Written by Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn.
Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!
10 Woodside Lane, Westport
Why Go? Visit with bunnies, guinea pigs, snakes and spiders in Earthplace's Animal Hall, and see wildlife dioramas. Connecticut's Birds of Prey are displayed outside the main building. Meet two bald eagles named Chattie and Cerena, then enjoy walking and running along well-marked trails located on the 62-acre property.
Insider Tip: Don't be afraid to bring babies in strollers. There’s a stroller-friendly Wheels in the Woods hiking path that's perfect for adults who want to commune with nature. It's another free alternative to taking a walk at the beach.
Must Do! Every Saturday, rain or shine, families are invited for Nature Encounter at 2:30 pm. Naturalists take animals out of their cages for visitors to pet and hold, if appropriate. They also organize a guided hike into the woods, where they may point out the various flora and fauna in the surroundings.
The Fine Print: Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Admission is $7 for adults and children over 12, and $5 for children 1 to 12 and for seniors. Members are admitted free. If you like the indoor exhibits, it might be worth it to purchase an annual family membership for $90. This includes discounts or complimentary admission to special programs and a 10 percent discount on purchases over $5 at Earthplace's Age of Reason gift shop.
Webb Mountain Discovery Zone
71 Webb Circle, Monroe
Why Go? These well-marked trails are suitable for strollers. Even dogs on a leash are invited to join in the fun! Director Tom Ellbogen developed the Discovery Zone out of a 171-acre property at Webb Mountain that the town of Monroe purchased in 2004.
Insider Tip: Make sure to lather on insect-repellent and sunscreen. Although most of the trails are in the shade, it's better to be safe than sorry. Also, be sure to go slowly and stop at the vernal pools on the property. On some days the loud croaking of frogs will direct you to where you want to go. Don't be afraid to turn over rocks along the trail, because interesting insects have been known to congregate underneath. Kids get excited seeing a live centipede or even a small garden snake slithering in the nearby grass. There's also a beautiful butterfly garden located near the parking lot.
Must Do! Don't miss participating in the self-directed scavenger hunt, which includes 28 learning stations along the trails. It's a great hands-on way to introduce children to science as they search for specific rocks and minerals, wildlife, plants and ecology. The trails have fun, kid-friendly names, such as Froggy Freeway. You can be as adventurous you would like.
The Fine Print: There is no charge to visit the nature park, which is open from sunrise to sunset. However, there are fees for special activities, such as Discover Autumn, a Mommy and Me learning program for preschool children.
Monroe Town Green, Fan Hill Road and Route 111
Why Go? Start the weekend off right by stocking your refrigerator with mouth-watering foods that have either been grown in the state of Connecticut or are made using locally grown ingredients.
Insider Tip: Every Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., until Oct. 25, the Town Green is filled with children running around, folks listening to acoustic guitar music performed by a local musician, and visitors sampling some of Connecticut's best homegrown fruits and vegetables. At least 17 vendors provide seasonal fare that couldn't be fresher. It's a great way to get kids to try new foods that are both healthy and delicious! Children are welcome to dance in the historic gazebo. Master gardeners from the University of Connecticut often are on hand to provide information.
Must Do! Check out http://www.monroefarmersmarket.orgbefore you go to see what the special entertainment, children's crafts and education activities will be for that week. Every week there's something going on. Be sure to bring your own cloth bags. If you forget, though, the vendors have some to give out. Make sure you stop by Beldotti Bakery. Every week this Norwalk-based business gives out samples of homemade pesto and fresh mozzarella on their freshly baked bread. You will have a difficult time not purchasing all three items to take home and have for dinner.
The Fine Print: Bring cash — and more than you think you'll need. Everything is going to look good, and you're not going to want to pass it up. Many vendors take checks, and a few take credit cards, too.
278 Leavenworth Road (on Route 110), Shelton
Why Go? If you're looking for an apple-picking spot with a less commercial feel, this is the place for you. Owners Dan and Christy Beardsley said families are welcome to “pick as much or as little” as they would like in the Pick Your Own Apples orchard. There’s a variety of apples, and greeters can show you where to find your favorites.
Insider Tip: Call ahead before making the trip because, as Dan says, the weather and Mother Nature determine when the orchard will be open. The apples are expected to cost between $1.50 and $1.99, according to how much fruit is on the trees.
Must Do: Every weekend, Dan's father, David, is in charge of the cider press that runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Children are fascinated as they watch him press the apples to produce fresh cider. The cider is not pasteurized. Beardsley Cider Mill uses an ultra-violet light to kill any bacteria. Making a flavorful and safe product is important, Dan says.
The Fine Print: Bakery goods, jams and jellies are available for purchase in the gift shop. According to Dan, the Cider Donuts, made with pureed apples and cider, are the top sellers. “People buy a half-dozen and go out in the parking lot and eat them and then come back to buy six more,” he said. Only cash or check are accepted for the Pick Your Own Apples; the retail store accepts Visa, Mastercard, and debit cards.
606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton
Why Go? The scenery! Located on Pumpkin Seed Hill, in the bucolic White Hills section of Shelton, there is no better view than the one found on the farm. You will feel like you are on top of the world. Surrounded by trees with leaves of varying hues, it's hard not to embrace the autumn season.
Must Do! Begin by taking a hayride around Jones Family Farm's vast fields.
Insider Tip: The farm does not have picnic facilities, but visitors can go to nearby Indian Well State Park if they’d like to picnic. It does, however, offer fresh farm apples every day and on weekends fresh-baked cookies and apple cider.
The Fine Print: Check the website, www.jonesfamilyfarms.com, for crop updates, schedule changes and special events. There is no charge to visit the farm. Pumpkins are priced per pound. Additional food items and baked goods may be available.