Family Fun in Connecticut
Connecticut is ripe with quaint, historical offerings for the whole family, and what better place to start than famed author Mark Twain’s magical home in Hartford?
Summer reading becomes so much more interesting when you find yourself in the midst of the very treasures an author was surrounded by while penning some of literature’s most beloved works. The Mark Twain House & Museum (351 Farmington Ave., Hartford, Conn.; 860-247-0998; marktwainhouse.org) is not only a book lover’s dream, but also a gorgeous piece of Gothic architecture. It’s easy to get swept up in the home and feel transported to another time, whether you have read Mark Twain novels or not.
Kids and adults alike will love exploring the home’s 25 rooms, particularly the billiard room in which Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens) wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper, among others.
Curators are meticulous when it comes to restoring the home, performing tests on the paints and finishes to ensure the original color scheme for each room stays intact.
The latest addition to the grounds, however, is the museum, which opened in 2003. It houses a permanent Mark Twain exhibit and a rotating exhibition, as well as a research library which is only accessible with an appointment. It holds the honor of being the first museum in the country to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Keep in mind: Visits to the home are by guided tour only, on a first-come, first-served basis. So plan to arrive early because times will often sell out.
You can get more bang for your book-lovin’ buck nearby because author Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) was a neighbor and her home also attracts a legion of visitors each year. Tour the Victorian Gothic home of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (77 Forest St., Hartford, Conn.; 860-522-9258; harrietbeecherstowecenter.org) and take in the gorgeous gardens as well as the Katharine Seymour Day House, a manse that simply can’t be missed. Day was the founder of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and was the grandniece of Stowe. If all of this touring is making the kids a little antsy, the activity table in the Visitor’s Center has a “Make It and Take It” project for children and a fun “I Spy” scavenger hunt along the house tour that will keep them on their toes.
Certainly after hearing all about Twain’s fantastical stories about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, your kids will be looking for some adventure of their own. Head over to the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat (One Railroad Ave., Essex, Conn.; 860-767-0103; essexsteamtrain.com) for an interesting sightseeing experience. You’ll feel like you’re on the very pages of Twain’s books as you explore the Connecticut River Valley and roll through some of the state’s most picturesque towns. Just be prepared to devote some time to this excursion – the regular tour is two-and-a-half hours round trip.
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat does offer some unique excursions, like the Saybrook Special on the first weekend of each month and a Circus Train on select weekends in July to transport you to the Big Top Show. Check with their website for exclusives that may be the perfect fit for your family.
If your littles love all things transport-related, stop by the Connecticut Trolley Museum (58 North Road, East Windsor, Conn; 860-627-6540; ct-trolley.org) where you can take unlimited trolley rides with admission and learn about this mass transit of yesteryear. You’ll also find the Connecticut Fire Museum on the grounds, which preserves antique fire trucks and gear. Your aspiring first responder will love exploring the fire alarm office and a 1948 American LaFrance ladder truck.
Looking for a little less talk and a lot more action? Then you have to check out Mountain Fun (340 Quinnipiac St., Wallingford, Conn.; 203-265-4006; primeclimb.com), a climbing gym for kids as young as 6 years. If rock climbing is new to you and your family, they offer one-hour Try a Climb sessions Tuesday through Sunday. If you find you’ve caught the climbing bug, you can cross the street to Prime Climb afterwards for a beginner lesson or an advanced Try a Climb session.
Explore Connecticut’s beauty with a hike through Bluff Point State Park (Depot Road, Groton, Conn.; 860-441-6600), where you can catch great views of Long Island Sound. The 800-acre peninsula is only accessible by foot or non-motorized vehicle (feel free to bring mountain bikes). Salt water fishing and shell fishing are allowed but you’ll need a permit for the latter.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point you in the direction of the Stamford Museum and Nature Center (39 Scofieldtown Road, Stamford, Conn.; 203-322-1646; stamfordmuseum.org), home to incredible activities like Nature’s Playground, featuring a scalable spider’s web, treehouse, tube slide and so much more. Their Overbrook Nature Center offers a map of winding trails that take visitors through their lush property (spanning more than 80 acres). Heckscher Farm will educate your family on rural life and kids will love checking out the chicken coop and pig pen. For a touch of elegance, stop by Bendel Mansion (yes, shopping addicts, Henri Bendel’s manse), which boasts incredible architecture and artwork.
Head over to the quaint town of Mystic and take a leisurely stroll along the seaport. Get an education in sea life at the Mystic Aquarium (55 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic, Conn.; 860-572-5955; mysticaquarium.org), where New England’s only beluga whales reside. At the Shark Encounters exhibit kids can pet the backs of white-spotted bamboo sharks.
Kelly Bryant is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.
Where to Sleep
Get some shut-eye at one of these family-friendly lodging options:
• Howard Johnson Inn Mystic – 253 Greemanville Ave., Mystic, Conn.; 860-536-2654; hojo.com.
• Courtyard Stamford Downtown – 275 Summer St., Stamford, Conn.; 203-358-8822; marriott.com.
• Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa in Groton – 625 North Road, Groton, Conn.; 860-446-2600; marriott.com.
• Radisson Hotel Hartford – 50 Morgan St., Hartford, Conn.; 860-549-2400; radisson.com.
Where to Eat
• Pellicci’s Restaurant – 98 Stillwater Ave., Stamford, Conn.; 203-323-2542; pelliccis.com. Family owned and operated since 1947, Pellicci’s will satisfy your every craving for Italian cuisine.
• The Rolling Tomato – 505 Long Hill Road, Groton, Conn.; 860-445-9663; therollingtomato.com. Embrace the food truck trend with this wood-fired pizza place on wheels.
• Cornerstone – 529 Main St., Hartford, Conn.; 860-278-2923. Break for lunch at this deli hotspot that boasts delicious subs and salads.