“Explore Fairfield County” is an informational series that provides a glimpse into the wonderful towns and cities in Fairfield County. Fairfield County is diverse in that it includes big cities, small suburbs, beaches, farms, and busy highways. It covers a large geographic area and, because of this, it has a lot to offer families! To help you get the most out of Fairfield County, our contributors have shared the top 10 things they love about each local area. To read more in this series click here.
The historic town of Bethel lies 70 miles north of New York City in the northern part of Fairfield County. It is close enough for many to travel into New York City or lower Fairfield County for work but remains the quintessential small New England hamlet that people around the country picture when they think of New England. It doesn’t hurt that the town was settled in 1700 and many buildings in the downtown area are part of a designated historic district.
With a population of approximately 19,000 there is just one public school system with two elementary (K-3), a 4-5 grade, middle (6-8), and one high school – all located in one large educational park. There is also a K-8 program at the local St Mary’s church. Bethel may be the most famous for being the birthplace of P.T Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. A statue in his honor resides beside the library, and the center of town is named P.T. Barnum Square.
This coffee /ice cream hangout has made quite a name for itself in its brief two years of business. Described as “ Dessert Insanity” by CT Bites and featured in CT Magazine, people from all over the state have been rushing here to try one of their freak shakes – monstrous ice cream conglomerations that seriously redefine milkshakes. During the summer, lines were out the door almost every night. If you’re looking for something with less sugar, their variety of crepes are to die for, with the crepe batter made from scratch each morning.
2. Byrd’s Books
In a time when Amazon and Google are closing the neighborhood bookstores, Byrd’s Books is a diamond in the ruff. This independent bookstore has grown from a small space over a local coffee shop to its own location on the main strip – Greenwood Avenue. Byrd’s always has the latest releases and their helpful staff will not only help you to find everything you want and/or need (and everything you didn’t know you wanted or needed), but they will order you anything they don’t have on hand and get it delivered as soon as possible. They also have a weekly story time and host a “Where’s Waldo” scavenger hunt around town every summer. As a side note, Bethel has a slew of used bookstores, too.
This small art-house theater shows many of the independent foreign and American films you won’t find elsewhere. One of the major perks of this theater is in the refreshment stand – popcorn with real butter and fresh baked goods! Plus, what other theater can you watch a movie eating gelato and flavored coffee? When those Oscar-nominated films don’t show up at AMC Theater, The Bethel Cinema always has them.
Who doesn’t love picking their own apples or eating homemade cider donuts every fall? We are so lucky to have this local orchard and store (also the place to pick your own pumpkins). Inside you can purchase their goodies (extra bonus points if you can get there when they come right out of the oven), as well as jarred varieties of jams, jellies, sauces, and other baked goods from local businesses. And don’t forget to pre-order your holiday pies before they close the shop for the season!
5. Trick Or Treat Street
The annual Halloween event just keeps growing. Local organizations set up tables on the municipal center lawn to give out information and toss out candy to the costumed kids. Often there are bounce houses, a DJ, and other forms of entertainment. Almost all of the businesses on Greenwood Avenue opposite the municipal center open their doors to hand out candy and offer deals within their stores too. It’s a fabulous event for the kids, and a great way to support our local businesses.
6. Food Truck Friday
This summer event started a few years ago as just a few food trucks, a handful of people, and even fewer picnic tables. This year’s events, occurring twice a month from June-August, had wall-to-wall people and about a dozen food trucks, including CT’s well-known Green Grunion – run by a Bethelite! Each event had food truck lines that had over an hour wait with live bands. There are already talks of expanding for the 2018 season.
7. Molten Java
This is yet another thriving independent business in Bethel. Molten Java is an artsy coffee shop decorated with local art, funky decorations, odds and ends, and even a game board collection. Serving Fair Trade coffee, lite foods, teas, and hot chocolates, this is a great meeting place for businesses or coffee with a friend.
Named Bethel’s business of the year 2017, the Giggling Pig has triumphed this year. After the building of their original location, one of Bethel’s oldest buildings, caught fire this spring, leaving them with almost nothing, they were up and running in a second location within 24 hours. They offer art lessons for kids of all ages, open studio hours, and host unforgettable birthday parties and holiday events throughout the year. All of the ladies that work there are super talented artists and teachers.
9. The Sycamore
The Sycamore has been serving up food since 1948. This 50’s-style diner offers up a great menu from burgers to their homemade root beer. It is, by far, our favorite breakfast place. Park directly out front and flip on your lights, and you’ll get some old-fashioned curb service. In the summer, The Sycamore hosts car shows on the weekends. If you’re looking for a ’57 Chevy, this is the place for you to be.
The Danbury Animal Welfare Society is actually located in Bethel and is such a spectacular organization, that it had to make my list. For over 40 years, they have been sheltering homeless dogs and cats, offering them a better chance at life. The animals they hold are so very cared for and loved until they find their forever homes. Their adoption fees are very reasonable, and worth looking into if you are looking to adopt a furry friend.
Have you visited Bethel? Do you live here? What do you love about it?
Be sure to read all the posts in our Explore Fairfield County Series by clicking here.