This small residential town is not far west of New Haven, and is the site of the Yale West Campus where many of this famous university’s scientific institutes can be found.
And even though Orange has a mostly suburban character there’s lots of 19th-century history around the Town Green, with a refined Federal-style church and historic houses maintained by the Orange Historical Society.
Something that brings the crowds to the town is the Orange Country Fair, an autumn extravaganza rooted in the 1890s.
Yale’s magnificent architecture and high-quality museums are never far away, and the same goes for beaches by Long Island Sound in Milford and West Haven.
Let’s explore the best things to do in and around Orange, Connecticut:
1. PEZ Visitor Center
Right here in Orange is the United States headquarters for a candy icon, with a Visitor Center that exceed expectations.
For one thing, you can marvel at the world’s largest collection of PEZ memorabilia, all neatly presented in glass display cases.
And for something you probably never thought you’d see, there’s a fully customized PEZ-themed motorcycle, designed by Orange County Choppers, from the TV Show American Chopper.
Engaging, interactive exhibits tell you all you need to know about a brand that was founded in Austria more than 90 years ago.
You can see what’s happening on the factory floor through viewing windows, and video displays show how both the candy and the famous dispensers are manufactured.
And it goes without saying but the factory shop stocks flavors and dispensers that you won’t find anywhere else.
2. Orange Center Historic District
After World War II Orange began suburbanizing at breakneck speed, but a little patch of the old 19th-century agrarian town remains at the Orange Center Historic District around the Town Green.
All along Orange Center Road between the cemetery and Nan Drive you’ll come across sparkling examples of Federal, Greek Revival and late-Victorian architecture.
Two of the properties from here are in the care of the Orange Historical Society, including the elaborate Academy, which we’ll talk about below.
The district’s linchpin is the splendid Orange Congregational Church (1810). In the Federal style, this monument was designed by the self-taught architect David Hoadley, and features a Palladian window and a ceremonious domed belfry.
3. Orange Country Fair
The town’s big annual event takes place in mid-September at the High Plains Community Center, right by the historic district.
The Orange Country Fair has a long history, first running from 1898 to 1912 and now enjoying a revival since 1975. All of the activities that you would want from a country fair happen over two busy days, filled with pig racing, a hand-saw contest, birds of prey demonstrations, a classic car show, amusement rides, a horse draw, an antique tractor pull, live music and much more.
Fair food is of course integral to the event, and there’s chili, fried dough, clam chowder, funnel cakes, Philly cheese steak subs, roast beef au jus rolls, to name a few choices.
4. High Plains Community Center
For the rest of the year the High Plains Community Center is the place to go in Orange if you want to be active.
The number of indoor and outdoor facilities will barely fit into this paragraph but includes softball fields, soccer fields tennis courts, a
, a fitness center, a gymnasium and two picnic pavilions.
For lighter exercise you can follow the Paul Ode Nature Trail or a meandering walking track.
There’s also an indoor pool at High Plains Community Center, which is open to non-residents although you’ll have to pay a slightly higher rate.
5. The Academy
The Orange Historical Society cares for three beautiful old properties in the town.
One that is certain to catch your eye on Orange green is this two-story clapboard school building, with a decorative gable structure.
The Academy has had a few different uses in its time: It was built in 1878 to replace an earlier, almost identical school where students would be charged tuition, which is where the name “The Academy” comes from.
Its replacement was a small high school, with an assembly room on first floor and a space for classes above.
A little later this building became Orange’s Town Hall and the home of the town court, a role it held until 1967. Since 1989 The Academy has been leased to the historical society and holds the Mary Rebecca Woodruff Research Center, with deep collections of artifacts, documents, photographs, maps, clippings and more for serious research.
6. William Andrew House
The oldest surviving building in the town is a 1-1/2 story wood frame Georgian house at 131 Old Tavern Road.
This building dates back to approximately 1740 and was raised by Nathan Bryan whose family was prominent in Orange and engaged in the shipping industry.
Nineteen different families have resided at this building since those days, but the historic character of the William Andrew House has changed little.
In 2000 the property was bought by the town and is managed by the Orange Historical Society as a museum.
Inside you can peruse finds from an archeological dig that took place on the site not long after.
7. The Stone-Otis House
Also cared for by the Orange Historical Society is this modified Greek Revival house on the east side of the Town Green.
It was constructed by Sarah and Dennis stone around 1830 and indicates the high level of workmanship prevalent in Orange at the time.
Dennis Stone ran one of Orange’s first two general stores from this property, and the Historical Society has restored this space.
Also on the first floor you can look around the parlor, a bedroom and a keeping room.
Upstairs is a nursery, a bed chamber, a children’s room and an interesting display of clothing from the 19th century.
Lastly “Grandma’s Attic” on the third floor shows all the curiosities that 19th-century families might store for the long term.
At the back is an award-winning herb garden growing medicinal, culinary and household herbs, some of which go into goodies like jellies, teas and seasoning mixes at the society’s gift shop.
