A Need-To-Know Basis: The Basics

A reader writes:

My wife and I just bought a home in Westport. We will move there in September.

As a soon-to-be resident, reading “06880” has helped me get to know the town. For example, I already know that everyone on the railroad parking wait list will soon get a pass.

But what else should I know?

I’m looking for a quick crash course about the town. It could be anything from “avoid this road during these hours” to “this parking lot always has spaces” to “what do I need to know about Compo Beach.”

I realize you could write hundreds of tips. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Great idea!

You’re right. I could give hundreds (if not squintillions). Here are a few quick ones, in random order:

You need a ticket for the 4th of July fireworks at Compo Beach. (Which in Westport are never actually on the 4th. This year, they’re June 30th.) Westport PAL puts them on, with help from Melissa & Doug (the innovative toy company). Tickets are available at Parks & Rec headquarters (in Longshore, near the 1st tee) and police headquarters (Jesup Road). The $40/vehicle ticket supports a huge variety of PAL programs — so even if you watch the fireworks elsewhere, or don’t park at the beach, consider donating to PAL.

If everyone cooperates, getting into the beach for the fireworks goes smoothly.

Speaking of which: Unfortunately, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department website is the least user-friendly I’ve seen since dial-up modem days. From the non-intuitive way to sign up for hand passes (for tennis, golf, Longshore pool, etc.), beach emblems (we actually call them “stickers”) and boat launch permits — hint: click on “Memberships” — to the random, dizzying list of options in every category, on through all the clicks needed to jump from page to page and back again, it’s a cluster****.

The good news is: If you’re free when the office is open, head there yourself. (As noted above, it’s in Longshore, near the golf course 1st tee.) The employees are fantastic: knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and fun.

The bad news is: I can’t tell you when the office is open. It’s nowhere on the website — at least, nowhere I could find.

The Parks & Rec Department office, at Longshore. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Speaking of the beach: The best sunsets for miles around are at Compo’s South Beach. That’s the area from the cannons to the kayak launch. There’s often a convivial crowd — perhaps because that’s the only area on a Westport beach where alcohol is permitted. (No glass, please!)

South Beach is also where, on a beautiful evening, every grill might be taken. Tables are first-come, first-served. Despite that notice on every table, some people “reserve” them by leaving blankets, chairs, even coolers all around, then leaving the beach for the next few hours.

You are perfectly within your rights to take that table. However, I am not responsible for whatever happens next. I’m just sayin’….

This does not reserve you a South Beach table.

A few other tips: The town dump is called the “transfer station.” On the Sherwood Island Connector, it’s  where you toss household garbage, furniture, carpeting, lamps, televisions, electronics, batteries and similar items. Much of it is recycled. Workers there are very helpful and friendly. On Saturday mornings especially, it’s a great place to meet other Westporters.

The best shortcut in town that does not involve annoying other residents is the Merritt Parkway between Exits 41 and 42. You get from the YMCA/Wilton area to Coleytown/Weston without circling through Wilton Road, North Kings Highway and Main Street. Even when the Merritt traffic creeps along, it’s usually quicker.

The Imperial Avenue parking lot is underrated – not only for events at the Levitt Pavilion, but even for downtown. The pedestrian bridge connecting it to the Levitt and Library is easy and gorgeous — and the lot is nearly always empty.

Deadman Brook bridge, between the Levitt Pavilion and Imperial Avenue (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

You will see the Remarkable Bookcycle parked somewhere around town: the beach perhaps, or Bedford Square or the Westport Book Shop on Jesup Road. The concept is cool — take a book, give a book — but there’s a back story. It’s decorated with the “dancing man” logo of the Remarkable Book Shop, a beloved (and long-gone) Main Street institution. Fun fact: The Bookcycle is the brainchild of Jane Green. Yes, that Jane Green. The internationally known author is a fellow Westporter.

(Photo/Judith Shaw)

Those are just a few top-of-the-head ideas. I am sure every “06880” reader — at least, those who have been here more than 10 minutes — can add his or her own.

So, let’s do it. Click “Comments” below to pass along info that every newcomer needs to know. Along with this last one:

You don’t need to buy milk and eggs every time snow is predicted. But do pay attention to rain and wind advisories.

There’s not a lot that’s certain in Westport, but this much is: You will lose power.

