15 things to do in New Canaan (CT)

This town in bustling Fairfield County, an hour’s drive from Manhattan, has one of the highest median household incomes in the United States.

New Canaan has real artistic and architectural influence: acclaimed sculptor Solon Borglum settled here in the early 20th century, and the prestigious Silver Mine Arts Centre is a product of the colony he founded.

The Harvard Five were a group of early modernist architects who had a lasting impact on New Canaan’s residential cityscape in the 1940s and 1950s, building homes with open floor plans and the use of innovative materials.

As one of five, Philip Johnson designed the visionary Glass House for himself, which is available to visit and not to be missed.

1. Philip Johnson Glass House

Philip Johnson Glass House

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) built this modernist home for himself in 1949 as a weekend getaway. As the name suggests, the Glass House has transparent glass walls, which are symmetrical steel structures.

The only completely private element is the brick bathroom.

Johnson was a follower of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and helped the Bauhaus director come to America during the Nazi regime, while the Glass House was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois ( 1947).

Johnson visited the property for 58 years with his longtime partner David Whitney, who died the same year and helped design the grounds and collected most of the artwork on display.

There are a variety of tour options, starting and ending at the Visitor Center in downtown New Canaan, with the most concise lasting an hour and the most in-depth lasting 2.5 hours on weekends.

2. Wayne Park

weney park

One of the founders of Texaco, Lewis Lapham commissioned the stately Elizabethan-style mansion known as “The Castle” in 1912. Waveny House is located on 300 acres of floating land laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and will remain until 1967 when it is sold to New Canaan to become this outstanding ‘s park.

Not only is Waveny Park a great place to walk, it also has quite a few amenities, including an Olympic-sized open-air swimming pool and paddle tennis courts.

It also features prominently in New Canaan’s calendar of events, with concerts every Wednesday in the summer, as well as fireworks on the Fourth of July, performances at the Powerhouse and the annual Easter egg event.

The house’s mullioned windows and tower chimney deserve a mention, designed by William Tabby.

3. Silver Mine Art Center

Silver Mine Art Center

A point of reference for Fairfield County’s vibrant arts scene, the Silvermine Arts Center is an art school and exhibition space with five galleries.

The Silvermine community in New Canaan is full of arts, dating back to 1908, when sculptor Solon Borglum moved here and established a small colony.

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The Silvermine Artists Guild was established in 1922, and the school followed a few years later, now offering more than 100 courses a year.

Exhibits here are accompanied by symposia and panel discussions, as well as an exciting programme of lectures and artist visits, as well as outreach workshops in schools in the area.

HeART & Mind was the signature exhibition of late 2019, paired with projects addressing mental health issues and the healing power of art.

4. Grace Farm

Grace Farm

Fully open to the public, Grace Farms is a nonprofit center dedicated to nature, arts, community, justice, and faith.

The main building here is called The River, and that alone is worth a visit: Completed in 2015, it was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architecture firm SANAA.

The long, sinuous structure exudes tranquility, made of glass and concrete, with a Douglas fir canopy supported by steel columns.

There is a 700-seat amphitheater, a tea house, a library, a public space, a top-notch organic café and a sunken court for performing arts and entertainment.

Grace Farms is a 77-acre site with walking trails around the site where you can look for contemporary art installations by the likes of Teresita Fernández, Olafur Eliasson and Thomas Demand.

5. New Canaan Historical Society

Little Red School Building

The New Canaan Historical Society (founded in 1889) documents the town’s past and owns or operates eight museums and historic buildings, most of which are located on the Society’s campus in Oenoke Ridge.

Of all the club properties, only the Little Red Schoolhouse and Golsting (more below) are off-campus.

At the main location, you can view curated exhibitions from the Society’s vast collections, and experience life in New Canaan at the Rock Schoolhouse (1799), Cody Drug Store (1845), Town House (1825), Hanford-Silliman House ( c. 1764), Rogers Sculpture Studio (1878) and Tool Museum and Printing Office.

The main exhibit for summer 2019 is “Shoes,” with 200 pairs of shoes helping to portray the New Canaan shoe industry that has flourished for over a century.

6. New Canaan Nature Centre

Bird Watching Pavilion at the New Canaan Nature Centre

The New Canaan Nature Center features 40 acres of restorative landscapes and unattended green spaces, including botanical gardens, botanical gardens and nature reserves.

Landscaped spaces include a marvelous wildflower garden, 90% of which species are native, as well as a herb garden and a perennial border growing liver, Jacobite, crested iris and bleeding heart.

There is a 370 sqm greenhouse to visit, while in the natural area you can explore two ponds, a historic orchard, wet and dry meadows, cattail marshes and wet and dry woodland.

Finally, the arboretum has a small but admirable collection of Swiss stone pine, weeping Norway spruce and tundra cypress.

