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Best of Connecticut 2021

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We asked, and you answered. In more than 140 categories, Connecticut Magazine readers voted for their favorite places, things and people across the state. The result is our latest “Best of Connecticut” list, with picks in food and drink, things to do, health and beauty, shopping and so much more. Plus, we’ve added dozens of our own favorites, recent discoveries that deserve a place among the Best of Connecticut. 

It all adds up to one gigantic celebration of our state. Check it out to see if your favorites are represented, and make some discoveries of your own!

And while we're on the subject of the best Connecticut has to offer … our annual Best Restaurants Readers' Choice survey is live now through Oct. 17. Go here to pick your favorite restaurants!

Jump to: FOODDRINKACTIVITIESCASINOSARTS & CULTUREPEOPLEHEALTH & BEAUTYSHOPPINGHOME & GARDENOVERNIGHTS

FOOD: OUR PICKS

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Grounds Donut House, Danbury

DOUGHNUT SHOP: Delectable doughnuts

I was on vacation in Wyoming when Grounds Donut House opened last October, and my social media was blowing up over their artisanal doughnuts. So the day after we got home, we stopped by and got a few. Yum! Featuring a Grateful Dead-California vibe as seen by its prominent skull-and-doughnut logo, Grounds has about 10 flavors available regularly (my favorite is maple bacon — a perfect mix of salty and sweet) and four rotating flavors weekly. Warning: The doughnuts are oversize, so if you are watching your calories like me, maybe share one with a friend? — Andrea Valluzzo

35 Lake Ave. Ext., Danbury, 475-329-5336, groundsdonuthouse.com

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Spread Cheese Co. in Middletown.

CHEESE SHOP: Dairy delights

Cheese is my favorite food group. So I was excited to learn during the worst of the pandemic that Spread Cheese Co. offered curbside pickup. Thinking of their salty Coastal Cheddar made my mouth water, and I eagerly drove the 40 minutes to grab my order. Now the store is fully reopened, and I recently picked up bacon jam and a soft, creamy brie that ended up being dinner several nights in a row. When I really want to splurge, I get a quarter-pound of the Old Quebec Cheddar, which has been aged for at least seven years. Whether you like soft or hard cheese, spicy or mild, Spread has it all. — Viktoria Sundqvist

386 Main St., Middletown, 860-740-5370, spreadcheeseco.com

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Freund’s Farm Market, East Canann

FARM MARKET: Farm-fresh finds

I first discovered Freund’s Farm Market years ago when it was little more than a farm stand. This year’s happy rediscovery while traveling the roads in the Northwest Corner is that it’s grown to a food store and bakery chockablock with everything from killer quiches (the best I’ve had) and frozen foods like soups, chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie to pies, cookies and so much more — all of it homemade. You can get fresh local produce and meats as well as cheeses and all the crackers and breads you need to go with them. Gardeners will delight in the garden center too, with a huge array of seasonal fresh plants and flowers. — Janet Reynolds

324 Norfolk Road, East Canaan, 860-824-0560, freundsfarmmarket.com

Nana's Bakery + Pizza

Nana’s Bakery & Pizza, Mystic

BAKERY AND PIZZA SHOP: Splurge on sourdough

As a child, whenever there was a snow day, my mom would make doughnuts, setting cinnamon and sugar bowls for my siblings and me to dip ours in — a toasty treat after sledding down the driveway. Biting into a warm sourdough doughnut from Nana’s Bakery & Pizza tastes like those days — pure, unexpected joy. You can start your day with the doughnuts, pick up a salad or sandwich for lunch and swing by later for sourdough pizza. Yes, I’ve done this. 

I was having lunch with a colleague right before the pandemic when she mentioned that chef James Wayman (Grass & Bone) was working on opening a new place. When, after a few months of me anxiously waiting, it finally opened, Nana’s quickly became a favorite. Located away from the bustle of downtown, it’s the perfect location to stop at on the way back from an after early-morning walk at Napatree Point (there’s parking!) or to pick up dinner when I don’t feel like cooking. Frequently, when a friend who also works from home will text to ask if I want to forage for coffee, I’ll say, “Yes, let’s go to Nana’s.” — Bridget Shirvell

32 Williams Ave., Mystic, 860-980-3375, nanasct.com

SWEDISH BAKERY: Satisfy carb cravings

I heard of Hamden’s Bread Basket while I was in college two decades ago. The Swedish bakery, tucked away on a side street off Whitney Avenue across from the popular Playwright bar, features fresh-baked danish and sugar-covered cardamom rolls that melt in your mouth. But it wasn’t until this summer, after a very early appointment at the Hamden DMV, that I made it into the bakery for the first time and finally got to experience the cinnamon rolls and chat with the owner and baker, who sent me off with more carbs than I could possibly eat in one sitting. The smell of cinnamon instantly reminded me of growing up in Sweden, spending early mornings in the kitchen with my grandfather, also a baker. Bring cash (no credit cards accepted) and get there early — before 9 a.m. — for the best options. Saturday mornings have the greatest variety of freshly baked breads. — VS

25 Putnam Ave., Hamden, 203-248-8895

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Scandanavian Butik in Norwalk.

