Written by Lisa S. Lenkiewicz
Connecticut is home to many historic sites and museums, where you can learn something about the past and have a bit of fun, too. We've compiled a list of great historic day trips that your whole family can enjoy. And as an added bonus, you can get to all these destination on one tank of gas (or less).
400 West St.
Rocky Hill, CT 06067
Why Go? Beneath the geodesic dome, discover early Jurassic dinosaur fossil tracks made 200 million years ago. The Exhibit Center has a new, renovated Discovery Room that features hands-on activities, live animals and exciting new exhibits for children and adults, said Meg Enkler, environmental education coordinator at Dinosaur State Park.
Insider Tip: Visit Hermes, a ball python, in the Discovery Room. Programs with live animals are presented only on weekends. Films are also shown beginning at 10 a.m.
Must Do: Activities for children include making fossil boxes, scavenger hunts, and creating a dinosaur bookmark. The kids will love the surrounding park nature trails and the Dinosaur State Park Arboretum, with examples of plant families that lived during the Age of Dinosaurs. The park grounds are open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The grounds are open daily, 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Trails close at 4 p.m.
The Fine Print: Allow at least one or two hours for your visit. The Exhibit Center, which is handicapped accessible, is open throughout the year on Tuesdays through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Exhibit Center is closed on Mondays. Admission fees are: $6 adults and teens (13 and above); $2 youth (ages 6 -12); free for children (5 years and under).
351 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT 06105
Why Go? Samuel Clemens, also known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived in Hartford from 1874 to 1891. His home is now recognized as a historical landmark. The Mark Twain House was where Twain created the legendary characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. A tour will take you through the 25-room Gothic home which features a dramatic grand hall, a lush glass conservatory, a grand library and the handsome billiard room where Twain wrote his books.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Twain Store, with books for all ages, funny quote T-shirts and Victorian-era gifts.
Must Do: Julia Pistell, a spokesperson for the Mark Twain House, said a “must-see” is the Paige Compositor, an innovative and elaborate printing machine that eventually bankrupted Twain. (There are only a few such machines like it in the world.) Another must-see is the detailed, hand-stenciled paint in the Twain House. It was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Associated Artists. For many visitors, this is the highlight of the tour, Pistell said.
The Fine Print: Admission to the Mark Twain House is by guided tour only. Ticket prices include the tour of the house and admission to the museum center. No reservations are required for regular tours, which are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Plan to arrive early because tours often sell out. Prices are $14 for senior citizens (ages 65+); $16 for adults (ages 17-64); $10 for children (ages 16-6); children under 6 are free.
Hours are Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (the last tour leaves at 4:30 p.m.); Sundays, noon to 5:30 p.m. (last tour leaves at 4:30 p.m.) The house and museum are closed Tuesdays from January to March, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s, as well as Easter Sunday and July 4. To visit the museum only, the admission fee is $5. The museum includes a permanent exhibit, a video introduction by Ken Burns, rotating exhibits and an auditorium for special events and lectures. There is ample free parking in a lot on Farmington Avenue.
110 Pequot Trail
Mystic, CT 06338
Why Go? It's the world’s largest Native American museum. Travel back in time 11,000 years to explore the history of the Pequot tribe. At the award-winning museum, experience the lives of the tribe through all the senses. Take an elevator that descends through a “glacier crevasse” and view mammals of the Ice Age. Watch a recreation of a caribou hunt, hear the crackling of fire, grinding of corn and native tongue of this noble tribe and participate in an excavation as part of the museum's archaeology program.
Insider Tip: Take a break and watch short films in several of the video centers. Museum marketing manager Barbara Kingsland recommends the movie, “The Witness,” about the 17th century Pequot War.
Must Do: Save time for the massive Pequot village, where you can feel the heat and smell the fire at the recreated 16th century Indian village. Make sure to use an Acoustiguide (an audio tour guide) to learn all about the scenes. Also, visit the 18-story high observation deck for views of eastern Connecticut’s hills and treetops.
The Fine Print: Allow about 3 hours for your visit. The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., (last admission is 4 p.m.). The museum is closed Sunday through Tuesday. Tickets for adults (age 19-54) are $20; seniors (55 & older) are $15; college students are $15; children (6-18) are $12; children under 6 are free. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
248 Old Whitfield St.
Guilford, CT 06437
Why Go: Welcome to 1639. The Henry Whitfield State Museum, New England's oldest stone house and Connecticut’s oldest house, welcomes visitors to experience life in the 17th century. With its massive chimneys and steeply pitched roof, the house is filled with authentic 17th – 19th century furnishings. This house is a medieval masterpiece, said curator Michael McBride. “The only other place you can see a medieval style house in this design is in northern England—the original source of the design,” McBride added.
Insider Tip: The museum hosts an average of two public programs a month, and there is no extra fee. After you purchase admission, your ticket becomes a half-price coupon for admission to the museum in the future or to the other three Connecticut state museums, and there is no expiration date.
Must Do: Go on a scavenger hunt. Children are given flashlights and educational game sheets as they tour the house. Also, take a stroll around the landscaped grounds featuring a ship’s cannon from the War of 1812.
The Fine Print: The museum will re-open for walk-in guests on May 1, 2014, but is open weekdays January through April by appointment. Fees are $8 adults; $6 seniors (60 years +) and college students with ID $5 children (6-17); free for children 5 and under.
75 Greenmanville Ave.
Mystic, CT 06355
Why Go: Visitors can stroll a re-created 18th century coastal village that includes period buildings complete with historians, musicians and storytellers who make history come alive. The Mystic Seaport has been a maritime destination since the 1600s, with more than 600 vessels constructed along its coast. Climb aboard tall ships and the last wooden whaleship in the world, the Charles W. Morgan.
Insider Tip: Visit on your birthday and your admission is free.
Must Do: The Children’s Museum hosts free story times pegged to the seasons. Have your young sailor swab the deck, dress in sailors’ clothes, and cook in the galley.
The Fine Print: From Dec. 26-Jan. 1, the Seaport is open Thursday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. It will reopen on Feb. 15. with daily hours from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Check its website for an updated schedule. Tickets are adult (18-64), $24; senior (65+), $22; youth (6-17), $15; college student with ID $22; children (5 and under) free.