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Most people think of Yale when they think of New Haven, Connecticut. If they think of New Haven at all, that is. When my husband and I moved to Connecticut many years ago, I think the only thing I knew about Connecticut at all was Yale. Almost 20 years later, I know a few more things about Connecticut. For example, do you know there is no real name for a person from Connecticut? Someone from Virginia is called a Virginian, Washington a Washingtonian, etc. Someone from Connecticut is a . . . . Connecticutter? Most people say they are Nutmeggers (we are the nutmeg state) or simply New Englanders. But there is no official word!
Despite the quirks of this tiny state, we have loved living here and we love how close New Haven is! It is a town with endless charm and so many things to do. A few weekends ago we played tourist in our own state to bring you A Fall Weekend in New Haven, Connecticut.
East Rock Park
To help you get the lay of the land, and to see a beautiful display of reds and oranges, drive up East Rock mountain, and be rewarded by the view of the city. You can pick out Yale campus, Long Island sound, and many surrounding neighborhoods. While you are there, you can picnic at one of the many picnic benches.
Plan on 30 minutes
Wooster Street is probably aptly named Little Italy in New Haven. Italians who had immigrated through Ellis Island at the turn of the last century made their way to New Haven and became the largest immigrant group in the area. As they settled in Italian neighborhoods, the cultural phenomenon known as pizza began to make its mark on New Haven. If you are not from the area, you probably had no idea that pizza is big business in the Elm City.
A story of pizza rivalry unfolded in the early 1900s on Wooster Street that has continued through today. Two of the top contenders for the New Haven pizza crown are on Wooster Street: Pepe’s (voted by thrillist.com as best pizza in the country for 3 years running) and Sally’s. (We will talk more about pizza in our good eats section) Other Italian eateries line the street, and you can’t walk down this street without running into some deliciousness.
Plan on 10 minutes to walk around or longer if you are going to eat.
Tip: while you are waiting for your food, there is a playground on that street
Although New Haven is more than just Yale, Yale does dominate a lot of the things to see and do in New Haven. Yale University was founded in 1701 and is well known as one of the best universities in the world. It was built to represent the great universities of the old world, particularly Cambridge. Tours are offered almost every day of the year, and I really recommend the architecture tour. If you choose to just look around Yale instead of do a tour, you will still see plenty. Pay attention to the architecture of the different doors. That alone could be a tour.
Plan on 1-2 hours depending on the tour
Yale Museum of British Art/ Yale Art museum
These two museums are right across the street from each other and are both free! Now, if your kids are like my kids, museums are not high up on their list of fun things. However, when a museum is free you can take them in for 10-15 minutes and leave without remorse. I slightly prefer the British art museum to the Yale Art museum, but they are both great.
Plan on 30 minutes to an hour
Peabody museum of natural history
This is a museum your kids will like! Alas, it is not free but on Tuesday afternoons it is pay as you wish. My kids love this museum because it has dinosaurs! They also love the ancient Egypt exhibit and the hall of minerals.
Plan on 1-2 hours.
This is a must see in my book because of the architecture alone. This is Yale’s rare book library and is one of the largest repositories of rare books. The main part of the library has no windows but the walls are made out of square slabs of thin marble. When the sun shines, the entire library is filled with a gentle glow. It is gorgeous. It is free to the public, and children are more than welcome as long as they use their inside voices. While you are there you can check out an original Gutenberg bible.
Plan on 30 minutes.
If you are a food lover, New Haven is the town for you. This small city boasts more restaurants than days of the year. So, in trying to pick the best, I was flummoxed in trying to pick the most authentic New Haven meal that you can have. Bear in mind that there are many fabulous places to eat.
As I mentioned above, pizza is the food to eat in New Haven. It even has its own special name, abeetz (which means pizza in Italian). The pizza has its roots in Naples and is a thin crust with a slightly chewy texture. It is generally cooked in a coal fired oven at very high temperatures (which results in a slightly charred crust).
If you want authentic abeetz, head over to Wooster Street and hop in line for Pepe’s pizza. Order the white clam pizza (the best pizza in America according to thrillist.com) or the fresh tomato (summer availability only) and wash it down with locally-produced Foxon Park Birch beer. You will truly taste New Haven in that meal.
If you have kids who want some more traditional toppings, my recommendation is Modern Pizza. They have more topping options and more seating space, so it’s a great place for kids. It is every bit as delicious as its Wooster Street competitors.
This is my very favorite ice cream in all of Connecticut. It is produced in a dairy in Northern Connecticut and sold in the New Haven scoop shop. What makes Arethusa special is that they concentrate on a few flavors but make those flavors perfect. Don’t go in here looking for ice cream with tons of candy or swirls of caramel and marshmallow. They don’t cover up their perfection with add ins. Try the strawberry or chocolate and be prepared to have the best ice cream you have ever had. A waffle cone with a generous scoop of ice cream is only $3.75. You will find yourself going back a few times before your New Haven weekend is over.
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