Tracy Lee Karner

26 historic-seaport-charming, fall-foliage hours in Essex, Connecticut

Tracy Lee Karner
Main Street House, in charming historic seaport Essex, CT

Everyone knows about Mystic, which is one reason I’d rather visit Essex. Of course, Mystic is very nice (that’s why everyone goes there). But Essex has charm.
This small river town is so charming it’s nearly intoxicating. Its tree-lined streets dotted with some of New England’s finest examples of early colonial and federal architecture, its antique shops, specialty boutiques, restaurants, marinas and its maritime history make it a perfect fall-foliage destination.
That’s why I would choose to spend 26 low-cost and leisurely hours in and around Essex.
First, find a parking place. By foot is the only way to explore, see and experience a village.
Begin with LUNCH:

Olive Oyl's of Essex, in-house grilled salmon
Olive Oyl’s of Essex, platter of grilled salmon
  • Ken and I share a Paesans sandwich (Genoa salami, provolone, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomato, sun dried tomato tapanade — $7.25) with a  cup of Nantucket Chowder ($4.25). We want to save room for mid-afternoon snack, because get-aways are all about treats. We carry our take-out over to Essex Park, and eat overlooking the water.

AFTERNOON: check in at the Griswold Inn (36 Main).

  • The inn is the oldest continually-run inn/tavern in the U.S. It was also used as a film location for The Collinswood Inn, for the 1960’s soap opera, Dark Shadows. And notice its clever, history-referencing phone number (860-767-1776). The guest rooms are furnished with antiques (no televisions; instead they pipe in classical music). The collections of Marine-inspired art and guns are museum-quality, and the Taproom restaurant brims with colonial ambience. Bonus: the rates are as reasonable as they get for historic, charming inns in southern Connecticut. ($105-$305, depending on season and room size/amenities)
Griswold Inn, Essex CT
Griswold Inn, Essex CT
  • After you’re checked-in, walk around the best little town in America. Enjoy the boutiques, the architecture, the foliage and the seaport air.
  • Don’t miss De Paula Jewelers (23 Main). Philip A. De Paula is a master goldsmith and gemologist who creates his own designs in-house.  The shop offers a great selection of estate jewelry as well as classy costume jewelry for those of us who admire pretty baubles but need to respect the limitations of the monthly budget.
Tracy Lee Karner
De Paula Jewelers, Essex, CT
  • Give your feet a break and sit down at Essex Coffee and Tea (51 Main). Must taste: the caramel chocolate brownies and the miniature coconut macaroons!
Enjoy authentic New England ambience at Essex Coffee & Tea
  • And visit The Connecticut River Museum for an enjoyable overview of the history of this place (67 Main, Admission $8 adults, $7 Seniors and AAA members, $6 students, $5 children, under 6 years–free).  This is also the place to book a river cruise on a historic schooner–but don’t expect to get a last-minute reservation.

EVENING: enjoy the unique features of the Griswold Inn

  • Because this is a leisurely escape, we’ll put our feet up in our room for a bit, read, listen to music, perhaps even cat-nap. Then we’ll dress in something evening-ish.
  • We rarely enjoy a heavy meal in the evening. The tapas-inspired menu at Griswold’s wine bar is perfect for our favorite way to spend and evening, in relaxed tasting and sipping. Maybe well sample tater tots, black bean and corn relish with lime cream; Wyoming beef sirloin with gorgonzola flan; and grilled flatbread with proscuitto, arugula, Bosc pear and pomegranate glaze. Their buy two get one free deal means it would cost us less than $20 to sample and share three plates. Of course we’d sip one or two of their more than 50 wines, and also choose a couple of artisanal cheeses to close out our wine-bar experience.

DAY TWO, 9:30-ish

  • After enjoying a bagel and tea from across the street at Essex Coffee & Tea , we’ll check out and take a short drive over to Lyme, to visit the Florence Griswold Museum (96 Lyme St, Lyme).
  • Formerly a boarding house, this became a significant artists’ colony in the early 1900’s. Childe Hassam and some of the country’s most notable artists gathered here to paint the Connecticut landscape, sparking the transformation of French Impressionism into its American form.There is so much going on here in the history of the buildings and grounds, in the collections and archives, that it requires at least a couple of hours to get an overview.Serious art and history buffs will want to explore the museum’s website in depth before arriving, which will enrich their experience. We’d fully immerse ourselves in the artists’ landscape, thinking like artists, taking time to sketch and make word paintings, thinking about the lives of the American Impressionists and pulling as much enjoyment out of this place as we can. When we return home, we will have been inspired by the history of the art colony, having our vivid impressions & memories to serve as material for future drawing, painting and writing. (Tue-Sat 10-5; Sun 1-5, with extended hours and special exhibits in October. $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 students, 12 & under free).

