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Here are 11 things you should do in Connecticut this summer

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
River tubing at Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area on the Farmington River in New Hartford, Conn., May 29, 2022.

The days are getting longer and the water’s getting warmer: Summer’s in the air in Connecticut.

The staff at Connecticut Public has compiled a list of things you should put on your summertime bucket list — from exploring parks to devouring ice cream. Slather on some sunscreen and soak up the sun: These summery days won’t last forever.

1. Check out Gillette Castle

Ray Hardman
Connecticut Public
Ray Hardman's wife and sons stop for a picture during the tour of the Gillette Castle in East Haddam. Overlooking the Connecticut River and the historic Hadlyme Ferry, the castle is quintessential Connecticut.

One of the things my family and I love about summer is Gillette Castle in East Haddam. The castle and property were developed by none other than stage actor William Gillette, perhaps best known for his countless performances of Sherlock Holmes in the days before cinema. Gillette purchased the property and had the funkiest castle built, as well as a fully operational, sized-down railroad that would shuttle guests to and from the castle.

The railroad is gone, but you can hike the rail trail on the property. The tour of the castle is amazing, and the scenery is beautiful: Overlooking the Connecticut River and the historic Hadlyme Ferry. Quintessential Connecticut.

— Ray Hardman

2. Near Gillette Castle, eat, drink and relax

Gillette Castle is a state park and Connecticut River treasure, often considered a tourist attraction. It has recently undergone some renovations and through an all-volunteer effort the Castle’s conservatory has been rejuvenated and opened to visitors starting Memorial Day weekend.

One of the ways to make a great day of this? Start on the other side of the river in downtown Chester. You can grab lunch and a tasty Bloody Mary at The Pattaconk and walk through the cute shops and art galleries. You may even want to grab a bottle at the Chester Package Store and save it for later. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Then, drive or ride your bike over to catch the Hadlyme Ferry that takes you across the Connecticut River and to the foot of Gillette Castle State Park. Walk around the park grounds, tour the renovated conservatory and enjoy the beautiful views of the Connecticut River. Catch the ferry back to the west side of the river and head down the road to The Blue Oar, where you can enjoy casual dining and some local seafood right on the river. That is where that bottle you picked up in Chester earlier comes in handy at this BYOB and cash-only treasure.

— Megan Fitzgerald

3. Go out and get some ice cream

It’s summertime, which for my family means kicking off our annual statewide ice cream tour. We have our favorite spots. Check out the “dirty barn shoes” flavor at Robb’s Farm in Glastonbury. And Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe and Café has a whole host of delicious flavors you can choose from. But those are just two of the state’s many wonderful ice cream destinations. For us, the ice cream is just one part of it. Visiting the farm, being with family and discovering Connecticut’s hidden gems are the greater joys. And it helps when everything is so tasty! So this summer head on out … and try some ice cream!

— Patrick Skahill

4. Head to a park: Bushnell Park

A weekend walk in downtown Hartford with small children can start with the carousel in Bushnell Park. Be sure to stop at the playground outside, with its replica of the nearby state Capitol building. Some little people love to get up on the stage at the Performance Pavilion and put on their own show — or just run around in circles.

It's just past the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. There are several excellent restaurants within a block or two of the park for lunch. And you never know when you will see something unexpected, like window washers on the side of a downtown office building on a windy day! By the way, the Connecticut Science Center and the Wadsworth Atheneum are also within walking distance.

— Matt Dwyer

5. Head to other parks

Sam Hockaday
Connecticut Public
Wickham Park is also dog-friendly, making it the perfect summer outing for furry friends.

During the summertime in Connecticut, there are few places I enjoy more than Wickham Park in Manchester. I’ve visited countless times over the years. As a child, nothing excited me more than exploring the Oriental Garden (which is about 100 years old) and the nearby Lotus Garden. My friends and I would get lost in searching for bullfrogs, counting tadpoles and chasing dragonflies. A close second was the Aviary, where finding a stray peacock feather on the footpath could make my day.

As I’ve gotten older, my favorite activities at the park may have changed, but my appreciation for the park remains. In addition to my childhood favorite gardens, there are many others that I enjoy now as well: The secluded Wetlands Garden, various European gardens and even the natural flora and fauna found in abundance across the park grounds. Trails guide you through the various gardens, the woods and up to the large hilltop from which you can see a breathtaking view of Hartford.

The park is also dog-friendly, making it the perfect summer outing for my wife, myself and our furry family. I’ve only scratched the surface of the fun and beauty to be found at Wickham Park, so why not see for yourself?

— Sam Hockaday

6. Go play basketball

john henry smith 1.jpg
John Henry Smith
Connecticut Public
One of the simple pleasures of summer is being able to play outside. In the nearly four years I’ve lived in Connecticut, summer heat has been my cue to hit Quirk Park in Farmington, home of the Tunxis Mead Athletic Fields.

I’m 55 years old. At my age, golf should be my sport of choice. But the truth is: I love basketball. Despite the fact that whatever small amount of spring I ever had in my legs is long gone, despite my knee’s protestations, I play on. The feeling I get when my jump shot stroke is pure: Never. Gets. Old. One of the simple pleasures of summer is being able to play outside. In the nearly four years I’ve lived in Connecticut, summer heat has been my cue to hit Quirk Park in Farmington, home of the Tunxis Mead Athletic Fields. Birds singing, sun shining, the joyous din of kids in every direction playing in their soccer or baseball leagues. This is a happy place. This is MY happy place!

— John Henry Smith

7. Get in a kayak

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
River tubing at Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area on the Farmington River in New Hartford, Conn., May 29, 2022.

