For most travelers approaching from the south and west, this area is the gateway to New England. Also known as "The Gold Coast," the Fairfield County shoreline stretching along Long Island Sound is the most affluent section of the nation's most affluent state. It's a residential refuge for many of New York City's movers and shakers, as well as a haven for Fortune 500 companies and their executives.
Welcome to Fairfield County, which Connecticut Yankees consider an extension of metropolitan New York rather than part of New England. The bluebloods of Greenwich couldn't care less. They're quite content living in the best of both worlds. Corporate chieftains work at head offices here or in Stamford or commute to Manhattan from large estates, some of which face Long Island Sound and others luxuriating in the bucolic "back country." A novel sight is the uniformed policemen directing traffic at busy intersections along Greenwich Avenue, the main shopping street that's the local version of Rodeo Drive.
The Bruce Museum at 1 Museum Drive is a family-oriented arts and science museum. Fifteen miles of nature trails are available at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, a 522-acre wildlife sanctuary.
Bush-Holley Historic Site, 29 Strickland Ave.This treasured 1732 saltbox in the Cos Cob section became a boarding house for writers and artists attracted to Connecticut's first art colony. From 1890 to 1920 at the Holley boarding house, more than 200 art students studied with leading American Impressionists Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir and Theodore Robinson. The collection of fine early American furniture and American Impressionist art make this one of the finest historic house museums in New England. A visitor center and additional galleries are located in an 1805 storehouse.(203) 869-6899. Open March-December, Wednesday-Sunday noon to 4. January-February, Saturday and Sunday noon to 4. Adults, $6.
>> Greenwich Lodging Suggestions
Homestead Inn, 420 Field Point Rd., Greenwich. (203) 869-7500
Stanton House Inn, 76 Maple Ave., Greenwich. (203) 869-2110
>> Greenwich Dining Suggestions
Restaurant Jean-Louis, 61 Lewis St., Greenwich. (203) 622-8450. Click here to read capsule review.
Thomas Henkelmann, 420 Field Point Road, Greenwich. (203) 869-7500. Click here to read capsule review.
Rebeccas, 265 Glenville Road, Greenwich. (203) 532-9270. Click here to read capsule review.
Valbella's Restaurant, 1309 East Putnam Ave., Greenwich. (203) 637-1155. Click here to read capsule review.
Le Figaro, 372 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich. (203) 622-0018. Click here to read capsule review.
Elm Street Oyster House, 11 West Elm St., Greenwich. (203) 629-5795. Click here to read capsule review.
Terra Ristorante, 11 West Elm Street., Greenwich. (203) 629-5795. Click here to read capsule review.
Mediterraneo, 366 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich. (203) 629-4747. Click here to read capsule review.
As far as Fairfield County suburbanites are concerned, Stamford is "the city" and they don't mean New York. High-rise downtown Stamford, headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than any city other than New York, is where the Gold Coast glitters most. The Whitney Museum of American Art maintains its only branch outside New York at 400 Atlantic St. Leading New York stores anchor the Stamford Town Center, New England's most fashionable downtown shopping mall. Bargain hunters prefer the United House Wrecking Co., a tourist attraction in itself, with five acres of antiques, relics, nostalgia and junk at 535 Hope St. Stamford is also where residents head for entertainment, at the Rich Forum, the Palace Theatre and the Stamford Center for the Arts.
>> Stamford Dining Suggestions
Vuli, 2 Stamford Forum, Stamford. (203) 323-5300. Click here to read capsule review.
Mona Lisa Ristorante, 133 Atlantic St., Stamford. (203) 348-1070. Click here to read capsule review.
La Bretagne, 2010 West Main St., Stamford. (203) 324-9539. Click here to read capsule review.
Il Falco, 59 Broad St., Stamford. (203) 327-0002. Click here to read capsule review.
Chez Jean-Pierre, 188 Bedford St., Stamford. (203) 357-9526. Click here to read capsule review.
Ocean 211, 211 Summer St., Stamford. (203) 973-0494. Click here to read capsule review.
>> Rowayton Dining Suggestions
The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood, 89 Rowayton Ave., Rowayton. (203) 866-4488.Click here to read capsule review.
