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Connecticut, the southernmost state in New England, boasts a stunning coastline with abundant attractions for a fun day trip, weekend getaway, or summer vacation. The 332 miles of shoreline are some of the best in the United States, boasting idyllic small towns, picturesque lighthouses, pristine beaches, and diverse wildlife.
The Connecticut coast comes alive during summer, with the high season being May – October. If you want to avoid the crowds, and enjoy empty beaches and free parking, consider enjoying the Connecticut coast in the off-season. Although little is open, the peace and quiet, and cooler temperatures are another experience in itself.
With so much to do and see, you’ll never get bored in coastal Connecticut. Keep reading to discover 32 of my favorite things to do on the Connecticut shoreline.
The Long Island Sound
The Long Island Sound is a 110-mile-long (180 km) estuary separating Connecticut from Long Island, New York. It is part of the Atlantic Ocean and is connected to it by the East River and the Throgs Neck and Verrazano Narrows bridges. The Sound (as the locals call it) is a popular destination for boating, fishing, swimming, and other water sports. It is also home to marine life, including fish, shellfish, and birds.
Its charming towns with busy main streets, historical societies, waterfront views, and picturesque villages with stunning Cap Cod and Colonial-style architecture are a joy to visit along the Connecticut coast.
Stamford, Connecticut, a charming city on the Long Island Sound, is the second largest city in Connecticut after Hartford. Stamford is home to a diverse population of over 127,000 people and the University of Connecticut (UCONN Stamford). The city is known for its beautiful parks and beaches, vibrant downtown area, and proximity to New York City. Don’t miss The Stamford Museum and Nature Center, located on 126 acres of beautiful grounds featuring a variety of exhibits on art, history, and nature, and make sure to visit the Downtown Arts District, home to a variety of art galleries, theaters, and shops.
The Harbor Point Boardwalk is a great way to spend an evening strolling down the waterfront path with parks, boat charters, water taxis, and plenty of restaurants.
Located on the shores of the breathtaking Long Island Sound, New London offers a myriad of fun activities for visitors of all ages. Immerse yourself in the rich maritime history at the Custom House Maritime Museum, or take a stroll through the Historic Waterfront District, comprising 26 blocks filled with gift shops, art galleries, and over 30 delectable dining options. There’s no shortage of seafood options here – Thames Landing Oyster House and City Dock Restaurant/Oyster Bar are some of the best!
Nature enthusiasts can explore the stunning waterfront parks, such as Ocean Beach Park – bask in the sun, take a refreshing dip in the Sound, or simply admire the postcard-worthy views. Don’t forget to catch a live performance at the renowned Garde Arts Center, showcasing world-class entertainment in a beautifully restored historic venue.
Submarine Force Museum
If you’re in the mood for an underwater adventure that doesn’t require getting wet, look no further than the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT. This one-of-a-kind museum is a treasure trove of naval history, offering an exciting and immersive experience for visitors of all ages.
Located on the Thames River, the museum is home to the historic USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. As you explore the remarkable vessel, you’ll get a glimpse into the life of a submariner and marvel at the impressive technology that powered this incredible submarine.
In addition to the Nautilus, the museum boasts an extensive collection of exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays that chronicle the history of the US Submarine Force. From the earliest submersibles to modern-day submarines, the Submarine Force Museum provides an unparalleled journey into the fascinating world of naval exploration and innovation.
Bluff Point State Park
Located in Groton, Connecticut, Bluff Point State Park is situated on an undeveloped peninsula between the Poquonnock River and Mumford Cove on Long Island Sound. With wooded hiking and biking trails and incredible wildlife viewing, this is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Spend some time hiking Bluff Point, a 1.3-mile path on an old farm road, which takes about a half hour one way. This route mostly follows the Poquonnock River, ending with a lovely beach view.
