Most of the area's top restaurants call New Haven or Hartford home, but the outlying areas hold small, cozy eateries, many of them hidden gems to all but those who live in the immediate area.
Bistro Basque in Milford has a loyal customer base year-round, but it truly comes to life during the summer months. Since the Basque region straddles Spain and France, this restaurant's menu offers guests a taste of both countries. While the restaurant does have a full dinner menu filled with delicacies, such as rosemary rack of lamb and Chilean sea bass in a red wine sauce, the tapas menu keeps everyone coming back for more. Savvy diners choose from the extensive multilingual wine list and then choose several tapas for everyone to share. When you visit, be sure to try the ceviche del mar with sea scallops, shrimp and calamari or the white asparagus gratin.
Indulge in one of the area's favorite lunches with a visit to the Lobster Pound on Old Whitefield Street in Guilford. Set up for completely casual dining, this spot serves what many area residents call the best buttery lobster roll in the state. The super simple menu contains the rolls, hot dogs and chowder, so it's easy to make your selection and take in the stunning water views while you eat.
Enjoy Italian food that rivals anything you find on Hartford's Franklin Avenue or New Haven's Wooster Street at Sans Souci in Meriden. Though small in size, the restaurant's menu features dishes that are big in flavor. Start with the ever-popular mozzarella en carrozza or deep-fried calamari before diving into a plate of chicken gorgonzola or veal saltimbocca.
Outlying New Haven County doesn't have much of a nightlife scene, save for Waterbury, one of the state's largest cities. Politics Bar & Grill on Scovill Street has a more sophisticated and mellow atmosphere, while Chico's Sports Bar on Frost Road can get rowdy on game day. For a touch of the Irish and live music on the weekends, head over to Shamrock Bar & Grill on Meadow Street.
When New Haven County was established back in 1666, it consisted only of New Haven, Milford and Guilford. Many of the outlying towns soon gained recognition, including Derby in 1675 and Waterbury in 1686. In the ensuing years, New Haven County became a little bit smaller as other counties, including Hartford and Litchfield, established themselves. New Haven County and its outlying areas were finalized by the fall of 1807.
Several museums and historic places reside here, including the George S. Abbott building and Bank Street historic district in Waterbury, the Moses Andrews House in Meriden and the Birmingham Green historic district in Derby. With the exception of a few small theaters, galleries and individual town-run programs, most residents head to New Haven or Hartford to get their dose of arts and culture.
Cars comprise the main form of transportation for most people in the Outlying New Haven County area. With the exception of Waterbury, Meriden and parts of Derby, most of the towns present as typical sleepy little New England towns that epitomize small-town life. Those in the northern part of the area have easy access to I-691 and I-84, which run east and gives locals easy access to New York state. I-92 runs north and south, starting in New Haven and running all the way to Massachusetts and southern Vermont. Route 8 also runs north and south on the west side of the area, ending in Winsted.
Depending on the town, walking and biking may dangerous as many small towns don’t have dedicated bike lanes or sidewalks, but plenty of bike trails populate the area for those who like to enjoy the great outdoors. Parking is usually plentiful via parking lots and street parking, except in Meriden and Waterbury where metered parking commands a premium.
Uber services this area as does Connecticut Limo, which has routes from New Haven into LaGuardia, Bradley and Kennedy airports. Amtrak also runs through the region, giving folks easy access to Boston and beyond. While you can’t hail a cab in most of these towns and cities, cabs can be arranged with just a phone call.
Connecticut has a busy public bus system that runs between New Haven, Waterbury and Hartford, with many routes to service local areas and fares that run between $1 and $2 for a one-way ride, depending on the city or town.
Those who choose to live in Connecticut understand the cost of living here doesn't come cheap, but some economic diversity exists. While the median monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment in this region sits at $984, you'll find it costs you significantly more to live in cities such as Cheshire, Oxford or Woodbridge than to live in cities like Meriden or Derby. When you head out on the weekend, expect to pay anywhere from $4 to $8 and up for a draft beer, depending on the town you’re in.
Transportation costs sit slightly higher than the national average, but still remain affordable. The cost of gas hovers only 13 percent higher than the national average, and a public bus costs you $2 or less for local routes and less than $5 for longer routes, such as from New Haven to Hartford.
When heading out for a mall crawl, check out Outlying New Haven County. Some of the state's more popular malls make their homes here, including the Westfield malls in Meriden and Milford and the Brass Mill Center & Commons in Waterbury. The Westfarms Mall in nearby West Hartford also serves local residents. Between these three malls, find everything from large department stores, including Sears, JCPenney, Macy's and Nordstrom, to popular retailers, including Justice, Christopher & Banks, Express, and American Eagle.
Cheshire makes a great place to take a stroll and visit some charming boutique stores. Make sure to stop at Paul's Fine Clothing for a traditional menswear experience. Build-a-Bear Workshop is the perfect spot for both adults and children. Create your own personalized stuffed animal, and choose from a selection of clothing and accessories.
Mainstream grocery stores, such as Stop & Shop and Shop Rite, lie scattered throughout the area, but those looking for value know to head to ALDI, Save A Lot or one of the Walmart super centers. Savvy shoppers head to the area's many local orchards and farms for a "pick your own" day through the spring, summer and early fall, and farmers markets also provide a popular option for produce and other goods. Meriden, Seymour and Milford all have popular farmers markets that open anywhere from late may to early July and run through the end of October.
Outlying New Haven County hosts many parks that run from standalone biking and hiking trails to beaches, lakes and traditional parks with picnic and sports facilities. The Naugatuck State Forest and Kettletown State Park are two of the largest although Milford’s beaches, like Walnut Beach, rival them in popularity. Most of the state parks have an entry fee that can run up to $10 per visit, while parks in individual cities and towns generally provide free parking for residents and charge only a small fee for visitors. For a day with your canine friend, head to Union Street Dog Park in New Haven or Hamden Dog Park.