Just before the Quinnipiac River flows into New Haven Harbor it curls through the town of North Haven.
Naturally New Haven and Yale University will be on your radar in North Haven, but the town has its history, which you’ll glimpse on the 300-year-old Town Green and at the North Haven Historical Society.
The 200-million-year-old Metacomet Ridge also cuts through North Haven, and as the surrounding landscape has been weathered down over time, the high cliffs of Peter’s Rock, nearby East Rock and the Sleeping Giant have been left behind.
And since you’re in Greater New Haven you can’t leave without sampling the local “apizza”, or a bottle of Foxon Park soda.
1. Quinnipiac River State Park
The Quinnipiac River makes its way through Connecticut for 38 miles from its source in Plainville to New Haven Harbor.
In North Haven a six-mile meandering stretch of the river is protected by the 320-acre Quinnipiac River State Park.
Here you’ll be able to hike in the river’s forested floodplain, looking out for deer, wild turkeys, great blue herons, owls, ospreys, otters and the occasional bald eagle.
Being on the river’s floodplain the forest floor can occasionally be muddy in winter and spring.
The park incorporates four miles of the Quinnipiac Trail, a 24-mile Blue-Blazed hiking path, beginning in Prospect and ending here in North Haven at Banton Street.
2. Peter’s Rock Park
An important natural landmark for North Haven is the 114-metre basalt peak, Peter’s Rock.
This belongs to the epic basalt fault, the Metacomet Ridge, which begins not far away at Long Island South and continues north for 100 miles to the Massachusetts-Vermont border.
As with so many peaks on the 200 million-year-old Metacomet Ridge, Peter’s Rock has sheer cliffs and affords exhilarating panoramas, in this case encompassing Long Island Sound, New Haven Harbor, the Quinnipiac River Estuary and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.
The peak is around three quarters of a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide and promises a decent workout.
Volunteers with the Peter’s Rock Association help to maintain Peter’s Rock Park’s walking trails, and these can mainly be accessed from Middletown Avenue.
3. North Haven Town Green
Just as 300 years ago, daily life in North Haven converges on this sloping plot of grass scattered with mature trees in the middle of town.
The Old Center Cemetery here is the site of North Haven’s first Meeting House, and has headstones dating between 1723 and 1882. The green is also furnished with monuments for the Civil War, World War II, Korean and Vietnam War and 9/11. It’s hard to miss the Civil War’s 32-pounder Rodman Gun in the south-western corner sitting on a plinth of Quincy granite.
On the green’s west frontage stands the Town Hall, designed by local architect Solomon Linsley in the 1880s, while in the north-east corner is St John’s Episcopal Church, dating in its current form to the 1830s.
4. New Haven
The first planned city in America and the home of Yale University is effortlessly close to North Haven and needs to be on your agenda.
Yale is a giant presence in the city, in terms of the local economy, architecture and culture.
The university runs world-class institutions like the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale University art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art.
Touring the central campus you’ll be treated to an inside look at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which holds priceless printed works, including one of the world’s 49 surviving Gutenberg Bibles.
Yale also injects New Haven with youthful vibrancy, unmistakeable on Howe Street, Chapel Street and Crown Street, where there’s a globe-trotting dining selection, from falafel to pad thai.
5. Sleeping Giant State Park
North Haven’s northern boundary sports a strange protrusion in the landscape.
Belonging to the Metacomet Ridge, the Sleeping Giant is a basalt landform, 2.75 miles long and 1.75 miles wide.
It resembles a giant lying on its back, to the point where you can discern the head, chin, chest, hip, knee and feet.
The highest point is the left hip at 225 metres and topped with a stone observation tower construction by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
As with other peaks on the Metacomet Ridge, the Sleeping Giant has microclimates that support plant life not normally seen in Connecticut, with oak savannas on the dry and hot upper ridge, growing chestnut oak as well as eastern red cedar on the arid cliff edges.
6. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum
Nearby Quinnipiac University is responsible for this museum documenting the Irish Famine/Great Hunger of 1845-52. The museum has pieced together a large collection of artifacts, art and literature related to the famine, to decipher the economic, social, political and historical causes of a seismic event in 19th-century history, but also outline the consequences that can still be felt today.
Along with contemporaneous works by the likes of James Brennan, James Arthur O’Connor and Daniel Macdonald, there are pieces by luminaries like Jack B.
Yeats, Alanna O’Kelly, Robert Ballagh, Brian Maguire, Rowan Gilliespie and Éamonn O’Doherty.
This is the largest assemblage of art relating to the tragedy in the world.
7. Wharton Brook State Park
Partially in North Haven and Wallingford, this 100-year-old park has an interesting past, having been founded as an early highway rest stop for motorists.