New Haven is known as the home of Yale University and the picturesque Long Island Sound, with several fun experiences for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs. Stroll through the historic streets of downtown New Haven or take a scenic bike ride along the shoreline of the Long Island Sound, where you can soak up the sun and enjoy the gentle sea breeze.
After a day of exploring New Haven, indulge in the town’s renowned culinary scene, from iconic pizzerias to upscale, farm-to-table eateries. Must-visit pizzerias include Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Modern Apizza. Stop by the bustling farmers’ market to pick up some locally sourced treats and enjoy a picnic by the tranquil waterfront parks.
Yale University Art Gallery
While in New Haven, don’t forget to check out the Yale University Art Gallery. Established in 1832, this extraordinary gallery holds the prestigious title of the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere.
As I strolled through the stunningly designed building, I was mesmerized by the vast collection of thousands of pieces spanning various cultures and time periods. From exquisite pieces of ancient Greek and Roman art to the captivating works of modern and contemporary artists, there’s something to spark everyone’s interest. What’s even more delightful is that this treasure trove is open to the public and free of charge!
Rocky Neck State Park
Rocky Neck State Park, located in Niantic, Connecticut, is one of the best things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline. Take a leisurely walk or hike through the park’s picturesque trails, which offer breathtaking views of the coastline and salt marshes. The park’s scenic beauty and diverse range of activities make it one of the best places for a day out or weekend getaway.
For beach lovers, the park’s white sandy beach provides the perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles, all while enjoying the refreshing Long Island Sound. Anglers can cast their lines from the park’s state-of-the-art fishing pier, while birdwatchers can spot various species in the park’s diverse habitats.
Make sure to bring along a picnic basket – the picnic area is equipped with grills and tables that make for an enjoyable and memorable outdoor meal.
Essex, my favorite coastal Connecticut town, consists of three villages: Essex Village, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton. Essex offers a delightful blend of history, natural beauty, and modern comforts, creating the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway. Start your visit by exploring the idyllic Main Street, lined with beautifully preserved historic homes, unique shops, and inviting eateries. Stop into Essex Coffee and Tea Company for a quick pick-me-up, then browse Puck’s Books, Essex Duck, and Essex Pottery. For a sweet treat, indulge in some baked goods at Savour Cafe & Bakery in Centerbrook; they have delicious made to order sandwiches. If you are in the mood for a cold treat, head to Sweet P’s for an ice cream cone.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
Experience the charm and beauty of Connecticut’s scenic countryside aboard the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. This extraordinary adventure combines a nostalgic steam train ride with a relaxing cruise aboard a vintage riverboat, providing an unparalleled opportunity to explore the area’s rich history, stunning natural attractions, and vibrant foliage. A truly unique and delightful experience awaits you as you embark on a memorable journey through the picturesque landscapes of the Connecticut River Valley.
Connecticut River Museum
Connecticut River Museum in downtown Essex, features a variety of exhibits showcasing the rich heritage of the river and its surrounding communities, from Native American history and the age of steamboats to the local wildlife and maritime traditions. Don’t miss the opportunity to check out the replica of the Turtle – America’s first submarine, which was built during the Revolutionary War! And if you want to experience the breathtaking beauty of the river firsthand, the museum offers seasonal river cruises and even sailing lessons.
With more of a local feel and less crowded than other nearby towns, it’s easy to discover the charm and allure of Old Lyme, Connecticut, a quaint coastal town boasting several activities and attractions for visitors of all ages. Stroll along the picturesque streets, taking in the historic buildings and art galleries, like the Cooley Gallery, or immerse yourself in nature by exploring the numerous parks and nature preserves. Whether you’re here for nature or art galleries, visiting this village is one of the best things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline.
Ferry Landing State Park is another great stop in Old Lyme, Connecticut. This quaint and picturesque park, located along the banks of the Connecticut River, offers visitors a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
While strolling through the park, you can enjoy the incredible views of the river and Old Lyme Bride. Head down the boardwalk and even catch a glimpse of some local wildlife. If you love the beach, enjoy a day of sun and surf at Sound View Beach or White Sands Beach, where you can also catch a breathtaking sunset.
