The Insider’s Guide

PLAY with the family, EXPLORE historic haunts, SAVOR what’s good, MEET with your mates, INDULGE your senses and MOVE it


As the weather warms, take the family outdoors. Fun is in the air.

The big elementary school fundraiser in Darien in May–the Hindley Happening—is the place for Ferris wheel fanatics, while New Canaan’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church hosts the annual May Fair to raise outreach funds. The Rowayton Civic Association’s annual River Ramble festival, set for July 14 in Pinkney Park, includes a raw bar, kids’ games and pony rides.

Theater buffs can have A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this year’s Shakespeare on the Sound at Pinkney Park in June and July. The Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s 2018 season includes Kiss Me Kate and the Taming of the Shrew, while the Town Players of New Canaan perform year-round. The Darien Arts Center offers classes and performances.

It’s time for summer concert series—Darien Summer Nights on Fridays at Grove Street Plaza, Waveny Summer Concerts Wednesdays in Waveny Park in New Canaan, and the Rowayton Summer Music Festival at Bayley Beach and Pinkney Park on select Wednesdays and Sundays, kicking off June 24. The Darien Recreation Department also offers family concerts at Weed Beach on Wednesdays in June.

Rent a kayak or paddleboard from Downunder Kayaks at Darien’s Weed Beach or behind Rowayton Market and go exploring up the coastline. Or try stand-up paddleboard classes or paddleboard yoga at the Darien YMCA.

The Farm Creek Nature Preserve is a 16-acre gem. Kids can explore and Mom and Dad can enjoy the views. That it was saved from development and made public, “is extraordinary,” says one insider. “I get misty thinking about it.”

The Darien Ice House, Twin Rinks and Chelsea Piers in Stamford and the SoNo Ice House in Norwalk all offer year-round public skating times.

Darien’s Weed Beach playground offers great views plus water play and a snack bar, while the smaller play area behind McGuane Field has a compact layout with baby bucket swings. In New Canaan, a major fundraising effort is under way to help the town improve the popular playground at Mead Park.

Try the New Canaan Library’s Maker Lab, the TEA room at the Darien Library (Technology, Engineering and the Arts) geared to kids in grades 3-5, or Darien’s Digital Media Lab to get creative with the latest technology, including 3-D printers. Or sign out STEM toys from Darien Library.

Another great library perk: museum passes for free or at a discount. Both the Darien and New Canaan libraries offer local favorites like the Maritime Aquarium and Beardsley Zoo, plus great choices further afield like the MoMA in New York City.


Make historic discoveries in your own backyard

Nancy Geary of the New Canaan Historical Society suggests these four fun stops to learn more about the town’s varied history.

This mid-century modern house, designed by “Harvard Five” architect Landis Gores, was built in 1960 as the pool house for prominent attorney John Irwin and his wife, Jane Watson, the daughter of the founder of IBM. The pool is gone, but the structure—with furnishings by Jens Risom—is listed on the register for Connecticut Historic Places.  The Historical Society oversaw the preservation efforts and maintains the building.  It is open May-October, Fridays-Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m. or by appointment.

In 1896, Thomas Hall put together ten tracts of land and transformed them into a summer estate of 280 acres with a large home and other buildings, including a power plant and a stable. The family of Lewis Lapham, the subsequent owner, sold the property to the Town of New Canaan in 1967, and the power plant became the home of the Town Players of New Canaan.

Located at the intersection of Ponus Ridge and Davenport Ridge roads is a granite gravestone that reads, “Erected by the Historical Society and the Ponus Tribe No. 31 of Red Men of New Canaan marks the home and the traditional tomb of Ponus Sachem of Rippowams.”  Ponus was the first known owner of the land in that area and the leader of the Ponus tribe.

Built in 1851, this chapel at 11 Barnegat Road was opened as a Methodist Church.  Edwin Selleck, one of three brothers, owned a cooper shop and served as the first minister. The congregation was disbanded in 1942; the chapel is now private.

Lauren Swenson, executive director of The Mather Homestead Foundation, suggests these Revolutionary War sites, inspired by Louise Hall Tharp’s young adult adventure novel Tory Hole.

In 1778, Darien was known as Middlesex Parish and the heart of commercial life was on the Ring’s End Bridge waterfront. Stand on the bridge and imagine what it might have felt like to see Tory raiders and smugglers approaching across Long Island Sound.

Head up Goodwives River Road, stopping at the plaque commemorating George Washington’s travels through Darien at the intersection with Old Kings Highway South.

Visit the First Congregational Church at 14 Brookside Rd., the site of the most famous Tory raid in Darien. Over forty colonists, including the Reverend Moses Mather—an influential patriot—were taken hostage during an afternoon church service in July 1781.

Head to the Darien Historical Society to tour its Bates-Scofield House and learn about colonial life. Ask about the secret passage.

