15 Best Things to Do in Niantic, CT

Niantic, CT
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Niantic is a census-designated place (CDP) and village in East Lyme, Connecticut.

It’s also a lovely and welcoming seaside community that most people haven’t heard of yet!

With Long Island Sound and Niantic Bay on the south, the Niantic River on the east, Niantic has become a travel destination on its own.

Since it’s only two hours from Boston and New York, Niantic is a fantastic place to live, explore, and enjoy.

Tourists go for a wide variety of restaurants, specialty shopping, arts and entertainment, history and culture, and water sports!

Visitors will surely love visiting plenty of spots to stroll, sit, and socialize.

Do yourself a favor, and enjoy the best things to do in Niantic, Connecticut.

Browse Books at the Book Barn

Book selection at Book Barn
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The Book Barn offers more than 500,000 books and continues to update its collections to provide used books to customers.

An information booth stands at the Main Barn entrance.

Search for your favorite subjects or get a brochure to help you navigate the grounds.

The Book Barn started in 1988 with just three bookshelves and 800 books.

People at Book Barn
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In 1990, a tragic fire at the antique shop above the bookstore ruined almost everything.

Through the help of family and friends, a new and improved Book Barn reopened in 1991.

They have three locations in Niantic, all within close distance from each other.

You can go to the Main Barn, which contains various genres distributed among several themed buildings.

Likewise, you can find their famed cats, goats, and gardens in this area.

Then, you can check out the Downtown store, within the same block as the Niantic Cinemas.

Check out Chapter Three, situated only about 300 feet from the Main Barn.

Grab your new beach read at the Book Barn!

New arrival books at Book Barn
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Spend the Day at McCook Point Beach and Park

The McCook Point Beach and Park overlooks the beautiful Niantic Bay.

In 1951, the Town of East Lyme acquired the property to serve as a recreational area for the town's citizens.

Since then, the McCook Point Beach and Park have become integral to the East Lyme lifestyle.

The park features a picturesque bluff between two white sand beaches where the McCook summer residence formerly stood.

The park’s lush lawn surrounded by copper beech trees is excellent for games, picnics, and a time for peace.

From McCook Point, visitors can glimpse Fisher’s Island, Orient Point, Plum Island, and Wigwam Rock.

Throughout the year, the bay hums with sailboats, fishing boats, migratory and resident birds, and seals on some occasions!

There's plenty of space at McCook Point Beach and Park for swimming and sunbathing.

Locals and visitors can also enjoy concerts and dances in the park during the summer.

Take the Kids to the Niantic Children’s Museum

Welcome to the Niantic Children’s Museum, where the fun happens, and kids make discoveries.

The Niantic Children’s Museum is a hands-on and interactive space for children where they can try on different roles.

Let their imaginations run wild, and explore the world in a safe and secure environment.

The museum has three main areas.

The Imagination Room is where visitors may take on the roles of a firefighter, a chef, a sea captain, a farmer, and more.

Next, the Discovery Room highlights STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) activities.

The museum animals are also in this section.

Finally, your kids can go to the Outdoor Playscape captivates children with exhibits encouraging exploration, taking risks, and hands-on learning.

Let them play musical instruments, garden, dig a pit, climb a treehouse, and more!

Established in 1992, the 5,000-square-foot museum inspires kids to study the arts, health, sciences, and many international cultures.

Watch the Sunset at Cini Memorial Park

The Cini Memorial Park is on the opposite side of the Niantic Bay Boardwalk.

The park’s amenities include a canoe and kayak launch, sport fishing charter boats, handicap-accessible fishing pier, and access to the Niantic Bay Boardwalk.

The park’s walkways have several benches and tables, ideal for picnics and boat watching.

The Cini Memorial Park also provides access and views of the Niantic Bay Beach, featuring a fishing jetty and two volleyball courts.

The park also makes a nice spot to watch the sunset, a fantastic way to cap off a day of outdoor fun!

