15 Best Things to Do in East Haven (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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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. I’m a big fan of the great little seafood restaurant, conveniently located 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. There are vintage streetcars from across the country to ride here.

East Haven has deep Italian-American roots, clear from the many great places to eat. The distinctive local pizza style, “apizza” has helped make New Haven a big food destination.

Let’s explore the best things to do in East Haven:

1. The Shore Line Trolley Museum

The Shore Line Trolley MuseumSource: The Shore Line Trolley Museum / facebook
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. Today it’s 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. There’s also around 1,000 streetcar artifacts, like ticket punches, tokens and hat badges.

One must-see for me is Horsecar 76, the world’s oldest preserved horse-drawn tram. Manhattan Railway “G”, meanwhile, is the oldest rapid transit car in the country, dating to 1878. 

Finally, PATH 745 came through the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

2. East Haven Town Beach

East Haven Town BeachSource: East Haven Town Beach / facebook
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 splash pad behind. Added to that, East Haven Town Beach is one of my favorite spots in CT to do some shelling.

On a raised grassy area you’ll find picnic tables, and just behind that is the highly-rated Sandpiper Restaurant. This serves classic New England seaside fare like lobster rolls and fresh fried plates, all 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. This can be bypassed on the streets close by.

3. Town Green

Under the cover of hardwood 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. Although the headstones were moved to the East Lawn Cemetery to the south, I was intrigued to learn that 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 gun is the last of the three “Old Guards”, installed at Fort Nathan Hale on the harbor at the dawn of the Civil War. It was then moved to Lighthouse Point when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.

4. First Congregational Church of East Haven

First Congregational Church of East HavenSource: Dougtone / Flickr
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 in 1774 and warrants a detour.

The nave and tower are constructed from red sandstone quarried close by in Fair Haven. The tower is topped by a wooden belfry with Corinthian columns and pilaster under an octagonal steeple.

The interior was reworked in 1850. During this time 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

John & Maria PizzeriaSource: John & Maria's Pizzeria / facebook
John & Maria Pizzeria

East Haven has a reputation for its Italian-American heritage, to the point where one of the big local employers is the Calabro Cheese Corporation. This company produces authentic mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta and romano.

Those Italian roots will be unmistakable when you see the roster 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. This 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. 

To me, getting some New Haven-style pizza is an essential thing to do if you’re in the area. 

Some local picks in East Haven are Aniello (346 Hemingway Ave), Tolli’s Apizza (410 Main St), John & Maria Pizzeria (280 Foxon Rd) and Capotortos Apizza Center (688 Foxon Rd).

6. Foxon Park Beverages

Foxon Park BeveragesSource: Foxon Park Beverages / facebook
Foxon Park Beverages

Go to any independent pizzeria in East Haven or New Haven and you’ll see bottles by this soft drinks brand. The throwback Foxon Park packaging looks like an artifact from the middle of the 20th century

The company was established in 1922 and can be found all over 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.

What I appreciate most of all is the use of cane sugar instead of the now ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup. 

Among the flavors are grape, cream, cherry, lemon-lime, kola, orange, root beer and strawberry. Something out of the ordinary and distinctive to New England is White Birch. This is clear, with a sweet, minty taste that was alien to me.

You’ll see bottles in stores around East Haven, but can go to the source at the factory store at 103 Foxon Blvd.

7. Lighthouse Point Park

Lighthouse Point ParkSource: melissamn / shutterstock
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 center of New Haven.

My highlight in the surrounding park is the Lighthouse Point Carousel, dating to 1916. This attraction 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 splash pad, displays about the site’s natural history, pavilions, a tree-covered picnic area and walking trails.

8. Cabaret On Main Theater

When I wrote this list, the New Haven Academy of Performing Arts had just moved into a brand new space at 597 Main St in East Haven.

Right away, the new venue garnered a host of awards to add to the academy’s large collection. The NHAOPA is run by a locally born performer, Billy DiCrosta, and Neil Fuentes, a nationally renowned chef with a flair for performance. 

