On July 13, the US Postal Service will issue its “New England Coastal Lighthouses” series of Forever stamps. The 1801 New London Harbor Light is among the chosen five and the New London Maritime Society will mark the occasion with a 10 a.m. ceremony. It falls smack in the middle of the July 12-14 Sailfest (www
.sailfestnl.org), which will feature amusement rides, a tall ship, free entertainment, and a massive Saturday evening fireworks display. Even if you can’t make it to the party, summer is a perfect time for a family getaway to explore New London’s close connection to the sea.
New London lodging tends to run to chain hotels. The major downtown hotel received a complete renovation before it was rebranded in mid-May as the Holiday Inn New London (35 Governor Winthrop Blvd., 860-443-7000, www.holidayinn.com/newlondonct, from $119). It’s well situated for exploring the historic district. The Red Roof Inn (707 Colman St., 860-444-0001, www.redroof.com, from $57) and the Clarion Inn (269 North Frontage Road, 860-442-0631, www.choicehotels.com/hotel/ct149, from $109) are on the outskirts of town, right off Interstate 95.
Chefs trained at Johnson & Wales raise the bar for sandwiches by roasting all the meats, baking the breads, and even making the condiments and pickles at Sweetie’s Bakery and Cafe (191 Bank St., 860-437-0130, www.sweetiesbakeryandcafe.com, sandwiches and panini $4.50-$10.50). Kids will love their S’More whoopie pie with graham cracker cake and chocolate and cream filling. They will also love the specialty burgers and hot dogs at Kamp Dog (15 Broad St., 860-443-3000, www.kampdog.com, $2.50-$8), a casual spot with a roll of paper towels and squeeze bottles of condiments on every table. For fresh seafood, you can’t beat a restaurant attached to a fish market,
such as Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock
(80 Hamilton St., 860-439-1741, www.captscotts.com, $3-$21), where diners sit at dockside picnic tables and look across the harbor to the New London skyline. It’s a good place to try a Connecticut hot lobster roll, or a platter of fish and chips, or whole belly clams. If you prefer indoor dining, On the Waterfront (250 Pequot Ave., 860-444-2800, www.onthewaterfrontnl.com, entrees $14-$25) sits between two marinas. Try to get a table by the window so that you can enjoy great views along with a plate of linguine with clams or baked scallops from nearby Stonington.
DURING THE DAY
With a long white sand beach, mini-golf, water slides, and amusement rides Ocean Beach Park (98 Neptune Ave., 860-447-3031 or 800-510-7263, www.oceanbeach-park.com, parking and admission for all passengers $5-$25, rides and attractions $2-$16) is New London’s summer playground. There’s even an Olympic-size freshwater pool. If you can drag the kids away from play, several sites recount New London’s maritime history. Built between 1839 and 1852, Fort Trumbull has a commanding view of New London Harbor. Now part of Fort Trumbull State Park (90 Walbach St., 860-444-7591, www.fortfriends.org, admission to grounds free, fort tours adults $6, ages 6-11 $2), the grounds are popular with walkers and fishermen any time of year. From now through Columbus Day, visitors can take a tour of the Egyptian Revival-style fort that even inspired a short story by Mark Twain.
Operated by the New London Maritime Society, the Custom House Maritime Museum (150 Bank St., 860-447-2501, lighthouse tour reservations 860-912-6814, www.nlmaritimesociety.org, adults $5) occupies the oldest continuously operating Custom House in the country and offers exhibits that touch on all aspects of New London’s maritime history. The Maritime Society also owns the still-operational New London Harbor Light and offers two guided tours on Wednesdays (adults $35, 8-14 $15, reservations essential). At 89 feet, it’s one of the tallest lighthouses on Long Island Sound and those who climb the 119 steps to the lantern will be rewarded with a view of five to six other lights, depending on the weather. In addition, Lighthouse Saturdays (every Saturday through Sept. 7 except July 13) will feature two one-hour boat tours of several harbor lighthouses and three additional boat trips to New London Harbor Light, complete with a chance to climb the tower (adults $35, 8-14 $25; reservations essential; boat trips limited to six people).
The Sailfest fireworks are the big deal on July 13. But Ocean Beach Park also offers entertainment almost every night all summer, from beach blanket movies to karaoke, sock hops, magic shows, and the occasional fireworks display. For something completely different, Sunbeam Fleet at Captain John’s Sport Fishing Center (15 First St., Waterford, 860-443-7259, www.sunbeamfleet.com, $85) offers night fishing for striped bass. Bring your own flashlight.