A day at the water and dinner in flip flops are a time-honored tradition in southeastern Connecticut. Our local clam shacks thankfully open around April, and many stay open into October, or as long as the weather is warm enough to cozy up to a picnic table. It's the season for hot, salted fries; freshly grilled burgers; rolls piled with sweet lobster; and tender fried scallops and clams. Feast your eyes on these wonderful pairings - beaches, boat tours and the clam shacks that are a short drive away!
Where to go:
Williams Beach Park: This free, small beach is part of the Mystic YMCA, so there is a designated area for visitors. No smoking, pets or lifeguard on duty, but there are playground and picnic areas. Open dawn to dusk at 1 Harry Austin Drive, Mystic, CT.
DuBois Beach is located in the beautiful, walkable historic village of Stonington Borough. Shallow water, a picnic area, lifeguard and restrooms make it ideal for families. Daily passes are $10 per person at the entry,and the beach fills up quickly so it’s best to go early. No dogs are allowed, and there is a carry-in/ carry-out trash policy so bring a bag. End of Water Street, Stonington, CT.
Sandy Point Island is located at Lat.: 41°19’46.2″; Long.: 71°53’31.4″ This unique wildlife refuge in Little Narragansett Bay accessible only by water. It is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and owned by the Avalonia Land Conservancy. Passes are required, and may be purchased at the Stonington Community Center, 28 Cutler St., from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. Youth 17 and under are permitted to visit free; individual adult season passes are $25 each and senior passes are $15. A daily pass costs $10 per person. Guests are asked to respect signage and nesting birds, and leave pets at home. Trash policy is carry-in/carry-out. Call 401-364-9124 questions, or visit thecomo.org.
Argia is an 81-foot schooner beautiful, Coast Guard-licensed vessel. Enjoy views of scenic coastlines and historic lighthouses from the spacious wooden deck, or help the crew to hoist the sails. The experience is up to you. Two-hour morning, noon, afternoon and sunset cruises are offered. Snacks and lemonade are included in the ticket price, but visitors are allowed to bring their own food. Tickets are $42 for those under 18; $49 for seniors and $52 for adults. For more information, visit argiamystic.com. The Argia sails from 12 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic, right next to the famous drawbridge.
Where to eat:
SeaView Snack Bar sits directly on the shores of the Mystic River, opens for the season in late March and closes in late October. (Thank you SeaView!) It’s at 145 Greenmanville Ave. between Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, just a couple of minutes from each, and 3 minutes from the Mystic Drawbridge. Visitors praise the lobster roll, clams, burgers, onion rings and chocolate milkshakes. SeaView has been in business 42 years and opens daily at 10 a.m. Visit snackbarmystic.com to learn more.
Sea Swirl: With views of the beautiful Inn at Mystic and Mystic River, Sea Swirl is also among the first clam shacks to open each year, usually the first week of April. Family owned and operated, it’s a great place to find whole belly clam rolls and expertly fried scallops and cod. There are lots of options for fussy young eaters - hot dogs and mac n’cheese bites among them. All seating is outdoors, and it’s conveniently located on 30 Williams Ave., Mystic, just 3 minutes from downtown Mystic and the Argia departure point; 5 minutes from Mystic Seaport and 10 minutes from Dubois Beach. Visit seaswirlofmystic.com for hours and to see the full menu.
NEW LONDON AREA
Where to go:
Waterford Beach Park offers fishing, swimming and picnicking with gorgeous views of Long Island Sound at a 1/4 mile sandy beach with an extensive tidal marsh. There are public tennis courts nearby. Parking is limited; daily passes can be purchased at the gate: $2 for residents/$5 on weekends and holidays, and $20 for non-residents/$30 on weekends and holidays. Seasonal passes are available through the Waterford Parks and Recreation Department, 24 Rope Ferry Road, Waterford. To get to the beach, follow the signs for the Eugene O’Neil Theater to 305 Great Neck Road.