A visit to Old Lyme wouldn’t be complete without sampling the delicious cuisine at local restaurants and cafés, from fresh seafood to homemade baked goods. Check out the Hangry Goose for outdoor waterfront dining or the Hideaway Restaurant and Pub for classic American cuisine.
Florence Griswold Museum
While exploring Old Lyme, stop by the Florence Griswold Museum – one of the best things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline for art and history enthusiasts. This charming museum is located in the historic home of Florence Griswold, a remarkable woman who opened her residence to American Impressionist artists in the early 20th century. It became known as the home of the Lyme Art Colony, where acclaimed artists, such as Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf, resided and painted some of their most famous works.
Nestled along the picturesque Connecticut Shoreline, Old Saybrook in Middlesex County is a lovely New England town that combines history, natural beauty, and a friendly community spirit effortlessly. Steeped in rich history dating back to the 17th century, this quaint town offers a unique blend of well-preserved historical landmarks, such as the General William Hart House and the Old Saybrook Town Green, amid modern amenities and attractions. The town’s prime location along the mouth of the Connecticut River and the Long Island Sound provides ample opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy scenic walks, sandy beaches, and various water activities.
While walking down Main Street, admiring the American flags proudly swaying in the wind, I was delighted by the vibrant small businesses, boutiques, and local eateries that showcase the town’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. Head to Penny Lane Pub for English-style bar fare, or enjoy a more indulgent dinner at The Essex, an upscale French restaurant. If you love oysters like I do, dinner at Liv’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant is a great choice.
Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, also known as “The Kate,” in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, is a must-see in this area. This charming and historic venue is not only a testament to the legacy of its namesake, the iconic Katharine Hepburn, but it’s also a vibrant hub of artistic expression and cultural enrichment.
The Kate offers an eclectic mix of live performances, including theater, live music, dance, film, and other special events, making it an ideal destination for a fun night out. With its intimate atmosphere and state-of-the-art facilities, the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center promises an unforgettable experience for all who visit.
While in Old Saybrook, Harvey’s Beach is one of the best things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline for a relaxing beach getaway. With its gentle waves, soft sand, and breathtaking views of the Long Island Sound, Harvey’s Beach boasts a tranquil and welcoming atmosphere for all ages. With a grassy seascape and sailboats gliding gracefully in the distance, this spot is incredibly serene.
The small beach is equipped with a beach pavilion including amenities such as a playground for the little ones, restrooms, a picnic area, and lifeguards on duty for your safety. Parking is $15 a car during the day, but if you arrive after 5 p.m., you’ll be able to park for free and enjoy the sunset to cap off a great day.
Village of Mystic
Mystic, CT, is a charming coastal town nestled along the banks of the Mystic River in southeastern Connecticut. The 1988 movie Mystic Pizza put this small town on the map. Known for its rich maritime history, picturesque scenery, and friendly locals, Mystic is among the best towns to visit, with plenty of things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline. This well-preserved town offers various attractions for visitors of all ages. Stroll through the enchanting streets of downtown Mystic, where unique boutiques, art galleries, and mouthwatering seafood restaurants await. In the evening, head to The Harp and Hound for fantastic live music and drinks!
One of the highlights of Mystic, Connecticut, is the Mystic River. This beautiful waterway – bordered by quaint shops, historical sites, and mouthwatering eateries – provides a serene backdrop for a perfect day spent exploring and soaking in the New England charm. Its friendly atmosphere and stunning scenery make the Mystic River ideal for boating, kayaking, or enjoying a leisurely riverside stroll down its Mystic waterfront boardwalk.
One of the iconic landmarks in the area is the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, which provides beautiful views of the river and town. Rent a kayak or paddle board from Mystic Adventures and cruise under the bridge, enjoying the river banks along the way. You may even spot a harbor seal or two!
