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Day Trip - Norwalk

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Connecticut, things to do, places to go, day trips, staycation, norwalk, kid-friendly, family-friendly, roadtrip, hudson valley, beach, aquarium, boat trip, ocean

About an hour drive from Dutchess County lies the city of Norwalk. It is located on the Long Island Sound so most of the activities are, naturally, centered around the ocean. I love going to Norwalk because it feels like going on vacation without having to board a plane or drive for hours. There is a cute historic downtown, awesome beaches full of shells and a beautiful aquarium that is very family friendly, with lots of things to touch. There is always plenty of reasonable parking and we never have an issue with traffic which is always a plus when traveling with children.

First up on our adventure is the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. This is one of my favorite places in the city. There is a large parking garage next door, 8$ for daily parking. We always pack a snack and plan on spending a few hours lost in fishy paradise. They have lots of opportunities to touch sea creatures, my daughter spends at least an hour giggling and squealing at the stingray touch tank. On weekends you can even touch soft, squishy jellyfish...if you dare!

The aquarium also offers daily feedings and interactive shows at the seal and shark tanks, these are great opportunities for a snack while being entertained. The second floor has an indoor play area and during the warm months there are outdoor play areas as well. A playground, picnic area and sandbox.

The next stop on our Norwalk tour is in walking distance of the aquarium, so no need to leave your parking space! A short 3 minute walk takes you to the Sheffield Island Ferry Tour. The Ferry leaves from the dock on weekends 3 times a day for a 3 hour, round-trip tour, to a private island and lighthouse. You can bring a picnic, search for seashells and tour the nature preserve. The ferry only allows 40 passengers at a time so reservations are strongly suggested, we bought our tickets online. You can also buy tickets at the dock. The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes to reach the island and my daughter was thrilled to watch boats speed by, identify sea birds such as osprey and cormorants and the captain even let her sit in the captain's chair. Bring a light sweater, even on hot days the ferry gets a bit chilly.

Once you reach the island there are lots of things to explore; you can choose to go on a guided tour of the lighthouse (included in your ticket price), you can have a picnic overlooking the Long Island Sound or you can comb the beach for shells. We chose to have a picnic first, there were picnic tables and beach chairs all around the island that make for perfect places to set up and have a meal with the most amazing views.

After our lunch we decided to take a guided tour of the lighthouse, led by interns who spend the summer at the island. They are knowledgeable, friendly and absolutely amazing with children. The lighthouse is full of history and there was lots to see. A whole family lived inside it, all year round, my daughter was certainly impressed with that! Next we decided to head down to the beach. A shell strewn pathway meanders through the nature area and ends out on the rocky beach. The coast of the island is full of shells, horseshoe crabs, sea sponges and oodles and oodles of Asian shore crabs that my daughter absolutely adored.

After filling our bucket with every type of shell imaginable, it was time to head back to the ferry for our return trip home. But the fun isn't over yet, the next stop on our Norwalk adventure is The Harbor Loop Trail. A 3 mile biking and walking trail that circles Norwalk Harbor. The trail is not quite completed but from the Sheffield Ferry dock you can take the trail a short distance past a playground and some very cool art installations. In my opinion this is a sufficient walk for a family with children and allows you to check out some of the city on foot. Still no need to change your parking space and completely free to tour, so why not!? Just look for the round Harbor Loop Trail signs and decide how far your family wants to walk.

Norwalk is a great place to grab a bite to eat, here are some of our favorite places:
  • Valencia Luncheria is a gorgeous Venezuelan restaurant that is very approachable even for children. It's lively and delicious, it is a must if you are in Norwalk.
  • Overton's Seafood is a seafood shack right on the water. Known for fried seafood baskets and burgers this is definitely a family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Mr. Frosty's Ice Cream Shop is a 1 minute walk from Overton's Seafood, located right on the water it is a local favorite for summertime treats. 
Tips for this trip:
  • The aquarium and Harbor Loop are stroller friendly, Sheffield Island is not so for very small children and babies I would suggest baby-wearing or carrying them on and off the boat.
  • Make sure to bring appropriate clothing and footwear on the Island tour, the boat ride gets quite cold even in the hot summer months. They do not allow flip flops because of the very rocky shore.
  • You can bring food into the aquarium and on the ferry tour.
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