Even to the uninitiated, Hamden is a name that may already ring a bell, as this northern suburb of New Haven often ranks highly on lists of America’s best small cities and most liveable towns.
There’s a real sense of community in Hamden, which you’ll witness at Town Center Park, putting on farmers’ markets, free concerts, open-air movies and the 4th of July fireworks.
You may hear Hamden described as the “Land of the Sleeping Giant”, and this comes from a basalt ridge, almost three miles long and resembling a mighty giant lying on his back.
You can traverse this epic landform on foot, and discover another ancient formation close by at West Rock Ridge.
All the while, New Haven and Yale’s rich architecture and museums will never be more than a few minutes away by car.
1. Sleeping Giant State Park
The natural monument that give Hamden its nickname is a basalt fault-block ridge that formed around 200 million years ago.
Measuring 2.75 miles long and 1.75 miles wide, and rising 225 metres, the Sleeping Giant can be seen for miles around and grants inspiring 270° panoramas from its summit.
As for the name, in profile the formation looks like a huge man sleeping, and you can identify the head, chin, chest, hip, knee and feet.
The highest point is the left hip, crowned by a Depression-era observation tower, while the head is at 200-metres atop a vertiginous 120-metre cliff.
Make the climb on a clear day and you’ll be able to see as far as Shoreham on the opposite side of Long Island Sound.
The surrounding State Park is a haven for hikers, climbers, bird-watchers and mountain bikers, while there are special trails for horseback riding and cross-country skiing.
2. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum
Belonging to Hamden Quinnipiac University, this museum is dedicated to the Irish Great Famine of 1845-1852. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has gathered art, sculpture, artefacts and literature to inform visitors of the starvation’s social, political and economic causes and make clear the impact on Ireland, its culture and people.
The museum opened in 2012 and has the largest collection of its kind in the world, interpreting the famine visually through the work of artists present at the time and those working today.
Among them are some of Ireland’s most important artists over the last 170 years, from James Mahony to Lilian Davidson.
3. Edgerton Park
Straddling the boundary between Hamden and New Haven, Edgerton Park is a former estate where two important locals built their homes.
The first was for the son of famous inventor Eli Whitney, and this was replaced by industrialist Frederick F.
Brewster’s Tudor-style mansion in 1909. Named “Edgerton” because it was on the edge of town, the house was demolished in 1964, but its landscaped grounds, also from 1909, have been preserved.
Edgerton Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its original wall, gatehouse, a bridge from the Brewster estate and a series of greenhouses.
See the Sarah T. Crosby Conservatory, which holds orchids, rainforest species and a desert landscape.
For a spot of culture in summer you could attend an outdoor performance by the Elm Shakespeare Company.
4. Hamden Town Center Park
More than just a park, this rambling open space hemmed by trees is a vital gathering space for celebrations and events at all times of the year.
The 4th of July fireworks take place at Hamden Town Center Park, as well as outdoor movie screenings and summer concerts on Friday nights from the Rotary Pavilion.
There’s a farmers’ market every week on Thursdays from spring to fall, and food trucks pull up regularly on summer evenings.
When there’s nothing in particular going on you can bring children to the playground or take a picnic on the big swathe of grass.
In winter the landscape is just right for some cross-country skiing.
5. Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
Slicing through Hamden on its 81.2-mile journey from New Haven to Hampden, Massachusetts is a linear walking trail on the railbed of the New Haven and Northampton Company railroad.
The origins of this route go back to the Farmington Canal in the 1820s, becoming a railroad some 20 years later.
Since the railroad closed in the 1980s three portions have been turned into walkable trails.
In Hamden you can head to the Farmington Canal State Park Trail, preserving 17 miles of the canal route for hiking, cycling, jogging and cross-country skiing in winter.
For a fascinating piece of heritage, Lock 12 a few miles north in Cheshire, is the most complete piece of canal heritage in Connecticut.
It lies in the Lock 12 Historical Park, comprising a picnic area, pavilion and small museum.
6. Counter Weight Brewing Company
Hamden has its own craft brewery with a fierce local following and a taproom open Thursday to Sunday.
The Counter Weight Brewing Company upholds historic brewing traditions while making little innovations to let each ingredient shine through.
At the taproom you can try hoppy and flavourful American IPAs (Headway, Sticky Threads), an unfiltered German lager (Work Horse) and a full-bodied Czech Pilsner (Vltava). There are normally seven or more on tap, and you might get to try some of Counter Weight’s experiments in wild yeast and wood ageing.
The taproom is visited by a busy rotation of food trucks, preparing anything from jerk chicken to steam buns, BBQ, artisan hotdogs or gourmet sliders.
There’s also lots of live music, be it bluegrass or soul, as well as a regular comedy night.
7. West Rock Ridge State Park
This park encompasses a seven-mile trap rock mountain ridge lying to the west of Hamden and New Haven.
One of the most prominent natural features in the region, the West Rock Ridge climbs to 210 metres and has sheer, west-facing cliffs.