Mystic Seaport Museum
If you’re a history enthusiast, a boat lover, or simply looking for an enjoyable day out in Mystic, CT, the Mystic Seaport Museum should be on your itinerary. As the largest maritime museum in the United States, this attraction is a treasure trove of naval history. This world-class museum beautifully showcases America’s rich maritime heritage through its extensive collection of artifacts, engaging exhibits, and knowledgeable staff eager to share their passion for the sea.
Enjoy an immersive experience where you can explore the historic waterfront, marvel at restored ships, and even take a boat ride on the Mystic River. Wander through the recreated 19th-century seafaring village, complete with authentic buildings, and watch skilled artisans practice their trade using traditional methods. Don’t forget to visit the iconic Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, which takes you on a journey back in time.
The Mystic Aquarium is a must-visit attraction for families, friends, and marine life enthusiasts. As one of the nation’s leading aquariums, it offers an immersive experience that’s entertaining and educational, featuring a wide range of captivating exhibits, interactive displays, and spectacular marine creatures.
From sea lions to beluga whales, the aquarium provides visitors the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with these fascinating underwater residents. The Mystic Aquarium also hosts special events, programs, and activities throughout the year, making it one of the best places to learn about the importance of ocean conservation.
Olde Mistick Village
Olde Mistick Village, based on a 1720s-style colonial village, offers a unique shopping and dining experience that takes you back in time with its quaint atmosphere and vintage vibe. Stroll through the winding brick pathways lined with colonial-style buildings and beautifully landscaped gardens while browsing a diverse collection of specialty shops and boutiques. From handcrafted jewelry and artisanal products to unique clothing and souvenirs, there’s something for everyone at Olde Mistick Village.
When you’re ready for a break, enjoy a delicious meal at one of its many delightful restaurants and cafes, boasting various cuisine options. Jealous Monk, a European-style tavern, is an excellent option for lunch or dinner. If you’re in the mood for pizza, you can’t go wrong with Mango’s Wood-Fired Pizza. For a unique experience, head to Alice in the Village for sweet treats and freshly brewed teas.
Just a 10-minute drive from Mystic Village is the village of Noank, home to a local star, Ford’s Lobsters. Aside from the aesthetically pleasing buoys and lobster sign, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the lobster shack serves fresh lobster rolls and many other seafood favorites, from grilled fish, clam chowders, scallops, fresh salads, and more. Enjoy a taste of Connecticut on the outside patio while watching the boat sail by. They are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so plan accordingly.
Nestled at the mouth of the Mystic River, Masons Island is a hidden gem perfect for those seeking a serene retreat filled with natural beauty and charm. This enchanting island offers the opportunity to truly unwind and soak in the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Masons Island boasts several outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, swimming, and bird watching, making it ideal for outdoorsy and laid-back travelers. Whether you’re looking to explore the island’s lush greenery and vibrant wildlife or relax by the shore and watch the world go by, Masons Island is the perfect escape.
Mason’s Island is semi-private, so there are few public access areas. Stay the night to gain access to resident-only areas.
Stonington is an excellent destination for a relaxing day trip or weekend getaway with its quaint streets lined with vibrant, restored historic homes, blooming bougainvillea, and local treasures. Spend an afternoon strolling down Water Street, where you’ll find an array of unique shops, art galleries, and lovely restaurants serving fresh, local cuisine. Enjoy the ocean breeze from Dubois Beach, and marina views from the public waterfront walkway.
Nature and wine lovers will appreciate the stunning views and peaceful tranquility of the nearby Saltwater Farm Vineyard. Nestled on 108 acres of the Connecticut Shoreline, this fully functional vineyard boasts award-winning wine.
Stop by the Stonington Lighthouse Museum – an excellent spot for history buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and families. This lovely 19th-century lighthouse, standing proudly along the scenic shoreline, has been meticulously restored and transformed into an engaging educational museum. This beautiful museum is one of the best things to see on the Connecticut Shoreline!
