Southeastern Connecticut

As it nears the end of its 400-mile journey from the Canadian border, New England's longest river wends beneath majestic hillsides before emptying into Long Island Sound. Its unspoiled nature, its verdant and steep banks, and the historic small towns that grew up beside it make the lower Connecticut River estuary a national treasure. Indeed, it is one of 40 areas in the world that the Nature Conservancy included on its list of "Last Great Places" worth protecting.

The Connecticut is the nation's largest river without a major city at its mouth. Here is where the Connecticut Shore – locally called the Shoreline – spreads out along the Sound in two directions. The western section is the more populated toward New Haven. The eastern section is more rural (except for the urbanized New London area) and stretches to the Rhode Island border.

The river and the Sound give the region much of its heritage and character.


Branford is a busy New Haven suburb and an early seaside vacation colony. Sightseers depart for the Thimble Islands, just off shore from Stony Creek. Thirty-two of the privately owned islands are inhabited, ranging from three-quarter-acre Dogfish Rock to seventeen-acre Horse Island (one of the nearly 100 cottages is a 27-room mansion). Three small excursion boats give narrated cruises through the islands from mid-May to Columbus Day.

>> Branford Dining Suggestions

Le Petit Cafe, 225 Montowese St., Branford. (203) 483-9791. Pesce, 2 East Main St, Branford. (203) 483-5488.


Guilford, settled by a Puritan congregation that followed the Rev. Henry Whitfield from England in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest and most attractive towns. About 500 houses from the earliest settlement to 1876 have been preserved, many of them in the area around one of the state's largest greens. The 1660 Hyland House and the 1774 Thomas Griswold House Museum, both east of the green on Boston Street, are open to the public. The green is the site of the excellent Guilford Crafts Festival every summer. That and the Guilford Handcraft Center at 411 Church St. have given the town a wide reputation for crafts. Guilford and neighboring Madison also have cachet as prosperous year-round shore communities.

Henry Whitfield State Museum, 248 Old Whitfield St. Connecticut's oldest house (1639) – also New England's oldest stone building – was built for the town's founder and served as a parsonage, fort and meetinghouse. The National Historic Landmark, restored in the 1930s, incorporates what remains of the original structure and looks suitably old with its thick walls, small windows and two enormous fireplaces in the main chamber. Visitors view furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, glean insights from knowledgeable guides and admire the herb gardens. (203) 453-2457. Open February to mid-December, Wednesday-Sunday 10 to 4:30. Adults $3.50, children $2.

>> Guilford Dining Suggestions

Esteva, 25 Whitfield St., Guilford. (203) 458-1300.

The Stone House Restaurant, 506 Whitfield St., Guilford. (203) 458-3700. Stuzy's Restaurant, 965 Boston Post Road, Guilford. (203) 453-6780.


>> Madison Dining Suggestions

Café Allegre, 725 Boston Post Road, Madison. (203) 245-7773.


>> Westbrook Dining Suggestions

Café Routier, 1353 Boston Post Road, Westbrook. (860) 388-6270. Click here to read capsule review.


>> Old Saybrook Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, 2 Bridge St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-2000 or (800) 243-0212.

>> Old Saybrook Lodging Suggestions

Deacon Timothy Pratt House B&B, 325 Main St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-1229.

>> Old Saybrook Dining Suggestions

Terra Mar Grille, 2 Bridge St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-2000. Click here to read capsule review.

Aleia's, 1687 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook. (860) 399-5050. Click here to read capsule review.

The Cuckoo's Nest, 1712 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook. (860) 399-9060. Click here to read capsule review.


Essex is one of the quintessential small towns that, like Litchfield and Stonington, define the best of Connecticut. Indeed, in 1996 author Norman Crampton rated it "the best small town in America." Settled in 1635 around a wide harbor near the mouth of the Connecticut River, it was a haven for shipbuilding in the past and is a haven for yachting today. Just south of Steamboat Dock along Novelty Lane are the historic Dauntless Club, the Essex Corinthian Yacht Club and, on an ever-so-watery point between the river and Middle Cove, the posh Essex Yacht Club. The historic structures here and elsewhere in town are detailed in a walking map, available at the Connecticut River Museum.