Often.

Welcome to Westport!

31 responses to “A Need-To-Know Basis: The Basics

  1. Welcome! We have a wonderful Farmer’s Market at the commuter lot located at 50 Imperial Avenue on Thursdays through the fall. Then it moves indoors to Gilbertie’s Nursery on 7 Sylvan Lane on Saturdays. Hours for both are 10-2 pm. All products are from Connecticut farmers, bakers, and a great assortment of other vendors and food trucks. You can become a Friend of the Market for a nominal fee and you’ll get a cool shopping bag. See you there!

  2. Marjorie Almansi

    Dan, you’re hysterical! I will happily add that a trip to Coffee An on the weekends is a must for donuts and the general sense of community. If you want to know anything and everything, read 06880. Westport Front Porch on FB is also a good source of info.

  3. I remember in the mid 1950s, my father spent $2,000 dollars to buy a generator. My aunt and uncle, who lived next door, also bought one. It got a lot of use as I remember.

  4. Ilene Mirkine

    The two items we were thankful to get when arriving in Westport were a RR sticker and a beach locker. You’re fortunate that the RR list is moving at a better pace these days…not sure about the beach lockers, but if you have young kids it’s a good thing to sign up for.
    Also, get the Levitt Pavilion schedule on your radar – awesome outdoor venue!

  5. Janine Scotti

    I recommend really studying a map. For over 20 years I owned a house cleaning business in town called S.C.R.U.B.S. before GPS, my hagstrom map guided very trip! Thus I know every trick in the book to avoid this congested town. What a pleasure I feel seeing the beauty of this town. I can’t reveal my favorites, you will all have to do your own investigating. Have fun!

  6. Compo is a wonderful place to visit. Go early in the day (before 10) or after 3. Protect yourself with lots of sunscreen and bring an umbrella, but not too big an umbrella. Also, when you go to the beach, don’t leave your key fob on the floor in a bag. Strange things sometimes happen. https://06880danwoog.com/2021/07/12/grand-theft-auto-westport-edition/

  7. Janine Scotti

    Watch the Memorial Day Parade close to town hall! When the parade is done there is a very moving ceremony on Veteran’s Green in front of town hall. This is one of the most special events in town! Hat tip to Bill Vornkahl aka Mr. Parade!

  8. Heading north to the Merritt Parkway exit 42 in the morning, when school is out and evening, add an extra 10 minutes to get through the convoluted intersection just south of the entrance ramps. You’ll save yourself some aggravation and still get to where you need to be on time!

  9. Buy season tickets to Westport Country Playhouse…plus their “Script in Hand” performance. It is a must for true Westporters.

  10. Lisa Marriott

    After you settle in some places to add to your list to visit: Wakeman Town Farm (WTF and yes, they sell great logowear) is wonderful (and they have children and adult programs), MoCA Westport – our own art museum with wonderful exhibits and musical events, EarthPlace if you have children, I spent many hours there, the Westport Library is truly AMAZING in every way, Just over the boarder in Norwalk is the Maritime Museum (if you have children, a must especially in bad weather), make sure to check out the Westport Public Schools theater productions…the Staples Players are a must see, along with Coleytown Company and the Bedford Theater Group. Welcome and have fun exploring our most wonderful town!!!

  11. The Parks & Rec office is open Mon-Fri 8:30-4:30. (Hours are posted on the sign out front)

  12. You can compost at the Transfer Station as well! Get a kit from Earthplace. It’s very simple and a huge benefit to the town and our environment! Welcome!

    • Which leads into my suggestion… save a few bucks by taking your own garbage and recyclables to the transfer station, rather than paying for pick-up.

  13. Adrian J Little

    Be a patient driver. Stop signs mean stop, white lines in parking lots are to be parked between, not straddled, the one way arrows in the Bank of America parking lot indicate direction of travel, the left turn lane from the Post Road to route 33 is just that, left turn only not force your way into the straight ahead lane, the line outside Starbucks is real, parking and walking 5 minutes will not kill you so double stacked on Main Street waiting for a parking space is not necessary.

    Manhattan levels of horn blowing and obnoxiousness is not what our town is about – relax and enjoy the river views or the beautiful plantings and houses and welcome.

