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Warmer weather and brighter, longer days provide the perfect opportunity for getting out and experiencing all the new events and activities around the state. Unwind with a relaxing outing and savor the tranquility of the season or step it up with some spectacular summer adventures. Here’s a list of new happenings across the state to help inspire your summer plans!
Ice Cream: Nothing is Cooler
There are those who say Connecticut is home to the finest ice cream in America, and who are we to disagree? We’ll only add that summer is the perfect time to find out if these reports are true. It’s also the time of year when farm-fresh flavors find their way into cones and cups. Here’s just a sampling.
If you enjoy your ice cream with a view of cows grazing in nearby fields, we’ve got a few good choices for you. At Rich Farm in Oxford, the flavors on the big board change all the time, but some are tied in directly to summery traditions. Their Strawberry Rhubarb, for example, is produced only when rhubarb is in season. Even more special is Full Moon Chocolate, served only on nights of the full moon. (Look for this double chocolate ice cream with fudge swirl this year on July 2 and 31 and August 29.) Meanwhile, in nearby Newtown, Ferris Acres Creamery operates out of Fairfield County’s last remaining dairy farm. Its lineup of flavors is excellent, as are its views of cows and tractors, but the peach ice cream, made with the freshest fruit of summer, is worth a special trip.
The University of Connecticut, now known officially as UConn, began its life as an agricultural school, and it still retains an aggie degree program and a working farm. One great thing about that is a good portion of the cream produced by the cows there gets shipped across Horsebarn Hill and directly into the ice cream making machinery at the UConn Dairy Bar. There are many great flavors here – and the student servers know how to fill a cone – but the most distinctive is Jonathon Supreme, named for the university’s Husky mascot. It’s vanilla ice cream swirled with peanut butter and chocolate covered peanuts.
Toasted Almond. Sometimes just those two words are enough to send some of us out on a quest. In Connecticut, the search ends at Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory in Prospect, where the late Harry Rowe’s toasted almond is always on the menu and never fails to bring a smile.
Drive along a quiet country road past red barns and open fields, turn into a dirt driveway and find your reward at The Collins Creamery in Enfield, “on the quiet side of town,” as they put it. The ice cream menu speaks right out loud, however, with Black Raspberry, Coconut Chocolate Chip and Rum Raisin leading the way.
There are old school ice cream shops, and then there are old school ice cream shops run by a school. Such is the case with Michael’s Dairy in New London, managed by students from Mitchell College. Everyone loves the milkshakes here, but we’d advise a side trip to a Strawberry Cheesecake cone.
And let’s not forget Route 10’s very nice daily double in Hamden and Cheshire. Wentworth’s Homemade Ice Cream in Hamden has been honored as Best of Connecticut a number of times by Connecticut Magazine readers. Meanwhile, just up the street, Sweet Claude’s in Cheshire is open for its 25th year with a menu of steady faves (Claude’s Cupcake, Caramel Cashew) and occasional specials such as Girl Scout Cookie. Can’t decide which to go to? There’s no law against trying them both.
There’s something new all the time at Connecticut’s amusement and adventure parks. Here’s this summer’s lineup for serious fun.
If you and your family are lovers of outdoor adventure sports, you really ought to check out Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland. Located in a historic old brownstone quarry by the Connecticut River, this park offers rock climbing, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, kayaking, scuba diving and more. This summer brings the addition of new zip lines, so there’ll be shorter waits for that ultimate crash-into-the-water thrill.
More zip lines await up in the trees at The Adventure Park at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. Billed as “Connecticut’s first aerial adventure park,” the layout comprises a network of platforms, walkways and zip lines, ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. In all, there are 11 “trails” through the trees, ensuring a different adventure each time out. And for something really special, try night climbing and zip lining until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Zipping among the strings of lights can feel quite magical.
Lake Compounce in Bristol may be most widely known for its three roller coasters (the Boulder Dash having been named the No. 1 wooden coaster in the world), but the ever-expanding water park at Crocodile Cove is now officially giving the coasters a run for their money. New kid on the block is the Dino Expedition, a prehistoric-themed area featuring fossil digs and pathways through a forest filled with lifelike dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, there’s a water theme, too, from Saturation Station (a kind of watery jungle gym) all the way out to the pedal boats that ply the lake waters. On land, there’s the classic Wooden Warrior roller coaster and the brand new FRANTIC, recently named one of the best new thrill rides in America.
