We’d climbed nearby mountains, lit upstate cabin-fireplaces—we were ready for our next summer getaway from boom-boxes and sweaty subways. This time, we day-tripped it to Rowayton, Connecticut, a little town on the Long Island Sound, an easy hour from the city on MetroNorth. What is Rowayton? Freaking cute is what it is. Cute as in floppy spaniels and children pulled down the street in little red wagons. Cute… but with money too, like a Norman Rockwell painting where everyone’s won the lottery. In short: everything you expect Connecticut to be.
Getting there (Metro North: New Haven line: Grand Central to Rowayton. Off-peak round-trip: $18.50; $17.58 online)
Rowayton itself is about a 20 minute walk from the train station. A left onto Rowayton Avenue and a left at the fork (onto… Rowayton Avenue North) takes you into the center of town. Stop at the fork, though—there’s a graveyard worth visiting, where some of the tombstones date back to the 1700s.
It’s easy to forget at times that Rowayton’s on the water. The weather’s cooler than inland, but some of the huge houses block the view of the private beaches that dominate the shore. The few public beaches make you wish you were a child, so they would seem more realistically proportioned.
The houses are great for window-counters and lovers of architecture. Many of the buildings have been standing for hundreds of years, but you wouldn’t know unless you saw the historical markers. They’ve been well kept and simply restored, so they blend with most of the other, more modern, constructions (except for the odd extremely modern example). Be prepared for balconies, beautifully painted shutters and fantastic flower gardens—as well as a couple of lobster mailboxes.
Give yourself a self-guided history walk with the Historical Society’s Historic Rowayton. The library will lend you a copy, and it will add depth to your architectural ogling.
Or, if old houses aren’t your thing, Rowayton’s low, rolling hills would make for an excellent biking location (recommended as an easy, one-hour tour by trails.com). MetroNorth lets you take the bike on-board.
Activities, in and out
The shore had been a major reason for our trip, but Bayley Beach provided more of a chance to cool off than have a full beach experience. A bit of rocky sand tucked into the Sound, the Beach features a small, buoyed swimming area that reaches the waist of most adults. Still, the lifeguard on duty is reassuring for those with children… and this guard lets Brokelyn readers enter free. If you’re interested in swimming, boating, or generally enjoying the water, check a tide chart to help plan your trip. At low tide, almost everything will become a huge mud flat.
For some wildlife-spotting (you are leaving the city, remember?) the Farm Creek Preserve is the type of place where you can see three kinds of birds even before you settle onto one of the stone benches by the water. A wonderful place for butterflies too, the accessible portion is a 3-acre spot at the head of the 10-acre Preserve.
Rowayton Farmers’ Market is open every Friday, from noon to 5 in Pinkney Park. There are more than 30 weekly vendors, selling everything from chutneys and dry-rubs to recycled textiles and women’s clothing.
Pickney Park also is home to Shakespeare on the Sound, and annual free Shakespeare festival. Othello is this summer’s selection, but performances end July 11, so this weekend’s your last chance.
For music, you have two options: The RCA Summer Music Festival puts on a rock, bluegrass and gypsy jazz concert on most Sundays at 5:30. And Rowayton Pizza (BYOB) hosts live music every night, from 6-10. The manager jumps in and jams to the bands, from Brazilian jazz to two local boys singing 70s covers.
Rowayton Pizza seems to be the hub of Rowayton late night (it closes at 10), but also the most reliable place to get filled up. Dinner entrees are usually $12-17, but you can get a sandwich, panini or calzone for $5.50-$9. The pizza is highly recommended by the locals and fairly normally priced ($14 for a 16” margherita). Don’t forget to BYOB!
Many people stream in and out of the Rowayton Market, so their sweet patio area is the best place to people-watch. The sandwiches cost too damn much, but some of the $9 ones are bigger than your head, so they’re worth splitting. Or, consider going for one of their decadent soups, at $5 for a huge container-full. The coffee is definitely worth a sip, with a lovely house blend for $1.25/small, $1.75/large. You’ll be a bit blown away by the $3 cake selection, but don’t be too seduced. They’re trucked up from the city.
Rowayton Wines and Spirits (Rowayton Wine Shop) offers a predictable choice of fancy wine, but also has a few cheap gems, like a 1.5-L bottle of Rex Goliath for $10. There’s a better selection of wines under $10 than most neighborhood liquor stores, as well as 6-packs (they only sell single cans of Bud and Heineken). As the town is almost entirely BYOB, get to the liquor store before it closes at 8 p.m.
Then there’s the fancy restaurant at the Rowayton Seafood Market. With a parking lot spilling over with Audis and BMW’s, we took one look at the air-conditioned patio and shook our fists. They’re the only liquor-license-holders in town, but we weren’t about to spend at least $10 a glass, even for A/C. Instead, we dined on the patio tables between the restaurant and the water at the Seafood Market itself. There’s fried fish for $10-14, oysters at $7-9/dozen, but the real jewel of this stand is the shrimp cocktail. For $1.25, you get eight 3-bite shrimp with some seriously tasty sauce. Order two, and it’s a meal.
And for ice cream, a necessity of any summer day-trip, there’s the 101 (at 101 Rowayton Avenue). The food menu kinda made us wonder what a lobster omelet or filet mignon sandwich tastes like, but we tried the burger instead, which was a major disappointment. Stick to the frozen treats, which are sweet without being overbearing, and straight from a farm ($3 for a kid’s cone, $4 for a small).
Rowayton, CT; Rowayton stop on MetroNorth’s New Haven line from Grand Central. $18.50 off-peak round-trip; $17.58 online.
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