Insider's Guide

60 Ways to Rediscover Your Town

Our communities are rich in resources. That’s part of why we live here. But where do you go for the latest dish on great food, shopping, family fun and more? This go-to source is full of tips from trusted sources around the neighborhood.

Arts + Culture

1. See Clearly
If you’ve already been awed at The Glass House and want to head back without a formal guide, new self-guided tours let you take in the serenity of the landscape and observe the iconic buildings at your own pace. View the painting gallery, sculpture gallery and Pond Pavilion.

2. Modern Art, Historic Setting 
Set in a nineteenth-century stone barn, Carriage Barn Arts Center is an exceptional gallery that’s inspiring for its space alone, but did you know it can be rented for parties and private events? On display now: Absolut Kuba, a showing of emerging and established Cuban art from a private collection that runs through June 1. The exhibit culminates with “A Night in Havana” gala on May 17.

3. Well Read 
We’re lucky to have an independent book store in the neighborhood. Elm Street Books not only has an amazing selection, but also hosts a terrific series of author events in-store and at local libraries. Book clubs rely on Elm Street for tips on must-reads. The shop also stocks cool educational board games and gifts you wouldn’t expect to find in a book store.

4. Game On A Roll 
Have you played the world’s fastest dice game? Tenzie requires players to roll ten dice and keep rolling until one player’s dice are all on the same number. There are more ways to play and this addictive top seller is distributed internationally. But few people know that it was dreamed up in Darien. One of the co-creators is locally based designer Rudy Mossa.

5. Artistic Albums 
Much as you’re charmed by your kids’ creations, what can you do with all those drawings and paintings covering your fridge and bulletin board? Jumbo Dog Art Books, founded by Darien moms Jessica Anderson and Yael van Hulst, is the answer—they turn art work into custom scrap books. Tip: No matter how you store the art, write the name of the artist and age on the back of every paper that comes home, says Anderson, so you’ll remember who created it and when.

6. Free Entertainment 
It wouldn’t be summer without Waveny Music in the Park, 7 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday. For this weekly concert series, grab a blanket, bring dinner and wine, and enjoy the outdoor ambience, not to mention the chance to socialize. This summer’s lineup includes local acts Mill River Band and Billy and The Showmen.

7. Art Upgrades
Have you outgrown your art as well as those 1980s appliances? Then turn to Heather Gaudio Fine Art in New Canaan for guidance. Gaudio, who has worked in top city galleries, eliminates the intimidation factor of choosing paintings and photos for your home. In addition to sourcing art, she can also handle framing and installation.


Great Outdoors

8. Back To Nature 
Kids and adults can explore the outdoors and take in fresh-air fun at Down on the Farm, Darien Nature Center’s biggest annual event. The activities include “travel to the trees” (a lift hoists kids up to the tree canopy), pony rides, petting barnyard animals, games, crafts, inflatables and more. The Bossy Frog band will play during the May 24 event. If your kids have a blast, consider the nature center’s summer camps.

9. Good Catch
For an on-the-water alternative to the average guys’ or girls’ day out, hook up with Captain Frank of Judith Lynn Charters out of Norwalk Cove Marina. This U.S.C.G.- licensed charter boat captain will take you and your crew out on a custom 35-foot Downeast Duffy rigged with state-of-the-art equipment to help you track down striped bass, fluke, blue fish and more species. Sunset cruises also available.

10. Run For A Cause 
Lace up your sneakers for the annual Miles for Myles 5K Fun Run/Walk, which begins at the Rowayton Community Center and honors the memory of a local boy, Myles Beringer, who died from a sudden heart arrhythmia. Proceeds benefit the Myles Beringer Foundation, which provides funding for cardiac research at Yale as well as local projects; past grants have gone to Rowayton and Darien Schools, Farm Creek Nature Preserve and the Rowayton Fire Department. This year’s race is May 17.

