Only 75 miles from New York City and 125 miles from Boston, New Haven, Connecticut, is part old New England and part modern college town. Located on Long Island Sound, New Haven is a historic harbor town at heart, but it’s so much more than that.
If it’s history you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty of it -- the city was founded in 1638. If it’s culture, the city’s got lots of that, too, since it’s home to one of the world’s top universities. Whatever you’re interested in, Connecticut’s second-largest city is sure to deliver.
Here are the best ways to spend a weekend getaway in New Haven.
Explore The Yale Campus
Consistently ranked one of the top five universities in the United States and one of the top 10 universities in the world, Yale University has an incredible history. Five of our country’s presidents attended Yale, either as undergraduates or as law students. Its alumni -- from Meryl Streep and Paul Newman to Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo -- have excelled in a variety of fields. The school’s graduates include 20 Nobel Laureates, 35 Pulitzer Prize-winners, and more.
If you enjoy exploring historic college campuses, it’s really hard to beat a walk around Yale’s campus. History oozes from every corner. The best place to start is the Old Campus, which is closest to downtown New Haven. This nearly enclosed campus dates to the founding of the university in 1701. From there, you can walk north to the other parts of campus, starting with the Cross Campus area, then moving on to Hillhouse, and finally reaching Science Hill.
If you have 90 minutes and want an in-depth campus tour, you can download the self-guided audio walking tour. This tour begins at the visitor center (149 Elm Street) and takes you through the entire campus.
Across the street from the visitor center is New Haven Green, the historic park at the center of New Haven. New Haven claims to be America’s first planned city, and this park was at the center of the original nine-block plan. From there you can explore the downtown area (all centered on the park) with its shops, theaters, and restaurants.
Enjoy Some Time At Lighthouse Point Park
At the entrance to New Haven Harbor sits Lighthouse Point Park, the site of the first lighthouse to guide ships into New Haven Harbor. That lighthouse, which was constructed in 1804 and which originally burned whale oil, was not visible to all ships coming from the east. A new lighthouse was constructed in 1847, and that lighthouse can be seen in the park today. It is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next to the lighthouse is another piece of New England history: the Lighthouse Park Carousel, which dates to the 1920s and which visitors can still ride (for 50 cents). Located right next to the beach and to Long Island Sound, the carousel makes it is easy to picture the area as it looked on a summer evening in the 1920s.
During the summer, the beach at Lighthouse Point Park is a popular attraction. On a clear day, you can see Long Island across the sound, approximately 20 miles away. Because the beach is so popular, there is a park entrance fee for Lighthouse Point Park. Check the website before you go to see the current parking rates -- they change from season to season.
Eating In New Haven
A college town like New Haven is certain to have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. But the food scene in New Haven is dominated by one thing: pizza. New Haven is known as the pizza capital of the United States due to its long history of pizza parlors. There is even a New Haven-style pizza, sometimes called the apizza. It is a Neapolitan-style pizza with a thin crust and a chewy interior. So while there are many restaurants offering many types of meals, the one thing you absolutely must try when visiting New Haven is New Haven-style pizza.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria
And where better to try it than at the original?
Frank Pepe Pizzeria is the home of New Haven-style pizza. Its coal-fired ovens burn at a very high temperature, which gives its pizzas a special char on the crust. The restaurant is located in the Wooster Square area of New Haven, which is adjacent to downtown. If you’re there at the normal lunch or dinner hours, the wait can be long, so it’s best to try to visit during the off-hours. But if you have to wait, believe me: It’s worth it.
The most famous pizza at Frank Pepe’s is the white clam pizza. There’s no tomato sauce -- it’s just fresh clams, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated pecorino Romano, and it’s a pie that pizza lovers across the Northeast will travel to Frank Pepe’s to try.
If you prefer a more traditional pizza, there’s always the original tomato pie with mozzarella. Add any topping you’d like, from sausage, bacon, and pepperoni to shrimp. The crust is the key. It is the defining characteristic of New Haven-style pizza and is the reason that people travel such long distances for another bite!
Elm City Social
New Haven certainly isn’t all pizza. If you’re looking for a good brunch option on Saturday or Sunday, try Elm City Social in downtown New Haven. Located a block from the Yale campus, this small bistro provides many fine dishes.
If you prefer a traditional breakfast, try the biscuits and gravy with the unique Cheddar and scallion biscuits -- or perhaps the shrimp and grits Benedict are more your style. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try the lobster doughnuts. Yes -- lobster doughnuts.
There are also healthy lunch options available, including a salmon burger and a sesame quinoa bowl. And if you like a Bloody Mary with your brunch, try the Rosemary’s Bloody, a Bloody Mary that you stir with a piece of bacon.
Shell & Bones Oyster Bar And Grill
If you’re looking for waterfront dining, look no further than Shell & Bones Oyster Bay and Grill. Located on the end of a pier that extends out into New Haven Harbor, the steak and seafood restaurant offers fantastic views of the harbor and beyond. On a clear evening, you can see all the way out to the historic lighthouse on Lighthouse Point.
Shell & Bones is known for its raw bar. Oysters, scallops, shrimp ceviche, and littleneck clams on the half shell are all available. Or, since you’re eating directly over the water, you can just stick with the local seafood: Atlantic cod, crisp loin of tuna, and steamed lobster. If your group is feeling particularly bold, you can share the Tower of Shells -- North Atlantic lobster, lump crab, shrimp, oysters, clams, ceviche, crudo, cocktail sauce, and mignonette.
But Shell & Bones is not just a seafood restaurant. The menu also includes prime rib eye, pan-roasted chicken, and a very unique cauliflower steak.
Shopping In New Haven
There are several shopping areas in New Haven. When you’re at Yale, start your shopping adventure at The Shops at Yale on Broadway. Just west of the campus at the intersection of Broadway and York, you’ll find a few clothing stores. Between these are two campus shops, including the university’s official bookstore. If you’re looking to buy a Yale sweatshirt, this is the place.
There are several chain stores in The Shops At Yale area as well, including Patagonia, Urban Outfitters, and FatFace. There is ample parking in this shopping district. Parking is usually pretty hard to come by on the Yale campus, but to the west of the campus is a boulevard with a large parking area in the middle.
Within walking distance of this area you’ll find several stores along Chapel Street, including a variety of clothing stores and gift shops. Bookstores, vintage shops, and craft stores also dot this walkable shopping district.
But the shopping in New Haven isn’t restricted to the campus area. If you’re looking for the mall experience, the Connecticut Post Mall is located just 10 miles south of downtown New Haven. If you’re looking for funky local shops, the Upper State Street shopping district, just a few minutes northeast of downtown, provides plenty of those. Be sure to stop by Decor Vintage Market, a quaint local shop offering upcycled furniture, decor, and gifts.
Whatever you’re looking for in a weekend getaway, New Haven provides it. The harbor, the college campus, the historic lighthouse -- New Haven has it all. And the pizza. Don’t forget the pizza.