The city of West Haven is a low-key but likeable sort of place, formerly known for shipping and manufacturing, as well as a historic amusement park that closed down in 1966. At West Haven’s lovely historic green you’re only a few miles south-west of the youthful city of New Haven, enriched with the Gothic architecture of Yale University and a slew of big-hitting museums.
West Haven shines for its continuous sandy shoreline, bordered for most of its length by a lush, grassy foreshore and interspersed with little piers.
This is the longest stretch of publicly accessible shoreline in Connecticut, and these four miles make up almost a quarter of the state’s stock of public beaches.
At the easternmost end sits the ecologically important Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary, a nesting place for colonies of terns and plovers.
1. Savin Rock Park
From the end of the 19th century to 1966, West Haven had its own version of Coney Island in the Savin Rock Amusement Park, which drew in people from across the Northeast.
With those days long gone, Savin Rock Park is now more oriented to relaxation and gentle strolls along the boardwalk.
Both the sandy public beach and the newly landscaped green space behind are well looked-after, and together with neighbouring Oak Street Beach there will be live music on weekends.
On these days the boardwalk is full of life.
Campbell Avenue and Captain Thomas Boulevard are in easy reach and have a wide variety of restaurants, whether you’re up for ramen, sushi, Italian, Chinese or sandwiches with roasted meats (Savin Rock Roasting Co.). In summer you can learn about what came before at the Savin Rock Museum, documenting the amusement park with personal accounts, photos, footage and the “Silver Fox”, one of the carousel horses.
2. PEZ Visitor Center
The Austrian candy brand, PEZ, has its American headquarters in Orange, under ten minutes from downtown West Haven.
You don’t need to be a PEZ devotee to get a kick out of their visitor centre, which has the largest collection of PEZ memorabilia in the world.
There are interactive games and weird and wonderful exhibits like the world’s largest PEZ dispenser and a PEZ themed motorcycle designed by TV’s Orange County Chopper.
A window lets you see what’s happening on the production floor, while decades of PEZ accessories are neatly presented in glass display cases.
The factory store is special, selling dispensers and PEZ flavours that you’ve never sampled before.
3. Stowe’s Seafood
At the east end of the Savin Rock Trail you’ll happen upon a beachfront shack with a forecourt adorned with rigging, nets, buoys, Jolly Rogers and pirate characters.
This is Stowe’s Seafood, a classic and much-lauded New England seafood shack, with a no-nonsense menu of fish and chips and rolls filled with sautéed lobster, lobster salad, fried lobster, fried shrimp, fried scallop, fried clam, fried squid and soft shell crab, to name a small selection.
The shack is open 10:00 to 19:00 seven days a week.
4. Bradley Point Park
Immediately west of Savin Rock Park is Bradley Point Park, which has a beach defended by the park’s namesake headland jutting out into Long Island Sound.
The beach is sandy and well-kept, and on its west side has a playground installed recently in memory of Sandy Hook victim Charlotte Bacon.
On the foreshore you can continue along the Savin Rock Trail, which loops around Bradley Point and back to Ocean Avenue.
Bradley Point marks the place where British troops landed for Tryon’s Raid during the Revolutionary War in 1779. As with the other beaches along this piece of coast, Bradley Point Beach is patrolled by lifeguards from the end of May to start of September, with supervision every day during the summer break, between late-June and mid-August.
5. West Haven Green
Slap in the middle of town is a typical New England Green, and West Haven’s green is as picturesque as you’d hope.
Out-climbing the green’s grand old trees is the spire of the West Haven Congregational Church, dating back to 1859. Placed among the foliage are benches, war memorials, a bandstand and a stone chess table.
Look for the boulder at the east end of Savin Avenue, honouring the British Adjutant William Campbell who saved the life of the clergyman Noah Williston during Tryon’s Raid in 1779. West Haven Green is the core of the namesake historical district, incorporating 20 of the 23 properties on and beside the green.
There’s seasonal decoration here, including beautiful lighting at Christmas, and at the end of September the West Haven Apple Festival brings food and craft vendors.
6. Oak Street Beach
On the east side of Savin Rock Park, the Savin Rock Trail threads past another pleasing beach framed by greenery.
Oak Street Beach comes with all the things you’d want from the West Haven coast: Soft sand, distant views over Long Island Sand, a sociable boardwalk and even occasional live music on summer weekends.
It’s up to you whether you want to brave the Long Island Sound waters, but the beach is a spotless place to hang out in summer, and children can comb the sand for shells.
You can play horseshoes on the boardwalk and food trucks pull up just behind, so you can grab a bite, wander and be soothed by the scenery.
7. New Haven
In case you needed reminding, a vibrant city and the home of Yale University is just a little way up New Haven Harbor.
Think of New Haven as the ultimate cultural day out.
