WHY GO: Situated at the mouth of the Connecticut River where it meets Long Island Sound, Old Saybrook CT has drawn vacationers and celebrities for 150 years. Wavery-voiced actress, Katharine Hepburn lived in the Fenwick neighborhood until her death in 2003.
Out on “the point,” The Saybrook Point Inn and Spa also encompasses Tall Tales, next door to Three Stories. Both are “Boutique Inns,” and serve as alternative to the hotel’s already luxurious accommodations.
Learn about Saybrook Point’s earlier incarnation as Terra Mar, frequented by Hollywood luminaries and gangsters, and some cherished African American history, on this surprisingly down-to-earth but high-class Connecticut coastal Getaway.
Things to Do in Old Saybrook CT
DO: Drive Around Fenwick
Kate was Annie Hall without the neurosis. She wore pants! She was beautiful, witty, and a clever verbal sparring partner with each of her leading men.
Katharine Hepburn, the legendary actress, was hero and role model for women who were not afraid to be smart. And she lived right here, in Old Saybrook, as she couldn’t stand the fake, striving, Hollywood scene.
Kate came by her strong feminist views honestly. Her mother, also named Katharine Houghton Hepburn, was influential in the Women’s Suffrage movement. (The Sr. Kate co-founded the American Birth Control League with Margaret Sanger in the 1930’s).
The Hepburn’s lived in Hartford CT, but had a summer home in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook. That home was washed away during the Hurricane of 1938. So Kate rebuilt a larger house on the same site. She lived here until her death at age 96.
Known in town as down to earth (she did her own grocery shopping), no-nonsense and fiercely independent, Kate was beloved by the community. In her honor, the people of Old Saybrook named the renovated Arts Center after her.
BIKE: “The Loop”
This ten-mile loop on Route 154 crosses causeway bridges, affords dead-on views of two lighthouses (Lynde Point and Saybrook Point Lighthouses) and traverses reed- framed coves and waterfront neighborhoods.Peddling during sunrise or sunset is particularly beguiling.
The Kate hosts dance, theater, opera and film events in a cozy 250 seat auditorium. Even if you don’t see a show, feel free to pop in.
LOCAL NOTABLE: Anna James/James Pharmacy
Kate Hepburn was not the only strong, notable woman in this little Connecticut Shore town. What is now a new boutique B&B and Gelato Shop was once the 1790 General Store for the Humphrey Pratt Tavern. (In 1824, a historical marker proclaims, the Marquis de Lafayette “made a purchase” here.)
In the early 1900’s the store was a Pharmacy/Soda Fountain, run by Anna James. James, the daughter of an escaped slave, was the first African-American woman to become a pharmacist in Connecticut.
In fact, James was the only woman in her class at Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, Class of 1908. She took over her sister and brother-in-law’s drugstore in 1922, and retired in 1967 at the age of 81.
Old Saybrook has always had a mostly white population. But in the mid 1900’s, Anna, known affectionately as “Miss James, was considered the “confidant and conscience” of the community.
Owners of the inn have preserved the charming wood apothecary drawers and the pharmacy’s original 1896 Soda Fountain with Vermont Granite counter.
For a time, James employed her sister’s daughter, Ann Petry, who obtained her Pharmacist license before finding fame and fortune as a novelist.
Petry’s classic American novel, The Street (1946), was the first book written by an African American author to sell over a million copies. Its theme, about a young hardworking black mother struggling to raise her child in 1940’s Harlem, still resonates today.
Excellent massage therapists know how to work the kinks out of even the most tense, stressed out bodies at SANNO, Saybrook Point Inn’s in-house full service spa.
Though signature treatments are splurgy delights, Sanno’s staff excel in the standard 50-minute Swedish Massage which leaves skin baby soft and muscles supple.
If you stick around for another treatment, go for the 80-minute “Ocean Memory”($169) – which incorporates a “marine based oil massage” with tingling algae mouse moisturizer. Or opt for The Signature “Kate” (80 minutes, $159). This treatment embraces Hepburn’s love of roses, with a body scrub, rinse and head to toe moisturizer.