Besides the waterfront area, uptown Essex has a cluster of historic structures at Methodist Hill. Facing tiny Champlin Square is the imposing white Pratt House (circa 1732), restored to show Essex as it was in yesteryear. The period gardens in the rear are planted with herbs and flowers typical of the 18th century. The adjacent Hill Academy Museum (1833), an early boarding school, now displays historical collections of old Essex. Next door in the academy's former dormitory is the Catholic Church and, next to it, the Baptist Church, one of only two Egyptian Revival structures in this country.

Connecticut River Museum, 67 Main St., Essex. Restored in 1975 from an 1878 steamboat warehouse, this cupola-topped structure at Steamboat Dock is living testimony to the maritime, economic and cultural heritage of the Connecticut River Valley. The main floor shows changing exhibits. A recent one consisted of small boats from the museum's collection, including a shad boat that worked on the river and a birch bark canoe owned by the late newsman Charles Kuralt, who lived in Essex. Upstairs, where windows on three sides afford sweeping views of the river, is the permanent shipbuilding exhibit. The highlight is a full-size replica of the first American warship, David Bushnell's strange-looking Turtle, built in Essex in 1776 as a secret weapon to win the Revolutionary War. There's also a model of a Dutch explorer ship that sailed up the river in 1614. Boats built and used on the river are displayed in the museum's boathouse. The property also includes a small waterfront park with benches and the 1813 Hayden Chandlery, now the Thomas A. Stevens maritime research library. (860) 767-8269. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 to 5. Adults $4, children $2.

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, 1 Railroad Ave., Essex. They call it a journey into yesteryear, but it's also a great way to see and savor the area. With its whistle tooting and smokestack spewing, the Valley Railroad Company's marvelous old steam train runs from the old depot in the Centerbrook section of Essex through woods and meadows to the Connecticut River landing at Deep River. There it connects with a riverboat for an hour's cruise up past Gillette Castle to the Goodspeed Opera House and back. Narration highlights the history, folklore, flora and fauna along the way. The two-hour trip into the past is rewarding for young and old alike. Railroad buffs enjoy the working railroad yard, vintage rail cars and exhibits gathered around the National Register landmark depot. The Essex Clipper dinner train runs two-hour excursions on weekends in a vintage luxury dining car, Friday and Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 4, June-October (also Thursday in July and August). The fare with dinner is $49.95. (860) 767-0103. Train and Riverboat trips run five or six times daily in summer, Wednesday-Sunday in late spring and early fall. Train and boat, adults $16.50, children $8.50.

>> Essex / Centerbrook / Ivoryton Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Copper Beech Inn, 46 Main Street., Ivoryton. (860) 767-0330 or (888) 809-2056. Click here to read capsule review.

Griswold Inn, 36 Main St., Essex. (860) 767-1776.

>> Essex / Centerbrook / Ivoryton Dining Suggestions

Gabrielle's, 78 Main St., Centerbrook. (860) 767-2440. Click here to read capsule review.


>> Deep River Lodging Suggestions

Riverwind, 209 Main St. (Route 9A), Deep River. (860) 526-2014.


The heart of Chester is just inland from the Connecticut River, where the tiny Chester-Hadlyme ferry still plies the Connecticut River between Chester and Hadlyme as it has since 1769. The second oldest continuously operating ferry service in the country, it carries up to nine cars and 49 passengers on each four-minute trip and operates "on demand," April-November.

Since 1984, Chester has been home to Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre, an experimental second stage for the famed Goodspeed Opera House. Lately, Chester has become a destination for sophisticated shoppers, especially those with an interest in the esoteric.

>> Chester Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Inn & Vineyard at Chester, 318 West Main St., Chester. (860) 526-9541 or (800) 949-7829. Click here to read capsule review.

>> Chester Dining Suggestions

Restaurant du Village, 59 Main St., Chester. (860) 526-5301. Click here to read capsule review.

River Tavern, 23 Main St. Chester. (860) 526-9417.

Sage On The Waterfall, 129 West Main St., Chester. (860) 526-4847. Click here to read capsule review.


This quaint hamlet on the east bank of the Connecticut River is a time warp from the late 19th century. The restored Goodspeed Opera House is a destination for theatergoers and history buffs.

