The Perfect Small American Town - Essex, CT

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
So, you've read my 'Essex Steam Train & Riverboat' blog....and 'Sherlock is in the House' and you're thinking about a road trip.  Well you've come to the right place because you must be wondering what else is in Essex, CT, right?   And thus the subject of today's blog!

Having been dubbed “The Perfect Small American Town” in the “1,000 Places To See Before You  Die” travel guide, after achieving  top rank in “The 100 Best Small Towns in America”, Essex is definitively on the map when it comes to quintessential New England charm. (Taken from Uniquely Essex, link below).  Essex is located on the banks of the Connecticut River and has a population of 6500.    Three distinctive villages, Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton, offer some of the finest examples of early colonial and federal architecture, now home to a unique blend of private residences, antique shops, specialty boutiques, inns, restaurants, marinas and attractions.    We actually stayed in Ivoryton at the Copper Beech Inn (blog to follow).  I'd never heard of Essex; all of my visits to Connecticut have been to Mystic and Stonington. But when the Bachelorette visited Essex this season, my interest was piqued.

One of the attractions I'd heard a lot about but didn't have time to visit was the CT River Museum.  Trip Advisor, my travel bible, had many wonderful reviews on it. 

When we arrived in Essex, a 3 hr. trip from home, we were starving.  We didn't have too much time to relax over a meal since we were boarding the Essex Steam Train at 12:30, so we were thrilled to find this gem of a place that perfectly suited our needs. 
Olive Oyl's is a tiny little carry-out shop filled to the brim with delicious delicacies including salads, sandwiches, fresh baked goodies of all sorts.  We opted for the "Big Apple" which was a roast beef with swiss, red onion, lettuce, & tomato on marble rye.  It was so delicious and big - we actually split it.  Olive Oyl's has been around for 23 years and it shows.  If you get to Essex - check it out.

Well known in Essex (and featured on the Bachelorette) is the Griswold Inn, seen below.  Popular for its great food, live music and historic atmosphere, as well as it's accommodations, the Griswold is smack in the middle of town and was all patriotic for the fourth of July.  In May, Essex celebrated its 200 yr. anniversary of being raided by the British in the war of 1812.  This is one patriotic town as you can see - even the street lines!

 After finishing our tasty lunch, we spent the afternoon on the steam train and riverboat cruising down the Connecticut River.  That was a treat and if you missed my earlier blog about it, be sure to check it out.  After returning to the train station, we took some time to check into our amazing room at the Inn....and then set off to find some dinner.  One of the places listed in the room's reference material was:

Lenny & Joe's has a few locations, including New Haven, Madison and Westbrook, where we ate.  It was clear why Lenny & Joe's was bustling.  The food, mainly seafood, was outstanding. I ordered fried shrimp, salt potatoes and coleslaw and can say without reservation it was the BEST fried shrimp I've ever had!  We could only eat about 1/2 of our meals and it broke our hearts to leave our leftovers.  But we were stuffed.
Searching for a good venue to catch the sunset, we took a drive down the road to Old Saybrook and found this lovely park where we enjoyed the scenery and the thrill of the catch while these fellows fished for "big ones".   What a skill it is to be able to reel in a big one like this guy did - a blue fish.   And then.....he threw it back!

Since we didn't have the right vantage point for our sunset in Saybrook, we meandered back down the road toward Essex and found this 'permit only' beach that opens to the public after 5:00 p.m.  We had the pleasure of meeting a lovely gal who we chatted with for quite some time.  Saliha is the owner of Valley Farm Antiques, another stop on your list if you visit Essex.  She was a wealth of information and by the time our conversation ended,  I knew I'd made a new friend. It was also the perfect vantage point and perfect end to a wonderful day.

The next morning we did a little sight-seeing - mostly trying to find what was once the home of Katharine Hepburn.  Although we were not successful, we found many other neat sights including this pair of of a few we saw in Essex.

Before long it was time for lunch.  We decided to go back to Olive Oyl's and try another of the many sandwich options we didn't opt for the day before, but sadly Olive's isn't open on Monday.  Very disappointed, we wandered through town and found Marley's....

Marley's was pretty unique - it sits on Essex Island, which meant we had to take a 'water taxi' to get there.  Yet, another new experience for us!  Thankfully there was another couple (who knew the ropes) headed to Marley's so off we went.....just a quick jaunt by boat.

The Water Taxi.....such a short distance, we could have swam ;)

Another wonderful choice - great food, great atmosphere, great service, beautiful day!  The lobster bisque was delish!!!

We loved Essex and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't.  The people in Essex are so warm and friendly.  Everyone we met during our two-day stay was kind, outgoing and chatty.... from the folks on the steam train, the guides at Gillette Castle, the staff at the Inn,  to the strangers we chatted with.....Essex is one friendly town!   Plan a trip there soon, but before making a reservation, stay tuned for my next blog featuring the perfect place to stay.....the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton!  Thanks for traveling with us on this and every adventure!  It's a pleasure to have you along for the ride.  To read more about Essex and attractions there:

To view the photos in a slide show format - click on any photo.  Once you are at the show, just click the pics along the bottom of the page to move from photo to photo.

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