Forget the pleasure of our company; these folks are drawn here by the seductive mix of coastline and countryside, of suburban main streets and chic shops, of tree-lined drives and old (or spanking-new) mansions.
Once they’ve arrived, they won’t want to sit around the family room admiring the new flat-screen TV. They’re going to want to do Fairfield County kinds of things, and who could blame them? This is not a visit for checking e-mail or napping the afternoons away — take them to a hideaway beach, park, playground, tennis court, golf course, theater, store or restaurant. Fortunately for them — and for us! — these places exist in abundance.
Here are some of our favorite places to take out-of-town visitors. We covered a range of summertime obsessions and pastimes, with a secret destination or two thrown in just for fun. Most spots are close to home, but a few require venturing forth from town to make the most of a whole afternoon.
The southern Connecticut coast is truly golden, and not just because of the price of the sand. There’s littorally a wealth of things to do here! Compo Beach in Westport has boardwalks, locker rooms, a food concession, picnic areas, playground, playing fields and a marina, making it the main summer attraction in the town.
For smaller stretches of sand, try Burying Hill Beach off Beachside Avenue, Old Mill Beach on Hillandale, and the little-known (and sparsely blanketed) Canal Beach on the Saugatuck. Westport residents need parking permits ($30 for the season), but those without them can pay daily fees of $15 per vehicle on weekdays and $30 on weekends.
Fairfield has some five miles of beaches, spanning the popular Jennings Beach off South Benson and Penfield Beach off Fairfield Beach Road, where there’s a pavilion and concession stand, picnic tables and grills — all the ingredients for a great summer get-together. Call Independence Hall, 255-7381, for a beach sticker.
Sasco Beach at the end of Sasco Hill Road and Southport Beach off Pequot Avenue are small, not crowded and quiet. Parking passes for residents without stickers are $8 per vehicle on weekdays; $10 on weekends.
Thirty parks in Westport offer beauty and sanctuary from the summering crowds on Compo Beach and Main Street (for a listing, go to westportct.gov and click on “Parks & Recreation”). One hidden gem is the Grace Salmon Park, next to the Westport Women’s Club on Imperial Avenue; if you haven’t been, it’s worth a look. Another is the arboretum, maintained by the Aspetuck Land Trust, behind the old Glendinning building on Lyons Plain Road at Ford Road. For visiting canine friends, don’t miss Winslow Park on the corner of the Post Road and Compo Road North in Westport, and the grounds at Mohegan Lake, off Tahmore Road in Fairfield (256-3010).
Aside from trails on town-owned park property, the Nature Conservancy maintains more than twenty miles of hiking trails on the 1,756-acre Devil’s Den Preserve off Pent Road in Weston (for more information, call 226-4991). The preserve is open to the public and free of charge.
Trails Day at Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, means no charge, 227-7253. A larger network of trails can be found on some 1,700 acres in Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton that are under the protective umbrella of the Aspetuck Land Trust (see aspetucklandtrust.org).
In Fairfield, hiking trails on a dozen or more preserves are open to the public. The trail system around Lake Mohegan is open to walkers but requires a day pass or resident pass to park (go to fairfieldct.org and click on “Town Recreation Sites”).
The Westport Library Riverwalk is for the less athletic or adventurous. Start along the Saugatuck, east of the Saugatuck Bridge downtown. Lighted walkways, benches and picnic tables overlook the river.
The tours give both visitors and residents ingress to homes and gardens they might otherwise not see. Try the Discovery Garden Tour, June 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., to see private gardens in Southport, (372-3521, ext. 143). On Sunday, June 11, the Westport Historical Society holds its Fifteenth Annual Hidden Garden Tour (call 222-1424 or go to westporthistory.org).
Located at 3763 Congress Street, in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, the twenty-two-acre, town-owned farm sells corn in the summer (259-3577).
Weston has the fifty-six-acre Bisceglie Scribner Park (opens June 24), on Newtown Turnpike, where you’ll find a fitness trail, playground and pond with lifeguards. (Residents can purchase a family pass for $100 for the season; guests are $5/day with permit holder. Call Weston Parks & Recreation, 222-2655.)
Wilton maintains over two dozen parks and preserves for hiking, camping, fishing, picnicking and birding, including the 190-acre Town Forest off Partrick Lane) and 390-acre Wilton Land Conservation Trust. (See wiltonparksandrec.org; for maps, call Quarry Head Park, 563-0180.)
