With a fascinating maritime history, Connecticut’s coastline today is characterized by bobbing sailing boats, sandy beach boardwalks, and islands sheltering nesting seabirds.

Add seafood stands, historic buildings and well-heeled commuter towns, and you have the perfect New York day trip or holiday destination either by car or train. 

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Whether you’re here to tackle a kayaking trail, admire waterfront summer houses or to take the kids fishing, crabbing and seashell collecting, Long Island Sound has a beach that will fit the bill.  

salt marshes at Connecticut's shoreline beaches
Connecticut's shoreline is a haven for seabirds with saltwater inlets and marshlands © Steven Kornfeld/ Shutterstock

Rocky Neck State Park

Best beach for camping

If you’re after a place to set up camp or your campervan near the beach, head to Rocky Neck State Park. The 710-acre park has the perfect mix of easy beach access, nature trails and unexpected diversions (here comes the Amtrak train!) to keep the whole family entertained for days on end. As well as a perfect beach for paddling and swimming with soft sand underfoot, and hardly any seaweed, this is also a great location for crabbing and fishing off the stone jetty, with Fourmile River spilling into the sound near here.

Away from the beach (which can get crowded in the height of summer) there are nature trails and boardwalks in the salt marshes. Anyone looking for Baker’s Cave may be disappointed to find it is not really a cave as such, but a fun exploration in any case. Also pack your binoculars as there are herons, cranes and ospreys to spot in the park. 

Also on location is the impressive wood-and-cobblestone Rocky Neck Pavilion. Built during the Great Depression and now closed, visitors still love to look around and take in the views over Long Island Sound from the headland. Although some of the 160 tent sites are a bit on the small side, the campground has been built to preserve the natural appeal of the park with plenty of wooded areas to camp in the shade.

Hammonasset Beach State Park 

Best for classic family holidays

Southeastern Connecticut's Hammonasset Beach State Park. is the state’s busiest park with two million visits a year It’s the place to go if you like your beach experience thronging with fellow holidaymakers. The two miles of sandy beach here means you can always nab a spot where your neighbours won’t accidentally kick sand in your lunch. Facilities in the park include the newly renovated Meigs Point Nature Center, an environmental education center which houses more than 50 species of wildlife from various habitats. And of course, there are picnic shelters, and good quality restrooms and showers. 

When you’re done swimming, sunbathing and people-watching at the beach there is a boardwalk to stroll, and hiking and mountain biking trails in the park. If time allows head around to local institution, Lobster Landing, a century-old seafood shack that promises the world's best lobster roll (a big statement but locals promise it's that good). And, if you want to make a holiday of it, you can book one of the rustic cabins or tent sites in Hammonasset Beach State Park, although they do sell out quickly in the high season. 

Connecticut beaches from the air
The broad beaches and gentle waves of Long Island Sound are perfect for families © Craig Christopher / Shutterstock

Ocean Beach Park

Best for entertainment

New London may have seen happier days, but the beach resort to its south is still a beacon of frivolous fun times. Located at the southern end of Ocean Avenue, the beach here is blessed with soft sand and calming waves. If you have children in tow be warned, you need to get past the amusement rides to see it! Beyond the rides you can walk the beachfront boardwalk, with a pitstop at the ice-creamery. 

If you’re still looking for more diversions for the kids, Ocean Beach Park has them in spades; think waterslides, a water spray park for little ones, a playground, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. It doesn’t end there though. On the eastside of the park there’s also a games arcade and 18-hole miniature golf course. This is the stuff of childhood summer vacation memories. The parking fee includes admission to the beach area, but the pool and attractions all cost extra.

If you time your visit well, you might stumble across the Wednesday evening magic show or square dancing on the boardwalk. For a breather from the carnival of activities, there’s a nature trail winding through the tall grasses to a bird-watching observation deck. 

Long Island Sound looking like a glassy lake
Connecticut's Long Island Sound so tranquil it looks like a glassy lake © seand67/ Shutterstock

Calf Pasture & Shady Beach

Best for kayaking 

Do you love the beach but find you cannot sit still on a towel on the sand for more than five minutes? Well Norwalk’s Calf Pasture & Shady Beach is your beach destination. It’s not the best spot for swimming or beach sitting, it’s a touch too rocky in spots. Instead spend the day by the water playing games like beach volleyball and bocce as well as paddling in the sea.

For something even more challenging: hire a kayak and get out on the water. With approximately 23 islands located off the coast (some with houses), there are half- and full-day kayaking trails here and in recent years dolphins and seals have been spotted back in the sound. The larger Chimon and Sheffield islands are bird sanctuaries  home to seabirds like egrets, herons, oystercatchers, cormorants, osprey, and terns so they can’t be accessed by boat. Shea and Grassy islands are both open to the public with sheltered picnicking spots. If that’s not enough, you can also hire kayaks and organise to camp overnight (with prior permits from the City of Norwalk). Kayakers also pass the historic Sheffield Island lighthouse on Sheffield Island. 

walking on shells to Charles Island at Silver Sands Connecticut
Walk across the seashell strewn sandbar to Charles Island at low tide at Silver Sands State Park © Shanshan0312 / Shutterstock

Silver Sands 

Best for nature

Love the beach, and hiking, and nature? You’re going to love the beach at Silver Sands State Park. It’s hard to believe this is the same Long Island Sound coastline as Ocean Beach Park with its amusement park and mini golf. Silver Sands instead delivers tidal marshes, broad sand flats, and a walk out to Charles Island.

From the carpark, visitors tread across the salt marshes and Fletchers Creek on a 200-foot raised boardwalk to the beach. Here, if it’s low tide you’ll see a shelly sandbar that links the island with the mainland. However, the tide rises quickly and the currents are strong. Do not head out on the sandbar unless you’re sure it’s low tide. You can look online for the tide timetable before you arrive. With enough time you can cross the sandbar and circle the island (you’ll need sturdy footwear) before walking back to the beach. Charles Island is closed between May and September to protect the heron and egrets that nest here in the Spring and Summer months. There are also picnic tables near the main (currently free) parking area and the wooden boardwalk continues around the coast to the very pretty Walnut Beach, about a mile away.

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Keri Oberly follows the wooden path leading to the trail, while out for her evening exercise in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
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