Even to the uninitiated, the name Hamden may have sounded alarm bells, as this northern suburb of New Haven regularly tops lists of the best small cities and most liveable towns in America.
Hamden has a real sense of community, as you’ll see in Downtown Park, farmers markets, free concerts, open-air movies and a 4th of July fireworks show.
You might hear Hamden described as “the land of sleeping giants,” which comes from a basalt ridge nearly three miles long, like a mighty giant lying on its back.
You can walk through this epic landscape and discover another ancient formation near West Rock Ridge.
All the while, the wealth of architecture and museums in New Haven and Yale is no more than a few minutes’ drive away.
1. Sleeping Giant State Park
The natural monument that gives Hamden its nickname is a basalt block ridge formed about 200 million years ago.
Measuring 2.75 miles long, 1.75 miles wide and 225 meters high, the Sleeping Giant can be seen for miles around, with an exhilarating 270° panorama from its summit.
As for the name, from the side, the formation resembles a sleeping giant with a recognizable head, chin, chest, hips, knees and feet.
The highest point is the left hip, topped by a Depression-era observation tower, and the head is on a vertiginous 120-meter cliff 200 meters high.
Climb on a clear day and you’ll be able to see Shoreham across the Long Island Sound.
The surrounding state parks are a haven for hikers, climbers, bird watchers, and mountain bikers, along with dedicated horseback riding and cross-country skiing trails.
2. The Great Hunger Museum of Ireland
The museum belongs to Quinnipiac University in Hamden and is dedicated to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum collects art, sculpture, artefacts and literature to educate visitors about the social, political and economic causes of hunger and illuminate the impact on Ireland, its culture and its people.
Opened in 2012 and home to the largest collection of its kind in the world, the museum provides a visual interpretation of the famine through the work of the artists who were there then and those who work today.
Among them are some of Ireland’s most important artists of the past 170 years, from James Mahony to Lilian Davidson.
3. Edgerton Park
Edgerton Park straddles the border between Hamden and New Haven and is a former estate where two important locals built their homes.
The first was the son of famed inventor Eli Whitney, and later by industrialist Frederick F.
Brewster’s Tudor mansion in 1909. Named ‘Edgerton’ because of its location on the edge of town, the house was demolished in 1964, but its landscaped grounds have also been preserved from 1909.
Edgerton Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its original city walls, gatehouse, a bridge at Brewster Manor and a series of conservatories.
Visit the Sarah T. Crosby Conservatory featuring orchids, rainforest species and desert landscapes.
In summer, you can get a taste of the culture by attending an outdoor performance by the Elm Shakespeare Company.
4. Hamden City Centre Park
More than a park, this rambling open space surrounded by trees is an essential meeting place for celebrations and events at any time of the year.
The 4th of July fireworks show takes place at Hamden Town Centre Park, and Friday nights will feature outdoor film screenings and summer concerts at the Rotary Pavilion.
There is a farmers market every Thursday from spring through fall, and food trucks make regular stops on summer evenings.
When nothing special is happening, you can take your kids to the playground or have a picnic on the large grassy area.
In winter, the scenery here is just right for cross-country skiing.
5. Farmington Canal Heritage Walk
The 81.2-mile journey from New Haven, Massachusetts to Hampden through Hamden is a straight walk on the tracks of the New Haven and Northampton Company Railroad.
The origins of this route can be traced back to the Farmington Canal in the 1820s, which became a railroad some 20 years later.
Three sections have been turned into walking trails since the railway closed in the 1980s.
In Hamden, head to the Farmington Canal State Park Trail, which preserves 17 miles of canal routes for winter hiking, biking, jogging and cross-country skiing.
For a fascinating heritage, Lock 12, just a few miles north of Cheshire, is Connecticut’s most complete canal heritage.
It is located in Lock 12 Historical Park and consists of picnic areas, gazebos and a small museum.
6. Counterweight Brewing Company
Hamden has its own craft brewery with a large local following, and the bar is open Thursday through Sunday.
Counter Weight Brewing Company lives up to time-honored brewing traditions while innovating in small amounts to allow every ingredient to shine.
At the bar you can taste hoppy American IPAs (Headway, Sticky Threads), unfiltered German beers (Work Horse) and strong Czech pilsners (Vltava). There are usually seven or more available, and you might try some of Counter Weight’s experiments with wild yeast and wood aging.
Food Trucks Visit in the busy rotation of the food trucks and prepare anything from jerk chicken to steamed buns, BBQ, artisan hot dogs or gourmet sliders.
There’s also plenty of live music, whether bluegrass or soul, and regular comedy nights.
7. West Rock Ridge State Park
The park includes the Seven Mile Trap Rock Ridge west of Hamden and New Haven.
West Rock Ridge is one of the region’s most prominent natural features, at 210 meters above sea level, with steep west-facing cliffs.
