15 Best Things to Do in West Haven (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The city of West Haven is a lovable shore community where New Haven Harbor meets Long Island Sound. Now a summer beach destination, this place was previously 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 southwest of New Haven, with Yale’s Collegiate Gothic architecture and  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. I find it incredible to think that 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

Savin Rock ParkSource: Mark Battista / shutterstock
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. This attraction once 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. Together with neighboring Oak Street Beach there will always be live music on summer weekends. 

On these days the boardwalk is full of life. Things reach a whole other level during the Savin Rock Festival in late July. 

Campbell Avenue and Captain Thomas Boulevard are in easy reach and have a wide variety of restaurants. On my last visit, the options included ramen, sushi, Italian, Chinese, or sandwiches with roasted meats (Savin Rock Roasting Co.).

2. Bradley Point Park

Bradley Point ParkSource: Bob Amato -‎Universal tree of life / facebook
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. This path 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 the start of September. There’s supervision every day during the summer break, between late-June and mid-August.

3. West Haven Green

Congregational ChurchSource: The original uploader was Polaron at English Wikipedia. / Wikimedia
Congregational Church

Smack 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, honoring the British Adjutant William Campbell. He 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. At the end of September the West Haven Apple Festival brings food and craft vendors.

4. 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. By that I mean, sand, distant views over Long Island Sand, and a scenic boardwalk. There’s even occasional live music on summer weekends.

It’s up to you whether you want to brave the Long Island Sound waters. All the same, 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.

5. New Haven

New HavenSource: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
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.

I’d think of New Haven as the ultimate cultural day out, just five minutes away. There’s Gauguin, van Gogh and more at the Yale University Art Gallery, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner at the Yale Center for British Art.

Then you’ve got dinosaur fossils and Ancient Egyptian artifacts at the wonderful Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Meanwhile, 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.

6. Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary

Sandy Point Bird SanctuarySource: Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary / facebook
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 of a host of birds making stopovers.

There’s an observation platform, and in the last few years a handful of upgrades have been added. These include wooden planters, a flagpole and a butterfly garden.

On my last visit, the city of West Haven had just received Audubon’s Share the Shore Award, for its work conserving birdlife at Sandy Point.

7. Stowe’s Seafood

Stowe's SeafoodSource: Stowe's Seafood / facebook
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.

I’m talking, fish and chips, CT-style lobster rolls, lobster salad, fried lobster, fried shrimp, lobster bisque, fried scallop, fried clam, fried squid and soft shell crab, to name a small selection. If you can’t decide, get the Treasure Chest, for a bit of everything. 

The shack is open 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM (6 on Sundays), seven days a week.

8. New Haven-style Pizza

West Haven has the same pizza pedigree as its neighbor. In case you don’t know, New Haven-style pizza is a regional variant loved by pizza aficionados—and non-foodies like me. 

It’s inspired by Neapolitan pizza, and has the same thin crust and sparing use of toppings. In fact, mozzarella is often considered an additional topping rather than an essential part of a pie.

The pizza is baked at absurdly high temperatures, which gives it a unique char. Anyway, there are a few spots around West Haven specializing in this style. The local star is Zuppiardi’s (179 Union Ave), around since 1934, and evolved from a bakery.

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 meadow-like foreshore is less developed 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. This flows through the park and reaches Long Island Sound at the south end of the bird sanctuary.

Something I adore about Morse Beach is the view. You can sit and contemplate New Haven Harbor, picking out the historic Five Mile Point Light (1805) across the water.

10. Painter Park

Painter ParkSource: Kristina Nigro / facebook
Painter Park

This park is named for Thomas Painter, a teenaged militiaman. He 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.

To my mind, the children’s playground is one of the best in the New Haven area. Composed of wood, it’s designed like a castle, and there’s a smaller play area for toddlers just by the tennis courts.

11. Ward-Heitmann House

Ward-Heitmann HouseSource: The Forge at the Ward Heitmann House Museum / facebook
Ward-Heitmann House

The oldest surviving building in West Haven is a beautiful three-bay clapboard residence. Found at 277 Elm Street and possibly built as early as 1684, the Ward-Heitmann House is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Over the last 30 years the building has been undergoing restoration, while occasionally 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 I made this list, the house was temporarily closed as a new roof was being installed.

12. B&B Flower Farm

B&B Flower FarmSource: B&B Farms, L.L.C. / facebook
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 my personal favorites 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 hayride in the autumn. Then at Christmas B&B sells trees and unique hand-crafted decorations.

13. PEZ Visitor Center

PEZ Visitor CenterSource: Sean Wandzilak / shutterstock
PEZ Visitor Center

The Austrian candy brand, PEZ, has its American headquarters in Orange, under ten minutes from downtown West Haven.

I don’t think you need to be a PEZ devotee to get a kick out of their visitor center, 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. Check out the PEZ-themed motorcycle designed by TV’s Orange County Chopper.

A window even lets you see what’s happening on the production floor. Meanwhile decades of PEZ accessories are neatly presented in glass display cases. My kids had a blast completing the scavenger hunt, with a PEZ dispenser and roll of candies as a prize.

The factory store is special, selling dispensers and PEZ flavors that you’ve never sampled before.

14. IT Adventure Ropes Course

IT Adventure Ropes CourseSource: It Adventure Ropes Course / facebook
IT Adventure Ropes Course

Head across the West River where Jordan’s Furniture holds the largest indoor ropes course in the world.

This is on four levels, with 100+ challenges and zip-rails nearly 60 feet above the floor . When it comes to transitions you’ve got zigzag swinging beams, a double catwalk, crisscross angle rope ladders, cargo nets, and a multitude of bridges.

No prior experience will be needed to tackle the course, which is great news for someone with my lowly climbing skills. After your adventure you can indulge at the pizza and ice cream parlor.

15. Robert Treat Farm

Robert Treat FarmSource: Robert Treat Farm / facebook
Robert Treat Farm

A mere ten minutes from downtown West Haven, there’s another rustic farm stand across the town line in Woodmont.

Robert Treat Farm is a true family enterprise, just in from Long Island Sound and with a shop housed in a beautiful post-and-beam barn raised in 2008. 

Friday through Sunday the stand sells fruit and vegetables as they come into season. There’s also homemade pies, honey, cheeses, bread, preserves, and I can’t get enough of the fresh milk in glass bottles.

Be sure to come by in spring, when the garden center is stocked with annuals, perennials, shrubberies, and fruit trees.

15 Best Things to Do in West Haven (CT):