Essex, Connecticut has been named “the Perfect Small American Town” in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. It is a picture-perfect town like something out of a movie. My son and I had a great time exploring this coastal village. These were our favorite things to do in Essex, CT.
Here are the best things to do in Essex, CT:
1. Stay in the historic Griswold Inn
The Griswold Inn, or “the Gris” as locals call it, opened for business in 1776 making them one of the oldest continuously operating inns in the country. The inn oozes with historic charm and will make you feel like you stepped back in time. If you aren’t staying the night, have a meal in the rustic tavern which is an experience in itself.
2. Visit the Connecticut River Museum
Known as the longest river in New England, the Connecticut River begins just below the Canadian boarder and runs 406 miles to the Long Island Sound.
This section of the Connecticut River was the site of the 1814 British raid during the War of 1812. My son loved playing in “The Turtle” which is a working replica of the first submarine.
From June through October, you can enjoy a sunset cruise on the Onrust, a replica of Dutch explorer Adriaen Block’s 1614 ship, which was the first European vessel to enter the Connecticut River. River excursions are also available during the day.
3. Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
I don’t care how old you are, there is just something special about taking a ride on an old steam train. The clickety clack and sway of the train is so soothing. For this experience, we boarded the Essex Steam Train and took a ride through the unspoiled Connecticut River Valley.
When we reached the river, we disembarked and got onto a riverboat. There were baby eagles peering out of their enormous stick nests and ospreys diving for food. The entire tour took about two hours.
The Essex Steam Train offers many other experiences such as a dinner train as well as a new rail bike adventure. Visit their event page for a full list of once in a lifetime opportunities.
4. Shop the Main Street
The Main street of Essex is filled with little boutique shops filled with treasures. Some of our favorites were You Me and the Sea, which has the coziest sweatshirts and beautiful sea glass jewelry. J.Alden Clothiers offers fine clothing and furnishings. I found some sweet cards and adorable pink purse for Lizzie there.
If you need a rest, look out for a small town park. It’s the perfect place to sit on a bench and look out over the water.
5. Pick out a treasure at Toys Ahoy!
The village toy store may look small but it is packed floor to ceiling with toys that would make any kid do a happy dance. My son picked out a LEGO to build back in the hotel room and I’m quite sure it was his favorite part of the trip.
6. Don’t forget to bring something back for Fido!
Essex is known as a very dog friendly place. The shops have bowls of water outside their doors and even little treat jars.
Gracie’s Corner is a small shop that has high quality food and toys for dogs and cats. Since Katouche wasn’t with us on this trip, we brought him back some Polka Dog Bakery treats. I think he has forgiven us for leaving him at home.
7. Have a cone at Sweet P’s
Sweet P’s is a family owned and operated ice cream parlor right in the center of the village. The “Essex mud” is simply delicious.
8. Envy the historic homes on Main
I think I actually started drooling looking at the Colonial era homes on the Main Street. Most are original. All are beautiful. Picture gas lanterns flickering outside, perfectly manicured gardens and white picket fences.
9. Try a truffle shot
A mother- daughter team came up with the idea of taking the best part of a truffle and putting it in a sealed shot glass. The smooth ganache is made in small batches with premium ingredients. There are several unique flavors to choose from. I tried the sea-salted caramel flavor and it was luxurious.
10. Visit the Connecticut Spring Boat Show
We were not in the market for a boat, but a girl can dream! Andrew loved hopping from boat to boat deciding which his favorite was… the yacht or the sailboat. We decided on college in the end because it was one or the other. Still, the Connecticut Boat Show is great fun and kids will love it.
Related: The Best Restaurants in Essex, CT
Being a Massachusetts native, we don’t usually make it past Mystic when we visit Connecticut. You would be remiss if you didn’t travel a bit further to Essex, a historic village that has claimed the top spot in a compilation of 100 best small towns in America.
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best things to do in Essex, CT. It is the perfect example of small town America. Even the stripes down the middle of the road are red, white and blue.