When you step inside, you’ll be transported back in time as you explore the fascinating exhibits that beautifully showcase Stonington’s local history, maritime heritage, and lighthouse life. Be sure to climb up the winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse tower. You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding seascape – a perfect photo opportunity you won’t want to miss!
Lobster Trap Tree
If you’re in Stonington during the holidays, you don’t want to miss the Lobster Trap Tree! This tree is a unique and whimsical alternative to the traditional evergreen Christmas tree. A delightful attraction on the town dock during the holiday season, this tree is lovingly crafted from dozens of wooden lobster traps, adorned with colorful buoys and twinkling lights.
The Lobster Trap Tree showcases the local community’s creativity and pays tribute to Connecticut’s deep-rooted maritime history and the significant role lobster fishing plays in the region’s culture and economy. This is definitely one of the most unique things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline during the holidays!
Hammonasset Beach State Park
Located in Madison, Connecticut, Hammonasset Beach State Park comprises two miles of beachfront along the beautiful Long Island Sound. As the state’s longest shoreline park, this area attracts over a million visitors each year.
Splash in the water, stroll along the boardwalk or lay in the sun on a warm summer day. If you’re in the mood for a beach day, this state park is one of the best things to do on the Connecticut Shoreline.
Enjoy Historic Clinton
The Clinton Village Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. History buffs will love learning about the town’s history at the Historical Society Museum or fishing through the photos and artifacts at the Buell Tool Museum and George Flynn Library. Stop in at the Elisha White House, the oldest brick house between New London and New Haven.
If you love outdoor activities, take a boat tour along the sound or hike through one of the nearby state parks or preserves. Shore Road offers public beaches and a lovely scenic drive, while golf enthusiasts will love playing a round at nearby Heron Creek Golf Club.
Another must-do along the Connecticut shoreline is sampling a New England staple. The mouth-watering lobster rolls at Lobster Landing attract hundreds of daily visitors. This local favorite is just 10 minutes east of Hammonasset Beach State Park in Clinton, CT. Open seven days a week, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and to 7 p.m. on the weekends, their hot, lemon-butter lobster rolls can be enjoyed on the harbor with lovely bay views. Parking is limited, and they do sell out, so arrive early. Feel free to BYOB and enjoy your meal while watching a scenic shoreline view.
Hook a Bluefish in Clinton
Known as the bluefish capital of the world (but not actually because of the fish), Clinton is a great area to book a fishing charter for experienced and beginner fishermen (and women), allowing you to enjoy an exciting day on the water.
Inshore and offshore fishing excursions in Clinton are a great way to experience the beauty of the Long Island Sound and bring back some dinner. The catch includes bass, shark, tuna, marlin, and swordfish. There are many different charter companies to choose from, so you can find one that fits your needs and budget. The best time to go fishing in Clinton is from April to October.
Deep River Landing
Deep River Landing is a public boat launch and marina in Deep River, Connecticut. It provides access to the Connecticut River for boating and fishing enthusiasts and features several amenities, including a fishing pier, picnic areas, restrooms, and parking facilities. While you’re here, hop on a riverboat cruise – you’ll be able to enjoy the river scenery from a different viewpoint!
Gillette Castle State Park
Situated between the towns of East Haddam and Lyme, Connecticut, Gillette Castle State Park is most notable for its castle, designed by American actor William Gillette who was the first to portray Sherlock Holmes. Gillette designed this castle to have 47 one-of-a-kind doors throughout the structure, along with intricate woodwork, a greenhouse, a library, and an art gallery, making this a fun place to explore on a guided tour!
With so much to do along the Connecticut coast, a New England road trip is the perfect way to see everything. From a few days to a few weeks or even months, you can easily adjust your itinerary on the fly to enjoy your favorite things to do along the Connecticut shoreline.
Continue your journey from the Connecticut coast to Rhode Island to enjoy some of New England’s best seaside towns like New Port and Watch Hill, both only a short drive from New London, Connecticut.