Head north to visit the newly opened Mather Homestead at nineteen Stephen Mather Road. This 1778 home, which offers tours by appointment, was built far from the waterfront so that the raiders would not find it. (While that didn’t work, the raiders did miss the hiding spot for some of the silver.)

The Little Red Schoolhouse on Carter Street was built in 1865. It operated until 1957 and was the last of New Canaan’s 11 one-room schoolhouses.Pupils paid tuition until 1868, when the legislature voted that all schools should be free. The town provided minimal supplies and paid teachers $16 per month. Tours through The Historical Society.


Luxuriate in time saved, a home-cooked meal, nature’s bounty or a bite at a favorite eatery.

Darien’s Upper Crust Bakery Café offers a fenced-in area where kids can play while you sip, while Neat is the go-to for coffee purists. Cynthia Millane, a former Brooklynite and a fan, says: “They are doing all the right things to meet the expectations of coffee snobs and run-of-the-mill coffee drinkers.” Zumbach’s is a New Canaan favorite (tip: bring your own cup and you only pay for a small). Or for a brew with a view try the back deck at Rowayton Market.

Catch the organic and ultra-fresh food trend at Farmer’s Table and Baldanza’s in New Canaan or go for tried-and-true classics like Sails in Rowayton, Cava in New Canaan, or Scena, Cesco’s Trattoria or The Goose in Darien. Ethnic fare foodies like Coromandel for Indian and Little Thai Kitchen in Darien, while New Canaan newcomer Hashi Sushi comes highly recommended.

Millane says her toddler’s favorite is the Driftwood Diner on Post Road in Darien. Other family-friendly standbys locals swear by include Meatball & Co., Estia’s, Louie’s and Bodega in Darien, and Locali in New Canaan.

Those apps that make city living so easy—think Seamless, GrubHub, DoorDash and UberEats—are still your friends, with a growing foothold in Fairfield County. For some al fresco fun, families in the know call Heights Pizza, which will deliver to the picnic tables at Weed Beach in Darien.

Stop and Shop’s Peapod and “Shoprite from Home” offer delivery or local pickup on food orders. Other options include FreshDirect and newcomer Instacart, which will bring you the goods from Stew Leonard’s, Whole Foods, Fairway and Petco.

Pick up ready-made meals during the week at Four Forks in Darien or Michael Joseph’s Catering by the Darien Library. Or try the well-stocked prepared food sections at Palmer’s Market in Noroton Heights and Garelick and Herbs in New Canaan.

The Darien Farmer’s Market runs Wednesdays from May to November in the Goodwives Shopping Center. The New Canaan Farmer’s Market is Saturdays from April to December in the Old Center School Parking Lot off Main. Farm to table was never easier.

Everyone’s favorite local ice cream truck operator will make impromptu house calls in Darien. Dial (203) 434-8608 to have him swing by your street.

Feast your eyes on the Facebook group New Canaan Moms Cooking and Baking, where locals share their favorite recipes like herbed crepes with shrimp or slow-cooker jambalaya.


Don’t get stuck in a social rut. It’s time to branch out. Join for a good cause or to make new friends.

OPUS in Darien supports the local charity Person-to-Person, including an annual red “Balloon Day” to send disadvantaged kids to summer camp. Other great options for giving back include the Community Fund of Darien, the Young Women’s League of New Canaan, and the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk, which spans the region. Interested in a monetary gift? Check out Impact Fairfield County, which pools individuals’ $1,000 gifts to make six-figure grants to area nonprofits.

MOPS, or Mothers of Preschoolers, meets every other Wednesday at the Noroton Presbyterian Church. Jackie Nevin, who moved to Darien two and a half years ago after living as a longtime expat in England, says of it: “An amazing group of moms, (with) childcare provided, high-quality speakers and meaningful conversation. Hands down the best decision I made when I first moved to town.” The Darien Community Association’s wide range of offerings and speakers includes once-a-month “Mom’s Morning In” kid-friendly events. In Rowayton, “any newcomer should definitely join the Rowayton Parents Exchange; it’s a great way to meet people,” says Pamela Garrity, a four-year resident. The group offers a packed slate of events from September to June for parents of young children.

Hot tickets for the over-21 set include the RCA’s Comedy Night in May and fall Oktoberfest, as well as Darien’s BigGER Rig Gig, a food truck themed party in the fall to benefit the work of OPUS.

Moms in the know share advice and trade resources on Facebook on the New Canaan Moms site (limited to residents) and the page Moms of Darien (& nearby) CT. Another great Facebook group is Referrals and Advice, founded by two local realtors. (One tip: If the question has likely been asked before, use the ‘search’ function first to find earlier posts on the topic.)

