Best of Connecticut | 2018 Editors’ Choice Awards

Planning a Connecticut vacation, day trip, or getaway? From dining and lodging to attractions that are well worth the drive, here are nearly 30 of our editors’ picks for the best of Connecticut.

By Yankee Magazine

Apr 16 2018


2018 Best of Connecticut | Shell & Bones

Photo Credit : Courtesy of Shell & Bones
Planning a Connecticut vacation, day trip, or getaway? From dining and lodging to attractions that are well worth the drive, here are nearly 30 of our editors’ picks for the best of Connecticut.


Best of Connecticut | 2018 Editors' Choice Awards
2018 Best of Connecticut | NASKART
Photo Credit : Courtesy of NASKART

CINEMA OR DRIVE-IN: Prospector TheaterRidgefield

Lives forever changed. That’s not just some Hollywood tag line at the Prospector, a 1940 movie house rescued from demolition that’s become both a model for employment inclusivity and the state’s most accessible entertainment venue. The nonprofit four-screen cinema pulses with playfulness and pride, from its sparkly purple lobby walls to its must-see preshows starring employees, most of whom are disabled adults fulfillingly employed for the first time. Descriptive narration headsets and closed-caption glasses, low-mobility seating in prime viewing locations, and sensory screenings featuring turned-down audio, turned-up lights, and freedom to move about combine to make the thrills of movie­going. 203-438-0136

COASTAL CRUISE: Mystic Whaler CruisesNew London

The winds of fate brought husband-and-wife captains John Eginton and Pat Beck together, and when you sail with this duo, the voyage—whether it’s a brunch, lunch, or lobster dinner cruise or a multiday sleep-aboard adventure—will remind you that life’s little clues only reveal themselves when your senses are fully awake and attuned. Aboard the half-century-old Mystic Whaler schooner, you’ll savor every morsel of galley-cooked meals, rediscover simple joys such as conversing with newfound friends, and find the relaxation that’s eluded you on land. 860-447-1249


Head socks are required. That’s the first clue that the world’s largest multilevel indoor go-karting facility isn’t just child’s play. A full bar is clue two. Toasting victory costs extra, but your mandatory protective headwear is included with the small annual membership fee charged for access to twisting tracks that challenge even experienced drivers. It’s easy to learn karting basics and safety rules. Racers must be 58 inches tall, but that doesn’t mean little family members are left in the dust: A massive trampoline park has fun features for all ages. 860-444-7700

FARMERS’ MARKET: Coventry Farmers’ MarketCoventry

Connecticut’s largest market for growers and makers tends to back up traffic for more than half a mile along the tree-lined road that leads to the Nathan Hale Homestead. So set out early and allow plenty of time to sample and shop for in-demand products such as Norm’s Best marinated mushrooms and Dragon’s Blood Elixir hot sauces, plus handcrafted gifts, meats, cheeses, and a cornucopia of just-picked produce. Live music, food trucks, and free tours of the historic farmhouse satisfy diverse Sunday Funday cravings. Weekly themes keep the vendor lineup fresh from June through October. 860-742-6917

MUSIC CLUB: Infinity Music Hall & BistroHartford

It’s the rare sequel that outshines the original: Dan Hincks’s second Infinity Music Hall is one of the biggest draws in downtown Hartford. Music fans who’ve been to the Norfolk original will find much to recognize here, from the starry backdrop to the reggae punch and lobster hush puppies. Like its sibling in northwestern Connecticut, this concert venue’s phenomenal acoustics, intimate vibe, and spirited bistro keep top-notch musicians and their fans coming back. Comfier seating, covered parking, stage-level restrooms, and handicapped access to the mezzanine are among this second incarnation’s advantages. 860-560-7757

NATURE EXPERIENCE: Black Hall OutfittersOld Lyme

Sharp-eyed ospreys, eagles, and egrets know the 500-acre Great Island salt marsh well, but odds are you’ve never heard of this paddling paradise. The savvy folks at Black Hall Outfitters are determined to introduce first-time and experienced kayakers to the wildlife refuge’s serene and shallow waters, which few humans have explored. Rent kayaks or SUPs, book a guided ecotour, or join a small group for a sunset outing, when each dip of a paddle sends iridescent ripples through the brackish liquid. 860-434-9680

NEW CULTURAL ATTRACTION: The Storytellers’ CottageSimsbury

Is that bookcase laden with antique volumes a secret door to a castle chamber? Of course it is. From the steampunk library to the Jane Austen salon, every room in this storybook Victorian is filled with details to create a book lover’s bliss. Since her literary attraction’s debut, Lisa Natcharian has embraced every plot twist, allowing diverse activities to flourish within the enchanting spaces she’s created. Visit during free open hours, when quiet nooks beckon to readers and writers, or attend a book talk, workshop, or vintage-themed event. Mystery-room “escape” games for any-age groups are best-sellers. 860-877-6099

