Summer 2020 wasn’t exactly what we were expecting, and it definitely wasn’t what we had been planning for a LONG time. June marked a milestone birthday for me and we had planned on celebrating with a big trip to places that have been on our bucket list for many year. Luckily, we rescheduled this trip for next summer- so cross your fingers and stay tuned!
Once the pandemic hit, we knew we’d have to shift our perspective and our travel plans. Our major goals for any trip include: staying safe and healthy; doing our best to keep others safe and healthy; respecting local and state guidelines and regulations; learning new things; having fun.
Each summer, we make individual “Bucket Lists” of things we want to do. Some common goals that the four of us shared are part of the highlights. We’re grateful we were able to accomplish so much and fully recognize how fortunate we are.
Summer 2020 Highlights:
1. Visit new resorts: I keep a running list of resorts throughout the East Coast that I want to explore. This summer, we had the chance to spend time at:
Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine: Beautiful resort with an award winning, impressive 18 hole golf course, zero entry pool that over looks the Penobscot Bay and Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.
We loved this resort for its handling of pandemic regulations, beautiful grounds, and views of the water and golf course.
Why you should return in the winter: The Ice Bar and nearby winter activities like ice skating and cross country skiing.
Read our full post here.
Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, Massachusetts (Cape Cod): Located right in the middle of the Cape, on Cape Cod Bay, Ocean Edge is a massive resort with two complexes, a golf course, five pools, and dozens of daily activities.
We love this resort for its location, private beach with attentive service, and amenities like kayaking and oyster bed tours.
Why you should return in the winter: Amazing rates, no crowds on the Cape, quiet walks on the beach.
Read our full post here.
Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, New Jersey: Two hotels located less than 5 minutes from each other in the northern part of New Jersey. The resort boasts 6 golf courses, three pool complexes, 10 dining options, and dozens of activities for all ages.
We love this resort for the best continental breakfast we’ve ever had, gorgeous grounds and gardens, 18 hole putting course (that glows at night!), and the Biosphere.
Why you should return in the winter: The Biosphere, two spas, nearby skiing (with shuttle service from the resort)
Read our full post here.
Skytop Lodge in the Poconos (Pennsylvania): The Poconos is a special place that transports visitors back in time. Skytop is spread out over 5,500 acres with so many ways to enjoy the outdoors, including Skytop Lake. There’s golfing, hiking, fishing, and dozens of daily activities.
We love this resort for its wide variety of complimentary activities, easy hiking trails, and the Adventure Center.
Why you should return in the winter: Tons of winter activities like skiing, snow shoeing, snow tubing, and ice skating- all ON property. At Skytop, you can park your car and not need it until you leave.
Read our full post here.
2. Enjoy the water view: The beach is my happy place- those who know me know there is no place I’d rather be. You can imagine my disappointment when the beach I usually visit restricted visitors to only town residents. In retrospect, this turned out better than I expected, because it allowed me to visit some of our state parks that have beaches, and several other spots:
Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. This 234 acre state park includes biking trails, tons of green lawns with shade for picnicking, 9/11 Memorial, Nature Center, wetlands, restrooms facilities and concession stands. The park has the capacity for up to 4,000 vehicles, but this summer did limit to 25% capacity. Most days the park closed at capacity by 2pm, usually noon on the weekends. We prefer the calmer West Beach and like to go at low tide when the kids can dig in the numerous sand bars and shallow tide pools.
Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Connecticut. This state park includes a beautiful wooden bridge to the beach (be prepared and bring a beach lugger cart). The rebuilt concession stand is almost completed as of summer 2020- but for now, no concessions and only porta potties stationed at the parking lot. We enjoy going here right at the peak of low tide, when the water parts and guests can walk out to Charles Island. We often find anywhere between 50-75 pieces of sea glass everytime we walk out to the island. An important note: Do not go exploring the island; it’s a preserve for the glover birds and protected land. Also take very careful note of the tide; the water comes back and covers the path very quickly and you do not want to get stuck on the island or get caught in the tide.