The waterfront area of South Norwalk, nicknamed SoNo, is being revitalized as boutiques, galleries and restaurants and their attendant throngs move in. This is now primarily an entertainment district, but a bit of the maritime heritage of what once was the oyster capital of the world remains. It still has a model shipbuilding company, sailmakers, a large wooden boat builder, a floatable dock manufacturer and, yes, oyster boats. A 44-passenger ferry departs from the Hope Dock next to the Maritime Aquarium for a 30-minute cruise through Norwalk harbor to the outermost of thirteen Norwalk Islands and a visit to the Sheffield Island Lighthouse.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, 10 North Water St., South Norwalk. This growing establishment developed in the late 1980s as the catalyst for SoNo's revitalization occupies a restored 19th-century foundry along the west bank of the Norwalk River. It's part aquarium, part IMAX theater, part history exhibit and part re-created working waterfront. A showcase for the maritime heritage and marine life unique to Long Island Sound, this is a high-tech, hands-on place of particular appeal to the younger set. The aquarium features twenty marine habitats containing more than 125 species indigenous to Long Island Sound with a bit of a stretch to the open ocean and "travelers from the tropics" in the biggest shark tank. Oysters, river otters, sea turtles and a "Jellyfish Encounter" are highlights along the way. Connecticut's only IMAX theater has a movie screen six stories high and envelops the audience in sights and sound. Outside along the river dock is the R/V Oceanic, the aquarium's research vessel, which gives excursions through the harbor into the Sound to view marine life in season.(203) 852-0700. www.maritimeaquarium.org. Open daily, 10 to 5, to 6 in summer. Adults $8.75, children $6.75.
Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, 295 West Ave., Norwalk.Pre-dating Newport's famed mansions, America's first chateau was built in 1864-68 as the country residence of a Norwalk-born stockbroker. The partially restored, 60-room granite structure features frescoed walls, parquet floors, inlaid woodwork and a 42-foot-high skylit rotunda. A collection of Victorian music boxes is a highlight. Guided tours of the first and second floors are offered on the half-hour.(203) 838-9799. Open mid-March to mid-December, Wednesday-Sunday noon to 5. Adults $8, students $5.
>> Norwalk/South Norwalk Dining Suggestions
Meigas, 10 Wall St., Norwalk. (203) 866-8800.Click here to read capsule review.
Pasta Nostra, 116 Washington St., South Norwalk. (203) 854-9700.Click here to read capsule review.
Ocean Drive, 128 Washington St., South Norwalk. (203) 855-1665.Click here to read capsule review.
Artists, actors, advertising executives and other creative types are drawn to Westport, home of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and, until lately, Martha Stewart. Much of the town has a chic look and trendy air, as opposed to its more staid neighbors. The Westport Country Playhouse is one of the country's oldest summer theaters.
>> Westport Lodging Suggestions
The Inn at National Hall, 2 Post Road West, Westport. (203) 221-1351 or (800) 628-4255.
>> Westport Dining Suggestions
Da Pietro's Restaurant, 36 Riverside Ave., Westport. (203) 454-1213. Click here to read capsule review.
Tavern on Main, 136 Main St., Westport. (203) 221-7222. Click here to read capsule review.
Taipan, 376 Post Road East, Westport. (203) 227-7400. Click here to read capsule review.
Acqua Ristorante, 43 Main St., Westport. (203) 222-8899. Click here to read capsule review.
The Town of Fairfield meets Long Island Sound at the Southport Harbor Historic District, one of Connecticut's most picturesque coastal areas. Southport is situated around a harbor packed with yachts and small craft. Stately Greek Revival and Victorian homes line Harbor Road. Some of area's largest mansions flank Sasco Hill Road and Beachside Avenue. Inland is the Connecticut Audubon Center at Fairfield with six miles of boardwalk nature trails in a 160-acre wildlife sanctuary.
>> Fairfield Dining Suggestions
La Colline Verte, 75 Hillside Road, Fairfield. (203) 256-9525.Click here to read capsule review.
Paci, 96 Station St., Fairfield. (203) 259-2600.Click here to read capsule review.
Centro, 1435 Poat Rd., Fairfield. (203) 255-1210.Click here to read capsule review.
Cannondale Village, a complex of boutiques and antiques shops launched by actress June Havoc, catches passersby along Route 7 in this ex-urban town.
Weir Farm National Historic Site, 735 Nod Hill Road, Wilton. Connecticut's first national park area embraces the summer home, studios and farm of American impressionist J. Alden Weir. A visitor center shows a twenty-minute video describing his life and times on the property and displays historic photographs. Guided tours of two studios are available. Footpaths that cross the 60-acre site yield views of the farm's stones, woodlands, meadows and a pond that Weir and friends like Childe Hassam and John Twachtman painted. The Weir Farm Historic Painting Sites Trail brochure tells about the artists and compares their paintings to the scenes today, which are remarkably unchanged.
(203) 834-1896. Grounds open daily, dawn to dusk. Visitor Center, Wednesday-Sunday 8:30 to 5.
>> Wilton Dining Suggestions
Mediterranean Grill, 5 River Rd., Wilton. (203) 762-8484. Click here to read capsule review.