SCANDINAVIAN SHOP: Nordic necessities

Swedish caviar (creamed cod roe) is a staple in my house. I can’t get through breakfast without it on my hard-boiled eggs. A minor crisis ensued recently when I squeezed the last ounce out of the tube and reached into the back of my refrigerator only to realize there was nothing but emptiness. I had run out. I rushed to IKEA in New Haven — they were all out as well. Then I remembered: the Scandinavian Butik in Norwalk. Not only did the fully stocked gift shop satisfy my caviar needs, but I walked away with frozen homemade meatballs, a pound of cheese, salty licorice and various sweets for my husband. As I carried my stuffed bag through the store, I eyed the gorgeous home goods on display. “Next time,” I said to myself. Because I knew I’d be back. — VS

349 Main Ave., Norwalk, 203-529-3244, scandinavianbutik.com

FOOD: READERS' CHOICE

BAGELS

A.M. Bagel, Derby

Runners-up:

BAKERY

Mozzicato Depasquale Bakery and Pastry Shop, Hartford and other locations

Runners-up:

BREAD

Bantam Bread Co., Bantam

Runners-up:

BREAKFAST SANDWICHES

Neil’s Donuts, Wallingford and Middletown

Runners-up:

BURGERS

Max Burger, West Hartford

Runners-up:

BURRITOS

Puerto Vallarta, multiple locations

Runners-up:

BUTCHER SHOP

Butcher’s Best Market, Newtown

Runners-up:

CAKES

Sweet Maria's, Waterbury

Runners-up:

CANDY SHOP

Mystic Sweet Shop, Mystic

Runners-up:

CANNOLI

Mozzicato Depasquale Bakery and Pastry Shop, Hartford and other locations

Runners-up:

CATERER

Mattei’s Deli & Catering, Derby

Runners-up:

CHEESE SHOP

Liuzzi Gourmet Food Market, North Haven

Runners-up:

CHICKEN SANDWICHES

Haven Hot Chicken, New Haven

Runners-up:

CHICKEN WINGS

J. Timothy’s Taverne, Plainville

Runners-up:

CHOCOLATIER

Munson’s, multiple locations

Runners-up:

CLAM CHOWDER

Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale, Westbrook and Madison

Runners-up:

COOKIES

Mozzicato Depasquale Bakery and Pastry Shop, Hartford and other locations

Runners-up:

CUPCAKES

NoRA Cupcake Company, Middletown and West Hartford

Runners-up:

DELI OR SANDWICH SHOP

Rein’s New York Style Deli, Vernon

Runners-up:

DINER

Blue Colony Diner, Newtown

Runners-up:

DOUGHNUTS

Neil’s Donuts, Wallingford and Middletown

Runners-up:

FALAFEL

Mamoun’s, New Haven

Runners-up:

FARM STAND

Halas Farm Market, Danbury

Runners-up:

FISH MARKET

City Fish Market, Wethersfield

Runners-up:

FOOD TRUCK

Zuppardi’s Pizza Truck, New Haven area

Runners-up:

GRINDERS

Nardelli’s Grinder Shoppe, multiple locations

Runners-up:

HEALTH FOOD STORE

New Morning Market, Woodbury

Runners-up:

HOT DOGS

Blackie’s, Cheshire

Runners-up:

ICE CREAM

Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop, Oxford

Runners-up:

LOBSTER ROLLS

Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Noank

Runners-up:

MUFFINS

Neil’s Donuts, Wallingford and Middletown

Runners-up:

NACHOS

Archie Moore’s, multiple locations

Runners-up:

NOODLE HOUSE

Mecha Noodle Bar, multiple locations

Runners-up:

PANCAKES

Chip’s Family Restaurant, multiple locations

Runners-up:

PIES

Lyman Orchard, Middlefield

Runners-up:

PIZZA (OUTSIDE NEW HAVEN)

Letizia’s, Norwalk

Runners-up:

PIZZA (NEW HAVEN AREA)

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven and other locations

Runners-up:

SEAFOOD SHACK

Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale, Westbrook and Madison

Runners-up:

SOUP

Stew Leonard’s, multiple locations

Runners-up:

SUSHI

House of Yoshida, Bethel

Runners-up:

TACOS

Bartaco, multiple locations

Runners-up:

But that's not all! Our annual Best Restaurants Readers' Choice survey is live now through Oct. 17. Go here to pick your favorite restaurants!

Jump to: FOOD • DRINK • ACTIVITIES • CASINOS • ARTS & CULTURE • PEOPLE • HEALTH & BEAUTY • SHOPPING • HOME & GARDEN • OVERNIGHTS


DRINK: OUR PICKS

August

August in New Haven

WINE BAR: Sip and savor

Most of us daydream of discovering places that exist to nourish the lifestyle to which we aspire. Sometimes we find these almost mythical touchstones of authenticity, though they always seem to require a journey — that magical trattoria in an alley in Rome, say, or secret wine bars in London or the South of France. 

August: Upscale Bar and Eatery in New Haven is one of these rarefied places, a European-style wine bar that opened seven years and retains discovery status for everyone beyond in-the-know connoisseurs. A tiny spot, it packs an outsize punch of pleasure. Owners Andrew Hotis and Michelle Chadwick-Hotis launched August with a brilliantly simple recipe: A carefully curated selection of 18 to 20 wines by the glass, a longer list of wines by the bottle, many of them small-production wines unfamiliar to those who haunt mainstream wine shops, and a menu consisting of true wine bar fare. That means cheese or charcuterie boards with accoutrements, along with tinned fish, oysters, caviar, pâte, sausages and potatoes, paninis and dishes like a tartine with ricotta, heirloom farm tomatoes, Bayonne ham, Parmesan and blue basil. (A panini press is the only means of heat for cooking.) — DPC

3 Edwards St., New Haven, 203-745-4531, wbaraugust.com

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The Under My Rumbrella cocktail at Millwright's in Simsbury

COCKTAIL: A drink to give you vacation dreams

We had friends from Los Angeles visit us for a week in July, and it was fun to see Connecticut and New England through their eyes as they experienced our weather, beaches, landmarks and food. But we all got to discover the outrageously delicious Under My Rumbrella cocktail during dinner at Millwright’s, an icy tropical drink with pineapple rum, coconut and lime with a ruby-red hue, thanks to the inclusion of hibiscus. It was a delightfully dangerous adult fruit punch, perfect for a hot summer night. (Note: Millwright’s cocktail menus are seasonal.) — Leeanne Griffin

77 West St., Simsbury, 860-651-5500, millwrightsrestaurant.com

COFFEE ROASTER: Enjoy coffee’s simple pleasures

On a perfect late summer afternoon in August, I pulled into Krafted Brew Lab in the Bantam section of Litchfield for a cortado (espresso with an equal amount of lightly steamed, non-frothy milk). A year old in August, Krafted is tucked behind the Sportsmen’s shop on Route 202, so it doesn’t stand out to drivers passing by. 

