While the summer crowds visiting southeastern Connecticut tend to flock to Mystic, plenty of visitors and locals will take the exit for Niantic instead. The East Lyme village rarely feels crowded, and it’s easy to spend an entire day seeing what it has to offer.
There are ample opportunities to take in scenic views, while Main Street offers a walkable stretch of restaurants and shops with plentiful parking. Small shopping plazas, nature preserves, and other offerings are just a short walk or drive outside the main village area.
“Since we’re located right between New York and Boston, we’re nice respite from big city life,” says Rita Rivera, communications director at Niantic Main Street. “We’re the small town USA that I read about in novels, never thinking they could actually exist. You pair small town New England charm with beaches, a boardwalk, and a walkable downtown and you have the perfect day trip. We have the breweries for adults and children’s museum for the kids.”
Village celebrations take place throughout the year. These include the Niantic Lions Arts & Craft Show on the first weekend in July, Celebrate East Lyme Day on the third weekend in July, Vintage Market & Oyster Festival on Columbus Day weekend, Holiday Stroll on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Niantic Light Parade on the second Saturday in December.
Niantic has a little bit of something for everyone. These itineraries offer just a few suggestions for how you might spend your time in the village.
The village takes full advantage of its location on Niantic Bay. A large expanse of curving beach is open to the public, with panoramic views of Long Island Sound.
Shortly after crossing the drawbridge into Niantic, you can turn off for Niantic Bay Beach. Nicknamed “Amtrak Beach” for its proximity to the railroad tracks, Niantic Bay Beach is adjacent to Cini Memorial Park, which has amenities such as a fishing pier and a launch for canoes or kayaks.
Take in the full expanse of the beach by strolling the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, which runs 1.1 miles and includes placards on the area’s history and ecology. The boardwalk ends at Hole-in-the-Wall Beach, named for the tunnel under the railroad.
Stroll through nearby McCook Point Park to take in a gorgeous view from atop the bluffs. And another white sand beach is just a little farther on.
Many of Niantic’s eateries take advantage of the shorefront location. Both Dad’s and Skipper’s restaurants offer lobster rolls, fried clams, and other delicious seafood, with decks looking out on the bay. Main Street Grille also boasts waterfront views, along with a raw bar menu.
The great outdoors
You don’t need to limit yourself to the beach to enjoy some beautiful natural areas around Niantic. Just north of the village is the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, a 457-acre forest tract. An extensive network of hiking trails encircle a central pond, passing scenic vistas and a former quarry.
Niantic Bay Bicycles offers sales, accessories, and repairs for two-wheeler enthusiasts, and also hosts regular group rides and tours to local destinations. Three Belles Outfitters provides boat rentals and programs on the Niantic River, including stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and sunset kayak paddles.
Visitors with green thumbs are sure to enjoy Smith’s Acres, a year-round garden center with plenty of plants, farm products, and landscaping items. The Niantic Farmers Market, which includes both summer and winter events, provides food and goods from local farms and vendors.
Keep that athletic figure by getting a meal at Cafe Sol, which specializes in organic and locally sourced breakfast and lunch items, or picking up a snack at the Natural Food Store, with a focus on health foods and supplements. But if your outing left you famished, you might opt for the hearty Mexican fare at East Coast Taco.
Niantic has plenty of attractions that make it a favorite for family outings. The Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut is perfect for families with young children, with indoor and outdoor play areas, opportunities for imaginative and creative play, resident animals, and regular programming.
The Book Barn delights old and young visitors alike with hundreds of thousands of used books on any given topic. The business has three locations, and the main barn includes additional sources of entertainment such as games and a playground. Visitors can also get acquainted with several cats and goats that make the property their home.
The nearby Barn for Artistic Youth provides art classes and programs. Families can also take in a film at the independent Niantic Cinemas, which shows both new releases and specialty features. New parents can check out Nurture Nest, a parenting store with an eco-friendly focus.
There’s no shortage of pizza places, giving you ample opportunity to find your next favorite slice. These options include Black Point Pizza, Castello of Niantic, Family Pizza (which also claims to have the longest hot dog in New England), Palmieri’s Slice Shop, Village Pizza, and Vincitori Apizza.
For a sweet treat, pick up a pastry at Guiliano’s Donut & Bake Shop or an ice cream cone at Gumdrops and Lollipops or Tony D’s Craft Creamery. Each site has food options as well, and at Gumdrops and Lollipops you can get lost in a vast selection of fudge and bulk candy.
Several shops in Niantic specialize in items from the past. CEL Fine Collectibles & Appraisers features unique items like scientific instruments and medical specimens as well as an assortment of nautical items. Past to Present lets you roam through a large selection of goods, including furniture, tools, and a room where every item is a dollar; a second location, Past to Present on the Corner, opened last year.
Collector’s Coin Shoppe buys and sells rare coins, along with some jewelry and watches. Miller’s Stamp Company, open by appointment only, sells both individual stamps and collections.
After a morning hunting for the perfect antique, don’t skip out on lunch. Charlie’s Place is a friendly diner on the outskirts of the village, while Smarty’s Restaurant and Pub is a casual American eatery with a signature dish of “broasted” chicken.
A day at the shops
Looking for that perfect gift, some flair for your wardrobe, or something to complement your home? Check out the shops on Main Street and beyond.
Numerous boutiques — including Anna Pearl’s Curiosities, Azalea, Bayberries, Grace, and Smoochie Bird — feature items such as apothecary goods, fine art, jewelry, and home décor. Casablanca Furniture sells wicker furniture for both interior and exterior use, while Indigo specializes in women’s clothing. Tumbleweeds has an extensive collection of new and used records, along with items such as incense and tapestries.
Many of these stores are located in shopping plazas, just steps from a good meal option. Choices include Hartford Giant Grinder, a deli with numerous sandwich options; The Spice Club, a Thai and Pan-Asian restaurant; and Village Bake House, a café with sandwiches, soups, salads, and baked goods.
Between Niantic’s beaches and restaurants, the village is perfect for a night out with your sweetheart. You might consider stopping by L & J Blooms first to pick up a fresh bouquet.
Have a couple’s dance night by visiting the Arthur Murray Dance Center. This business offers a variety of dance lessons, ranging from ballroom to social.
For a casual date night, try trivia at The Black Sheep or Lionheart Tavern. You might also take in one of the events at the Niantic Public House & Brewery, or just stop by for a flight of its craft beer.
La Belle Aurore is a good choice for a more formal outing, offering farm-to-table options and small plates. Lillian’s Cafe specializes in local ingredients and features a raw bar.
Take in Niantic’s treasures for an afternoon, day or week. It’ll be well worth your time.