The historic village of Essex, Connecticut, has long served as a favorite stopover for coastal cruisers in New England, given its location just five nautical miles from Long Island Sound. Built around a trio of coves tucked into the western shore of the Connecticut River, Essex is home to three marinas and a yacht club, all of which offer transient slips and dockage for large vessels (moorings are also available). It’s a boater-friendly place, for sure, and Essex offcials like to boast that the town has more slips than parking spaces.
Steps from the waterfront, pleasant tree-lined Main Street is home to an eclectic array of boutiques, gift shops and stores, as well as several places to dine. Chief among these is the Griswold Inn, which has been serving mariners since 1776 and is the oldest continually operating tavern in the country. The interior is cozy and warm, with a low- beamed, wood-paneled dining room that evokes a ship’s cabin, the walls covered in paintings of steamships and sailing vessels. After dinner at the Griswold Inn, satisfy your sweet tooth with an ice cream at Sweet P’s on Griswold Square.
There’s plenty to do and see in and around Essex, starting with the excellent Connecticut River Museum, directly on the waterfront. The grounds are a lovely spot to relax and take in the river, while inside you’ll find fascinating exhibits on the history of Essex, including the 1814 British raid on the village and a replica of the first submarine ever built. Other exhibits explore the river’s former importance as an inland trade route for timber and farming products, and Essex’s past as an import center for African ivory.
Just north of the village, the Essex Steam Train offers a ride aboard a vintage steam-powered train to the neighboring village of Deep River. And if you’d like to let someone else do the navigating, sign up for a tour of the river aboard the 50-passenger RiverQuest, which offers history and wildlife tours of the lower river during which bald eagles are often sighted.
Lower Connecticut is a paddlers’ delight, and the Essex area offers numerous marsh-lined creeks to explore in a kayak or SUP. On the opposite side of the river, you can enjoy the beach at Nott Island and explore this wildlife preserve, while just downriver is the entrance to Lord Cove and the Lords Cove Wildlife Area — a vast network of tidal creeks that teems with birdlife.
Where to Dock
- Brewer Essex Island Marina – A “resort marina” that can accommodate boats up to 150 feet and maintains 80 transient slips. Offers tons of amenities including a pool, a restaurant (Marley’s Cafe), laundry, showers, a rec room/arcade, volleyball and basketball courts.
- Brewer Dauntless Shipyard & Marina – Two great marina locations that offer modern fully-equipped facilities and state-of-the art service work, in a historic village known for three centuries of maritime excellence.
- Essex Yacht Club – Slips and moorings for transients, as well as showers, bathrooms and a galley that serves lunch.
Where to Dine
- The Griswold Inn (36 N Main St.) “The Gris” (est. 1776) is a local institution known for its hearty food — featuring a pub and wine/tapas bar with live music.
- Abby’s Place (37 Pratt St.) Casual breakfast, lunch and dinner spot on the water at Brewer Dauntless Shipyard — it’s famous for its breakfast menu.
- Marley’s Cafe´ (11 Ferry St.) Marley’s Cafe´ at the Brewer Essex Island Marina serves contemporary fare with Caribbean, Latin and Asian accents with incredible views of the river along with reggae music.
- Black Seal Grille (15 Main St.) Casual seafood grill and pub fare on Main Street. The “Seal” features a wide selection of craft brews and serves delicious burgers and creative pub grub.