Sheffield Island Boat Tour in Norwalk, Connecticut. South Norwalk is a popular spot all year long- there are tons of restaurants, bars, and unique shops to explore. The Maritime Aquarium was one of our favorite spots when our children were younger- we had a membership for years. Adjacent to the aquarium is the Seaport Association’s boat, which offers daily tours of Long Island Sound and the many lighthouses of the area. Typically, the tour includes a stop at Sheffield Island but this summer, guests remain on the boat for a one hour narrated tour of the Sound. More information here. Travel Tips: The boat stays in the harbor, close to shore, and the waters are typically very calm. There is a restroom available on the boat and most of the boat is covered. Guests are allowed to bring snacks and drinks (no alcohol) on the boat. The boat ride is usually under an hour. Low cost, metered parking is available in a lot right in front of the dock, with a two hour limit.
Thimble Islands Tour in Stony Creek, Connecticut. Located just outside New Haven, Stony Creek is a village in Branford. There are multiple boats that offer cruises of the Thimble Islands, a collection of 25 inhabited islands in the harbor. We chose the Sea Mist, a 44 foot Carman, two deck boat which offers 45 minute narrated tours hourly on the weekends and on weekdays in season. The islands were first discovered in the early 1600s and have been utilized for everything from farming to quarrying its famous pink granite. Some of the islands have a singular dwelling and some islands have multiple homes. Travel Tips: Free parking is available along the street. The nearby Stony Creek Beach is a small, sandy beach with easy water access, and adjacent Madera Park is a great spot to picnic or toss a ball. There is a restroom aboard the SeaMist and drinks and snacks are available for purchase. Guests who get seasickness should stay on the lower, covered deck. The upper deck has no shade, and there are very steep steps to climb.
3. Hands on Learning (while keeping our hands clean!): We usually visit a lot of museums, centers, and farms over the summer holiday. This summer, we felt most comfortable in spaces that were mainly outdoors. Lucky for us, we found a few really cool spots:
Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Stamford, Connecticut- oh, how I wish we had made time to visit when our children were younger! This is the perfect spot for the under 10 crew, although my preteens did have fun learning about and seeing firsthand some of the 60+ species of animals, exploring the gardens, and taking a short hike. Travel Tips: The center is mainly outdoors with a couple of indoor exhibits; full restrooms are available in two locations and there are plenty of outdoor hand washing stations; check the calendar for special events; no concessions offered on site; plan on 2-3 hours to fully explore the complex. Read our full post here.
Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Connecticut- A 93 acre complex that includes over a dozen gardens, ranging from butterflies and vegetables to wildflowers and magnolias, and 10 trails, all of which are less than a mile. Many of the collections were planted 50-100 years ago by Dr. Bartlett and later, the faculty and students of the University of Connecticut. Kids will be especially interested in completing the scavenger hunt found here. Travel Tips: The trails are VERY uneven with rocks and roots covering most paths; however, some of the trails have a raised wooden plank path that will be easier for little kids (although there are no railings on the sides, so hold hands and keep a close eye!) and individuals with knee or leg issues. Most paths are not handicap accessible. There are plenty of map signs displayed throughout the complex and trails are well marked. Restrooms are located in the Shiver Educational Center.
Earthplace in Westport, Connecticut- Another spot I am remiss in visiting when my kids were younger. The 62 acre open space complex includes hiking trails, a 120 seat amphitheater, indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, playground, and classrooms. Earthplace is the perfect spot for the toddler, preschool, and elementary crews with plenty of hands-on learning. Travel Tips: The center is mainly outdoors, with plenty of shaded spaces. Wear sneakers, sunscreen, and bug spray. Check the calendar for daily story times, animal feedings, and special events. Plan on two hours to hike a trail or two and visit with the animals. Read our full post here.
Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine showcases the history of the ship building, boating, fishing, and lobstering industries. The complex is spread over 20 acres on the banks of the Kennebec River, one mile away from Bath Iron Works. There are plenty of exhibits geared towards children and lots to explore outside. Travel Tips: Start inside with the museum that showcases the history of the industry and displays hundreds of artifacts. Then follow the path throughout the complex to the various buildings, many of which are still working workshops staffed by docents. Wear sneakers and bring the stroller for the toddler crew. Plan on 3-4 hours to explore the entire complex. Read our full post here.
Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires, Massachusetts- We love living history museums and Hancock Shaker Village is one of our favorites. It is the oldest working farm in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. The Village was originally home to the Shaker community from the late 1700s until 1959. The 750 acre complex has a 20 acre working farm, 20 buildings with live interpreters, a massive garden with a very popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and tons of hiking trails, meadows, and woodlands that abut the Pittsfield State Forest. Travel Tips: Bring a stroller for the toddler crew and wear sneakers. Check the daily calendar for animal feedings and demonstrations in the various buildings. Kids will surely want to linger in the Discovery Barn. Read our full post here.
4. Sampling ice cream from new shops in Connecticut: There is no shortage of homemade ice cream spots throughout Connecticut- Connecticut Magazine has even put together “ice cream trail maps” in the past. Our local “go-to” spots are Plasko’s Farm in Trumbull and Sunny Daes which has several locations in Fairfield County. We tried several new spots and all received big praise from the whole family:
Rich Farm in Oxford, CT
Ferris Acres in Newtown, CT
The Brewster Scoop in Brewster, MA
Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream Shop in Bethel, CT
Arethusa Farm in Bantam, CT
We did not get a chance to complete this trail, but there is always next year!
5. Picking 5 different types of fruits: We traditionally make time to pick strawberries and blueberries at our favorite spot, Jones Family Farms in Shelton, CT. This summer, we also picked raspberries at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT and peaches at Silverman’s Farm in Easton, CT. All three farms offer a wide variety of pick-your-own opportunities and tons of homemade goodies. Next year, we hope to check our more farms on this list.
6. Visiting a new type of farm: Lavender Pond Farm in Killingsworth, Connecticut. The 25 acre farm has over 10,000 lavender plants that are harvested in nearby Old Saybrook and then grown on site. Visitors are welcome all summer and can explore the grounds and follow the Lavender Labyrinth for free. There is a shop with dozens of lavender themed and lavender scented home goods, bath products, and cooking supplies. Kids will love visiting the chickens and rooster and following the path around the pond (look out for the bass and trout) to search for fairy houses. The highlight of our visit is definitely a trip on the lavender train. The 25 minute tour around the farm is narrated by a staff member. Our guide Devon was wonderful- knowledgeable, friendly, and funny! Guests will learn all about the 12+ varieties of lavender on the farm, including the difference between French lavender (taller and better for saches) and English lavender (shorter and used in cooking) and how the farm’s honey is made (if you have the chance to purchase the honey- do it!) Travel tips: Free to visit, fee for the lavender train tour; only drinks are sold on property; only porta potties available; plenty of free parking; no need for a stroller but wear sneakers; plan on 60-90 minutes for a visit that includes a train ride.
7. Trying new sports: We’ve enjoyed golf for many years and this summer was the perfect time to play more of it, since it’s a pretty safe socially distant sport. Our son took lessons all summer. We also had opportunities to try archery (twice!), frisbees golf, kayaking and rail bikes. The rail bikes at Essex Steam Trail was one of our favorite days of the whole summer! I believe this is the first year Essex has offered this activity but I am hoping it will become an annual event and expand into the fall and spring. Two person and four person bikes are available for 4, 6 or 9 mile trails. The trails are not overall strenuous, a majority of the trail is in the shade, and trails offer beautiful views of the Connecticut River.
8. Experiment in the cooking. We’ve been cooking so much since quarantine (and I thought we cooked a lot before that!), but we’ve spent time this summer trying new recipes. We made fruit smoothies almost daily and frequently made muffins with the fruit we picked, but always really enjoyed some new fish recipes and salads.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to do so many things as a family this summer. We hope the fall brings opportunity to get out and (safely) explore, and we hope you’ll follow along here, and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.