Weekend Guide to Madison, CT
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There is just something about Madison, Connecticut. This seaside town about 2 ½ hours north of New York City seems to have it all – pretty beaches, good restaurants, a cute downtown, beautiful waterfront estates, and bucolic countryside. For a beach town just a couple of hours away from the big city, it makes for the perfect weekend or overnight trip.
I suppose “perfect” is a matter of opinion. As picturesque and beachy as it is, Madison is not located on the ocean – it’s on the northern part of the Long Island Sound, where you have smaller stretches of beach and calmer waters. Some people prefer the ocean. In my opinion, though, this is exactly what makes it so charming – the quaint and scenic feel of a small beach town on a gorgeous part of the Sound.
Madison is like a little slice of Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, only in Connecticut. That’s what I love about it. Its Cape Cod style houses, tall beach grass, manicured streets, gorgeous flowered gardens, village green and cute main street make it seem like a summer-only destination. But it’s not. This is a year-round community (with of course those with summer homes) with great schools and year-round businesses. You can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live there.
There are four main beaches in Madison: Surf Club beach, West Wharf beach, East Wharf beach and Hammonasset state park. Surf Club is the main and largest beach right in town. There’s a snack bar, playground, green grass, grills, and restrooms. This is a family beach where you want to take the kids, for all of its amenities. Note there are no lifeguards, however.
My favorite beach is West Wharf, which is much smaller, but so pretty. This is where the Madison Beach Hotel is – the amazing hotel and spa located right on the beach and overlooking the water. Everyone loves the Madison hotel. It has a great restaurant with outdoor seating, fun bar scene, and Adirondack chairs leading up to the beach. It’s for all types of visitors, but is especially nice for a girls or couples trip. Sitting at the hotel with cocktail in hand during sunset hour is pretty much all you need!
West Wharf Beach at the Madison Beach Hotel
Like West Wharf, East Wharf beach is small as well, but with its own charm. The one beach I have not been to yet is the one at Hammonnasset state park, located just outside of town. But I hear from all accounts it’s beautiful and big and a wonderful spot to go for both beach and nature time. It’s also perfect for families, with all of its state park amenities.
It should be pointed out that if you’re not a resident of Madison, there are parking fees for each beach. At the time of writing this post, Hammonassett state park costs $20 to enter, while Surf Club and the Wharf beaches have parking lots with attendants that cost $10 an hour, which you pay on an app called Passport Parking. A bit steep, considering the town beaches don’t have lifeguards. If you can find municipal or street parking, which is difficult, that’s the way to go. Also, if you stay at the Madison Beach Hotel, then the parking is already accounted for, at West Wharf beach.
Madison is known for its excellent food, from its restaurants to its farmers market on the town green. We had a delicious brunch at Elizabeth’s on the main street in town, in an adorable setting with homestyle fare. Christy’s, a block away from the Madison Beach Hotel, was perfect for lunch. Their quesadilla is one of the best I’ve had. And speaking of the Madison Beach Hotel, definitely dine here on a nice evening for dinner. Try to eat outside on the deck, overlooking the Sound – the setting is lovely. For excellent French head to Bar Bouchee – I didn’t go, but wish I had. There are a plethora of other really good restaurants as well.
If the weather isn’t cooperating, or you need a break from the sun, stroll Madison’s downtown, with its boutiques, artisan stores and book shops. It’s small, but quaint. In general, Madison is pretty much a beach town with a nice downtown and nature preserves to explore as well. It’s all about the outdoors here. Beach walks, street walks, biking, boating. There is a peacefulness to this town that won me over.
I remember taking a walk along one of the roads by the water, with beachy homes and beautiful land and gardens to my left, and the Sound to my right, and being passed by groups of kids after kids on their bikes cruising around, and thinking to myself, this must be an amazing place to grow up.
I’m looking forward to going back on my next visit, this time possibly off-season, for Madison is a wonderful spot to visit in the autumn and spring as well. I may not go for a swim, but the serenity and tranquility of the area can be enjoyed all year round.