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Best of Connecticut 2019: Fun and Leisure

  • 10 min to read

Welcome to the 22nd annual Best of Connecticut, in which we celebrate everything we love about the state we call home. Across our three main categories of Food & DrinkFun & Leisure and Shopping you’ll find many winners chosen by you, our readers, in an online survey. Combine that with editors’ picks in many more categories, and you have one seriously lovable list. Check out all the picks, and, as usual, let us know what you think.


ACTIVITIES

BEST ADVENTURE PARK

Adventure Park at Storrs, Mansfield, 860-946-0606, storrsadventurepark.com

If you’ve ever wondered what the world looks like from the perspective of a squirrel or bird, that unique thrill can be found at The Adventure Park at Storrs. It’s a place to experience the thrill of a zip line or rope bridge between trees. The aerial forest has eight trails of varying levels of difficulty.

BEST ART CLASSES

Silvermine Arts Center, New Canaan, 203-966-9700, silvermineart.org

Silvermine Arts Center is an oasis for students of all mediums and the teachers are known to be as friendly and engaging as they are talented. The acclaimed school annually provides classes in visual arts to more than 4,000 students of all ages. Classes are available in ceramics, drawing, jewelry, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and more.

BEST ARTS FESTIVAL

International Festival of Arts & Ideas, 888-278-4332, artidea.org

New Haven’s annual two-week event started in 1996 and features an ever-evolving mix of dance, theater, circus, films and music, mostly free, against a backdrop of Ideas sessions promoting mindfulness and positive social change. The signature events are the concerts on the Green. Next year’s festival will be June 13-27.

BEST INDOOR CLIMBING

Rock Climb Fairfield, Fairfield, 203-416-5500, rockclimbfairfield.com

Rock Climb Fairfield is known for frequently changing their climbing routes — and that’s exactly what sports climbers hope for to keep it challenging. Beginners and the most experienced climbers are welcome at RCF. Some have referred to climbing there as “fitness disguised as fun.”

BEST GOLF COURSE (MINI)

Matterhorn Mini Golf, Canton, 860-795-0234, matterhornminigolf.com

The family-run Matterhorn Mini Golf course is like an escape to Switzerland through 18 holes of fun facts about cheese, chocolate and Swiss history. Yodeling in the distant background adds to the ambiance, but it’s not just about the Swiss experience. The Matterhorn is clean, challenging and so unique that it regularly draws visitors from hours away.

BEST GOLF COURSE (PUBLIC)

Fox Hopyard, East Haddam, 860-434-6644, foxhopyard.com

Fox Hopyard, which hosted the Connecticut Amateur Championship for the first time this past June, gives players of all skill levels 18 unique holes with outstanding amenities. Despite being semi-private, the public golfer is treated like a longstanding member and is in store for a fantastic round of golf.

BEST PICK-YOUR-OWN FARM

Jones Family Farms, Shelton, 203-929-8425, jonesfamilyfarms.com

It’s easy to understand why Connecticut residents want to keep up with the Jones’. It’s not just the actual foraging experiences that are memorable — the “before” (like taking the Berry Fairy to the blueberry field) and the “after” (like receiving a Jones ornament once you choose your Christmas tree) are all part of the tradition.

BEST ESCAPE ROOM

Wigwam Escape at The Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, 860-868-0510, wigwamescape.org

This unique escape room immerses visitors in a Native American past too few of us are familiar with. That it accomplishes this without sacrificing the fun experience of other escape rooms is a testament to the room’s designer, Griffin Kalin. Instead of the locks and keys found at other rooms, here the equally fascinating puzzles include fishing and hunting. This room also plays with time and lighting in very creative ways.

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Ski Sundown

BEST SKIING

Ski Sundown, New Hartford, 860-379-7669, skisundown.com

This upcoming season will be Ski Sundown’s 50th and there’s a good reason this country ski resort has been a destination for generations of people hitting the slopes. With more than a dozen trails, many of which are lit for night skiing, it offers a taste of Vermont or New Hampshire resorts without the drive.

