugar Factory, Foxwoods* 

CASINO SPA

Norwich Spa, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket

The perfect way to kick back and spend a few hours or an entire day, a visit here allows you to escape from the action, reboot and let therapists explore with you the art of pampering, all leading to feeling relaxed and refocused. Massages, facials and other treatments are outstanding. 860-312-4901, foxwoods.com/things-to-do/spas/choose/norwich-spa

CASINO ACTIVITY OR ATTRACTION

Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket

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Best Activity or Attraction (Casinos): Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center at Foxwoods Resort Casino

A 308,000-square-foot complex, the museum brings to life the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. It serves as a major resource on the histories and cultures of Native Americans in the Northeast and on the region’s rich natural history. Currently closed, there is a planned reopening in the spring of 2021. 800-411-9671, pequotmuseum.org

Activity or Attraction finalists: Black Wolves lacrosse, Mohegan Sun • High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Sports Lounge, Foxwoods • HighFlyer Zipline, Foxwoods • Mohegan Sun Golf Club* • Supercharged Indoor Karting, Mohegan Sun*

Also see the winners and finalists for the Best of Connecticut 2020 in Food & Drink and Shopping, and check out our writers' picks for "More Stuff We Love"

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.