I believe wholeheartedly that Connecticut is the perfect state to visit for a Christmas holiday. Delightful villages dot the shorelines of coastal areas. Elegant homes decorated in lights and greenery stand firm in towns established centuries ago. Acres of beautiful farmland are transformed into winter playgrounds, for families to search out the perfect Christmas tree or take a horse-drawn hayride while sipping cider.
Every place we visited seemed to be taken right out of a Hallmark movie. And me being a fairly typical woman, I think that’s really cool. But, trust me, there are also things for the men and kids to enjoy.
My daughter and I traveled to Connecticut for a long weekend, the week before Christmas. My son was coming home from his first deployment, and we got to be there as the USS Hartford came in. There is nothing in the world that can compare to that. But the rest of the trip was fun, too.
If you’re near the Groton area, stop by the Submarine Force Museum and USS Nautilus at the naval base. Admission is free, although donations are gladly accepted. You’ll get to learn about submarine history, see what some of the controls look like, and tour the USS Nautilus – the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine.
We were lucky enough to have a personal tour guide who actually works on a sub. But even if you don’t have a kid in the Navy to show you around, it’s a lot of fun.
If there’s a history buff in your group, head to one of Connecticut’s historic mansions. We drove about two hours to the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk. Built between 1864 and 1868, the mansion is spectacular and retains it’s original grandeur. During the Christmas season, it is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and lights.
If some of the rooms look familiar, it’s because the mansion has been used for scenes in television shows and movies.
The drive from Groton to Norwalk was easy and we made a day out of the trip. On our way to the mansion, we stopped in the beach town of Madison. We had lunch at the Madison Beach Hotel, which was glorious. I plan on staying there during my next trip to the state.
Since we were in the New England area, we all had to try the New England Clam Chowder. I must say, it was the best I’ve ever had – and being from California, I’ve tried my fair share of clam chowder.
On our way to Madison, we made an accidental discovery. I needed to make a u-turn, and ended up at this old cemetery. Graves dated back to the 1700’s. My kids and I are descendants of some of the founders of Connecticut, the Wilcox family. As we explored the cemetery, we found buried there several of the names on my family tree.
If you read my post Digging Up Roots, this is where that branch of the family started in America (and a few of them ended up staying).
From exploring the past to celebrating the present
On our way home from the mansion there was a stop I had to make in East Haven. I had heard about Sugar Bakery, which was the winner on a season of Cupcake Wars. We were celebrating my son’s birthday, so we stopped in to get a special birthday cupcake.
Yes, it was worth the stop.
But before all that…
The first day we were in Connecticut, my daughter and I went exploring on our own to kill time before we could head to the Navy base that afternoon. We drove to the Jones Family Farm in Shelton.
The scent of freshly cut pine trees mixed with a bit of smoke from the warming fire envelops you and instantly pulls you into that childhood “Christmas feeling”. Beautifully decorated with lights and bows and other wonderful things, it was the perfect place to start our holiday visit. We even took time to stop and write a letter to Santa. We could have spent all day there, but we were anxious to make it back to the Navy base.
I hope to someday gather up my favorite people and spend a week or so in Connecticut at Christmas time, exploring the towns and taking long drives just to see all the decorated houses. It is a marvelous place.
My daughter and I stayed at the Howard Johnson motel in Mystic. It was pretty basic and the pillows were not great, but the room was clean and free from critters. I chose the HoJo because it fit in my tight lodging budget and because of the tie-in to one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. Don’t judge.
Across the street is the Olde Mystick Village, a shopping area with a number of quaint specialty shops. It’s worth a visit if you have time to kill and money to spend. We had lunch at the Go Fish restaurant, which had a handsome dining area and fantastic food. The prices were higher than we had budgeted for lunch that day, but what the heck – it’s a vacation!