Hartford — the capital of Connecticut and one of the oldest cities in the United States — is New England’s rising gem, becoming a center of entrepreneurship and innovation with the birth of a number of startups in the state.
The city has beautiful centuries-old architecture, and the downtown area is walkable to comedy houses, boutique shopping, farm-to-table dining and a plethora of green space. Hartford is becoming so hot for tourism that there is a new Hard Rock Hotel scheduled to open in 2018 next to the new minor league stadium, the 6,000-seat Dunkin Donuts Park.
Hartford is closer than you think, too — a 2½- hour Greyhound bus ride or Amtrak train, or 3-hour drive will land you in this seat of history.
Here’s what to do if you visit.
WHERE TO GO
There are many designated green spaces in the city for biking, running and walking, including downtown’s Bushnell Park (along Trinity Street, bushnellpark.org) — the oldest publicly funded park in the United States. Kids can take a ride on the carousel ($1; Saturdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.). For teeing off, Goodwin Park (1130 Maple Ave.) in south Hartford is home to a 27-hole golf course.
The Connecticut Science Center (closed Mondays, $23.95/adults, $21.95/seniors, $16.95/ages 3-17; 250 Columbus Blvd., 860-724-3623, ctsciencecenter.org) is a family-friendly destination with a 3-D theater, hands-on exhibits in areas such as space and fossils and a rooftop garden. The downtown museum offers prime, panoramic views of the Connecticut River, too.
If it’s shopping you crave, Hartford is filled with many shops, consignment shops and thrift stores. Head to Max & Lily’s Closet (262 Park Rd., 860-920-5270, maxandlilys.com) for clothing, toys and accessories for children and expectant mothers. Dig for one-of-a-kind finds at Clothes Horse (175 Park Rd., 860-233-1411, jlhartford.org/the-clothes-horse).
WHERE TO EAT
Firebox (539 Broad St., 860-246-1222, fireboxrestaurant.com) is an unlikely gem centered smack dab in a sleepy residential block — Broad Street, steps from downtown. The hipster vibe reveals itself inside a repurposed warehouse, where waitresses walk around in snazzy up-dos and fashionable gear. The food is hearty and tasty, from the beef cheek ragout pasta to small bites like Brussels sprouts and grilled octopus.
Max Downtown (185 Asylum St., 860-522-2530, maxrestaurantgroup.com/downtown) is your traditional white tablecloth, upscale spot, and one of the more fancy eateries in Hartford. However, the food is anything but pretentious, with the Maryland jumbo lump crabcake, seared jumbo scallops and sesame-crusted ahi tuna marking the spot for any seafood lover.
For some soulful tunes to go along with your breakfast, the semimonthly Sunday jazz brunch at the Wadsworth ($35/includes museum admission; 600 Main St., 860-278-2670, thewadsworth.org/events/music) provides an intimate dining experience with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Walk it off by exploring the museum afterward.
For cocktails, Little River Restoratives (405 Capitol Ave., 860-403-0340, lrrhartford.com/index.html.save) is a one-of-a-kind speakeasy-style bar. The interiors are just as impressive as the drinks, with a twist of quirky décor like faux taxidermy and crooked box fans on the ceiling.
WHERE TO STAY
The newly renovated Hartford Marriott Downtown (200 Columbus Ave., 860-249-8000, marriott. com) overlooks the tranquil Connecticut River. The 409-room upscale hotel is decked out with amenities such as a spa, fitness center and swimming pool. Get a caffeine fix at the Starbucks lounge.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Hartford Downtown (338 Asylum St., 860-524-0223, homewoodsuites3. hilton.com) is convenient for friends or families traveling together in groups. The spacious studio, one- and two-bedroom suites feature separate sleeping, living and dining areas, as well as a fully equipped kitchen.