In Middlesex County, Clinton is a town on a natural harbor at the mouths of the Hammock, Hammonasset and Indian Rivers.
At the harbor’s many waterfront marinas there’s a fleet of fish charters adapted for bluefish, which congregate in large numbers in this parcel of Long Island Sound towards the end of summer.
For fun closer to the shore you can hire a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard for a trip around the harbor’s smooth waters.
And just next door in Madison is the famous Hammonasset Beach State Park, the largest shoreline park in Connecticut, with two miles of natural sand.
Let’s explore the best things to do in and around Clinton, Connecticut:
1. Hammonasset Beach State Park
Arguably the loveliest state property in Connecticut is on the west side of Clinton Harbor, visited by more than a million people from across the region visit every summer.
In a state where the beachfront can be small and in the control of towns, Hammonasset Beach State Park has two miles of unfettered natural beach, tracked by a boardwalk and with trails heading off into woodland and past wetland habitats vital for nesting and migrating birds.
The campground here has 550 sites and to match the natural beauty there are concessions stands, picnic areas, showers, bathrooms and a car top boat launch.
You can also rent a bike for as little as $75 for a whole week, with helmets provided for free.
2. Meigs Point Nature Center
This top-notch attraction in a brand new building puts the park’s natural splendor into context, with hands-on exhibits, lots of habitats for live animals and a busy program of planned activities around the park.
There are more than 50 local species to check out, including crustaceans, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds, all of which are here because they can’t be rereleased into the wild.
Children will be besotted by the touch tank, bringing them into contact with a variety of harmless sea creatures.
For the briefest glance at the center’s summer programs there are nature-spotting canoe trips, guided safari walks, science experiments for little ones and arts and snake presentation, dispelling common myths about the species native to Connecticut.
3. Indian River Marina & Kayak
Shielded from Long Island by landforms like Hammonasset Point and Cedar Island, the placid waters of Clinton Harbor are made for water activities.
A great place go is Indian River Kayak & Marina, which has 35 slips for sail and powerboats, as well as a high-end store for kayaks and canoes.
You can also come to rent the craft of your choice, be it a canoe or kayak (tandems are available) or a stand-up paddleboard.
Included in the rental rate are paddles, flotation devices and maps of the local waters.
These kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are available for two hours, half-days, full days and as long as a week (this period includes delivery and pick-up).
4. Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets
Built like a charming New England village, with colorful flowerbeds, clapboard and striped awnings, Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets offers savings of up to 65% on upmarket brands.
To list a small few, you’ll find Polo Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, American Eagle Outfitters, Saks Fifth Avenue off 5th, Tommy Hilfiger and sports brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Under Armour.
It’s not all fashion and sportswear, with branches of Le Creuset, Fragrance Outlet, Lindt, Yankee Candle, Bath & Body Works and Ben& Jerry’s.
5. Museum Room in Town Hall
On Thursdays in summer you can learn Clinton’s story at the Andrews Memorial Town Hall, where the Clinton Historical Society keeps a room, rich with artifacts and informative panels.
Some of the topics covered include the Native Americans on this land, early settlers, the War of 1812, shipbuilding and local industry.
Each year a special exhibition does a deep dive on a specific subject, from historic town organizations to the story of Clinton’s sports teams.
6. Stanton House Museum
As you might tell from the elongated porch, this white clapboard building at 63 E. Main Street was a general store in its time.
What’s special about the Stanton House is how the interior has barely been touched, and abounds with Stanton family document, clothing, furniture and even store inventory, much of which goes back to the 19th century.
The building is going through a long-term restoration, but you can still arrange a visit to see this remarkable time capsule with your own eyes.
Fundraisers take place throughout the year, like high tea and seasonal parties, to finance the ongoing work and running repairs.
7. Elisha White House
If the Clinton Historical Society is holding an event, it will take place at this venerable brick-built house at 103 E. Main Street.
Dating to 1750, the house was built by its namesake Captain Elisha White, who is thought to have used bricks that were fired in England and brought over to America as ballast.
This is the oldest brick-built property between New Haven and New London, and has the appropriate nickname (Old Brick). The interior has authentic domestic implements, antique furniture and contemporaneous portraits to give a sense of home life in the 18th century.
As with the Stanton House Museum you can visit by appointment, with a little notice.
8. Buell Tool Museum
On the same plot is a noteworthy collection of early colonial tools and machines housed in a historic barn.
