This little town in New Haven County is home to fewer than 17,000 people, but is within touching distance of cities full of culture and history, so there’s much to do.
The largest of these is Waterbury to the south-west, which has a riveting regional museum and a dazzling performing arts venue at the Palace Theater.
Even closer is one of the top ski areas in Connecticut at Mount Southington, and the best theme park in the state, an easy drive away at Lake Compounce.
In range within 15 minutes of Wolcott are a chocolate factory, three craft breweries, a waterfall and a hands-on children’s museum.
1. Woodtick Recreation Area
Far from Long Island Sound Wolcott has its own town beach, and you’ll find it on the south shore of Scoville Reservoir.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day you can laze on the sand, while children can splash in the calm, shallow water.
There’s even a designated area for youngsters to play in safety, as well as a raft and slide.
On dry land the Woodtick Recreation Area has basketball and volleyball courts, a big picnic area, a snack bar and a great playground for children.
Daily fees apply, and these differ for Wolcott residents and non-residents.
2. Palace Theater
If you’re anywhere near Waterbury and have a taste for the arts, the Palace Theater (1921) needs to be in your plans, whether you come for a live show or one of the regular guided tours.
This Renaissance Revival venue was designed as a movie/vaudeville house by Thomas W.
Lamb, one of the leading theater designers of the day.
The facade is striking, at 38 meters wide, and when you go inside you’ll understand how the interiors could cost $1 million 90 years ago.
There are marvellous domed ceilings, and Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs everywhere you look.
On the bill at the Palace Theater are rock and pop giants (Brian Wilson in September 2019), Broadway shows, tribute acts, big time comedians and the monthly storytelling series 2nd Act, in which local people tell their thought-provoking life stories.
3. Shebeen Brewing Company
The first of three craft breweries on this list bills itself as the only Irish brewery in Connecticut.
Shebeen Brewing is right on Wolcott Road, towards Waterbury, and has a taproom open Wednesday to Sunday with 13 active taps.
This dog-friendly spot comes with a projection TV, air-hockey, foosball, board games, darts, pinball and trivia every Thursday night.
Not to forget the beer itself, which is brewed in small batches and includes stouts, IPAs and lagers to appeal to all palates, as well as some outlandish brews (think pumpkin spice cannoli and cucumber wasabi). Wolcott’s pizza joint, Five Guys Flippin Pies, brings the pizza on Friday nights, and Shelton’s Drunk Alpaca stocks the taproom with chips, nuts, jerky and hot pretzels.
4. Peterson Memorial Park
North of Wolcott’s proper, beside Wolcott Road is the sort of local park every town needs.
In more than 65 acres of open field and woodland Peterson Memorial Park has basketball courts, tennis courts volleyball courts, a skate park and a generous picnic grove with two pavilions.
Added to this are two spacious play areas accommodating kids of different ages.
Peterson Memorial Park can also be the first step on an epic hike, as the Blue-Blazed Mattatuck Trail begins right here, bending through the landscape for 36 miles to Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall where it joins the world famous Appalachian Trail.
5. Lake Compounce
One of New England’s top amusement parks is a short car-ride away, home to more than 50 rides and attractions and Crocodile Cove, the largest waterpark in the state.
Lake Compounce is the oldest continuously operating amusement in the country, dating back as far as 1846. If you love the rickety ride of an authentic wooden rollercoaster the you’ve come to the right place.
Boulder Dash, opened in 2000, has been named the best rollercoaster in the world three times in the last two decades in Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards.
And at a park with Lake Compounce’s history there are a few vintage rides.
Wildcat (1927) is the 14th-oldest wooden rollercoaster in the world, and the elegant Lake Compounce Carousel has been turning since 1911.
6. Mount Southington Ski Area
There’s year-round family fun in Wolcott because when winter comes you’ve got a whole ski resort just a couple of miles away.
In just over 50 acres, Mount Southington has 14 trails ranging from Green Circle (six) to Black Diamond (two). These pistes are served by seven lifts.
In an average winter Mount Southington will receive two meters of snowfall, but the ski area has a 100% snowmaking facilities to ensure a long season.
As well as being convenient to get to, Mount Southington gives you a lot of bag for your buck: You can ski or ride for as little as $70 (equipment included), from 10:00 to 15:00 on weekdays.
For novices, lessons start at $90 for a 1-1/2 session, with eight hours of lift access included.
7. Buttermilk Falls
Just off Wolcott Road in Plymouth there’s a stunning waterfall spilling over a set of horsetails, cascades and slides from a height of 16 meters.
Buttermilk Falls can be reached via a short trail, little over half a mile long and delivering you to the top of the waterfall.
From there you’ll need to shimmy down the side to appreciate the falls, against the hemlock woodland, moss-coated rocks and ferns along the riverbank.
Buttermilk Falls is at its best between April and November, and is likely to freeze during the tough Connecticut winter.
8. Mattatuck Museum
At the time of writing in 2019, this highly-regarded Waterbury institution dealing with the culture and history of the Central Naugatuck Valley was going through an $8m renovation.
