Stonington Borough, Conn: a Truly Underrated New England Travel Gem
Water St. in Stonington
Article, photos by Eric Hurwitz -- created for VisitingNewEngland.com on
Thank you, Stonington Borough, Conn. for
accommodating me with your small town charm, welcoming nature and safe
social distancing presence during this pandemic.
I initially had my eyes set on Mystic, Conn., as well as a huge,
lobster roll at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in neighboring Noank.
With Memorial Day Weekend not quite here yet and the pandemic not close
to being over, I thought these two destinations would yield a similar
experience to our recent visit to Little Compton,
R.I. We pretty much had the place to ourselves including beautiful
Little Compton Beach.
Attempting to visit Mystic and Abbott's, however, resulted in
completely different stories. File that one under "Really Wrong
Mystic yielded wall-to-wall vehicle and foot traffic that had me
muttering, "I've got to get out of here as soon as possible." My day
would have evolved around bumping into people and experiencing reduced
visibility. Not reduced visibility because of the weather but the
crowds in every
direction. Plus, I suffered through COVID-19 not too long ago, never
want to catch it again and am extremely cognizant with the importance
of safe social distancing. I will not be considered fully vaccinated
until two weeks after my May 12 COVID-19 shot so playing it safe is
paramount. I am pretty much staying in the house whenever possible
until May 26 but decided on this day to go somewhere scenic that would
virtually gurarantee safe social distancing.
Driving into the quiet Groton neighborhood of Noank gave me hope,
though, that Abbott's would be uncrowded with unobstructed views of the
order window, as well as the beautiful coastal location.
File that one under, "What in the world were you thinking?"
Cars crowded the tight parking lot to the point where you probably
couldn't navigate a Hot Wheels toy car through there. Lines formed at
the order window that made me wonder if Jonas Brothers concert tickets
somehow just went on sale at this lobster shack.
I thought about just driving the hour-plus ride back home and ordering
a meatball sub and flooding part of our backyard with a hose to enjoy
water views but wisely opted to visit Stonington Borough as a last
In retrospect, Stonington Borough should have been my first day trip
choice. Don't get me wrong, I love Mystic and Abbott's. Just not when
they are seemingly more populated than midtown Manhattan, though. Mystic does offer one of the more fun, lively small town downtowns (I love Mystic Sweets there!) and the spectacular Mystic Seaport Museum, and Abbott's some of the best lobster rolls in New England.
On this particular day, however, I should have followed the great, late Yogi Berra's advice: "No one
goes there any more. It's too crowded."
Approaching Stonington Borough, however, immediately soothed the soul.
St. with its historic homes framed by white picket fences, nearly
silent surroundings and the sweet smell
of spring flowers and the salt sea in the air helped lift the 1,000
lbs. off my shoulders which I previously gained in just minutes due to
the steady nutrient-devoid diet of traffic and stress.
Fragrant flowers along a white picket fence in Stonington
I should have taken "before" and
"after" photos of me -- first, the cartoon-like appearance of the
exasperated guy with bulging eyes and sweat pouring from everywhere and
then, Mr. Calm! Deepak Chopra would have been proud of this transformation.
In little more than one
blink of the eye, a parking space awaited my car and at no cost for two
hours. At first, however, I was concerned about an appreciable amount
of cars parked on the street. Would I be headed into more crowds?
Fortunately, the answer was "No." Some of these small towns have this
odd phenomenon where many cars are parked but amazingly few people
walking the streets. You could, in fact, almost hear that proverbial
pin drop near the parking spot with the only sound being one family
quietly talking about their day. That's quite a difference from Mystic
a few minutes ago
or the month before in Newport, R.I. where a restaurant dining room
scene involved parties of trendy people collectively screaming at the
top of their lungs to converse about
about shallow things. They were so loud, we couldn't hear ourselves talk or even think, for that matter. File that one under "Lack of consideration for
Stonington seemed different than other places on this day, as well as
on previous visits with my wife, Joan, and daughters, Emily and
Katie. It gave me (and us) the chance to appreciate the moment without
any travel destination loudness or obstructions. thus offering the
chance to rest, relax and renew that, ironically, seems lost on many in
search of, well, rest, relaxation and renewal.
Sometimes, the non-vacation sights can create a sense of actually being
on vacation. Although not my main reason for coming to Stonington
Borough, the public library across from my parking space set a
wonderful sense of place -- just waiting there to greet me like an old
familiar hometown friend.
Public library in Stonington Borough.
