Inhabited by Europeans from the end of the 17th century, the small town of South Windsor is just in from the east bank of the Connecticut River close to Hartford.
Tobacco has been grown in the Connecticut River Valley since colonisation, and the industry reached its zenith here in the first half of the 20th century before falling back.
South Windsor may not be on the usual tourist radar, but there’s three centuries worth of architecture to appreciate on Old Main Street, while within the town limits are a craft brewery, a high ropes course, Connecticut’s largest indoor entertainment center and highly-rated escape rooms.
You won’t need to travel far for the big city culture and sights of Hartford, or shopping galore next door in Manchester.
1. Connecticut Valley Brewing Company
This shiny new craft brewery opened in 2018 and is already firmly part of the community, welcoming the public to its stylish but unpretentious taproom from Wednesday to Sunday.
There’s a big helping of live music, as well as craft workshops, guided hikes, a book club and even a fitness club.
A new food truck pulls up each day, serving anything from baba ghanoush, to wings, burgers, lobster rolls, pizza or gourmet toasted cheese.
We’ve come this far without mentioning the beers, and at any one time there will be up to 17 on tap.
In summer 2019 these included a whole selection of citrusy IPAs, a coffee stout, a schwarzbier, a porter, a Kölsch-style pale ale and a choice of inventive sours.
2. Puzzle Theory
A fresh, fun take on escape rooms, Puzzle Theory has four imaginatively realised rooms, varying in difficulty and group size.
As ever, all have to be solved within an hour, and require tight teamwork along with keen problem solving skills.
As an over-arching theme, all of the games come from the mind of the mysterious Dr.
Xavier “X”. For newcomers, the one to start with would be Dimension Gate (for a group of 2-5), which has electro-magnetic locks and a scalable difficulty level that can even be changed as you go.
In the Jungle Dimension (2-6) you travel to a new, uncharted dimension to search for an engineer gone rogue, while The Wizard Realm (3-8) takes you into a dimension where magic is real, and makes lots of references that Harry Potter fans will get.
The Experiment (3-10) requires you to take part in Dr. X’s experiment, and has two phases, the first of moderate difficulty and the second much more testing.
3. Foster Family Farm
In Fall this farm in rural South Windsor becomes a kind of theme park loaded with fun for younger members of the family.
In store at Foster Family Farm are corn mazes, hayrides, a farm-themed play yard, pedal carts and lots of farm animals to check out.
The two corn mazes are a real feat, covering a total of eight acres and with four miles of trails to get lost in.
Each year the showpiece maze is drawn-up with a new theme, and in 2017 this was a detailed tribute to UConn’s Huskies, with a giant image of the mascot, Jonathan the Husky, rendered from the cornfield.
The Foster Family has been working this land since 1790 and also opens earlier in the season to sell flowers for Mother’s Day.
4. Nevers Park
Opening its gates in 2007, Nevers Park is a prized local amenity spread out over almost 140 acres and with more than two miles of trails for walking and biking.
One of the best things about the park is its massive “Boundless Playground” which has lots of equipment suitable for toddlers and bigger kids.
For grown-ups, Nevers Park is somewhere to wander, and you could pack a picnic and amble up to Jacob’s View, a lovely spot to while away an hour.
Dog owners will appreciate the attention to detail at the Bark Park, which has designated areas for smaller and larger dogs, water and clean-up stations and agility equipment.
5. Windsor Farms Historic District
On Main Street, between Interstate 291 in the south and Strong Road in the north you’ll be met by a host of beautiful buildings raised across three centuries.
The Windsor Farms Historic District comprises South Windsor’s gorgeous old town centre, as well as tracts of agriculture that up to the 1970s were dominated by tobacco farms.
The oldest house in the district went up as long ago as 1695, while among the more remarkable structures are the First Congregational Church (1845) in the Greek Revival style, and the Classical Revival Wood Memorial Library and Museum from 1926 at No. 783. Pay a visit for compelling exhibitions sourced from the museum’s collections of local natural history, Native American history, fine art and furnishings.
6. Major Michael Donnelly Land Preserve
Like all of the public natural spaces in South Windsor, this preserve is impeccably maintained and is made up of fern rich hardwood forest, pine forest, meadow and wetland beside the Podunk River.
Crossing the wetland and leading into the forest is an extensive boardwalk system, and in spring and summer there are freshly mowed lawns in the preserve’s more formal areas.
You’ll come across a gazebo for a break from the sun in summer and on the trails are carefully positioned wildlife viewing areas for spotting deer and waterfowl.
The preserve is named for a Gulf War veteran, Major Michael Donnelly who passed away in 2005 due to complications from ALS, believed to be related to the conflict.
7. Topstone Golf Course
South Windsor has a well-regarded 18-hole public golf course.
Topstone is found on rolling, densely wooded terrain and has fairways as lush as you would hope to find at any country club.
It’s a course for players with a deft touch, as the greens are lightning quick.
Almost all are encircled by bunkers, with tees positioned very awkwardly to keep you on your toes.