BEST SPORTS COMPLEX

Chelsea Piers Connecticut, Stamford, 203-989-1000, chelseapiersct.com

This place is an athlete’s heaven on earth. Tennis, squash and basketball courts as far as the eye can see, more swimming pools than a Caribbean resort, hockey rinks, trampolines, batting cages, a dance studio, and so much more. There’s even a giant yellow rubber ducky in the kids’ Splash Zone.

BEST WEDDING VENUE

Tarrywile Park & Mansion, Danbury, 203-744-3130, tarrywile.com

If you’re looking for a fairy-tale wedding, you’d be hard pressed to outdo this 23-room Victorian-era mansion on the grounds of a 722-acre farm, with sweeping vistas and rolling gardens. The park is even home to the crumbling, but still majestic, Hearthstone Castle, perfect for a gothic photo shoot.

BEST BEACH (Readers' Pick)

Hammonasset Beach State Park

Madison, 203-245-2785, ct.gov

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Durham Fair

BEST COUNTRY FAIR (Readers' Pick)

Durham Fair, Durham, 860-349-9495, durhamfair.com

BEST FARMERS MARKET (tie) (Readers' Pick)

CitySeed, New Haven, 203-773-3736, cityseed.org

Coventry Farmers Market, Coventry, coventryfarmersmarket.org

BEST STATE PARK (Readers' Pick)

Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison, 203-245-2785, ct.gov

BEST PLACE TO SEE A GAME (Readers' Pick)

Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford, 860-246-4628, milb.com/hartford


OVERNIGHTS

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Riverwind Inn

BEST COUNTRY B&B

The Riverwind Inn, Deep River, 860-526-2014, riverwindinn.com

This quaint, romantic getaway with cozy rooms, fireplaces and made-from-scratch breakfasts in a scenic, historical setting, went from perfect to more perfect after new owners Stacie and Mike DiNello took over a few years ago. The DiNellos added a back garden, patio and firepit, creating an awesome ambiance for a moment of peace or glass of wine.

BEST CITY STAY

The Goodwin, Hartford, 860-246-1881, goodwinhartford.com

Reopened two years ago, this classic hotel built in 1881 has regained its former glory. Whether you choose the standard guest room or one of the hotel’s duplexes or suits, luxury awaits. Every room has fine pressed European linens and some have decorative fireplaces. Porrón & Piña, the restaurant and bar within the hotel from chef Tyler Anderson, completes the experience.

BEST ON THE WATER

Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic, 860-739-0331, innharborhill.com

Overlooking Long Island Sound, the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina offers a classic boutique-inn experience with 16 newly remodeled suites designed with quaint New England charm. Guests can rest easy at this oceanside retreat open year round, with slip rentals at the marina and special stay packages for weddings, summer getaways and families.

BEST SPLURGE STAY

Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington, 866-217-0869, aubergeresorts.com/mayflower

The Mayflower Inn & Spa is nestled among 58 acres of woodlands and Shakespearean gardens in Litchfield County. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway with a massage or a relaxing soak in the spa’s hot tub, or are going on a romantic honeymoon, the Mayflower exceeds expectations. Rooms and suites feature canopy beds, fireplaces, marble baths and balconies.

BEST INN FOR FOODIES

Copper Beech Inn, Essex, 860-767-0330, copperbeechinn.com

The inn’s restaurant, The Oak Room, is critically acclaimed and helmed by chef Carlos Cassar. Recent renovations to the bar and dining area allows for a more casual experience while the main dining room retains its upscale elegance. Guests can enjoy multicourse international options for every meal of the day, with many seafood specialties, just steps away from their rooms.

MOST ROMANTIC

Saybrook Point Inn Marina and Spa, Old Saybrook, 844-505-4520, saybrook.com

Overlooking the Connecticut River, Saybrook Point boasts “northern extravagance and a touch of southern hospitality.” Guests can choose from rooms in the Main Inn, as well as guest houses, villas and the Lighthouse Suite, a unique getaway located on the dock. Fresh Salt restaurant is both elegant and casual, with waterfront views, fresh food and an extensive wine list. 


