Pop quiz: which Connecticut town has the longest coastline? Hint: the answer is in the title of this post, so if you didn’t guess right, maybe just take this day off, go back to bed, and start life over again tomorrow.
Some say Milford has 14 miles of shoreline, others say 17, and still others claim there are over 19 miles of waterfront within this small city’s limits. The exact number doesn’t matter, unless you’re a cartographer – a coast is a living, ever-shifting thing, anyway – but whatever the figure, the fact is that Milford has more coastal access points than you can shake a beach umbrella at, and each one is wonderful and surprising in its own way.
With that in mind, I thought I’d write a list of my five favorite Milford beaches. If you like boardwalk strolls, salt marsh views, picturesque piers, historic resort town vibes, wild birds, and rumored caches of pirate treasure, they might become your favorites as well.
Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point
It’s not what most people typically think of when they imagine a trip to the beach, but a walk that begins at the Coastal Center, situated where Long Island Sound meets the Housatonic River, is one of the best ways to experience the subtle beauty of the Connecticut coast.
The Center itself is a white house with a wrap-around porch and a circular staircase up to a 70-foot high tower with expansive water views. The tower is one of three observation platforms on the property; look for the one in the parking lot to see the Center’s lively (and noisy!) purple martin colony. A short meander through the garden takes you to the third platform, a dramatic boardwalk that leads to the barrier beaches, tidal marshes, and dunes. This curved spit of land is a haven for wildlife; the 8-acre Smith-Hubbell Wildlife Refuge blends into the 840-acre Charles Wheeler Salt Marsh and a unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a soothing escape for people, too, and a natural landscape distinct from what you’ll find at the beaches just a few miles to the west.
The Audubon Society hosts educational programs for all ages, from guided walks to canoe tours to summer camps. But if the mere thought of examining tide pools conjures up traumatic flashbacks to your elementary school days, you can simply ignore all of that and enjoy this unspoiled stretch of coastline.
Address: 1 Milford Point Road, Milford, CT, 06460
Parking and fees: Parking is free. Access to the beaches and wildlife refuge is free every day from dawn to dusk. Check with the Connecticut Audubon Society for details including Coastal Center hours and program fees.
Of all Milford’s beaches, Walnut might have the most going on – live music on weekends; a place to rent kayaks, paddleboards, scooters, and bikes; several dining options within walking distance; and food trucks during the summer season. Yet bustling as it can be, it rarely feels overcrowded. Perhaps that’s why many visitors prefer this relatively lesser-known municipal beach to the adjacent state park. Boardwalks lead from the parking area to the sand, and a long fishing pier lets you walk out over Long Island Sound as Charles Island beckons in the distance. A 1-mile boardwalk connects Walnut Beach to Silver Sands State Park (a prettier and more direct route than driving between the two.) Stroll along Broadway, one block from the shore, to get a sense of the area’s old-fashioned beach town atmosphere, complete with densely packed beach houses and local businesses like the adorably colorful Walnut Beach Creamery.
Address: 113 East Broadway, Milford, CT, 06460
Parking and fees: Parking is plentiful, and free in the off-season. In the summer, if you’re not a Milford resident with a sticker, you can either purchase a season pass or pay a daily parking fee to park between sunrise and 10:00 p.m. Check with the City of Milford for up to date information.
Silver Sands State Park
There’s something special about Silver Sands. Maybe it’s the intriguing alliteration of its name, or the floaty feeling of walking above tidal marshes on elevated boardwalks. Maybe it’s the variety of the landscape, which merges sand and stones, trees and waving grasses, or the way it manages to seem primordial despite the presence of picnic tables and coin-operated binoculars. Or it could just be the legend that in 1699, Captain William Kidd stopped here en route to his imprisonment in Boston and execution in England to stash a bit of pirate treasure on wooded Charles Island, connected to the beach at low tide by a rocky causeway, or tombolo. Whatever it is, this stretch of lovely, windswept shoreline is a must-see, and it’s stunning at any time of year.
Address: Silver Sands Parkway, Milford, CT, 06460
Parking and fees: There is no fee for entry or parking.
Note: Crossing to Charles Island is restricted during the summer to protect nesting birds; at other times of year, it should be carefully timed to coordinate with low tide. There are warning signs posted here for good reason. Get it wrong and you could be trapped on the island for hours, or worse: people have been swept from the tombolo by the area’s deceptively dangerous currents.
Another note: A fire at Silver Sands destroyed several buildings under construction in the spring of 2019, but the main parking lot, boardwalk, and beach areas are open.
It isn’t large or fancy, but this curving strip of beach, surrounded by impressive waterfront real estate in a serene residential area, is magnetic in its own way. The beach is just beside the road, but in the cooler seasons, once you step over the low concrete wall that separates the gently sloping sand from the parking lot, it feels almost isolated, and you’ll probably have the T-shaped fishing pier to yourself – unless you count the seagulls. In the summer, there’s an on-site restaurant, Goodie’s, with outdoor seating and water views.
Address: Gulf Street, Milford, CT, 06460
Parking and fees: Like Walnut Beach, Gulf Beach requires either a sticker or a season or daily pass for parking in the summer season. Off-season parking is free. Check the City of Milford website for current information.
Woodmont is one of Connecticut’s boroughs, and it seems noticeably separate from its parent town; it’s a part of Milford, yes, but one with landmarks and memories all its own. This goes for the community’s beach as well. Walk along this low-key stretch of waterfront, on the sidewalk or the sand, or just sit on a bench and watch the waves. Though it was once a summer colony for the wealthy, today the borough – and especially its waterfront – feels humble and pleasantly free from frills. Woodmont’s small, quiet beach is enjoyable and memorable not for its fancy amenities (it has none) but for its timeless seaside character.
Address: Beach Avenue and Wall Street, Milford, CT, 06460
Parking and fees: There is limited, free parking on Wall Street and Bonsilene Street. Beach entry is free.
Before you head to the beach, check the tides, especially if you want to walk out to Charles Island or take photos underneath as well as atop of fishing piers.
I mentioned the off-season several times in this post, and as a general rule I recommend visiting any of Connecticut’s beaches during that time, which is generally from Labor Day to Memorial Day. (Check with the state, town, or whatever entity manages the beach for exact dates.) I love the off-season because nearly all Connecticut beaches are free and nearly-deserted during this part of the year, ideal for walkers, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts. But that doesn’t mean Connecticut beaches aren’t absolutely beautiful in the summer. (There’s a reason our coastal areas fill up fast!) If you love a bustling beach scene, need a breezy respite from the heat, or prefer swimming with lifeguards on duty or taking advantage of a beach’s concessions and events, summer clearly is a better choice!
Parking information listed here refers to availability of spaces at the beaches themselves. Most beaches listed above, as well as many other Connecticut beaches, also have street parking options, free or metered, if you’re willing to walk a few blocks or more to reach the waterfront.
If you’ve never been to a Connecticut beach before, be aware that most of our shoreline does not resemble the white, sandy beaches you’d see in, say, Florida, or on a postcard. A few are like that (e.g. Ocean Beach Park in New London), but for the most part our beaches have rocks and seashells and sand that varies in texture. For most of us who live here, this is a plus and not a disappointment (and it’s especially fun for kids!) But if you only like the classic, “tropical” beach look, do research what type of sand a beach has before you visit.