Inside, the guy in front of me expressed appreciation for owner Jason Wallengren’s allegiance to Bundesliga soccer and lamented how the English Premier League dominates fans’ attention. 

Inspired by the time Wallengren and his wife, Kim Landry, spent living in Germany and enjoying the coffee/café culture, Krafted is a micro roaster offering small-batch craft beans, espresso drinks, morning coffee, local baked goods, and some branded merchandise. It all goes down in a tiny space that includes the roaster and storage, but no tables or chairs. You can find a makeshift table and a couple of stray chairs outside on the former loading dock, and out back the other way are some picnic tables. Who needs frills when you have superior coffee, a stripped-down European vibe, a free exchange of ideas, and the fact that the setup likely persuades dilettantes to stick to excesses found elsewhere? Somewhere online it says the Krafted motto is “Coffee, Art, Travel, Love.” Here’s a vote for adding “existential philosophy” to the list. — Douglas P. Clement

725 Bantam Road, Bantam, 860-361-9300, kraftedbrewlab.com

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Norbrook Farm Brewery in Colebrook

BREWERY: Grab a beer and take a hike

A brewery in the middle of the country? With hiking and mountain biking trails as well as disc golf? Yes, please. Located on 450 acres on the edge of Colebrook and Norfolk (hence the name), Norbrook Farm Brewery in Colebrook has its own beer on tap, with at least six signature brews at any given time. My favorite is the Mount Pisgah IPA. Belly up to the copper bar inside or sit outside around the fire pit and at picnic tables. Food trucks add to the perfect visit. — J. Reynolds

204 Stillman Hill Road, Colebrook, 860-909-1016, norbrookfarm.com

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Rich and Chris Ruggiero of Berlinetta Brewing in Brideport

BREWERY: Old-world beers and global sounds

Any brewery named after a Ferrari has my interest. Any brewery playing Hugh Masekela when I walk in has my attention. Berlinetta Brewing and Records, by the brothers Ruggiero, is more than just a brewery. The newly refurbished downtown space’s in-house record store, turntables and reel-to-reel Hi-Fi stereo have made it a magnet for music fans and musicians, as well as event space for local independent radio station WPKN. Head brewer Rich Ruggiero offers hoppy pale ales and a Jamaican-style stout made with molasses, but Berlinetta’s focus is on old-world styles like Czech Pils, Vienna lager, and German Kolsch. The bright space’s tables are within reach of dozens of books to read and relax during quieter hours, but with the flick of a switch behind the bar you can be listening to anything from ’70s African funk 45s to a half-inch reel of local reggae recorded on-site the week before. Whatever your tastes, Berlinetta probably has you covered. — James Gribbon

90 Golden Hill St., Bridgeport, 203-549-8203, berlinettabrewing.com

DRINK: READERS' CHOICE

Neighborhood Bars

BEER BAR

THC The Hops Company, Derby

Runners-up:

BREWERY

Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford

Runners-up:

COCKTAILS

Conspiracy, Middletown

Runners-up:

COFFEEHOUSE

Molten Java, Bethel

Runners-up:

DISTILLERY

Litchfield Distillery, Litchfield

Runners-up:

HARD CIDER

New England Cider Company, Wallingford

Runners-up:

IRISH PUB

O’Neill’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Norwalk

Runners-up:

LOCAL WINE SHOP

Caraluzzi’s Wine & Spirits, Bethel and Danbury

Runners-up:

OUTDOOR BAR

Dockside Brewery, Milford

Runners-up:

ROOFTOP BAR

Rooftop 120, Glastonbury

Runners-up:

SPORTS BAR

Sliders Grill & Bar, multiple locations

Runners-up:

WINE BAR

Barcelona Wine Bar, multiple locations

Runners-up:

WINERY

Hawk Ridge Winery, Watertown

Runners-up:

Our annual Best Restaurants Readers' Choice survey is live now through Oct. 17. Go here to pick your favorite restaurants!

Jump to: FOOD • DRINK • ACTIVITIES • CASINOS • ARTS & CULTURE • PEOPLE • HEALTH & BEAUTY • SHOPPING • HOME & GARDEN • OVERNIGHTS


ACTIVITIES: OUR PICKS

Smash Ave

Smash Avenue in West Hartford

RAGE ROOM: Break stuff!

The newest rage sweeping Connecticut is the “rage room.” I was not stressed out but wanted to see what this was about, so my son and I booked a slot at Smash Avenue in West Hartford to go Hulk and “smash.” A small warehouse room had a large grouping of cheesy “I’m Your Lobster” mugs and empty wine bottles standing on a concrete floor along with an old laptop, radio and miscellaneous small items. Donning the face shield and gloves they provided, we chose our tools. My son picked up a heavy sledgehammer while I grabbed a bat, and we started swinging. It was surprisingly satisfying! I tried his sledgehammer next, but unlike Thor, I was not worthy; it was too heavy for me to swing. I had the most success with a golf club, and happily shattered mugs and bottles and pounded a radio to bits. Note: The long sleeves they tell you to wear are totally necessary, as glass shards fly everywhere. Zip up jackets and hoodies! — AV

635 New Park Ave., Suite 2C, West Hartford, 860-206-6954, smashavenue.com

SPIRITUAL RETREAT: Find peace and quiet

I remember visiting the Shrine of Lourdes in Litchfield with my parents when I was a young girl. After my father passed away last June, I decided it was the perfect time for a return visit on his birthday a month later. The Shrine is a peaceful garden oasis that’s open from dawn to dusk. After entering through a long driveway, you can explore various areas. Pathways lead to religious statues with candles to light amidst a variety of greenery and colorful flowers that create a calming ambiance. I spent some time in the Grotto Chapel, which is beautifully carved into fieldstone, then I walked a trail through the woods, passed by a babbling brook, was awed by the life-size statues that depict the Stations of the Cross, and meandered up a hillside that culminates in a recreation of the Crucifixion. Benches are scattered about to commune with nature and listen to the birds chirping. I find it to be a quiet and inspiring place to pray, meditate and reflect on life. It was something I needed to renew my spirituality and fill my heart with momentary peace. — Pamela Brown