SHORT HIKE: Talcott Mountain Tower TrailSimsbury

The visual rewards far outweigh the moderate effort required to hike the 1¼-mile trail up Talcott Mountain. Pause often to admire ever-expanding views of the verdant Farmington Valley; to the southeast, Hartford’s skyline juts up from the waves of green, looking regal and remote. Picnic at the summit before climbing to the top of 165-foot-tall Heublein Tower, built as a summer residence in 1914. You’ll be following in the ’50s-era footsteps of future presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, who visited back when this mountaintop exclamation point was owned by The Hartford Times. 860-242-1158

SPECIALTY MUSEUM: New England Carousel Museum and Museum of Fire HistoryBristol

A rented space, a single carousel horse, a dream. Fast-forward 28 years, and this Bristol nonprofit now owns the 1837 factory building that houses a collection of 150 artfully carved carousel animals, plus a plethora of carnival memorabilia, a restoration workshop, a thunderous band organ, and a fully operating Venetian carousel you’re invited to ride. After an exhilarating spin, head upstairs to view installations devoted to firefighting history and Greek culture. Curious why they’re here? Ask your guide … or embrace the lost art of wonderment. 860-585-5411 

SPORTS EXPERIENCE: 365 Synthetic Snow Park at Powder RidgeMiddlefield

Skis? Check. Ski boots? Check. Helmet? Check. Snow? No longer required—not even on the hottest July day. Last year Middlefield’s small but spunky Powder Ridge became the Northeast’s first (and the nation’s fourth) ski area to install a synthetic skiing and snowboarding slope, plus two year-round, carpet lift–serviced “snow” tubing lanes. It takes only a handful of runs to adjust to the feel of the polymer surface, which mimics hard-packed snow. Downhill mountain biking and a free Saturday-night summer concert series add to the mountain’s burgeoning off-season appeal. 866-860-0208


Best of Connecticut | 2018 Editors' Choice Awards
2018 Best of Connecticut | The Goodwin
Photo Credit : Tom Crane Photography

CAMPGROUND: Hidden Acres Family CampgroundPreston

Every activity on a 1960s kid’s summer to-do list is offered at this tucked-in-the-trees campground. Bring your tent or RV or rent a cabin, and within an hour of checking in you’ll feel like part of a big family. The pride that Bill and Priscilla Migliaccio and their children take in preserving traditions that stretch back to 1972—when Bill’s father bought Boy Scout Camp Quinebaug—makes this the rare destination where multigenerational bonds are knit tight. Kids will remember river tubing, fire truck rides, Saturday night dances, and free-ranging like the campground’s resident muster of peacocks. 860-887-9633

AFFORDABLE CITY STAY: The Quinnipiack ClubNew Haven

Connecticut’s best lodging deal is unadvertised and exceedingly unusual. Walk past the colonial-looking brick “Q Club” building a half block from the New Haven Green, and you’d never know that nonmembers can instantly gain temporary membership privileges by booking one of 21 guest rooms. Fine dining and room service; billiard room, duckpin bowling alley, and 24-hour health club; and opportunities to view art and socialize with interesting professionals—these experiences, along with inexpensive rates (from $115), make it easy to forgive the rooms’ outdated decor. Plus, your stay helps sustain this 147-year-old community organization. 203-562-3147

UPSCALE CITY STAY: The GoodwinHartford

Hartford’s grand dame hotel awoke last summer from a nine-year slumber looking as alluring as ever on the outside and dramatically rejuvenated on the inside. It’s not the first rebirth for this 1881 Queen Anne–style red-brick-and-terracotta building, but it’s a quantum leap forward for capital visitors who appreciate high-tech amenities, enticing dining, and a soothingly contemporary design aesthetic. Just enough woodwork and other architectural details have been preserved to honor the hotel’s original grandeur. 860-246-1881

HISTORIC INN: Boardman House InnEast Haddam

An expertise in architectural restoration makes Swedish innkeepers Andre and Mia Hymander ideal stewards of this 1860 mansion, built in dramatic Second Empire style more than a dozen years before Goodspeed Musicals’ famous opera house debuted nearby. You’ll perceive only comfort—in touches like downy bedding and heated bathroom floors—and none of the labor that the Hymanders put into fashioning this peaceful retreat. Claim a wicker porch chair and listen for the occasional strains of performers rehearsing their songs, as Goodspeed’s Artists Village for visiting talent is adjacent to the inn. 860-873-9233

