West Haven is a low-key but endearing place, formerly known for shipping and manufacturing, and a historic amusement park that closed in 1966. In the charming historic green space of West Haven, you’re just a few miles to the south – west of the young city of New Haven, with Yale University’s Gothic architecture and plenty of popular museums.
West Haven shines with its long sandy coastline, bordered by lush meadows for most of its length and interspersed with small marinas.
It’s Connecticut’s longest publicly accessible coastline, and the four miles make up almost a quarter of the state’s public beach stock.
At the easternmost point lies the ecologically important Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary, home to terns and phalaenopsis.
1. Savin Rock Park
From the late 1800s to 1966, West Haven had its own version of Coney Island at the Savin Rock amusement park, attracting people from all over the Northeast.
Gone are those days, Savin Rock Park is now more about relaxing and strolling along the boardwalk.
The public sandy beach and the new green space behind it are well taken care of, and along with the neighbouring Oak Street Beach, there is live music on weekends.
The boardwalk is full of life these days.
Campbell Avenue and Captain Thomas Boulevard are just a stone’s throw away, with a wide variety of restaurants, whether you like ramen, sushi, Italian, Chinese or grilled sandwiches (Savin Rock Roasting Co.). In the summer, you can learn about the past at the Savin Rocks Museum, documenting the amusement park with personal accounts, photos, footage and one of the carousels, the Silver Fox.
2. PEZ Visitor Center
The US headquarters of Austrian confectionary brand PEZ is located in Orange, less than 10 minutes from downtown West Haven.
You don’t need to be a PEZ fan to have fun at their visitor center, which has the largest collection of PEZ memorabilia in the world.
There are interactive games and quirky exhibits like the world’s largest PEZ dispenser and a PEZ-themed motorcycle designed by TV’s Orange County Chopper.
A window lets you see what’s going on on the production floor, while decades of PEZ accessories are neatly displayed in glass display cases.
The Factory Store is special, selling dispensers and PEZ flavors you’ve never tasted before.
3. Stowe Seafood
At the eastern end of the Savin Rock Trail, you’ll come across a waterfront cabin with a front yard decorated with rigging, nets, buoys, Jolly Rogers and pirate characters.
This is Stowe’s Seafood, a classic and acclaimed New England seafood shack that serves up a no-nonsense fish and chips and rolls stuffed with fried lobster, lobster salad, fried lobster, fried shrimp, fried scallops, fried Clams, fried calamari and soft shell crab, to name a few.
The cottage is open 7 days a week from 10:00 to 19:00.
4. Bradley Point Park
Just west of Savon Rock Park is a beach at Bradley Point Park, whose namesake headland juts into Long Island Sound.
The beach is sandy and well-maintained, and a playground was recently installed on its west side in honor of Sandy Hook victim Charlotte Bacon.
At Foreshore, you can continue along the Savin Rock Trail, which loops around Bradley Point and returns to Ocean Avenue.
Bradley Point was where British troops landed on Tryon raids during the Revolutionary War of 1779. Like other beaches on this coast, Bradley Point Beach is patrolled by lifeguards from late May to early September, and everyone is supervised. One day during summer vacation, from late June to mid-August.
5. West Haven Green
Slap in the center of town is a quintessential New England green space, while West Haven’s green space is as picturesque as you’d hope.
Climb up the leafy old tree is the spire of West Haven Congregational Church, which dates back to 1859. Among the leaves are benches, a war memorial, a bandstand and a stone chess table.
Look for the boulder at the east end of Savin Avenue in memory of British adjutant William Campbell, who saved the life of Reverend Noah Williston during the Tryon Raid in 1779. West Haven Green is the heart of the historic district of the same name, containing properties on and next to 20 of the 23 historic districts.
There are seasonal decorations, including beautiful Christmas lights, and the West Haven Apple Festival at the end of September brings food and craft vendors.
6. Oak Street Beach
On the east side of Savin Rock Park, the Savin Rock Trail crosses another pleasant tree-lined beach.
Oak Street Beach has everything you could want from the West Haven coast: soft sand, vistas of Long Island Beach, a social boardwalk, and even the occasional live music on summer weekends.
It’s up to you whether you want to brave the waters of Long Island Sound, but the beach is a spotless place to hang out in summer, where kids can comb for shells.
You can play horseshoes on the boardwalk, and the food trucks are parked in the back so you can grab a bite, stroll and be soothed by the scenery.
7. New Haven
In case you need a reminder, a vibrant city and home to Yale University is not far from the Port of New Haven.
Think of New Haven as the ultimate culture day.
