The Eagle has landed: Time for a New London visit

The weather forecasters are predicting what the calendar already says: the dog days of summer are on their last whimpers, the wrenching humidity will be wrung out of the air soon, back-to-school-shopping has replaced summer camp and the days are getting ever shorter.

One end-of-summer special that makes for a great reason to come to downtown New London is a bargain ride on the Thames River Heritage Park Water Taxi tonight.

If you haven't tried it, don't miss this chance to grab a cheap ride, just $5. You won't find a better deal or a better way to spend $5 on anything in this part of Connecticut.

Better yet, it's a perfect time to pay a call on some of New London's best and familiar old sights and some new developments, including a bigger ice cream parlor, great for supplying a sugary stroll on the Waterfront Park, and a bunch of new restaurants.

New London still has an unfortunate number of empty storefronts, but there is plenty of Sunday window shopping to be had, including a number of interesting art galleries. One of my favorite businesses downtown is the Eyeglass Lass on upper State Street, where you will find great professional service and distinctive eyewear, both traditional and with an edge.

Get out of the mall for your next pair.

There's no National Coast Guard Museum yet downtown but the Coast Guard Eagle is at City Pier this weekend and open for tours. It's the best free exhibit you'll find in Connecticut, a chance not just to learn more about the Coast Guard but also the traditions of the only square-rigger still in active military service, war reparation from the Germans taken at the end of World War II.

Eagle is open for tours 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today.

I haven't tried all the new restaurants, but one I can recommend is kind of a retread. Two former employees of the long-running Monica's State Street Diner, Jake Johnson and Nicole Dagrosa, have reopened the popular downtown breakfast and lunch hot spot as Jake's Diner on State Street.

Sunday diner breakfast on State Street is back, better than ever.

Some other new restaurants downtown include Thames Landing Oyster House, which has turned the lights back on in the familiar restaurant space at the foot of State Street, across from the majestic Union Station, and Dev's, at the opposite end of State Street, a new location for the café that was previously on Bank.

The mainstays of downtown eating, Washington Street Coffee House, Thames River Beanery on State, Muddy Waters, Daddy Jack's, Fatboy's and Hot Rod's Café on Bank among them, still are burning bright lights.

You also can start a dinner excursion in downtown New London and end up on the Groton side of the river with the water taxi. The bargain rides start at 6 p.m. when the price drops, until the last boat leaves City Pier bound for Thames River Landing in Groton at 8:40. The full schedule and regular rates are available on the water taxi's website, www.thamesriverheritagepark.org, which also has a list of specials and discounts businesses offer to ticketed riders.

The hop-on-hop-off service does a loop with stops at downtown New London, Groton and Fort Trumbull. The special rate lasts long enough to make stops and stroll. But you can't go wrong just staying on the boat for the harbor tour. Stay on for more loops.

Ship tour, boat rides, good food and ice cream all are good incentives to come visit downtown New London. But the big draw is the region's historic center, a riverside port city that remains, I would suggest, about the most beautiful place in Connecticut.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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