If you journey to the southernmost point on the ridge, the South Overlook affords wonderful views of New Haven, New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Closer to Hamden you can gaze west over the southern Connecticut countryside and towns like Woodbridge.
You could walk the Regicides Trail, a seven-mile, Blue-Blazed route that mostly follows the edge of the ridge.
The trail is named for Edward Whalley and William Goffe, two Roundhead judges who were prominent in the execution of Charles I and who fled to the Colonies after the Restoration in 1660. Near the southern end of the walk is the Judges Cave, a rock shelter used as a hideout by the pair.
8. Eli Whitney Museum
This museum, touted as an experimental learning workshop, is on the site of the Eli Whitney Gun Factory, which was opened by the famous inventor in 1798. This factory, producing muskets, was at the leading edge of the American Industrial Revolution.
Yet, when Whitney took his first order for 10,000 muskets a few months prior in June 1798, the factory hadn’t even been built, and he had no workforce.
Aimed at children, the museum is all about hands-on learning and trial-and-error.
Kids will craft, tweak and test working model buildings, boats, gliders and take part in experiments dealing with light, magnetism, gravity, sound, electricity and energy.
There’s also a scale model of Whitney’s historic factory and an annual exhibition of American Flyer Trains.
9. Hamden Regional Chamber Visitor’s Center
If you want to get the lay of the land in Hamden and get to know local businesses this is a great resource, open office hours Monday to Friday and displaying volumes of leaflets, menus, brochures and maps.
You’ll find the Hamden Regional Chamber Visitor’s Center in the middle of historic Mt.
Carmel at 3074 Whitney Avenue, Building 1. The cabinet itself is special, having been assembled from chestnut and oak panels, dating back to the 1800s, and crafted over 90 hours by the local master carpenter Jim Brewster.
10. Hindinger Farm
The Hindinger family has been working this land to the west of Hamden since 1893, and welcomes families to stock up on farm-fresh produce, to enjoy the rural environment and to meet the goats at their new pen.
By using Integrated Pest Management, Hindinger Farm avoids pesticides where possible, and publishes a ripening calendar online so you can find out when your favourite peaches and apples will be in season.
Try to catch the Strawberry Festival, held around mid-June, and featuring delicious strawberry treats, hayrides, balloon characters and more.
The harvest is marked with a Fall Festival in mid-October, with live music and food provided by a line-up of local vendors.
11. Sleeping Giant Golf Course
For an affordable round of golf, Hamden’s public course is a few miles to the north, just beyond the town’s famous natural monument.
Sleeping Giant Golf Course has nine holes and dates back to 1924, and comes complete with a driving range and practice green.
Green fees are a reasonable $22 for non-residents, all days of the week, and you can rent a car for $8pp.
Even though the course is flat and easy to traverse on foot, the views from the fairways are full of drama, taking in the Sleeping Giant and its wood-shrouded slopes.
12. Lake Wintergreen
Actually within the boundaries of the West Rock Ridge State Park, Lake Wintergreen is minutes from the centre of Hamden.
If you’re walking the Regicides Trail there are side trails leading to the water’s edge.
Lake Wintergreen has mostly been left to nature, and is a quiet and picturesque location for a walk, with some interesting elevation changes as you go.
Or you could just park yourself on a picnic blanket and savour the tranquillity.
There are plenty of entry points around the shore for kayaking and canoeing, and if you come early or late in the day, the sunrises and sunsets are magnificent.
13. New Haven
Hamden is a northern suburb of historic New Haven, home of Yale University and founded by English Puritans in 1638. Yale endows New Haven with lots of culture, at the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Yale Center for British Art.
All would be worthy of any city, and all are within walking distance of each other.
For a glimpse into Yale’s history and Collegiate Gothic architecture you can make for the Visitor Center for a tour by a student, taking you into the solemn Sterling Memorial Library and the riveting Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The latter has one of the leading collections of its kind in the world, including one of only 49 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
14. Oakdale Theatre
A venue with a storied history, the Oakdale Theatre opened in 1954 as a theatre in the round and was given a permanent roof in the 1970s.
In that time, Paul Anka, Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Doors all performed here.
As you see it now, the complex, made up of a 4,803-seater main auditorium and the 1,649-seater dome, dates from a $21m renovation in the mid-1990s.
The venue books all kinds of acts, from major recording artists (Maren Morris and Avril Lavigne in 2019), to touring musicals, tribute acts, wrestling shows, ballet companies and shows with children’s favourite TV characters.
15. Lake Whitney
Starting just east of Hamden’s commercial district on Dixwell Avenue there’s a lake on the Mill River, lined with lush forest and running south to the town line with New Haven.
Lake Whitney used to be a water source for New Haven and is now a reserve source for the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.
For visitors the banks are remarkably quiet considering they’re right in the middle of town, and there’s a striking man-made waterfall pouring back into the Mill River.
In 1778 Eli Whitney used this stretch of Mill River to power his gun factory where the Eli Whitney Museum stands today.
At the very southern end is New Haven’s East Rock Park, furnished with a sublime view of the city and Long Island Sound from the foot of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.