EARLY AFTERNOON: Lunch at The Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe (34 Lyme Street, Old Lyme)

  • Homemade, handcrafted soups, sandwiches, salads and, of course, ice cream, prepared by people who prize quality ingredients and quality service! Oh, boy!
Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe
Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe
  • And we head home blissfully happy and content because we got away in low-cost, leisurely style.

Tracy Lee Karner
It’s her job to scoop scrumptious, artisinal, hand-made ice cream for you!

You’ll smile too.
What’s you’re get-away style? 

28 thoughts on “26 historic-seaport-charming, fall-foliage hours in Essex, Connecticut”

  1. Tracy, these are indeed 26 of the best spent hours, the prices are amazing and it all sounds and looks idyllic! This Essex is very different to the Essex in the UK, I can assure you 🙂

    1. Hi, Sherri–thanks for checking in! Interestingly you (the British) attacked us (the rebels) in this very place, in 1814. Come on over for the commemoration next year. I’ll meet you in still-independent Essex, America! 😉

    1. Your style still works because you’re half my age, dearie.
      I hope you can put these “auntie” get-aways in your “future” file for at least another year or two.
      But do implement the “auntie” style of traveling before you burn out (you’re smart, you’ll know when it’s time…. )

      1. Ha! Yes – I feel like “auntie” style of traveling may be just around the corner for me after my Vegas shenanigans. Although, the “auntie” speed seems extremely lovely and a relaxing way to spend a quick holiday. I’ve taken my notes!

  2. This town looks great. I was wondering what you consider a “small” town. The reason I ask is that I visited the UK a year ago and the locals there consider a “small” town one of about 100,000 people whereas here in Australia we consider a small town one of about 3,000 people of even smaller.

    1. Here, a “town” is different from a “city.” A small city is anything from 20,000 to 100,000. I think that’s too large a range to be a meaningful category, but, that’s the way the definition tends to run.
      A town is generally less than 20,000 inhabitants. A small town, is less than 9,000. Essex Connecticut is therefore a small, small town. My favorite kind of place.

  3. You’ve done it again, Tracy! I really need a “relaxing, good food, nice place to stay and wander around” getaway right now, and you’ve sold me on Essex. I really do hope you’ll put these all into a Perfect 48-hour Getaways book!

    1. I’m glad you like them, Marylin. I hope I’m filling a need–there isn’t much out there to guide those of us who want a peaceful/restful and affordable getaway. And I do believe that getting away gives us necessary space to reflect on our lives–in the same way that it’s easier to see the valley from the top of the mountain, it’s sometimes easier to consider our daily lives when we step outside of them.
      I’ve got 9 get-aways in my memoir travel-guide — (different from those on my blog), and I’m working on the next book… 🙂

  4. Walking is key, wherever I decide to go to explore. There is no other way to get a feel for a place and make those wonderful random finds that define a trip and make it. Because, for me, a get away is all about discovering something that at least feels really special to me, a connection that makes that bit of the trip personal…:)
    The Essex Coffee and Tea looks awesome! Do they roast coffee themselves? Or do they get locally roasted coffees?

    1. I agree about walking — people are often amazed that we so quickly learn a new area, often discovering little gems that the locals haven’t even noticed (like the 3 royal waterfront suites in Warwick). I always tell them it’s because we walk– you just miss so much of a place if you’re driving instead of walking!
      Essex coffee gets their coffee from a regional roaster…

  5. Gosh, when I saw Essex in the post title I remembered that I had stayed there decades ago when I holidayed in New England. As I was scrolling down I was trying to recall the name of the inn I stayed in and the name Griswold Inn flashed into my mind, for a second I wondered if I was mis-remembering and then I read on …
    Those were pre-blogging days so I have no record and only a hazy memory of my stay in Essex so it was very good to read this post. 😉

    1. Mystic is truly worth visiting; but if you want to save a little money, book your room in Essex and jaunt over to Mystic for the day. It’s only a very short drive away–less than the average daily commuter’s commute.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *