Take a Fun Day Trip This Fall

These four easy getaways remind us why we love to hit the road in autumn.
fall day trips

Clockwise from top left: Niantic Boardwalk, the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, the shore at Stonington Borough, the Florence Griswold Museum, a fresh pour of a Grey Sail brew. Photography: Florence Griswold Museum, Connecticut Office of Tourism/Kindra Clineff, ERTD Mystic County, Niantic Boardwalk/Dave Labrie, Grey Sail Brewing.

Southeastern Connecticut

A relaxing jaunt just over the border.
By Courtney Coelho

If you’d asked me previously where to spend the day in Connecticut, the state’s southeastern corner probably would have been the last place that came to mind. I might have suggested the northeastern region, known as Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner,” with its tranquil villages and antiques shopping. Or I might have sent you farther down 95 to bustling New Haven or to the southwestern corner with its tony towns and high-end shopping and restaurants. And, naturally, I would have had lots to say about Mystic, having spent many a day at the Aquarium and Seaport as a child.

But the rest of the bottom right corner of the Nutmeg State was uncharted territory, which is exactly what drew me to it. I knew there was more to the region than the white town names on green exit signs that I zipped past on my way to New York. I just didn’t know what.

So one sunny Sunday, my husband and I hopped in the car and headed south on 95 to find out.

We start our trip at the farthest point west we plan to go, with a stop at Ashlawn Farm Coffee in Old Saybrook. The shop roasts its own beans on its nearby namesake farm. I can’t resist the special of the week, Turkish iced coffee, sweetened with house-made cardamom-infused syrup, while my husband opts for a hot house blend. The strong brew is just the jolt we need to get going for the day. farmcoffee.com

From there we head back east, just a few miles down the highway, to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Known as the birthplace of American Impressionism, the stunning grounds on the bank of the Lieutenant River house both a gallery and Ms. Griswold’s house and gardens. We meander through the gallery’s exhibition of flora and fauna-themed works, many of which were completed on the museum’s grounds, before making our way over to the house. Perfectly preserved, the temple-like structure is just as it looked when the Lyme Art Colony used it as a boardinghouse in the early twentieth century. The dining room, where each panel is an original work painted by an artist who stayed there, is not to be missed. The museum’s friendly docents are at the ready to share stories and fun facts from the home’s heyday. florencegriswoldmuseum.org

Once we have our fill of art, it is time to fill our bellies with lunch at Cafe Flo. Adjacent to the gallery, the eatery offers incomparable views of the river. We sip wine and leisurely make our way through a lunch of nicoise salad and lobster B.L.T.s on the outdoor terrace while watching kayakers paddle down the marshy waterway.

It is hard to imagine a more scenic spot, but we are on a mission to see as much of the area as we can, so back on the road we go, hopping on Route 156 to Niantic’s Cini Park. There we ditch our car (parking is free if you aren’t going to the beach) and hit the boardwalk, a little more than one-mile stretch of pristine walkway that connects the park to Hole-in-the-Wall Beach. Taking our time, we stop periodically to check out signs describing the local wildlife and the boats cruising Long Island Sound. It is the perfect way to walk off our lunch before heading to our next destination, Stonington.

Beer lovers that we are, we would be remiss if we didn’t complete our trip without sampling some kind of local brew. So on our way into town we make a stop at Beer’d Brewing Company, where we pick up a few cans of their hoppy Hobbit Juice. beerdbrewing.com

From there, we head west and turn onto Water Street, marveling as we drive by the tightly packed row of picturesque old homes and cute shops and wondering why we’ve never thought to visit before. Water Street eventually leads us to Stonington Point, a rocky outcropping with parking and a tiny beach. We have plans to eat at downtown favorite, Noah’s, but the views of the surrounding coastlines, including Watch Hill, are just too good not to linger a bit before dinner. So we opt to do just that, each of us cracking open one of our newly purchased beers and taking perch on a rock, where we toast to a day of new discoveries and a promise to return soon.

Nuts and Bolts

Drive time: Seventy-three minutes to Old Saybrook
Miles: 150 round trip
How to get there: Exits for all of the towns are off of 95 S. Once you’re in the area, Rt. 156 connects many of the towns, for a more scenic trip.
Best season to go: Summer or fall
If you stay over: Old Lyme Inn
Centrally located in Connecticut’s southeast region, and directly across the street from the Florence Griswold Museum, the Old Lyme Inn is about as classically New England as it gets. Rooms are decorated with antiques and original art work and the onsite restaurant has a wide-ranging menu. Recently restored, the inn is also home to the Side Door Jazz Club, which brings in world-renowned performers regularly. 85 Lyme St., Old Lyme, Conn., 860-434-2600, oldlymeinn.com.
Don’t miss: Book Barn in Niantic
Save some time in your day to stop by the Book Barn in Niantic. There are four locations in the area, but the main location is a must–see. With thousands of books in the barn, plus several auxiliary buildings onsite, all organized by genre, there are plenty of good reads to be found. And when you’re through browsing, take a stroll through the gardens, feed the goats and count how many resident cats you can spot. 41 West Main St., Niantic, Conn., 860-739-5715, bookbarnniantic.com.
Worth a detour: Pachaug State Forest
Connecticut has thousands of acres of pristine forest and just twenty-one miles north of Mystic is one of its largest: Pachaug State Forest. Get a dose of nature during your visit by hiking, fishing or picnicking. Or pitch a tent and stay a while in one of the area’s many camping sites. ct.gov/deep/pachaug.
Closer to home: Grey Sail Brewing
If Rhode Island brews are more your speed, stay east of the state line and visit Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly. While there, you can check out how the beer is made, grab some growlers to go or head next door to the tap room, where you can sample the line by flight. In warmer months you can sit outside and play bocce ball and corn hole while sipping. 63-65 Canal St., Westerly, 212-7592, greysailbrewing.com.

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