11. Gone To The Dogs
Friendly and inviting for dogs (and owners) of all shapes and sizes, the fenced-in Rowayton Dog Park next to the library is one of the few places left where your pet can roam off leash. Anyone is welcome—you don’t have to be a resident to enjoy a day outside with your best furry friend. Keep your eye out for the unofficial park “mayor” who collects money from pet owners to keep the clean-up baggies stocked. 36 McKinley Street

12. Top Photo Op
Waveny Park may be New Canaan’s crown jewel but thirty-six acre Irwin Park is another town treasure. An idyllic nature sanctuary, Irwin is a place to take the kids for a walk among the blooming apple trees and daffodils and also the perfect spot to capture a portrait of your family outdoors. Let the little ones hang out and pose by the giant tree that’s great for climbing once you’ve put the camera down. 848 Weed Street

13. Pop-Up Park
When you’re not chilling out in Nantucket or at Weed Beach this summer, hit the man-made park in downtown New Canaan. On select weekends the open-air space between the Mobil station and Elm Street turns into a picnic/social zone with umbrella-shaded tables and chairs as well as a fountain and attractions like a miniature golf range, live musicians and outdoor excercise classes (the spin classes were a high-powered hit last year). Check for dates and details.

14. Get Into The Woods
Even if you’ve already walked the trails at Selleck’s and Dunlap Woods, did you know that you can take a guided tour of this peaceful preserve? Local wildlife experts lead groups through the scenic sanctuary, pointing out plant and tree species and identifying birds along the way. To help keep this Darien Land Trust site pristine, you can also participate in the annual spring cleanup.


Food + Entertainment

15. Dinner Parties That Sizzle
The hot trend in entertaining is the cooking class party. And those who crave Chef Brian Lewis’s top-rated cuisine at Elm can now learn to prepare his creative, farm-fresh recipes at home. Lewis says he’s been having fun planning interactive parties where guests sip wine while taking in a cooking demonstration and then eating what they learned to make. Don’t want to lift a finger? Check out the new catering menus, also launched this spring.

16. Moveable Mexican Feast
The owners of Bodega in Darien are taking their fresh cuisine and cocktails on the road with a new food truck. This taqueria on wheels can bring a healthy lunch of kale and quinoa salads, fish wraps and chicken and steak tortas to your office, a burrito bar to school functions, or apps like tuna tataki and chicken albondigas to your Friday night cocktail party. Yes, they have portable pitchers of sangria, margaritas and mojitos, too.

17. Sweet Tooth 
Inside the family-owned Palmer’s Market, there’s a bakery that turns out irresistible treats well worth the calorie splurge. Run by pastry chef Meghan Palmer Rivera, granddaughter of the market’s founder, it’s a go-to spot for cupcakes, cookies (try the gourmet version of Oreos), pies (lemon meringue to die for) and cakes. They are just the thing to bring to a friend’s house, and the chic pink gift boxes make these treats look anything but supermarket.

18. Homemade Supper Solution
When weeknights are so busy that even grilling seems like too much work, call on FreshDine, a new dinner-delivery biz started by New Canaan mom Maureen Shankar. Her homemade meals include gluten-free and vegetarian options; all dishes are prepared the day they’re delivered (in insulated bags, so you don’t have to be home when they come) using local produce and grass-fed dairy and meat products. A week of service would make a perfect gift for new parents.

19. Freshen Up Your Cocktails 
New this summer at happy-hour hot spot Barcelona SoNo: herb-infused libations. The garden-inspired cocktails include Whiskey Root with bourbon, ginger and basil; Tarragona with tarragon syrup and apricot eau de vie; and Bee’s Wings with gin and yellow chartreuse. While you’re there, snack on tapas from new chef Wayne Hanzi.