When the summer gets long, the style-inspired go shopping. Around here, that isn’t hard to do. Clustered within a single, long block in downtown Westport, between the Post Road and Myrtle Avenue, are enough smart shops to rival any town on the Eastern seaboard. Between running into people you know and stopping for a bite, you’ll pass an afternoon — and maybe get a few great finds, too!
Westport Downtown Merchants’ Annual Sidewalk Sale.
Main Street merchants display goods in front of their stores July 7-9. A good place to see people you haven’t seen all year. (And don’t miss the Fine Arts Festival, July 16-17.)
A Westport landmark, this family-owned clothing empire has become a place to see and be seen on the weekend. Although you could wind up spending your child’s first-year tuition on a garment, the M&Ms on the counter are free, and you stand a good chance of looking absolutely fabulous in your new threads (670 Post Road East, 227-5165).
Fairfield Downtown, along the Post Road, has retained its small-town, friendly feel while adding popular chain stores right alongside independently owned and fashionable shops. A wealth of options in a pretty setting.
Don’t even consider a mall in the summer. Better to head down the Connecticut Turnpike to Greenwich and its main drag of glitzy shops catering to people with money to burn.
To really stretch out an afternoon, take an hour-long drive to Central Valley, New York, and this shopaholic’s dream of more than 220 discount designer stores (New York Thruway to Harriman, Exit 16; 845-928-4000).
The Playscape at Compo Beach.
Formerly known as playgrounds, kids’ outdoor activity centers have grown sophisticated enough to be called “playscapes.” The one at the beach, rebuilt in April, has enough tires, ropes, climbing gyms, passageways and slides to delight and ultimately exhaust any visiting child. (For fees and restrictions, see westportct.gov/agencies.parksandrecreation/facilities or call Westport Parks & Recreation at 341-5090.)
Longshore Swimming Pools.
The park maintains three — a wading pool, three-foot-deep kiddie pool and a twenty-five-yard lap pool — with plenty of lounge chairs for adults. Longshore also has a wooden playscape. (Contact Westport Parks & Recreation.)
Sprinkler Park on Morehouse Highway at Lake Mohegan.
Timed water spouts on the beach at Fairfield’s Lake Mohegan will keep kids cool and occupied for longer than you’d think. A day pass for residents costs $6 on weekdays, $8 on weekends; for nonresidents, it’s $15 and $18, respectively.
For older kids and teens with a bite for thrills, check out the skateboarding park at Compo Beach. It costs $6 for resident skaters on weekdays and $8 on weekends; for nonresidents, the fees are $8 and $10, respectively — but those are the only fees you’ll pay, because you can drop off and pick up kids at the park without a parking permit. (Contact Westport Parks & Recreation.)
In Fairfield, the skate park at Fairfield Beach Marina at the end of North Benson Road costs the same for residents and non-residents: $9. For times, call the Fairfield YMCA, which maintains the park (255-2834).
Wednesday nights are devoted to the younger crowd, offering music and theatrical productions, while the rest of the family enjoys a picnic dinner under the stars. (See the calendar of events at levittpavilion.com
or call 226-7600.)
United Indoor Soccer.
Rainy days with visiting children can call for desperate measures. Rather than plop them down in front of the DVD player or drop them off at the movies, give them a soccer class at this indoor field or rent the whole place for a soccer party! (176 Lindwood Avenue, Fairfield, 319-0087)
Westport Country Playhouse’s Summer Theater Program for Children.
Friday and Saturday afternoons in the summer are devoted to matinees for kids at the fabled theatrical institution (25 Powers Court, Westport; to see this season’s schedule and to buy tickets, call the Playhouse box office at 227-4177 or visit the website at westportplayhouse.org).
Only an hour’s drive from Westport, this pristine water park in a rural lake setting in Bristol is fun for kids and parents and is never too crowded (I-84 to Rt. 229; 860-583-3300; lakecompounce.com).
Here are three of our favorite nature centers and museums:
The Nature Discovery Center in Westport is a sixty-two-acre wildlife sanctuary with easy trails, a bird and butterfly garden, wildlife and public nature programs and events. The center also offers a summer camp and a wildlife rehabilitation program (10 Woodside Lane, 227-7253; see more online at earthplace.org).
Connecticut Audubon Center in Fairfield.
The Center adjoins the beautiful 152-acre Roy and Margot Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary and features a birds-of-prey compound, an Algonquin wigwam replica, natural history library and nature store (2325 Burr Street, 259-6305; ctaudubon.org).
Maritime Aquarium in South Norwalk.
