By Lisa S. Lenkiewicz
Uncovering hidden local treasures doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. These wallet-friendly locales will give you a feeling of discovery on the cheap. The best part? These destinations are only a tank of gas (or less) away.
Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation
940 Whitney Ave.
Why Go? Did you know there are more than 8,500 historic barns in the state of Connecticut? To connect its citizens with Connecticut’s rich agricultural past, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation recently organized a Connecticut Barns Trail, the first such trail in the U.S., according to Helen Higgins, executive director of the organization. The Connecticut Barns Trail features seven routes throughout the state with 75 sites open to the public and many more which may be viewed from scenic trails.
Insider Tip: Not all of the barns are open to the public. Day-trippers are reminded it is illegal to trespass on private property, but photography is allowed from public rights of way.
Must Do: Stop by Rose Orchards, in North Branford, where a converted gambrel roof dairy barn features a farmer’s market and ice cream stand. Farm animals roam the property and there are tractors which kids can climb upon. Or, you can pose for a photo next to the classic New England-style barn with a water wheel.
The Fine Print: Free maps for the seven routes are available by emailing email@example.com. They are also available at Connecticut Welcome Centers, state libraries and at barn sites. For more information, visit www.cttrust.org or www.connecticutbarns.org.
Mohegan Sun Casino
1 Mohegan Sun Blvd.
Why Go: The 300-seat Wolf Den is the scene of free nightly entertainment. Listen to talented performers from every musical genre in an intimate setting.
Insider Tip: You must be 21 years of age to enter the Wolf Den. Reservations are not accepted. However, lines form early and seats are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. One person can hold as many as four places in line, but seats will only be given to those present at the time of seating.
Must Do: Go on a Friday (“Diva Friday”) with great savings for women at the casino’s restaurants and shops in the concourse.
The Fine Print: For more information on upcoming events, click here.
227 South Main St.
West Hartford, CT
Why Go? This gem of a museum is the restored 19th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster, creator of the first American dictionary and the “Blue-Backed Speller,” a widely used schoolbook for children. It’s a wonderfully interactive place for children to learn about a time in American history.
Insider Tip: If you have a West Hartford library card, you can pick up for free, same-day museum passes for four people at the children’s desk at the Noah Webster Library on Main Street.
Must Do: Before the tour, make sure to take a step inside the schoolhouse theater, located in the foyer. Visitors can watch a short film about Noah Webster from a seat in a 19th-century style school desk. Chris Dobbs, executive director, points out the Noah Webster House sponsors a Kids’ First Saturday program on the first Saturday of each month. For adults, don’t miss the popular Tavern Nights of food, drink, folk music and colonial games.
The Fine Print: Open Thursday-Monday, 1-4 p.m. It is closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and major holidays, as well as the first five weekdays in January. Call ahead to ensure it is open and not closed for private parties. Admission is $7/adults; AAA members and seniors/$5; youth ages 6-18/$4; college students with ID/$4; ages 5 and younger are free.
96 Foss Hill
Why Go: Wesleyan University's state-of-the-art telescopes allow stargazers to see the moon, nearby planets and far-away galaxies—all free of charge.
Insider Tip: Clear skies are necessary for viewing. So, check to make sure the observatory isn’t closed due to clouds, rain or high winds. The observatory is not heated during the winter. Dress warmly.
Must Do: Take a peek inside a well-kept secret—the observatory library. Light boxes hold celestial photos of fires, moons, stars and planets. Globes and models of the solar system grace the peaceful room.
The Fine Print: Weather permitting, weekly public observations are held on Wednesdays, 8-9 p.m., during the Wesleyan academic semester. Wednesday night observations will not be held during university holidays or final exams. Viewings are free and open to all. The Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford sponsors monthly, year-round, Saturday night observances. Visit www.asgh.org/observe to ensure the observatory is open. Do not park in the observatory parking lot. Parking is available on Vine Street near the tennis courts. To get to the observatory, cross the street and take the stairs to the top of the hill. The observatory is in the stone building with the white domes.