Brace yourself for the extremely narrow fairway on the par 5 16th, and the dogleg on the 18th, an unforgiving par 4. Green Fees are $43 on weekdays and $46 on weekends for 18 holes, and you can follow up a round with a bite at the 3 Seasons Grill.
8. Nomads Adventure Quest
A godsend for families, Nomads Adventure Quest is the largest indoor entertainment centre in the state.
The choice of activities includes black light mini-golf, indoor climbing, bowling, laser tag and bumper cars all in an environment themed on lost Mayan ruins.
There’s a video arcade with 80 machines, a billiard room, two full-size basketball courts and a gigantic bounce house zone where kids can tire themselves out in a soft play environment filled with ten bounce houses and lots of other equipment.
All this is complemented by a cafe and full bar for grownups.
There’s no admission fee at Nomads Adventure Quest and you pay for what you play.
9. Nomads Outdoor Adventure
Billed as one of the top high ropes centres in Connecticut, Nomads Outdoor Adventure has six aerial trails in nine acres of beautiful deciduous woodland.
The trails are color-coded by difficulty (yellow, green, blue and black), and have been smartly designed to depart from one central platform.
On average there are 14 transitions to overcome on each course, and at the end of each one you’ll descend to the forest floor by a zip-line.
The courses uses a passive gravity braking system, which removes the need for catchers on each platform, so you can continue your adventure at your own speed.
10. The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk
In the very south of the town, where South Windsor meets East Hartford and Manchester on the I-84 is a huge hilltop retail zone comprising malls, individual stores and eateries.
The most sophisticated of these is the outdoor mall, The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk, concentrating on specialty shops, upscale brands and restaurants.
Here you’ll find an Apple store, L’Occitane, Williams Sonoma, Sephora, Gap, Clarks, Old Navy, L.L. Bean and New Balance, to name a small few.
Food-wise you’ve got American cuisine (Burtons Grill, Ted’s Montana Grill), Flatbread Co. earth oven pizza, Sakura Garden Japanese steakhouse and a Panera.
11. The Shoppes at Buckland Hills
Part of the same enormous retail enclave, The Shoppes at Buckland Hills is a sizeable mall with almost 150 tenants.
Among these are stalwarts like Foot Locker, JCPenney, Barnes & Noble, Gamestop, H&M, Victoria’s Secret and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
For food, there are dozens of chains, both in the mall and on the lots around, from Red Robin to Taco Bell, Five Guys, Olive Garden, Chili’s and Friendly’s.
Right across the I-84 is Cinemark’s Buckland Hills 18 and IMAX, and if you’re up for some live comedy, Hartford Funny Bone has a street-level entrance at the mall.
12. South Windsor Arena
The town’s hockey arena has been around since the early 70s, and even though it’s starting to show its age is still a serviceable place to hit the ice.
Check the South Windsor Arena website for details of public skate sessions (normally on Sunday), as well as stick time, hockey schools & camps, and special tuition for freestyle skating and learning the basics.
One of the arena’s best features is its pro shop, Hockey 1, which has been in business as long as the rink and is simply one of the best places in the state to buy your hockey gear.
The snack bar also comes highly recommended, especially for its donuts.
13. Rye Street Park
This local park on Rye Street is in more than 160 acres and has all you could want for some outdoor recreation.
Just to summarise there are four tennis courts, two softball fields (one with lights), one full-size soccer field, three intermediate soccer fields, a basketball court and two combo fields for football or lacrosse.
Added to all that are some highly-rated mountain biking trails here with tight turns and sharp climbs.
On the quieter side of things, you’ve got a pond, picnic areas and a playground if you have littler children who need to burn off some energy.
14. Wickham Park
This sumptuous, 280-acre park is just a little way south of Buckland Hills and presents a patchwork of little gardens alongside family facilities.
In spring and summer give yourself as long as possible to stroll and discover the Arboretum, Lotus Garden, Oriental Garden, English Garden, Italian Garden and the Wetlands Garden, to name a few.
The Cabin Garden is at Wickham Park’s highest point and has a satisfying view west over the Hartford skyline.
Make for the aviary to see the peafowl, pheasants, turkeys, turkey vultures and waterfowl.
There are three playgrounds in all, one next to the aviary, a nature center, as well as amenities for tennis, volleyball, horseshoes and disc golf.
Open April to October, Wickham Park is privately run and has an entrance fee of $5 per car on weekdays and $7 on weekends.
The state capital is a matter of minutes away on the I-84 and warrants the trip for its culture and history.
In the decades after the Civil War this was the richest city in the nation, a place of booming industry led by brands like Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company.
At this time one of city’s many esteemed residents was Mark Twain, who wrote his most famous works at a splendid neo-Gothic house that is now a museum.
The Wadsworth Atheneum, America’s first public museum, has fabulous collections in American art, decorative arts and European art from Caravaggio to Dalí, via Joseph Wright of Derby, Renoir, Monet, Max Ernst and Joan Miró.
The Connecticut Science Center is up there with the best high-tech hands-on museums, and historic Bushnell Park boasts a carousel that has been turning since 1914.