Welcome to our new series, Have You Been?, where we will visit stops off the subway, bus, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North lines, and offer our top 3 picks (and a little bit more) for each destination to help you plan your next train trip. Our first stop is South Norwalk, Connecticut.
Located just about an hour from NYC via Metro-North, the South Norwalk neighborhood in Connecticut provides the perfect car-free day trip. Have you been? This tiny city has a lot to offer, and the area is fully walkable once you leave your train seat!
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
In the 1970s, Connecticut’s South Norwalk embarked upon a renewal and rebranding effort, with a goal to preserve the historic architecture of the neighborhood. The Washington Street National Historic District was formed, and 32 buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the changes went beyond brick facades — new businesses came in, new residences were developed, and the area even took on the New York City-inspired nickname of SoNo.
Below, find our top 3 picks for your visit to the area, which is still going through changes after all these decades.
1. WASHINGTON STREET
Washington Street is the undeniable center of SoNo (note: many of these photos were taken early in the morning before things had opened up, expect a bustling scene when you visit!). On this charming, brick building-lined street, you'll find bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, and even the old SoNo railroad switch tower, which now serves as a museum.
The main stretch of Washington brings you from the railroad bridge (circa 1895 and still in use!) to the waterfront, and on your stroll you'll be able to do some shopping, enjoy a cocktail, and find plenty of options for lunch and dinner. Tablao Wine Bar, il Posto, Oishi Sushi & Izakaya, Match, Mecha Noodle Bar, Washington Prime, and longtime (dating back to the 1800s!) pub Donovan's are just a few spots you'll find here.
And don't miss Eco Evolution, which is in a category of its own, and describes itself as: "If the Grateful Dead had a child with Rose Apothecary." Here you'll find eco-friendly and sustainable gifts, vintage goods, coffee, and even an little event space.
Intersecting with Washington Street is Water Street, where you'll come upon another mainstay: SoNo Seaport Seafood, offering lunch or dinner overlooking Norwalk Harbor (note: they're a seasonal spot, open from April to October). Around the corner, and probably the first thing you’ll want to do once you're off the train, is the SoNo Baking Co. (which has some NYC ties). This is just about two blocks from the South Norwalk station at the intersection of Water Street and Hanford Place — head there for coffee, breakfast, or a pastry.
At the end of Washington Street, you’ll find the waterfront, as well as the Maritime Aquarium — which brings us to our next pick.
2. THE MARITIME AQUARIUM
The Maritime Aquarium opened in 1988 and was an instantly beloved addition to the area. You'll find plenty of live animals here from the Long Island Sound, as well as penguins and many other sea creatures. There is so much, in fact, that it will probably take you around 90 minutes to properly explore the aquarium (and don’t forget the gift shop!). There's also a 4-D theater, a catamaran cruise, and a lot of special programs, so check their website before heading there to help plan your visit.
Bonus: Get discounted rail fare and admission with our MTA deal.
The building the aquarium is housed in dates back to the mid-1860s, when it operated as an iron works factory, which even had railroad tracks running through it. Around this time South Norwalk was about to shed its original name of Old Well, named for a well where sailors would fill their casks (it is believed to have been located what close to what is now the aforementioned Donovan's).
3. THE SONO COLLECTION
Malls are back! And this one is a behemoth, featuring 700,000-sq-feet filled with stores, event spaces (including one for free movies), and plenty of restaurant options. That includes beloved NYC institution Jacob's Pickles, which just opened their first outpost outside of NYC in a large street level location at the mall. They join others, like Pinstripes, a bistro that also offers bowling and bocce, and soon: Sally's Apizza (one of the most beloved New Haven pizza spots). Find the full list of restaurants here.
The SoNo Collection is walking distance from everything in this guide, including the train station. You'll even spot it from the entrance of the Maritime Aquarium.
The area has a lot of ties to the railroad, and pieces of a former train station can still be found inside of shops on Norwalk's nearby Wall Street. It's worth exploring these streets surrounding the main drag of Washington. In the other direction, about 15 minutes away towards the water, you'll find Overton's, where you can enjoy some fried seafood — this casual waterfront spot has been here since 1948! (Note: Overton's is seasonal, open from March to November.)
Further out, about a 12-minute walk from the SoNo Collection, you'll find The Block at Waypointe, which is home to a nice courtyard shared by several restaurants that have both indoor and outdoor dining.
On your walk, you'll pass by the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion (temporarily closed, but typically functioning as a museum). Fun cinematic fact: both Stepford Wives movies were filmed here.
There has been an ongoing effort to create a more walkable and bike-friendly area, and you'll find The Norwalk River Valley Trail, which "will be the longest trail in Fairfield County — 30 miles connecting Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Rogers Park in Danbury, passing through Wilton, Ridgefield, and Redding along the way." The Norwalk section is completed, and you'll find it by the Maritime Aquarium.
You can reach South Norwalk via Metro-North's New Haven Line. Depending on the time, it's around a 60-80 minute ride from Grand Central Terminal. If you're coming from NYC, you'll get out on the more historic side of the tracks where there's a significantly older station building. The NYC-bound side has a more modern, larger building from the 1990s.
Take Metro-North to South Norwalk and everything is just minutes away on foot!
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