Goodspeed Musicals, Goodspeed Landing, east Haddam.. The past is present at this restored 1876 Victorian confection built by shipping magnate William Goodspeed, which now produces uplifting musicals, revivals and tryouts. Each is top flight – fifteen have gone on to Broadway, including "Annie," "Man of La Mancha" and "Shenandoah." It's the only regional theater in the country to receive two Special Tony Awards for outstanding find your seat in tiered intimacy. At intermission, munch popcorn from the old-fashioned machine and sip champagne by the glass in the Victorian bar or on the veranda high above the river. In 2001, Goodspeed launched a $30 million expansion that will turn quaint little East Haddam into "a virtual musical-theater theme park," in a bit of hyperbole as reported by the New York Times. Plans called for a new 650-seat theater, a production center, residences for actors, stores and restaurants. The new theater will present four shows a season, simultaneously with three in the existing, 398-seat theater. (860) 873-8668. Shows are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 and 7:30, Friday at 8, Saturday at 4 and 8:30 and Sunday at 2 and 6:30, April-December. Tickets, $20 to $45.

Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Road, East Haddam. This picturesque, 164-acre park was the former estate of William Gillette, the Hartford-born actor and playwright known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. He designed the house of his dreams after medieval castles in Germany and had it built starting in 1914 on the last of a series of seven hills at a bend in the Connecticut River. His fertile imagination is revealed in each of the fieldstone castle's 24 rooms. He designed the furniture, including a dining room table that moves on metal tracks on the floor. Other than the intriguing castle, his chief legacy was a three-mile-long railroad he designed and operated around his property. The train has been moved and most of the tracks dismantled, but his "Grand Central Station" survives as a depot in a picnic area and the state planned to restore a small loop of the railroad. The castle was scheduled to reopen in May 2002 after closing for renovations. A guided tour through the castle takes about a half hour. (860) 526-2336. Park open daily, 8 to dusk; free. Castle open daily 10 to 5, Memorial Day to Columbus Day; weekends 10 to 4, Columbus Day to Christmas. Castle tours $5, children $3.

>> East Haddam Lodging Suggestions

Bishopsgate Inn, Goodspeed Landing, Box 290, East Haddam. (860) 873-1677.

>> East Haddam Dining Suggestions

La Vita Gustosa, 8 Main St. (Route 82), East Haddam. (860) 873-1411. Click here to read capsule review.


Located on the east bank of the Connecticut River across from Essex and Old Saybrook, stately Old Lyme is known for its historic district where artists gathered at the turn of the last century in the mansion of Florence Griswold. The American Impressionist movement was the result, and the arts flourish here to this day.

The Lyme Art Association Gallery, 90 Lyme St., next door to the Florence Griswold Museum, is headquarters of the Lyme Art Association. Founded in 1902, it is said to be the nation's oldest summer art group to have held continuous exhibitions in its own gallery. It exhibits seven major shows each season. The handsome, Federal-style Lyme Academy of Fine Arts at 84 Lyme St. has changing exhibits by local artists and academy students. The works of Lyme's American Impressionists also are hung in the Town Hall. Two major commercial galleries also carry their paintings.

Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme. This is the pillared 1817 landmark in which the daughter of a boat captain ran a finishing school for girls and later an artists' retreat. Now a museum operated by the Lyme Historical Society, the Georgian mansion contains unique panels painted in every room by the Lyme Impresssionists, who included Childe Hassam. Especially prized is the dining room with panels on all sides. Across the mantel the artists painted a delightful caricature of themselves for posterity. The Lyme arts colony thrived for twenty years early in the 20th century and its works, many of them waterscapes, are exhibited in the second-floor galleries. Other period rooms portray the region's history through decorative arts, household furnishings, toys, tools and clothing. The six-acre property includes the restored studio of William Chadwick, the American Impressionist. (860) 434-5542. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5 and Sunday 1 to 5, June-October; Wednesday-Sunday 1 to 5, rest of year. Adults $5.

>> Old Lyme Lodging & Dining Suggestions

Old Lyme Inn, 85 Lyme St., Old Lyme. (860) 434-2600 or (800) 434-5352. Click here to read capsule review.

Bee and Thistle Inn, 100 Lyme St., Old Lyme. (860) 434-1667 or (800) 622-4946. Click here to read capsule review.

Sherlocks 221, 9 Halls Rd., Old Lyme. (860) 434-9837. Click here to read capsule review.


New London, a seaport dating to 1646 and later a whaling center of note, is southeastern Connecticut's largest city and commercial center. It's the home of Connecticut College and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, as well as the headquarters of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company. All back up to the Thames River – pronounced locally "Thames," not "Tems," despite the city founders' ties with old London. Across the river from New London is Groton, "submarine capital of the world." The vast U.S. Navy Submarine Base keeps alive a tradition dating from before the Revolution, when the colonies launched the first naval expeditions here. The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics pioneered in the production of nuclear submarines.

