Savin Rock, West Haven

Rock and Roll

A warm, persistent wind frothed up whitecaps on Long Island Sound one hot August afternoon. It wasn’t a great day for a swim, but it was a great day for a walk along the beach, and there’s no better place for a local beach stroll than West Haven, where a paved boardwalk, running from a condominium complex at one end to Bradley Point Park at the other, travels about 1.7 miles of the city’s sandy coastline.

Diversions abound: Walk out to the end of one of several piers and watch the big ships on the horizon. Park your lawn chair in the shade of a locust tree and read a book. Wander and read the memorials at Bradley Point Park’s Veterans Walk of Honor. Amble out on the point itself and climb down the boulders to the tide pools or sit on one of the many benches and watch egrets bathe among the sea grass. Take the kids to one of the playgrounds. Watch the old-timers play bocce (sorry, West Haven residents only). Shoot photos in a seaside gazebo lush with trumpet vines. Visit Savin Rock Museum, packed with memorabilia from the amusement park that dominated this coastline from the 1870s to the 1960s. Scarf down some traditional beach fare at local institutions Jimmie’s or Turk’s.

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On a weekday afternoon, there was plenty of space to enjoy it all without the crush of crowds. A lone parasailer struggled to rig his craft on the beach while, a short distance away, a bare-chested little boy chased the seagulls, arms waving, path looping. Farther up the boardwalk, several women walked alone or in pairs. Just off the coast, waves splashed against the shoals. Even at high tide, the ragged black tops of old wooden pilings were keeping their heads above water.

I paused at a massive, overgrown rock formation where a plaque reads, “On July 5, 1779 during the American Revolution Brigadier General Garth, with his First Division landed with 1,000 British soldiers and marched up Savin Avenue to the Green.” The major road through town, Campbell Avenue, is named for one of those soldiers, who the West Haven Historical Society notes “is believed to be the only foreign soldier buried on American soil with honors.” Wikipedia reports that the sentry with a spyglass who appears on the city’s seal represents a real militiaman who watched for British ships from atop this formation.

West Haven’s waterfront is actually a three and a half-mile stretch of different but connected public beaches, including Dawson, Seabluff, Bradley Point, Oak Street, Altschuler and Morse. Past Morse Park to the east, a sandy 60-acre spit of beach and marshland directly across the harbor from Fort Nathan Hale is home to the Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary, but I didn’t venture that far. The walk out and back from my parking spot at Bradley Point was far enough, and a storm was brewing.

However, I did stop in at the new Savin Rock Surf Shop, where West Haven native Kevin Darcey was excited to show me around and talk about all the ways he hopes to get visitors and residents alike out on the boardwalk and beaches and into the water. The shop rents paddle boards ($25/hour), single kayaks ($20/hour), beach cruiser bikes ($10/hour) and an assortment of beach gear including chairs, umbrellas, canopies and hammocks ($5 to $50/day). Darcey says the water is “nice and smooth” for paddleboarding and kayaking in West Haven’s protected harbor, and bonus: no sharks!

The waterfront is without a doubt a lovely spot to reach the water and face that long, flat horizon, or even to paddle out into the sound. But despite the presence of lifeguard stands up and down the shore, there’s some debate as to whether you should actually swim here. According to Save the Sound’s Sound Health Explorer, which offers bacterial pollution data on the waters lapping Connecticut’s beaches, most of West Haven’s get a less-than-stellar report card for swimming safety. Still, Darcey says he’s been hanging out on the beaches for the last three decades and it’s getting “better every year.”

In the end, you don’t have to dip a toe in the water to enjoy West Haven’s sea breezes and shell-strewn sand. I would have liked to have stayed much longer. Instead, from the far end of the boardwalk, I raced the storm. The outline of clouds directly above nearly mirrored the shape of the shoreline, with curtains of gray shifting to the north. Thunder boomed like artillery through the moist air, a reminder of scarier days on this coast that has seen so much.

West Haven beaches
Along Beach St, Captain Thomas Blvd & Ocean Ave, West Haven
Open daily 6am-10:30pm
Parking for non-residents: $1.50/hour
West Haven Parks & Rec contact: (203) 937-3651 |

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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