12 Attractions in Stratford, Connecticut

Last Updated on March 3, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Stratford is a historic coastal town located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. With its beautiful beaches, unique museums, thriving theater scene, and plenty of parks, Stratford has something for everyone. Whether you’re a history buff, art lover, outdoor enthusiast, or just looking for great family activities, Stratford offers a variety of attractions to fill your itinerary.

From the fascinating ruins of Shakespeare’s Theater to the stunning Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Stratford provides opportunities to experience history, culture, and nature. The town also hosts community events like the annual Stratford Summer Concert Series and Fireworks Display at Short Beach that bring residents and visitors together.

This article highlights 12 of the top attractions that you don’t want to miss when visiting Stratford, Connecticut. We’ll cover the town’s most popular historical sites, scenic outdoor areas, kid-friendly destinations, performing arts venues, and more. Read on to start planning your Stratford getaway!

Shakespeare Theater Ruins

The Shakespeare Theater Ruins are one of Stratford’s most unique historical attractions. Built in the 1930s as part of a grand vision to create an American counterpart to England’s famous Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, the open-air theater hosted performances of Shakespeare’s plays each summer. However, a powerful hurricane in 1944 caused significant damage to the building. Further restoration attempts failed and the site was abandoned by the 1950s, leaving behind hauntingly beautiful ruins.

Today, visitors can explore the remnants of the deteriorating theater and grounds. Highlights include the remaining brick stage walls framed by trees and vines, rows of weathered wooden seating giving a glimpse into the Elizabethan-style auditorium, and the striking concrete arcades that once led into the building.

Interpretive signs tell the story of the theater’s ambitious beginning and unfortunate demise at the hands of Mother Nature. Guests are welcome to freely wander around the ruins and soak up the atmosphere of this intriguing landmark that seemingly pays homage to its namesake, the legendary Bard of Avon.

Boothe Homestead

History enthusiasts will love spending time at the Boothe Homestead, an authentically-restored 1707 Puritan home that offers a window into Colonial life in Stratford. Built by Samuel Booth, one of Stratford’s founders, and occupied by six generations of Boothes over its 170-year history, the house is one of the oldest in Connecticut. Costumed guides offer informative tours detailing how generations of Boothes lived in the home over time as it expanded.

Visitors can view period artifacts and furnishings, explore the large hearth in the keeping room, and walk through the heirloom vegetable garden. Special events like open hearth cooking demonstrations bring early American practices to life. Beyond the house, peaceful wooded trails lead to an active archaeological dig site where visitors may catch volunteers uncovering pieces of Stratford’s early history.

Short Beach

As Stratford’s sole public beach, Short Beach provides a picturesque New England beachfront experience with lovely views over the Long Island Sound. The crescent-shaped sandy beach features gentle surf that makes it an enjoyable swimming spot in summer. Long stretches of the beach are also ideal for peaceful strolls.

After getting your fill of saltwater and sand, head to the adjacent Charles F. Wheeler Memorial Band Shell where the town hosts musical performances and movie screenings in summer.

The beach surroundings also encompass Short Beach Park which has a playground, basketball court, picnic area, and recreational spaces for volleyball, bocce ball, and other lawn games. Especially during summertime community events, Short Beach Park and Beach take center stage as a beloved gathering place for both visitors and Stratford residents to enjoy.

Great Meadows Unit – Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Birdwatchers and nature lovers flock to Great Meadows Unit, a 250-acre stretch of protected wetlands and grasslands that is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge conservation system.

A paradise for bird and waterfowl nesting, resting, and feeding, the area has over 220 documented species from bald eagles to bobolinks. An interpretive center features exhibits on the different habitats and their inhabitants.

Visitors can observe birds from two viewing platforms, with spotting highlights posted to help identify sightings. Over 7 miles of trails cut through various ecosystems like freshwater marsh, shrub swamp, and grassy meadow. As you explore, keep eyes peeled for wildlife like blue heron, painted turtles, monarch butterflies, and even white-tailed deer. The best times to spot migratory birds are during Spring and Fall.

Stratford Point Lighthouse

Perched at the mouth of the Housatonic River overlooking Long Island Sound, the Stratford Point Lighthouse is one of Connecticut’s important navigational beacons and a beloved community landmark. First built in 1821, the current 41-foot lighthouse tower dates to the late 1800s. The Stratford Point Lighthouse Association offers regular open tower climbs for sweeping views.

Guests can also explore the keepers house museum exhibiting artifacts like foghorns, log books, and lens equipment that bring maritime history to life. The surrounding peninsula features scenic walking paths through coastal grasses and rocky beaches lined with wildflowers in spring and summer.

From March through November, an on-site food concession sells tasty fare to enjoy alongside the peaceful lighthouse views.

Sterling House Community Center

Once the home of Dorothy Winthrop Sterling, an influential 20th-century philanthropist and the first woman editor at Doubleday books, the brick Georgian-style Sterling House now serves as a nonprofit community center dedicated to arts education and enrichment. Visitors can tourinside the 1928 mansion for a glimpse into Dorothy Sterling’s life along with specialcollections of over 2,500 books and archives related to theater history. The center also oversees a dynamic lineup of arts programming.