50 Montfort Road, Litchfield, 860-567-1041, shrinect.org

TENNIS CLUB: Work on your backhand

My daughter and I are huge tennis fans. We even have a dog named Rafa (after the great Spaniard Rafael Nadal). When I was looking for an activity to kick off my daughter’s birthday weekend, I found Four Seasons Racquet Club, only a short drive from my home. We’re not members, but the price for an hour of indoor court time was reasonable, and it was money well spent. As soon as we entered the facility we felt at home. The staff was super friendly, explaining the various amenities and programs without pressuring us to join. We enjoyed honing our playing skills on an indoor hard court that was clean and spacious. And there’s a large area with couches and chairs to relax after play. — PB

89 Danbury Road, Wilton, 203-762-2423, 4seasonstennis.com

Scenic view from a cliff on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut.

A view of the Farmington River Valley from Talcott Mountain in Simsbury

HIKING SPOT: An inspirational climb

If you move to Connecticut from another state, as I did in 2010, and settle in the Farmington Valley, it’ll take only days until some enthusiastic neighbors mention Simsbury’s Talcott Mountain. You may wonder why some people prefer to call it Avon Mountain.

But that part of the story really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the mountain is a delightful gift to nature lovers, environmentalists, health enthusiasts, families and writers. 

Nature lovers because Talcott Mountain is part of two state parks, ecologically rich and protected, and an ecosystem of its own. Health enthusiasts because the mountain tops off at 950 feet, and you can get there on dirt trails that pump adrenaline without being overly challenging. Families because it’s a natural let’s-do-it-together activity, has interesting rock formations, an occasional arts festival at the top, and the famous Heublein Tower, home of an old Hartford businessman and now a small museum with spectacular 360-degree views. And writers (photographers and musicians, too) because it somehow sparks inspirations that even enthusiastic neighbors can’t always generate. — Joel Samberg

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Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth

FLOWER FARM: Get lost in lavender

We thought we’d explored every type of farm in Connecticut — veggies, fruits and animals — until we read about a lavender farm just a few miles inland from Long Island Sound. Lavender Pond Farm is home to over 10,000 lavender plants, including 12 different varieties. Most are harvested in nearby Old Saybrook and then bloom all summer and into fall on the Killingworth farm. Kids will love exploring the Lavender Labyrinth, searching for fairy houses around the pond, and hopping aboard the Lavender Express train for a tour of the 25-acre farm. Keep an eye out for the colorful beehives and chickens (named for Broadway Stars) in the coops. There is also a gift shop that sells a variety of lavender-infused bath products, culinary items and gifts. — Jenn Record

318 Roast Meat Hill Road, Killingworth, 203-350-0367, lavenderpondfarm.com

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Leigh Ann Abbey, animal care technician at Earthplace in Westport.

WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: Make new animal friends

Sometimes it takes pandemic restrictions to make you explore your own backyard. After years of being on our “must see” list, I finally brought the kids to Earthplace in Westport and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of hands-on, engaging activities. The 62-acre open space includes hiking trails (all less than a mile!), a 120-seat amphitheater, indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, a playground and classrooms. We befriended several rehabilitated birds in the Birds of Prey exhibit, including bald eagles, crows, vultures and owls, and got up close to the inhabitants of Animal Hall, home to bunnies, guinea pigs, possums and ferrets. Don’t miss the daily animal feedings and storytime. — J. Record

10 Woodside Lane, Westport, 203-557-4400, earthplace.org

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The Rail-Bike Adventure by the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat

RAILWAY ACTIVITY: Ride the rails

While our family wouldn’t be considered especially athletic, we do enjoy a leisurely stroll through nature. Last summer, we discovered a new take on a “nature stroll” with the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Rail-Bike Adventures in Essex. Guests ride in two-seat or four-seat recumbent bikes, pedaling for eight miles round trip on old rail tracks through the Cockaponset State Forest. Anyone 8 years and older and at least 48 inches tall can join in the fun, which starts at the main Essex Steam Train Depot in Essex and follows the trail into Old Saybrook. Experienced bikers who want a bigger challenge can take the early-morning 9-mile trip from Essex to Chester and back. Reservations for rail bikes are open from April through October. Our family now makes it an annual tradition; it’s our version of the Tour de Connecticut. — J. Record

essexsteamtrain.com/experiences/rail-bike-2

ACTIVITIES: READERS' CHOICE 

AMUSEMENT OR ADVENTURE PARK

Lake Compounce, Bristol

Runners-up:

BIKING TRAIL

Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Suffield

Runners-up:

HIKING SPOT OR TRAIL

Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden

Runners-up:

COUNTRY FAIR

Durham Fair

Runners-up:

CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL

Two Roads Ok2berfest, Stratford

Runners-up:

ESCAPE ROOM

Escape 101, Danbury

Runners-up:

FARMERS MARKET

Coventry Farmers Market

 

Runners-up:

FOOD FESTIVAL

Apple Harvest Festival, Southington

Runners-up:

MUSIC FESTIVAL

Milford Oyster Festival

Runners-up:

PICK YOUR OWN FARM

Lyman Orchard, Middlefield

Runners-up:

PUBLIC GOLF COURSE

Lyman Orchards Golf Club, Middlefield

Runners-up:

MINI GOLF COURSE

Safari Golf, Berlin

Runners-up:

SKI RESORT

Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Cornwall

Runners-up:

SPORTS COMPLEX

Sports Center of Connecticut, Shelton

Runners-up:

VENUE FOR LIVE SPORTS

Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford

Runners-up:

WEDDING VENUE

Aqua Turf Club, Plantsville

Runners-up:

CASINOS: READERS' CHOICE

CASINOS: ACTIVITY OR ATTRACTION

Connecticut Sun basketball, Mohegan Sun

Runners-up:

CASINOS: CASUAL DINING

Bobby’s Burger Palace, Mohegan Sun

Runners-up:

CASINOS: FINE DINING

Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Mohegan Sun

Runners-up:

CASINOS: NIGHTCLUB

Avalon Nightclub, Mohegan Sun

Runners-up:

CASINOS: PERFORMANCE VENUE

Mohegan Sun Arena

CASINOS: SPA

Mandara Spa at Mohegan Sun

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Mandara Spa at Mohegan Sun

Jump to: FOOD • DRINK • ACTIVITIES • CASINOS • ARTS & CULTURE • PEOPLE • HEALTH & BEAUTY • SHOPPING • HOME & GARDEN • OVERNIGHTS


ARTS & CULTURE: OUR PICKS

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The former Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven is now the Westville Music Bowl.