20. We Want Candy 
Dubbed the Dylan’s Candy Bar of New Canaan, The Candy Scoop is a colorful spot run by sisters Lauren and Megan Palladino, who grew up in town. The twenty-something entrepreneurs create custom candy “cakes,” churn out cotton candy from the in-store machine, whip up custom favors and host special drop-off nights and a camp where kids get crafty with candy. 203-246-3929  

21. Dinner Date 
Popular, petite eatery Baldanza Natural Market & Cafe recently started serving dinner from Thursday to Sunday nights. Chef Kender Urena, who has a following from longtime favorite Bistro Bonne Nuit, joins Baldanza in serving all organic, beautifully presented meals. Whether you opt for sous vide vegetables, hamacha sashimi or heartier fare like the slowly braised veal shank, bring along your favorite wine to pair with your meal.

22. Sweeten The Deal 
Kids got game? They can get a soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles for just ninety-nine cents at New Canaan’s Baskin Robbins when they come in wearing their team jerseys or sports uniforms. Another cool deal: On Tuesdays sundaes are buy one, get one free.

24. Spice Up Meetings 
Need to stir up creative juices at your next committee meeting or PTA powwow? Hold your event at one of Deane’s showrooms. These design pros can also arrange for a cooking class at one of their test kitchens. It’s a fun way to bring a group together and inspire teamwork.    

25. A.M. Amp Up
Instead of that morning coffee, stop at Green & Tonic for an Ultimate Warrior smoothie packed with greens and nutrients or a cold-pressed juice like the Green Monster. It’s just the thing to get your body and mind energized. In addition to the Darien location, a G&T just opened in New Canaan.

26. - 29. The Sweetest Things
Looking for more ways to cure a sugar craving? At the historic Roger Sherman Inn, don’t miss the amazing les profiterolles, a puff that’s light as air, filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a dark chocolate sauce. One fan says she’ll sit at the bar and just order that.

For frozen yogurt fans, there’s good news. Pinkberry is now swirling in Darien, in a new store at the rest stop on I-95. We like the location because it’s convenient when traffic through the main drag in Darien is bumper to bumper and you don’t want to wait for a cup of light, frozen yogurt topped with fresh, hand-cut fruit. For an old-school grasshopper cocktail, stop by Rory’s, where Suzy the bartender mixes a mean one. It’s like drinking mint chocolate chip ice cream! For a fine sweet on the go, pack a jar of Barefoot & Chocolate into a picnic basket. These chocolate spreads from Darien native Trent Lewis and his wife, Sasha, are made with all-natural ingredients, have more than two times the nuts and 20 percent less sugar than other leading brands and are naturally gluten-free. The brand is now in 160 stores following a launch at Whole Foods last year.


Home + Garden

30. High Growth Opportunity
If you love the idea of planting a veggie garden but have no clue where to start, Homegrown Harvest will get you up and growing. This New Canaan-based business is run by a couple of local gardening buffs who help people cultivate gardens in their backyards. They’ll advise on crops, plan and install the garden and maintain it if you choose. Small property? No problem: They plant container gardens as well as raised beds.

31. Speed Makeover 
If you’re dreaming of a new look for your family room but don’t want to wait months to see it unfold, try the one-day makeover through Wakefield Design Center on the border of Darien and Stamford. You’ll feel like you’re on HGTV, as a design team comes in armed with all the furnishings and accessories needed to spruce up your space, and they’ll do it in a day.

32. Miles Of Tiles
Bathroom and kitchen makeovers won’t crush the budget if you head to AKDO’s semiannual warehouse sale. You can score deep discounts on new tile and stone, as well as lines that are being discontinued and merchandise that’s normally sold through top dealers around the country. Check for the next sale date.

33. Spring Cleaning On Steroids 
Need to clear out clutter and get organized for good? Talk to pros Lori Wauldron and Tracy Wind, owners of Clean Slate Organizing in Darien. Repeat clients say they’re worth every shiny penny. The energetic pros not only help to whip closets and kitchens into shape, they make garage, basement and attic clean-outs almost painless. They’ll even help you organize your photos.