If you head to the southernmost point of the ridge, South Overlook offers great views of New Haven, New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Closer to Hamden, you can look west to the southern Connecticut countryside and towns like Woodbridge.
You can take the Kingslayer Road, a 7-mile Blue-Blazed route that runs mostly along the edge of the ridge.
The trail is named for Edward Whalley and William Goffe, two round-headed judges who were prominent in the execution of Charles I and who fled to the colony after the 1660 revival. At the southern end of the trail is Judge’s Cave, a rock shelter used by the couple as a hiding place.
8. Eli Whitney Museum
This museum, touted as an experimental learning studio, is located on the site of the Eli Whitney Gun Factory opened in 1798 by the famous inventor. The factory that made rifles was at the forefront of the American Industrial Revolution.
However, when Whitney received his first order for 10,000 rifles a few months earlier in June 1798, the factory had not even been built and he had no labor.
Targeting children, the museum is designed for hands-on learning and trial and error.
Children will make, adjust and test working model buildings, boats, gliders, and participate in experiments on light, magnetism, gravity, sound, electricity and energy.
There’s also a scale model of the Whitney’s historic factory and an annual exhibit of America’s flying train.
9. Hamden Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre
If you want to find out about Hamden and learn about local businesses, this is a great resource, open Monday-Friday during office hours and displaying a wealth of flyers, menus, brochures and maps.
You’ll find the Hamden Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in the middle of historic Mt.
Carmel is located at 3074 Whitney Avenue, Building 1. The cabinets themselves are special, assembled from maroon and oak panels dating back to the 1800s, crafted by local master carpenter Jim Brewster over 90 hours.
10. Hindinger Farm
The Hindinger family has been farming the land west of Hamden since 1893, and families are welcome to buy fresh produce, enjoy the country setting and meet the goats in their new enclosure.
By using integrated pest management, Hindinger Farm avoids pesticides as much as possible and publishes a ripening calendar online so you know when your favorite peaches and apples will ripen.
Try to catch the Strawberry Festival around mid-June with delicious strawberry treats, hay wagons, balloon figures and more.
The fall festival in mid-October marks the harvest, with live music and food from local vendors.
11. Sleeping Giant Golf Course
For an affordable round of golf, Hamden’s public course is just a few miles north of the town’s famous natural monument.
The Sleeping Giant Golf Course has 9 holes and dates back to 1924 and features a driving range and practice green.
Green fees are a reasonable $22 for non-residents, and you can rent a car for $8 per person at all times of the week.
Although the course is flat and easy to traverse on foot, the fairway views are dramatic, taking in the sleeping giant and its wood-covered slopes.
12. Lake Wintergreen
In fact, within the boundaries of West Rock Ridge State Park, Lake Wintergreen is just minutes from downtown Hamden.
If you’re following the Kingslayer Road, there are paths that lead to the water’s edge.
Left to nature most of the time, Wintergreen Lake is a quiet and picturesque place for a walk, with some interesting changes in elevation as you walk.
Or you can park yourself on a picnic blanket and enjoy the tranquility.
There are many entry points for kayaks and canoes along the shore, and if you come early or late in the day, the sunrise and sunset are spectacular.
13. New Haven
Hamden is a historic northern suburb of New Haven, home to Yale University, founded by English Puritans in 1638. Yale University has endowed New Haven with much of its culture, at the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the Yale University Center for British Art.
All are worthy of any city, and all are within walking distance.
To learn about Yale’s history and the University’s Gothic architecture, you can head to the Visitors Center, which is for student tours, which takes you into the stately Sterling Memorial Library and the fascinating Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The latter has one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, including one of the 49 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
14. Oakdale Theatre
The Oakdale Theatre is a historic venue that opened fully as a theatre in 1954 and received a permanent roof in the 1970s.
During that time, Paul Anka, Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Doors all performed here.
As you can see now, the 4,803-seat main auditorium and 1,649-seat dome complex dates back to a $21 million renovation in the mid-1990s.
The venue is booked for a variety of shows, from major recording artists (Maren Morris and Avril Lavigne in 2019) to touring musicals, tribute shows, wrestling shows, ballets and performances of children’s favourite TV characters.
15. Lake Whitney
Starting at Dixwell Avenue east of the Hamden business district, a lake on the Mill River lined by dense forest stretches south to the town line of New Haven.
Lake Whitney, once the source of water for New Haven, is now a reserve source for the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.
For tourists, considering they’re right in the city center, the banks are pretty quiet, and there’s a dramatic man-made waterfall that pours back into the Mill River.
In 1778, Eli Whitney used this Mill River to power his gun factory, which now houses the Eli Whitney Museum.
The southernmost point is East Rock Park in New Haven, which offers stunning views of the city and Long Island Sound from the foot of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Hamden, Connecticut (CT)
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