Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden builds a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures with landscape architecture, art exhibits, and community programming. Designed by artist and heiress Natalie Hays Hammond, the 3.5-acre garden sends feet meandering among dark evergreens, groves of blossoming fruit trees, and glassy ponds covered with lily pads so princely frogs need not get their webbing wet. The museum's permanent collection boasts Carl Van Vechten's silver gelatin photographs of American artistic luminaries, including modern choreographer Alvin Ailey and expat poet Gertrude Stein, alongside a private collection of ornate fans and traveling exhibits. The Hammond mansion's library shelters a traditional tearoom hand crafted by a 17th-generation descendent of the originator of the Japanese tea ceremony, Sen Rikyu, who is rumored to have also invented beverages in general.
The Aldrich is one of the few independent, non-collecting contemporary art museums in the United States, and the only museum in Connecticut devoted to contemporary art. Founded on Ridgefield’s historic Main Street in 1964, the Museum concentrates its exhibition program on solo exhibitions by emerging and mid-career artists.
The 20,000-square-foot facility showcases hands-on exhibits and simulators devoted to the importance of forests and their role in providing habitat, water, recreation, wood, and a number of other one-word wonders. With the family-plus membership, two adults and all children 18 and younger in the family are free to explore the museum's two floors for a year. The first floor focuses on the Pacific Northwest, entertaining visitors with interactive exhibits such as the Timberjack Harvester Simulator and River Raft Adventure, where visitors can take a simulated trip through class-IV rapids. On the second floor, guests can learn about forest art, history, and culture—hitching a jeep ride in South Africa, touring the Trans-Siberian railway, or swinging through the Amazon rainforest's canopy just like Tarzan did. A number of special exhibits are also available on a rotating basis.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center has come a long way since its founding in 1936. Over the decades, its sprawling grounds have grown to include areas focused on nature, agriculture, astronomy, art, and history. On a hill lies the Henri Bendel Mansion. This once-private residence echoes classic British manor houses with its lead-framed glass windows, half-timbered walls, and stone gargoyles that speak in cockney accents. Visitors can view the ground's sculptures, before going inside to gaze at the art galleries. Rotating exhibits explore topics in art and pop culture– Two Artists Who Look at the Sky begins February 16 and includes Nightwatch: The Art of Greg Mort and The Prints of Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, and Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats will run mid-summer through Labor Day.
Festivals, such as the Maple Sugar Festival Weekend (March 2–3) and Spring on the Farm Festival Weekend (May 18–19), allow visitors to engage with the property in unique ways and with many family activities.
Back outside, more than 80 acres of nature trails wind through the trees. One such trail leads to Nature's Playground, where kids soar down slides and play in a treehouse. Elsewhere, the accessible Wheels in the Woods trail lets people of all abilities explore the forest.
Crossing over Bendel's Pond brings visitors to Heckscher Farm, where—through the Junior Curator program— kids learn basic animal care. The New England–style farm, which stands next to an otter pond, home to otters Bert and Edie, encompasses structures such as the Maple Sugar House and the Cheshire Barn, which was built in 1750 and houses only heritage-breed animals, including chickens, pigs, cows, and llamas. The Stamford Observatory sits west of the farm and offers visitors an opportunity to peer into a 22-inch research telescope, which uses a built-in computer to hone in on nearly any object in the sky.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children encourages kids to learn through play with permanent and traveling exhibits tailored to different age levels and activities designed to develop growing brains. The newly renovated 22,000-square-foot space—which boasts five main galleries with more than 100 hands-on activities—was founded in 2000 to expand children's minds through an interdisciplinary mix of subjects, including art, culture, literacy, and string theory. Because kids learn best by doing, the museum's interactive exhibits are perfect for improving cognitive function. Tykes 0–36 months explore the multidimensional Tot Town, and the futuristic Energy Lab powered by wind, water, and sun keeps older kids conducting experiments amid an array of vibrant colors and textures. Outside, the museum's gigantic open-air tent known as Celebration Courtyard hosts an oversized checkerboard and big foam building blocks. A community garden teaches little ones about butterflies and edible plants, and Healthyville employs computer games to educate kids about nutrition, the body, and why you shouldn't eat fake fruit.
“Other communities looking to establish museums preserving their regional culture and history would do well to visit The Mattatuck Museum,” raves the New England Travels about the Connecticut treasure. The Museum’s educational programs, rotating exhibits, and permanent collections showcasing over 2,000 works of American art focus on preserving and sharing Connecticut’s cultural history. Members receive free admission and discounts on programs and events including readings of Shakespearian plays, walking tours of local neighborhoods, regular live jazz performances, and field trips to go bully Rhode Island, Connecticut’s diminutive neighbor.