Ocean Beach Park keeps the magic of childhood summers alive and well at this diverse attraction. Start with a 1/2 mile boardwalk along a sugar sand beach. Add amusement park rides, an arcade, concession, Olympic-size swimming pool, spray park for little ones and water slides, and it all adds up to an amazing day at the ocean. There are magic shows, movie nights and car cruises, mini-golf and a health club. The beach’s nature trail overlooks a beautiful estuary called Alewife Cove. (An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water, with an opening to the sea.) Parking ranges from $23-$30 depending on weekends or holidays; visit ocean-beach-park.com for rates for beach admission and other activities.
Cross Sound Ferry Lighthouse Cruises’ Sea Jet offers an amazing tour of nine historic lighthouses in Long Island Sound. As the boat leaves the New London waterfront on the Thames River, an excellent tour narrator points out several landmarks, including Fort Trumbull (originally built to protect the harbor from British attack). Heading downriver, the Sea Jet enters the Sound and, for two hours, the beautiful lighthouses each have their moment in the spotlight. First up is New London Harbor Light, built in 1789, the first lighthouse on Long Island Sound and the fourth of the original twelve Colonial lights. During the War of 1812, the Americans put out the light so that the British could not use it to navigate the harbor. Cruises depart from 2 Ferry St., New London. Tickets are $30 for adults, and $15 for children ages 2-11, with those two and younger admitted free. For information and reservations visit longislandferry.com.
Where to eat:
Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock lives up to its name. Hot lobster rolls, clam fritters (clamcakes) and a choice of New England or Rhode Island chowder top the favorites at this waterfront shack on Shaw’s Cove (80 Hamilton Street, New London). The oyster roll and crab salad roll also set this place apart. The lines can be long, but the food is worth the wait. Top your meal off with Gifford’s of Maine ice cream. There is also a fish market open seven days a week. Visit captscottsnl.com to see the full menu. Captain Scott’s is a 10 minute drive from both Waterford Beach Park and Ocean Beach.
Fred’s Shanty has a well-deserved location reputation for great food and affordable prices. (Try the famous Long Dog for $2.70, the chili dog for $3.50 or a fish filet sandwich for $4.50.) This popular waterfront eatery’s menu runs the gamut from clam strips to a Shanty Burger garnished with fried pickles. Finish things off with Hershey’s Ice Cream. Visit freds-shanty.com for pictures kids can color and bring in for a free kid’s cone. At 272 Pequot Ave., New London, CT, 06320, it’s a 7-minute drive from Ocean Beach.
Where to go:
Esker Point Beach is a good spot to hunt for hermit crabs and enjoy swimming, vollyeball and shellfishing. Seasonal concession and some wheelchair accessibility. There is a boat launch, but there are NO lifeguards on duty and no pets allowed. Parking is free every day except Thursdays in the summer after 3 p.m., when the beach hosts the Soundwaves Concert Series. The beach is at 900 Groton Long Point Road in Noank.
Eastern Point Beach is a small beach near mouth of the Thames River. Known for calm, shallow water, fishing and birdwatching. Lifeguards are on duty. Walk-on admission is free for Groton residents with ID; walk-in for non-residents is $5/day. No pets allowed. Daily rates are $15/weekday; $25 on weekends. Seasonal passes are $65 for non-residents; $45 for residents 62 and older; $30 for residents; $10 for residents 62 and older. Located on Beach Pond Road.
Bluff Point State Park Beach is about a 20-30 minute walk from the parking area, depending on your level of fitness. It's an amazing place to collect shells, and the shallow water is clear and calm. Boating, crabbing, fishing, shellfishing and views birds and other wildlife are among the activities. There are no lifeguards on duty, and trash is carry-in/carry-out. The parking lot, located off Depot Road in Groton, is free.