34. Garden RX 
Did your flowering shrubs take a beating during the harsh winter? Call on plant pro Michael Christiano of Garden Aesthetics to revive your landscape. Known for his artistic approach, Christiano has a knack for working with existing plant material­—he’s the master of finding a better spot for, say, that boxwood or azalea bush—as well as getting new plants to take root. 203-325-9999

35. Elegant Collectibles
Those who appreciate the finer things in life and prefer a timeless look for their interiors should go treasure hunting at Donald Rich Antiques in New Canaan. Rich, who has more than thirty years experience as a designer, has a keen eye and is perhaps best known for his collection of English and Chinese porcelain. Think finishing touches with enduring style. 203-966-5433

36. Get Beautiful Blooms
For gorgeous arrangements and top-notch service, many locals swear by Darien’s Springdale Florist on Camp Avenue. Prices are reasonable and they’re really responsive, insiders say. One floral fanatic reports that when there was a very minor glitch with her arrangement, Springdale sent a new one the next day.


Health + Beauty

37. Masseuse That Makes House Calls 
Take Shape Massage, owned by Darien’s Maria Amendolia, brings the stress relief and relaxation right to your door. She and her experienced therapists can soothe you with Swedish massage, shiatsu, deep tissue, hot stones or Thai massage.

38. Feet First 
The happiest feet in town rely on blissed-out treatments from pedicure pro Alba at Lanphier of Darien. She has her own space in the spa—a large, private room—and her Zen-like aura stems from her training in reflexology.

39. Get Pampered
Ladies who want to pay less for their treatments rave about the spa packages at True Grace in New Canaan. Devotees say the affordable service is still top-notch because the aestheticians take their time. 203-801-0505

40. An Eye Full
Who wants to mess with mascara at the beach or on the boat this summer? Lash extensions are great for the hot season because you can just head out the door and forget about eye makeup. We like the service at Benefit in New Canaan, where the cost is $30 and the application is quick. The brow-obsessed crowd lives for the shaping and tinting here, too.


Summer Shape-Ups

People-watch around town and you’ll spot plenty of serious athletes, not to mention those toned enough to look like one. You can rock an equally beach-ready physique with these local body-sculpting secrets.

41. Elite trainer Donovan Green at Oxygen Fitness in New Canaan holds a black belt in jiujitsu. A sought-after kickboxing guru, this trainer has a loyal following who say he has a knack for motivating everyone to get fit. Most famous celeb client: Dr. Oz.

42. Buff moms look to Linda Stephens of Darien for challenging workouts and inspiration. Stephens, who has a degree in nutrition, is a rising fitness star who runs bootcamp classes at Darien Infinity and acts as brand ambassador for Lady Footlocker.

43. Another hot option at Infinity is The 28-Day Challenge, which includes a meal plan and private workouts. Graduates say they shed more pounds than expected and gained confidence and camaraderie.

44. At CST50 in the Goodwives Shopping Center, your workout happens on a “megaformer” that’s great for building strength and exercising muscles that don’t normally get used, leading to super toning. Get ready: It’s also known as “Pilates on crack.” 

45. Tuesday night is free Zumba at 360 Fitness in New Canaan. Instead of paying for your workout, you make a donation to that week’s charity as part of Fitness for a Cause. (Norwalk Emergency Shelter and New Canaan High Scholarship Foundation are among recent recipients.) Since starting the program in 2011, instructor Michele Ayoub has raised more than $74,000 for local charities.

46. Want a fitness class that feels more like a party? Try Zumba with Joanne Deluca at Flair Fitness Studio on Old Kings Highway in Darien. She’s got great tunes and fun choreography, and the sight of her amazing abs will push you to keep moving. Spots are coveted, so you have to pre-register for classes.

47. Another Flair Fitness favorite is Tabata with Martha Guttuso, instructor and Darien mom. Martha was on top of the high-intensity training (HIT) trend long before it made headlines this year and drew the attention of the fitness-obsessed crowd. She pushes you through the forty-five-minute class with her sense of humor and hot music.