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7. Carriage Barn Arts Center

art gallery

This non-profit gallery and performing arts venue is housed in a 19th-century stone barn in Waveny Park.

The Carriage Barn Arts Center showcases local and regional talent and hosts eight high-profile exhibitions each year, four by jury and four by members and invited artists.

All exhibits are free to the public, but donations are recommended.

Check out the center’s website to learn about the center’s extensive program, including watercolor, collage and gouache workshops led by professional artists.

8. Mead Memorial Park

Picnic in the park

Mead Memorial Park is a fully furnished town park located off Park Street.

For sports, you have illuminated and unlit baseball fields, batting cages, tennis courts and open-air skating rinks under winter lights.

The playground is unusually large with a separate fenced area for younger kids.

If you come here to relax, you’ll find picnic areas, a pond and the recently opened Mead Park Inn, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a lovely patio overlooking the fields.

9. Brown Wildlife Sanctuary

The New Canaan Land Trust owns a number of reserves and trails around town, including this 10-acre remote woodland with picturesque Grupes Reservoir to the west.

Along the short but sweet trails, there are interpretive boards with facts about the geology, ecology, and various human uses of the site over time.

Here and there you’ll encounter some fairly large glacially unstable boulders.

10. New Canaan Summer Theatre

theater

Now relocated to downtown New Canaan, this open-air tent theater opens during June and July, presenting professionally produced programming for audiences of all ages.

During this short season, it was mostly shorts from Broadway shows, as well as kid-oriented entertainment and one-night-only shows, all with an audience of around 200. These productions require fresh local talent, both on stage and behind the scenes, working alongside professional performers and production staff.

11. Irving Park

Irving Park

New Canaan’s newest park is located on 36 acres at the junction of Wahackme Road and Weed Street if you need a dose of chlorophyll.

Irving Park has been improved over the past few years with newly paved walking/jogging trails that traverse open grass, past interesting sculptures and magnificent trees.

A good time to come here is in early spring, when the daffodils are a delight to the eye.

The striking modernist building in Irwin Park is the Gores Pavilion (1960), designed by Landis Gores, a member of the Harvard Five, as John Irwin and the pool house of Jane Watson, the daughter of the IBM founder.

The building is maintained by the New Canaan Historical Society and is open to the public Friday through Sunday afternoons from May to November.

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12. Mill Pond Park

Mill Pond Park

On a sunny summer day, this park adjacent to Route 123 is a great option for a picnic or soaking in a book for an hour or two.

On either side of the pond are paths with benches under the cover of tall pine and hardwood trees.

The pond is the scene of the annual Children’s Fishing Derby in the spring, and the best place to skate in New Canaan in the winter when the lights come on.

This activity is of course weather dependent, and signs on the shore will let you know when the ice is safe.

13. St. Mark’s Anglican Church

San Marco Anglican Church

Built on the northern edge of New Canaan in the late 1950s, the current St. Mark’s Church has a modernist design embedded with homage to Neo-Gothic architecture.

Accompanied by a free-standing bell tower, the chapel seats 600 people and features many fine details, from vibrant stained glass on three sides to a free-standing altar and floor-to-ceiling chapel adorned with a Clark Fitzgerald bronze sculpture.

Every element was specially designed for this building.

Tree-lined, St Mark’s is the focal point of the New Canaan May Fair, offering rides, games, entertainment, delicious food (strawberry cake of course) and a huge May Fair White Elephant Label sale.

14. Stanford Museum and Nature Center

Stanford Museum and Nature Center

A few minutes west of Merritt Avenue in North Stamford Forest is a museum of art, nature, agriculture and history.

The Stanford Museum and Nature Center is located on a 118-acre former private estate, 10 of which are home to the working Hexchel Farm.

The galleries in the half-timbered Tudor Revival museum building are very eclectic, ranging from paintings by John Singer Sargent, Warhol and Dalí to Native American artifacts, telescopes, vintage local bicycles, Stanford Keys and locks and farm implements from the University’s renowned Yale brand.

There are also important collections of Stanford-related artists such as Gutzon Borglum (known for Mount Rushmore) and Reuben Nakian.

At Hecksher Farm you will find traditional livestock breeds, as well as more exotic animals such as donkeys, llamas and alpacas.

15. New Canaan Halloween Parade

New Canaan Halloween Parade

The Sunday leading up to Halloween is one of the most anticipated events in New Canaan and a kid-focused one.

The little ones, their parents, and even their dogs set off down Elm Street in all sorts of quirky and bizarre outfits.

Leading the parade is a shiny Old Faithful, a 1924 La Frans fire truck.

There are kiddie packs and lots of entertainment and live music.

Grandparents and local residents lined up to cheer on the march.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in New Canaan, CT (CT)
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