Where to eat:
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough is renowned for its hot lobster roll, but it also boasts one of the most creative menus: from lobster deviled eggs to a hefty list of appetizers and even peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese, you’ll find whatever it is you crave — or didn’t know you craved! The New England Seafood Feast, with steamers, mussels, steamed lobster, chips and cole slaw is a top seller. There is a mouthwatering display of desserts as well. Located right on the Mystic River at 117 Pearl St. in Noank. abbottslobster.com
Costello’s Clam Shack is what you’ll hit if you keep driving past Abbott’s, its sister restaurant (Get it? Abbott’s and Costello’s?). At 145 Pearl St. Costello’s features classic fried seafood, fish tacos, chowder and bisque. This place is also for its location and three-state waterview. Bring your appetite and BYOB. Open weekends May through September. Both restaurants are about 20 minutes from Eastern Point, and 10 minutes from Bluff Point. costellosclamshack.com.
Ford’s Lobster began life as a bait and tackle shop. Ford’s has evolved into arguably the most gourmet of the list, with more of a seafood restaurant menu than humble clam shack: brown butter scallop mascarpone risotto, coconut curry mussels, lobster and chorizo fettuccine with seared scallops are just a few of the offerings. There is also a Sunday brunch, all at 15 Riverview Ave., Noank, about an 8-minute drive from Bluff Point, and 3 minutes from Esker Point. Visit fordslobster.com for more.
EAST LYME (NIANTIC)
Where to go:
McCook’s Point Park & Hole-in-the-Wall beach: These saltwater beaches are adjacent. Hole-in-the-Wall — ideal for beginning swimmers — is accessed through a short tunnel under the railroad tracks at the end of Baptist Lane. Some areas with views of Long Island Sound are wheelchair-accessible. Open 8 a.m. to dusk; lifeguards on duty from June to mid-August. The park closes at sunset and dogs must be leashed. Parking: $25/a day non-residents, $30/ day on weekends or holidays; $10 for residents, same weekend and holiday rate. Cost to walk on is the same. Some parts of McCook’s Point offering views of the water are wheelchair accessible. A parking permit from the town’s Park and Recreation Office on Society Road is needed to access the beach. discovereastlyme.com
Rocky Neck State Park Beach: Calm saltwaters, non-challenging nature trails and a salt marsh viewing platform make this a great spot for families. Crabbing and fishing are other popular activities. Rocky Neck campground offers 160 sites in wooded and open setting. Parking: Weekdays: $9 for CT residents; $15 for non-residents. Weekends and holidays: $13 for residents; $22 for non-residents. Parking after 4 p.m. any day is $6 for residents, $7 for non-residents. Camping is $20/night for CT residents; $30 for non-residents. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. Camping runs mid-May to Sept. 30. Leashed pets allowed on trails and picnic areas only. Located at 244 West Main Street (Route 156).
Where to eat:
Dad’s Restaurant is located at 147 Main St. in Niantic, just beyond the hustle and bustle of Main Street’s shops. Serving lunch and dinner since 1963, Dad’s is known for chowder, lobster, oyster and whole clam rolls, a great variety of burgers and hot dogs and bacon cheese fries. Best of all, you can order your seafood as side orders to sample a bit of everything. They also serve beer and wine, about 7-10 minutes from Rocky Neck. Visit dadsrestaurantofniantic.com for hours.
Skipper’s is another Main Street mainstay (at 167) and with both indoor and outdoor seating, it’s one of the few places open year-round. Skipper’s, just minutes from Niantic beaches, enjoys a reputation for great fried seafood and affordable grinders. The New England clam chowder is award-winning and the fish sandwich is a top seller. They also serve ice cream and a variety of salads. Visit skippersseafood.com to view the extensive menu.
Where to go:
Harvey’s Beach has a concession, picnic area, lifeguards on duty and shower facilities. It’s small and the water is shallow and calm. Located on Route 154, the beach charges $10 per car/motorcycle on weekdays; $20 on weekends and holidays. A nonresident season pass is available from the Town of Old Saybrook’s Parks and Recreation Department for $150. Visit oldsaybrookrec.com for more information.
