Old Saybrook: On the water, but more than a beach town

Sunset on the marsh opposite the Old Saybrook Town Beach.
Sunset on the marsh opposite the Old Saybrook Town Beach. Photo by Marisa Nadolny

This is the first in a summer series of local destinations that make for a great day trip for new visitors and residents alike.

The town of Old Saybrook provides the perfect example of that real estate mantra: location, location, location.

Aside from its easy access by Amtrak and Shore Line East train, and beyond its busy Main Street district, lined with couture boutiques, cafes and necessities like a hardware store and a Starbuck's, "location" here pertains best to the town's geography; in this case, a prime spot where the Connecticut River meets up with Long Island Sound. That means beaches, salt marshes and stunning water views abound in Old Saybrook - views so stunning, droves of visitors flock to town every summer. Indeed, Hollywood royalty Katharine Hepburn, whose family lived in Old Saybrook for many years, referred to her estate in the Fenwick section of town as "paradise." Hepburn even retired to Fenwick in 1997.

But if the great shopping and natural beauty of this little seaside town are familiar, consider it a great source of history and culture. From the thriving theater that bears Hepburn's name to the historic houses and farms and the carefully tended site of Fort Saybrook - Connecticut's third oldest settlement - a visitor can learn much about the past and celebrate the present all in a day's visit - and cap off the whole affair with a lobster roll or a Dairy Queen cone. (DQ is on Route 1, toward Westbrook.)

Suggested itinerary and things to know

For the best scenery: Drive down to Saybrook Point (follow Main Street, which turns into College Street, to the very end; it's a lovely drive all on its own) and witness the place where river and Sound meet. Drive the adjacent causeway, which takes travelers past the pristine Saybrook Point Inn, toward Fenwick and enjoy sparkling water views, stately homes, and a glimpse or two of Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse.

A person has to eat: Old Saybrook is home to many, many wonderful eateries. Personal favorites include Cloud Nine Deli, Pasta Vita, Tissa's, Aspen and Jack Rabbit's. For the casual crowd, the lobster rolls at Johnny Ad's on Route 1 are local legend. Consider a game of darts over beers at another local institution, the Monkey Farm Cafe.

Shop here: Main Street Old Saybrook is teeming with fun shops and boutiques, and Route 1 offers still more. Recommended: Swag on Main Street, for all things fun and gifty; Harbor Books, also on Main, which carries a great selection of used books; Fromage on Route 1 for gourmet nosh, including a dizzying selection of cheeses; and Food Works II, a natural foods, products and gift emporium, which recently moved from Main Street to a much larger space on Route 1.

Fun historical fact: The Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce notes, "Yale University was founded in Old Saybrook as the Collegiate School for the education of ministers in 1700."

Play golf?: Fenwick Golf Course (580 Maple Ave.) offers public 9-hole play in one of the region's most beautiful places, situated between South Cove and Saybrook Light.

The Old Saybrook Town Beach basking in the evening glow.
The Old Saybrook Town Beach basking in the evening glow. Photo by Marisa Nadolny
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