The lots are bigger and the atmosphere less urban in New Canaan, which is located in the Fairfield County "back country." The New Canaan Historical Society, 13 Oeneck Ridge, operates a complex of five buildings containing museums, collections and a library. Nearby is the New Canaan Nature Center with 40 acres of diverse habitats and walking trails. Across town is the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, with five galleries and a sculpture garden.
>> New Canaan Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Roger Sherman Inn, 195 Oenoke Ridge (Route 124), New Canaan. (203) 966-4541. Click here to read capsule review.
>> New Canaan Dining Suggestions
Ching's Table, 64 Main St., New Canaan. (203) 972-8550. Click here to read capsule review.
Plum Tree, 70 Main St., New Canaan. (203) 966-8050. Click here to read capsule review.
Solé Ristorante, 105 Elm St., New Canaan. (203) 972-8887. Click here to read capsule review.
Bistro Bonne Nuit, 105 Elm St., New Canaan. (203) 972-8887. Click here to read capsule review.
Gates Restaurant & Bar, 10 Forest St., New Canaan. (203) 966-8666. Click here to read capsule review.
With its long main street flanked by substantial homes dating to Colonial times, Ridgefield looks the way a New England town should. It also retains a small-town feeling that belies its size (population, 20,000) and masks its affluence.
The Aldrich Musem of Contemporary Art, 258 Main St., Ridgefield. Founded by clothing manufacturer Larry Aldrich in 1964, this is one of the finer small museums of modern art all the more remarkable for its location in a white Colonial house that stands coyly like a wallflower among its residential neighbors. You have to go around back to see the monumental and modern pieces of sculpture rising in a two-acre sculpture garden. They stand in startling contrast to the antiquity of the museum building itself. The interior of the 1783 building was gutted to provide broad expanses of white walls to display the works of contemporary artists to best advantage. The museum mounts quarterly exhibitions of contemporary paintings, sculpture, photography and mixed media.
(203) 438-4519. www.aldrichart.org. Open Tuesday-Sunday noon to 5, Friday to 8. Adults, $5. Sculpture garden, free.
The Keeler Tavern Museum, 132 Main St., Ridgefield. A British cannonball fired at the Keeler Tavern during the Revolutionary War remains embedded in an exterior corner post. It's one of the features of this museum, which evolved in 1966 after a career starting in 1713 as a farmhouse, tavern, post office, hotel and home of noted architect Gilbert Cass. Ridgefield's most historic building, furnished like an 18th-century tavern, reflects life as lived in Ridgefield for nearly 300 years.
(203) 438-5485. Guided tours, Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday 1 to 4. Adults $4. Closed in January.
>> Ridgefield Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Stonehenge, Route 7, Box 667, Ridgefield. (203) 438-6511.Click here to read capsule review.
>> Ridgefield Lodging Suggestions
West Lane Inn, 22 West Lane (Route 35), Ridgefield. (203) 438-7323.
The Elms Inn, 500 Main St., Ridgefield. (203) 438-2541.
>> Ridgefield Dining Suggestions
Bernard's Inn at Ridgefield, 20 West Lane, Ridgefield. (203) 438-8282.
Elms Restaurant & Tavern, 500 Main St., Ridgefield. (203) 438-9206. Click here to read capsule review.
Koo, 470 Main St., Ridgefield. (203) 431-8838. Click here to read capsule review.
La Saliere, 3 Big Shop La., Ridgefield. (203) 438-1976. Click here to read capsule review.
Luc's, 3 Big Shop Lane, Ridgefield. (203) 894-8522. Click here to read capsule review.
Southwest Cafe, 109 Danbury Rd., Copps Hill Common, Ridgefield. (203) 431-3398. Click here to read capsule review.
Toscana, 43 Danbury Rd., Ridgefield. (203) 894-8995. Click here to read capsule review.
Upstream Lounge, 426 Main St., Ridgefield. (203) 438-1456. Click here to read capsule review.
Wild Ginger Cafe, 461 Main St., Ridgefield. (203) 431-4588. Click here to read capsule review.
Connecticut's largest city is emerging from its gritty industrial/seaport past. The Beardsley Zoo and the Discovery Museum, an interactive art and science center, are of interest to visitors with children.
Barnum Museum, 820 Main St., Bridgeport.With its ornate dome and Victorian gables and arches, this downtown landmark in red sandstone chronicles the life and times of Bridgeport resident P.T. Barnum, the circus impresario. A five-minute film introduces the museum and its three themes: Barnum the Man, Barnum's Bridgeport and Showman to the World. Exhibits include clown costumes and props as well as mementos of Barnum, diminutive Bridgeport native Tom Thumb and Swedish nightingale Jenny Lind. A highlight is a hand-carved, five-ring miniature circus that nearly fills a third-floor room. Complete with tents, animals and performers, it has workable parts including a ring in which trapeze artists soar back and forth.