Have a sick kid but an important meeting? Babysitter canceled and now you’re stuck? Nannies as Needed and the Everything Home and Family Domestic Staffing Agency offer pre-screened childcare help on an emergency or longer-term basis along with other services like personal assistants.

The Newcomers Club of New Canaan has been introducing people to town and each other since 1957 and includes nearly 500 families at any time. “People who have lived here for decades still say their friends from Newcomers are some of their best friends because they sort of went through the mill together of getting settled, getting organized,” says current Newcomers’ president Claire Foster. The YWCA of Darien/Norwalk has a newcomers group (and associated email listserv) among its many divisions, and both organizations offer events for couples, moms, working women and others. Try their supper clubs (or the YWCA’s popular Wine Tasters club) to be matched with other couples for periodic get-togethers.

The Burbio app aggregates a customizable list of events from local groups like the town library and your child’s school—check in often to see what’s up. Like a good neighbor, the Nextdoor app has block-specific intel on missing pets, backyard BBQs or a good last-minute babysitter.


Primp. Pamper. Shop. Take a break and do what relaxes you. Your body and mind will thank you.

Insiders call aesthetician Nancianne Warren in Darien a “secret weapon” for brows to facials to microneedling to ultraviolet lights. Haircut hot spots include Jaafar Tazi in New Canaan and Lanphier in Darien. Salon Etre in SoNo may look luxe, but its services are tres reasonable. Mani/pedi needs? Try Hollywood Nails in New Canaan or newcomer To and From Nails in Darien. Banana Nails in Norwalk will serve you coffee; opt for the extra massage time, which is totally affordable and well worth it.

Inner Light in Darien is notable for its full-spectrum infrared saunas and holisitic wellness self-care products. Carefoot Reflexology in SoNo earns raves for its pricing, professionalism and services.

Pick up a little something for your walls at the annual art show to benefit the Community Cooperative Nursery School in Rowayton, set for May 31 this year.

This is the land of well-curated boutiques. Try She-la la in New Canaan, or Everything is Rosey, Brown & Co., and Kirby & Company in Darien. Want an especially beachy vibe? Sail into Darien’s The Dock Shop.

Don’t miss the days for bargains from your favorite local boutiques and family-friendly events. The Darien Sidewalk Sale starts July 12; New Canaan Village Fair & Sidewalk Sale is July 13 and 14.

Find a bargain and feel good doing it at the DCA Thrift Shop (your buys benefit the Darien Community Association) or the New Canaan Thrift Shop (for the Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County). Darien residents can unload and acquire cast-off books, sports equipment, housewares, small furniture and more at Darien’s Recycling & Refuse Center’s Swap Shop.

Andrew Stephanou Salon & Spa in Darien offers indulgent treatments for both ladies and gents. Leave your stress at the door. Invigorate and revitalize with an exotic salt glow with lime and ginger; lose yourself in a healing stone massage; or get glowy, radiant skin with a vitamin-packed facial. Relax and say ahhh.


Get fit. Run fast. Hop on a bike. Stretch out. Whatever your choice, just do it.

Barre—a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga—is a popular fitness trend in the area. Try it out at Oxygen Fitness or Go Figure in New Canaan, and Pure Barre or The Bar Method in Darien.

Need to loosen some sore muscles? Lymbr, a “personalized stretching studio,” opened its first Connecticut outlet in Darien last summer. “I love how many wellness options have popped up in Darien over the past couple years,” says one Lymbr fan, Sarah Evans Thelen, a NYC transplant and mom of two who also likes Kaia Yoga, Equinox and Darien Pilates for her fitness fixes. JoyRide Darien offers Sculpt and Pilates, for getting long and strong.

Steve Norris, owner of the Runner’s Roost shop in Darien, suggests runners looking for a scenic and safe trot try the 2.5 mile perimeter run at Waveny Park in New Canaan or the low-traffic 1.6 mile loop on the Pear Tree Point peninsula in Darien. For just the right timing of flats and hills, head through Rowayton on South Beach, up Witch, up Wilson to Bluff to Westmere. Runners looking for more hands-on training can try the Waveny Running Club, which meets Tuesday mornings at the park for weekly coaching by Jim Gerweck; $5 a session, contact

Prefer to travel on two wheels? Stop by Danny’s Cycles, a popular local chain that recently opened a shop at 1950 Boston Post Road in Darien. Manager Ed Mantaring Jr. said Danny’s plans to offer beginner and intermediate group rides pushing off from the store on Sunday mornings through summer; check the website for details.

Tonya Vellotti, owner of the Pet Au Pair dog walking and boarding service and Darien resident, likes dog-friendly Waveny Park in New Canaan and Darien’s Cherry Lawn Park for walks, and says Rowayton is great for a spin around town: “It’s a really good loop and there’s places to park.” After a fun romp outside, be sure to pamper your pooch at Paws & Reflect in Darien.



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