15 Best Things to Do in Darien (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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This affluent suburban community, one of the richest in America, is stowed between the cities of Stamford and Norwalk in posh Fairfield county.

Darien is the smallest town on what is known as the Gold Coast. This sweep of shoreline has long been settled by rich Manhattan executives, and has the sort of idyllic streetscapes that inspired The Stepford Wives.

The public amenities in Darien are second to none, and include a world-class library, beaches, and sweet, neatly tended parks. Meanwhile when I was here, the downtown was being transformed into an upscale lifestyle center. 

Even though Darien is mostly quiet and residential, Stamford and Norwalk are minutes away on the train, so you’ll never be short of things to do.

1. Pear Tree Point Beach

Pear Tree Point BeachSource: Jonathan Percy / shutterstock
Pear Tree Point Beach

Where the Goodwives River enters Long Island Sound is one of Fairfield County’s best beaches.

Something I love about Pear Tree Point Beach in summer is its wooden chairs that can be used for free, but the pale sand is also comfy.

Shielded by Long Neck Point and Nash Island, the water at this piece of shoreline is shallow and safe for younger swimmers. In summer there’s steady water traffic in front, partly because Noroton Yacht Club is directly across the water.

Pear Tree Point Beach has a picnic area, grills, a concession stand, bath house and gazebo. Come by late in the day, as the beach faces west for dreamy sunsets.

2. Darien Historical Society

Darien Historical SocietySource: Noroton / Wikimedia | CC0
Darien Historical Society

At a pretty spot on Old Kings Highway, the Darien Historical Society maintains a number of historic structures on one campus. 

There’s an exhibit hall in a barn from 1827, the 18th-century Bates-Scofield House and the Darien Historical Archive and Resource Library.

I find the exhibitions in the lofty post & beam Scofield Barn always compelling. These are sourced from the society’s extensive collections, famed for their abundance of historical costume, going back to the 18th century.

When I wrote this list there was a captivating exhibit of aerial photographs of the town from 1926. 

The Saltbox Bates-Scofield House was built in 1736 and has been carefully restored to its 18th-century appearance. The interior is decorated with pieces that give a sense of daily life in Darien between the 18th and mid-19th century.

The house is constructed around a large central chimney with an authentic beehive oven.

3. The Corbin District

Since the late 2010s Darien has taken steps to reimagine its downtown as an upscale walkable hub for shopping and dining, with office and residential space in the mix.

This is the Corbin District, and work was ongoing when I was in town. Still, there was an enticing array of small businesses to check out. I saw charming gift shops, jewelers, fashion boutiques, a bookstore, sports gear, a wedding shop, and an adorable toy store, to name a few. 

The food/drink scene is large and growing, running the gamut from traditional delis and ice cream parlors to locations for Shake Shack. As the development takes shape it will be a nexus point for the community, hosting a host of large and small events all year.

4. Darien Library

Darien LibrarySource: Darien Library / Flickr | CC BY-ND
Darien Library

Among the busiest libraries in Connecticut, Darien Library is visited by 1,300 people on a typical day. This facility is commended as a Library Journal ‘Five Star Library’.

It has the highest annual per capita circulation in the state, with more than 32 items checked out per resident, and organizes an incredible 1,500 public events every year.

There are author visits, book discussions, storytimes for kids, music performances and art exhibitions.

As an institution, Darien Library goes back to 1894, but is in a modern LEED building that takes its cues from Darien’s heritage architecture.

Parents will love the children’s and teens’ rooms, while there’s a cafe, free Wi-Fi and computers and a 3D printer.

Free movie screenings take place every Friday in a small auditorium with an excellent sound system.

5. Cherry Lawn Park

Cherry Lawn ParkSource: Jllm06 / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Cherry Lawn Park

In 28 acres on Brookside Road is a park I think Darien can be proud of. It’s the product of a lot of effort by local volunteer groups and associations.

Cherry Lawn Park is full of opportunities for passive and active recreation. If you want to take it easy there’s a bunch of picnic areas, as well as a natural pond with a stone bridge, a nature center and trails for a gentle stroll.