Of interest to New London visitors are the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, with a collection of more than 30,000 paintings and decorative arts, and the Connecticut College Arboretum, which grows 300 varieties of native trees and shrubs.

In Waterford, the 231-acre Harkness Memorial State Park beside Long Island Sound is a quiet refuge for beachcombers, picnickers and garden enthusiasts. The 42-room Harkness Mansion, an Italian-style villa, is open for weekend tours. Beatrix Farrand, garden architect for the rich and famous, designed the extravagant plantings in the restored gardens around the mansion.

In Groton, a 135-foot-high monument in Fort Griswold State Park commemorates one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution, the 1781 massacre of 67 Colonists by British troops under turncoat Benedict Arnold. At its base is a free DAR museum with historic displays and downhill is the 1750 Ebenezer Avery House, a center-chimney Colonial with period furnishings, to which the battle wounded were taken.

Hempsted Houses, 11 Hempstead St., New London. The Joshua Hempsted House (1678), the oldest house in New London and one of the oldest in Connecticut, re-creates the color and atmosphere of the Pilgrim era. The detailed diary kept by the son of the builder helped the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society of Connecticut furnish the house authentically. The colorful stained-glass casement windows, the fine pewter and the exceptional furnishings, including a primitive baby walker and folding bed, are treasures. In front, the rough stone Nathaniel Hempsted House built during the 1750s has seven rooms furnished to the period. (860) 443-7949. Open mid-May to mid-October, Thursday-Sunday noon to 4. Adults $4, children $1.

Monte Cristo Cottage, 305 Pequot Ave., New London. The boyhood home of playwright Eugene O'Neill was named for the Count of Monte Cristo, his actor-father's most famous role. The little gingerbread confection, perched at the top of a sloping lawn, is the only home the playwright ever had. The living room was the setting for both "Ah, Wilderness" and "Long Day's Journey into Night." Although there is some O'Neill memorabilia, much of the National Historic Landmark is empty and eerie. Nearby at 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, is the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center, which gives summer visitors a front-row seat on the newest works in American theater. (860) 443-0051. Cottage open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Tuesday-Sunday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5. Adults, $5.

Historic Ship Nautilus/Submarine Force Museum, Naval Submarine Base, 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton. The storied Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, was built at Groton's General Dynamics Electric Boat Division shipyard in 1954. Returned to its birthplace, it has been opened to visitors after cruising faster, deeper, farther and longer than any craft in history. A recent $4 million expansion has doubled the size of the submarine museum. It traces the history of underwater navigation, showing a submarine control room, working periscopes and models depicting submarine style and development. Films of submarines past and present are shown in a 70-seat theater. The expansion includes a cut-away model of a 688 Los Angeles Class sub, a ballistic missile, Cold War exhibits and a library with sitting-area views of the Thames River. Outside are four mini-submarines. The highlight for most remains a self-guided tour of portions of the 519-foot-long Nautilus, berthed beside a dock in the Thames. You get to see the control room, torpedo room, officers' quarters and dining areas. (860) 694-3174 or (800) 343-0079. Open Wednesday-Monday 9 to 5 and Tuesday 1 to 5, mid-May through October; Wednesday-Monday 9 to 4, rest of year; closed first full week of May and last full week of October. Free.

>> New London/Groton Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Lighthouse Inn, 5 Guthrie Place, New London. (860) 443-8411 or (888) 443-8411.

Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa, 625 North Road (Route 117), Groton. (860) 446-2600 or (866) 449-7390.

>> New London/Groton Dining Suggestions

Tony D's, 92 Huntington St., New London. (860) 439-1943.


The Mohegan Sun Casino, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., is the world's second largest casino and, suddenly, one of its most spectacular. Compared with the slightly older and larger Foxwoods casino nearby, the Mohegan tribe's nicely themed casino looked at the start more like a shopping mall with its direct-access highway, five-story parking garage and giant food court. Its gaming was in the Casino of the Earth, a huge circular room patterned on the four seasons, each distinguished by different Indian designs, traditions and imagery. All that gave little hint of what was to come: a billion-dollar expansion that produced grandeur on a scale found only in the world's most bedazzling locations: Monte Carlo, Rio, Las Vegas and now Uncasville. Now find the world's largest planetarium atop the vast new Casino of the Sky, a 10,000-seat arena, nationally known "celebrity restaurants" and shops, and a shockingly glitzy, 34-story, 1,200-room luxury hotel – Connecticut's largest – beside the Thames River.