Exhibits had temporarily been relocated to the branch, Rose Hill, at 63 Prospect Street.
Designed by feted New Haven architect Henry Austin (1804-1891), this splendid house was a residence for three of Waterbury’s most important industrialist families: the Scovills, Weltons and Chases.
One exhibition examined the history of the house and the wealthy families who lived here.
The house’s four parlor rooms on the first floor displayed selections from the museum’s huge inventory.
At the time of writing you could see Charles Goodyear’s rubber desk, as well as diverse colonial-era portraits, all sorts of objects manufactured in Waterbury and art by Faith Ringgold, Kay Faith and Alexander Calder.
9. Fascia’s Chocolates
What started out as a side-business for a Waterbury toolmaker in 1964 blossomed into this large operation with a factory that is pure heaven for chocoholics.
On Saturdays you can visit for an “Experience Your Chocolate” tour, which entails tastings, chocolate-making demonstrations and a presentation speeding you through the history of chocolate at how you get from “bean to bar” and from “bar to box”. A remote-controlled camera gives you a glimpse of the factory floor.
You’ll also be able you to craft your own chocolate bar as a keepsake (this is also available as a standalone experience). The factory store is open Monday to Saturday and boasts an enticing selection of gelato.
10. Seven Angels Theatre
This producing theatre is based at the grand pavilion in Waterbury’s Hamilton Park.
It was founded in 1990 after the Equity television actor Semina De Laurentis had returned from Hollywood for a spell during the LA writers strike of 1988. With De Laurentis as Artistic Director, Seven Angels is a non-profit enterprise, and each season puts on musicals and plays featuring talent sourced from area, beefed up with professional production values.
There’s also a line-up of live music and comedy throughout the season, and Seven Angels also runs kids’ acting classes, a summer theatre program and a variety of other community programs.
11. Kinsmen Brewing
Milldale’s craft brewery, Kinsmen Brewing, is both family-owned and operated.
Open seven days, the brewery has an unpretentious taproom built by hand from reclaimed lumber, piping and leftover industrial materials at what used to be the Clark Brothers Bolt Company Factory (1854). A feather in Kinsmen’s cap is that it sits alongside the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, tempting walkers and cyclists in need of refreshment.
Of the 12 beers on tap in September 2019, Double Roast, a double coffee stout, appealed to our taste for dark malty brews.
But there’s no shortage of hoppy IPAs like Hot Pocket and Rawesome, and lighter picks like the Super Ultra Premium American macro lager.
12. Brass Works Brewing Company
Also riding the Craft Beer wave is Brass Works Brewing company, which opened in Waterbury in 2015. Another family operation, this time with a pair of brothers and a brother-in-law, Brass Works has a taproom open Thursday to Sunday and had 16 brews on draft in September 2019. Among these were fruity IPAs, dark stouts and porters, three Saisons, a blonde ale and a German-style Märzen called Oktoberfest.
Keep up to date with their social accounts for new beer launches and live music, as there’s some sort of even or promotion every weekend.
If you’re in the area outside of opening hours, then the Italian restaurant, Zuppa in Wolcott pours Brass Works beer.
13. Imagine Nation
A short hop in Bristol is this NAEYC-accredited preschool, that is also as an attraction for families with smaller children for its three levels of 12 interactive museum studios.
Imagine Nation promotes self-guided investigation and experiential learning to help develop critical thinking, confidence, creativity, citizenship and a sense of curiosity.
Take Light & Reflection, where kids can experiment with light, shadow, reflection and refraction, or Wellness, where they can learn about physical wellbeing through role play.
Wee ones can build their own inventions at Kinetic, or get creative at Art, with the help of a qualified Atelierista.
The studios feature lots of safe, real-life props and are all staffed by enthusiastic professional educators.
14. Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum
Decades of popular culture is compiled at this enthralling museum presenting more than 80,000 antique toys and collectibles.
This extraordinary display was begun by Gloria and Herbert Barker in the 1960s and swelled over the next 40 years.
Their goal was to preserve everyday childhood items for future generations.
There are toys, games, automatons, apparel, comics, cut-outs, dolls, posters and tea sets, depicting or branded with every popular culture characters you could imagine.
The oldest pieces are a pair of cast iron walking elephants, manufactured in Bridgeport in 1873. You can take a trip through time, perusing early Disney toys, Three Stooges collectibles, Shirley Temple dolls, crude vintage Halloween masks, official Beatles memorabilia, Star Wars dolls, and much more than we could ever hope to list.
15. Farmingbury Hills Golf Course
You could hardly pick a prettier spot for a golf course than here on the cusp of the Apple Valley.
Divided between Wolcott and Southington, Farmingbury Hills is a municipal nine-hole that was landscaped as long ago as the 1920s.
If you play 18 you’ll notice that the positioning of the tee boxes creates a different challenge on what is essentially a nine-hole course.
Take the 8th, which is a 180-yard par 3 on the front 9, but becomes a par 4 as the 17th hole on the back 9. And as this is a muni, the green fees are reasonable, at $20-$30 for 18 holes.