New England Travel: New England's Best Small Towns
Because… sometimes the river trumps the sea.
Photo by Paul Rezzendes
Underrated and therefore blessedly uncrowded, Essex’s central village juts into the Connecticut River some eight miles north of Long Island Sound. There are no rip tides here—just lovely river views and a nautical culture underscored by artifacts like the world’s first combat submarine, tested in these very waters. Would-be mariners can book a schooner ride at the Connecticut River Museum, or opt for a more leisurely fall-foliage trip aboard the steamboat Becky Thatcher. Across the river in East Haddam, the 133-year-old Goodspeed Opera House produces classic musicals like 42nd Street and Camelot; for drama of a different kind, head to nearby Gillette Castle, a Gaudi-esque palace built by William Hooker Gillette (Broadway’s original Sherlock Holmes), which offers tours, walking trails, and unparalleled river views. The appropriate way to wind down in Essex is with a cup of grog in the taproom of the 1776 Griswold Inn, where, surrounded by weathered oak beams and antique boat models, you can sing along to the inn’s banjo band. —Matthew Reed Baker