Winter is fast approaching the New England coast, and that means one thing: it’s time to go to the beach. I’ve written about beautiful off-season beaches here before – if you missed them, check out my posts on Guilford, Milford, West Haven, and Niantic. But there are many places along the Connecticut shore that become more captivating when the temperature plummets. These five beaches are nice in summer, sure – but if you’ve never seen them in winter, you might want to remedy that this year.
West Wharf Beach & Surf Club Park, Madison
Perhaps thanks to the proximity of the extremely popular Hammonasset Beach State Park, these two town-owned beaches seem like closely-guarded secrets. West Wharf Beach, once a shipyard, now consists of a picturesque stone pier and impressive rock formations rising from a shoreline piled high with delicate shells. To the west is a private section of beach, where precarious wooden stairs lead to homes with enviable views; west of that is Surf Club Beach, part of the larger Surf Club Park. Here, smooth sand meets Long Island Sound below a sturdy sea wall. On the higher ground are playgrounds, athletic fields, an almost-hidden nature trail, and a grassy promontory dotted with picnic tables. Beyond that is another small beach area called Garvan Point. In the off-season, the Surf Club takes on an abandoned resort vibe, while West Wharf becomes a secluded escape.
Note: In Connecticut, the shore from the water up to the debris line or mean high water line is held in the public trust, so it is possible to walk between the two beaches. However, I find it more convenient to drive the short distance from one beach to the next.
Waterford Beach Park, Waterford
There’s not really anything to do at Waterford Beach Park, which is exactly what makes it one of my favorite beaches in the state. From the parking lot, walk through the salt marsh along a path that becomes a boardwalk bridging fragile dunes. Emerge onto the unspoiled beach, deceptively small, with a ¼-mile stretch of shoreline that seems to unfold in front of you as you stroll. This minimalist landscape, composed of sand, water, wind, and sky, is an example of the Connecticut coast at its prettiest.
Long Beach, Stratford
This beach is not for everyone, but it will very much appeal to travelers who love unusual landscapes and seascapes where industrial areas fade into the wild edges of densely populated towns. This barrier beach extends for roughly 1.5 miles, forming a scrubby, shell-strewn strip between Lewis Gut and Long Island Sound. Here, the difference in character between the two sides of a barrier beach is stark: on one side, wetlands, sheltered and calm; on the other, rocky shoreline, exposed and battered by the waves. Small planes fly overhead, traveling to and from nearby Sikorsky Memorial Airport, and flocks of gulls startle upwards at the sound. Fishermen brave the cold on the jetties. In the distance are smokestacks and signs of cities, but somehow, as you wander along this narrow spit of sand, you still feel as if you’re surrounded by nature.
Cove Island Park, Stamford
In winter, this ink-splotch of an island, joined to the mainland by a small bridge, can seem like a remote shore. Past the marina and the sprawling lawn encircled by paved walking and cycling trails, you’ll find Cove Island’s two beaches, separated by a rocky bluff. Here, soft sand, black rocks, and waving beach grasses form a scene that’s both familiar and strange. Perhaps that’s because this environment, where Holly Pond forms a protected bay and Long Island Sound beckons beyond Cove Harbor, is so diverse. This is a place of mudflats and marshes, freshwater wetlands, and trees that stand strong on headlands where it seems the wind should have uprooted them years ago. The benches, perfectly placed for taking in calming water views, make it clear that this is a civilized city park; the weathered wooden barn at the pond’s edge proves it has been settled for a very long time. But there’s still something about the atmosphere of Cove Island that can transport you far away.
Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk
Once used, as its name indicates, for grazing cattle, this waterfront park now provides an off-season sanctuary for those willing to join the gulls in laughing at the cold. Walk along the hook-shaped strip of sand that curves around the grassy park area. Step out onto the fishing pier and follow it to its end, where you’ll suddenly get the sense that you’ve traveled quite a distance from the rocky coast. From here, the tiny Norwalk Islands and Peck Ledge Lighthouse, about two miles away, look just out of reach. The adjacent Shady Beach, just to the east of Calf Pasture, offers additional shoreline to roam if you want to keep exploring.
West Wharf Beach
Address: West Wharf Road, Madison
Surf Club Beach
Address: Surf Club Road, Madison
Waterford Beach Park
Address: 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford
Oak Bluff Avenue, Stratford
Cove Island Park
Address: Cove Road, Stamford
Calf Pasture Beach
Address: Calf Pasture Beach Road, Norwalk
In the off-season, there are no fees for entry or parking at the above beaches.