A manufacturing town once known for its cutlery and silverware, Wallingford has moved into high-tech industries in the last 20 years.
For you and me Wallingford’s appeal comes from its abundant nature, and rural businesses like two award-winning vineyards, a cider mill and a beloved farm stand.
Spectacular natural landforms dot the horizon to the east and west on the basalt Metacomet Ridge, and you can hike along this fault via the Mattabesett Trail, rewarding you with views for miles from this natural ledge.
The Toyota Oakdale Theater brings in audiences from across central Connecticut, while Trail of Terror is a famous Halloween attraction in October with amazing production values.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Wallingford:
1. Gouveia Vineyards
A pastoral hilltop in the rural south of Wallingford is fluted with more than 32 acres of vineyards, maintained by the Gouveia family.
The winery produces 90,000 bottles a year, using knowhow imported from Portugal by the founder Joe Gouveia, who grew up in a village near Viseu.
Gouveia Vineyards grows a wide array of grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, for a brief summary.
Cresting the hill and blessed with panoramic views in all directions is the beautiful Stone House, which welcomes visitors for wine tasting all year, as well as Cellar Tours on weekends from spring to autumn.
At a $12.00 wine tasting you can try five pre-selected wines and one of your choice.
2. Toyota Oakdale Theatre
Wallingford may be a town of modest proportions, but is home to a massive multi-purpose venue that serves the region.
The Oakdale Theatre started out as an open-air stage for summer stock in 1954, later becoming a concert venue played by Paul Anka, Tom Jones, The Who and The Doors.
A wooden dome was added in 1972, and then the venue went through its biggest transformation in the mid-90s at a cost of $21m.
Now there’s a cavernous main auditorium holding 4,803 and the smaller Dome accommodating 1,649. The bill is busy all year round with touring artists (Avril Lavigne and Maren Morris in 2019), tribute acts, dance companies, sports entertainment shows and major live shows for children by the likes of Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol.
3. Paradise Hills Vineyard
Another recommended stop on the CT Wine Trail is Paradise Hills, a boutique, Tuscan-inspired winery in 65 acres of undulating countryside.
The Ruggiero family has been tending these vines since 1997, cultivating Vignoles, Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga, Vidal Blanc, Tramenet and Chambourcin grapes, among others.
The idyllic terroir benefits from lots of summer sun and plenty of drainage.
Wine tastings take place daily, at a sophisticated copper indoor bar and an outdoor bar during the summer.
On a first come, first served basis you can sample a selection of award-winning reds like Landon Noir and St.
Croix, as well as the vineyard’s white Traminette varietal, with floral aromas and hints of melon, white peaches and lime.
Check the winery’s calendar before you come because there’s also regular live music.
4. Farmer Joe’s Gardens
For the people of Wallingford and Meriden this farm stand provides baskets of super-fresh organic produce as part of a community-supported agriculture programme.
But you can also pay a visit to the store for seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, butter, cream, preserves, honey, maple syrup, spreads and sauces, and a lot more.
If you’re visiting with children you could turn it into a little excursion as there are farmyard animals like goats, chickens and a pig in pens at the back.
5. New England Cider Company
Cider has been given the craft brewery treatment at this mill in an industrial area by the Quinnipiac River.
And just like a craft brewery the New England Cider Company runs a cosy taproom where you can sample the fruits of their press from Thursday to Sunday.
The company was established in 2013 by two friends with years of home-brewing experience.
When we made this list in summer 2019 there were six ciders on tap, like the fruit Strawberry, Ginger Hibiscus and Pineapple, the dry Viva La Cider and the highly potent Double Fresh (9%). There are family games and you can order a selection of cheese and charcuterie to go with your cider.
6. Quinnipiac Linear Trail
This well-maintained walking trail is in a natural, undeveloped corridor between the west bank of the Quinnipiac River and the Wilbur Cross Parkway.
The paved route, designed for walking, biking and skating, continues for more than a mile from Community Lake in the south.
You’ll wander through groves of red maples, cedar junipers and red oaks, bordered by meadows, before crossing the Quinnipiac on a new iron bridge and going underneath the Wilbur Cross Parkway where the trail ends in a picturesque setting by the river.
What’s interesting is that the landscape here is man-made: Community Lake was created by a dam to power the local silverware industry.
That dam broke in 1979, and these woods and meadows now grow on what used to be the lake bed.
7. Mattabesett Trail
Wallingford is on the route of a 50-mile Blue-Blazed walking trail, which bends through central Connecticut on a horseshoe-shaped route from the Connecticut River at Middletown to Lamentation Mountain in Berlin.
The portion of the trail that passes through Wallingford is hoisted on the Metacomet Ridge, an immense basalt fault formed at the end of the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, and shooting north to south through Connecticut and Massachusetts for 100 miles.
On the trail in Wallingford is the Tri-Mountain State Park, which can only be reached on foot and contains the 230-metre Trimountain, which merges with Besek Mountain to the north and Fowler Mountain to the south.