  14. Enjoy two of the longest-established food spots in town: Calise’s Market on the Post Road (these days more of a Deli than a food market), and Carvel, also on the Post Road — enjoy a sundae or a “brown bonnet” cone just like when you were a kid!

  15. Bobbi Essagof

    Welcome. After 33 years here I suggest that you drive, walk, cycle anywhere and everywhere. There will always be a street, lane, rd, circle, etc. you have never found and that’s the best way to figure out the short cuts (as in get off the Post Rd.). Of course, talk to your neighbors and everyone else. They will all have their own tips and usually happy to share. It’s a great town especially if you religiously read 06880 so you will always know what is going on around town. Enjoy

  16. Richard Johnson

    Old Mill Beach, the walkway over to Compo Mill Cove, and the surrounding areas are hidden gems of Westport – beautiful views, quieter than Compo, enjoyable year round. If you have kids or a dog (in the off season), heading to either beach at extra-low tides allow you to walk on sandbars further out than you’d imagine. And about dogs and the beach – they’re *technically* not banned from the tiny strip of beach located off a right-of-way next to Compo Point, even during high season.

    Alcohol may only be allowed on South Beach, but no one’s checking your cup on the main beach, and you’ll find it’s about 200% less rocky, with no need to fight for barbecue rights. Head further down Soundview if you want more space and fewer kids. A paddleboard or small sailboat is a great way to enjoy the water if you’re not a beach person, and you can rent either at Longshore.

    Two old-time Westport establishments – Black Duck and Viva Zapata – are a nice break when you want a relaxing drink in unpretentious environs. And the best pizza in town is at Parker Pizza. You can make this a walking tour, given they’re all a stones throw away. For fancier fare, we’ve more than got you covered – The Whelk, Kawa Ni, Don Memo, La Plage, Oko, and so, so many more. The best lunch spot in town is Kneads, where you get Blue Hill Stone Barns-trained chefs making cuisine with local ingredients and milling their own flour for bakery products. Makes the $16 BLT seem underpriced.

  17. Luisa Francoeur

    The composting drop-off at the transfer station accepts food scraps which are easily collected in the kit (mentioned earlier) available for purchase at Earthplace. The transfer station also has a dedicated glass recycling container which avoids contamination and broken glass in the single stream. It is easy to do both. As to traffic, when I-95 gets backed up, cars flood on to our local streets especially Route 1/Post Rd and strategic route planning is helpful.

  18. Check out all the wonderful local preserves managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust. Lots of kid-walkable, short trails (the Schine Arboretum even has a natural playground), and a whole lot quieter than Compo!

  19. Andrew Braskamp

    Watch out for bicyclists as the normal rules of the road do not apply to them. Don’t be alarmed if someone takes up two or more parking spaces, they’ll be back in an hour or two,

  20. Tricia Freeman

    If you have a dog, be VERY careful at Winslow Park. It’s considered to be Westport’s “dog park” so people get lulled into a sense of safety, but it is not fully fenced in and it borders two busy streets, and multiple dogs get killed there every year. Efforts are in place to fence in the gaps but until then, be very careful.

  21. The Westport Rotary hold their meetings at noon on Tuesday at the newly renovated Greens Farms Church. It’s a great group of people and we have terrific speakers.

    We also put on one of the town’s best parties – Lobsterfest!! This year it’s on Saturday, September 17th. Tix can be purchased online starting in August at Westport rotary.org. Not to be missed and we sell out every year!

  22. In no particular order:

    After you have unpacked your first box you may now start complaining about how the town has changed since you moved in, for the worse of course.

    I can also highly Calise’s, I have been going there since I was a child, and am never sad about it. I can also recommend Westport Hardware. Like a good old small town hardware store where the staff actually knows where stuff is located. I would also point you to Cooper’s Auto Parts. It is cramped, chaotic in a well worn sort of way. But if you need something a little less common, Sandy is your man. “Left handed Smoke Bender?” “Sure, do you need that in metric or imperial units?”