If exercise is in order you’ve got a softball field, four tennis courts, a basketball court and the multi-use Casey Field.

Children may be happiest of all, as the playscape at Cherry Lawn Park is large, cleverly designed and packed with equipment.

6. The Mather Homestead

Mather HomesteadSource: Magicpiano / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Mather Homestead

The Middlesex Parish Deacon, Joseph Mather, built this splendid house in 1778 during the Revolutionary War.

On two levels, with a wood frame structure and a central chimney, the Mather Homestead is regarded as one of New England’s finest examples of 18th-century architecture.

In the early 20th century Stephen Mather gave the house a Colonial Revival appearance. He also added a porch, two-storey extension, a sunken garden and carriage barn.

The main block retained its historic character through these changes. Head inside to appreciate a building replete with authentic woodwork, family heirlooms and original furnishings and masonry.

When I wrote this list, the Mather Homestead had only recently been transferred to a foundation and opened as a museum. You can usually arrange guided tours Tuesdays through Saturdays.

7. Cove Island Park

Cove Island ParkSource: Alexander Prokopenko / shutterstock
Cove Island Park

Five minutes from downtown Darien on Route 1, the 83-acre Cove Island Park is within Stamford city limits. This wonderful property sits on an island separated from the mainland by an 18th-century millrace.

In an amazingly diverse environment there are two sandy beaches, and lots of nature-spotting opportunities at the Cove River estuary’s salt marsh and tidal mudflats. These are rich with birdlife, with close to 290 species recorded here. 

There’s a massive lawn area to relax on, and the rocky shoreline is popular with anglers or a scenic lookout where you can ponder Long Island Sound. 

Cove island Park also has a state-of-the-art nature center, exploring the wildlife of the sound. Then in winter kids can go skating at the Terry Conners Ice Rink.

Until recently non-residents would be slapped with a hefty seasonal fee to visit. When I stopped you could purchase a more reasonable daily pass at the entrance.

8. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

Maritime Aquarium at NorwalkSource: Ritu Manoj Jethani / shutterstock
Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

One of the top tourist attractions in Connecticut is almost in touching distance of Darien, and is partly housed in an ironworks dating back to 1860. 

The Maritime Aquarium opened in 1988 and holds 75 live exhibits, with 2,700 marine animals representing more than 300 different species.

Kids will be thrilled with all the interaction in store. The three touch tanks here are bustling with harmless nurse sharks, sting rays, crabs, sea stars and other marine life.

Some of the other marquee exhibits are the Harbor Seals, Sea Turtles, River Otters, and the 130,000-gallon Ocean Beyond the Sea tank. Personally, I found the Journey with Jellies exhibit absolutely mesmerizing.

The IMAX theater is also a must, with a screen six stories tall and a 10,000-watt digital sound system.

9. Weed Beach

WindsurfingSource: Popartic / shutterstock

Another place to unwind by Long Island Sound, Weed Beach sits opposite Cove Island off Nearwater Lane.

The park takes up 22 acres and the small but spotless sandy beach is accompanied by a host of amenities. 

There’s a concession stand, paddle tennis courts, a playground, a car-top boat launch, a fitness trail with equipment, a bathhouse, a windsurfing area, and tennis courts. 

In summer, my ideal time to come is at high tide, when there’s a little less seaweed. When the tide goes out a field of seaweed-covered rocks is exposed just offshore. 

Weed Beach is a public park, and a handy year-round facility. But as is often the case in Connecticut, non-residents have to pay a fee to use the parking lot in summer.

10. Waveny Park

Waveny ParkSource: Warda Hasin / shutterstock
Waveny Park

On the other side of Merritt Parkway to the north of Darien is a genteel local park in New Canaan around a Tudor-style “castle”. 

Waveny House was built in 1912 for Lewis Lapham, one of the founders of Texaco and was designed by W.B. Tubby with grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. 

Lapham would spend the summers at this handsome building, with Tudor arches, mullioned windows, parapet merlons and turreted chimney stacks. The property was sold to the town of New Canaan in 1967.

The house is used today for events, and the encompassing park has 300 acres of rambling fields, ponds and trails.