Where to eat:
Johnny Ad’s is 6 minutes from Harvey’s Beach, at 910 Boston Post Road, and open year-round. In business for more than 60 years, the local favorites are the fish and chips, soft-shell crab, and gulf shrimp plate. There are burgers, sandwiches and you can get heaping side dishes of scallops or calamari. The food is prepared with no trans fats, which is as healthy as yummy fried food gets! They also serve beer. Visit johnnyads.com for the complete menu.
Liv’s Shack is located at Harbor One Marina on Bridge Street, with a limited, but delicious menu. The hot buttered lobster roll, lobster grilled cheese and fish tacos are the favorites, but you can also grab a burger, hot dog or BLT. Definitely order the hand-cut Old Bay or truffle fries. BYOB. Visit livsshack.com for more.
Where to go:
Riverquest starts its season as early as March, ferrying bundled-up visitors down the river to catch sight of the returning American Bald Eagle pairs, as well as myriad other birds and animals. You’ll even get to see the “fish finder,” a large screen view of what’s swimming below the hull! Throughout the season, Captain Mark carries eager nature lovers over the water to view the Ospreys, Herons, and Egrets, and from the end of August into October, the Tree Swallow Sunset Cruise is not to be missed. RiverQuest also offers special cruises throughout the season, both day and evening events. Picnics are welcome. ctriverquest.com
Where to eat:
The Blue Oar serves food with a view right on the Connecticut River, and you can get there by car (via Snyder Road), or boat. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner from 5-9 p.m. There is a limited menu available between 3 and 5. Patrons are welcome to BOYB, as well as tablecloths, glassware and centerpieces if you’re taking someone special. There are burgers, but you can get the likes of grilled salmon, seared tuna and crabcake for lunch. It’s a 6-minute drive from Eagle Landing State Park, where the Riverquest embarks. The dinner menu changes daily, visit blueoarct.wixsite.com/ctrestaurants for more information.
Where to go:
Hammonasset State Beach Park, on Boston Post Road is Connecticut’s largest public saltwater beach park with nature trails and a nature center. The beach offers calm water, scenic views, surf chairs and seasonal concession. Parking is $15 for non-residents on weekdays, $22 on weekends. Camping is $20/$35/night for residents; $30/$45 for non-residents. Bring bug spray and water shoes, as the sand can get a little rocky near the shoreline. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. Camping season runs mid-May through October. Leashed pets allowed on beach and campground only from Nov. 1 to April 1.
Where to eat:
Donahue’s Clam Castle is another (60+ years) longtime local establishment, just 7 minutes from Hammonasset. This roadside shack serves up every fried platter and sandwich you can think of, as well as burgers dogs, and even sweet potato tots and fries. Both New England and Rhode Island chowder are on the menu, and it’s a BYOB vibe. Visit clamcastlect.com for more.
FOR A ONE-STOP EXPERIENCE:
M & J’s Beach Grille and Surf Club Beach are well-kept secrets outside Madison. Surf Club Beach has a picnic area with grills, playground, bocce courts and horseshoe pits, volleyball and basketball courts and athletic fields, and a boating area. The club stretches over 45 acres on Long Island Sound, with 1200 of sandy beachfront. M & J’s buys and serves fresh seafood daily, including terrific lobster rolls, fish and chips and whole belly clams, burgers, hot dogs, soft-serve ice cream and other items. Daily parking rates for nonresidents are $25 Monday-Thursday and $40 Friday-Sunday and holidays. Surf Club Beach admission is free after 5 p.m., and umbrella-covered picnic tables afford an idyllic view of the beach. Visit madisonct.org/610/Surf-Club-Park and mjsnacks.yolasite.com/ to learn more.
Editor’s note: This list is comprehensive, but not complete. For more spots to swim, visit http://www.ct.gov/deep.