    For the love of God and all that is holy, DO NOT try to turn left from Route 33 onto the Post Road at the intersection of Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road/Post Road West. You will block traffic, you will annoy everyone. This action must only be done in the most dire of circumstances, like you are delivering a heart for a transplant. Even then, only at 3 a.m., after the zombie apocalypse. Avoid North Avenue when school is starting for the day. Even before the pandemic, the line of traffic was very long. When school is getting out is not great either, but usually not quite as bad. Beware of the location of the Starbucks on the Post Road with the drive through window. Not so you can get coffee there, but the line of traffic will be spilling out the Post Road. It is customary when coming south on Weston Road near the intersection with Main Street to leave a space so the people turning North on Weston Road from Main Street can get by. You will see what I mean. Even if you are not going to the fireworks, avoid the area below Greens Farms Road on that night. As a side note, it is “Green’s Farms” or “Greens Farms”. The first is technically correct, the second is probably more common.

    You were probably told that your new house is in the desirable X neighborhood. Most of those names were made up by realtors and mean nothing to most people

    The Staples Players production really are that good. You should check at least one out. I know people say the local high school does a good job, but these really are good. If you want to get tickets for the Candlelight Concert (the annual holiday concert), get in early, they go fast. The Westport Country Playhouse is also very good.

    If you like the wild spaces, check out the Aspetuck Land Trust. They maintain many open spaces in and around Westport. Some large, some small. Parking at the site is there, but can be hard to find.

    Welcome, and Good luck!

    • So many of these commenters nailed it. Great insights! And Jacques definitely knows what he’s talking about. He is an (at least) 10th generation Westporter.

  23. Chris Corridon

    If there was only one piece of advice I could give it would be to, whenever humanly possible, allow an extra 10-15 minutes more than you think you need for everything you need to do…not being in a rush when everyone around you is, is the ultimate superpower…and it gives you the time you need to deal with the travails of daily life with a semblance of equanimity…finding the soccer field your child is playing on (after a thousand games, I still have to consult the field map at Wakeman), tying your kid’s cleats before warm-ups, or worse when you have to turnaround to get their forgotten shin pads at home), the wait for extra long red light at the intersection (there are a few), the Sunday driver who pulls out in front of you and is inevitably going exactly where you are headed, etc., etc.
    You will no doubt miss NYC pizza, but Ignazio’s, Rizzutto’s, Julian’s even Tarry Lodge hold their own.
    Same for bagels, but there is an emerging artisanal bagel scene here with Sugar & Olive, Pop-Up Bagels (mailing list) as well as old school…Bagel King in Norwalk. Great bread at Wave Hill Bakery also in Norwalk.
    Commit to engaging with LI Sound, even if you are not an ocean swimmer or boater, kayaking/paddle boarding/sailing (rentals at Long Shore) allow you to explore the coastline and introduce your children to the natural world and build life skills beyond a screen.
    Camps at Westport YMCA and Long Shore are inexpensive and a great way to get your kids outside in the summer (if you don’t do the sleep away thing) and meet other families. Great places as well for children’s swim/tennis/golf/sailing lessons.
    Scenic bicycle rides on Beachside Avenue, Long Lots Road, Redding Road, Imperial Avenue and Compo Road.
    Saugatuck Rowing Club has a great fitness center, cafe restaurant in addition to world-class rowing.
    La Plage is the restaurant at Longshore and worth a visit for waterside cocktails or dinner.
    The Hunt Club has equestrian facilities and a full-scale country club.
    For golf you have Birchwood, Aspetuck, Shorehaven (Norwalk), Patterson (Fairfield), Rolling Hills (Wilton) among others, though Longshore is hard to beat for the price, convenience, scenery and is usually in great condition…
    Southport is a hidden gem, travel up Beachside Avenue to get there and rubberneck at the mansions if this isn’t where you bought your house). SoNo Bakery there has world-class croissants, their is an Equinox (with a parking situation at peak hours that will make you wish you walked) and a great hotel/restaurant called Delamar/Artisan for a night out.
    Same can be said for Rowayton, between Norwalk and Darien; Rowayton Market, Sails Restaurant and Rowayton Seafood are all great, you can take route 136 all the way there.
    And there is also BlackRock in Bridgeport. Try Harbor View market for breakfast in nice weather.
    Halloween trick or treating hotspots are Soundview Ave by the beach and Gault neighborhood…Silverman’s farm in Easton for pumpkin picking and cinnamon donuts/cider
    Stew Leonard’s for Christmas trees and a unique and kid-friendly shopping experience year-round (go early)…
    Knot Norm’s in Norwalk for catering or for a quality, creative, casual meal
    Gaetano’s (Italian), Gold’s (Jewish), Gruel Britannia (British), Harbor Harvest for your deli/market experience.
    You’ll have to travel for barbecue…Avellino’s in Norwalk or Hoodoo Brown (Ridgefield) and Wire Mill (Redding)
    New Canaan has an excellent, walkable and local merchant-oriented downtown area if you want a change of scenery…they also have Waveny Park for getting outdoors.
    Westport is a great place, but you will inevitably need to leave for various reasons. The Post Road, I-95 and Merritt Parkway are the primary conveyances to hither and yon. The majority of traffic flows west toward NYC in the morning and east toward New Haven in the evening. Overflow, clogging local streets happens daily and can occur at almost any hour, fender benders bring local traffic to a standstill almost weekly, fatal accidents are another matter and altogether too frequent. For morning trips, opt for the Fairfield direction if possible and evening (in theory as exit 15 can be a 24-hour problem) in the direction of Norwalk, examples include Verizon Store, Home Depot, Whole Foods who each have a location in either town…
    If you use the Westport train station, the approach from Bridge Street and Greens Farms Road regularly backs up in the morning from 8am and can cause you to miss the train. Avoiding Saugatuck at rush hour is always recommended.
    Speaking of trains, don’t believe your realtor :), the journey to NYC averages 90 minutes each way by the time you factor in the usual MN delays and two hours with trip to/from train, parking, et al.
    As many things as have been listed, there are countless others to discover yourself.

