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Article Published June 19, 2019
Destination Branford
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Mark your calendar and put Branford in your GPS. Summer is a great time to visit this coastal Connecticut gem.

Take in a summer jazz series, where big names play at weekly concerts under the stars. Explore miles of shoreline and hiking trails and one of the state's most notable craft beer trails. Mix it up with visits to historic buildings and museums. Toss in top-rated restaurants, local theatre and arts offerings, and a seaside village. And don't forget to say Happy Birthday, because this classic New England town is celebrating its 375th year with special events.

For Tery Elton, there's no place like Branford in the summer.

"Branford's just a great place to visit," says Elton.

The town's unofficial start to summer is the Branford Festival, a three-day entertainment experience that takes over town with offerings of food, live entertainment, a midway, and evening shows with headliners drawing thousands to the festival's outdoor stage on Friday and Saturday night. The 35th annual Branford Festival takes place Friday, June 14 through Sunday, June 16.

Also on June 16, Branford turns out for the Branford Road Race, a Fathers' Day tradition that crowds the streets of downtown Branford. Runners take off beside the Branford Green to take on the 5-mile road race, 2-mile health walk, and 1-mile fun run.

Can't make it to the 'fest? Don't fret. There's an excellent experience waiting for you in Branford this summer.

"We've got some really incredible everyday things people do here; with 40 miles of trails and 20 miles of shoreline; and half dozen different places to put in kayaks and canoes," says Elton. "We've got the Craft Beer Trail, but we also have a great Museum Trail. The history of this town is phenomenal."

Making Branford more remarkable is its variety of shops and restaurants. Start at the Town Green at 1011 Main St.  This classic New England open space centerpiece is surrounded by downtown merchants and restaurants. Some of best restaurants to be found anywhere are within walking distance, Elton notes.

"Le Petit Café has been rated by Zagat's as one of the ten best in country, and the best in state," he says of

Chef Roy Ip's acclaimed French bistro, serving 4-course set menus in cozy space beside the town green.

Around the corner is another award-winning restaurant: G-Zen. The sustainable, plant-based restaurant is the creation of master vegetarian chef Mark Shadle and Ami Beach Shadle. Other notable restaurants include New York Times-favorite Yooki Yama Japanese restaurant and the down-home food and flavors of Home Restaurant.

"G-Zen is also an award winning restaurant that is so amazing, right here in Branford; Yooki Yama is excellent; and of course Home's got great food and friendly staff – I guess that's why they call it Home!" says Elton, adding there are too many amazing local restaurants to name them all.

Take in Downtown

While in downtown, take a moment to visit the historic and beautiful Branford Town Green the heart of town. A summer hot spot, its quiet presence awakens on the hour with the tolling of church bells and chimes. Count the steeples – the Green holds no less than three historic churches. Centered at the front of the Green is Branford's impressive 19th century Greek revival Town Hall building.  Anchoring a corner of the Green's "backyard" is the perfectly tiny and cupola-capped 17th century Academy building. Enjoy a shady stroll past the green's well-tended gardens and carefully cultivated landscape of heirloom and notable trees.

Branford's Museum Trail

As Elton notes, Branford's museum trail has something for everyone. He suggests starting just over the town line with at East Haven's Shoreline Trolley. In addition to its cache of retired, restored trolleys, including several offering passenger rides, the museum is home to an important piece of recent history: a New York City subway train extracted following the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack.

"I think the Trolley Museum is exceptional and often overlooked as something to visit when you come to Branford," says Elton.

In addition to a ride along a lazy loop through a salt marsh preserve, the museum shores up the story of shoreline trolley transportation, with interactive exhibits and friendly docents.

"The Trolley Museum, to me, it's not just about a quaint; bygone era -- it's also about transportation and that led to how the whole area developed," Elton notes.

Next Stop: Harrison House

Branford's Harrison House museum, barn and gardens offer, "...a snapshot of life here in the 17th and 18th century," says Elton.

Open Saturdays from June through September, the Harrison House is owned and operated by Branford Historical Society. Admission is free and guests can step back in time into Nathaniel Harrison's 1724 "two over two" Colonial house, with its beehive bake oven, furnishings, and antiquities from early Branford history.

Bring on the Blackstone

Just a short distance into town lies one of Branford's greatest and most iconic town treasures: the James Blackstone Memorial Library.

"The Blackstone Library is just a testament, I think, to intellectual curiosity, if you will," says Elton. "It's also the greatest Father's Day present ever – Timothy Blackstone built it in honor of his father, James Blackstone."

The stately, classic-revival building has commanded the attention of passerby since the first time Branford residents entered its bronze doors on June 17, 1896. Beneath its domed roof are marble interiors, fresco painted ceilings, a grand fireplace, and a wood paneled auditorium and stage. The entire building is constructed of white Tennessee marble.

