How do I make the most of three months in Hartford?
February 4, 2007 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I've been informed by my employer that I will be moving to Hartford, CT for 3 months -- starting in March. I am looking for suggestions for quirky regional things to explore on weekends, or things to do at night.

I will have nights and weekends free, and I don't know anyone in Hartford. I'm 22. I don't drink, so hanging out at bars isn't really an interest. But I liked used bookstores, quirky people, wacky sight seeing stuff, and the usual hiking expeditions.

So what must I absolutely see in drives that are 1-2 hours away, or in the city? I will have a car and really look forward to getting to know the region.

Thank you in advance.
posted by moooshy to Travel & Transportation around Baltimore, MD (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Be sure to explore Litchfield County.

In Hartford -- visit Mark Twain's house and right nearby -- Harriet Beecher Stowe's.
posted by ericb at 3:44 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: Well, just so you know, all of Connecticut is within 2 hours of Hartford, with a few exceptions in the corners where nothing is going on anyway. You're only 45 minutes or so out of New Haven, depending on time of day and travel speed. Boston and New York are both 2-2.5 hours away.

Nearest Hartford county, I recommend hiking in Meshomasic to find the Nike missile sites (use the letterboxing directions that can be found online).

There really isn't much 'quirky' or 'wacky' in state. That is why they made the joke in a movie about how in CT no one would notice a town full of robots. There's no roadside things like out west.

I mean, if by quirky you mean reclusive Sherlock Holmes actor builds castle with lots of mirrors, that's the best there is. Mark Twain's house is generally worth a visit around the holidays, but the Barnum Museum is better, although it's in Bridgeport and will take longer to get to than to see. The Old State House in Hartford has a smaller Wunderkammern thing going on. The Atheneum is overrated.

And if by 'quirky' you mean 'listen to old people tell you stories,' each and every town has a historical society with dubious claims to fame. Mine's got half a ferry and some fish.

There's a giant two-barn bookstore in Bethany - again, 45 minutes or so from Hartford - called 'Whitfield's Book Barn.' IIRC, largest in state. Rambling sort of place.

If you go down to New Haven, there's the Yale galleries and museums and the giant ruins of the Coliseum, still. And an IKEA. Oh, and a homeless woman who can quote all of Shakespeare.

On preview - explore what in Litchfield county? Forest? Fields? The endless parade of Dunkin Donutses? Might as well drive out east instead of west, to UConn's Dairy Bar - watch the cows as you eat the ice cream that came from 'em.

Since I'm guessing you're not from the Northeast based on your driving time radius, you could try candlepin bowling.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:57 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: Boring? Whatever! There's loads of stuff in Hartford. Not a TON of nightlife, but lots of neat eateries and weird stuff to see.

A few suggestions- Timothy's Restaurant near Trinity College. It's about as authentic and down to earth a place as you can find. I really miss the food there.

O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown. An insanely gourmet menu in an insanely neat old school metal diner.

The Italian food in the general area of Mozzicato Bakery is great. The bakery is a wonderful place for a canoli and espresso.

Down by the shore at Stew Leonards, you pretty much have Disney World in a grocery store. It's as insane as you'd think.

If you're willing to leave CT and drive a bit over an hour north, just get off 91 in downtown Northampton, MA. Park in one of the municipal lots and there's enough to see and do on foot to last you a full day. Imagine Manhattan as a person- Northampton is an embryo of that person. It's all there, just much smaller.
posted by clango at 4:12 PM on February 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

On your way to Northampton (great town!), stop in Springfield and visit the Basketball Hall of Fame.
posted by rtha at 4:31 PM on February 4, 2007

Foxwoods is the largest casino in the world, with 7,000 slot and video poker machines, among other things, and is just a short drive, south east, from Hartford.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:42 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: I second's the Greenwich Village of New England, and these days is probably better.

There's also Real Art Ways, which has art and independent movies and suchlike, if that's your thing.
posted by nevercalm at 5:04 PM on February 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Boston is about 2 hours away and worth a trip for the weekend.

If you are into history check out Old Newgate Prison in East Granby.

Also, Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted if you like hiking.

Make sure to eat at Lena's Pizza in Hartford, Pepe's in New Haven, see Elizabeth Park and eat at the Pond House Cafe in Hartford, and Tapas in West Hartford.

Definitely check out Northampton and Amherst, Mass. They are great college towns. If you are up for a longer trip try a weekend in Vermont.
posted by sara558 at 5:16 PM on February 4, 2007

I forgot, allso try the Hillstead Museum in Farmington and the Wadsworth Atheneum Musuem in Hartford
posted by sara558 at 5:18 PM on February 4, 2007

Response by poster: This is all excellent. Thank you very much. I am particularly interested in Northhampton and the book barn (I'm actually from Philly, but I don't mind driving...and I currently live in DC..)

