Spring Break Day Trip: New Haven

Perhaps because it’s one of my family’s stops on our semi-annual ten-hour drive to Maine, New Haven always seems so far away to me. But the truth is, it’s only about a two-hour drive from Montclair (barring any I-95 traffic, that is).

New Haven, like Princeton, is also a university town. But it can also be a fun day trip for families. It is rich with museums, restaurants, book stores and of course the Yale campus, which itself is worth the drive.

My family spent an early fall day there last year visiting the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which has great dioramas of North America and Southern New England, as well as The Great Hall of Dinosaurs, the centerpiece of the museum. It features the mounted skeleton of a Brontosaurus and reconstructed skeletons of other dinosaurs, toothed birds, and Archelon, the largest species of turtle ever known.

If you visit the Peabody, be sure to stroll down nearby Hillhouse Avenue, which both Charles Dickens and Mark Twain called “the most beautiful street in America.” The gorgeous tree-lined street is part of a historic district that “encompasses New Haven’s best-preserved array of high-style 19th- and early 20th-century suburban villa architecture,” according to the New Haven Preservation Trust, and includes homes in the Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Richardson Romanesque, and Neoclassical style.

Not far from the district and the Peabody is the Connecticut Children’s Museum, ideal for kids age 5 and under. While small, the museum has interactive, hands-on exhibits in eight “thematic and community-inspired rooms.” One downside: it is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

Other prominent museums the kids might enjoy include the Yale Center for British Art, which contains the largest collection of British art outside the UK (be sure to ask for a family activity guide at the Information Desk) and is housed in the last building designed by acclaimed American architect Louis I. Kahn; and – right across the street from the British museum – the Yale University Art Gallery, which includes collections of African sculpture, decorative art, ancient art, and significant works by Rothko, Degas, Picasso, Duchamp and many others. Several self-guided family activities are available at the Information Desk, including one focused on architecture.

The Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery are right on the campus of Yale University, a leafy enclave of gorgeous Gothic architecture that can be easily navigated on foot. Take time to do this – it won’t surprise you that Yale is considered one of America’s most beautiful universities. It’s also a good time to inculcate the kids (“Couldn’t you picture yourself here in 10 years or so?”).

The Atticus Bookstore and Cafe, a New Haven institution since 1976, is housed in the same building as the Yale Center for British Art and is a great spot to grab a quick bite to eat, a cup of coffee, and of course, explore its walls of books.

Are you hungry yet? Besides it’s famous university, New Haven is also known for it’s pizza, which Eater describes as “a hotter, crispier, and dirtier descendant of Neapolitan style pie.” Pepe’s Pizzeria is the original New Haven pizza purveyor (their white clam pie is legendary), the other two best spots are widely agreed to be Sally’s and Modern Apizza (at least according to Google). If pizza is not your thing, Zinc is a local favorite and uses locally sourced ingredients; Claire’s Corner Copia offers vegetarian fare. It also has a nice selection of baked goods, including cupcakes and cakes (some gluten free and vegan), which may be a nice treat for the drive home.

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