No matter how well you embrace the hustle of urban life, there are times when you just have to escape it … for a few days at least.
For New Yorkers and Bostonians in need of a nearby weekend recharge, there’s Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a historic seaside town that may be located less than 2.5 hours from both New York City and Boston but might as well be a million miles away. While it’s been a coastal retreat for city castoffs since long before the term “digital detox” was invented (the first settlers created a colony here in 1635) the town has both maintained its quaint, chilled-out vibe and introduced enough new lodging, dining and entertainment options to make it feel like a modern destination.
Old Saybrook is still “undiscovered” but some are predicting that coastal Connecticut could become the next Hamptons. Get there—and enjoy it—well before that day arrives. Here’s how:
Photo by Amanda Kreuser
On sunnier days, locals and visitors alike plant themselves at Harvey’s Beach, about 100 yards of protected shoreline that’s ideal for sunning, swimming, fishing and boating. It’s a low-key, naturally beautiful spot that has clean restrooms; showers; and a food truck serving up classics like hot dogs, pulled pork, fries and coleslaw. What more could you need?
Anna Louise James (aka “Miss James”), the first African-American female to become a licensed pharmacist in Connecticut, joined her family in running Old Saybrook’s first drugstore in 1922. Nearly 100 years later, the same historic building has been reinvented as James Farmacy Organic Cafe & Juice Bar, where visitors can now revitalize their bodies (and treat their taste buds!) with an extensive menu of organic juices, smoothies, soda fountain drinks and ice cream sundaes.
Photo by Amanda Kreuser
To find the best vantage of Old Saybrook, you’ll need to take to the water. But even if you forgot to BYOY (bring your own yacht), you can still captain a local “ship” to explore the coastline. Stop in to Black Hall Outfitters (across the river in Old Lyme) to pick up a paddleboard, canoe or kayak, and chart a course for adventure in the North or South Cove, protected areas perfect for paddling. Don’t trust your own navigation skills? Black Hall offers a variety of guided trips that last between two and four hours.
Shrugging off an “always on, always connected” workweek mindset gets infinitely easier when you can infuse your trip with a little pampering—and Sanno Spa is definitely the place to do it. Book yourself into one of 11 treatment rooms in the newly renovated Sanno Spa and opt for a marine-themed body ritual or a clarifying facial, or get kneaded into total relaxation with a massage. As an added bonus, you can use the spa gym facilities or dive into one of two saltwater pools before or after your treatment.
If you time it right, you can catch a truly Insta-worthy sunrise or sunset overlooking the Long Island Sound—without paying for an insanely expensive waterfront room. Just set out across the Old Saybrook Causeway, a nearly one-mile stretch of CT Route 154 that crosses South Cove on the Connecticut River. You’ll also glimpse some of the area’s gorgeous coastal homes, sailboats and the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse.
One of America’s most iconic actresses, Katharine Hepburn, spent many of her childhood summers on her family’s estate in Old Saybrook, and returned several times until her death in 2003. That same year, the town voted to transform its turn-of-the-century town hall into a 250-seat performing arts center and museum, naming it The Kate, or the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, in her honor. Check out the exhibit celebrating Hepburn’s life and career, and stay for a show by one of several live acts (Rusted Root, Paul Shaffer, Ana Gasteyer and Paula Cole have all recently taken the stage).
Photo by Saybrook Point Inn and Spa
Old Saybrook is indeed a quaint seaside town, but it’s home to some serious culinary talent—and one of the best places to experience it is by dining at Fresh Salt, a waterfront restaurant helmed by chef Leslie Tripp. Not surprisingly, the focus is on “just-caught” seafood and dishes that utilize as many seasonal, locally sourced ingredients as possible; these are transformed into highly elevated classics (Clam Chowder, Cioppino, Sautéed Shrimp, Roasted Cod Steak) with inventive starters, sides and accompaniments. You’ll find plenty of gluten-free options on the lunch and dinner menu, and a brunch so extensive, it requires a long post-face-stuffing walk on the water before donning your suit and hitting the beach.
Don’t hate: everyone loves a game of mini golf on an unplugging getaway. But if you’re too embarrassed to admit that, just say you’re in it for the views. Few mini golf greens offer as scenic a setting as the one at Saybrook Point, situated on the tip of a peninsula on the mouth of the Connecticut River. As you tee up, you’ll spot a variety of boats, from skiffs to multimillion dollar yachts, making their journey to and from the Long Island Sound. The course was completely rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy in 2013 and features several local landmarks—the Old Saybrook fireboat, the town hall, the schoolhouse, the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse and a 17th century fort that once stood on the Point—as obstacles. The best part: it’s only $5 to play.
Amanda Kreuser is a travel writer and co-author of The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Journey Around the World. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Departures and USA Today.