Wharton Brook State Park is set on wooded sandy knolls, and most of the attention is focussed on the 96-acre Allen Brook Pond, which is stocked with trout and primed for swimming in the warmer months.
By the water you’ll find picnic tables and pavilions with grills on a first-come, first-served basis.
In summer 2018 the park was hit by a tornado, which damaged the woodland and took out the trails, but the renovations were complete by early 2019.
Greater New Haven is renowned for its Italian-American population, and this has given birth to a geographically-limited style of pizza.
Apizza bears a lot of similarities to authentic Neapolitan pizza in its use of a thin crust and because it’s baked at high temperatures in coal-fired ovens.
A quirk of New Haven-style pizza is that a “plain” comes with no more than tomato, oregano and a light topping of pecorino romano; if you want mozzarella you normally have to ask for it.
Authentic Apizza is also sold whole, and not by the slice.
One local joint with a big reputation is Grand Apizza North, at 448 Washington Avenue, which also stocks a range of local craft beers and Foxon Park Soda, famously made with raw cane sugar in East Haven.
Honorable mention goes to Inferno Apizza (411 Universal Dr N), Luigi’s Apizza (323 Washington Ave) and Olde World Apizza (1957 Whitney Ave in neighboring Hamden).
9. East Rock Park
New Haven’s famous park is just beyond North Haven’s south-western corner, and named for a 200-million-year-old basalt peak that climbs to 100 metres near the southern end of the Metacomet Ridge.
Atop East Rock is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, erected in 1887, and in front the views extend across New Haven, Long Island Sound and Long Island.
The park is woven with nature trails, many traversing the ridge, and taking you through landscapes created by Donald Grant Mitchell and the Olmsted Brothers more than a century ago . There’s snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, while the Mill River is great for kayaking in summer.
10. North Haven Historical Society
Close to the Town Green on Broadway, the North Haven Historical Society resides in the North Haven Cultural Center (1938). This stately Georgian Revival building was originally the town library, and the Historical Society now shares the space with the North Haven Art Guild and Studio 27 Gallery.
You can visit on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to get acquainted with the town’s past, browsing artifacts from prehistory to the middle of the 20th century.
On display are architectural elements, furniture, maps, books, portraits, photographs, china, cookware, period costume, home utensils, agricultural tools and antique playthings.
11. Rosabianca Vineyards
This picturesque, family-run vineyard, based out of a rustic barn, is five minutes east of North Haven in Northford and has lots going on during the summer.
Ranging from dry to sweet, Rosabianca Vineyards produces Italian-style varietal wines and blends from white grapes like Pinot Grigio, Muscat, and reds from Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Primitivo.
The winery is open Friday to Sunday, and at a $12 tasting you can try five preselected wines (two white, two red and one red blend). Check the Rosabianca’s calendar because there’s something happening most weekends, be it food trucks, painting sessions, yoga or live comedy.
12. Pardee Rose Gardens
April to October this fabulous free garden under the east slope of East Rock in Hamden grows more than 50 different rose varieties.
In two acres, the garden was founded in 1922 as a gift from one William Scranton Pardee, who was a descendant of the Morris family, which has ties in the New Haven area going back to the 17th century.
There’s a greenhouse and visitor center embedded in gardens, while one of the prettiest features is an arbor often used as a backdrop for wedding photographs.
13. Foxon Park Beverages
A minute or two south of Peters Rock Park is the headquarters for a soft drink company that rules the local market.
Established in 1922, Foxon Park Beverages is a throwback in many ways.
First the company uses natural cane sugar instead of corn syrup, the way all soda brands did earlier in the 20th century.
The sodas also come in bottles with caps, which is how most aficionados prefer it.
Foxon Park makes 17 different flavors, many of which are conventional, like Kola, Root Beer, Orange, Cream and Grape, and some of which are more leftfield, like the wintergreen White Birch.
You can visit them at 103 Foxon Park Blvd Monday to Saturday to get your hands on a box or two.
14. Cinemark North Haven 12
After coming through renovations in the last couple of years, the Cinemark multiplex in the south of North Haven has been praised as the best in the Greater New Haven area.
For a taste of what to expect, there’s sleek design, crystal clear sound and superb concessions with a self-service station, while the auditoriums have spacious and comfortable reclining seats so even tall people can put their feet up while you enjoy the show.
If you want you can order a coffee at Starbucks or even grab a glass of wine or beer.
15. John Grover Wyman Park
Kids in North Haven will be amazed by the playscape at this local park.
The equipment at John Grover Wyman Park is made almost entirely from wood, and there’s a tangle of bridges, platforms and little towers to explore, as well as swings, slides and a sandbox.
In the summer months an ice cream truck stops by like clockwork.
For older people out for some exercise the park is fitted with a bike path and softball field, and has a number of picnic benches in the shade.