Connecticut is everything a car-free summer’s day should be. A visit here gives you a touch of ‘real’ New England, without having to travel far from home. From tall ships and tattoos at Mystic Seaport, to a chance to tickle your taste buds at Mohegan Sun, to a culture vulture’s treat in Hartford, a visit to the nutmeg state spells summer. Here are seven day or overnight trips that will acquaint you with this kinder, gentler state’s many options for warm weather fun.
What: Beluga Encounter | mysticaquarium.org
Where: Mystic Aquarium, Mystic
When: May through October
Why: Get nose-to-nose with New England’s only beluga whales. Pull on a pair of waders and jump in right beside them during this special 90-minute program. You will wade waist-deep with a trainer beside you, as you touch and connect with these magnificent mammals. You will learn more about them, their habitat and the passionate efforts to conserve this species. This unforgettable experience costs $130.
How to get here: Peter Pan Bus Lines drops you off next door.
What: Adult Pirate & Ale Sail | schoonerinc.org
Where: The Schooner Quinnipiack departs from Long Wharf Pier in New Haven
When: Check the site for various departure dates
Why: Find your inner pirate as you set sail in New Haven Harbor. Learn some traditional, unedited pirate drinking songs as you cruise by picturesque Lighthouse Point and the Historical Port Nathaniel Hale. This is a B.Y.O.B. and food cruise, though non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on-board. Pirate attire is encouraged, so bring your favorite eye-patch, channel Johnny Depp and launch yourself into a fun evening. The two-hour cruise costs $40.
How to get here: Metro North New Haven Line to New Haven in 90 minutes. The Harbor is a mile from the station, but as the walk isn’t scenic, a cab is a good option. Consult oM’s public transit guide to New Haven.
What: The Maritime Aquarium & Movie Package | maritimeaquarium.org
When: Valid Thursday-Sunday
Why: Connecticut spells family, and Norwalk makes for an easy and affordable mini-vacation. The Four Points by Sheraton Norwalk is offering a room, two adult and two children’s tickets to the super family-friendly Maritime Aquarium and the IMAX movie, starting at $108.10 per night.
How to get here: Metro North’s New Haven Line to South Norwalk. The hotel runs a free shuttle within the surrounding area. Call the hotel to arrange for pick-up at 203.849.9828.
What: A Culinary Blast at Mohegan Sun | mohegansun.com
Where: Uncasville, CT
Why: You don’t need to be a betting man to enjoy spending time in the land of the casino. If you’re partial to celebrity chefs fare at bargain prices, you have hit the jackpot, as more than 25 eating establishments are represented at Mohegan Sun. At Todd English’s Tuscany, the buffet Tuscan Table lunch costs only $22.95 weekdays, and includes traditional antipasti, authentic pasta dishes, cured meats and a stellar dessert table. Bobby’s Burger Palace presents an array of premium-quality burgers that Food Network dynamo Bobby Flay has selected, in a casual setting with low prices. If you crave luxury, try Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain. The menu celebrates America’s diverse culinary heritage, and offers regional specialties that showcase New England’s bounty. Anticipation is high for this summer’s opening of Ballo. Chef John J. Tunney seeks to recreate an authentic Italian restaurant experience, from his food to his by-the-glass wines to the stunning bar, made with Carrera marble. Consider staying the night, as this 34-story hotel has a spa, big name entertainment and lots of shopping options.
How to get here: Greyhound from Port Authority or Metro North One-Day Getaway Package to New Haven, where you connect to the shuttle bus.
What: The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art | thewadsworth.org
Where: 600 Main Street, Hartford
When: Open Wednesday-Sunday
Why: The Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the United States. Venerable does not make for stale. The stunning Morgan Great Hall reopened to the public on May 7, 2011, installed for the first time with large-scale works from the museum’s contemporary art collection that includes abstract and representational works. Its collection of nearly 50,000 works of art spans 5,000 years. Highlights include an unsurpassed collection of Hudson River School landscapes and the Serge Lifar collection of Ballets Russes drawings and costumes. Come hungry, as the Museum Café is owned by Knox Foundation award winner, Marty Pushkarewicz. His fresh take on sandwiches and salads hits the spot.
How to get here: Amtrak from Penn Station in two hours. Megabus offers frequent departures as well. Both put you within walking distance of the museum, or ride on the free Hartford Star Shuttle, which operates in a continuous loop around downtown.
What: New Haven Open at Yale Tennis Tournament | newhavenopen.com
Where: Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, New Haven
When: August 17-25
Why: Okay, so it’s not the U.S. Open, but watching a great match in an intimate setting has its pros. Ticket prices are low, fans are passionate and you can actually see the players. Recent big guns included Caroline Wozniacki, Elena Dimentieva and James Blake.
How to get here: Metro North to New Haven. Hop on the free shuttle from Union Station to the Tennis Center. Consult oM’s public transit guide to New Haven.
What: Norwalk Seaport Association Oyster Festival | mta.info
Where: Veteran’s Park is on Norwalk Harbor.
When: September 9,10,11
Why: Celebrate those beloved bivalves in style. With musical entertainment on three stages, a children’s activity area, amusement rides, arts and crafts booths, a food court, harbor tours, environmental and maritime displays and an oyster pavilion, this is a great way to celebrate summer’s last hurrah.
How to get here: Metro North is offering a One-Day Getaway, on sale beginning August 13, that includes admission to the Oyster Festival, and shuttle bus to/from the Festival for $8, plus discount round-trip rail fare from your boarding station to South Norwalk on the New Haven Line.
Photos: Schooner Quinnipiack/Wojtek Voytec Wacowski, Bob Doran, Maritime Aquarium, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, New Haven Open at Yale