Much of the beachfront in this part of the state is privately owned, which provides no end of controversy among less affluent residents. Among public beaches, Calf Pasture Beach (Calf Pasture Beach Rd., Norwalk, 203/854-7806, www.lisrc.uconn.edu/coastalaccess , late Aug.–Sept., $15/car) is the largest, with 33 acres of sand and grass and various activities including mini-golf, windsurf and kayak rentals, and volleyball courts.
One of the most beautiful is Sherwood Island State Park (Westport, 203/226-6983, , http://dep.state.ct.us ), with a big open stretch of sand fronting Long Island Sound and picnic tables and food vendors for snacks.
In addition to the various parks and nature preserves around the area, there are several more strenuous hikes around Danbury . Squantz Pond State Park (178 Shortwoods Rd., New Fairfield, 203/797-4165, http://dep.state.ct.us ) has several moderate trails along the hills surrounding the pond. In the summer, the pond is a popular site for swimming.
Get out on the water with a sail aboard SoundWaters (1281 Cove Rd., Stamford, 203/323-1978, www.soundwaters.org , $25pp), an 80-foot replica of a 19th-century schooner run by a nonprofit involved in natural preservation efforts on the coastline. Educational sails on the weekends include narration on the sealife and environmental issues; the ship is also available for private charters.
Captain’s Cove Seaport (1 Bostwick Ave., Bridgeport, 203/335-1433, www.captainscoveseaport.com , May–Sept.) offers tours of Black Rock Harbor aboard the 40-foot Navy launch Chief; the hour-long cruises take in three lighthouses, including one that is supposed to be haunted.