48. New Balance of New Canaan isn’t just a place to stock up on gear. The community-minded store supports the New Canaan Running Club (for kids ages 9 to 14) and sponsors popular races including New Canaan Mile and All Out for Autism.


Kids’ Stuff

Your child’s birthday is coming up and you want to plan an epic party or at least something fun and memorable but the idea of entertaining a gang of 10-year-olds seems more stressful than hosting a sit-down dinner party. Don’t sweat it! We talked to moms and kids to round up ideas.  

49. Want to plan a themed birthday and never set foot inside Party City? Open a Party Style Box from Darien mom Janine Vairo. She packs up all the necessities: invites, thank-yous, tableware, creative crafts, hand-wrapped favors and more. Pick from themes like Pirate Adventure or Sports, or just plan something unique and custom.

50. Diamonds can wait. Homemade bracelets, earrings and necklaces are a girl’s best friend. At Little Sparklers ( in Pound Ridge, New York, girls go glam, creating custom-designed jewelry and then walking the red carpet to show off their creations and have photos snapped for a keepsake album. To let the bling come to you, try Laurie Lynne’s jewelry parties (, which appeal to the artist in girls with options for vintage beads, clay bead making and crafts like tie-dying. She handles invites, goodie bags and cleanup. Over at Beadz Boutique ( on the Post Road in Darien, young girls and teens get to design necklaces and bracelets, play games and feast on snacks or pizza.

51. At Let’s Dress Up in New Canaan, the kids get super girly with the chance to don beautiful mermaid or princess costumes, put on nail polish, gloss and “fairy dust” and then have a proper tea party complete with china and linen napkins.

52. Instead of just schlepping to another bounce gym, why not have someone bring the cool inflatables to you? Kids on the Moon rents them by the day.

53. For active kids, Rowayton’s Down Under holds kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) parties on the water. Once kids are trained in the basics, they go out and get into activities like searching for treasure bottles and competing in relays.

54. How about a sleepover sans stress? Instead of hosting at home, plan a slumber party at the Hyatt in Greenwich and request adjoining rooms, one for the parents and one for kids. The kids love swimming in the pool, which gives them a chance to get all that energy out. Go to and you could score rooms for $89 or less.

55. You may think of Taylor Rentals as the tool place, but did you know they also rent dunk tanks. Tween and teen boys love them.

56. Planning a backyard bash? Take a page from a party pro’s DIY list and buy industrial- sized plastic wrap at Home Depot, stretch it across the yard (preferably at a slope), turn on the hose and you’ve got a giant slip-and-slide for instant, old-fashioned party fun.

57. Math Whizzes Multiplying
When kids get stuck on math, it’s tough on them as well as their  parents, who may have outdated methods for solving problems. Mathnasium of Darien adds up to big improvement, say local moms. One woman reports her daughter’s scores went from the bottom of her class at the end of third grade to top of the class in fourth. The motivational program includes customized instruction with math games and Xbox games that kids love.

58. Minecraft Obsessed?
If your kids are, head to the Darien Library, home to our county’s server and host of Minecraft Fridays. Kids, tweens and teens can log in to build and play in a super safe environment—no outsiders can access the server and kids’ buildings can’t get “griefed.” Welcome to a world of constructive three-dimensional play.

59. Beyond Basic
For affordable activities that meet all kinds of interests, check out the Darien Parks & Recreation Department offerings. Classes range from Yoga Hoop Dance at Weed Beach to Lego Robotics, where kids can build Lego creations with computerized movements.

60. Drive-Up Gifting
At New Canaan Toy Store, the savvy staff is up on the latest and greatest for kids and they also wrap and do curbside delivery. So when you’re pressed for time and have a party that day, call on Chris (the owner) to get ideas, pay by phone and grab your gift without getting out of the car. When you have more time to browse, bring the kids—the store is set up to let them play.

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