Aspiring talents can take affordable classes in dance, visual arts, crafts, theater, and music taught by working artists. Throughout the year, Sterling House hosts concerts, theater performances, festivals, author talks, and student recitals open to the public. The vibrant creative scene centered around Sterling House makes it both a cultural attraction and beloved hub for community engagement through the arts.

Paradise Green Place Historic District

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Paradise Green Historic District in central Stratford contains over two dozen 18th and 19th century homes exemplifying key architectural styles. The district centers around Paradise Green, a town green and church common characteristic of many New England communities.

Noted buildings include the Episcopal Church next to the green built in 1752, the Captain David Judson House built in 1743, the 18th-century Johnson-Hawley House featuring hand-carved paneling, and the Greek Revival Everill-Dunham House c. 1830. Interpretive signs detail the history behind various sites. Visitors can follow a self-guided walking tour encompassing the district’s tree-lined streets and explore this well-preserved landscape offering an engaging living-history lesson through its mix of old homes, churches, cemeteries, commercial buildings, and markers.

Stratford Public Library

More than just a place to borrow books, Stratford Public Library serves as a multifaceted community center promoting learning and culture through their designated Maker Space, art gallery, technology access and training, lectures, and more. Visitors can attend free public events like author talks, cooking demonstrations, and DIY craft workshops.

Aspiring creators can use the library’s recording studio, 3D printers, vinyl cutter, and other specialized equipment unavailable to many individuals. Kids can develop early skills in the dedicated children’s library outfitted with games, toys, storytimes, and imaginative play zones. Rotating art displays, many spotlighting local talent, adorn the walls. Research needs are met through the library’s vast collections and digital database access. Make the library a stop to both utilize its abundant resources and engage with community programming.

The Stratford Greenway

Stretching 4 miles across Stratford, the developing Stratford Greenway allows visitors to explore wild and beautiful natural scenery tucked between suburban development via paved and gravel walking trails. Once completed, the greenway will provide an 8-mile route linking historic sites, parks, and wildlife areas around town. Current recommended segments include a striking 2-mile waterside path overlooking the Maltby Lakes. Here birdwatchers can spot over 90 species like flycatchers and warblers.

Another recommended 1.3 mile trail segment winds through a oak forest, wet meadows, and a cattail marsh before connecting to the Paradise Green historic area. Keep eyes out for woodland creatures like squirrels and chipmunks as you walk. With parcels still being added to grow the greenway’s scope, you’ll want to visit more than once to experience the full magic as this natural respite carved through Stratford takes shape.

Performing Arts Venues

From Broadway-style theater productions to alternative open mic nights, Stratford’s collection of diverse performing arts venues host lively entertainment options almost any night of the week. Theatergoers can catch national touring companies and original shows on the mainstage at Stratford’s legacy venue, the Stratford Theater Center. Open year-round with various indoor theater spaces and an outdoor stage during summer, the center features contemporary works alongside classics and musicals.

Experimental and fringe performances thrive at The Second Stage Theater Company’s intimate black-box theater. Comedy fans won’t want to miss standup showcases at Two Boots Stratford featuring rising comedians alongside special guests like Kevin James and Colin Mochrie. Numerous other venues also offer theater performances, concerts spanning genres, poetry readings, improv comedy, and other creative happenings almost daily, cementing Stratford as Connecticut’s go-to culture hub.

Shopping Destinations

In between visiting attractions, make time for browsing Stratford’s collection of unique independent shops selling vintage fashions, antiques, baked goods, and more. Towne Centre Features over a dozen boutiques like Cohn’s Fashion Optical for stylish eyewear and Posh Consign for secondhand designer clothing. Within Franklin Plaza, knitters will adore the huge yarn selection at Loreli’s Needle Arts while treasure hunters can sift through furniture, jewelry, art, and glassware at Second Chance Consignment Gallery.

Take a break with lobster rolls and gelato on the outdoor Towne Centre patio. Across town, Victorian-style home goods and gifts fill Shelley’s Garden Patch. For sweet endings after a long day, families flock to nature-inspired Dairy Queen or old-fashioned Scoops Ice Cream. Exploring Stratford’s diverse shops offers insight into local business and culture.

Bunnell Park

Situated along the Housatonic River, tranquil Bunnell Park provides 70 acres of recreational facilities for sports and family picnicking against lovely nature views. Baseball diamonds, soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, and a playground occupy the park’s central section while walking paths surround its perimeter.

The scenic 1.3 mile riverfront trail offers an enjoyable hike or jog alongside fait trees and scenic marshland vistas. From shaded picnic spots along the riverbank, watch boats navigating the waterway that directive connects to Long Island Sound. The park also contains an off-leash dog area. Visitors staying at the on-site campground can fall asleep to the soft rushing river. With amenities for activities plus peaceful natural scenery, Bunnell Park has something for all interests.

Conclusion

From its unspoiled beaches and wildlife refuges to a rich history reflected in historic homes and preserved ruins, the coastal community of Stratford, Connecticut offers many hidden gems waiting to captivate visitors. Immersive cultural attractions range from community theater productions in a modern center to tours of its oldest standing residence, built only 30 years after the town’s founding.

Outdoors enthusiasts will relish the protected natural habitats welcoming both recreation and environmental education. And families can make lasting memories over ice cream after playing at Bunnell Park. With this overview of 12 top attractions in Stratford, you’re equipped to fully experience the best this charming town on Long Island Sound’s coastline has to offer.

Leave a Comment