Sharks, seals, sea turtles and more than 1,000 other marine animals swim past you inside one of the major educational attractions in the metropolitan area. On the big IMAX screen this June are late morning, afternoon and evening shows of Bugs! and T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous. (10 North Water Street, 852-0700; check out cruises and programs at maritimeaquarium.org).
Longshore Club & Park.
This 169-acre recreational preserve located at 260 Compo Road South in Westport is the gem of the town’s public facilities. Open to residents and their guests (like the beaches, you can walk in but will need a permit to park in most of the sections), Longshore offers swimming pools and bathhouse, tennis and paddle tennis courts and nine- and eighteen-hole golf courses, a driving range and a pro shop. It’s a good idea to call three full days in advance to reserve a tee time. (341-1833).
Longshore Sailing School.
The privately operated school in Westport, located on the shore at Longshore, rents sailboats for all levels, catamarans, kayaks and canoes from $14 an hour and up (see its website at longshoresailing school.com or call 226-4646).
In addition to swimming in the Sound and throwing frisbees on this Westport beach, some serious volleyball matches take place on the beach. There’s also a lighted softball field and lighted basketball court for evening games.
Westport playing fields and tennis courts.
Through the Parks & Recreation Department, Westport maintains playing fields and tennis courts at many of the public schools in town. (See restrictions and other information at westportct.gov/agencies/parksandrecreation/facilities.)
Golfing in Fairfield.
The nine-hole, par-3 course at South Pine Creek Golf Course off Old Dam Road in Fairfield and the eighteen-hole, par-72 H. Smith Richardson course (255-7300) at 2425 Morehouse Highway, also in Fairfield, are open to town residents with recreation passes ($25 for the season from the Fairfield Parks & Recreation Department, 256-3144). Additionally, daily playing rates at South Pine Creek for residents are $7 during the week and $18 on weekends (take our advice — call five days in advance, 256-3173). H. Smith Richardson’s rates for residents are $16 during the week and $21 on the weekend (call one week in advance, 254-4754). At both courses, rates are double for nonresidents. The driving range at H. Smith Richardson is located on nearby Hoydens Lane.
Fairfield Parks & Recreation also maintains dozens of tennis and baseball courts throughout town (for a full listing, go to fairfieldct.org/park_locations.htm).
Hiking in Weston.
The town of Weston offers miles of hiking trails, so lace up. Maps are available at the Weston Town Clerk’s office (56 Norfield Road, 222-2616).
There are also municipal tennis and basketball courts. Fishing permits for the Saugatuck River and Aspetuck Resevoir can be purchased at the Weston Town Hall ($20 for the season for adults; children under 16 fish for free).
Public Sites in Wilton.
The many active and athletic places in Wilton to choose from include playgrounds, athletic fields, indoor and outdoor basketball courts and, at Wilton High School on Route 7, a lighted, all-weather track. (For site locations and hours, go to wiltonparksandrec.org or call 834-6234.)
Whitewater rafting, canoeing & kayaking.
If you’re ready for a cool-off and a little adventure, the Housatonic River flows fastest just below the town of Falls Village, ninety minutes from Westport, and again under the Cornwall Bridge, eleven miles downstream. Clarke Outdoor Sports on Rt. 7 in Cornwall rents rafts, canoes and kayaks and will get you back and forth between the two points (call 860-672-6365 or go online to clarkeoutdoors.com.)
Bridgeport Bluefish at Harbor Yard.
For a great American sporting event without polishing your athletic skills or breaking a sweat, take in an afternoon or evening minor league baseball game at Harbor Yard in nearby Bridgeport. Tickets are $3 for children and from $6 to $18 for adults. For the 2006 season schedule, go to bridgeportbluefish.com. (And, while you’re there, don’t forget the Arena at Harbor Yard — go to arenaatharboryard.com to check out all of the music and shows for big and little ones.)
Westport Country Playhouse.
All we need to remind us that Westport is the artistic capital of Fairfield County is a show at the Playhouse, on whose stage everyone from Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne to Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman have appeared. This summer season includes Jam & Spice: The Theatre Music of Kurt Weill, running June 1-18 (25 Powers Court; 227-4177; westportplayhouse.com).
Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts.
The venerable outdoor amphitheatre, located behind the Westport Public Library overlooking the Saugatuck River, offers more than fifty free nights of music between June 25 and August 27, six nights a week, plus two special, ticketed events (341-1143 or try the concert hotline at 221-4422; levittpavilion.com).
Summer Concert Series on Sherman Green in Fairfield.