INN FOR FOODIES:Roger Sherman InnNew Canaan

“Celebrity chef” doesn’t do Francois Kwaku-Dongo justice. The Wolfgang Puck protégé has been a superhero in the fight to save this landmark inn, which was on the brink of doom a year ago. With local support and a worldly vision, Kwaku-Dongo has boosted the property’s culinary profile. Evolving menus nimbly leap from pan-seared New England seafood to classic French dishes. Stay overnight in one of 17 simple yet spacious rooms, and you can linger late over chocolate desserts handcrafted with fair-trade Omanhene chocolate from Ghana (another of Kwaku-Dongo’s admirable endeavors). 203-966-4541

LAKESIDE LODGING:The Hopkins InnWarren

Even as competing inns that once ringed Lake Waramaug have fallen into private hands, Beth and Franz Schober—owners of the Hopkins Inn for 42 years and counting—have remained resolute that views of Connecticut’s prettiest lake should be shared. The cheery c. 1847 inn’s 12 rooms aren’t huge, but they’re priced reasonably, considering that many look out on the hill-surrounded lake. Son Toby’s European-inspired fare and an extensive wine list make lakeside outdoor dining popular even after dark. Sweaters are available to borrow: True hospitality is all about warmth. 860-868-7295

LUXURY ESCAPE: Spicer MansionMystic

This richly restored sea captain’s home on a hilltop overlooking Mystic gave new meaning to indulgent lodging when it opened with eight rooms and a jackets-preferred restaurant in 2016. Last year, Room No. 9 was completed. No, it’s not another sanctuarylike guest room with a heavenly Duxiana bed and high-tech amenities. Instead, a bookcase in the entryway is a secret door to the mansion’s hip new subterranean speakeasy, where canoodling feels as mandatory as drinking. A pianist tickles vintage ivories on Friday and Saturday evenings, while regional spirits flow. 860-245-4621

NEW HOTEL: Delamar West Hartford

With glossy magazine–worthy common areas, bold art on loan from the New Britain Museum of American Art, and champagne at check-in, Blue Back Square’s long-awaited boutique hotel is astonishingly sophisticated for its suburban location. Even visitors who aren’t staying in the quiet, natural light–filled guest rooms can book a restful session at the hotel’s European-style spa and savor farm-to-table fare at the indoor-outdoor restaurant Artisan, where the chef’s garden and dreamily illuminated pergola create the illusion that this is wine country, not West Hartford. 860-937-2500

OCEANSIDE LODGING: The Kelsey House B&BBranford

Any thoughts weighing on you will dissolve the instant you step up to this Victorian cottage’s porch. On a clear day, you can see Long Island from this Maine-esque rocky point; ospreys nest on neighboring Kelsey Island. Innkeeper Susan Kelsey’s great-grandfather built the house, which she and husband Ken Olson now happily share with guests. Her ancestors—some of Connecticut’s earliest settlers—discovered this spot while searching for fish bone-meal fertilizer. Now, visitors in pursuit of calm are nourished by water views and three-course breakfasts starring freshly baked, seasonally inspired muffins. 203-481-5207

ROMANTIC GETAWAY: The Wallingford Victorian InnWallingford

Built as a wedding present in 1891, this Queen Anne–style inn offers modern couples the gift they crave: carefree time away. Five posh suites are stocked with everything needed to unwind. The decor is period-inspired, yet restrained. Custom-cooked breakfasts are served at private, candlelit tables. And while restaurants and shops are just a two-block walk away, you’ll be content to porch-sit, play backyard chess, or listen to the player piano’s nostalgic tunes. 203-265-1200


Best of Connecticut | 2018 Editors' Choice Awards
2018 Best of Connecticut | Shell & Bones
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Shell & Bones

BURGERS:Prime 16New Haven

In the city that lays claim to the first-ever hamburger, America’s favorite meal on a bun is being reinvented daily. Prime 16 is a boisterous den of beer and beef, where the creative team behind juicy, high-stacked menu stars like the honey-truffle burger is sometimes outdone by diners who go the build-your-own route. The math gets a little crazy when you calculate possible combinations of nine distinct patties, from bison to vegetarian; dozens of cheeses and toppings; and 20 house-made condiments—particularly when you factor in the unconventional craft-beverage selections pouring out of 20 taps. Additional locations in Orange and Pelham. 203-782-1616

CHEF’S TABLE:Present CompanyTariffville

In 2016, pedigreed and passionate chef Jeffrey Lizotte ditched downtown Hartford’s most elevated kitchen, On20, to catapult this rustic yet refined 50-seat restaurant in his suburban hometown to the top of Connecticut’s culinary heap. With co-owner Tom Gale wrangling details, Lizotte is free to incessantly outdo himself, fashioning never-tasted dishes from fresh-harvested ingredients. The sizzle and steam, the smells, the chance to talk shop with the mastermind behind five-course tasting menus—and to witness the precision Lizotte demands from his team—make courtside seats at the open kitchen’s counter the best in the house. 860-658-7890

