NEW CANAAN, Conn. – The New Canaan Chamber of Commerce is working on getting the word out about the town being a walkable tourist destination with plenty to offer.
Tucker Murphy, the chamber’s executive director, said New Canaan receives plenty of visitors because of the Philip Johnson Glass House, a national tourist site. But she and others are getting the word out about other places and events to visitors, including the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, the annual Village Fair and Sidewalk Sale and the Silvermine Arts Center.
The New Canaan Chamber also advertises the downtown area’s walkability.
“People can take (Metro-North Railroad from New York City) and be dropped here in 60 minutes,” she said. “It’s a huge selling point. They can just hop on the train and be here.”
Murphy is adding more ideas, including using a portion of South Avenue near Elm Street as flexible space to host outdoor events, the first of which will be this Saturday.
“It’s all in an effort to … make it a destination,” Murphy said. “It’s attractive. Once they’re here, they love it.”
To people who live here full time, Fairfield County may not be an obvious summer vacation hot spot. But attractions, beaches and proximity to New York City all make Fairfield County an attractive destination for others.
“It’s absolutely a place people come to visit in the summer,” said Janet Serra, executive director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitor Bureau, which promotes tourism in Fairfield County and Litchfield Hills. “What’s interesting to me is, with Fairfield County, we get to promote hills, lakes and coast.”
Of the two regions that make up the Western bureau, Serra said, Fairfield County is probably the most attractive summertime destination. Litchfield Hills sees more visitors in the fall, she said.
The biggest attractions in Fairfield County are the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport and the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Serra said. Other big draws include Norwalk’s Sheffield Island, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, SoundWaters in Stamford, the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
Connecticut’s major tourism market is from within the tri-state area, she said, and Fairfield County’s greatest strength is its accessibility.
“It’s so easy to get to Fairfield County by train, and the towns are generally walkable,” she said. “Norwalk, for example, is very walkable, so in many cases, people can just get out off the train and walk around. It’s harder to do that in other parts of the state.”
Although it’s hard to track numbers of tourists coming and going, Serra said that, last year, the Fairfield County tourism website had the most number of page visits of any regional website, including Mystic Country.
So far this year, Serra said there’s a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in website activity and inquiries. “Since Fairfield County is such an important part of Connecticut tourism, we’re certainly delighted by this increase,” she said.
Day trippers aren’t the only ones attracted to the area. Vera Ruud, a senior agent at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Westport, said the availability of summer vacation homes throughout the region draws longer term visitors.
Coastal towns with beach access are the most popular rental destinations. Westport and Fairfield in particular, Ruud said, are historically popular. In Westport, about 35 homes have been rented for the season so far.
“I think people like to be here versus a place the Hamptons because there’s more for families to do,” she said. “Here in Westport, there's a lot of resources available for small children, like the library and a variety of summer camps. Plus, we have the Levitt Pavilion and Longshore.”