I appreciate all of the advice.
posted by moooshy at 6:01 PM on February 4, 2007

Seconding Real Art Ways! (RAW)

As far as Vermont goes, you're probably going to want to go to Brattleboro. Similar vibe to Northampton but more mountainy. It's the closest fun VT city to CT by a long shot.
posted by clango at 6:28 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: Since you're there until May, spring and early summer are some of the best times to eat lobster on the shore at Abbot's in Noank, CT (roughly 45 minutes from Hartford). It's a great mid afternoon drive and meal, after which you can walk around Mystic, CT. Mystic has a great ice cream shop you can hit before walking around at night.

In the other direction is University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. If you like basketball, it's definitely worth checking out. Otherwise there's not much in Storrs except Chang's -- one of the few places with an authentic Chinese menu outside of NYC. They also have much better than average Americanized Chinese.

Providence is a great weekend trip, as is Northampton/Amherst. In Northampton, by Smith College, is a restaurant called the Green Street Café which is on Green Street. There are lots of good restaurants in Northampton/Amherst, but this one is definitely worth searching out.

Finally, in New London there's the best Indian restaurant I've ever known (though I must say I'm no expert). It's very small, on Main St. and called the Northern Indian Restaurant.

On a longer weekend drive, I loved driving up north of Boston to Concord, MA to see Thoreau's Walden Pond. It's only a two hour drive, but once you get off the interstate it's a beautiful one and you can walk all the way around while thinking about American romanticism.

There's a good deal more I used to do, but I'm drawing a blank right now. I wasn't a huge fan the seven years I was there, but there are definitely some highlights.
posted by ontic at 6:29 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: O'Rourke's burned down. Very sad. Too bad you'll miss that one.

Mystic Seaport is definitely worth a day trip on a nice weekend day. Have breakfast at Noah's in nearby Stonington. dinner in the downstairs tavern of the Daniel Packer Inne. If you go to the Packer Inne on Monday night, stay for the old-time music session, which starts at 10 PM and goes til 1 AM. Totally unique in all New England.

If you like the Book Barns, don't miss Niantic Book Barn. A couple acres of outbuildings, all used books, wandering cats and goats. Wonderful place to while away an afternoon.
posted by Miko at 6:48 PM on February 4, 2007

Ahem. Let's not forget the grave of Wallace Stevens.

Poet, be seated at the piano.
Play the present, its hoo-hoo-hoo,
Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic...

posted by Haruspex at 6:51 PM on February 4, 2007

seconding the book barn in niantic. it's definitely worth the drive.
posted by antitext at 7:14 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: The Cinestudio is a small theatre that's part of Trinity College. They have excellent films.

If you like Indian food, check out Kashmir. It has some of the best Indian food I've ever had.

For takeout/delivery pizza, Choice One can't be beat.
posted by null terminated at 7:24 PM on February 4, 2007

On preview - explore what in Litchfield county? Forest? Fields?

I am biased -- having grown up in Litchfield. It's a beautiful part of the world. If nothing else, take a trek on the Appalachian Moutain Trail in Salisbury and finish off with a meal at the White Hart Inn.
posted by ericb at 7:56 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: Oh -- and while you'll be in the area in June -- consider a visit to Tanglewood, as well as the Norman Rockwell Museum -- just north in Massachusetts.
posted by ericb at 8:02 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: Battleship Cove, Fall River, MA for a bunch of WW II naval vessels..

Mystic Aquarium, in Mystic, CT.

Drive the Hudson River.

Tour the Newport Mansions in RI.

Visit Old Sturbridge Village, in Sturbridge MA (straight up I84).

Boston or NYC are doable for a day/ weekend. Suggestions for things to do in either place are worthy of their thread.

Get in your car and drive either East or West and visit some of CT's smaller rural towns.
posted by zaphod at 8:09 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: As far as Vermont goes, you're probably going to want to go to Brattleboro. Similar vibe to Northampton but more mountainy. It's the closest fun VT city to CT by a long shot.

Brattleboro has their 'Gallery Walk' -- the first Friday of the month. Very popular and a wonderful event.
posted by ericb at 8:10 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: In Hartford, third Real Art Ways. As far as bars, there's the Half Door, the Corner Pug, and the First and Last. For food, there's the aforementioned Pepe's in New Haven, there's fantastic pho in East Hartford at Pho 501, and there's great breakfastses to be had at Mo's Midtown.

Northampton is way cool, and it's 45 min away; New Haven's even closer and almost as good. Hartford gets a bad rap, but I really enjoyed my time living there - even if you run out of things to do in Hartford itself, it's got proximity to lots of cool things.
posted by pdb at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown. An insanely gourmet menu in an insanely neat old school metal diner.

