In Greater New Haven, the town of East Haven is a matter of minutes east of its big sister, but very much its own place.
In summer the town’s beach is a blissful spot to kick back by Long Island Sound, with a great little seafood restaurant just behind.
The Shore Line Trolley Museum, the oldest of its kind in the country is a major tourist draw at this time of year, with vintage streetcars from across the country to ride.
East Haven has deep Italian-American roots, clear from the many great places to eat, and the distinctive local pizza style, “apizza” which is close to its Neapolitan ancestor.
Let’s explore the best things to do in East Haven:
1. The Shore Line Trolley Museum
A wonderful piece of transport heritage, the Branford Electric Railway is the USA’s oldest continuously running trolley line, dating back to 1900. The last service came through in 1947, after which the line was cut off from the Connecticut Company’s streetcar network and became a museum where you can ride charming vintage trolleys in a picturesque setting.
Open in spring and summer, the Shore Line Trolley Museum keeps a fleet of almost 100 historic transit vehicles from networks all over America, as well as around 1,000 streetcar artefacts like ticket punches, tokens and hat badges.
Some of the outstanding exhibits are Horsecar 76, the world’s oldest preserved horse-drawn tram, Manhattan Railway “G”, the oldest rapid transit car in the country, dating to 1878, and PATH 745, which came through the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
2. East Haven Town Beach
The town’s public beach is compact but loaded with amenities and is kept in pristine condition all summer.
There are lifeguards during the summer break, and smaller children can play to their hearts’ content at the splashpad behind or go beachcombing for shells.
On a raised grassy area you’ll find picnic tables, and just behind that is the highly-rated Sandpiper Restaurant, for lobster rolls and fresh fried plates on a terrace with views of Long Island Sound.
As with all public beaches in Connecticut there’s a heavy parking fee at the lot for non-residents, but this can be by-passed on the streets close by.
3. Town Green
Under the cover of deciduous trees this historic patch of grass has been at the heart of life in the town for more than two centuries.
This was initially East Haven’s cemetery, and though the headstones were moved to the East Lawn Cemetery to the south, the remains are still under the Town Green.
In summer there’s weekly live music on Sundays from the bandstand, and in December this is the setting for East Haven’s Christmas tree.
Among the war monuments, check out the Soldiers’ Memorial (1911), a Civil War-era Rodman gun mounted on a granite base.
This guns is the last of the three “Old Guards”, installed at Fort Nathan Hale on the harbour at the dawn of the Civil War and then moved to Lighthouse Point when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.
4. First Congregational Church of East Haven
West of the Town Green up Main Street is one of only a handful of churches in the state dating from before the Revolutionary War.
Known as Old Stone Church, this Georgian monument was completed in1774 and warrants a detour.
The nave and tower are constructed from a red sandstone quarried close by in Fair Haven, the latter topped by a wooden belfry with Corinthian columns and pilaster under an octagonal steeple.
The interior was reworked in 1850, during which the pulpit was moved to the east end, as opposed to the south wall, as was common in colonial meeting houses.
5. New Haven-style Apizza
East Haven is well-known for its Italian-American heritage, to the point where one of the big local employers is the Calabro Cheese Corporation, producing mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta and romano.
Those Italian roots will be unmistakeable when you see the line-up of delis, pizzerias, ristoranti, grinder shops and Italian bakeries in the area.
New Haven has had such a big Italian influence that it even has its own pizza style, apizza, which is closer to Neapolitan pizza for its thin crust, and is baked at high temperatures in coal-fired ovens and served whole, not by the slice.
Some local picks in East Haven are Aniello (346 Hemingway Ave), Tolli’s Apizza (410 Main St), John & Maria Pizzeria (280 Foxon Rd) and Capotorto’s Apizza Center (688 Foxon Rd).
6. Foxon Park Beverages
Go to any independent pizzeria in East Haven or New Haven and you’ll see bottles by this soft drinks brand, looking like they’re from a different time.
Foxon Park Beverages was established in 1922 and is stocked at stores around New England, but is most prominent in its home town.
The brand differs from other soft drinks brands in a few ways, the most obvious being that it still uses glass bottles with caps.
And instead of the high-fructose corn syrup favoured by corporate soft drinks brands, Foxon Park uses cane sugar in its range of 17 sodas.
There’s grape, cream, cherry, lemon-lime, kola, orange, root beer and strawberry.
Something out of the ordinary and distinctive to New England is White Birch, which is clear, with a sweet, minty taste.
You’ll see bottles all over East Haven, but can go to the source at the factory store at 103 Foxon Blvd.
7. Lighthouse Point Park
Something you have to do in East Haven is make the trip to this headland guarding the entrance to New Haven Harbor on the east side.
Lighthouse Point Park gets its name from the Five Mile Point Light, an octagonal sandstone tower raised in 1847 (replacing one from 1805), and deactivated just 30 years later.
The name Five Mile Point comes from its location, exactly five miles from the centre of New Haven.
