Travel Destinations

A New Englander's Favorite - Historic Essex, Connecticut

New England
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April 2017
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By
Tom
Richardson

The historic village of Essex, Connecticut, has long served as a favorite stopover for coastal cruisers in New England, given its location just five nautical miles from Long Island Sound. Built around a trio of coves tucked into the western shore of the Connecticut River, Essex is home to three marinas and a yacht club, all of which offer transient slips and dockage for large vessels (moorings are also available). It's a boater-friendly place, for sure, and Essex offcials like to boast that the town has more slips than parking spaces.

Steps from the waterfront, pleasant tree-lined Main Street is home to an eclectic array of boutiques, gift shops and stores, as well as several places to dine. Chief among these is the Griswold Inn, which has been serving mariners since 1776 and is the oldest continually operating tavern in the country. The interior is cozy and warm, with a low- beamed, wood-paneled dining room that evokes a ship's cabin, the walls covered in paintings of steamships and sailing vessels. After dinner at the Griswold Inn, satisfy your sweet tooth with an ice cream at Sweet P's on Griswold Square.

There's plenty to do and see in and around Essex, starting with the excellent Connecticut River Museum, directly on the waterfront. The grounds are a lovely spot to relax and take in the river, while inside you'll find fascinating exhibits on the history of Essex, including the 1814 British raid on the village and a replica of the first submarine ever built. Other exhibits explore the river's former importance as an inland trade route for timber and farming products, and Essex's past as an import center for African ivory.

Just north of the village, the Essex Steam Train offers a ride aboard a vintage steam-powered train to the neighboring village of Deep River. And if you'd like to let someone else do the navigating, sign up for a tour of the river aboard the 50-passenger RiverQuest, which offers history and wildlife tours of the lower river during which bald eagles are often sighted.

Lower Connecticut is a paddlers' delight, and the Essex area offers numerous marsh-lined creeks to explore in a kayak or SUP. On the opposite side of the river, you can enjoy the beach at Nott Island and explore this wildlife preserve, while just downriver is the entrance to Lord Cove and the Lords Cove Wildlife Area a vast network of tidal creeks that teems with birdlife.

Where to Dock

Brewer Essex Island Marina - A resort marina that can accommodate boats up to 150 feet and maintains 80 transient slips. Offers tons of amenities including a pool, a restaurant (Marley's Cafe), laundry, showers, a rec room/arcade, volleyball and basketball courts.

Brewer Dauntless Shipyard & Marina - Two great marina locations that offer modern fully-equipped facilities and state-of-the art service work, in a historic village known for three centuries of maritime excellence.

Essex Yacht Club - Slips and moorings for transients, as well as showers, bathrooms and a galley that serves lunch.

Where to Dine

The Griswold Inn (36 N Main St.) The Gris (est. 1776) is a local institution known for its hearty food featuring a pub and wine/tapas bar with live music.

Abby's Place (37 Pratt St.) Casual breakfast, lunch and dinner spot on the water at Brewer Dauntless Shipyard it's famous for its breakfast menu.

Marley's Cafe´ (11 Ferry St.) Marley's Cafe´ at the Brewer Essex Island Marina serves contemporary fare with Caribbean, Latin and Asian accents with incredible views of the river along with reggae music.

Black Seal Grille (15 Main St.) Casual seafood grill and pub fare on Main Street. The Seal features a wide selection of craft brews and serves delicious burgers and creative pub grub.

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The buzz of construction at the docks of Camden, ME, is finished, and it’s been replaced with an air of excitement among residents and visitors who watched a beautiful new development emerge along the waterfront.

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The location of this acquisition is idyllic. Nestled in a lovely cove on Penobscot Bay, Camden has been a bastion of seafaring activity and a world-
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paradise. The 1830s Curtis Island Lighthouse near the harbor keeps watch over the town’s quaint homes, shops, restaurants, opera house and galleries.

Inspired by the area’s natural beauty, the new development’s designers also understood Camden’s historic role in the region and wanted to carry that forward in modern form. They studied vintage photos, matched the style and created 33,000 square feet of new buildings for marine services and mixed-use commercial space.

Lyman-Morse’s Camden boatyard attracts maritime professionals and boaters with essential services for carpentry, mechanics, electronics, rigging and more, and brings the general public back to the working waterfront with amenities such as restaurants, a distillery, a few overnight accommodations, and a boardwalk big enough for a morning stroll or brisk dog walk.

Added bonus: Sensitivity to the environment was not overlooked in construction. Engineers took a sustainable approach when they elevated all structures above the flood plain, installed LED lights and upgraded all systems to today’s energy-efficient levels.

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Camden, Maine
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True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.

Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.

You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.

Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.

Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.

Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.

WHERE TO DOCK

Camden Public Landing
Town Docks
207-691-4314

Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.

Lyman-Morse at
Wayfarer Marine
207-236-7108

Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.

WHERE TO DINE

40 Paper
207-230-0111

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water
207-236-4032

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro
207-230-8199

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café
207-236–2661

For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

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Jamestown, Rhode Island
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Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay.  Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse.  While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island.  Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.

Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.  By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.

The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island.  But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.

WHERE TO DOCK

Conanicut Marina
401-423-5820

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

Dutch Harbor Boat Yard
401-423-0630

Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities.  At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage.  The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.

Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard
401-423-0600

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.

WHERE TO DINE

Slice of Heaven
401-423-9866

This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table
401-423-3709

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café
401-423-9282

Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

Bay Voyage Restaurant
401-560-7979

Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

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