July 21, 2020
Meet Me in Milford
Boasting a top-notch, transient-only marina just steps from downtown, this Connecticut harbor goes the extra mile to make boaters feel at home. By Malerie Yolen Cohen; Photography by Tom Richardson
Comprising 16 miles of Long Island Sound coastline between the Housatonic River to West Haven, including a narrow but well-protected harbor, Milford is a most welcoming place for boaters. Central to it all is the city’s transient-only marina—Milford Lisman Landing. Created from the bones of a sewage-treatment plant at the head of tide on the Wepawaug River, Milford Landing places its guests within easy walking distance of the compact downtown, which encompasses a constellation of eateries, nightclubs and shops.
The Landing can accommodate 35 boats up to 65 feet on any given night, making it popular among boating clubs and groups. After checking in with the friendly and super-attentive marina staff led by manager Ray Swift, visitors receive a bag brimming with information on tides, pick-up laundry service, local restaurants, events and store discounts. You can even reserve a tennis or basketball court through the marina, and complementary coffee and a newspaper are provided each morning.
The landscaping at Milford Landing evokes a city garden, with benches, gravel paths and colorful flowers. It’s quite possibly the most aesthetically pleasing set of docks, private or public, anywhere in the state. The property also features one of the first stops that repeat visitors often make in town—the much beloved ice-cream stand, Scoopy Doo’s.
The Landing really rocks on weekends, and reservations are recommended, especially during one of the many concerts and events that take place during the summer. Topping the list is the annual Oyster Festival, held in August. It features live bands, craft brews, children’s activities, all kinds of food, schooner cruises and plenty of fresh local oysters.
Milford is also accommodating to boaters arriving by land. Across the harbor from the Landing is a huge public launch ramp with three lanes, long courtesy floats, toilets and ample parking. It’s also realtively close to Route I-95, so traffic on summer weekends is brisk. Fortunately, an attendant is present to make sure all runs smoothly, for the most part.
Once launched from either the ramp or the Landing, it’s a half-mile, no-wake cruise to the harbor entrance. Along the way, you’ll pass lots of boats tied to mid-channel floats and many more in the harbor’s two private marinas—Milford Boatworks and Spencer’s—both of which sell fuel. As you near the harbor entrance, the channel doglegs right past the venerable Milford Yacht Club (follow the buoys closely here), which sometimes has transient slips available.
Options Near & Far
From the breakwaters guarding the harbor entrance, the boater has plenty of options. Long Island’s north shore is some 20 miles distant (22 miles to Port Jefferson), and there are innumerable fishing opportunities in the Sound, including fluke, porgies, blackfish, striped bass, bluefish and sea bass. In the fall, false albacore and bonito often add to the excitement.
Just outside the harbor is Charles Island, part of Silver Sands State Park and connected to the mainland via a mile-long tombolo. This sandbar has confounded many a local who has hiked to the island at low tide, only to be stranded by the flood. From May through August, the interior of Charles is off-limits to protect the large heron and egret rookeries, although the shoreline is accessible for picnics. Waterskiiing and tubing are often done in the sheltered waters north of the island, which is also a fine anchorage.
A few miles west of the harbor is the scenic Housatonic River, which meets Long Island Sound at Milford Point, home to the Milford Audubon Coastal Center. Mud flats abound in the tidal wetlands behind the Center, with tufts of grass and osprey nests lending a Suessical air to the landscape of one of Audubon’s most fantastical locations. The center teems with birds in spring and fall, but the stars of the show are the osprey.
The mouth of the “Housy” is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore in a small boat, paddleboard or kayak, but it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of tidal creeks that snake through the vast marshes of the Charles E. Wheeler Wildlife Management Area. In other words, bring a handheld GPS—and some bug spray.
Back in Milford Center, there’s fun of a land-based kind to enjoy. Through the shifting sands of shop and restaurants openings and closings, downtown Milford remains an Instragram-perfect “Small New England Town,” with seven small waterfalls, a duck pond adjacent to the stately brick City Hall where generations of families have been throwing stale bread to waterfowl, and the second largest town green in Connecticut, which swarms with people almost every weekend from spring through fall.