Another beautiful sight in the surrounding park is the Lighthouse Point Carousel, which is from 1911 and is one of only three in the world from this period to have a camel among its 69 hand-crafted horses.
Elsewhere there’s a beach area, a splashpad, displays about the site’s natural history, pavilions, a tree-covered picnic area and walking trails.
8. The Beeracks
In the last decade small-batch craft breweries have taken over Connecticut, but East Haven has something that the state hasn’t seen before.
The Beeracks is a collaborative brewing cooperative, where eight small beer brands share the facilities at one brewery.
The most established brand here is Overshores Brewing, which specialises in Belgian-style saisons, wits and tripels.
The Beeracks’ newly renovated taproom at 250 Bradley St is open Thursday to Sunday for pints and flights by Overshores and other brands like Armada, which is big on hoppy and fruity IPAs.
There’s a regular serving of live music, as well as occasional food trucks, and you’re always free to bring your own food or order something in.
9. East Haven Historical Society Museum
There are vintage Foxon Park Soda bottles on show in this first-rate local museum, run by a dedicated team of volunteers.
The museum’s home is the old East Haven High school building at 200 Tyler St, and some of the many artefacts on show are antique, locally-made furniture, tools, WWI and WWII artefacts, old yearbooks and directories and historic paintings and photographs of the townscape.
The collection for Foxon Park Soda is accompanied by reams of information about the company’s past.
10. East Haven Fall Festival
East Haven brings the curtain down on the summer season with this hotly anticipated event on the first Saturday of September.
Now in its third decade, the East Haven Fall Festival goes down on the Town Green and packs a lot into six hours.
There’s live music from the bandstand (The Grass Roots performed in 2019), as well as food booths from local restaurants, a car show and all kinds of entertainment for children, including amusement rides.
If you’re around on the Friday night there’s more music, normally with a major headliner with local and community groups in support.
11. Fort Nathan Hale
Back on the east shore of New Haven Harbor you can explore a historic site flanked by a U.S.Coast Guard Station and a U.S. Armed Services Reserve Center.
Black Rock Fort was constructed in 1776 on a rocky outcrop to defend the harbour from the British.
It fulfilled this role in 1779 during Tryon’s Raid, when a contingent of just 19 men forced a 3,000-strong British force to reroute their landing point for New Haven to West Haven and Lighthouse Point.
Between 1807 and 1812 the defence was reconstructed as Fort Nathan Hale, and after falling into decay in the 20th century the site was restored then rededicated in 1976. You’ll see the earthwork ramparts, drawbridge, moat, powder magazines and a deep, bombproof bunker.
Standing on the grounds is a cast of the famous statue of American spy Nathan Hale (1755-1776) by Bela Pratt, depicting the hero awaiting execution with his hands tied behind his back.
12. Alling Memorial Golf Club
A well-regarded public course, Alling Memorial Golf Club is an unpretentious but well-maintained place to play a round.
The 18-hole course is not to be taken lightly though, as the tee positions can be deceptive, the fairways are narrow and bordered by hazards, and the neatly-trimmed greens are quick.
Occasionally you’ll be greeted by heart-warming views, particularly from the elevated tee on the par 3 tenth hole.
The club dates back to 1930 and has staged USGA, Connecticut PGA and Connecticut Golf Association tournaments.
13. Farm River State Park
There’s just over 60 acres of natural beauty on the west bank of the Farm River, just before it completes its 16.5-mile course to Long Island Sound.
The park was inaugurated in 1998 and is hemmed by luxury condos, built to take in the haunting beauty of the river estuary.
The northern half of the park is surprisingly rugged, with imposing bedrock outcrops, and cliff-top views of the Sound and Kelsey Island.
Go south and there’s a tidal marsh inhabited by snowy egrets, ducks, gulls and blue herons.
14. Saltonstall Mountain/Lake Saltonstall
The elongated Saltonstall Mountain is 98 metres high and one of the southernmost peaks of the larger Metacomet Ridge.
This basalt fault begins close by at Long Island Sound and continues north for 100 miles to the Massachusetts-Vermont border.
You can traverse Saltonstall Mountain on trails in the care of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.
Right in the middle of the ridge, cradled by steep, wooded slopes is the long, narrow Lake Saltonstall.
If you have a Connecticut State Fishing License, the lake is stocked with a variety of fish by the Regional Water Authority, among them trout, carp, walleye, yellow perch and small mouth and largemouth bass.
15. Key to the Past Antiques
In an unprepossessing building off the Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike is a multi-dealer antique centre with more than 740 square metres of retain space.
Enthusiasts could easily pass an hour or two hunting for something special in this Aladdin’s cave of furniture, art, militaria, coins, decorative arts, lighting, mirrors, records and collectibles.
Key to the Past is run by a wife and husband team, Judith and Emil Serrano, and featured in CTNow’s “Best of New Haven” readers’ poll in 2018.