The Mashantucket Pequot tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino, the world's largest casino, is a hugely profitable enterprise hulking out of the rural forests along Route 2 north of Mystic. Tastefully done, the five casinos are open 24 hours a day year-round. The 6,300 slot machines are the major draw for those who don't care to part with more than a quarter at a time. Also draws are big-name entertainment, 24 restaurants and three hotels with more than 1,400 rooms, including the 24-story Grand Pequot Tower, topped by the luxurious Paragon restaurant.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, 110 Pequot Trail, Ledyard. This remarkable new place just south of the Foxwoods casino is a destination on its own. The state-of-the-art museum includes a half-acre indoor re-creation of a 16th-century coastal Indian settlement called Pequot Village – complete with twelve wigwams and 51 life-like figures posed in daily activities. Six computer interactive programs and more than a dozen films in various theaters help bring the past alive. There are two research libraries, a gallery, a gift shop and a restaurant featuring native American cuisine. (860) 396-6800 or (800) 411-9671. Open daily 10 to 7, Memorial Day to Labor Day, Wednesday-Monday 10 to 6 rest of year. Adults $12, children $8.

>> Ledyard Lodging & Dining Suggestions

The Grange at Stonecroft Inn, 515 Pumpkin Hill Road, Ledyard. (860) 572-0771. Click here to read capsule review.


>> Noank Dining Suggestions

Abbott's Lobster in the Rough, 117 Pearl St., Noank. (860) 536-7719. Click here to read capsule review.


Mystic is far better known than its population of 2,600 would indicate. A maritime heritage made it the state's most visited tourist destination – until the nearby casinos came along. A center for shipbuilding since the 17th century, Mystic produced more than 1,000 sailing vessels, more noted captains and more important sailing records than any place of its size in the world.

Mystic has another claim to fame. Its downtown is the only place where U.S. Route 1 traffic is stopped hourly while the rare bascule bridge over the Mystic River opens to let sailboats pass.

Mystic Seaport Museum, 75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic. From a local marine historical museum with one building in the old Greenman family shipyard in 1929, Mystic Seaport has evolved into the nation's largest maritime museum, an impressive testament to the lure, the lore and the life of the sea. The seventeen-acre site along the Mystic River contains more than 60 historic buildings, 300 boats, a planetarium and significant collections of maritime artifacts and nautical photography. Together they create a mix of a working 19th-century seafaring community and a museum of massive proportions. You can poke through the old bank and print shop, watch shipbuilders and craftsmen at work, view early gardens, board three sailing vessels and visit the hardware store, schoolhouse, the drugstore and doctor's office, and the delightful little Fishtown Chapel. Guides cook on the open hearth of the Buckingham House kitchen, sing chanteys and demonstrate sail-setting, whaleboat rowing and fish salting. A highlight is a tour of the Charles W. Morgan (1841), the last of America's wooden whale ships afloat, and a ride down the river on the 1908 steamboat Sabino. More than 400 small craft, the largest such collection in the country, are on display in the Small Boat Exhibit and North Boat Shed. Others are afloat along the seaport's docks or can be seen from a visitors' gallery as they undergo repairs in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. (860) 572-0711 or (888) 973-2767. Open daily, 9 to 5, April-October, to 6 in July and August, 10 to 4 rest of year. Adults $16, children $8.

Mystic Aquarium, 55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic. A $52 million expansion has turned the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium into one of the best anywhere. Only the exhibit building and theater remain from days gone by. Now you'll linger at the spectacular outdoor Alaskan Coast habitat where beluga whales and harbor seals swim about or bathe and bark, as the case may be. Watch penguins pass by like so many little fish in an aquarium in the Roger Tory Peterson Exhibit. Marvel at the high-tech audio-visuals of Challenge of the Deep, home base of ocean explorer Robert Ballard's Institute for Exploration. Even the original exhibit building erected only a few decades earlier has a new look. Now called Sunlit Seas, it features 40 new fish and invertebrate exhibits. Highlights are a tidal salt marsh that's home to flounder, puffers and crabs and the colorful Coral Reef, a 30,000-gallon habitat with sixteen viewing windows onto 500 varieties of exotic fish, sharks, stingrays and moray eels. Challenge of the Deep presents fascinating deep-sea findings and shipwrecks, including Ballard's discovery of the sunken Titanic and his most recent archaeological expeditions, including one in 2000 to the Black Sea. (860) 572-5955. Open daily, 9 to 5, to 6 July-Labor Day. Adults $16, children $11.

