The $500 Weekend: New Haven, Connecticut
This one-time manufacturing center gets a bad — and wholly deserved — rap as a hardscrabble town, where roughnecks fight over street turf, junior professors fight over tenure, and residents fight over who sells the best pizza. (We like Sally’s: average pie, $10.) That said, New Haven is enjoying a bold resurgence.
GETTING THERE: Roundtrip fares on the Amtrak regional run as low as $70. Driving runs roughly $40 in gas, plus the same in parking fees.
SLEEPING: With most attractions centered downtown around the Yale campus, location is key. Two budget-conscious slumbering options: the Study at Yale, with rooms decked out to resemble stylized midcentury workstations, and the Omni New Haven Hotel, much less stylish but just as comfortable, clean, and centrally perched. Both hotels offer rooms for as low as $150 a night, though (curiously) often not at the same time. Comparison shop.
EATING: Once lauded mainly for superlative pizza, the dining landscape now has farm-to-table fervor in spades. At the forefront is Jason Sobocinski’s fromagerie and bistro Caseus, which serves terrific market-driven fare like lamb sliders with Stilton and pea shoots ($10), and blackened catfish tacos with spiced chèvre ($19). Once you’re hooked on his food (and you will be), start stalking Sobocinski and his Cheese Truck at City Farmers’ Market, where the chef hawks $5 “crispy, melty grilled-cheese sandwiches.” Spoiled by Boston’s stellar sushi scene, we almost ignored a recommendation to hit Miya’s Sushi, a Japanese restaurant with a vibe that’s more whacked-out carnival than gastro-destination. Decidedly both, the raucous eatery puts out a cavalcade of quirkball plates — like the kanibaba ($48.75), a potato skin stuffed with crab and Havarti, then topped with Asian shore crabs.
PLAYING: Most New England towns have a museum of some sort, a place where you can pay polite homage to the hamlet’s most competent seascapist. By contrast, the Yale University Art Gallery (free) boasts such a hit parade of high-profile masterworks — from Fra Angelico to Rubens to Van Gogh to Rothko — it’s as if the curators rejected any tableau not featured prominently in art history textbooks. At the Yale Center for British Art (also free), another world-class collection, the sleeper hits are…from Italy! (Namely several stunning Canalettos.)
BROWSING: Chapel Street, the main drag along campus, has plenty of top-notch shops: Métaphore, a trove of European kitchen treasures; Bottega, with edgy yet upscale fashions; and Group W Bench, a motley mix of toys, Day of the Dead figurines, and head-shop paraphernalia as off-kilter as the Arlo Guthrie lyric it’s named for.
OBSERVING THE LOCALS: Lively drinking spots abound in this college town; pick a few, and watch Ivy League mating games in action. The more-sophisticated Firehouse 12 (average concert ticket, $15; no cover for bar) and Café Nine (average cover, $10; often free!) present mid-tier to first-rate jazz and rock performances, respectively, in legitimately hip environs.