Burnt down, but they're rebuilding. In the mean time, mama roux's kitchen up rt 9 in cromwell is damn good too.
posted by duckstab at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2007

Most places you go -- and definitely within driving distance -- there will be mountains to climb, some with beautiful views and incredible drops. There are plenty I doubt any outsiders know about or try to access, and there are so many mountains in Connecticut that some of them go months without anyone even trying to hike them. If you see a mountain you like, you can probably just call the town hall of whatever town it's in, and find out the status and hours. Or work in the opposite direction -- look at a list of state parks and go from there.

March will probably be a good time to start hiking, too. Although it depends on whether winter stays late to make up for its late start, it should be cold enough to discourage ticks -- a real concern, by the way -- but not cold enough to make you miserable. And with all the nature around, you might want to think about taking up photography.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:50 PM on February 4, 2007

Best answer: As a Connecticut native, allow me to suggest a few quirky spots. In Bristol (about 20 minutes from Hartford) you will find The American Clock & Watch Museum as well as The New England Carousel Museum both are very interesting.

Bristol is also the home of ESPN (if you feel like taking a gander at gigantic satellite dishes.)

I'll also second the suggestion of The Corner Pug as one of my favorite places to eat. The atmosphere is great and their beer selection is terrific.
posted by mike0221 at 7:22 AM on February 5, 2007

You'll be in one of the original thirteen colonies. Start at the capitol and then check out Mystic Seaport. Nothing like a replica of the Mayflower to get your feet wet in history. Then, right across the street from the seaport is the aquarium.

It may be a stretch, but a visit to Block Island may be fun.
posted by kc0dxh at 8:38 AM on February 5, 2007

Best answer: To clarify: the replica of the Mayflower is in Plymouth, MA, along with Plimoth Plantation, the re-created Pilgrim colony of 1623. Mystic Seaport has historic vessels: an 1841 whaling bark, an 1882 training vessel, and a 1921 Gloucester schooner, along with more than 500 smaller craft. Maritime skills like working aloft on sails, singing chanteys, boatbuilding, and metalwork are shown there daily.

Block island is indeed great - an excellent choice for an overnight or 2-night weekend trip. You can get the ferry from Point Judith, RI, about an hour and a half from Hartford. The two-hour ferry ride brings you to a very bucolic, very natural coastal island - really peaceful in springtime, with excellent bike riding, hiking, and birding, and a few fun restaurants and shops. It's restful and a nice nature destination.
posted by Miko at 8:58 AM on February 5, 2007

Best answer: Nash Dino Land is a weird roadside attraction nearby in Massachusetts featuring preserved dinosaur footprints, prehistoric fish fossils, and a giant paper-maché-looking dinosaur out front.

The Elephant's Trunk in New Milford, CT is New England's largest outdoor flea market, and will open weekends starting in April.

There's a decrepit old miniature Bethlehem in Waterbury, CT: Holy Land USA.

Above someone mentioned Foxwoods Casino; of the two CT casinos, I think the Mohegan Sun is the better sight. Native-American theme with Vegas production values in the middle of the CT countryside! But Foxwoods does have a Native American museum that is well-made and worth a visit.
posted by xo at 9:53 AM on February 5, 2007

The Hudson Highlands (where the Hudson River is actually a fjord) aren't too far away either, and offer great hiking, birding, and naturey stuff. In the winter you can ice skate at Bear Mountain State park.

As far as suggestions for activities actually in Connecticut, I nth the recommendation for Mystic Seaport. There are lots of demos for non-nautical aspects of colonial civilization: smithing, watch-making, spinning, &c.

I grew up in CT, but lived in the west for a decade or so, and now I'm back for a while. In most respects, CT is middling nice. A nice coast, but with limited access, some wild lands, some truly gorgeous (if monotonous) scenery. I think that CT's uniqueness is in the concentration of bizarre and small museums. Here are just a few: Antique machinery, Audobon birdcraft, the Barnum museum, and the SONO Switchtower (railroad) musuem. The Wallingford library has museum passes, and there are more historic houses than anyone could ever possibly want to visit.
posted by janell at 11:44 AM on February 5, 2007

Dinosaur State Park in New Britain (south of Hartford) has some preserved dino tracks under a geodesic dome, and the park itself is quite nice.

Lots of tree and stone walls in CT. Good geocaching country.

Nuclear subs up in Groton (USS Nautilus is open to the public and free).
posted by blue_wardrobe at 12:45 PM on February 5, 2007

Dinosaur State Park is in Rocky Hill, not New Britain; it's very easy to get to from I-91. (I currently live within walking distance.) During warmer months you can bring your own plaster of paris and make a cast of the tracks. Do it on the weekend and then go for South Indian at about 12.30 up the road at Priya.

I second the Pequot Museum, Mystic when it's warm, and chunks of what other people have said. It is indeed good geocaching or letterboxing country, which makes hiking more interesting.

On the off-chance you want more small museum suggestions, I work for one, so I could give you lists and lists.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:31 PM on February 5, 2007

What cobaltnine said. Sorry.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 2:33 PM on February 5, 2007

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