In Connecticut, "the Windsors," as they're collectively known -- Windsor, East Windsor, South Windsor, and Windsor Locks -- are basically bedroom communities of Hartford and Springfield. A century ago, tobacco farming and brick making dominated the local economy, which also benefited from shipping activity thanks to the region's strategic location on the Connecticut and Farmington rivers. Today, most of those former tobacco fields and brickyards have been developed for industrial, residential, and recreational uses, and corporate office buildings have replaced farms and factories. But visitors to the area, just 20 minutes south of Massachusetts, will find a slew of antiques stores, numerous quirky museums, an annual fishing festival celebrating the shad, and plenty of New England history.
DoAmong the area's unusual and interesting museums are: the Connecticut Trolley Museum (58 North Road, East Windsor, 860-627-6540, ct-trolley.org), the nation's oldest organization dedicated to preserving the trolley era, and, in the same complex, the Connecticut Fire Museum, which collects antique fire apparatus; the Luddy/Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum (135 Lang Road, 860-285-1888, tobaccohistsoc.org), documenting the region's tobacco growing history; the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut (115 Pierson Lane, 860-673-0518, nationalcommunicationsmuseum.org), chronicling the history of electronic telecommunications; the New England Air Museum (36 Perimeter Road, Bradley International Airport, Windsor Locks, 860-623-3305, neam.org), with 58 acres of aviation history; and the Wood Memorial Library (783 Main St., 860-289-1783, woodmemoriallibrary.org), which has displays of early American furniture, Native American artifacts, and mounted birds.
To enjoy the great outdoors, take a canoe or kayak trip down the Farmington and Connecticut rivers (nicknamed the Farmicut River by locals) arranged by Long River Adventures (400 South Main St., Windsor Locks, 860-688-2628, longriver.org), which also offers lessons, guided tours, and moonlight cruises. And although this year's Shad Derby festival (windsorshadderby.org) has come and gone, it will be back in May, with a fishing tournament, road race, craft fair, parade, and more.
FuelFor pub grub in a historic setting, Union Street Tavern (20 Union St., 860-683-2899, unionstreettavern.com) is a good choice. It's in a former firehouse, and its restored antique bar and outdoor patio make it additionally appealing.
Overlooking the Farmington River, Bart's Drive-In (55 Palisado Ave., 860-688-9035, bartsdrivein.com) is the ultimate in cheap eats, serving hot dogs, burgers, fried clams, and milk- shakes.
In South Windsor, the Red Onion (855 Sullivan Ave., 860-648-1235) and Lena's (655 John Fitch Blvd., 860-528-5365) are casual family restaurants serving Italian fare that ranges from calzones and pizza to chicken, veal, and fish.
Seafood is on the menu at the Maine Fish Market Restaurant (60 Bridge St., 860-623-2281, mainefishmarket.com) and Calamari's Seafood Grill (1750 Ellington Road, 860-644-6901).
For traditional Indian cuisine, head to Taste of India (216 Broad St., 860-688-8333, tasteofindiawindsor.com).
One of the area's fanciest dining destinations is Nutmeg (297 South Main St., East Windsor, 860-627-7094, nutmegrestaurant.com), a banquet facility serving traditional New England fare with some contemporary twists.
And at Hotcakes (238 South Main St., East Windsor, 860-623-9969) the namesake dish comes in irresistible flavors, including cinnamon oatmeal, cherry nut, pumpkin spice, and Reese's peanut butter.
SpendAntiques are big business in the Windsors, which are home to at least a half-dozen antiques shops, including Heirlooms (99 Poquonock Ave., 860-285-8680), Patti's Treasures (73 Poquonock Ave., 860-687-1682), Michele's Vintage Antiques (28 Poquonock Ave., 860-683-2640), Union Street Antiques (20 Union St., 860-683-1679), and Central Street Antiques (25 Central St., 860-688-3635, centralstreetantiques.com).
Western movie art, as well as vintage and contemporary art, are the specialties at Cirone Studios (40 Bloomfield Ave., 860-219-0252, cironestudios.com).
Bangle and Clutch (293 Oakland Road, South Windsor, 860-432-4618) sells women's accessories such as purses and jewelry.
Or create your own accessories by taking a jewelry-making class at Lucinda's Beads (55 Poquonock Ave., 860-683-2169, lucindasbeads.com), which has a huge selection of Swarovski Austrian crystals, freshwater pearls, and semiprecious stones.
A gallery and studio, Greenleaf Pottery (240 Chapel Road, South Windsor, 860-528-6090, greenleafpottery.net) sells handmade stoneware and offers evening classes.
For hard-core mall shopping, South Windsor's Evergreen Walk (501 Evergreen Way, 860-432-3398, theshopsatevergreenwalk.com) has more than 60 national retail shops and restaurants in a sprawling complex designed to look like a traditional New England village.
PartyIn addition to being a cafe, Beanery Bistro (645 Poquonock Ave., 860-688-2224, thebeanerybistro.com) hosts live evening entertainment, ranging from jazz to country to classical to West African drumming. Check the website for a schedule.
Although it sounds kid-centric, South Windsor Ten Pin (95 John Fitch Blvd., 860-289-5486, southwindsortenpin.com) has a full-service bar and lounge for adults, as well as pool tables, video games, large-screen TVs, and, of course, bowling.
Never heard of whirlyball, a game that combines basketball, lacrosse, and bumper cars? You can play it in the giant arena at WhirlyBall East Coast (1265 John Fitch Blvd., South Windsor, 860-289-2306, whirlyballeastcoast.com).
PlayKids have tons of opportunities to burn off energy in the Windsors. Sports World (226 Main St., East Windsor, 860-254-5137, sportsworld.cc) has nearly 2 acres of indoor athletic fields, including batting cages.
Minigolf and batting cages can be found at Fairways (75 Spielman Road, previously called Ellington Road, 860-289-5021) and Perfect Swing (845 Sullivan Ave., 860-644-1001).
Nomad's AdventureQuest (100 Bidwell Road, 860-290-1177, nomadsadventurequest .com) is a family entertainment center, featuring laser tag, minigolf, bowling, a climbing wall, billiards, a basketball arena, and more.
For a taste of nature, explore the 473-acre Northwest Park (145 Lang Road, 860-285-1886, northwestpark.org), which has 12 miles of trails, animal exhibits, a picnic area, and a gift shop.
Or pick your own blueberries and strawberries at Dzen Tree Farm (215 Barber Hill Road, South Windsor, 860-648-2233, dzentreefarm.com), open seasonally.
RestBecause of its proximity to Bradley International Airport, the Windsor area is home to nearly every big chain hotel and motel. To list just a few: Hampton Inn (2168 Poquonock Ave., 860-683-1118); Hartford/Windsor Marriott (28 Day Hill Road, 860-688-7500, marriott.com); Econo Lodge Inn & Suites (34 Old Country Road, 860-623-2533, choicehotels.com); Holiday Inn Express (260 Main St., 860-627-6585); Best Western Colonial Inn (161 Bridge St., 860-623-9411, bestwestern.com); and Ramada Inn (5 Ella Grasso Turnpike, Windsor Locks, 860-623-9494, ramadainnbradley.com).
For something less generic, book a room at the Watson House (1876 Main St., 860-282-8888, thewatsonhouse.com), a historic bed-and-breakfast in South Windsor. A restored 1788 mansion, it offers made-to-order breakfasts and easy access to tourist attractions.