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Small doesn’t mean insignificant or second best. In the case of New Haven, Connecticut good things certainly do come in small packages.

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New Haven is known as the home of Yale University, and while the academics and students surely add color, character and vibrancy, there’s plenty more on offer. This city of about 120,000 calls itself the cultural capital of Connecticut. It’s not wishful thinking. There is an abundance of art and performing arts.

Take for example the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, a 16-day fest happening every June that is an explosion of art, theater, dance, music and idea forums that are mostly free. There’s also Music on The Green, a free concert series in the heart of town featuring recognizable nostalgia performers like En Vogue, Ray Charles, Salt ‘n’ Pepper and Kenny Rogers. The New Haven Jazz Festival overtakes the city in August while A Pizza & Eats Feast promises great food in September.

Foodies will fall in love with New Haven simply for its gastronomy. While there are new restaurants popping up all over town, there are many long-time spots that locals love. For more than 40 years Claire’s CornerCopia has been the spot for all things tasty, especially for breakfast, always served up with love. Claire chats warmly with customers who seem to be friends and not strangers. There’s a chill vibe there. It’s a place to go for comfort as much as the vegan whole grain pancakes, smoothies, homemade fruit and nut granola and the Lithuanian coffee cake. Meanwhile, Ordinary is a bar that is far from ordinary. It is on the site of a tavern from the 1600s that was a watering hole for the likes of Benedict Arnold and later turned into a hotel visited by William Howard Taft and other luminaries. Today, it’s a mad cool hang out, for craft cocktails, smoked meats and more. Conde Nast Traveller hailed it as one of the best bars in the world.

Pepe Pizza

Pepe Pizza | Photo courtesy of Derek Dudek

You’ll hurt yourself if you gorge your way through New Haven. The choices are outrageous. Venezuelan, Peruvian, South Western, Spanish, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Japanese, Thai, Cuban? That’s covered and more. If you like pizza and hamburgers you’re in good hands. New Haven is famous for them. You must, must stop at world renowned Pepe Pizzeria Napolentana and also Louis Lunch—the birth place of the hamburger.

For the low down on the food scene along with a dose of history, take a tour with Taste of New Haven. Owner Colin Caplan is a food aficionado and historian extraordinaire. He can tell you about the great debates over pizza and hamburgers and show off places like Atelier Florian, where they do sea and meat Belgian style, with a French influence. Go for the small plates – the crispy brussels sprouts with maple salt, fiore sardo and lemon, or the Florian Sushi, crispy sushi rice, tuna, salmon with soy caramel and wasabi aioli. Ask him to take you to Soul de Cuba Café. You’ll love the mojitos and the family recipes passed down through the generations from the Puerto family.

Java Junkies won’t have to worry about getting their fix. Word on the street is that New Haven has the second highest per capita rate of coffee shops outside of Seattle. There are two dozen cafés in downtown alone and they’re not just a bunch of Starbucks, many are locally owned.

Yale Center for British Art

Yale Center for British Art | Flickr CC: Shinya Suzuki

All that eating won’t weigh you down if you also take advantage of the area’s biking or water works like fishing, swimming, kayaking and boating at Lighthouse Point Park.  Walk, walk, walk around the leafy green neighborhoods or the fab museums such as the Yale University Art Gallery. Designed by internationally acclaimed American architect Louis Kahn, the building is a piece of art. The museum is free and has a collection of more than 200,000 objects representing Eastern and Western cultures from ancient time to the present. Another must-see is the Yale Center for British Art. Free and home to the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom, it too was designed by Kahn, and recently reopened after a 16-month building conservation project.

Performing arts are a big part of the New Haven’s culture. The city boasts a symphony orchestra and the Shubert Theater offers plays, concerts, and dance.

New Haven is a great place for a day trip or weekend getaway. The historic buildings and carefree pace add to the charm. You’ll catch your breath.

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Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money,,,, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

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