And then there’s the salt water at Ocean Beach Park in New London, with its sandy beach and impressive menu of things to do. The 50-acre park offers an Olympic-sized freshwater pool, miniature golf, a carousel, rides and a full schedule of summer events. There’s even a new nature walk and observation deck for viewing shore birds in their natural habitat.
There’s nothing like an animal to stir a kid’s interest, and if they’re big and maybe a little menacing, well that’s okay, too. Just off I-95, Connecticut offers three such experiences, not only for kids but for their parents as well. And not all of the creatures are beastly; some are downright friendly.
It’s not every day you can look a shark in the eye or spend time with a harbor seal – or observe river otters, rays, sea turtles and jellyfish. But you can do all that at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. You can even get cute with meerkats and drop in on the special exhibition “Dragons! Real or Myth?” that features a rare black dragon (don’t worry, it doesn’t breathe fire) and other animals with “dragon” in their names. And don’t forget the aquarium’s IMAX movies!
A few miles up the turnpike is Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, whose 300 animals include a Siberian tiger, Andean condor, spectacled bear, red wolf and golden lion tamarin. Out on the Hoofstock Trail, you’ll find bison, pronghorn and white-tailed deer. And in the South American Rainforest, exotic reptiles and alligators slink through the lush vegetation. Check in for admission deals, discounts on carousel rides and other special offers.
A little further up the coast, Mystic Aquarium has long been a must-see for families visiting Connecticut. The one-acre beluga whale habitat is a huge draw, as are the enormously entertaining 25 African penguins and the endangered Stellar sea lions. In addition, there are shows at the marine theater, a 4-D theater (check the schedule) and the great new exhibit “Exploration: Wild,” a tour of Earth’s most captivating habitats – rainforest, Arctic, wetlands, desert and open oceans.
Parks Are for Kids!
When it comes to places for kids to get out and enjoy, don’t forget about Connecticut’s state parks! The first park was established in 1913 with the purchase of what is now known as Sheffield Island State Park on Long Island Sound in Westport. Once the precedent had been set and residents saw the benefits of public land ownership, Connecticut’s park system began growing rapidly. Today, there are more than 100 parks and forests in the system, many with unique features that kids will love. Below are some examples. Further details on these and all the other parks can be found at http://www.ct.gov/deep. Click on outdoor recreation, and select State Parks and Forests.
Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden. As you take in the views from the stone tower at the top, consider you are located on the hip of what for all the world looks like a . . . sleeping giant. The park offers an impressive network of hiking trails, ranging from expert to nearly child-proof.
Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill. A state park located where dinosaurs once roamed the earth? Really? Here you’ll find the fossilized footprints of the giant lizards that crisscrossed the Connecticut River Valley 200 million years ago. Kids can make plaster-of-Paris casts of actual dino footprints to take home.
Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam. The centerpiece of this magnificent location high above the Connecticut River is a really weird house built by 19th-century actor William Gillette (known chiefly for his stage role as Sherlock Holmes). His “castle” is well worth touring, but be sure to bring a picnic to enjoy on the extensive grounds.
Kent Falls State Park, Kent. One of the best hikes in Connecticut runs along this 250-foot waterfall, plunging a quarter-mile down through a thick forest.
Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury. As you take in the view from Heublein Tower, be sure to take in the tower itself, in its day one of the most unusual and spectacular summer houses in Connecticut. Views from the 165-foot tower stretch from Mt. Tom in Massachusetts to Sleeping Giant to the south.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison. At over 2 miles in length, this is Connecticut’s longest beach, and its most-attended state park. There are campsites, a nature center, a network of trails and, oh yes, swimming in the cool waters of Long Island Sound.
QUICK COOL DOWN
Washington Park, Luis Munoz Marin Park’s sprinkler pad and Ellsworth Park. There are free parking lots at Marin and Ellsworth, and street parking near Washington Park. You just touch the sensor to start the splashing.
Highland Park and Rogers Park Playground. Summer hours are 11am-7pm daily.