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Free Things to Do in Westport, Connecticut

Bird Cages, Westport, Wildlife Rehabilitation

I have enjoyed living in the New England coastal town of Westport, Connecticut for nearly 20 years. I was drawn to the beaches, expansive views, lively arts scene and pedestrian friendly downtown Main Street. I moved to Westport from the picturesque but sleepy hamlet of Bedford, NY. My sister had purchased one of the original beachside bungalows that I helped her to upgrade. The time I spent visiting my sister convinced me to move. She loved the Town and soon I did too. At first, I was taken off guard when friends popped in just to say hello or to make a pit stop during their walks by the beach. This rarely happened in Bedford or even New York City, where I also lived. But, the more I got to know the locals, the more I learned about this energetic community. Pretty soon I was exploring and discovering all that Westport had to offer, including volunteering on a couple of local boards. For a suburban town it rivals larger urban centers when it comes to things to see and do. Here are some of the amenities that I continue to enjoy.

Compo Beach is a marvelous venue for walking, sunbathing, swimming and, fabulous sunset picnic dinners. For residents with inexpensive seasonal parking emblems this is a treasure and privilege not to be missed. For non-residents there are a few 2 hour parking spaces near the Mill Pond Beach that will afford you a nice long beachside walk. Another option is the free parking at the Saugatuck train station on weekends. Beach access is free to all from October 1st through April 31st. Frankly, Autumn is my favorite time of year at Compo Beach, with the morning and evening sun washing colorfully across the water and sand. Dogs are allowed on the beach during the off-season.

Inspiration Mile is the name my sister and I gave to a stretch of Beachside Avenue that runs from Burying Hill Beach to Southport Beach. We used to do a weekly cycle, run or rollerblade from along this route. It is indeed the Gold Coast of Connecticut. The homes are gracious and sprawling. One cannot help but dream and wonder what life is like beyond the gated entrances of these estates. It is somewhat calming, pristine, and inspirational to slow down and smell the roses along this picturesque coastal avenue. In general, the roadways of Westport are respectfully shared by both vehicles and those on wheels without motors or no wheels at all.

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Longshore Club Park was once a private country club. The town purchased it in the 1960s. It boasts of an 18 hole golf course, Har-Tru tennis courts, a paddle tennis court, 3 swimming pools, a sailing school, an Inn, a trendy restaurant, and a patio bar with fantastic views of the Long Island Sound and the marina. Residents and their guests can take advantage of all of the amenities for a nominal fee. Non-residents can park in designated areas for free and take advantage of the patio and lawn that overlook the Sound.

The Levitt Pavilion is by far one of the best deals in Westport. There are over 50 free events (mostly musical) for all ages throughout the Summer. There is adequate free parking in the adjacent Imperial Avenue Lot or at the library behind the pavilion. Just bring a picnic and beach chairs or a blanket and settle in for a great afternoon or evening. www.levittpavilion.com.

The Westport Historical Society is located in the preserved Wheeler House just off Main Street in the downtown area. In addition to the charming antiquity of the house, there is a gift shop with fun Westport related items and a gallery that houses several exhibits throughout the year. Just behind the house is a meticulously restored cobblestone barn. The Bradley-Wheeler barn is home to the Museum of Westport History, a must see if you want to learn more about the Town’s origins. Admission is free. Donations are accepted. Visit the website for photos and detailed information at www.westporthistory.org.

Earthplace is a 62 acre wildlife preserve and Nature Discovery Center with hiking trails that are open to the public year round. The Universal Design Trail is handicapped accessible. The Aviary Trail is flanked by large bird “cages” that are home to birds of prey that have suffered an injury and are unable to thrive in their natural habitats. The birds are named and cared for by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Program and volunteers. This stretch of trail is one of my personal favorite places to visit and to take weekend guests of all ages. On the grounds is an eco-based accredited nursery school, an EPA water testing laboratory, an interactive children’s natural history museum, a live animal hall, and a gift shop. Admission to the grounds is free. A visit to the museum requires a small donation from non-members. More information can be found at www.earthplace.org.

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The Westport Arts Center features exhibits of local contemporary artists in the gallery space. Admission to the exhibits is free. The Center also has live music, gallery talks and an arts education program. Visit www.westportartscenter.org for directions and information on exhibits and events.

Wine Tastings are popular Saturday afternoon events hosted by several local wine merchants. The events are generally from 3:00 – 6:00. And, of course, the tastings are complimentary. A few of the many places to consider are Greens Farms Spirit Shop, Saugatuck Wine Shop, Black Bear Wines and Spirits, and Depot Liquors.

In Town you will enjoy walking Main Street. There is plenty of upscale and boutique window shopping and, you can find a variety of restaurants and coffee bars for all budgets. Banana Republic has an original wall mural that was discovered and restored during renovations a few years ago that is worth a glance. William Sonoma sometimes has tastings of their olive oils and baked bread mixes. They also offer cooking demonstrations. After walking down Main Street, head for the benches along the Saugatuck River for a rest and refreshing water breezes. The River banks and bridges are home to nesting duck colonies that birders will find intriguing. Following along the river walk you will eventually end up at the Westport Library.

The Westport Library is one of the best public libraries I have ever had the privilege of using on a regular basis. The periodical rooms are comfortable and well stocked with current and back issues of popular magazines and newspapers. The audio and video collections are extensive and cost nothing to borrow, as long as you have an active, participating library card. The children’s collection on the second floor is a great place to hang out with the little ones. There are books and toys for children of all ages. This area has a great corner window with views of downtown and of the river with comfy chairs to relax in while the kids are finding their favorite books to curl up in your lap with. And, you can check out the toys to take home for a few days. Check it out (no pun intended) at www.westportlibrary.org. The website has a list of the many events and art exhibits hosted by the library.

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For those of you who are looking for a day trip, Westport is a good destination. It is easily reachable by train from the north or south or by car from both I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. As I wrote this article I realized that there is so much to do in my hometown. I haven’t listed everything. I just may have to write a sequel.