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CLOSE-UP ON GREENWICH, CONN.

Rich in diversions

Affluent area has museums, beaches, shops - and surprises off the beaten path

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondent / October 17, 2007

Greenwich is just barely Connecticut. This first stop over the state line for the Metro North commuter trains has long been a domestic haven for Manhattan professionals, and even back in the Gilded Age, it was a country retreat for such tycoons as the Rockefellers and the sugar-king Havemeyers. Nowadays, it's one of the world capitals of hedge funds, and many of the wealthy financial managers motor from their $2.85 million (average) homes to the office building known locally as the Hedge Fund Hotel at 55 Railroad Ave. (It's next door to the Rolls-Royce dealer.) But there's more to Greenwich than money. Three villages on Long Island Sound - bustling Greenwich, scenic Old Greenwich, and quaint Cos Cob - get most of the attention, as they have the shops, museums, and beaches. But take a look at the more rustic inland wilds, where country roads snake through the wooded hills.

Stay

Greenwich is a pricey place to visit, but the Howard Johnson Hotel (1114 East Putnam Ave., Riverside, 203-637-3691, www.the.hojo.com/riverside00749, $99) has clean if nondescript rooms right off Interstate 95 exit 4. At the other end of the luxury scale, the Delamar Greenwich Harbor (500 Steamboat Road, 203-661-9800 or 866-335-2687, thedelamar.com, $369-$469, suites $850-$1,600) plays to upmarket business travelers with large, comfortable rooms graced with high-tech amenities and decorated in soothing shades of taupe. The real Old Greenwich feel, though, is a comparative bargain at Harbor House Inn Bed & Breakfast (165 Shore Road, 203-637-0145, hhinn.com, $139-$300). Built in 1890 as a rooming house, this sprawling manse within walking distance of Greenwich Point Park has 23 simply but elegantly furnished rooms.

Do

The Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch at the Audubon Center (613 Riversville Road, 203-869-5272, greenwich.audubon.org, nature center admission $3, children/seniors $1.50) is ranked one of the top 10 hawk watches on the East Coast. The peak of the raptor migration passed a few weeks ago, but hundreds of birds, including broadwing hawks and perhaps some golden eagles, will still be coming across the skies into November. Seven miles of walking trails through the property offer additional opportunities for viewing a range of wildlife, including rabbits and deer. You'll find more natural history exhibits at the Bruce Museum (1 Museum Drive, 203-869-0376, brucemuseum.org; $7, seniors/students $6), which emphasizes both science and art. Right now the galleries are dominated by an exhibition of modern and contemporary art from local collectors and a charming display of two centuries of chocolate advertising. The Bruce also owns a collection of paintings by the artists of the Cos Cob art colony who helped invent Connecticut Impressionism. The Bush-Holley Historic Site (39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob; 203-869-6899, hstg.org; $6, seniors/students $4, under 6 free) preserves that 1890-1920 heyday of the Greenwich cultural scene. Tour the former boarding house and gardens on Cos Cob Harbor frequented by the likes of artists Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir and novelist Willa Cather.

Eat

As a business center, Greenwich has a lively lunch scene. Office assistants who have to eat at their desks grab salads and sandwiches at the Olive Branch (26 Railroad Ave., 203-622-9099, salads and sandwiches $4-$8), while midlevel managers dig into the warm lobster salad or prosciutto-stuffed ravioli in cauliflower cream at Mediterraneo (366 Greenwich Ave., 203-629-4747, lunch entrees $14-$26). Figaro (372 Greenwich Ave., 203-622-0018, lunch entrees $18-$24) does a remarkable imitation of a Paris neighborhood bistro, down to the small tables and the steak frites. Come evening, the trim and hip like to be seen dining on pan-roasted red snapper at the Miami-style Avenida (339 Greenwich Ave., 203-622-1400, entrees $18-$38). The real gastronomic destination, though, is Restaurant Jean Louis (61 Lewis St., 203-622-8450, restaurantjeanlouis.com, menus $49-$70). Chef Jean-Louis Gerin has been in business here since 1985, and last year was recognized with the James Beard Best Chef (Northeast) award for his light, sophisticated take on classical French cuisine. Leave it to Greenwich to have both a French and a Swiss bakery: Versailles (315 Greenwich Ave., 203-661-6634) and St. Moritz (383 Greenwich Ave., 203-869-2818).

Play

If your kids need haircuts, the old-fashioned Subway Barber (315 Greenwich Ave., 203-869-3263) substitutes two small red cars for barber chairs. Across the street at Graham's toy store (60 Greenwich Ave., 203-983-6800), the hair salon in back features miniature Mercedes-Benz perches. On the way out, you could spring for a catapult kit or any of the other educational toys. As part of "A Taste of Chocolate," the Bruce Museum is offering "Crazy for Cacao! Chocolate Family Day" on Nov. 18. Kids will probably find rolling chocolate truffles a lot more fun than a haircut. It might seem late in the season for the beach, but the long sandy strand and walking trails at Greenwich Point Park at the end of Shore Road offer a surprising wildness this close to the New York megalopolis. Day use fees May-October are $6 per person (ages 5-64) and $20 per vehicle. Purchase passes 9-5 daily at Greenwich Civic Center, corner of Harding Road and Forest Avenue, Old Greenwich.

Party

Hearty partiers in Greenwich, truth be told, head to South Norwalk for the club scene, but Greenwich doesn't exactly roll up the sidewalks when the parking meters shut off at 5 p.m. Solaia (363 Greenwich Ave., 203-622-6400) serves Italian small plates and antipasti to go with a long list of wines by the glass. Best bet for music is jazz Wednesday and Sunday evenings. Thursday nights, Thataway Cafe (409 Greenwich Ave., 203-622-0947) pushes back the chairs for songwriter night. Meanwhile, MacDuff's Public House (99 Railroad Ave., 203-422-0563) serves the likes of shepherd's pie and bangers and mash early in the evening, but Wednesdays clears a dining area for a live band. The rest of the time the big-screen TVs are turned to sports. Beware: This is Yankees country.

Spend

Both the Bruce Museum and the Bush-Holley Historic Site have distinctive gift shops. The Bruce's offerings include clever toys and gadgets that appeal to parents as much as to kids. The chocolate show serves as an excuse to offer a diverse collection of fine candies from Europe and the United States. The Bush-Holley shop is strong on Cos Cob Impressionist note cards and art books, but also stocks some unusual gifts. Among them is a book for pressing plant specimens that you collect on country walks. Still, the principal shopping district among Greenwich's many villages is The Avenue, as folks call Greenwich Avenue in downtown Greenwich. Saks Fifth Avenue is the closest to a conventional department store on the street. By and large, the specialized upscale clothiers and decor boutiques are unlike those found at the megamalls.

If You Go

BY PATRICIA HARRIS AND DAVID LYON | GLOBE CORRESPONDENTS

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