It’s not easy getting into a whitewater kayak, especially after midlife and winter weight set in. Everything gets tighter: the spray skirt, the hip pads, the helmet, the boat. But, once you’re in, you’re in, and the river does the rest. In Connecticut, it was on the Collinsville and Tariffville stretches of the Farmington River that I fell in love with whitewater. Not big whitewater. Dad whitewater. And, as much as I love canoes, they sit on top of the water. These kayaks? They sit right in it, bringing me closer to the surface and the cold and the rocks and the flow.

— Jeff Cohen

Kayak Connecticut - Farmington River, New Hartford 2020

8. Tour the (food) trails

For a tiny state, Connecticut’s got some pretty great trails. Bu, I’m not talking about Sleeping Giant or Bear Mountain, though they both offer lovely nature-filled, restorative hikes. I’m talking about the trails for foodies.

Did you know we have a Chocolate Trail? Want to cool off? There’s an Ice Cream Trail. Love the food we’re famous for? There’s a New Haven Pizza Trail. OK, so it’s not an official “trail,” but you could have a different lobster roll every weekend, all summer long, if you wanted. And of course, there are the foodie trails you’d expect: Local wine is a triumph in these parts, and our craft beer scene is a particular point of pride.

Behind all these foodie trails are local people —your neighbors — making delicious things in our state. And because we’re tiny but mighty, none are all that much of a hike to get to. Several of these spots are likely right on your town’s Main Street. Happy trails!

— Robyn Doyon-Aitken

9. Bibliophiles, rejoice!

The Main Barn of the Book Barn in Niantic is actually several barns that are open year-round, but it’s also a perfect spot to grab a beach read on the way to Rocky Neck State Park in the summertime. With a complimentary wagon in tow, wander the path from barn to barn full of used books. Stop to greet one of the many resident cats who nap around the grounds. Ample benches welcome visitors to sit and read in the many gardens. Watch the pet goats and turtles explore the yard, too — but don’t try to feed them snacks.

— Cassandra Basler

10. Compete in a chili cook-off

Chion and Dad chili1.jpg
Chion Wolf
Connecticut Public
In the summertime, Chion Wolf loved joining her dad as he’d compete in chili cook-offs in Connecticut.

In the summertime, I loved joining my dad as he’d compete in chili cook-offs here in Connecticut. He was from South Philadelphia, so he competed under the name, “South Philly Chili: Chili From the Real South!” I always liked how cocky that was of him to include in the title. We chiliheads can be cocky.

Making chili was something I got really, really good at. I love it for what’s in it, and for what’s not in it: no beans, no tomatoes, no ground beef. Just hand-cubed meat, chorizo, peppers, spices and a few other secret ingredients that celebrate the pure meatiness of the dish.

I didn’t take it personally when my “Asylum Hill Chili” didn't win a medal in my first and only appearance in an International Chili Society cook-off a couple of years ago. However, to put my finger on the scale of what kind of chili makes it to the World’s competition, I did become a certified International Chili Society judge and fulfilled my duties every chance I had. If a batch of competition chili didn’t have tomatoes in it, at least, I always gave it a high score. We chiliheads can be cocky.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a cook-off, so I looked up when the next ICS-sanctioned one will be in Connecticut. And would you look at that? This year, it’s on my dad’s birthday in August!

Chili cooks, light your fire!

(The Connecticut State Chili Cook-off is at East Shore Park in New Haven on Aug. 6.)

—Chion Wolf

11. Head to the beach! (Of course!)

Once you’ve devoured your ice cream and grabbed your summer read and sunscreen, head to one of Connecticut’s beaches. Here’s a list. And here’s another one.

Bonus things to do

We can't really stop at 11 things to do in Connecticut in the summer. So ... here are some more!

Visit Connecticut's shoreline

I feel like Connecticut’s shoreline gets a bad rap but we have so many beautiful shore towns and places to visit and eat! I think it’s easy for those of us who were born and raised here to take all our little state has to offer for granted and should be a little more thankful we’re not one of those landlocked ones!

Rocky Neck State Park, in East Lyme, where the water is cool and calm and the sand is surprisingly talc-like. You can also go crabbing and fishing, picnic, hike and even camp!

Harkness Memorial State Park, in Waterford, where you can fish (but unfortunately not swim), picnic/grill, explore the gardens and (my favorite) on most good weather weekends, just marvel at some of the largest and most spectacular kites flying above their sweeping lawn overlooking the Long Island Sound.

On a rainy summer day, The Velvet Mill in Stonington offers a variety of shopping, dining and drinking options. You can find a super cute houseplant shop, a beautiful all-wood, all-handmade furniture store, a variety of art, boutique and vintage shops, a brewery and a rum distillery, and my personal favorite, a Farmer’s Market every Saturday!

Ford’s Lobster, in Noank, is no secret among the Connecticut summer shoreline crawlers, as evidenced by their regular wait times of one to two hours. So do they really need my endorsement? Doesn’t that just mean more people on the waiting list in front of me? But I can’t help myself. When the weather warms up, this little gem erects an outdoor kitchen and dining room right on their dock and pumps out some of the best lobster dishes around, among other things. I’m talkin’ lobster rolls (hot or cold), lobster grilled cheese, lobster BLT and admittedly, the only entrée I’ve ever ordered off the menu – the Lobster Bisque Bomb. Picture this: a fresh, warm and crusty bread bowl, hollowed out and filled with a half-pound of hot, buttered, just caught lobster and topped with their creamiest, dreamiest lobster bisque. Worth every second on that waiting list, I promise. I hear they have a great Rueben, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never find out. Pro tip – it’s BYOB, so don’t forget to stop for a nice rosé on your way!

— Maegn Boone

Learn more: Explore Connecticut

Visit CT
Connecticut tourism
What did we miss?
Did we miss a favorite summer event or tradition? (Of course we did!) Let us know. Send an email to eaasen@ctpublic.org.

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