Crown jewel of Connecticut state parks: Hammonasset Beach
MADISON, Conn. (AP) — Downtown Madison, Connecticut, has the feel of a beach town, though the beach itself is nearly 2 miles away.
In addition to shops and restaurants, the town has one of the best independent bookstores in the state and a century-old independent movie theater.
For sand and shore, head to Madison’s Hammonasset Beach State Park, often called the crown jewel of Connecticut’s state parks.
Hammonasset, located on Long Island Sound, offers more than a day at the beach. Visitors to Connecticut’s largest shoreline park can explore its wetlands and woodlands and get up close to the dunes from a boardwalk. You can also bike, hike, kayak, camp, study nature or just watch birds.
The Madison Art Cinemas, which opened more than 100 years ago, screens first-run independent art and foreign and domestic films. Once used as a gym with a basketball court beneath its wooden floor, it also serves as a community center.
Make sure to visit R.J. Julia Booksellers in downtown Madison. You can spend hours browsing and if you visit at the right time, you can attend a book meeting with authors. The store has drawn Caroline Kennedy, Julie Andrews and Gene Wilder — not bad for a town 100 miles from Manhattan with a population of 18,000.
At Hammonasset, Meigs Point Nature Center is home to turtles, snakes, amphibians, crabs and fish. Many of the animals were taken to the center because of injuries and cannot be returned to the wild. The center offers programs and lectures about marine life, the history of Indian communities in the area, oceanography, lessons about animal tracks and other topics. Summer hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
The state is building a new nature center that can accommodate large school groups and provide interpretive and educational program work spaces and exhibits. It’s due to open next year and will include geothermal heating and cooling, solar power panels to generate electricity.
To avoid a parking fee at Hammonasset, bring your bicycle. Park your car at any parking lot at shopping areas in Madison and ride the 1.8-mile trip along Route 1, known locally as the Boston Post Road, to the Hammonasset park. Free bike racks are available.
For non-residents driving to the park, weekend parking is $23.40, weekdays $15.95.
The eastern trailhead of the Shoreline Greenway Trail is at Hammonasset. The trail extends a mile along the peninsula overlooking marshland and can be used for walking, biking and cross-country skiing. It’s also wheelchair-accessible.
The Madison Beach Hotel is on the beach overlooking Long Island Sound. In addition to beachfront rooms, the hotel offers a spa and wedding space and dogs can stay for an extra $50 a day.
The Scranton Seahorse Inn is in downtown Madison. Owner Michael Hafford, who’s also a pastry chef, advises potential customers to leave plenty of time for reservations. A month ahead of time will reserve a room for weekends, which range from $185 to $235, including breakfast, he said. A room costs $150 to $200 during mid-week.
Hammonasset Beach Campground, open through Oct. 12, offers more than 550 campsites.