Stonington is a scenic, historic and rustic community located at the very southeast end of the Connecticut shoreline. Stonington started as a Pequot settlement that later was established as a trading center for European settlers. Stonington became part of Connecticut in 1662 and took its present name in 1666. With its rich, long history and idyllic placement, there are many things to do and see in Stonington.
This museum was a lighthouse built in 1840 that was in use from 1840 until 1889 as a lighthouse, then housed the lightkeepers for the Stonington Breakwater Light that was built as its replacement. The Stonington Historical Society took over Stonington Harbor Lighthouse in 1920 and restored the granite building to its original stature. The building displays nautical instrumentation of the day as well as other period items including the lighthouse’s 1856 Fresnel lens which replaced oil lamps as a means of lighting the nighttime passage for ships. Tourists are permitted to walk up the tower to view the sights of three states. Open on Friday and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $5 for adults, $3 for children.
Diagonally across from Stonington Harbor Light is a small but spectacular beach known for its views as well as gentle surf, DuBois Beach. Even though it is only 256 feet long, Dubois Beach was named to the Boston Globe’s 20 Best Beaches to Visit in New England list. One can sun, swim or crab while overlooking the views of Stonington Harbor, Fisher’s Island Sound and Little Narragansett Bay. Dubois Beach officially opens on Memorial Day for weekends until June 22, then is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Labor Day weekend. Lifeguards are on duty at that time. Dubois beach is located at the tip of Water Street. The general public may purchase daily passes for $10 per person at the entrance to the beach. There is free parking near the beach.
Stonington supports two impressive vineyards, Saltwater Farm Vineyard and Stonington Vineyards, both located on the Connecticut Wine Trail. Saltwater Farm Vineyard resides in Pawcatuck in a converted airport next to Wequetequock Cove. Vineyard opening hours are located on their site hours. There are food trucks and live music scheduled for certain days. The vineyard features wines such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc Rosé, and a Cabernet Franc-Merlot. Select cheeses, crackers and charcuteries are now available for purchase in the tasting room as well. The Vineyard is located on a 108-acre nature preserve, so one can relax and enjoy the flora and fauna of the area while sipping one of Saltwater Farm’s delectable selections.
Stonington Vineyards is off exit 91 on the Connecticut Turnpike. It is also located in a pristine natural location where one can enjoy its wines while communing with the surrounding scenery. The Vineyard is open every day and holds tours daily at 2 p.m. Wine tastings are held every day from 11:00 to 4:30 p.m. Summer wine tasting hours are longer. There is a Friday night summer concert offering as well as other offerings during the year such as sip and paint.
There are a few places in the area that offer kayaks, paddleboards, charters, etc., but New England Science and Sailing is a non-profit that offers all of this and more. Residents are encouraged to look at the spate of programs offered for oceanic science, ecology, ocean safety, lifeguarding and other nautical pursuits. For the tourist, whether local or far out-of-town, there are several offerings of note. NESS eco tours allow people to gain some kayaking skills (if they do not already possess them) as well as check out the local animal and plant inhabitants of the area. The tours are a very doable 2 hours conducted by kayak guides who are ACA and ARC (lifeguard) certified. Eco Tours are conducted Monday-Friday at 1pm and 3:30pm from June 24 to August 17. Contact 860-449-3875 or [email protected] for more information.
NESS also conducts Stonington Harbor Cruises Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer. One can examine the natural habitat and history of the area while taking a relaxing ride. This is a 90-minute cruise around the harbor. The cruises are by reservation only, adults $25.00, children 12 and under $20.
Stonington Borough was founded in 1649 and chartered in 1801. Even though some of the aforementioned sites listed in this piece reside in the borough, the borough itself is one of the top ten places to visit and experience in Stonington. The historic homes along Water Street, which can be enjoyed by self- guided tours, are alone worth listing this as a separate must see. There are plentiful interesting shops, restaurants, art galleries and museums nestled along Water Street. There are nature trails and scenic vistas to be hiked and admired.
Two must see/must dos in Stonington are visiting the Velvet Mill Shops and the Stonington Village Farmers’ Market located in the Velvet Mill shops. The Velvet Mill shops reside in a reformed textile mill. There is an eclectic group of galleries, stores, fitness and wellness centers, professional services and restaurants located in the mall. One can take classes in the arts and get sessions in healing, health and fitness, while imbibing the latest and greatest in food and drink.
The greatest attraction at the Velvet Mill is the Saturday weekly farmers’ market from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. in warmer weather, 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. during the colder months. Locally grown produce, meats (including fish), flowers and locally made baked goods, soups, local dishes and other foodstuffs can be found weekly at the market. Additionally, one can buy local crafts at the market, and a different craftsperson is featured weekly at the market. During warmer weather, the market is held in the parking lot of the Velvet Mill Shops, in the wintertime the market is held inside the Velvet Mill.
Barn Island Wildlife Management Area is a 1,000-acre, 5.1-mile area of coastal salt marsh and woodland located in the Pawcatuck area of Stonington. Utilized by hikers, bird watchers, hunters and other nature enthusiasts, the area and its trail are best travailed in the non-winter months. Barn Island is a major bird sanctuary, listed in the Audubon guide. Barn Island is one of several nature preserves located in Stonington and is the largest and best known.