Norwalk is awash in contradictions — a seaside city that embraces its New England roots while sitting squarely in New York’s gravitational pull. The former rail hub and oystering capital combines working-class muscle with a refined palate. It is a vibrant crossroads where construction workers rub elbows with financial analysts, where a brisk nightlife is tempered by family-friendly diversions. The city’s continuing resurgence centers around its historic South Norwalk, or “SoNo,” district, but pleasant surprises can be found at nearly every turn.
Many Norwalk lodging options are less expensive on the weekends when the area’s business travelers head home, but regardless there are some attractive choices to suit all budgets. The Silvermine Tavern (194 Perry Ave., 203-847-4558, www.silver
minetavern.com, $125-$150) dates to 1810 and has charm to spare, with accents like canopy beds in many of its 10 guest rooms, along with a treasure trove of antique prints and period furniture. The friendly proprietors serve a continental breakfast daily, highlighted by homemade granola and indulgently sticky honey buns. With amenities like Wi-Fi, fitness centers, and indoor pools, both Hilton Garden Inn Norwalk (560 Main Ave., 203-523-4000, www.norwalk
hilton.com, $129-$269) and Courtyard by Marriott Norwalk (474 Main Ave., 203-849-9111, www.norwalkcourtyard.com, $119-$229), which has completed the first half of its planned renovation, are comfortable, dependable options for both weekday warriors and the weekend weary. Just outside Norwalk lies The Inn at Longshore (260 South Compo Road, Westport, 203-226-3316, www.innatlong
shore.com, $145-$250), located amid 52 acres of Connecticut coastline. Once a country club that catered to chaps like F. Scott Fitzgerald, the inn still features a golf course, as well as 12 immaculate guest rooms and a great lawn overlooking Long Island Sound.
For a morning eye opener, try the brie and mango omelet at Valencia Luncheria (164 Main St., 203-846-8009, www.
$14.50), which plates Latin favorites all day long. Here, guests devour addictive arepas, handmade corn cakes stuffed with roast pork, plantains, scallops, and more. Indulge an afternoon sweet tooth at Sono Caffeine (133 Washington St., 203-857-4224, www.sonocaffeine.com, $2.25-$9), an espresso joint that also serves up delectable pecan bourbon tarts and New York cheesecake. In the evening, nosh alfresco at Italian-themed Bacchus (120 Washington St., 203-956-6220, www.bacchus
sono.com, $26-$38), where regulars swear by the chef’s signature roast chicken and tasty treats like fried calamari with hot peppers. The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood (89 Rowayton Ave., 203-866-4488, www.rowayton
seafood.com, $14-$34) serves up tranquil water views as well as sustainable seafood, inventively prepared, including yellow-fin tuna with jicama salad and mango vinaigrette.
DURING THE DAY
Much like Norwalk itself, the SoNo district presents a patchwork of compelling diversions. The stretch of Washington Street between the city’s historic train trestle and inner harbor is made for strolling, with boutiques and specialty stores interspersed along the tree-lined route. And Company (108 Washington St., 203-831-8855, www.and
companyonline.com) is an eclectic emporium that sells everything from Italian sheets to Portuguese soap to Hawaiian board shorts. Gourmands can say “hallo” to A Taste of Holland (83 Washington St., 203-838-6161, www.kaasnco.com), which features cheese, licorice, and other imported goodies. The inviting Galerie Sono (135 Washington St., 203-831-8332, www.sono
galerie.com) displays contemporary fine art, including numerous seascapes befitting its waterside proximity. The real thing can be found steps away at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk (10 North Water St., 203-852-0700, www.maritimeaquarium
.org, adult admission $13.95, child $10.50) . The family favorite houses an 110,000-gallon shark tank, as well as 125 local species in their re-created Long Island Sound habitats. Tots can explore further at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children (303 West Ave., 203-899-0606, www.steppingstonesmuseum
.org, admission $15), which completed a substantial expansion in 2010 and is home to a new Energy Lab, where kids can generate their own water and wind power. Also found in Mathews Park is the Center for Contemporary Printmaking (299 West Ave., 203-899-7999, www.contemprints.org, free admission), an often-overlooked gem that hosts workshops for various skill levels and is currently displaying an engaging international exhibition of 12-inch-square works, titled “Footprint.” A bit farther afield, in the leafy coastal enclave of Rowayton, the Rowayton Farmer’s Market (Pinkney Park, Rowayton Ave., 203-451-1750, www.
market) shouldn’t be missed on Fridays, when from noon to dusk more than 35 local vendors peddle specialties like homemade pickles, artisan trail mixes, and craft soaps and jewelry.
Hit the water with the Norwalk Seaport Association (dock at corner of North Water and Washington streets, 203-838-9444, www.seaport.org, adults $22), which complements daytime voyages with Thursday evening clambake cruises ($65-$79) to Sheffield Island, home to a national wildlife refuge and a historic stone lighthouse. Friday sunset cruises through Long Island Sound are also available. For something completely different, head back to the SoNo district to bask in Norwalk’s surprisingly vibrant club scene. Among the top choices is The Loft (97 Washington St., 203-838-6555, www.theloftsono
.com, drinks $8-$9) , an airy, upscale martini lounge that features live DJs and local musical acts four nights a week. Another option for the rhythmically disposed is Red Lulu Cocina and Tequila Bar (128 Washington St., 203-939-1600, www.redlulu
mexican.com, no cover), which balances Mexican specialties and a Gothic vibe with weekend dance parties that pump out the latest hip-hop and house music for late-night revelers.