Denison Homestead Museum, Pequotsepos Road, Mystic. This 1717 farmhouse is furnished with heirlooms from eleven generations of Denisons. Billed as the only New England home restored in the style of five eras, it has a Colonial kitchen with fireplace, a Revolutionary era bedroom with four-poster bed, a Federal parlor, a Civil War bedroom with ornate franklin stove and an early 1900 living room with fine Dutch china. Just up the road from the homestead is the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a 125-acre wildlife sanctuary that was the bulk of a land grant given to Capt. George Denison in 1654 by the King of England. Seven miles of nature rails wind through the center. (860) 536-9248. Homestead open mid-May to mid-October, Thursday-Monday 11 to 5. Adults $4. Nature center open Monday-Saturday 9 to 5, Sunday noon to 4. Adults $6.

>> Mystic Lodging Suggestions

The Inn at Mystic, Route 1, Mystic. (860) 536-9604 or (800) 237-2415.

Steamboat Inn, 73 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic. (860) 536-8300.

The Whaler's Inn, 20 East Main St., Mystic. (860) 536-1506 or (800) 243-2588.

Hilton Mystic, 20 Coogan Blvd., Mystic. (860) 572-0373.

House of 1833, 72 North Stonington Road, Mystic. (860) 536-6325 or (800) 367-1833.

The Old Mystic Inn, 52 Main St., Box 733, Old Mystic. (860) 572-9422.

>> Mystic Dining Suggestions

Flood Tide, Route 1, Mystic. (860) 536-8140.

Kitchen Little, Rt. 27., Mystic. (860) 536-2122. Click here to read capsule review.

Restaurant Bravo Bravo, 20 East Main St., Mystic. (860) 536-3228. Click here to read capsule review.

Seamen's Inne, 65 Greenmanville Ave. (Route 27), Mystic. (860) 572-5303.


The historic "borough" of Stonington is Connecticut's most captivating coastal community. Off by itself on a picturesque peninsula, it's a fishing village with Connecticut's last commercial fleet, an arts colony and a year-round residential enclave. Old houses hug the streets and each other. The Portuguese fishing population adds an earthy flavor to an increasingly tony and sophisticated community.

Palmer House, 40 Palmer St., Stonington. The majestic, sixteen-room Victorian mansion that Capt. Nathaniel Palmer and his seafaring brother Alexander built in 1852 was saved by the historical society from demolition in 1994 and opened to the public as a fine example of a prosperous sea captain's home. Several rooms contain memorabilia from the brothers' adventures, family portraits and local artifacts. The piano in the parlor is the only original piece remaining in the house, but rooms are furnished with period pieces. The craftsmanship by local shipwrights is evident in the sweeping staircases and built-in cabinetry. The cupola yields a view of the surrounding countryside and sea. (860) 535-8445. Open May-October, daily except Tuesday 10 to 4. Adults $4.

Old Lighthouse Museum, 7 Water St., Stonington. The first government-operated lighthouse in Connecticut is perched on a rise above Stonington Point, where the villagers turned back the British. Opened by the historical society in 1927, this museum is a tiny storehouse of Stonington memorabilia. Whaling and fishing gear, portraits of the town's founding fathers, a bench dating back to 1674, articles from the Orient trade and an exquisite dollhouse are included in the six small rooms. Climb circular iron stairs of the tower to obtain a view in all directions. (860) 535-1440. Open May-October; Tuesday-Sunday 10 to 5. Adults $4.

>> Stonington Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Randall's Ordinary, Route 2, North Stonington. (860) 599-4540. Click here to read capsule review.

>> Stonington Lodging Suggestions

The Inn at Stonington, 60 Water St., Stonington. (860) 535-2000.

Antiques & Accommodations, 32 Main St., North Stonington. (860) 535-1736 or (800) 554-7829.

>> Stonington Dining Suggestions

Skipper's Dock, 66 Water St., Stonington. (860) 535-0111. Click here to read capsule review.

Water Street Cafe, 142 Water St, Stonington. (860) 535-2122. Click here to read capsule review.

Noah's, 113 Water St., Stonington. (860) 535-3925. Click here to read capsule review.

This content is excerpted from New England's Best, by Nancy and Richard Woodworth, copyright 2002, published by Wood Pond Press.