March Madness is upon us and during the first weekend of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament Connecticut will be ‘The Basketball Capital of the World,’ with both tournaments playing opening round games in the state.
As has become customary the women’s tournament will head to Storrs for the first and second rounds while the men’s tournament will return to downtown Hartford for the first time since 1998. So with an influx of visitors set to travel to Connecticut we take a look at some places they can visit when not watching basketball.
The state of Connecticut has an ever growing number of breweries and they plan on showcasing them throughout the weekend. Just steps from the XL Center, host of the men’s tournament, on Pratt Street there will be Pop-Up Brewery featuring City Steam, Thomas Hooker, Hanging Hills Hog River, and Hartford Flavor Company. The Pop-Up Brewery will be open during the two game days, Thursday, March 21 and Saturday, March 23 from noon-9 p.m. The Pop-Up Brewery will be a perfect place for fans to meet up prior to heading into the XL Center or hangout in between sessions.
There are a number of restaurants right around the XL Center but our favorite, Bear’s Smokehouse Barbecue, is located a little less than a mile away. Order cafeteria style and then find a table and enjoy some great BBQ. Craft beers are served in the bar area, if you are sitting in the main dining area then a waiter will come around to take your drink order. Parking is available in the Connecticut Science Center Parking Garage.
Bear’s also has a couple of restaurants as part of their group. Just a short walk from Bear’s there is the Blind Pig, excellent brick oven pizza, and Chango Rosa, a taco joint situated next to the Hartford Bus Station.
|City Steam Brewery Cafe*||American||Relaxed|
|Black Eyed Sally’s Southern Kitchen & Bar||BBQ||Relaxed|
|Vaughn’s Public House*||Irish Pub||Casual|
*New England Travel Journal Favorite; Also something to note if a restaurant is associated with the Max Restaurant Group then you are in for a good meal!
If you are looking for a bar then two places to stop at right outside the XL Center are the Russian Lady and Rocking Horse Saloon.
Some of the more popular museums include the Connecticut Science Center, Mark Twain House and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art to name a few. In addition, Hartford is only about a 30 minute drive from the Basketball Hall of Fame. If you travel to the Hall of Fame give yourself at least 3 hours to tour the museum.
Greater Hartford Area
One of the best places to head if you are looking to get out of Hartford is the neighboring town of West Hartford. The downtown area and Blueback Center offer visitors plenty of restaurants and stores to chose from.
Less than fifteen minutes from the XL Center, downtown West Hartford offers some of our favorite restaurants in the area at range of prices. Our favorites include:
|Harry’s Pizzeria & Tavern||Hand Tossed Thin Crust Pizza||Casual|
|Savoy Pizzeria & Craft Bar||Brick Oven Pizza||Casual|
|Grant’s Restaurant & Bar||American||Semi-Formal|
|Max’s Oyster Bar||Seafodd||Semi-Formal|
|Cheese Cake Factory||American||Casual|
|World of Beer||American||Casual|
|The Cook and the Bear||BBQ||Casual|
In addition to dining choices there are ice cream shops, bagel shops and a wide-range of stores to wander in and out of. Parking is very easy and doesn’t cost much.
Some other popular places to find a good meal are Manchester or Glastonbury. All are within a half-hour of the XL Center.
In Manchester you will find a handful of national chains including Chilis, Fridays, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse to name a few. However, there are also some fantastic local restaurants as well; including the world famous Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Market Grille and one of our favorite places in the area, the Artisanal Burger Company. You will find all of these options in the Buckland Hills Mall area.
If you are looking for some other options check out the offerings at The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk. We also recommend checking out Silk City Coffee on Main Street. This is the perfect place to unwind with a fresh cup of coffee and a treat. If you are looking for something to do on Friday night they have live music performances beginning at 7 p.m.
Some Glastonbury choices include J. Gilbert’s – Wood Fired Steaks & Seafood, Max Fish and Max Amore. One of the more popular bars in the area is Rooftop 120, if the weather is good enough the views of the surrounding area are very impressive.
The state of Connecticut is filled with breweries and wineries. Here is a list of some in the Greater Hartford area. Just note if you are looking for a winery they are a bit more of a drive from Hartford but they are well worth the trip if you are looking for a glass.
|City Steam Brewery||Hartford|
|Thomas Hooker Brewery at Colt*||Hartford|
|Hog River Brewing Co.||Hartford|
|New Park Brewing*||West Hartford|
|The Olde Burnside Brewing Co.||East Hartford|
|Thomas Hooker Brewery||Bloomfield|
|2nd Bridge Brewing Company||Manchester|
|Parable Brewing Company||Manchester|
|Labyrinth Brewing Company*||Manchester|
|Crystal Ridge Winery*||Glastonbury|
|Heartstone Farm and Winery||Columbia|
|Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery*||Wallingford|
*New England Travel Journal Favorites
March in Connecticut can be a great time to start exploring the outdoor region. The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is a great place to start because the trail is paved so even if the hiking trails are still muddy you will be able to enjoy the scenic walkway. A great place to pick up the trail is either in Collinsville or along the right side of Route 4 just after Riverfront Miniature Golf.
If the mud has cleared or if you aren’t afraid of a little adventure we highly recommend the Talcott Mountain Trail in Simsbury, it offers some of the best views in the area. The trail is on the easier side and takes roughly two hours to complete. After you are done head into Simsbury and check out some of their restaurants.
If you are willing to drive a little further we are big fans of Mystic, home of Mystic Pizza (yes the one from the movie!). Besides Mystic Pizza you will find a host of restaurants, we usually stop at Pizzetta Pizza for some thin-crust gourmet pie. Our favorite stop by far in Mystic is Sift Bakery. At affordable prices it is the spot to stop for all your sweet treats.
Spend sometime wandering the streets and just enjoying the small town feel. Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium are also some top attractions in the town. The Seaport is a living whaling town that brings visitors back to the height of the whaling era that was so vibrant along the northeast coast.
For any seafood lovers travel 15-minutes down the road to Stonington where you will find the Dog Watch Cafe. Before or after your meal enjoy the views of the water from the dock that sits in front of the restaurant.
The go to place for dining in Storrs is the Storrs downtown area where you will find a number of restaurants. If you are okay with driving a bit make your way to Manchester or Glastonbury.
However, our recommendation would be to head to Willimantic Brewery in Willimantic. They offer a wide-ranging menu with burgers, pasta, salads and a number of other dishes available. If you are up to it try their nachos! But we wouldn’t advice going after the dish alone, they are a meal themselves. In addition, the beer both brewed in-house and brought in locally is fantastic.
Have any questions about what you see or don’t see on this list? Contact us on Instagram, Facebook or by email at email@example.com and we will help you have a great weekend traveling around Connecticut while you are in town for the NCAA Tournament.
Featured Photo – Credit Mayor Luke Bronin Facebook