There’s an aquatic center here too, as well as paddle tennis courts. New Canaan’s annual Fourth of July fireworks take place here.

11. Tilley Pond Park

Tilley Pond ParkSource: T-I / shutterstock
Tilley Pond Park

A relaxing little haven right next to Darien’s Corbin District, Tilley Pond Park is only eight acres but packs a lot into this space. To go with the accompanying area, this space had just been renovated before I visited. 

The eponymous pond is skirted by lawns and woodland, and built over the water from the east bank is a stone hut with a fireplace.

In front of that stone hut is an elegant fountain. Meanwhile, the pond attracts all sorts of waterfowl and has a little tree-shaded island to the north.

There are lots of benches and picnic tables around, so you can bring lunch to the park from one of the restaurants downtown. Unlike a lot of similar parks, Tilley Pond Park is also dog-friendly as long as they stay on leash.

12. Geary Gallery

Art GallerySource: Monkey Business Images / shutterstock
Art Gallery

With a high reputation in Fairfield County, the Geary Gallery is run by art dealers Anne and Tom Geary. The gallery sits in a terrace between their framing and restoration businesses.

Over the last 35 years the Gearys have provided a platform for representational artists, putting on a dynamic schedule of short-term exhibitions.

These shows last for no more than a month at a time. So I’m pleased to say there’s always something fresh, with artists of national and regional standing represented.

One of them is the Chinese Impressionist Xue Jian-Xin, who had his first western show at the Geary Gallery and continues to exhibit here. Admission to the gallery is free, and all of the artwork is available for purchase.

13. Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum

Lockwood-Mathews Mansion MuseumSource: Alexander Friedman / shutterstock
Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum

One of the earliest and most important Second Empire-style houses in the United States was built on West Avenue in Norwalk. This was the summer home for the railroad and banking magnate LeGrand Lockwood in the 1860s.

The mansion has astonishing architecture and interiors, showcasing the splendor of the Victorian era.

LeGrand Lockwood was one of America’s first millionaires, and his chateauesque residence came with technological innovations you’d expect. These included gas lighting, hot and cold plumbing and central heating via a furnace that burned a ton of coal a day.

When I wrote this article the house was temporarily closed for renovation work. But programs and events were continuing as normal.

14. South Norwalk Historic District (SoNo)

South Norwalk Historic DistrictSource: Miro Vrlik Photography / shutterstock
South Norwalk Historic District

There’s another inviting downtown district five minutes from Darierm. This revitalized neighborhood cuts in west from the old harbor along Washington Street. 

You’ll find a smattering of historic buildings, lots of small businesses, cosmopolitan restaurants, and some romantic waterfront views.

When it comes to dining, you’ll have to decide between pizza, noodles, tapas, burgers, pub grub, steak, poke and New England-style seafood. There’s also an AMC multiplex here, with comfy reclining seats.

Ferries for the lighthouse on Sheffield Island depart next to the bridge on Washington Street. Elsewhere, on the east bank the Veteran’s Memorial Park and Marina stages Norwalk’s famous Oyster Festival, which was happening when I came through.

15. Darien Chamber Jam

When I was in Darien the chamber of commerce had recently launched a ticketed one-day event, held in fall. Sponsored by a slew of local businesses and taking place at the Darien Gardener’s Center, Chamber Jam is a party for over 21s.

First up, there’s live music across four different stages, as well as a silent disco. Something I appreciate about Chamber Jam is how it’s a true community get-together.

Along those lines, all of the food and beverages are provided by local businesses. There’s everything from craft beer to upmarket cocktails, pizza, New England-style seafood, and pizza.

15 Best Things to Do in Darien (CT):

  • Pear Tree Point Beach
  • Darien Historical Society
  • The Corbin District
  • Darien Library
  • Cherry Lawn Park
  • The Mather Homestead
  • Cove Island Park
  • The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
  • Weed Beach
  • Waveny Park
  • Tilley Pond Park
  • Geary Gallery
  • Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum
  • South Norwalk Historic District (SoNo)
  • Darien Chamber Jam