The first thing you should know about Branford, Connecticut, is that when I left for college in Boston many years ago, I never thought I would ever come back to this one-horse town. Lo and behold, after many years spent living and working in Boston, traveling far and wide and reconnecting—and subsequently marrying my high school sweetheart—I discovered that I truly missed this quiet, friendly, picturesque shoreline town. I'm now proud to call Branford my home. Two years ago, I even moved my studio from New Haven back to Branford coming full circle right back to where I started.
Here is what I love so much about Branford:
Everyone in Branford—and I mean everyone—knows of Lenny's Restaurant. They've been there, eaten there, brought out-of-town guest there, and have probably, at some point, had a few two many at the bar there. Lenny's is a Branford institution and landmark. It is famous for its lobster and casual, relaxed atmosphere. Lenny's is in an area of Branford called Indian Neck, and just as the brass star located outside Notre-Dame in Pairs is point zero from which all routes to cities in France are measured, so is true for all points in Branford being measured from Lenny's.
Here's an example of how to get to my house: "So you know when you are outside of Lenny's, head toward the Indian Neck Liquor Store and stay left at the fork. We're the second street on the right." If you were a local, that is all the direction you would need to find my front door.
The Best touristy thing to do in Branford:
Take a cruise on the Thimble Island Cruise ship around the Thimble Islands. The Thimble Islands actually got its name from the native thimbleberry, or black raspberry bushes that grow here, and legend has it that Captain Kidd has buried treasure on one of the islands that has never been found, thus the pirate flag off the back end of the boat. It's fun to take the cruise to hear all the stories and see the unbelievable houses on the islands, some of which are homes to well-known celebrities.
Regardless of whether the legends of the Thimbles are true or false, we love going out and cruising around the islands on weekends. In Branford growing up it was just as exciting getting your drivers license as it was getting your boaters license. Unlike Newport or Martha's Vineyard, no one in Branford cares what type of boat you have as long as you are out on the water. We will all "tie-up" and hang out. I've seen yachts tied to fishing boats and sailboats tied to cabin cruisers—it doesn't matter because we are there to climb from boat to boat and socialize, hangout, sunbathe, swim and relax.
Best restaurant in Branford:
La Petit Café run by Chef Roy Ip. Chef Ip is a master and La Petit is this tiny (as the name implies), unpretentious, Zagat recognized, quaint, French country price fixe, romantic café right in the center of Branford. They only have two seatings per night and the food is unreal.
La Petit was where my husband and I had our wedding dinner after we were married at my favorite historical spot in Branford, the Academy which is right across the street from the cafe. The Academy is an old school house and church that was the founding spot of Yale University before it moved to New Haven.
Best non-touristy thing to do:
Beatty's is a true antique market and farm stand. I love the spring and summer because to answer the age-old "What's for dinner" question usually just means a stop at Beatty's for the freshest just-off-the-farm produce. Branford is one half shoreline and one half woods and farms. It's the perfect combination.
The other little known gem of Branford is the Owenego Beach Club, or as we locals refer it: the "O". Now, you could go down the road and join the Pine Orchard Club (left at the fork at Lenny's and keep going straight for awhile until you see the Club on your right)—but membership there hovers north of $20k per year and then goes up. They do have a sweet golf course. However, if you were raised in a tennis-playing family like I was, plus you love to swim, hang at the beach and sail, then the "O" is the perfect, old school beach club that time forgot. And for a small fee, you get a family membership AND a cabana.
Best Place to Shop in Branford:
Whenever I need a special gift, or props for photography, or I am just in the mood for a visual feast, I head to Taken For Granite. This little shop is perched on a corner of a three-way stop and you could almost zip right past it. But stop in and savor. This shop is about slowing down and taking everything in. The owner of this quaint, unusual store is an artist in how she displays and selects the items she sells—from fresh flowers and stone birdbaths to jewelry and antique cake stands, everything is paired and presented beautifully.
My Favorite Thing to Do in Branford:
One thing I love to do is to walk down the end of our street with my husband and kids to watch the sunrises and sunsets. This is my view from our street which is on a point overlooking the Thimbles and Long Island Sound. I never get tired of this.
My other favorite Branford activity is to run. I mean, I can't complain about my running routes, can I? I run past beautiful mansions along a rocky shoreline in a part of Branford called Linden Shores. And at the halfway mark of my usual run at that point in the distance at the end of this road, I sometimes stop, take a breath, climb out on the rocks, and just sit peacefully alone and think.
Amy Graver is co-author of Best Practices for Graphic Designers: Grids and Page Layouts.