DOUGHNUTS:Donut CrazyShelton

Mmm … maple-bacon doughnuts. If the mere thought of syrup-glazed orbs encrusted in bacon hunks has you drooling, you’ll understand why this only-in-Connecticut chain is the state’s sweetest success story. Now with four locations (and two in the works) since the original opened in Shelton in 2015, Donut Crazy has achieved doughnut domination by constantly unleashing new flavors with wow-factor taste and visual appeal—and by offering evening hours for fans who know that crème brûlée, s’mores, and cannoli doughnuts are worthy desserts. Additional locations in Stratford, New Haven, and Westport. 203-538-5560

HOT DOGS: Jack Rabbits and the Rabbit Hole TavernOld Saybrook

A citrus-bright, family-friendly café? Or a dimly lit bar serving boozy milkshakes? Whichever door you choose at this two-for-one dining destination, you’ll be among hot dog devotees. It can be excruciating, choosing among traditional styles and amped-up originals (like the One-Eyed Jack, slathered with caramelized onions, bacon, corn relish, and mustard), all with Hummel, kosher beef, kielbasa, red hot, turkey, and vegetarian dog options. And that’s before you notice the game changer: lobster hot dogs. These hand-rolled, soy paper–wrapped tubes of buttered, shredded lobster are as decadent as dogs get. Try the Angry Red Dragon topped with red chili mayo and onion-jalapeño relish. 860-510-0048

NEW RESTAURANT: The EssexCenterbrook

Chef Colt Taylor has come home to Essex, Connecticut—not merely to launch a restaurant but rather to invent his own chic culinary world, where local and upscale ingredients are as meldable as Play-Doh in a preschooler’s clutches. Inside a deceptively staid Tudor mansion, the spontaneous energy of a live cooking show swirls through brightly lit open kitchens, a bar stocked with artisan spirits, and a gourmet market. Expect unpredictable menus, particularly if you opt for omakase-style tasting experiences hosted in the quieter Hearth. Trust Taylor to startle your palate, even if you’re no stranger to adventurous dining. 860-237-4189

SEAFOOD SHACK:Captain Scott’s Lobster DockNew London

When the occasional train rolls by, you’ll catch a look in the eyes of window-side passengers that’s easy to identify: envy. So be thankful you braved the line at this waterside, open-air, BYOB seafood-feasting spot. The wait gives you time to build your dream order: steamers and butter-splashed lobster roll, whole bellies and flaky fried fish. Besides, cooling your heels for a bit is nothing compared with the owners’ ancestor’s act of endurance. As legend has it, Captain Thomas A. Scott saved hundreds aboard a sinking ferry in 1870 by “corking” a hole with his body for more than an hour. 860-439-1741

STEAKHOUSE: Gabriele’s Italian SteakhouseGreenwich

Want VIP treatment at a sumptuous old-world steak emporium? Simply walk through the doors of this celebrity-magnet restaurant, where polished, personable servers and trivia-slinging general manager Tony Capasso make every guest feel entertained and indulged. Order a glass of wine: A third of a bottle arrives in an extra-large goblet. Pastas are homemade; the filet mignon is fork-cuttable. Spicy, juicy charred broccoli is the star of the sides, although the football-size stuffed baked potatoes are contenders. Have a special request? You’re likely to hear, “Everything is possible here.” 203-622-4223


The message isn’t preachy, but it’s clear: This snug, all-organic restaurant is powered by plants. Still, one bite of the raw taco will immediately have you wondering how a vegan concoction can taste so meaty, so satisfying. Chefs and farmers Mark and Ami Shadle are driven to make healthful, sustainable cuisine accessible and inventive. Burgers, pizza, pastas—even a rich lemon-lavender “cheesecake”—are familiar yet ingeniously crafted without animal-derived ingredients. The same conscientiousness goes into the lineup of elixirs, cocktails, wines, and craft brews. 203-208-0443

WATERFRONT DINING: Shell & BonesNew Haven

The boat-filled waters of New Haven Harbor are visible not just from the deck, with its fire pits for warmth and pizzazz, but also from practically every seat inside this subtly nautical restaurant with an open floor plan. Cleverly named to reference both the Yale secret society Skull and Bones and the superfresh seafood (such as black garlic cod as thick as filet mignon) crowding the surf and turf menu, Shell & Bones is a place where playful plating and exotic flavor twists will have you conflicted about whether to gaze at your meal or the sunset views. 203-787-3466 

SEE MORE: Top 10 Connecticut Summer Events of 2018Best of New England | 2018 Editors’ Choice Awards