There’s Gauguin, van Gogh and more at the Yale University Art Gallery, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner at the Yale Center for British Art, and dinosaur fossils and Ancient Egyptian artefacts at the wonderful Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Yale’s oldest house is the springboard for university tours by qualified student guides.
You’ll get to see the famous Collegiate Gothic architecture, which reaches its apogee at the Sterling Memorial Library.
The tour will also take in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which holds one of the 48 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
8. Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary
This long sandy spit at the end of West Haven’s line of beaches forms the western lip of New Haven Harbor.
In 66 acres, Sandy Point is composed of dunes, sandbars, a tidal creek, salt marsh and tidal flats.
This environment is frequented by a wealth of birdlife, nesting or making short stops during long migrations.
The salt marsh is a summer nesting spot for sharp-tailed sparrows, and you’ll see piping plovers on the sand.
The sanctuary also supports important colonies of common tern and least tern, while the red knot is one a host of birds making stopovers.
There’s an observation platform, and in the last few years a handful of upgrades have been added, including wooden planters, a flagpole and a butterfly garden.
9. Morse Park
Just in from Sandy Point and within a minute or two of Stowe’s Seafood, Morse Park may be the quietest patch of West Haven’s coastline.
The foreshore is less meticulously cared for than, say, Savin Rock Park, and has been allowed to grow out.
Further in there are baseball fields with bleachers, while hemmed by wetlands is the Old Field Creek, flowing through the park and reaching Long Island Sound at the south end of the bird sanctuary.
One of the joys of Morse Beach is to sit and contemplate New Haven Harbor, picking out the historic Five Mile Point Light (1805) across the water.
10. Painter Park
This park is named for Thomas Painter, a teenaged militiaman who was the first to engage the British invaders at Bradley Point, before retreating when he saw the size of the attack.
He is depicted standing atop Savin Rock, watching for British ships on West Haven’s town seal.
Painter Park has tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball diamonds and soccer pitches, and there’s a camp here in summer for kids.
You can also rent the park’s pavilions in summer, when the grills are primed for barbecues.
The children’s playground is one of the best around and designed like a castle, while there’s a smaller play area for toddlers just by the tennis courts.
11. Ward-Heitmann House
The oldest surviving building in West Haven is an understated three-bay clapboard house, found at 277 Elm Street and possibly built as early as 1684. The Ward-Heitmann House is on the National Register of Historic Places and over the last 25 years has been undergoing restoration, while open as a historic house museum.
Each room has been furnished to represent a different period, from Colonial to post-Civil War, to help you feel closer to the many families that have called the property “home”. When we made this list in summer 2019 the house was closed for work to replace the foundations to the house’s library wing.
12. B&B Flower Farm
On a cute rural plot towards the northern end of Jones Hill Road is a friendly, family-run farm shop for seasonal produce, flowers, arts and crafts and homemade treats.
In summer people drive a long way for a scoop or three of the farm’s delectable ice cream: A couple of favourites are the chocolate peanut butter crunch and the orange creme.
Kids will also love meeting the farm’s horses, donkeys, goats and friendly dogs.
You can pick pumpkins and go on a hay-ride in the autumn, and at Christmas B&B sells trees and unique hand-crafted decorations.
13. IT Adventure Ropes Course
Head across the West River where Jordan’s Furniture holds the largest indoor high ropes course in the world.
There are more than 100 activities packed into this enormous hall.
When it comes to transitions on the main course you’ll have to negotiate zigzag swinging beams, a double cat walk, crisscross angle rope ladders, cargo nets and a multitude of bridges.
There’s also a liquid firework (water) display, a ropes course for smaller children, four creative vertical climbing walls and four zip-lines up to 55 metres long.
No prior experience will be needed to tackle the course, and after your adventure you can indulge at the pizza and ice cream parlour.
14. Robert Treat Farm
A mere ten minutes from downtown West Haven, there’s another rustic farm shop across the town line in Woodmont.
Robert Treat Farm is another family enterprise, just in from Long Island Sound and with a farm shop housed in a beautiful post and beam barn raised in 2008. Drop by on Wednesdays and Saturdays for fruit and vegetables as they come into season, as well as pies, honey, cheeses, bread, preserves and fresh milk in glass bottles.
Robert Treat Farm also has a garden centre for annuals, perennials, shrubberies and trees, and on summer weekends welcomes the Woodmont Farmers’ Market, with traders specialising in fresh pasta, tamales, pizza, cannoli, seafood, pastries and much more.
15. Monster Mini Golf, Orange
If you’ve had to drag older children or teenagers around New Haven’s more cerebral attractions you could reward them with a visit to this spooky, glow-in-the-dark mini golf centre.
Set in a cemetery, the entire 18-hole course is indoor, lit by black light and inhabited by a cast of monsters and ghouls, all of which are animated.
To go with the course there’s a video arcade with lots of ticket redemption games, and the Monster Laser Tag Arena, using yet more black light, fog, mines and ambient music.