The Yale University Art Gallery has Gauguin and Van Gogh, the Yale British Art Center has Constable, Gainsborough and Turner, and the wonderful Peabody Museum of Natural History has dinosaur fossils and ancient Egyptian artifacts.
Yale’s oldest house is a springboard for qualified student-guided tours of the university.
You’ll see the famous Collegiate Gothic building, which culminates in the Stirling Memorial Library.
The tour will also visit the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which holds one of the 48 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
8. Sand Point Bird Sanctuary
This long spit at the end of West Haven Beach forms the western edge of New Haven Harbor.
Sandy Point covers 66 acres of sand dunes, sandbanks, tidal creeks, salt marshes and tidal flats.
Abundant birds frequent this environment, building nests or making short stops during long migrations.
Salt marshes are summer nesting grounds for point-tailed sparrows, and you’ll see piping plovers on the sand.
The reserve also supports important colonies of common and smallest terns, and the red knot is a stopover for many birds.
There is an observation deck that has had several upgrades added over the years, including wooden planters, flagpoles and a butterfly garden.
9. Morse Park
Morse Park, just a minute or two from Sandy Point, is probably the quietest spot on the West Haven coastline.
Foreshore is not as well tended and allowed to grow as Savin Rock Park.
Further afield are baseball fields with bleachers, while wetlands surround Old Field Creek, which flows through the park to Long Island Sound at the southern end of the bird sanctuary.
One of the joys of Morse Beach is sitting and staring at New Haven Harbor, picking out the historic Five Mile Lights (1805) above the water.
10. Painters Park
The park is named for Thomas Painter, a teenage militiaman who was the first to engage the British invaders at Bradley Point before retreating after seeing the scale of the attack.
He is pictured standing on Savin Rock, watching British ships from the seals in the town of West Haven.
Painters Park has tennis, basketball, baseball and soccer fields, and there is a children’s camp here in the summer.
You can also rent the park’s gazebo during the summer, when the grill is ready for grilling.
The children’s playground is one of the best around, designed like a castle, and there is a smaller play area for toddlers next to the tennis court.
11. Ward-Heitman House
The oldest surviving building in West Haven is a low-key three-bay clapboard house at 277 Elm Street, probably built in 1684. Ward-Heitmann House is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been undergoing restoration over the past 25 years while opening as a historic house museum.
Each room has been carefully furnished to represent a different period from colonial times to the post-Civil War period to help you feel closer to the many families who call the property “home.” When we made this list in the summer of 2019, the house was closed for work to replace the foundations of the house’s library wing.
12. B&B Flower Farm
On a lovely country lot at the north end of Jones Hill Road is a friendly family run farm shop selling seasonal produce, flowers, crafts and homemade treats.
In the summer, people drive long distances for a scoop or three of the farm’s delicious ice cream: Chocolate Peanut Butter Shortbread and Orange Cream are a few favorites.
Children will also love meeting the farm’s horses, donkeys, goats and friendly dogs.
You can pick pumpkins and ride hay in the fall, and the Christmas B&B sells trees and unique handmade decorations.
13. IT Adventure Ropes Course
Across the West River, Jordan’s Furniture has the largest indoor high ropes course in the world.
There are more than 100 events in this huge hall.
When it comes to transitioning from the main course, you will have to pass zigzag swinging beams, double cat walks, crisscross rope ladders, cargo nets and numerous bridges.
There is also a liquid fireworks (water) display, a ropes course for younger children, four creative vertical climbing walls and four ziplines up to 55 meters long.
No experience is required to complete the course, and after your adventure, you can indulge in a pizza and ice cream parlour.
14. Robert Treat Farm
Just 10 minutes from downtown West Haven and another country farm store across the Woodmont town line.
Robert Treat Farm is another family owned business just off Long Island Sound with a farm shop in a beautiful post and beam barn built in 2008. Seasonal fruit and vegetables on Wednesday and Saturday, as well as pies, honey, cheese, bread, preserves and fresh milk in glass bottles.
Robert Treat Farm also features a garden center with annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees, and welcomes summer weekends to the Woodmont Farmers Market, which specializes in fresh pasta, tamales, pizza, burritos, seafood, Traders of pastries, etc.
15. Monster Mini Golf, Orange
If you have to haul older children or teens to New Haven’s more mind-boggling attractions, you can reward them with a visit to this eerie, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf center.
The entire 18-hole course is set in a cemetery, indoors, illuminated by black light, and inhabited by a horde of monsters and ghouls, all animated.
To accompany the course, there is also a video arcade with many ticket redemption games, and the Monster Laser Tag Arena with more black lights, fog, mines and ambient music.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in West Haven, Connecticut (CT)
Lowest price guaranteed.