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Did You Know … ?
- The Westport playhouse was previously a barn built for a leatherworks factory (1835).
- Twenty million people live within an hour’s drive of Long Island Sound.
- In the 1800s, residents of Norwalk and nearby towns founded new settlements in Ohio using the same town names.
- Showman P.T. Barnum built four houses in Bridgeport; he also was the town’s mayor in 1875.
- The Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” was inspired by a 1940 Westport playhouse production, “Green Grow the Lilacs.”
The Sound — and the theater
On a clear day, visitors who climb the tower of the Sheffield Island Lighthouse can see Manhattan skyscrapers, not quite 50 miles away. The lighthouse, now a tourist attraction, is in the outer reaches of the Norwalk, Conn., harbor and accessible by ferry.
The city of less than 100,000 is tucked into the southwest corner of Connecticut, in Fairfield County, making it part of the greater New York metro area and putting it within commuting distance of the Big Apple.
Indeed, visitors to New York may stay in places like Norwalk and commute for their sightseeing, but Norwalk and its neighboring communities along Connecticut’s coastline offer diversions that keep tourists fully entertained within the region.
The defining characteristic is easy access to the sea. Norwalk and its neighbors sit on Long Island Sound, the 113-mile-long body of water that separates Connecticut from New York’s Long Island.
Active visitors may sail on the Sound, organize a fishing charter or get a lot closer to the water in a kayak. Other activities include harbor cruises, bird-watching excursions, lighthouse tours or beach games.
The must-see complement to such touristic occupations is Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium, which offers educational experiences, some of them on a research vessel.
Norwalk is the third-largest city in Fairfield County after Bridgeport and Stamford. The coastal strip also is home to Greenwich, Old Greenwich, Westport, Fairfield and Stratford, among others. All are accessible from a National Scenic Byway, the Merritt Parkway, which was specifically designed to be attractive as well as functional. It boasts some 70,000 trees along its 37.5 miles.
The region also offers its fair share of cultural tourism, meaning a varied collection of museums, theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, plus generally attractive settings such as historic districts or redeveloped waterfronts.
Its best-known cultural feature is the Westport Country Playhouse, which debuted its first production in 1931. In the years since, it has seen many of its artists make it big and some of its productions move to Broadway.
Things to do for Venturers
- Plan a kayaking expedition to and among the Norwalk Islands, which are located about a mile offshore. Some islands are open to camping.
- Take a basic or more advanced workshop in printmaking at Norwalk’s Center for Contemporary Printmaking. The facility offers a number of one-day or short-term workshops. It requests that participants register two weeks in advance.
- Charter a boat for fishing in Bridgeport, Norwalk or Stratford.
- Hire a bicycle and take on the hilly 38.5-mile Greenwich Estate Country Tour, which begins and ends at Stamford.
- Devote some after-dark time to the bars and eateries in South Norwalk (aka SoNo), an old neighborhood that is home to a couple of named historic districts.
- Rent a sailboat and explore Long Island Sound. Need sailing lessons? They’re available in Norwalk and elsewhere on this coast.
Things to do for Centrics
- Play volleyball or softball at one of two adjoining Norwalk beaches, Calf Pasture Beach or Shady Beach.
- See a show at the Stratford Theatre or at the Westport Country Playhouse.
- In Norwalk, board the Maritime Aquarium’s research vessel Oceanic for an afternoon marine life study cruise. Reservations are recommended for the outings, offered from late April through August. If yours is a winter visit, join the aquarium’s winter creature cruise to see seals and seabirds.
- Another alternative: Sail from Stamford on the SoundWaters, a three-masted replica of a 19th century sharpie schooner. Afternoon sailings, on select dates from June to October, offer a chance to help hoist sails and raise the trawl. Sunset sails, on select dates from June to September, also are available.
- Chart a themed journey based on the Connecticut Art Trail. Fairfield County trail destinations include the Bruce Museum in Greenwich; the Bush Holley Historic Site in Cos Cob, and the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk.
- Come hungry to Norwalk’s Oyster Festival, held in September.
Things to do for Authentics
- Drive the 37.5 miles of the Merritt Parkway. Built for “pleasant transit” as well as regional development, this National Scenic Byway provides exits for easy access to attractions in Fairfield County.
- Get an eyeful of the splendor of the Gilded Age during a tour of Norwalk’s Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum.
- Travel via catamaran from Norwalk to Sheffield Island to tour the historic lighthouse there and observe waterfowl in the island’s section of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Bring a picnic lunch. If the light tower is open, climb it; on clear days, the New York City skyline can be seen.
- Another alternative: Attend one of Sheffield Island’s Thursday clambakes. The events, available from mid-June to mid-September, allow time for touring the island’s 1868 lighthouse.
- Head to Stratford to shop for antiques at its huge antiques center. And, consider these local museums, the Garbage Museum featuring the “Trash-O-Saurus” and the National Helicopter Museum.
- Take the kids to Norwalk’s Stepping Stones Museum, which offers children more than 100 hands-on activities. One gallery is specifically for toddlers.
For more information, consult the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau at