Nestled in the southeastern corner of Connecticut, Stonington stretches from the Rhode Island border to the Mystic River, but at the heart of it is a narrow, finger-shaped peninsula that forms the state's oldest borough.
Stonington Borough has a long sea-harvesting history and is known for its whaling and fishing industries, which once attracted Portuguese fishermen to its shores. The borough is anchored on its northern end by Dodson Boatyard and the town dock, home to the state's only commercial fishing fleet. On its southern tip is the Point, with its small but pristine beach and views across Little Narragansett Bay to New York and Watch Hill, R.I. And in between is a walkable village of well-maintained 18th- and 19th-century buildings, with most of the shops and restaurants located along one-way Water Street, the backbone of the village.
Visitors to Stonington aren't wooed by Mystic Seaport to the west or the state's casinos, just a short drive north. They come here to eat well, take in the sea, poke around the shops and galleries, and relax and explore. Here, fresh fish is sold on the honor system at the town dock.
FuelWith its working waterfront and renowned local greenhouse, the borough boasts restaurants that offer fresh seafood (it's known for its scallops) and veggies year-round.
Noah's (113 Water St, 860-535-3925, www.noahsfinefood.com, entrees $10.95-$24.95), in the middle of the village, is known for its fresh flounder and fettuccine with homemade pesto.
For the best sunset views, slip behind the Inn at Stonington, where you'll find Skipper's Dock (66 Water St., 860-535-0111, www.skippersdock.com, entrees $19.95-$26.95). From this restaurant's large dining room and sprawling deck, which overlook the outer harbor, you can enjoy traditional seafood dishes with a French flair (try the bouillabaisse Harborview and locally harvested lobsters).
On the northern tip of the borough, Boom Restaurant (194 Water St., 860-535-2588, www.boomrestaurant.net, entrees $11.50-$26.50, closed Tuesdays) overlooks the inner harbor and Dodson Boatyard, and offers sesame seed-encrusted yellow-fin tuna and lobster ravioli, among other seafood favorites, in a casual setting. Duck quesadilla is one of chef Carlos Cassar's innovative lunch creations. Dining solo? Enjoy your meal in the sectioned-off bar area that won't leave you feeling on display.
RestStonington's few inns are sprinkled around town, from the heart of the village to an outlying, woodsy residential area. If you're coming to connect with the sea, there's no better place to take in the town's watery surroundings than the upscale Inn at Stonington (60 Water St., 860-535-2000, www.innatstonington.com, fall rates $155-$395), which overlooks Stonington Harbor. During happy hour each night, visitors can sit on the back deck with complimentary wine and cheese and watch boats plying the harbor.
The Orchard Street Inn (41 Orchard St., 860-535-2681, www.orchardstreetinn.com, fall rates $160-$195), located within walking distance of the village and shops, has two cheery rooms in the main house, along with a guest cottage, all newly renovated.
For something a little more secluded, try Another Second Penny Inn (870 Pequot Trail, 860-535-1710, www.secondpenny.com, fall rates $111-$219, pets under 40 pounds welcome by advance arrangement), a 1710 Colonial farmhouse surrounded by five acres of gardens, fields, and forests, 2½miles north of the borough.
PartyLocal resident Anne Henson puts it succinctly: ``Restaurants are pretty much our nightlife." Locals and visitors gravitate to Water Street Cafe (143 Water St., 860-535-2122) for a nightcap, cappuccino, or late-night meal (the kitchen serves until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 weekends). Noah's draws mellow crowds on Friday nights for its live acoustic guitar music. And in the summertime, the deck at Skipper's Dock is the place to go to mingle with boaters and take in those fabulous sunset views.
DoA one-mile walking tour of the historic borough takes you up and down Water and Main streets, with several short detours, and by stately old homes and commercial buildings that showcase the Greek Revival, Colonial, and Federal styles. A walking map is available at inns and shops around the village, or from the Stonington Historical Society, located in the Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House (40 Palmer St., 860-535-8445, www.stoningtonhistory.org, only open Thursday to Sunday afternoons, May through October; $5 admission gets you into the house and the Old Lighthouse Museum). This little-known treasure is tucked away on the other side of the train tracks, about a mile outside of Stonington Borough.
If you're a history buff or a lover of lighthouses, plan to spend time at the Old Lighthouse Museum (7 Water St., 860-535-1440), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May to November, $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-12), a stone building down near the Point with an eclectic display of historical memorabilia. The first government-operated lighthouse in Connecticut (1823), this building was moved in 1840 to its present location and now houses maritime artifacts and weapons from the 1814 Battle of Stonington, when local residents drove away a British fleet. Climb the lighthouse tower for views of the harbor and three states.
SpendWater Street has at least nine one-of-a-kind galleries and antiques shops, not to mention at least four realtors, in case you're in a big spending mood (plan on $2.5 million and up for a waterfront view).
Boathouse Antiques (145c Water St., Bailey's Alley, 860-535-4714) sells old oars, charts, books, antiques, and folk art, in the alley between the Brick Gallery and Grand & Water Antiques.
People come from around New England to shop for inexpensive, good-quality silver jewelry at A.K. Dasher (141 Water St., 860-535-1774), which imports pieces from 11 countries, including Italy, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Nepal.
The Velvet Mill (22 Bayview Ave., 860-535-1050) displays the work of more than 20 craftspeople and artisans, who sell pottery, restored furniture, paintings, and glassworks, and host an open house twice a year.
Stop in at Tom's News and General Store (133 Water St., 860-535-1276) for your pick of local and national newspapers, basic grocery supplies, souvenirs, and the latest gossip.
On your way out of town, stop at Stonington Seafood Harvesters (4 High St., 860-535-8342) by the town dock, where a local fishing family, the Bomsters, sells fresh scallops, lobster bisque, mussels, and more on the honor system. ``If you want to go down at midnight and buy fresh fish, you can," says Shannon Graham, a waitress at Skipper's Dock. And if you don't have the right amount, ``there's even a tray with change."
PlayAs you would expect, play time will keep you close to, if not on, the water here. From March through November, you can rent a kayak from King Cove Outfitters (926 Stonington Road, Route 1, 860-599-4730, www.kingcoveoutfitters.com, rentals $28-$60), just a mile east of the borough on Route 1, and explore Wequetequock Cove and Little Narragansett Bay, or launch from half a dozen other spots around town.
Captain Darin Keech takes guests of the Inn at Stonington on two-hour day sails or sunset cruises on his 39-foot sailboat Poet's Lounge (860-287-7956, www.bandofhumans.com, $180 for up to six people).
DuBois Beach ($10 per family, $5 per individual, no charge after 5 p.m.) next to the Old Lighthouse Museum at the end of Water Street is a family-oriented, sandy beach that's sheltered from the surf and has shallow water and a lifeguard on duty during the summer.
Hikers and birdwatchers converge at the 1,013-acre Barn Island Wildlife Management Area (860-536-1216, www.dpnc.org) at the end of Palmer Neck Road, five minutes east of the borough off Route 1. Here, 4 miles of trails meander past salt marshes interspersed with patches of oak forest -- ideal for a fall foliage stroll -- and offer stunning views of Fishers Island Sound in Little Narragansett Bay. The trails are also perfect for cross-country skiing come wintertime.