Hike the Hills of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve

Two rock ridges form the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve.

Route 161 to the west and the Niantic River to the east border the preserve.

Between these ridges are lowlands or ravines that glaciers carved years ago.

This 457-acre nature preserve opened in 2007 through a public and private partnership.

Visit the preserve to take a self-guided hike.

Get in touch with the Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve if you’d like a member-led guided walk!

The ridges of the Oswegatchie Hills, also known as “The Hills,” feature steep hilly sections, which might challenge some hikers.

Some areas have relatively flat sections but gradually ascend, especially for an out and back trail.

Walk along the Niantic Bay Boardwalk

Benches along Niantic Bay Boardwalk
Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

East Lyme locals can agree that the Niantic Bay Boardwalk is the best spot to go for a calm stroll.

You can sit down and relax on one of the benches, or admire the charm of Long Island Sound.

The Niantic Bay Boardwalk is one of Connecticut’s prettiest coastal sidewalks, if not the best!

The 1.1-mile boardwalk stretches from Cini Memorial Park on the eastern side to the Hole-in-the-Wall beach on the western side.

The west portion of the boardwalk is a broad gravel pathway constructed on a rock foundation.

Meanwhile,  the eastern part comprises the actual boardwalk, passing across dunes covered in native plants.

After your stroll, wander down Main Street, where you may explore the charming boutiques and stores.

Otherwise, grab a bite at one of the fantastic restaurants in the area.

Tour the Thomas Lee House

Built in 1660, the Thomas Lee House is one of Connecticut’s earliest wooden-framed houses, still in its primeval condition.

The East Lyme Historical Society owns and manages the house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can also find the 1734cLittle Boston Schoolhouse within the Lee House grounds.

This schoolhouse is the first district school between New York and Boston, a hub of culture and learning for children.

The school closed in 1922, and the East Lyme Historical Society eventually bought the property.

Join guided tours for both houses and surrounding property from late June to Labor Day.

You may arrange unique visits in the spring and fall.

Grab a Treat at Gumdrops & Lollipops Candy, Ice Cream & Diner

Step inside the vintage seaside Gumdrops and Lollipops, a Main Street candy and ice cream shop.

Just find the big yellow house at the entrance to the Niantic Bay Boardwalk or the corner of Hole-in-the-Wall Beach!

Since 2008, the shop has offered a delicious assortment of sweet treats.

Grab homemade ice cream, chocolates, classic candies, desserts, fruit slices, and so much more.

Cool off after a day of swimming and tanning at the beach.

Otherwise, take a leisurely walk along the boardwalk.

This delightful shop also has coastal decors in stock.

If you’re seeking something special to bring home as a keepsake, get one from Gumdrops & Lollipops Candy, Ice Cream & Diner!

Shop Local at Smith’s Acres

In the heart of Niantic, Smith’s Acres is a family-run farm and garden center.

Affectionately called the “Veggie Girls,” the farm staff should assist you.

They help you choose the ripest and plumpest fruit to give you the best gardening advice.

Smith’s Acres features a state-of-the-art greenhouse with all of Connecticut's local and exclusively-grown trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials.

They grow most vegetables and herbs at their farm in East Lyme.

Aside from fresh produce, freshly-baked brownies, cookies, muffins, and pies from local bakeries are available daily!

Browse their locally-made products, including a wide selection of jams, relishes, pickles, salad dressings, fresh eggs, milk, kombucha, granola, chips, spices, and more.

Relax at Hole-in-the-Wall Beach

The waters of Hole-in-the-Wall Beach
Dmcoxe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can enter Hole-in-the-Wall Beach through a unique entrance from a small tunnel below the railroad tracks.

A stone jetty secures the white sand beach and the swimming area.

Facing the waters, McCook Point sits to the right, while the Niantic Bay Boardwalk lies to the left.