These were handed down the Buell family whose ancestors were among the first European to settle Clinton.
The farm was also on the Buell family property before being relocated to this spot piece by piece after being donated to the Clinton Historical Society in 1998. The collection illustrates how just many arduous tasks were carried out by hand in the days before power machinery.
9. Chamard Vineyards
A farm, winery and bistro in one, Chamard Vineyards planted its first vines in 1984 and constructed its elegant winery four years later.
The location has to be among the most bucolic of any New England Winery, but being just a couple of miles from Long Island Sound also benefits the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay grown at this 40-acre property.
Using traditional European methods, Chamard Vineyards produces around 10,000 cases a year and is open for tours and tastings Tuesday to Sunday.
There’s weekly live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and the 35-seat bistro has a seasonal menu using produce grown on the property.
10. Lavender Pond Farm
There’s a marvellous splash of color every summer in the Killingworth countryside north of Clinton.
Lavender Pond Farm grows more than 10,000 individual plants on a charming 25-acre plot, all powered by solar energy.
You can come to walk the fields and get artistic with your smartphone camera.
There’s a sweet little pond to wander around, a chicken pen, a working apiary, an authentic old covered bridge and a genuine still where you can see lavender being distilled into hydrosol and essential oils.
The farm’s shop is an undoubted highlight, all manner of lavender products, from scents to candles, air-fresheners and cosmetics, as well as handmade accessories like bags, jewelry and scarves.
11. Henry Carter Hull Library
For Clinton residents the town’s public library is much more than a place to borrow books, although it must be said that the collection is sizeable, with 80,000 titles.
Parents can bring children for a multitude of programs, from storytimes to stay & play, yoga, arts and crafts and even early language lessons.
All sorts of practical services are offered here, like computer stations and iPads, as well as printing and photocopying and also a Playstation 4 if you need to keep a teenager occupied for an hour or two.
And if you need a quiet corner to complete a project there’s a free Wi-Fi network for your laptop or tablet.
12. Clinton Town Beach
Oriented towards the sunset on a sandbar at the east side of Clinton Harbor is the town’s own sandy beach.
From the third weekend in June through Labor Day this presents a small but well-maintained alternative to Hammonasset Beach, all with vistas of Clinton’s harbor-front houses and Long Island Sound.
To go with the sandy shore there’s an access point for kayaks, a basketball and volleyball courts, bocce courts, picnic areas, grills, a children’s playground, a splashpad, restrooms and a snack bar.
The drawback for non-residents is that there’s an eye-watering parking fee of up to $75 at peak periods.
Outside of the summer season you can come here for free, and watch the sun go down across the harbor.
13. Fishing Charters
Clinton is often dubbed the “Bluefish Capital of the World”. In this part of Long Island Sound, this species can be more than a meter long and weigh as much as 18 kg.
There’s a commercial fishery for this species all along the East Coast, but because of its fatty flesh, the bluefish is mainly fished for sport as although it tastes good it doesn’t keep well.
In Clinton, the fish is such a part of local culture that until 2015 there was even an annual festival in its honor.
Needless to say a whole armada of fishing charter companies awaits your business at Clinton harbor for bluefish expeditions.
The prime season is August through October, and there are at least ten companies to pick from.
14. Clinton Antique Center
Days on the shore and hunting for treasures at antique shops go hand-in-hand, and Clinton has a highly-rated place to get some real shopping done.
The Clinton Antique Center, on East Main Street has more than 100 respected dealers under one roof, so it’s safe to say that there are antiques, curiosities and collectibles for every taste and budget.
You might be on the hunt for old signage, campaign pins, baseball cards, furniture, vintage home appliances, nautical items, ceramics, metalware, toys, weapons or tools; you’ll find all this and a lot more besides.
15. Cockaponset State Forest
The second-largest state forest in Connecticut is more than 17,000 acres scattered mostly over Middlesex County in 11 different towns.
Clinton is one of these, and a portion of the forest lies in the town’s northernmost nook.
The state forest contains parcels of increasingly rare Atlantic white cedar, which thrives in wetland environments, as well as mixed hardwood forest and massive patches of spruce and Norway pine.
For outdoor activities your best bet is the Pattaconk Lake Recreation Area, which is within a short car ride, and offers swimming, fishing hiking, horseback hiking, along with winter activities like snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.