MUSIC VENUE: Commune with jam bands

After hosting major men’s and women’s tennis WTA and ATP tournaments since 1990, the Connecticut Tennis Center lay quiet and empty after the 2018 season. The silence was short lived. While the larger, covered amphitheater in Bridgeport underwent very public travails before its opening, the former tennis stadium’s new life in New Haven as the Westville Music Bowl was announced, constructed and completed. News spread like fire on a mountain, and ravening crowds starved of the live music experience during the long winter of the pandemic rushed in to pack the bowl at this 5,000-seat venue. Westville immediately established itself as a regional oasis for dedicated jam-rock fans, who are known for touring with bands cross-country and across years, with Government Mule opening a 2021 calendar including Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, Twiddle and a nine-show (and counting) residency by Brooklyn supergroup Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Fully vaccinated and eager to feel the feeling I forgot, I’ve held ticket stubs in my hand for JRAD, The Daze Between, and Trey Anastasio Band shows as of this writing, but the road goes on forever. See you at the show. — JG

45 Yale Ave., New Haven, westvillemusicbowl.com

HISTORIC HOME: Feel a Victorian vibe

It’s not on the scale of a grand Newport “cottage,” but Roseland Cottage, tucked away in Woodstock in the Quiet Corner, offers a similarly voyeuristic historical experience — a peek into the grand life of a successful 19th-century business baron and his family, which sought refuge outside the summer heat and tumult of New York City. Built in 1846, the Greek Revival cottage is a National Historic Landmark that preserves rich interiors bespeaking the Victorian lifestyle — but the best part is that the cottage is pink. The second best part is that Roseland Cottage is home to the oldest surviving indoor bowling alley in the U.S. In that spirit, perhaps, this dowager countess among house museums is also hip, hosting events like a steampunk festival, as well as more genteel offerings like the Oct. 16 Roseland Cottage Fine Arts & Crafts Festival, a juried affair considered one of the finest in New England. — DPC

556 Route 169, Woodstock, 860-928-4074, historicnewengland.org/property/roseland-cottage

HISTORICAL ATTRACTION: Explore Cold War depths

The Courier on Amazon Prime Video brings to life the gripping tale of British businessman Greville Wynne, recruited by MI6 and a CIA operative to travel to Russia and bring back nuclear secrets leaked by a high-ranking Russian official that helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Great stuff, but for a more hands-on experience head to the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton and walk through a piece of living Cold War history, the USS Nautilus. Not only was the Nautilus the first nuclear-powered submarine, but it also was the first to navigate under the North Pole and polar ice cap in August 1958. What makes the milestone interesting? That so-called Operation Sunshine was meant to send a signal to Russia as a response to the Soviet buildup of intercontinental ballistic missiles. And that’s just the tip of the intrigue iceberg at this terrific museum. — DPC

One Crystal Lake Road, Groton, 800-343-0079, ussnautilus.org

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Hill-Stead Museum’s annual Sunken Garden Poetry Festival is billed as New England’s premiere poetry festival.

HISTORIC HOME: Bask in art and architecture

I’d been to the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington years ago and enjoyed it, but hadn’t felt the need to return. Enter COVID and out-of-town family visiting on a rainy weekend with limited timed museum admission availability. We picked Hill-Stead for a visit and I’m so glad we did. Licensed as Connecticut’s sixth female architect, Theodate Pope Riddle designed the home after attending Miss Porter’s School. The impressive home on a bucolic hilltop was her first full architecture project, to be followed by the design of Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Westover School in Middlebury and more. In addition to being architecturally significant, the home is home to an impressive art collection from her and her family’s world travels. Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Ming Dynasty ceramics, and James McNeil Whistler are just a few represented in a collection you can’t see anywhere else. At her death in 1946, Pope Riddle designed the home and property as a museum whose contents can’t be moved, lent or sold. Go on a good day and walk the ground’s many trails. — J. Reynolds

35 Mountain Road, Farmington, 860-677-4787, hillstead.org

ARTS & CULTURE: READERS' PICKS

ART MUSEUM

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford

Runners-up:

COMEDY VENUE

Hartford Funny Bone, Manchester

Runners-up:

CONNECTICUT SPORTS TEAM (COLLEGE OR PRO)

UConn women’s basketball

Runners-up:

CULTURAL ATTRACTION FOR FAMILIES

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic

Runners-up:

DRIVE-IN THEATER

Southington Drive-In, Southington

Runners-up:

INDIE CINEMA

Real Art Ways, Hartford

Runners-up:

HISTORICAL ATTRACTION

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic

Runners-up:

MUSIC VENUE (LARGE)

Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville

Runners-up:

MUSIC VENUE (SMALL)

Infinity Music Hall, Hartford and Norfolk

Runners-up:

MUSIC VENUE TO SEE A LOCAL BAND

Toad’s Place, New Haven

Runners-up:

LOCAL BAND

Darik and the Funbags

Runners-up:

THEATRICAL VENUE (LARGE)

The Bushnell Performing Arts Center, Hartford

Runners-up:

THEATRICAL VENUE (SMALL)

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam

Runners-up:

PEOPLE: READERS' CHOICE

CONNECTICUT PODCAST

The Beer Man Beer Podcast, Jonny Benson and Jay Kettles

Runners-up:

RADIO PERSONALITY

Elvis Duran, KC101

Runners-up:

SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT

Connecticut Wonderful on Facebook

Runners-up:

TV NEWS ANCHOR

Ann Nyberg, WTNH-8

Runners-up:

TV NEWS METEOROLOGIST

Scot Haney, WFSB-3

Runners-up:

(Update, 9/30/21: Ryan Hanrahan was mistakenly identified as being with WFSB-3 when this article was first published.)

