June 21, 2019
Once strictly working-class, Stonington has become a fashionable place in the last few decades, yet remains a warm and welcoming destination for boaters. By Malerie Yolen-Cohen; Photos by Tom Richardson
On most summer weekends, Water Street is packed with residents and daytrippers, many of them looking for bargains in the town’s eclectic collection of shops and boutiques. There are plenty of good restaurants, too, including the Dog Watch Cafe, which offers award-winning waterfront dining at Dodson Boatyard, near the head of the harbor. Boaters can tie-up at the marina (space permitting) while they enjoy a meal or drink at the lively outdoor bar.
Another fantastic dock-and-dine option in the harbor is Breakwater. Formerly Skipper’s Dock, Breakwater offers an eclectic menu, outdoor and indoor seating, and plenty of dock space along its long wooden pier.
From the middle of the harbor, the character of Stonington becomes clear: To the south, a long jetty juts westward, protecting the many recreational boats and fishing vessels that share the harbor. A large brick-and-stone building, once home to a factory, dominates the skyline and serves as testament to the town’s manufacturing history (everything from horsehead nails to firearms to Coke bottles were once produced in Stonington). The building now houses the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club and pricey condos.
Known as the “Borough,” Stonington’s reputation as a manufacturing center made it a popular target of the British during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The town’s militia endured bombardments by the Royal Navy in both conflicts.
Stonington was also once renowned for its pottery, which was produced in a bayside factory at the end of Shinbone Alley (now Water Street), where William States established a pottery works in 1811. The imprints of “W. States” and “Swan & States, Stonington” are well known among pottery aficionados, and pottery fragments from the States factory still litter the inshore waters.
Another tribute to the Borough’s nautical past is Stonington Harbor Light, which stands at the end of Water Street, overlooking Barn Island to the east and Stonington Harbor to the west. Gray and weathered, the stone lighthouse and keeper’s house are now home to the Old Lighthouse Museum and the Stonington Historical Society. Visitors can climb the tower for great views of the Sound and the harbor, or simply peruse the exhibits of pottery, paintings, old tools, yellowing photographs and other artifacts.
Nature-lovers seeking solitude in kayaks, skiffs, and canoes will also find much to appreciate about Stonington. At just over 1,000 acres, the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area (BIWMA), on the shores of Little Narragansett Bay just east of the harbor, features miles of hikable trails and meandering creeks to explore. It also features a large (and frequently crowded) public launch ramp with lots of parking. Once permitted for development as a golf course, the woods and marshes of the BIWMA are now the protected home of dozens of bird, mammal and fish species.
After launching at BIWMA, boaters can explore miles of protected shorelines and beaches, including those on Sandy Point, a spur of land that was once a part of nearby Napatree Point, but is now an island. A hummock of sand and scrub, Sandy Point is popular with kayakers, beachgoers and especially fishermen. The island is owned by the former Mashantucket Land Trust (now the Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc.) and is managed by the Stonington Community Center, which sells seasonal passes or charges a nominal daily fee to access the island. Note that large sections of the island are closed to protect nesting shorebirds during much of the season, so pay attention to the signage.
Stonington At a Glance
Dockage, Moorings & Service
Dodson Boat Yard (860) 535-1507
Full-service yard with transient slips and moorings, as well as gas and diesel, ice, laundry, pump out and showers. Dodson also runs launch service in the harbor and features a popular onsite restaurant, the Dog Watch Café.
Stonington Marina (860) 599-4730
Small-boat marina on Wequetequock Cove. Offers dockage, service and repair, as well as kayak and SUP rentals.
Don’s Dock (860) 535-0077
Seasonal and short-term dockage for smaller vessels on Lambert’s Cove, north of the fixed train bridge. Floating docks, launch ramp, showers, engine service and repair.
Stonington Harbor Yacht Club (860) 535-0112
More than 240 feet of transient dock space. Discounted rates for members of reciprocating clubs.
Cardinal Cove Marina (860) 535-0060
Small-boat marina on protected Cardinal Cove. Rents slips for boats 24 feet and under by the week, month or season.
Cove Ledge Inn & Marina (860) 599-4130
Rooms, pool, 50-slip marina and kayak rentals.
Stonington’s main anchorage is on the west side of the harbor, west of GC “7.” Dinghies can be tied up at the town dock, and launch service is available through Dodson Boat Yard.
Boaters and paddlers can launch at the Barn Island state ramp off Palmer Neck Road. This is a large and busy ramp (especially on weekends) with long tie-up floats and ample free parking.
Stonington Marina (860) 599-4730
Kayak and SUP rentals on protected Wequetequock Cove.
Where to Eat
Breakwater (860) 415-8123
Popular waterfront restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, plus a long pier for boaters. Features an eclectic menu with creative, contemporary seafood dishes and a festive evening bar scene.
Noah’s (860) 535-3925
Casual fine dining on Water Street. Great breakfast spot.
Milagro (860) 535-8178
Authentic Latin food and great margaritas.
Water Street Café (860) 535-2122
Well-known for its terrific Sunday brunch.
Zack’s Bar & Grille (860) 535-0301
Classic pub food as well as choice New York sirloin, local scallops and fisherman’s stew.
Yellow House Coffee & Tea Room (860) 535-4986
Good spot for a quick bite on Water Street.
Dog Watch Cafe (860) 415-4510
Popular dock-and-dine restaurant and bar at Dodson Boat Yard.
Velvet Mill (917) 915-6340
Rambling, repurposed mill turned home to a variety of artist studios and small businesses.
Zia’s Jewelry & Accessories (860) 535-2298
Lotions, candles, apparel, jewelry and much more.
Clad In (860) 415-4506
Imaginative designer clothing, shoes and accessories.
Yali’s (860) 884-5151; yalistonington.com
Unique and beautiful bath and home textiles from Turkey.
Devon House Antiques & Gallery (860) 535-4452
Beautiful art and home furnishings, including rustic sawmill tables and benches.
Things to See & Do
Old Lighthouse Museum (860) 535-1440
This beautiful stone lighthouse built in 1823 features exhibits of early Stonington life. Visitors can climb to the lantern room for panoramic views of the harbor and beyond.
Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer House (860) 535-8445
Built in 1852, Palmer’s 16-room Victorian mansion serves as home to the Stonington Historical Society, and houses exhibits that chronicle the life and exploits of “Cap’n Nat,” one of the first explorers of Antartica. Entry fee includes admission to the Lighthouse Museum.
Saltwater Farm Vineyards (860) 415-9072
Vineyard and winery on 100 acres bordered by spectacular tide marsh.
Beer’d Brewing Co. (860) 857-1014
Beers and ales crafted in very small batches. Growler refills.
Dodge Paddock & Beal Preserve
A short walk from Stonington’s busy waterfront area, on the eastern side of Stonington Point. Features a walkway that meanders through salt marsh and offers views of wildlife and Watch Hill, Napatree and Sandy Point.
DuBois Beach (860) 535-2476
Protected, kid-friendly beach on Stonington Point. A small access fee is required.