Stonington Borough immediately welcomed and fed me, as well as putting
me in the proper spirit. On this day, I had visions of enjoying a
small town the way they are so appealingly portrayed in those Hallmark
movies. You know, the ones that take place in New England but are
actually filmed in British Columbia, Canada. I always think in
particular of that Hallmark
movie with a folksy, wise Edward Asner sitting on a bench in front of a
general store and smiling and nodding at passersby in a small country
town. Wouldn't you know it, that type of exact thing happened to me in
Stonington Borough! What a great way to set the tone right in front of
-- you guessed it -- a general store. It wasn't his official job but
this guy was greeting people better than most Chambers of Commerce.
Enjoying the world pass by at Tom's
News and General Store.
Carolyn Yost, owner of Carolyn Yost Estate Jewelry & Stonington
Antiques Etc. at 148 Water St., then gave me great advice on where
as well as supplying me with some safe bug repellent and a map of
Stonington Borough. The nice folks at Noah's Restaurant,
at 113 Water St., immediately sat me down at an
outdoor dining table and served eight delicious mussels, four chicken
(not fried) and three pieces of homemade bread for under $10. Wow, now
that's the kind of "Happy Hour" meal I
like! All this great food and service, despite Noah's expecting an
crowd that had already signed up for reservations. Noah's definitely
went of of its way to make this happen, including an attentive
salt-of-the-earth waitress. They didn't have to accommodate me at all
but the fact that they did speaks volumes about this quaint, humble
little eatery. I'll definitely come back to Noah's for breakfast,
lunch, dinner or brunch or all of the above next time with family (they
all had previous commitments on this day)!
No longer hungry and overwhelmed, I was ready to discover Stonington
Borough a bit more from late afternoon into twilight time.
Detailing the Stonington Borough Experience
in Stonington Borough.
memorable part of Stonington Borough is the entire place.
Stonington's all around magnificence was never contrived from the
corporate boardroom, cold and sterile marketing plans and other
generic, misguided economic development piffle ironically perceived as
progress in today's society. It seems that traditional Stonington
Borough never quite
modern concept of reckless, rampant condo development with no visual
nexus to the community, strip malls, outlet stores, chain restaurants
hotels and hokey souvenir stores as the backbone of their
prideful community. Quite the opposite, thank goodness, in this beautiful little village by the sea!
For us travelers in search of the "real New
England," Stonington Borough indeed comes across as a blessing and true
Unspoiled and thoroughly content with just being itself, this small
southeastern Connecticut borough genuinely exudes a classic New England
community vibe with a 17th and 18th century feel every step of the way
through the narrow, tree-lined streets. It is the oldest borough in
Connecticut, chartered in 1801.
neighborhood on Water St.
The quiet, untouched
setting that scenically leads out to Little Narragansett Bay features
wonderful Greek Revival, Federal and Colonial
architecture, a beautiful picturesque harbor with a publicly accessible
paved walking path and the historic Stonington Harbor Light and Lighthouse Museum --
the first lighthouse established by the United States federal
government in the 19th
century. It is a gem of a stone-built lighthouse, currently being
restored. The Museum offers changing and permanent exhibits including
maritime artifacts and Oriental trade, as well as the chance for
visitors to climb the stairs to the lighthouse tower and enjoy a picnic
on the expansive back lawn overlooking the bay. Call 860-535-1440 for
more info including operation hours.
Stonington Harbor Light.
Stonington Borough also features interesting little
shops, majestic old churches and municipal buildings, cozy
"neighborhood" eateries (like Noah's, Breakwater
with its harbor views and Indulge Coffee and Sandwich Co., to name a few)
but, ultimately a sense of peace that makes you feel like
you're miles away from everything.
Paved walking path along the harbor.
Not located on any main drag, Stonington Borough -- the town center of
Stonington with a population of just under 1,000 -- takes about 10
minutes to arrive at from Route 95. Taking a bridge into Stonington
Borough immediately feels like entering a shelter from the world yet
just minutes from bustling Mystic and Westerly, R.I.
United Church of Stonington.
Much like coastal Newport, New Bedford, Mass. and Portsmouth, N.H.,
many of the stately homes are tightly-packed next to each other and
virtually right up front on the sidewalk. That type of layout lends a
feeling of close-knit, what-you-see-is-what-you get neighborhoods.