  24. Amy Pietrasanta

    These comments are both highly accurate and very funny!

    I would just add since we’re venturing into other towns that you should also try Rise Doughnuts, recently opened in Wilton — YUM! 😛

  25. Isabelle Breen

    Jacques Voris, funny and true!
    No one has mentioned Slice of Saugatuck – a food & music festival down by the river.
    I second: Levitt Pavilion, Westport Library, Westport Hardware, Farmer’s Market, Compo’s South Beach, Westport Playhouse, Staples Players (they are that good) and all the wonderful fund raisers that happen (Lobsterfest, Garden Tours, just had the Yankee Doodle Fair, etc).My vote for Brooklyn style pizza, try Sammy’s in Southport. Finally, there’s The Black Duck (our hometown dive bar) and(for something different Monger’s market in Bridgeport; an indoor flea market.
    Just one thing we ask of you, don’t park like a jerk, otherwise a photo of your behavior will end up on this blog. Otherwise, Welcome to Westport!

  26. Dan, this should be converted into a FAQ page. Great job, all!

  27. I thought this list of hot tips was just amazing. I grew up in Westport in the 40s and early 50s, but haven’t really driven around town in 40 years. Lots of memories in the places people mentioned. It *does* sound as though traffic is a lot bigger problem than it was back in the mid-20th century, but that’s true everywhere, I guess. Great reading; thanks, all.

  28. I agree with many of the comments above. Some further suggestions:
    —for a peaceful spot that seems so far away from everything: pull over on the side of Ford Road and listen to the water rushing over the rocks. Also, to enjoy the area’s beauty here in Westport or on a short drive out of town: Sherwood Island in the off season; the drive to Aspetuck Orchard (and go during pumpkin season—the scene outside is straight out of a Rockwell painting or, perhaps more appropriately, a Dohanos painting; the drive around the reservoir via Valley Forge Road.
    —for having your car checked out: Vautrin (near Stop & Shop)
    —if you ever need a cardiologist: Dr. Boris Sheynberg. One of my former neighbors said he identified a medical problem and probably saved his life. He’s done well by me too.
    —for waterside dining and a delicious meal: Rive Bistro. For superb food in general: MatchBurgerLobster. For a new bakery/cafe that gets two thumbs up: Mrs. London’s. (And the babka at Gold’s is always worth a trip.)
    —re pizza: I don’t eat traditional pizzas due to an allergy to cheese but friends of mine going back to college days rave about the pizzas in the Wooster Square area of New Haven and claim they are the best pizzas anywhere, period.
    —finally, if you enjoy the Beautiful Game: The Hill at Staples—particularly in late fall—is one of the prettiest futbol venues you will ever experience (and the quality of the soccer has a long tradition there). But, hey, I’m admittedly biased.

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