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HEALTH & BEAUTY: OUR PICK

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Tiffany Montieth of Danbury Dynamic Dance & Fitness in Danbury

DANCE/FITNESS CENTER: Be a dancing queen (or king)

My daughter has always loved to dance and attended classes at a studio until she was 18. Now 27, her interest in tap and jazz has been reignited at Danbury Dynamic Dance & Fitness and she’s never been happier. She takes weekly classes that accommodate her work schedule, and performs in the studio’s in-person recital. There I met Tiffany Montieth, the owner and one of my daughter’s teachers, who is full of energy. It was great to see her passion for dance, and her enthusiasm and support of the dancers no matter their age or skill level. My daughter appreciates the non-competitive atmosphere and is impressed with the knowledge and friendliness of the instructors. Class sizes are small for optimal learning and to ensure the safety of the dancers. My daughter enjoys it so much she’s almost convinced me to put on my dancing shoes for the upcoming fall season! — PB

93 Mill Plain Road, Danbury, 203-460-7770, danburyddf.org

HEALTH & BEAUTY: READERS' PICKS

BARBER SHOP

Nicky’s Haircutters, Bethel

Runners-up:

DAY SPA

The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich

Runners-up:

FITNESS CLUB OR GYM

CrossFit Hook’d, Sandy Hook

Runners-up:

HAIR SALON

Icon Salon, Avon

Runners-up:

MASSAGE STUDIO

Tranquility Mind & Body Wellness Spa, Milford

Runners-up:

MEDICAL SPA

Newtown Medi Spa, Newtown

Runners-up:

NAIL SALON

Nails & Beyond, Bethel

Runners-up:

YOGA STUDIO

YONO (Yoga on North), Willimantic

Runners-up:

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SHOPPING: OUR PICKS

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Stars Hollow Yarns in New Preston

CRAFT SHOP: Spin some yarn

A text from a friend traveling in Litchfield County changed my knitting and crocheting life when she discovered Stars Hollow Yarn in New Preston and told me I had to check it out. Inspired by the fictional Connecticut community created in the Gilmore Girls TV show, this local yarn shop is a yarnie’s dream come true. Not only is the yarn far beyond the run-of-the-mill offerings commonly found in other shops, but it’s also purchased with a mission in mind. Owner Lisa Clark sells sustainable yarns and accessories with a focus on those created by small business owners, and she powers her little shop with electricity generated from all renewable energy sources. She also supports local nonprofits from her Shop, Donate, Save program, in which shoppers who donate immediately get 10 percent off their purchase. Feel good and get great yarn at the same time. — J. Reynolds

2 Wheaton Road, New Preston, 860-619-0042, starshollowyarns.com

PET SHOP: Keep your furry friends happy

I couldn’t tell you exactly when I discovered the Mystic Pet Shop, only that I would follow Genevieve Triplett and John Creaturo to anywhere they opened a pet store. And have. I first met the couple when they were running Stonington Feed, and I was searching for a particular brand of hard-to-find dog food. Over the years, they became my go-to resource for not only dog food and treats, toys and leashes but also for answers to any dog-parent questions I had. When they opened the Mystic Pet Shop in downtown Mystic in 2014, the new store quickly became part of my routine and my dog’s. She would pull me in the shop’s direction no matter the time of day. Triplett and Creaturo’s pet knowledge is an incredible gift for the Mystic community. — BVS

28 E. Main St., Mystic, 860-572-4424, mysticpetshop.com

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Redscroll Records in Wallingford

RECORD SHOP: Pry some vinyl gems

When my husband and I entertain, guests will unfailingly compliment his impressive record collection, composed of about 800 LPs, many of which have been lovingly procured over travels to Brooklyn, Richmond and Portland, Maine. Needless to say, we were excited to discover a massive and well-stocked record store close to home. 

Redscroll Records in Wallingford has bins on bins of discount buys (perfect for browsers like me) as well as rare collectibles, jazz, heavy metal, and soundtracks for the avid collector. The store is meticulously organized and alphabetized, so it’s easy to stop in with a wish list or browse by genre and artist. — Ann Loynd Burton

69 South Turnpike Road, Wallingford, 203-365-7013, redscrollrecords.com

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Indigo Bleu in Stonington

WOMEN'S CLOTHING STORE: Find that perfect outfit

With the staggering diversity and amount of women’s clothing here, ranging from traditional Indian prints and colorful dresses to crisp wardrobe staples, Indigo Bleu has something for all. If you can’t find something here you love, you’re not going to find it anywhere. I especially love that they offer a range of sizes from XS to 2X so that women of all sizes can feel beautiful and confident. I was so taken by the tunics as well as the colorful prints, but was looking for dresses for an early fall trip when I stopped by in late August. I’ve always found clothes shopping hit-or-miss: either everything looks good and fits right or nothing does. I didn’t have that problem here. Owner Nancy Apthorp helped me find a variety of things to try on in the right size and some styles I would not ever have chosen but looked fantastic. I went home very happy, my bank account a tad lighter. — AV

134 Water St., Stonington, 860-535-8256, indigobleustonington.com

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Whitlock’s Book Barn in Bethany