Side street in
Stonington Borough, however, comes across more as the quiet sibling
compared to places like Newport, New Bedford and Portsmouth, preferring
to keep more to itself. Stonington might be the brother or sister that
chooses to read a good book by candlelight in a cozy corner while
listening to soothing music. It is Piano
Concerto in A Minor by Grieg as compared to, say, Deep Purple's
hyperkinetic Highway Star.
mentioned there's something
so exciting about the understated element in travel as it
often allows for unobstructed pathways to instant memories. For many, a
return to the comforting look of another place and time creates the
most special travel. If that sounds like you, Stonington Borough is
your place. Nothing is forced or phony here. It seems so real and
delightfully old school.
Some of the older
residents can be seen sitting on
their front porches reading the newspaper,
most likely returning from a leisurely stroll at the jam-packed,
News and General Store at 133 Water St. Tom's follows all the earmarks
of a local general store selling grocery items, newspapers and
magazines, apparel, office supplies, home goods, toys and a lot
more. Tom's isn't the only shopping option in town, however --
from from it. Antique shops, boutiques, jewelry, clothing and
classy gift shops grace Water St. It's rare to find
such an impressive array of shops that isn't collectively
self-conscious about its
greatness. Everyone here seems so nice!
Looking north on Water St.
in the day, the streets are virtually empty which allows residents and
visitors to feel totally at peace. It's just you, the fresh coastal
air, and many birds but fewer people chirping.
DuBois Beach -- with
its small sandy stretch of beach -- serves as a wonderful example of
in the downtown district.
Approaching DuBois Beach (it
seems to have two different spellings, depending on what you read).
DuBois Beach is a
place where stone walls lead
to sand to solitude.
Late afternoon brings
beautiful scenes like this at DuBois Beach.
this viewpoint, the beach looks much larger than when passing by in a
Stretch of sand.
East Lawn, right across the street from DuBois Beach, is also an ideal
space to relax --great for a picnic or just gazing at the coastal
The village-like setting offers other New England
treasures like the traditional town green with its open space
in grand New England style by historic buildings and homes.
Town green in Stonington.
Yes, this town green appears to be more modest when compared to all
those expansive greens that are part of the historical fabric of many
Connecticut towns and cities. This one, however, has a distinct
advantage over most: It's located right across the street from the
water! Better yet, by the water and a historic place to stay: The
Inn at Stonington (60 Water St). We haven't been to the Inn at
Stonington but reviewers rave about the historic charm that
combines with modern elements and amenities.
Inn at Stonington.
Heading south on Water St.
If you have
visited more high profile New
England communities and were disappointed by the commercialism and
crowds, then Stonington Borough is the perfect New England getaway for
Once the first time visitor crosses over the bridge and enters
peaceful Water St., it's easy to understand that those who know
Stonington Borough regard it as perhaps as the best representative of
true New England living and traditional village preservation.
A most pleasing view.
When leaving Stonington Borough on this particular visit, I noticed an
elaborate event going on at an outdoor function venue that looked like
some kind of nautical or possibly military-related change of command
event. It was beautiful to see, even from a far distance with its
elaborate grandeur and traditional formality including speeches, music
and salutes. During the reception, a vocalist sung a famous Eagles song
with the memorable words, "You can check out any time you want but you
can never leave."
In Stonington Borough, those Eagles' lyrics took on an entire different
meaning than the original menacing, apocalyptic nature of the song. At
that moment, the words could be construed as to forever embrace the
memories in a place you might not live in but somehow feels like
home. And that you can return, anytime.
File that one under, "Here's to checking back into Stonington Borough very soon!"
Marveling at the coastal scenery.
For more on Stonington Borough, click here
OK, that was pretty cool but where to
now? How about...
NewEnglandCaptured Etsy Shop for unique New England gift ideas
Behind-the-scenes storytelling on small businesses in
The best country stores in New England
fashioned diners to love in New England
Small New England towns that would look great in
town greens to discover in Massachusetts
your local business
becoming part of our New England community?
VisitingNewEngland business partnerships differ than feature articles
previously posted on VisitingNewEngland.
Businesses pay a small, one-time fee to have pages like this appear,
and first must be accepted by VisitingNewEngland.com editor and
publisher, Eric Hurwitz, as a business he approves as part of "real New
England travel" to keep the integrity of the site. Businesses that sign
up for business partnerships receive priority by receiving more social
media exposure and link placement on VisitingNewEngland.com. Contact Eric
if interested in forming a business partnership.
Massachusetts travel! Read
Town Greens book -- Discover New England's first travel
connected with VisitingNewEngland at Facebook
Sign up for our
free VisitingNewEngland.com E-NEW ENGLAND TRAVEL NEWSLETTER
latest New England travel insider's news updates and stories, discounts