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

BEST PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (LARGE)

College Street Music Hall, New Haven, 203-867-2000, collegestreetmusichall.com

This 1926 theater was restored and reopened in 2015. Since that time it has attracted many top acts and earned a reputation as a go-to place in the New Haven area to see music, comedy and a variety of other live performances. Upcoming shows include Leslie Jones (Sept. 7) and live storytelling group The Moth (Sept. 26).

BEST PERFORMING ARTS VENUE (SMALL)

StageOne at Fairfield Theatre Company, Fairfield, 203-259-1036, fairfieldtheatre.org/stageone

This intimate, 225-seat venue offers a compelling place to see live music and other acts in a space where you are close enough to the performers to really connect with what they are doing on stage. And with three performances each week there are plenty of opportunities to catch a great show.

BEST ART GALLERY

Bendheim Gallery, Greenwich, 203-862-6750, greenwichartscouncil.org/bendheim-gallery.html

The Bendheim Gallery boasts over 2,000 square feet of exhibition space in downtown Greenwich with a focus on local artists, both on the rise and established. The gallery, with free admission, features exhibitions of contemporary art and photography, sculptures and installations.

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New Britain Museum of American Art

BEST CULTURAL ATTRACTION (ART)

New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, 860-229-0257, nbmaa.org

The NBMAA, founded in 1903, was the first museum in the country to feature exclusively American art. The permanent collection includes Colonial portraiture, works from the Hudson River School, American Impressionism and the Ashcan School. The museum also houses Thomas Hart Benton’s mural series “The Arts of Life in America.”

BEST CULTURAL ATTRACTION (HISTORY)

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, 860-572-0711, mysticseaport.org

One of the quintessential destinations in Connecticut, the seaport museum has long impressed visitors with attractions like a 19th-century village complete with a blacksmith’s shop, and several tall ships including Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaleship. However, over the past few years, the museum has added to its allure with major expansions including the opening of 14,000-square-foot Thompson Exhibition Building. This building allows the museum to present major exhibits year round.

BEST CULTURAL ATTRACTION (WITH KIDS)

Connecticut Science Center, Hartford, 860-724-3623, ctsciencecenter.org

The Connecticut Science Center offers more than 165 hands-on exhibits, multiple education labs, a 3D digital theater for movies and stage shows, and daily programs and events for minds young and old alike. The center offers day and extended camps for kids, including the science behind modern infrastructure, animal adaptation, robotics, forensics and astronomy.

BEST INDIE CINEMA

Avon Theatre Film Center, Stamford, 203-967-3660, avontheatre.org

A historic movie theater that doesn’t rely on contrived superhero sequels, the Avon Theatre is a landmark of downtown Stamford, where it has been since 1939. The nonprofit, member-supported theater screens films for their cultural, artistic and educational relevance, focusing on documentaries, independent and foreign films.

BEST MUSEUM (tie) (Readers' Pick)

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 203-432-8987, peabody.yale.edu

Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 860-278-2670, wadsworthatheneum.com

BEST NIGHTCLUB (Readers' Pick)

BAR, New Haven, 203-495-8924, barnightclub.com

BEST PLACE TO SEE A BAND (Readers' Pick)

Xfinity Theatre, Hartford, 860-548-7370, livenation.com

BEST PLACE TO SEE A PLAY (Readers' Pick)

Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, 203-787-4282, longwharf.org

BEST MOVIE THEATER (Readers' Pick)

Riverview Cinemas, Southbury, 203-262-8008, riverviewcinemas8.com


AT THE CASINOS

BEST CASUAL DINING

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

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.

BEST SHOPPING

Tanger Outlets, Foxwoods, 860-383-4340, tangeroutlet.com/foxwoods

The Tanger Outlets includes 70 stores and eateries just yards away from some of the best gambling and nightlife in the state at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Shoppers can pick up handbags, jewelry, shoes, food and more with ease, with access from two of the resort’s towers.

