15 Best Things to Do in Norwalk (CT)

In the westernmost part of Connecticut, the city of Norwalk is located within the New York metropolitan area, on the water’s edge of Long Island Sound.

Norwalk was built in the mid-16th century and burned to the ground by the British during the Revolutionary War in 1779.

Calf Ranch Beach, where British troops landed, is now one of the few places to relax by the water.

Known as Oyster City, Norwalk has a special connection to the sea and hosts a festival in early September to commemorate its historic oyster industry.

In summer, take a boat trip to the offshore island, which has many attractions and museums to pique your interest, such as the Oceanarium, the palatial Lockwood-Matthews Mansion, and the Children’s Stepping Stones Museum.

1. Oceanarium

Oceanarium

The Oceanarium is a well done aquarium with 75 live exhibits featuring over 2,700 marine animals from 300 different species.

A visit here will take you on a journey, starting with the rivers and marshes that feed Long Island Sound, and then into the open ocean.

As you go, you’ll encounter seals, otters, jellyfish, sharks and loggerhead turtles.

There are three touch pools where you can discover the sensations of nurse sharks, stingrays, starfish and various other animals.

In addition, there is an IMAX theater with a 10,000-watt digital sound system and screens six stories high and eight stories wide.

Additionally, you can go on a bird watching, seal observation or marine life research cruise aboard the museum’s own research vessel, the R/V Spirit of the Sound, which uses a quiet hybrid/electric propulsion system.

2. Children’s Stepping Stone Museum

Children's Stepping Stone Museum

With the philosophy of letting children learn best by doing, this attraction opened in Matthews Park in 2000 and features a series of interactive educational areas designed to stimulate children’s imagination, curiosity and interest.

The Energy Lab helps little ones learn about energy science with Wet’s wonderful exhibits, while expressing yourself is all about social emotional learning, and building it! Familiarize children with the basics of architecture and building design.

Adults and children alike will be blown away by artist George Rhoads’ ColorCoaster kinetic sculptures, and outside the Celebration Courtyard there is a giant open-air tent and an eco-friendly play surface.

There is always a short-term exhibit in the museum, either created or brought over from other children’s museums in the United States.

3. Lockwood-Matthews Building

Lockwood-Matthews Building

Railroad and banking magnate LeGrand Lockwood (1820-1872) built this palatial country house in what is now Matthews Park (near the paving stones) between 1865 and 1868.

Lockwood-Mathews Mansion has been a National Historic Landmark since 1978 and is one of the first examples of a Second Empire-style country house in the United States.

Saved from demolition after a long campaign in the 1960s, the property has been fully restored both inside and out, with a fine wrought iron topping over the roof and slender porch.

At the time, the Lockwood-Matthews Building was state-of-the-art, with gas lighting, hot and cold plumbing, ventilation and central heating, and was fueled by a ton of coal per day.

From early April to early January, you can take a guided tour of the exquisite interiors, learning the stories behind each room and the personality that lives here.

4. Sheffield Island Ferry

Sheffield Island Ferries

Departing from the dock on the west bank of the Norwalk River, across from Veterans Memorial Park, the ferry will take you to the Norwalk Islands in Long Island Sound.

During the height of summer, services are available every day of the week, including three on weekends.

It takes 45 minutes to glide through the various islets in the archipelago before you land on Sheffield Island.

During the voyage, the captain will point out various landmarks on both sides of the Long Island Sound and, if the conditions are right, the Manhattan skyline.

Afterwards, you’ll stop at Sheffield Island for 90 minutes, where you can visit the lighthouse, have a picnic, walk the trails, and scour the coast for shells, sea glass and horseshoe crabs.

5. Sheffield Island Lighthouse

Sheffield Island Lighthouse

The main target of ferries to Sheffield Island is this magnificent lighthouse, which in its current form dates back to 1868. A solid limestone house was built here, with a lighthouse on the gable, replacing a 9.1-meter tower built in 1828. The light has been running on solar energy since 2011 and is aimed at the Norwalk side of Long Island Sound purely for its symbolic value.

You will visit the building and can head to the railroad at the top on a clear day to see the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

6. Sono

so no

Until 1913, South Norwalk was an independent city, a diverse and vibrant community of dining, arts, shopping and entertainment.

All of the museums above are in Sono, along with many galleries and studios, all opening their doors for the Sono Arts Festival in August.

SoNo has more than 30 places to eat and its offerings are very international, whether you’re craving sushi, empanadas, clam chowder, fish tacos, baklava, grilled meats or comforting grilled cheese.

What also gets you interested in this part of town is how many independent retailers are on these streets, in design stores, specialty food stores, jewelers and more.

7. Norwalk Oyster Festival

Norwalk Oyster Festival

On the first weekend after Labor Day, Oyster Town celebrates the rich history of its oyster industry and raises money for various good causes.

The Norwalk Oyster Festival is now in its fifth decade and promises three days of live music, arts and crafts, lots of fun for the little ones and, of course, an abundance of oysters.

There’s an international food court, a craft beer tent, and even an oyster-sipping contest.

You can watch Paul Bunyan lumberjacks and Nerveless Nocks stunts.