8. Nehemiah Royce House
An essential detour, this historic saltbox-style house is at 538 North Main Street, on the southern end of the little Dutton Park.
Nehemiah Royce (1636-1706) was a local carpenter, joiner and blacksmith, and from 1693 represented Wallingford at the Court of the Connecticut Colony.
His house dates to 1672 and just over a century later was twice visited by George Washington, in 1775 during the Revolutionary War, and then in 1789 when he gave an address by an elm in front of the building.
The Nehemiah Royce House is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by a preservation trust which occasionally opens the building up for tours.
9. On Track Karting
There’s high-octane family fun at this indoor karting facility staffed by a friendly team that puts safety first.
“Arrive & Drive” is available at On Track Karting, allowing you to simply show up, pay, take part in an a registration process and enter an eight-minute heat session at one of the longest and fastest tracks in the United States.
For additional races you can buy “race credits”, which start at $24 per race, but are cheaper in bulk.
People aged 15 and up will get behind the wheel of a 6.5-horsepower GT5 Sodi kart, capable of an eye-watering 40 mph.
Juniors above the age of seven will race in slower, 4-horsepower karts with a top speed of 25mph.
Party packages are available, and if you want to take you hobby to the next level you can join the “Pro Club” and test your skills against the fastest karters in the area in ultra-quick 9-horsepower karts.
10. Doolittle Park
This well-appointed local park has tons of facilities for children and anyone who wants to be active.
There’s a cluster of baseball fields, as well as tennis courts and a basketball court, all in good condition.
A pavilion offers needed shade in summer, and is surrounded by plenty of benches and picnic tables.
The newly improved playground is a real feather in Doolittle Park’s cap, and is divided into two sections, for toddlers and for bigger kids, both with an unusual amount of equipment to keep youngsters entertained.
The Wallingford Garden Market, trading fresh produce, specialty foods, cut flowers, arts and crafts, smoothies, homemade sauces, essential oils and much more, sets up around the pavilion every Saturday from mid-June to late-September.
11. Sleeping Giant State Park
Wallingford’s south-western boundary grazes this state park protecting one of the Metacomet Ridge’s many extraordinary landforms.
Sleeping Giant is a basalt ridge that in profile literally looks like a giant sleeping on its back, with features like a head, chin, chest, hips, knee and feet all identifiable.
The giant is 2.75 miles long and 1.75 miles across, and its highest point is the left hip, which is crowned by an observation tower built as WPA project during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
This monument is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers breathtaking panoramas of the Quinnipiac and Mill River Valleys.
12. Wharton Brook State Park
Somewhere to go to get away from it all for a couple of hours, Wharton Brook State Park is in the process of recovering from a tornado and micro burst in May 2018. The park reopened just over six months later and features coniferous woodland around the five-acre Allen Brook Pond.
Although some of the forest was damaged in the storm, there are still lots of impressive pitch pines, climbing to 30 metres tall.
Wharton Brook State Park was established in 1919 as a “Wayside Park”, a forerunner to highway rest stops, in a much trafficked part of Connecticut, now beside the I-91. You can walk the short trails, take picnics and go for a swim in the pond in summer, which is also stocked with trout regularly between Opening Day and Memorial Day.
13. Sky Zone Wallingford
Wallingford has a branch of the nationwide trampoline park chain, promising fun for kids, as well as surprisingly punishing exercise for grown ups.
As with All Sky Zones, the park has a line-up of attractions, like Skyslam where you can do your best LeBron James impression, Ultimate Dodgeball, Battle Beam where you can challenge a rival to a test of balance and strength and Foam Zone where you can dive into a bed of soft foam blocks.
For something more conventional there’s free-style jumping in a room with wall-to-wall trampolines.
You can do some serious exercise at one of the regular Skyfit sessions, while there’s also Toddler Time, and Glow, a sort of jumping club with blacklight and music every Friday night.
14. Trail of Terror
Now more than 25 years old, this creepy outdoor attraction is open only for the Halloween season and relies on a dedicated band of volunteers.
Every year there’s a new theme, new story, new costumes and new special effects, and there’s always a dash of humour to go with the scares.
The size of Trail of Terror is also shocking, as instead of a few minutes it will take up to an hour to get through the 30-odd interactive scenes, brought to life by 50+ costumed actors.
When you’re not terrified you’ll be at awe of the amount of work that must go into the props, set design and characters.
Advanced tickets go on sale as early as August and are worthwhile because the queues for this popular attraction can be up to two hours long.
At the time of writing the theme for the 2019 Trail of Terror was “Fear Takes Time”.
15. Tyler Mill
The same tornado that hit Wharton Brook State Park in May 2018 also struck this nature preserve in the very south of the town.
Tyler Mill would stay closed for a year, but these 1,400 wooded acres are open to hikers once more.
Tyler Mill has an almost overwhelming choice of walking trails, and its steep topography puts it up there with the best places in the area for mountain biking.
For walkers there’s a trail for every experience level, the best of which leads up to a beautiful lookout if you have the energy.
If you’re in luck you may spot a deer or distant black bear in the woodland.