Hope You’re Hungry
Restaurants run the spectrum from wings and beer to fine dining, with gastropub Eli’s Tavern somewhere in the middle. Citrus, a chic restaurant in a nondescript shopping plaza, is where chef Ole Knudsen turns out amazing Asian-influenced Tuna and Avocado Tartar and other innovative cuisine, in a vibrantly colored industrial chic space. Ask for a back-window seat at the Southport Brewing Company brewpub, perched on the edge of a gorge along the Wepawaug River. Known for Spanish tapas and fun atmosphere, Bistro Basque fuels the “small-bites” sharing trend. Café Atlantique is an inexpensive hangout in this college town without a college. Order the toothsome signature Chicken Broccoli Crepes while perusing the announcement board sporting ads for belly-dancing classes, tattoo parlors and Reiki Masters. On weekends in the summer, stay through the evening for live acoustic music and other events.
With so many dining distractions, it might be easy to forget why you came to Milford in the first place, but eventually all roads lead back to the water, where you can join the closing-time crowd at Scoopy Doo’s for a cool cone before retiring to your boat—a perfect way to cap off the day in this boater-friendly city on the Sound!
Milford Names & Numbers
Dockage, Moorings & Service
Milford Lisman Landing (203) 874-1610
Transient-only municipal marina with showers, laundry, water, power, free pump-out for overnighters, complimentary newspaper and coffee and more. Hosts several events throughout the season, including the popular Oyster Festival in August.
Milford Yacht Club (203) 783-0065
Offers reciprocity to members of other clubs, and features a restaurant and bar. Transient slips may be available, but call ahead.
Milford Boat Works (203) 877-1475
Full-service marina offering fuel and transient services when seasonals are away.
Spencer’s Marina (203) 874-4173
Full-service marina with fuel dock.
Charles Island, just outside the harbor, offers good shelter and holding ground. In summer, most boaters anchor on the north side of the island.
An excellent but expensive (daily fee $15/resident, $25/non-resident) three-lane launch ramp with parking for 35 rigs, courtesy floats and dock is located at the head of the harbor.
Scoot & Paddle (203) 713-8282
Rents kayaks, SUPs and scooters from its shop in the Devon/Walnut Beach area.
Where to Eat
Citrus (203) 877-1138
Upscale New American-Caribbean fusion cuisine.
Archie Moore’s (203) 876-5088
Fun, festive spot with outdoor seating steps from the harbor. Specializes in chicken wings and other pub grub.
Stonebridge Restaurant (203) 513-9280
Popular spot near the head of the harbor. Outdoor bar and lively night scene.
Bistro Basque (203) 878-2092
Innovative menu featuring French bistro and Spanish tapas dishes of the Basque region.
Eli’s Tavern (203) 693-2555
Upscale American cuisine served in a warm, friendly, inviting atmosphere. Great bar featuring a wide selection of microbrews.
Colony Grill (203) 876-1935
Thin-crust pizza and salads, plus a lively bar. Outdoor seating.
Cafe Atlantique (203) 882-1602
Fine coffee and pastries near the Milford train station.
Rainbow Gardens (203) 878-2500
American comfort food such as meatloaf and crab cakes, plus Asian flavors in a restored Victorian home.
SBC Brewery & Restaurant (203) 874-2337
Microbrewery overlooking the gorge of the Wepawaug River.
Lazy Lobster (203) 283-1864; thelazylobsterrestaurant.com
In Walnut Beach/Devon. Grab a fresh-steamed crustacean and some steamers and walk a few feet for a picnic on the beach. BYOB.
Captain’s Catch (203) 876-7707
Family-owned restaurant specializing in fresh seafoodwiches and specialty foods.
Things to See & Do
Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center (203) 878-7440
Located on Milford Point, at the mouth of the Housatonic River, the Center overlooks acres of marsh and mud flats dotted with osprey nesting stands. Offers a host of activities, including guided trips and indoor kids’ programs.
Milford Historical Society
Maintains 3 houses—all built in the 1700s—on High Street across from the marinas. Open Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Milford Arts Council (203) 306-0016
Exhibits art in 2 locations: Center for the Arts and the Firehouse Gallery near Walnut Beach.