A range of playground rides and entertainment is in store, not to mention Kids Bay, which has its own rides, games and entertainment just for kids.

Sunday is Family Day, with discounts on admission, rides and food for families with children.

Just for introduction, some of the names that have attended the Norwalk Oyster Festival are Little Richard, Tito Puente, Willie Nelson, Monkey and Cheap Trick.

8. Norwalk Historical Society Museum

Norwalk Historical Society Museum

This museum depicting Norwalk’s past is housed in the red-brick Georgian Revival former Lockwood House, built in 1973 with funding from Manice de Forest Lockwood and his cousin Julia Belden Lockwood. The collection was relocated in the 1990s and brought back here The Norwalk Historical Society Museum opened in 2015. 2019 features a series of interesting simultaneous exhibitions covering mid-20th century Southern African-American immigrants, the Farrington-Lockwood collection of precious china, 19th-century photography of Century Norwalk and the building’s architect, Margaret Hoy Te Smith.

“Form, Function and Family” showcases silverware from historic societies and the Norwalk City Collection, while the “Norwalk Collection” showcases 30 representative objects from the museum’s in-depth collection.

9. Mill Mountain Park

Mill Mountain Park

The Norwalk Historical Society has a second location on the east bank of the Norwalk River.

Mill Mountain Park is a living history museum comprising three 280-year-old buildings.

The most prominent of these is the townhouse, built in 1835 as a place for a civic meeting and one of the first brick buildings in Norwalk.

Townhouses remain a mainstay of the community, hosting social events, meetings and displaying historic memorabilia.

A rare survivor of the Norwalk Fire of 1779 was the Governor Thomas Fitch Law Office (1740), which was part of the kitchen wing of Governor Thomas Fitch’s home, complete with an 18th century Chippendale desk and other accessories to let you know about Fitch The office would have looked like.

The Downtown Schoolhouse dates back to 1826 and was relocated when I95 was built through East Norwalk.

To the east of the buildings is the city’s third-oldest cemetery, where property grants were made to Norwalk’s earliest settlers.

10. Wall Street Theater

Wall Street Theater

Opened in 1915, the Wall Street Theater has been reborn several times over the last century, changing hands among its many owners.

In the early days, stars like Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford and John Barrymore graced the stage.

In the 1930s it was converted into a cinema, but it was also booked for boxing matches and concerts by the likes of Elvis Presley.

In its latest incarnation, the Wall Street Theater is primarily a live music venue, booking well-known touring bands and solo artists from a variety of genres, as well as plenty of tribute performances.

11. Calf Ranch Beach

Calf Ranch Beach

Norwalk’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show takes place at this historic beach and eponymous Peninsula Park.

In the 17th century, the calf ranch was used by Connecticut colonists as grazing ground for cows, and during the Revolutionary War of 1779, the beach was a landing point and camp for raids by 2,600 British troops led by William Tryon , leading to the total destruction of the near city.

The big draw here is the big beach, with a fishing pier, playground, splash board and space for softball, volleyball, ice skating, and petanque.

Norwalk Sailing School also rents kayaks and sailboats and offers a small craft safety training program.

12. Compo Beach

Compo Beach

Just across the border from Westport, this 30-acre parkland beach is just a 15-minute drive from Norwalk’s main attractions.

To the west of Compo Beach is the Saugatuck River and has a boardwalk, a large wooden playground, lockers, bathrooms, a concession stand and two beach volleyball courts.

The beach is patrolled by lifeguards daily, from 10:00 to 18:00 between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

There is also a wealth of sports facilities behind the beach, including two floodlit basketball courts, a skate park, open skate area and a softball field.

13. SoNo Switch Tower Museum

Sono Switch Tower Museum

The New Haven Railroad spanned much of southern New England between 1872 and 1968, operating more than 2,000 miles of track by 1912. Fascinating remnants of the 1890s can be found on Washington Street in South Norwalk, where you’ll encounter the original switch tower preserved as a museum next to the track.

Railroad fanatics can visit on weekends from 12:00 to 17:00, when you’ll see Connecticut’s only surviving Armstrong lever.

14. Oyster Shell Park

Oyster Shell Park

Oyster Shell Park has been refurbished over the past decade and is somewhere looking out over the harbour and waterfront on the east and west banks of the Norwalk River.

It’s hard to imagine today, but until 1979, this space, breezy from the water, was going to landfill.

Today, it is connected to the Norwalk Valley Trail and features the Peak Galleria, a children’s playground and a well-tended disc golf course, just steps from the Lockwood-Matthews Building and the Maritime Aquarium.

15. Norwalk Boat Show

Norwalk Boat Show

At the Norwalk Bay Marina, on the land corner of the Calf Ranch Peninsula, the Norwalk Boat Show is another milestone in the city’s events calendar, with large exhibitors from Geico and Progressive to Discover Boating, Corona and Coors.

For four days until the end of September, you can watch a demonstration of high-speed rowing, take a stand-up paddle and kayak class at Try it Cove, and improve your boating skills with an on-water clinic.

There are plenty of activities for the kids too, boating on a special mini lake, or dreaming up and making their own boat at the boat building studio.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Norwalk, CT (CT)
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