BOOKSTORE: For the discerning bookworm

In years long past, this was the ritual for any Saturday that could be liberated from mundane demands: Drive to New Haven, visit Yale’s art museums, have coffee and Chabasso cranberry bread at Atticus, buy coffee beans at Willoughby’s, pick up wine at The Wine Thief, and head to Whitlock’s Book Barn on the way home. Whitlock’s has been around since 1948, offering thousands upon thousands of used and rare books divided among a Lower Barn (volumes for discerning scholars, collectors and readers) and an Upper Barn (more than 20,000 hardcovers and paperbacks all for $5 or less.) This summer Whitlock’s announced in its email newsletter that it received an intriguing collection of books on guns, and another on cars, as well as a trove of signed books from the likes of Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, Nadine Gordimer, E.E. Cummings and Harold Pinter, as well as posters signed by Maurice Sendak, Edward Albee, Twyla Tharp, Alice Waters and more. That evokes a favorite line from Pinter: “As if the rain in the light on the pavements in the twilight never existed, as if our sporting and intellectual life never was.” You reflect on life in this way browsing the collection at Whitlock’s. — DPC

20 Sperry Road, Bethany, 203-393-1240, whitlocksbookbarn.com

SHOPPING: READERS' CHOICE

BABY OR CHILDREN’S CLOTHES

Max & Lily’s Closet, Hartford

Runners-up:

BIKE SHOP

Bethel Cycle Works, Bethel

Runners-up:

BRIDAL BOUTIQUE

Mariella Creations, Rocky Hill

Runners-up:

MEN’S CLOTHING

Mitchells, Westport

Runners-up:

WOMEN’S CLOTHING

J. Jill, Danbury

Runners-up:

CONSIGNMENT SHOP

Consignment Originals, multiple locations

Runners-up:

CRAFT STORE

Beads & More, Woodbury

Runners-up:

GALLERY TO BUY ART

Trade Winds Gallery, Mystic

Runners-up:

GENERAL STORE

The General Store, Newtown

Runners-up:

INDIE BOOKSTORE

RJ Julia Booksellers, Madison

Runners-up:

JEWELRY MAKER

Mallove’s Jewelers, Middletown

Runners-up:

JEWELRY STORE

Mallove’s Jewelers, Middletown

Runners-up:

PET SALON OR BOUTIQUE

Paws N’ Relax, Brookfield

Runners-up:

PET SUPPLIES

Mackey’s, Willimantic

Runners-up:

RECORD OR CD SHOP

Disc & Dat, Bethel

Runners-up:

RUNNING GEAR

Fleet Feet, West Hartford and Westport

Runners-up:

SHOPPING CENTER OR DESTINATION

Clinton Premium Outlets, Clinton

Runners-up:

SPORTING GOODS

Action Sports, Old Saybrook and Branford

Runners-up:

SWIMWEAR

Tina’s Fine Lingerie, Middletown

TOY STORE

Amato’s Toy and Hobby, Middletown

Runners-up:

UNIQUE GIFTS

Tickled Pink, Seymour

Runners-up:

VINTAGE CLOTHING

The Hunt, New Milford

Runners-up:

WATER SPORTS SHOP

Collinsville Canoe and Kayak, Collinsville

WINTER SPORTS SHOP

Ski Haus, New Milford

Runners-up:

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HOME & GARDEN: OUR PICKS

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Garden Barn Nursery & Landscape, Vernon

GARDEN CENTER: Heaven for green thumbs

I have always loved gardening, and when my now-adult daughter raved about a garden center near her home, I decided to visit it, even though it’s over an hour away. I was glad I made the trek to the Garden Barn Nursery & Landscape in Vernon — the selection and variety is hard to beat! I found mums in all colors, with each section separated by color, plus tons of annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs and more. I especially loved the containers they arranged with mums and rubrum grasses. I could have easily spent the day here and hundreds of dollars. — AV

228 West St., Vernon, 860-872-7291, gardenbarn.com

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J .Horton in Madison

HOME GOOD STORE: Find your essential non-essentials

Although my pandemic-inspired Swedish death-cleaning phase meant a moratorium on purchasing non-essentials, my son’s commitment to creating exceptional ramen while sheltering in place led me in search of bowls worthy of his creations. I found myself at J. Horton, whose owner, Joan Horton, suggested we might find something at what she refers to as her “lifestyle” store. 

Horton’s New York-chic style and innate eclecticism are echoed in the diverse collection of goods thoughtfully displayed throughout her space. She restocks a few customer favorites, but the rest of her inventory is constantly changing and includes creations by local and international artists, unique wedding gifts, and the occasional vintage piece. Her discerning eye has garnered a loyal customer base.

We found two elegant bowls made by a local potter. I couldn’t resist a resin mortar and pestle that practically glowed. I felt I had flouted my own moratorium. But I was wrong — J. Horton’s items, combining both beauty and function, are essentials. You just don’t know you need them until you see them. Once you do, you won’t want to live without them. — Renée Allen

690 Boston Post Road, Madison, 203-779-5343, jhortonstore.com

ANTIQUES AND VINTAGE SHOP: Discover unexpected treasure

I’m not a chain-store, online-shopping kind of guy (with exceptions, of course). I like to touch while I browse, and shop local. Especially over the last year-plus, more items caught my attention at Past to Present Antiques on Main Street in Niantic. Re-arranged regularly, the dressers, desks, tables, framed prints and artwork in the front room are the most popular buys, but it’s the smaller treasures throughout that impulsively inspire me to buy for friends: the fist-size, cast-iron moose antlers (one of our favorite lines in college was “I need that like a moose needs a hat rack”); the glass beer mug celebrating Yaz and the ’67 Sox; and a U.S. Geological Survey map of pre-Interstate 95 Wilmington, Delaware, from a table strewn with similar maps of cities from Hailey, Idaho, to Scranton, Pennsylvania, for a friend who grew up there. He promised to frame it. — Gary Santaniello

260 Main St., Niantic, 860-449-3312, pasttopresentct.com

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Atherton & Co. in Mystic

GIFT SHOP: Find the perfect present

It was my toddler and her desire to balance on every raised patch of earth that led me to Atherton & Co. Tucked into a small shop on Holmes Street in downtown Mystic, the charming little boutique full of home decor and gifts is easy to miss. But one day, while holding my daughter’s hand while she debated jumping from the curb, pretty stamped blue mugs in the window caught my eye. They reminded me of the cups at a favorite cafe, and I made a mental note to come back. Since then, the shop has become my go-to for gifts; birthday gifts of eco-friendly play dough for the kids in my life, “thinking of you” gifts such as candles, seeds and even bread mix for friends and a few gifts for myself like that mug. Warm and cozy, stepping into the shop is like stepping into your friend’s living room. And there’s always something lovely to discover. — BVS