Set up your beach chairs and umbrellas, have a picnic, enjoy the waves, and immerse yourself in a relaxing day at the beach!

However, entrance to Hole-in-the-Wall Beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day requires a beach pass.

Visit the Smith-Harris House/Brookside Farm Museum

Established in 1976, the Smith-Harris House is the town museum of East Lyme.

Constructed around 1845, the house follows the Greek Revival style, built for the couple Thomas Avery and Elizabeth Griswold.

Later, William H. H. Smith bought it, which he sold to his nephews, Frank Harris and Herman Smith, in 1921.

They sold the home to the Town of East Lyme in 1955.

In 1974, the town performed a successful rehabilitation, thanks to concerned locals who saved it from demolition.

In 2018, the town ultimately renamed the building Brookside Farm Museum to reflect their strategy better and reimagined vision.

Today, the Museum provides an exciting view of agriculture and the domestic way of life from the mid-1800s to the 1950s.

The Friends of Smith-Harris House and the Smith-Harris Commission run the Brookside Farm Museum.

It presents various activities throughout the year, including Spring Tea and the Heritage Weekend, a popular event in October.

Enroll Kids in a Class at the Barn for Artistic Youth

Since 2003, the Barn for Artistic Youth (BAY) has taught art to rising artists in Southeastern Connecticut.

The BAY offers weekly art sessions to elementary, middle, high school, and home-school children as a private art center.

Art classes cover drawing, printmaking, painting, and sculpting.

Small-group classes last up to two hours, which help encourage discussions about aesthetics, art history, and art criticism.

The BAY offers thorough art education to help students acquire long-term skills.

Likewise, they hold summer art programs in indoor and outdoor venues, and art shows every two years.

Sail and Fish with Black Hawk Sport Fishing

Black Hawk Sport Fishing prides itself on being your trusted local sport fishing charter!

With Black Hawk Sport Fishing, you can find something to catch on the water, from cod and porgies to bluefish and sea bass!

The Black Hawk is one of the fastest vessels of her kind in the New England region.

The boat has dual 750-HP diesel engines built explicitly for party boat fishing.

With over 40 years of experience in the fishing industry, this family-run business aims to give you the best time on deck.

In 2017, Black Hawk Sport Fishing earned the Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Boat Captain and Best Charter Fishing Company.

Hang Out at Niantic Public House and Brewery

The Niantic Public House and Brewery is a family-friendly local pub that delivers craft beer and laid-back vibes in Niantic!

It all began when Todd Sakowski started brewing in his parents’ house in 2002.

After years of perseverance, hard work, and overcoming numerous obstacles, Niantic Public House and Brewery opened in the fall of 2018.

Enjoy a drink at the taproom, where two ciders and 22 beers are always on tap.

You can order soft drinks, juice, seltzers, and wine if you don't drink beer.

Jacob Cullers, a local artist, created stunning artwork that contributes to the relaxed and welcoming mood of the pub.

Set up Camp at Rocky Neck State Park

The beach at Rocky Neck State Park
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Rocky Neck State Park is a 708-acre public recreational park with a tidal river, white sand beaches, a broad salt marsh, a rocky shoreline, and a 1936 stone pavilion.

The park began in 1931 when conservationists bought the site and kept it until the state legislature approved a state purchase.

During the Great Depression, federal aid workers built the 356-foot pavilion out of granite and timber, considered the state’s largest structure of the Great Depression era.

Old cobblestone house at Rocky Neck State Park
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Rocky Neck State Park features 160 campsites with swimming, saltwater fishing, and picnicking opportunities.

You can also walk the hiking trails towards the salt marsh.

Jetty at Rocky Neck State Park
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Final Thoughts

Seaside villages have their charm, and Niantic is no exception.

Niantic’s major tourist attractions are close to one another, providing lots of space for relaxing!

Escape the big city to this quaint coastal village and experience the best things to do in Niantic!

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