These days we all could use a little escape. Spring, summer, winter or fall, Norwalk can offer a weekend getaway that is filled with adventure, fun and romance. Stay in a luxury hotel, a cozy inn, or unique accommodations. Enjoy the local food scene. Stroll the main streets of charming neighborhoods. Pass time along Connecticut’s scenic coastline. Explore Norwalk’s history. Choose the getaway that matches your style for a great weekend away.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
One of the largest attractions in the state, this Long Island Sound focused aquarium, in a former 1860’s iron works factory renovated as a state-of-the-art educational center, draws over half a million visitors a year. Live sharks in a 110,000 gallon tank, loggerhead turtles, seals, rays and jellyfish join a cast of other aquatic animals. Some you can pet. Others are best left behind glass. With a state of the art movie theater, traveling exhibits, and Marine Study cruises to Long Island Sound, you can spend the good part of a day learning about the region’s maritime environment.
SoNo Switch Tower Museum
Train historians worked long and hard to preserve “Signal Station 44.” They removed three garbage cans full of pigeon poop from this 1896 Switch Tower to clean it after years of decay. Climb narrow iron stairs to the burnished third floor for a chance to pull the disengaged Armstrong levers (so named because you needed a strong arm to budge them!) that once moved track switches manually on the main line. It’s a fascinating peak at tough railroad jobs before computers took over the heavy lifting.
You’ll find two museums, an arts center, a fantastic playground, tennis courts, picnic areas, and a historic cemetery as well as a historic museum. Attractions: Lockwood Matthews Mansion Museum, The Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Stepping Stones Museum for Children and The Norwalk Art Space.
Lockwood Matthews Mansion Museum
This home was built by financier and railroad baron LeGrand Lockwood between 1864 and 1868. It’s considered one of the earliest and most significant Second Empire Style country houses in the United States.
The Center for Contemporary Printmaking
The CCP features both emerging and established artists. Catch a rising star and purchase a woodcut, etching, silkscreen or lithograph. Sign up for a 6-hour printmaking workshop and create one yourself. The Center is the only one of its kind between New York and Boston. In addition to five gallery shows per year and a slew of classes, it offers services for established artists and a cottage for a selected Artist in Residence.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Stepping Stones was built with a keen eye to what excites and stimulates a child’s mind. Geared toward children 1-10, this small but active learn-through-play center engages even the youngest crawlers. No detail is overlooked. Whimsical water wheels are attached to rain gutters outside big picture windows. Even when it rains, there’s something to learn.
The Norwalk Art Space
Newly opened in June 2021, The Norwalk Art Space is an exciting free museum and hub for the arts, promoting local artists, offering free art classes to high school students and providing the public a welcoming space to enjoy art and music.
Sheffield Island Lighthouse Tours
Over 200 years ago, ewes were kept on Sheffield Island to keep them from the boy sheep on Ram Island just across the way. Since then, Sheffield Island has been a compound for cholera patients, a ritzy estate and most importantly, home to the Sheffield Island Lighthouse.
You can visit this decommissioned 10-room granite lighthouse, built in 1868, as well as the rest of the 54 acre island, administered by Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, during a three hour tour run by the Norwalk Seaport Association. A 45-ft. catamaran transports 49 people several times a day in season for a half hour narrated tour of Norwalk Harbor. (You’ll also pass barrier islands and the famous Norwalk oyster beds). Families pushing strollers and picnickers join history buffs for a glimpse into what life was like on this island before electricity. The lighthouse keeper had to carry two five-gallon pails of oil (40 lbs. each) up to the top floor every four hours to keep the light lit.
If Walt Disney had gone into the grocery business, this is what he’d have come up with. Goats bray from the roofs of tiny sheds in the parking lot petting zoo. Parents and kids line up for creamy soft-serve custard ice-cream before grabbing a cart. And animatronic cows and milk-cartons entertain tots as Mom and/or Dad choose fresh produce, meats and fish from overflowing shelves. Locals have been bringing out of town friends here for years.