As a state-of-the-art permanent venue for the academy’s students and other artists, the Cabaret On Main Theater is the ideal place to catch some live entertainment. Check out the annual fall season for upcoming shows, as well as the uplifting Christmas Spectacular.

9. The Beeracks

The BeeracksSource: The Beeracks / facebook
The Beeracks

Since the 2010s 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 several small beer brands share the facilities at one brewery.

Among these are Overshores Brewing, Bestie, Hoax, Wellerman, and The Beeracks’ own brewers. In particular, I was taken with Overshores’ Belgian-influenced lineup, including Qwad, a potent Quadruple. 

The recently updated taproom at 250 Bradley St is open Thursday to Sunday for pints, flights and more.

There’s a regular serving of live music, as well as occasional food trucks. You’re always free to bring your own food or order something in.

10. East Haven Fall Festival

<yoastmark class=Source: East Haven Fall Festival / facebook

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 one afternoon.

There’s live music from the bandstand, as well as food booths from local restaurants, a car show and all kinds of entertainment for children. These include amusement rides, and a dedicated zone for teenagers. 

If you’re interested in the breadth of enterprises in East Haven, check out the annual Business Expo, in its own tent. 

If you’re around on the Friday night there’s more music. This normally features a famous headliner with local and community groups in support.

11. Fort Nathan Hale

Fort Nathan HaleSource: lcm1863 / Flickr
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 harbor from the British.

It fulfilled this role in 1779 during Tryon’s Raid. In that encounter 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 defense was reconstructed as Fort Nathan Hale, and after falling into decay in the 20th century the site was restored then rededicated in 1976. I had a blast exploring 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. It depicts the hero awaiting execution with his hands tied behind his back.

12. Alling Memorial Golf Club

Alling Memorial Golf ClubSource: Alling Memorial Golf Club / facebook
Alling Memorial Golf Club

A well-regarded public course, Alling Memorial Golf Club is an unpretentious but pristine 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 also narrow and bordered by hazards, while the neatly-trimmed greens are always quick.

Occasionally you’ll be greeted by heart-warming views. In particular, I was wowed by the  security from the elevated tee on the par-3 #10.

The club dates back to 1930 and has staged USGA, Connecticut PGA and Connecticut Golf Association tournaments in its day.

13. Farm River State Park

Farm River State ParkSource: www.ct.gov
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.

I found the northern half of the park surprisingly rugged. Here you’ll encounter 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. I should point out that access to the trailheads is affected by limited parking. The upside is that this ensures that the beautiful property is never overrun.

14. Saltonstall Mountain/Lake Saltonstall

Saltonstall MountainSource: Morrowlong / Wikimedia
Saltonstall Mountain

The elongated Saltonstall Mountain is 322 feet 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. My tip is to check the latest guides, as the blaze colors have changes in the last few years. 

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 are trout, carp, walleye, yellow perch, and smallmouth and largemouth bass.

15. Key to the Past Antiques

Key To The Past AntiquesSource: Key to the Past Antique & Design / facebook
Key To The Past Antiques

In a low-key building off the Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike is a multi-dealer antique center, with 8,000 square feet of retail space.

I could easily spend an hour or two hunting for something special in this Aladdin’s cave. The selection includes furniture, art, militaria, coins, decorative arts, lighting, mirrors, records, collectibles, the list goes on.

Key to the Past is run by a wife and husband team, Judith and Emil Serrano, and regularly features in CTNow’s “Best of New Haven” readers’ polls. The couple also manages another antiques center, a short drive east in Clinton.

15 Best Things to Do in East Haven (CT):

  • The Shore Line Trolley Museum
  • East Haven Town Beach
  • Town Green
  • First Congregational Church of East Haven
  • New Haven-style Apizza
  • Foxon Park Beverages
  • Lighthouse Point Park
  • Cabaret On Main Theater
  • The Beeracks
  • East Haven Fall Festival
  • Fort Nathan Hale
  • Alling Memorial Golf Club
  • Farm River State Park
  • Saltonstall Mountain/Lake Saltonstall
  • Key to the Past Antiques