Like The Beatles said, “it me took so long to find out. But I found out.” As car travel becomes a chore rather than an ice skating exercise, the shoreline has a multitude of fun family adventures year round. After a long winter, spring is the perfect time to start enjoying them. Whether it’s taking a trip to Mystic, searching for a great place to eat in our picturesque towns, hiking the trails, or heading out on the water for swimming or boating, coastal Connecticut has diverse activities that appeal to everyone. Some idea starters: Have a blast with the fish, catch a show with the seals, or have the kids pull their sleeves up and touch the sea creatures at The Mystic Aquarium and Seaport. Reserve ahead, and you can try the aquarium’s amazing face-to-face Penguin Encounter. We love the aquarium so much that we’ve even purchased a family pass. The Seaport is equally fascinating.
Checking out the tall ships and old fishing village is a lot of fun, and a good way to get in a bit of coastal Connecticut history. There are great shops that the kids will absolutely love. Discovering small towns along the shoreline is a favorite pastime of our family. Guilford, Madison, Essex, and Chester is a great local rotation for us, although it is wonderful to explore outside the area as well. One of our recent favorites is Simon’s Marketplace in Chester. The town itself is just the cutest place to visit, but add an amazing eatery and I’m hooked—the kids included. Their warm coconut muffins, huevos rancheros, and Bananas Foster French toast alone are worth the trip.
Simon’s also has a great collection of knick-knacks that can finish anyone’s home perfectly. Hop across to the street to Ceramica and feast your eyes on the most beautiful pottery. I never miss it.
Hiking Chatfield Hollow, Sleeping Giant, or any of the amazing trails our state has to offer is absolutely the best. We hike Chatfield Hollow much of the time, since it is right in our backyard. But nature is all around and totally accessible in coastal Connecticut. Our unique geog- raphy allows you to combine a hiker’s love of conquering trails with the simple appreciation of natural beauty. Not only does this get the body moving, but the views you can catch are unreal.
The many state and town beaches are another wonderful strength of this part of Connecticut. Hammonasset State Park is a true gem. Rocky Neck State Park is worth the ride as well. Or, let your kids roam the gorgeous grounds of Eolia Mansion in Harkness Memorial State Park (ideally not while a wedding is taking place). There are also some amazing hidden town beaches along the coast. If you’re willing to pay a little extra, the experience you can find there is perfection. Jacobs Beach in Guilford has an incredible view, and a fantastic playground. Their kayak racks alone are worth checking out (and makes a great photo opp for your kids, too). And don’t forget the lighthouses. My son loves these historic spots, where there are abundant opportunities to get into harmless trouble.
When all else fails, go to the playground. Coastal Connecticut has wonderful playgrounds with picnic areas that allow your family to truly embrace the fresh air. Whether on the beach or in a small town setting, these beautiful places are tailor-made for joy. A personal favorite is the newly redone Playscape in Essex. Hop down to town with the kids and grab a sandwich at another favorite, Olive Oils. While you’re in the area, visit Lighthouse Park and have a blast on the merry-go-round. On the really hot summer days ahead, don’t forget the awesome Splash Pad water park.
For a really unique time, it doesn’t get any better than Connecticut’s orchards. Harvest fresh fruit with your children, feed the ducks, or grab some organics and head home to make a delicious treat for the whole family. We love dropping by Lyman’s Orchard in Middlefield on summer Sundays for breakfast outside on the deck. It is heaven. The kids get a full belly while enjoying quality duck feeding time. It’s impossible to leave without picking up some baked goods for the cupboard. It feels like yesterday when we were there for Winterfest. And don’t miss the antique car shows: it’s something fun to do all year round. Bishop’s Orchard in Guilford also has a terrific red barn to check out, along with wonderful seasonal products and activities.
The shoreline’s local farms are splendid, such as Ashlawn in Old Lyme. Grab a cup of their fabulous coffee, head out into their fields and just breathe the fresh air. Between the rolling fields, historic Connecticut architecture, and the animals, it’s a magical place. We also love feeding the animals at Rose Orchards in Branford. Their apple pie a la mode is irresistible, and their vanilla custard is also a must. Why not take home a homemade pie and a pint of their delicious frozen custard?
The museums in Connecticut are a real treat. KidCity up in Middletown is a great local place on a rainy or cold day— and an awesome way to get the kids’ energy out. If you are really feeling adventurous, check out the Connecticut Science Center up in Hartford, or the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk. While in Norwalk, the Maritime Aquarium is another very special place. I have fond memories of skipping through its halls with my parents, and now love reliving it with my own children. The Connecticut River Museum in Essex is an educational stop, with lots of history about the Connecticut River and valley. Fun fact: it houses America’s first submarine, dubbed “the Turtle.”
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