If you’ve ever wondered where all the collapsed barns, felled trees, and demolished 1800’s houses in Southern Connecticut have gone, just take a peek into the 7,000 sq. ft. Factory Underground – a recording and video production studio, and private concert and event space. Underground winds through chambers both large and small; offering an industrial kitchen, soundstage rehearsal space, and several recording rooms. If you’re lucky, you might find a book-launch party or another special event happening.
Dining & Nightlife:
Public Wine Bar
Walk through the front door to be greeted by a floor to ceiling wine rack. This “Wine Bar,” however, is not just about the vino. Specialty cocktails rule the day – with concoctions like Public 88 – an “orchid infused Toto’s French topped with Rose Cava,” Blackbird Singing – a sour whiskey blend, and the fiery Hot Blooded Margarita. On the menu, the Spicy Tuna Tartar, Salmon A La Plancha, and Chicken and Wild Mushroom Pappardelle are all excellent.
Magnolia Room at B.J. Ryan’s
Who knew Fairfield County CT would wholeheartedly embrace a New York style cabaret, complete with prominent Broadway show crooners, an intimate room aglow with votive candles, and dinner service? Opened in April 2018 in a room above B.J. Ryan’s pub, the 60-seat Magnolia Room is the brainchild of singer, actor, pianist and music director, Kenneth Gartman.
Musicians and vocalists range from soulful to cheeky. Entertainment has been compared to “a Broadway veteran in your living room, singing songs for you and a small group of friends.”
This place is so farm to table, the tabletops are reclaimed farm barnwood, and are enlivened by “living walls.” The eclectic “New American” menu reflects Chef Carlos Baez’s heritage (Mexican) and work history (in a sushi restaurant, among others). His Shrimp on Caramelized Quinoa Cake with Chorizo Sauce won “Best of Best Dish” in CT Magazine. Try the Ricotta Gnocchi – with tender stewed veal “meatballs.”
Young chef/owner Jay LeBlanc has got himself a winner in his little extension of an already thriving catering biz. Not only is his mega-chunk warm lobster rolls winning awards, but he’s equally adept with fried chicken, Korean BBQ Brisket, and, incredibly, on-the-spot whipped up vegan dishes. In East Norwalk (across the Norwalk River from the Norwalk Maritime Museum), this tiny place may be hard to find at first. But it’s worth it.
Why is it that some out of the way restaurants cause such a commotion? Because they are so excellent, patrons will travel off the path to get to them. This is the case with this colorful Arepas, Empanada and Burritos emporium. You can dine on the cheap or try a Platos of the day. And yep, there’s a bar scene. Cocktails with Mexican Coke or Jalapeno infused vodka are fiery awesome.
Places to Stay:
This hotel brand is devoted to your health and wellness. Rooms feature mini-gyms. And top celebs in food and fitness partnered to make each stay a “wellness” experience. Surprisingly, this trend in lodging launched in little Norwalk, and you can experience it firsthand as part of your Norwalk escape.
Hotel Zero Degrees
Sister property to the hot boutique hotel in Stamford, CT – this sleek Norwalk version is roughly a 10-minute drive to the attractions in SoNo. But no worries, they’ve got a complimentary shuttle to get you there. Quilted metallic grey headboards, back-lit mirrors in glossy bathrooms, orange throws and walls for punch – rooms are fresh and fun. Like any all the rage boutique establishment, rates include a bevy of complimentary perks. Enjoy a warm breakfast, wi-fi, covered parking, Starbucks coffee, shuttle to downtown and a very fun rooftop lounge. Drinks will cost you, but table games will not.
The Inn at GrayBarns
GrayBarns has served as a village meeting place, textile factory, artist outpost, and even a speakeasy! Today it is home to a tavern and an inn, which features six beautifully-appointed king suites with luxurious full baths, bedrooms and living areas. This adults-only retreat welcomes guests with contemporary fixtures such as NEST thermostats, Le Labo amenities, SMEG, and Nespresso appliances. Guests of the Inn can enjoy in-room spa treatments, private yoga, bike rentals, and beautiful views of the Silvermine waterfall. Nearby you can tour the Glass House, walk in the Silvermine Nature Preserve, play a round of golf at Pound Ridge, or meet the artists and artisans at the Silvermine Arts Center.