(203) 321-1104. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 4:30, Sunday noon to 4:30. Adults $5, children $3.
>> Bridgeport Dining Suggestions
Black Rock Castle, 2895 Fairfield Ave., Milford. (203) 336-3990.Click here to read capsule review.
Ralph 'n' Rich's, 121 Wall St., Bridgeport. (203) 366-3597. Click here to read capsule review.
>> Milford Dining Suggestions
Jeffrey's, 501 New Haven Ave., Milford. (203) 878-1910.Click here to read capsule review.
Scribner's, 501 New Haven Ave., Milford. (203) 878-1910.Click here to read capsule review.
Yale University, the major presence in New Haven, gives the city its cultural, artsy flavor. Its graceful Gothic revival Hotchkiss Tower is a New Haven landmark and the pealing of its carillon is the city's signature sound. Yale's snug greystone campus edges up on two sides to the New Haven Green, a sixteen-acre expanse of greenery in the heart of the city. Its three historic churches are outstanding examples of Gothic, Federalist and Georgian design. The city's downtown and entertainment district flanks the other sides of the green. The storied Shubert Theater is a favorite venue for pre-Broadway tryouts. Long Wharf Theatre is nationally known for producing prizewinning plays, including the premiere of Connecticut resident Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." The Yale Repertory Theatre also has a wide following.The Yale campus is of sufficient interest that students lead fascinating, hour-long tours weekdays at 10:30 and 2 and weekends at 1:30 from the Yale Visitor Information Center, 149 Elm St. The center occupies the 1767 John Pierpont House, an historic residence that housed British soldiers in the Revolution and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.Yale is home to several museums for special interests, including the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds 600,000 rare books and manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455, one of only 22 surviving copies of the first printed book.
Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St., New Haven. Founded in 1977 and the last building designed by architect Louis I. Kahn, this exceptional museum houses the treasures collected over 40 years by Yale graduate Paul Mellon, the philanthropist, art collector and anglophile. The 1,200 paintings, 10,000 drawings and 20,000 prints represent the largest collection of British art outside Great Britain. Not all are on view at the same time, but many of the most interesting are, arranged chronologically to show the development of English art, life and thought from the Elizabethan period to the present. While the permanent collection is displayed on the museum's fourth floor, the second and third floors are devoted to changing exhibitions.
(203) 432-2800. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday noon to 5. Free.
Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven. Diagonally across the street from the Center for British Art lies the oldest university art gallery in the Western Hemisphere. It was founded in 1832 with a gift of more than 100 paintings by Connecticut patriot and artist John Trumbull. The gallery shows a wide range, from 600 Greek and Roman vases and the Griggs Collection of Italian painting and medieval art to the Ordway Collection of modern art with works by Picasso, Pollock and Calder. Antiquities from Yale's excavations at the site of a Roman outpost in the Syrian desert are displayed.
(203) 432-0600. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 6. Free.
>> New Haven Lodging Suggestions
Three Chimneys Inn, 1201 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 789-1201 or (800) 443-1554.
The Inn at Oyster Point, 104 Howard Ave.. New Haven. (203) 773-3334.
>> New Haven Dining Suggestions
Zinc, 964 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 624-0507. Click here to read capsule review.
Union League Cafe, 1032 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 562-4299. Click here to read capsule review.
Roomba, 1044 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 562-7666.Click here to read capsule review.
Bentara, 76 Orange St., New Haven. (203) 562-2511.Click here to read capsule review.
Polo Grille & Wine Bar, 7 Elm St. New Haven. (203) 787-9000. Click here to read capsule review.
Scoozzi Trattoria & Wine Bar, 1104 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 776-8268.Click here to read capsule review.
Caffe Adulis, 228 College St., New Haven. (203)777-5081.Click here to read capsule review.
Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napolitana, 175 Wooster St., New Haven. (203) 865-5762.Click here to read capsule review.
Bangkok Gardens, 172 York St., New Haven. (203) 789-8684.Click here to read capsule review.
Tandoor, 1226 Chapel St., New Haven. (203) 776-6620.Click here to read capsule review.
Tre Scalini, 100 Wooster St., New Haven. (203) 777-3373.Click here to read capsule review.
>> Hamden Dining Suggestions
Colonial Tymes, 2389 Dixwell Ave., Hamden. (203) 230-2301.Click here to read capsule review.
Rafaello's Restaurant, 2389 Dixwell Ave., Hamden. (203) 230-2301.Click here to read capsule review.