BEST FINE DINING

VUE24, Foxwoods, 800-369-9663, foxwoods.com/vue-24

Casinos are man-made cities with little expense spared for a universal appearance of opulence with ornamentation. But the view from VUE24 is all natural, an observation deck for the rural woodlands of southeastern Connecticut. Yet somehow the food here — top-quality steaks and seafood are the headliners — brings your attention back to the table.

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HighFlyer Zipline at Foxwoods Resort Casino

BEST NEW EXPERIENCE

HighFlyer Zipline, Foxwoods, 860-312-3597, foxwoods.com/high-flyer

Just the idea of being 350 feet above the ground, soaring over trees at 60 miles an hour while hanging from a zip line might scare many people away. But the employees do a tremendous job of calming nerves, reassuring the wary, and getting you safely on your way to a rather incomparable minute of fun.

BEST NIGHTCLUB

Avalon, Mohegan Sun, 860-862-7042, avalonmohegansun.com

Every Friday and Saturday night, a world-class DJ stops by to spin records through a state-of-the-art sound system. Whether you’re getting VIP bottle service or ordering from the cocktail menu, the sights and sounds are intoxicating enough. Avalon also hosts corporate events and private parties.

BEST SPA

G Spa, Foxwoods, 860-312-4772, foxwoods.com/g-spa

Amid the chaos and clamoring of a casino is a 21,000-square-foot oasis of calm and quiet. Massages, facials and manicures tell just part of the story. Attendants wait on you hand and foot and therapists rub and scrub your cares away. But it’s not just about the casino crowd — this is where the locals go too.

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Mohegan Sun Arena

BEST PERFORMANCE VENUE (Readers' Pick)

Mohegan Sun Arena, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, 888-226-7711, mohegansun.com

BEST RESTAURANT (Readers' Pick)

Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, 888-226-7711, mohegansun.com


HEALTH & BEAUTY

BEST DAY SPA

Spa at Winvian Farm, Morris, 860-393-3021, winvian.com/spa

Nestled in the Litchfield Hills, this luxury spa offers a quiet sanctuary to enjoy an hour or an afternoon of tranquility and pampering with a range of restorative treatments and therapies. The 5,000-square-foot spa offers private yoga and fitness, massage, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy and skincare in state-of-the art facilities.

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Esana Plastic Surgery Center & Medspa

BEST MED SPA

Esana Plastic Surgery Center & Medspa, New Haven, 203-794-7085, esanamedspa.com

A full assortment of breast, face and body operations are offered at this med spa. The board-certified plastic surgeons are experts at facelifts, rhinoplasty, brow lift and eyelid surgery, as well as tummy tucks, liposuction and non-surgical CoolSculpting. They also have surgeons who specialize in breast augmentations, lifts, implants and reductions.

BEST YOGA STUDIO

Bloom Yoga Fitness Studios, Southington, 860-620-4530, bloomyogafitness.com

Bloom was started in 2010 by Julie Wallace and her daughters Morgan and Bethany and now has more than 5,000 clients and 40 instructors and staff. The studio offers various types of yoga and fitness programs, including barre, kickboxing, yoga sculpt, power yoga and gentle yoga, and also offers holistic life coaching.

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Empowered Cycling Studio

BEST FITNESS CLUB/GYM (Readers' Pick)

Empowered Indoor Cycling Studio, Glastonbury, 860-430-2170, empoweredstudio.com

BEST HAIR SALON (Readers' Pick)

Kalon by Karina, Trumbull, 475-239-6666, kalonbykarina.com

“Karina makes you look and feel beautiful and gives you a cut that you can live in every day. Her salon space is clean and beautiful.”  — Kara Henderson, Greenwich

“Karina has great talent!”  — Maria Quinones, Trumbull


MORE OF THE BEST: 

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

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.

Randall Beach is the longtime columnist for the New Haven Register, where his column appears Fridays and Sundays.