Tours of the Stone-Otis House are by appointment.
8. New Haven
If you get lucky with traffic, parts of Orange are just 15 minutes by road from downtown New Haven via the Connecticut Turnpike.
New Haven is of course the city of Yale University, which puts high-quality museums at your fingertips.
The Peabody Museum of Natural History is one of the largest and oldest university museums in its field in the world, and at the Yale University Art Gallery you can enjoy masterpieces by Gauguin and van Gogh.
Something you have to see as you tour Yale’s Collegiate Gothic architecture is the modern Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, famed for holding one of 48 extant copies of the Gutenberg Bible, along with ancient papyri, Medieval manuscripts and personal papers of writers like D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.
Downtown New Haven is dynamic and cosmopolitan, offering almost any cuisine you can think of on Howe Street, Chapel Street and Crown Street.
The city is also renowned for its Neapolitan-style pizza, “apizza”, baked in coal-fired ovens and served at spots like the fame Frank Pepe Pizzaeria Napoletana.
9. B&B Flower Farm
West Haven’s B&B Flower Farm is much more than the name suggests.
Of course, the farm sells seasonal flowers, but also handmade crafts, fresh produce like corn and tomatoes, as well as ice cream in many flavors.
In summer and fall this is a great little attraction for wee ones, with tractor rides, pony rides and a trip through 11 acres of woods on a horse-drawn wagon.
B&B Flower Farm keeps a small herd of friendly goats, and children will be able to right up to the paddock and pet them.
10. Wrights Pond
Directly on the south side of Old Grassy Hill Road you can park up beside this little body of water, which has a beautiful backdrop of hardwood forest to the south.
There are benches by the parking area, and in warmer months you could stop to feed the waterfowl.
Fishers occasionally post themselves on the banks in summer.
When temperatures drop in winter the frozen surface becomes an outdoor skating rink.
The ice is check daily by the Parks and Recreation department for safety and a sign will be put up to indicate that the ice is safe.
11. Racebrook Tract
Split by the Orange and Woodbridge line, the Racebrook Tract is 420 acres of nature what was two separate farms up to the 20th century.
Something interesting about this land is that the dry-stone walls cross-crossing the tract are the original farm boundaries.
Four blazed trails ramble through a relatively level landscape entering mixed hardwood forest and imposing groves of white pines.
By the trailhead for the red trail in the south-west corner is the Orange Arboretum, growing three varieties of spruce, as well as pine oak, white oak and birch trees.
From the north-east corner of the parking area here there’s a wheelchair accessible trail paved with asphalt and taking in a boardwalk over wetlands.
12. Grassy Hill Country Club
Established in 1927, this public course has an upmarket air for its course quality and services.
Grassy Hill is on softly undulating terrain with lightning-quick greens and three sets of tees to suit all levels.
The layout has been devised to bring the best out of big-hitters, but will also reward accurate approach play.
This goes for the epic par 5 5th, at 612 yards, and the par 3 3rd, down a sudden slope to a well-guarded green.
There are full practice facilities at Grassy Hill, including a putting green, driving range, chipping green and practice bunker, as well as a pro shop and Mulligan’s Bar & Grill.
You can call in your order at the 9th tee and have it ready for you as you sit down.
13. Silver Sands State Park
For a day at the beach, this state park in Milford is worth every minute of the journey in summer, but is also somewhere to visit in any season.
That year-round appeal has a lot to do with Charles Island, which is joined to the mainland by tombolo.
The island is an important site for nesting herons and egrets, so is off limits from May 1 to August 31. Keep abreast of tide times as the tombolo is submerged by dangerous currents twice a day.
Within the park’s 300 acres are dunes, a salt marsh, woods, open fields and that sublime natural beach, edged by a boardwalk that spans the entirety of the park.
14. Bradley Point Beach
South of Orange, West Haven has the longest stretch of publicly accessible shoreline in Connecticut.
At almost four miles this makes up a quarter of all the public beachfront in the state.
Lifeguards are on patrol one weekends only between May 25 to June 23, and then daily from June 24 to August 9, and back to weekends only from August 10 to September 2. One excellent spot, easily reached from Orange, is historic Bradley Point Park where British troops landed for Tryon’s Raid on July 5, 1779. Not far east from here is Savin Point Park, which was Connecticut’s answer to Coney Island until this amusement park closed down in the 1960s after almost a century in business.
15. Orange Volunteer Firemen’s Carnival
The fairgrounds at the High Plains Community Center host another much anticipated event at the Volunteer Firemen’s Carnival in early-August.
Raising money for a great cause, this event brings carnival games, a raffle, lots of children’s activities, a fireworks display and amusement rides like spinners, carousels and a ferris wheel.
Naturally the food tent is at the heart of the carnival, for burgers, hot dogs, fried dough but also enticing pies baked by the Women’s Auxiliary.
The event has a rich tradition, having been held since 1925 and missing only two instalments.
The department generates its own revenue so all proceeds go towards new firefighting apparatus.