Best Attractions in Connecticut | 2016 Editors’ Choice Awards
Looking for the best things to do in Connecticut? You won’t have to look far! Read our picks for the best attractions in Connecticut for 2016. Best Beach: Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison Buoyant waves, two miles of sugary sand, nearly 600 campsites, cycling paths: “Good bones,” as they say, but battering tropical storms left Connecticut’s […]
Best Family Attraction: Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Norwalk
Photo Credit : The Maritime Aquarium
Looking for the best things to do in Connecticut? You won’t have to look far! Read our picks for the best attractions in Connecticut for 2016.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
Buoyant waves, two miles of sugary sand, nearly 600 campsites, cycling paths: “Good bones,” as they say, but battering tropical storms left Connecticut’s biggest beach craving a facelift. By Memorial Day, more than $10.5 million in enhancements will be revealed, including new bathhouse and concession buildings and an interactive, immersive, 4,000-square-foot nature center with a circular touch tank and live animal displays.
1288 Boston Post Road. 203-245-2785; ct.gov/deep/hammonasset
Adventure Rooms, Middletown
It’s like a video game IRL (in real life). “Room escape is fairly new in the U.S.,” says game specialist Josh Becker of this craze imported from Europe and Asia. Reserve your experience for two to eight adults; enter a strange environment inside historic Sanseer Mill; solve your way out in 60 minutes. Your smartphone won’t save you; street smarts might. Only 30 percent of teams succeed, but “an amazing time” is guaranteed, or the adventure is free.
282 Main St. Extension. 860-358-9130; myadventurerooms.com/Connecticut
Best Flea Market:
Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market, New Milford
It costs peanuts—just $2—to treasure-hunt at Connecticut’s largest flea market. But serious shoppers pony up $20 before 7:00 a.m. for dibs on what’s sprouted in this field of extremes. Each Sunday, nearly 500 sellers parade out antiques, collectibles, and curiosities, from chainsaw art to deep-discount Cheez-Its. The mesmerizing variety has kept this colorful bazaar going strong for 40 years.
490 Danbury Road. 860-355-1448; etflea.com
Best Tourist Hot Spot:
Lake Compounce, Bristol
There’s something for everyone here: water rides, classic rides, kiddie rides, dance and comedy shows—and, of course, roller coasters and thrill rides. America’s oldest amusement park celebrates 170 years of smiles and screams with its biggest investment yet in 2016. The magnetically propelled Phobia Phear Coaster—the first triple-launch roller coaster in the Northeast—will race at speeds of up to 65 mph and flip riders at 150 feet in the air, one of the highest inversions ever achieved. It’s the most hotly anticipated new thrill in park history.
186 Enterprise Drive. 860-583-3300; lakecompounce.com
Best Rail Trail:
Air Line State Park Trail, East Hampton to Thompson
Jog, walk, or pedal any or all of the 50-mile, flat, easy, gravel trail that cuts a diagonal through northeastern Connecticut, and you’ll marvel at the same scenes that enchanted well-heeled “Ghost Train” passengers at the turn of the 20th century. The gold-trimmed, white-painted Pullman cars have vanished, but this stretch of the “Air Line” from New York to Boston has been reincarnated as a public path over viaducts and bridges, through wetlands and farmlands and forest preserves, for walkers, hikers, horseback riders, bikers, and cross-country skiers. See the website for downloadable maps.
Best New Museum:
American Museum of Tort Law, Winsted
Consumer advocate and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader was the driving force behind the nation’s first law-focused museum, which débuted last fall; that’s why it’s in his Connecticut hometown. Inside, you’ll see a Corvair—the car Nader famously railed against in Unsafe at Any Speed—plus other exhibits and information on “cases that made a difference.”
654 Main St. 860-379-0505; tortmuseum.org
Best Sports Outing:
Hartford Yard Goats, Hartford
The Eastern League AA New Britain Rock Cats have a new home and a new name, but affordable family entertainment is still the game. Yard goats are workhorse locomotives in a railyard, and the ball club’s identity, selected via a name-the-team contest, is such a home run that logowear shipped to all 50 states months before 6,000-seat, 360-degree Dunkin’ Donuts Park was constructed. New and cherished traditions and promotions highlight 71 inaugural-season home games.
1214 Main St. (stadium), 99 Pratt St. (team office). 860-259-1039; yardgoatsbaseball.com
Best Family Attraction:
Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Norwalk
Harbor seals’ antics tickle preschoolers. Tweens can spend all day petting jellies, sharks, and stingrays. Even Game of Thrones–loving grown-ups find the dragons—including America’s only black dragon on public view—fascinating. Add in IMAX movies and excursions aboard a revolutionary new $2.7 million hybrid electric research vessel, and the only aquarium devoted to Long Island Sound is an all-day fun destination.
10 North Water St. 203-852-0700; maritimeaquarium.org
Cross Sound Ferry Lighthouse Cruise, New London
From the sundeck, the bow, or the windowed, climate-controlled cabins of the fast-gliding SeaJet catamaran, you’ll spy eight architecturally distinctive lighthouses and hear knowledgeable narrator Ted Webb’s tales of pirates, ghosts, and historic events. Bonus sights during these two-hour Long Island Sound voyages frequently include sunbathing gray seals, the world’s largest population of nesting common terns, and nuclear-powered submarines.
2 Ferry St. 860-443-5281; longislandferry.com/lighthousecruise
Stony Creek Brewery, Branford
Boat parking and Branford River views from multilevel, indoor/outdoor gathering spaces set this ultra-modern 2015 newcomer apart from the growing field of breweries in Connecticut. On a tour, learn how brewmaster Andy Schwartz, who’s made beer for 20 years, hybridizes hoppy West Coast and fruit-forward East Coast recipes to craft his potent trio of “Cranky” IPAs.
5 Indian Neck Ave. 203-433-4545; stonycreekbeer.com
Best Community Theater:
Bradley Playhouse, Putnam
This 115-year-old vaudeville theater in the heart of a revitalized mill town is home stage for a nonprofit, all-volunteer troupe that performs musicals, dramas, and comedies for enthralled audiences. The talent, staging, costuming, and effects are so superb, you’ll swear this can’t be 170 miles off Broadway.
30 Front St. 860-928-7887; thebradleyplayhouse.org
Best Cheese Lovers’ Outing:
Cheese School of Connecticut at Fairfield & Greenwich Cheese Company, Fairfield & Cos Cob
Cheesemongers Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo fill their shops’ cases with rare selections, including New England’s most sought-after artisanal cheeses. On Cheese School nights, they’ll teach you to love and understand cheese with an ardor you usually reserve for your sweetheart.
2090 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8194. 154 East Putnam Ave., Cos Cob; 203-340-9227. fairfieldcheese.com/cheese-school
What tops your list for the best attractions in Connecticut?