From the gazebo on the green in Fairfield center, these old-time, free concerts — polka, big band, oldies and country — begin at 7 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, June 11 to August 31. There’s also a children’s concert series on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. (Contact Fairfield Parks & Recreation, 256-3144.)
Wilton Music Festival.
This annual, outdoor summer festival is held at Merwin Meadows, a gem of a park on Lover’s Lane, with swimming pond and changing rooms, playscape, ballfield, basketball court and picnic areas. The season opens on June 25 at 6 p.m. with musician Kate Taylor. (For the full summer schedule, call Wilton Parks & Recreation at 834-6234.)
Two small cinemas deserve attention: Garden Cinema in Norwalk is one of the last art movie houses in the area (26 Isaac Street, 838-4504; ghcinemas.com) and the nonprofit Community Theatre in downtown Fairfield offers old and new films for $3 per show (1424 Post Road, 255-6255; communitytheatrefoundation.org).
For home entertainment, check out the Audiovisual Department at the Westport Public Library. Its collection of films, audio books and CDs surpasses any rental store. Anyone with a Connecticut library card can take out an unlimited number of titles (227-8411, westportlibrary.org).
A drive down a shore road is a favorite pastime of locals, and a pleasure for visitors — especially this road, which hugs the coast in Greens Farms. With spectacular houses and wide-open views of the Sound, the road runs for a couple of miles between Greens Farms Road and Sasco Creek Road.
Sasco Hill Road.
The equivalent of Beachside Avenue in Fairfield is Sasco Hill. The houses are just as big but the walls are lower. The view of Southport Harbor beyond the Country Club of Fairfield also makes the trip a treat.
Tucked away between the Post Road and the Sound, a warren of narrow streets will take you past one of the largest collections of historic and beautifully preserved houses in Connecticut. (Take Exit 19 off I-95, or Center Street off the Post Road, to get into the heart of this charming waterside village.)
Schedule visitors around an event …
AKC All-Breed Dog Show, 74th Annual,
Taylor Farm, E. Norwalk, 426-1173, June 10, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., obedience and rally trails for show dogs, $5. GreenwichKC.org. Doggie Fun Zone Challenge, open to all dogs, June 7-11, 9 a.m.-3 p.m, $12; doggiefunzone.com.
Elmo’s Coloring Book, Sesame Street Live,
Arena at Harbor Yard, I-95 Exit 27, Bridgeport, June 8-11. For ticket prices and times; 345-2300 or arenaatharboryard.com.
Lime Rock Racing,
Professional racers take off at two roaring events: American Le Mans New England Grand Prix, $25-$150, June 30-July 1; and Ferrari Racing Days, July 21-22, $20-$75; limerock.com.
Norwalk Harbor Splash!, June 4, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Dragon boat races, giant puppet parade, clam chowder cook-off, music; norwalkharborsplash.com.
Fairfield County Hunt Club, Westport, June 10, polo match, cocktails, awards, $125; includes dinner and auction, 5-10 p.m., $250-$1,000; 259-1710.
June 3. Benefit for Bruce Museum, Greenwich, $500-$1,500; 869-6783, ext. 365.
Round Hill Highland Games, 83rd Annual,
Cranbury Park, Norwalk, July 1, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., features pipe bands, Scottish dancing competition and lessons, hammer toss and races, children’s races, traditional foods, music, $15; $10 for seniors; $5 for ages 5-12; roundhill.org.
Shakespeare on the Sound, 10th Annual,
Macbeth, June 15-July 2, Pinckney Park, Rowayton. Bring beach chairs and picnic. $20 suggested contribution for adults; 299-1300 or shakespeareonthesound.org.
Sheffield Island, cruises out of the Seaport Dock in Norwalk, $16; $12 for ages 4-12; $5 for under 3. Thursday Night Clambake on the Island, enjoy Maine lobster, steamers, mussels and more, $60. Christmas in July, July 23-31, holiday crafts, decorations, shopping; Santa on July 23, free with boat tickets; 838-9444 or seaport.org.
SoNo Arts Celebration, 30th Annual,
August 5-6, 10 a.m.-midnight, with a puppet parade at 3 p.m. Free. Includes art, music and dance; sonoarts.org.
Summer Book Sales
Pequot Library, Southport, July 28-August 1, pequotlibrary.com.
Wilton Library, June 28-29, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; 762-3950.
Westport Library Book Sale, Jesup Green, July 15-18; 291-4840 or westportlibrary.org.
Yankee Doodle Fair,
Westport Young Woman’s Club, 144 Imperial Avenue, Westport, amusement park rides, games, more, June 15-18.