14 Holmes St., Mystic, 860-415-5213, facebook.com/athertonco

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Karin Lewis-Cook of Redding and her work

ARTISAN: Nature-inspired crafts

It’s inspiring how Karin Lewis-Cook found a way to unite her love of nature and visceral imagination into one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and resin items, including small dishes, barrettes, bookmarks, coasters, pyramids, keychains, candleholders and energy pieces. The Redding resident’s resin art is created using dried flowers and items from nature as well as crystals, copper, wood, Mylar and paper, among others. She mixes resin colors that are appealing and look good with the materials she embeds. For the natural pieces, Karin dries her own flowers in silica gel or presses them to capture their actual appearance. You can tell she’s inspired by the beauty of nature and other organic forms, and using resin as a medium she captures nature’s everlasting essence. You can find her at local craft fairs, and she’s planning on adding an Etsy shop and selling online. Also, she shared that she’ll be taking custom requests soon. Inspired by others who create beautiful works of art, Karin is eager to expand her talent to use resin to create paintings as well as other resin and wood pieces, such as tables and cutting boards. — PB

203-838-0490, karin@yourcompanystore.com

HOME & GARDEN: READERS' PICKS 

ANTIQUE SHOPPING

Collinsville Antiques Co., New Hartford

Runners-up:

FLEA MARKET

Elephant’s Trunk, New Milford

Runners-up:

FURNITURE STORE

Kloter Farms, Ellington

Runners-up:

OUTDOOR FURNITURE STORE

Kloter Farms, Ellington

Runners-up:

HOME DECOR

Mellow Monkey, Stratford

Runners-up:

KITCHENWARE

Kitch, Mystic

Runners-up:

LIGHTING STORE

Connecticut Lighting Centers, Southington and Hartford

Runners-up:

RUGS AND FLOOR COVERINGS

Kaoud Rugs, Canton, Manchester, West Hartford

Runners-up:

FLORIST

Alice’s Flower Shop, Bethel

Runners-up:

GARDEN CENTER OR NURSERY

Hollandia Nurseries & Farm, Bethel

Runners-up:

VINTAGE FINDS

Mongers Market, Bridgeport

Runners-up:

(Update, 9/29/21: The Hunt was accidentally omitted from the Vintage Finds category when this article was first published.)

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OVERNIGHTS: OUR PICKS

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The White Hart Inn in Salisbury

HISTORIC LODGING: Best-of-both-worlds inn

The best weekend escapes require a couple of elements to align: a great lodging that’s also in the heart of a compelling place. It can be difficult to get both parts of the equation to cooperate, but not at The White Hart in Salisbury (Lakeville), the gorgeous and charming town in the extreme northwest corner of the state. 

The inn is historic (built in 1806 as a tavern with only a few rooms), enchanting (you can still dine by the fire in the Tap Room), smartly updated (16 guest rooms refurbished with hardwood floors and rugs, new and expanded bathrooms with Carrara marble and wainscoting, etc.) and very fine food. In addition to the Tap Room and dining room menu, there’s White Hart Provisions, a café and “eclectic general store.” Everything is scratch and made with as many local ingredients as possible; think chermoula-marinated roasted chicken with farro salad, and green tahini sauce, as well as fish and chips and upscale burgers.

The inn is within walking distance of an alluring town center with fine shopping, including antiquarian books at Johnnycake Books. There’s nearby skiing in the winter, and the adventuresome can try Track Tapas Day at Lime Rock Park, a two-hour thrill ride in which participants drive their own cars on Lime Rock’s Autocross and the 1½-mile iconic road course. (There’s one coming up Oct. 19; see the schedule at limerock.com for details.) Fun fact: The John Harney Suite is named after the local legend who launched Harney & Sons Tea in the basement of The White Hart. — DPC

15 Under Mountain Road, Salisbury, 860-435-0030, whitehartinn.com

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The Surfside Hotel in Stratford.

ON-THE-WATER LODGING: A stay with an ocean breeze

Longtime Nutmeggers like myself are likely familiar with Marnick’s, the once-charming — but more recently, rundown — hotel and restaurant at the Stratford seawall. Thankfully, Little Pub restaurateur Doug Grabe saw the location’s potential and revamped the neighborhood favorite into one of his popular eateries and the new Surfside Hotel, opened in 2020.

Now, daycationers, honeymooners and coastal explorers alike can enjoy a waterfront getaway close to home. The sleepy hamlet of Lordship might be mistaken for Nantucket from your rooftop porch overlooking Point No Point beach. Along with great views, guests enjoy freshly renovated rooms decorated in vintage nautical style and artwork by local artists EvilTwin Collective and Elena McCoy. 

In your spare time, enjoy a yoga class at the hotel, take a walk through the scenic neighborhood, or grab a bite and an artisanal cocktail at Little Pub. I recommend the buttermilk crunch wrap and huckleberry lemonade. — ALB

10 Washington Pkwy., 203-612-7523, Stratford, thesurfside.com

OVERNIGHTS: READERS' PICKS

B&B OR COUNTRY INN

The Spa at Norwich Inn, Norwich

Runners-up:

LUXURY LODGING

Water’s Edge Resort & Spa, Westbrook

Runners-up:

PLACE TO STAY IN THE CITY

Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, New Haven

Runners-up:

ROMANTIC GETAWAY

Water’s Edge Resort & Spa, Westbrook

Runners-up:

HISTORIC LODGING

The Griswold Inn, Essex

Runners-up:

ON-THE-WATER LODGING

Water’s Edge Resort & Spa, Westbrook

Runners-up:

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Not enough of the best? Our annual Best Restaurants Readers' Choice survey is live now through Oct. 17. Go here to pick your favorite restaurants!

This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.