DAY 2: New England Air Museum, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Dr. Seuss National Memorial
Today we take advantage of Hartford's convenient access to highways and its location at the hub of a plethora of possible adventures. Your biggest challenge will be choosing which compass direction to follow.
If you feel pulled in a southeasterly direction, you're not alone. More Connecticut tourists visit the state's two Indian casinos than any other attraction. For sheer size and glitz, choose Foxwoods Resort Casino, the largest casino in North America. It's about an hour away in Mashantucket. If you're in Insurance City without a car, you can still get there thanks to regular casino bus service operated from One Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford by Joshua's Limousine.
We're partial, however, to the slightly smaller and closer Mohegan Sun Casino, which offers superior dining, shopping and entertainment options in addition to gaming action. If you're headed to the Sun, skip breakfast. Krispy Kreme doughnut shops are few and far between in the Northeast, but Mohegan Sun boasts one. At lunchtime, belly up to the raw bar at Jasper White's Summer Shack or dine on Italian fare beside the faux waterfall at Todd English's Tuscany. For a break from the din of slot machines, escape for an hour to the Elemis Spa at the Mohegan Sun Hotel. Appointments for body treatments, facials and even massage lessons for couples are available to casino visitors as well as hotel guests. If you haven't lost your shirt by suppertime, stay for prime rib at Michael Jordan's Steak House or enjoy Bobby Flay's mastery of American fare at Bar American.
Due north of Hartford about a 10-minute drive up I-91, you'll find the New England Air Museum, located near Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The Northeast's largest aviation museum houses 80 historic aircraft and exhibits on the development of flight. You can even climb behind the controls of a cockpit simulator. If you're a bigger fan of Air Jordan, continue another 20 minutes north on I-91 to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which lies just over the state border in Springfield, Massachusetts. During the brutal New England winter of 1891, James Naismith, a physical education student at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, invented the game of basketball using a couple of peach baskets, a soccer ball and a set of 13 rules. The Hall of Fame is much more than a showcase for basketball memorabilia and a shrine to the game's greats. Interactive exhibits allow you to go head-to-head against top NBA athletes, coach a team to victory or assume the job of on-air announcer and call the play-by-play.
Basketball isn't the only big thing to come out of Springfield. A cat in a tall hat got his start here, or at least the author who created him did. Springfield native Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss and best known for his silly yet beloved rhyming tales, is honored at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial located in the courtyard of the Springfield Museums. Here, you can pat a Lorax on the head, tell the Grinch to cheer up and order a plate of green eggs and ham from none other than Sam I Am. All are captured in life-size bronze statues.
Outdoor recreation may instead beckon you west of Hartford, particularly when summer sizzles. The Farmington Valley is about a half-hour trip from downtown Hartford, but you'll feel light years away as the cool Farmington River carries you briskly along in your bright yellow river tube. Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area in New Hartford is the departure point for 2.5-mile Farmington River Tubing trips that combine exhilarating rapids and calm, soothing stretches. For a lunch that will really stick to your rib cage, head to Joe Pizza in Canton for affordable half-pound burgers and eggplant fries. Or pick up gourmet sandwiches at Metro Bis in Simsbury to tote along on the 1.5-mile hike to the top of Talcott Mountain in Simsbury's Talcott Mountain State Park. Ascend the stairs of the 165-foot Heublein Tower atop the mountain for unparalleled views of the Hartford skyline and surrounding countryside. If you're visiting in the fall, you're in for one of Connecticut's top leaf-peeping experiences.
Speaking of leaves, you may want to head east from Hartford if chasing autumn's splendor is your primary aim. The state's northeast quadrant is nicknamed the "Quiet Corner." Fall provides the perfect backdrop for a scenic drive along the state's first federally designated National Scenic Byway, State Route 169. North Woodstock, a logical starting point for a drive south along this picturesque route, is less than an hour from Hartford. This area of the state represents the New England that people have come to know and love from postcards and magazine covers: stone walls, scenic farms with livestock idling in the fields beyond, bucolic wooded expanses, historic churches and those quintessential small New England town greens. Architecture enthusiasts and history buffs will appreciate that Route 169 is lined with nearly 200 houses built before 1855, while antique collectors will find a veritable trove of treasures if they detour to Putnam. Allow time to stop at little roadside farm stands, farmers' markets and shops along your drive.
You may want to continue east for a visit to Old Sturbridge Village, the living history museum just over the state border in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Here, costumed interpreters recreate daily life in 19th-century New England.
If you find yourself back in Hartford by nightfall, head to the city's South End for dinner. Hartford's "Little Italy" actually offers a number of diverse dining options, but you'll never go wrong with the homemade pastas at Carbone's, a Franklin Avenue fixture for 75 years and counting. Take in a show at the Bushnell, Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks or Real Art Ways — venues that are well-known for bringing new plays, staged readings and traveling Broadway shows to their stages. Or get tickets to a performance at Infinity Hall, Front Street's popular concert venue.
Continue to Day 3