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A Tank Away

A lot of academic freedom

University town offers something for just about everyone

By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / February 23, 2011

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STORRS/MANSFIELD, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut is the key player here. Besides hosting some 25,000 students, the school has several attractions that will interest the entire family. Younger children will enjoy the horse and cow barns at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and older children will enjoy pretending they’re college students for a day on the attractive, sprawling campus. For mom and dad, Storrs, which is part of Mansfield, offers options for indulging in art and theater. And everyone can indulge in the ice cream.

STAY

The Nathan Hale Inn & Conference Center (855 Bolton Road, 860-427-7888, www.nathanhaleinn.com, $129-$194) is right on campus. The 100-room Colonial-style inn offers rooms with one king bed or two queens, as well as microwaves and refrigerators. There’s also an indoor pool and hot tub. The Best Western Regent Inn (123 Storrs Road, Mansfield, 860-423-8451, www.bestwesternconnecticut.com/hotels/best-western-regent-inn, $108-$155) in Mansfield Center also has an indoor pool and includes a continental breakfast. Fitch House (563 Storrs Road, 860-456-0922, www.fitchhouse.com, $125-$145), a small bed-and-breakfast in an 1836 Greek Revival mansion, is closed for renovations but will reopen March 15. Altnaveigh Inn & Restaurant (957 Storrs Road, 860-429-4490, www.altnaveighinn.com, $85-$95) has two guest rooms but does not serve breakfast.

DINE

The university’s primo dining spot has to be the UConn Dairy Bar (3636 Horsebarn Road Extension, 860-486-2634, www.dairybar.uconn.edu). In this retro ice cream shop with red-and-white-tiled floors and red vinyl swivel stools, you can watch ice cream being made. The milk comes from the agriculture school’s cows, so the time from pickup to finished product is less than four hours. Popular flavors include Husky Tracks, peanut-butter-laced Jonathan Supreme, and coffee espresso crunch, a sweet, cold jolt. The shop also sells farm-fresh eggs and cheese. Angellino’s Restaurant (135 Storrs Road, 860-450-7071, www.angel linos.com, $8-$20) has a gigantic menu of Italian favorites and kids’ entrees for $4 to $6. We enjoyed overstuffed calzones served with the restaurant’s sweet, chunky marinara sauce. Coyote Flaco (50 Higgins Highway, 860-423-4414, www.mycoyoteflaco.com, $9-$17) is an informal, inexpensive spot for Mexican fare. For a special occasion, it would be hard to find a dining room more attractive than the one at the Altnaveigh Inn & Restaurant (lunch $9.50-$18, dinner $32-$44) in a building that dates from 1734. At tables set around a four-sided fireplace, diners enjoy chef/owner Douglas Parks’s continental cuisine.

DURING THE DAY

Start your exploration of UConn at the Lodewick Visitors Center (115 Eagleville Road, 860-486-4900, www.visitors.uconn.edu), where you can pick up a map, brochures, and even a kids’ guide to the campus. At the animal barns (Horsebarn Hill Road, www.animalscience.uconn.edu/visitors/tour.php) visitors can see dairy and beef cows, sheep, and horses. Check at the visitors center for the daily milking time. From the Kellogg Dairy Center you can step out into the calf yard and see the babies in their calf-size Quonset huts; many were wearing sweaters on a cold February day. The museums on campus are all small, manageable, and free, though donations are welcome. The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History (2019 Hillside Road, 860-486-4460, www.cac.uconn.edu/mnhhome.html) is set up as four “story stations’’ that look at Connecticut’s history through the worlds of work, shopping, comfort, and health. Each round gallery includes a video and artifacts to examine. The Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry (6 Bourne Place, 860-486-0339, www.bimp.uconn.edu), which will reopen March 27, has more than 2,000 puppets and a make-your-own own puppet station. The William Benton Museum of Art (245 Glenbrook Road, 860-486-4520, www.thebenton.org) houses more than 5,000 works of art from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Husky fans will want to check out the Husky Heritage Sports Museum (2384 Alumni Drive, 860-486-2240, www.uconnhuskies.com/trads/museum.html), filled with trophies, photos, and artifacts celebrating more than 100 years of UConn’s rich sports history. Off campus, and weather permitting, Mansfield Hollow State Park (Bassetts Bridge Road, www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&;Q=325236) is a popular spot for boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and picnicking.

AFTER DARK

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre (theaters in two buildings: 2132 Hillside Road, 802 Bolton Road, 860-486-4226, www.crt.uconn.edu) is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at UConn. Productions feature professional artists, faculty members, and promising student artists. “Pride and Prejudice’’ opens Feb. 24 and runs through March 6. The Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts (2132 Hillside Road, 860-486-4226, www.jor gensen.uconn.edu) hosts professional touring companies in an elegant Art-Deco-design hall. For a family-friendly night out, take the kids to the Mansfield Drive-in Theatre (228 Stafford Road, 860-423-4441, www.mansfielddrivein.com), which reopens for the season April 1 — no foolin’!

Ellen Albanese can be reached at ealbanese@gmail.com.