The Stony Creek Museum

Speaking of stone, the compelling continuing story of Branford's famed pink granite lives on, as one of the highlighted historic stories shared at the Stony Creek Museum.

Pink granite exists in just three places in the world: the Guilford-Branford triangle, the west coast of South America, and the mountains of Morocco. Among many notable monuments, buildings, and architectural wonders around the world, the base of the Statue of Liberty is made of stone hewn from this shoreline trove of pink granite.

"The Stony Creek Museum tells the story of the product of the quarry, and how that pink granite has ended up all over the world," says Elton.

Blaze a Trail

Branford is also home to a multitude of trails. One of the newest offerings, a hiking, biking and ADA-accessible segment of the Shoreline Greenway Trail, is on the town's Tabor property.

Overseeing hundreds of acres of open space and miles of trails, Branford Land Trust's hiking trails wind through woodlands and coastal marshes and past freshwater bodies and rocky ridges. The Trolley Trail crosses saltmarsh, skirts woodlands, and takes an easy path over boardwalks and bridges to views of Long Island Sound, Stony Creek, and the famed Thimble Islands.

Visit the Village of Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands

From its Victorian heyday to its modern-day status as a must-do location for day trippers, the coastal village of Stony Creek is also the gateway to the Thimble Islands.  Get a closer look at the unique scattering of tiny isles aboard a water taxi or tour boat. Listen to the lore of Captain Kidd's hidden treasure and other local island tales during a 45-minute cruise aboard the double-decker Sea or take it all in from beneath the canopy of the Volsunga IV.

Dig your toes in the sand at the Stony Creek town beach or launch your kayak or canoe from the town boat launch.

Make landing on Outer Island, an educational resource/research center that's open for public visits in the summer.

The village of Stony Creek continues its legacy of live theatre in the soon-to-be fully renovated Legacy Theatre, opening in the same historic building where Orson Welles once trod the boards. Summer shows and programs presented by Legacy Theatre are set to take place at the Stony Creek museum in 2019.

BYOB – Boat, That Is

Yes, you can BYOB – bring your own boat – to Branford. Boaters, kayakers, and canoers launch into the Branford River from the state-of-the-art CT state boat launch in Branford on Goodsell Point Road.  It's one of the most popular launches in the state with a two lane, grooved, concrete slab ramp, a paved turning area, ADA accessible floating dock system, and free parking.

Home to Branford Harbor, Branford boasts several marinas, most notably Bruce & Johnsons. Transient boats can check in for a stay at the full-service marina.

It's not uncommon for boaters to come to shore and walk the short distance up South Montowese Street to visit a burgeoning summer restaurant and bar scene in Branford's Indian Neck area.  Dubbed "the four corners" by locals, the area draws droves to enjoy a variety of food, beverage, and entertainment offerings at The Stand, Lenny's Indian Head Inn, Guacomole's Restaurant, and The Friki Tiki piano bar.

Find Your Favorite Craft Beer

If you're interested in following Branford's Craft Beer Trail, you can come by car, take an Uber or Lyft or, in the case of Stony Creek Brewery, arrive by boat.  Located on Indian Neck Avenue and fronting the Branford River, the brewery boasts 150 feet of dock space for visiting boaters. Not a boater? The brewery is just steps from the Branford Rail Station. Of course, you can also come by car – there's ample parking on site at the brewery and a free charging station for electric vehicles.

Celebrating its fourth year in operation, the newly constructed Stony Creek Brewery building draws 300,000 beer lovers annually for tours and tap room visits, according to state tourism estimates. The Tasting Room's comfortable seating is framed by wide glass doors opening to river views. Warm weather guests also gather outside at the expansive picnic and game area. Hungry? The brewery offers unique eats from gourmet food trucks and meal deliveries from local Branford restaurants.

Branford's Craft Beer Trail picks up on the eastern side of town. Stop in at DuVig Brewing Company with its cozy tasting room offering a neighborhood feel and a great place to taste their brews. Thimble Island Brewery & Tap Room is crafting brews in the American tradition, offering varieties fresh from the tap in a community brewery setting that includes an outdoor beer garden and classic tasting room.

Just Jazz it Up

The final word on why to visit Branford this summer? Jazz. Every Thursday night, from June 27 through Aug. 29, thousands of jazz lovers make a beeline for Branford's town green.

"The Jazz Series is entering its 11th year, and it's just gone gang busters," says Elton. "We get up to 1,000 people on the green every Thursday night, throughout the whole summer. That's become standard."

All shows begin 6:30 p.m. but come early to enjoy a picnic dinner. Bring a blanket and you've got everything you need to take in a spectrum of live jazz performed by big names and rising stars, as the summer stars come out over Branford.

For more information about Branford's 375th Celebration, visit www.branford375.com.