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New Haven, The Perfect Small City

- Justine

New Haven

Growing up twelve miles west of New York City meant that I never really considered other cities “real” ones. My definition of city included skyscrapers that lit up the appropriate colors on certain holidays, a population in the millions, and well, a 28,000-acre park in the middle. Of course, I came to know other cities as having their own unique flavors, from San Francisco’s hills and cable cars to Chicago’s wide and windy boulevards. Still, no city ever felt quite as magnificent as New York.

I moved to New Haven, Connecticut two years ago, and at first I had a hard time not comparing it to New York. However, living in a city, as opposed to spending a lot of time in one, gives you a way different perspective. You see what goes on when there are no festivals or big special events happening. You can spend your free time exploring the nooks and crannies that nobody raves or writes about. Best of all, you can get to know the people from different neighborhoods and talk to them about what they love about where they live.

What I love most about New Haven, and what makes it cooler than New York, is that it’s big enough that there is always something to do and small enough that you don’t feel anonymous—there are many communities you can be a part of, and all of them are invested in improving their city. In no other place have I found so many grassroots organizations and neighborhood events. So, even if you’re only visiting, I highly recommend looking around, talking to locals, and taking their suggestions for performances to see, places to eat, and parks to stroll in. Below are some of my personal favorite places to go:

Book Trader Café. This downtown bookstore and eatery has literary sandwiches (the Tempesto, the Jane Rare), a wonderful selection of new and used books, and delicious vegan and non-vegan desserts.
Wooster Square. This is sort of the Italian neighborhood of New Haven, with two revered thin-crust pizzerias (Sally’s and Pepe’s). What I like even better, though, is to go there for the Saturday farmer’s market. The market has bakeries, lots of organic farms, live music, and sometimes the Cheese Truck (a grilled-cheese-specializing food truck from New Haven’s beloved restaurant, Caseus). I like to grab lunch from the farmer’s market, some coffee from nearby Fuel Café (the best coffee in New Haven), and eat in the delightful Wooster Square Park.
Artspace. A downtown gallery featuring up-and-coming, local, and contemporary art. You never know what you’re gonna find there. Once I went to a screening there of a sort-of documentary this guy made about his maybe-platonic maybe-romantic relationship with this woman, and he interviews her in the documentary about how she feels about the fact that he made a documentary about their relationship. See? Cool place.
The Quinnipiac River. New Haven is where the Mill, West, and Quinnipiac Rivers come together and empty into the Long Island Sound. My favorite view of the Quinnipiac is strolling along Quinnipiac River Park on Front St. and maybe ending up eating lunch at the Boat House Café (delicious veggie burgers!).
Lighthouse Point. An easy bus ride from downtown, Lighthouse Point Park is one of the most beautiful of New Haven’s parks. Hang out on the beach, go on the carousel, do some yoga. Also a great reading spot.
Farmington Canal Trail. One of my favorite things about New Haven is how bikeable it is. The Farmington Canal Trail is a paved bike path that starts downtown and goes all the way up to Massachusetts. I recommend going ten miles up and then veering off to Sleeping Giant State Park. There you can do some seriously beautiful hiking.
Phoenix Press Garden & Criscuolo Park. There’s an urban farm right at the base of the big Phoenix Press Windmill, which powers a printing press. It’s an awesome sight to see rows of tomatoes, zucchini, kale, and salad greens growing mere yards from an ocean sound. Criscuolo Park, across the street, has the same lovely view of the sound. At the end of each day, the park comes alive with people relaxing after work, playing pick-up baseball, listening to music, and eating dinner from tasty food carts.

Those are just a handful of ways to enjoy New Haven. If you’re ever in the neighborhood of the lovely Elm City, come take advantage of its restaurants, food carts, community gardens, cafés, parks, and rivers. You won’t regret it.

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