SHOP: Harbor Books
A vanishing breed, independent bookstores should be supported and cherished. So, while meandering up and down Old Saybrook Main Street – or after a matinee at The Kate, be sure to peruse the stacks at Harbor Books. It’s small, but contains a great selection of both old and new books.
BOATERS: Saybrook Point Marina
Transient boaters are not only welcome here – they are coddled. Those arriving by sea can use many of the Inn and Spa facilities (including the fitness center, jacuzzi, pools), fuel up, and join the throngs of happy people at the new outdoor Marina Bar.
Find the marina via two landmarks. The first, a larger Lynde Point Lighthouse then the much smaller Lighthouse Suite atop Saybrook Point Marina Inn’s dock master’s office. The 125 slips can accommodate boats 25-225 feet in length.
Restaurants in Old Saybrook CT
EAT/FINE: Fresh Salt @ Saybrook Point Inn
Formerly Terra Mar Restaurant, Saybrook Point Inn’s in-house restaurant is now the clubby Fresh Salt. A bank of windows overlooks the marina. Prints of sailing ships line dark wood walls. An illuminated salt-water fish tank adds color pop. And the wood-burning fireplace offers cozy warmth in winter.
EAT/FINE: Liv’s Oyster Bar
Liv’s Oyster Bar, in an old repurposed movie theater, is known for its Raw Bar. (The display of chilled oysters is situated where the concession stand used to be). A favorite local dining spot, you can also find a range of surf and turf items on the menu.
EAT/CASUAL: The Monkey Farm
The Monkey Farm, formerly an 1800’s stage road inn, was purchased by Harry Corning in 1968 as the SayBrook Inn. In 1978 Corning renamed it, The Monkey Farm. There were never any live monkeys here, as some rumors have it.
The place, now a burger and salad spot, got its name for either various sports teams, or for the reputation of one of the owners who would toss the keys to a patron whenever he took off for Vegas, leading one to comment, “They’ll let anyone work here. This place is nothing but a monkey farm.”
Monkeys or not, this roadhouse has been an Old Saybrook icon for decades. The kitchen was renovated in 2006 and currently, Harry’s three kids are in charge.
Hotels in Old Saybrook CT
The Saybrook Point Inn and Spa, perched on a Long Island Sound peninsula, encompasses a “green” marina, an outdoor heated pool (hot and steaming in the snow-cold days of winter), a large indoor pool, and an excellent Spa. In house restaurant, Fresh Salt, affords dazzling panoramas. The community Fitness Center is a true perk for guests.
Across the street, two grand Victorian homes were transformed into “boutique inns:” Tall Tales, and Three Stories Guesthouse.
In addition, all the buildings are “green.” Each property recycles its rainwater – which funnels from gutter to cistern – to water plants. Each room is equipped with infrared thermostats that determine if you are there or not (and if not, turns down the heat or ups the AC accordingly).
And year round outdoor and indoor pools are heated with co-generation energy (utilizing a diesel engine). To say that The Saybrook Point Inn and Spa is on the forefront of environmental hospitality is an understatement.
The Saybrook Point Inn is quite an about face from the hotel that stood on this site in the 1960’s and 70’s. Due to its striking location at the mouth of the Connecticut River, Saybrook Point has been luring tourists since the late 1870’s: First as The Pease House and then Rat Pack favorite, Terra Mar.
Had Terra Mar survived, it would have been an ideal location for an episode of Mad Men. Fifties Modern, three large outdoor pools, a big-yacht marina – Terra Mar was favored by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jane Mansfield, Ted Kennedy, and Tom Jones.
In summer, Terra Mar was Las Vegas meets Miami Beach, attracting gambling, gangsters and finally, The Law, which cracked down on illegal activities and effectively put Terra Mar out of business. (Apparently, what happened in Old Saybrook didn’t stay in Old Saybrook).
Now, in contrast to the Terra Mar, the lobby of Saybrook Point Inn’s canary yellow main building is cozy, and thick with antiques. A bank of French doors open onto an outdoor deck.
In warmer weather, this deck vibrates with wedding parties, corporate groups and anyone who enjoys a good meal overlooking a collection of sleek yachts.
Boutique Lodgings at Saybrook Point Inn
The three-story (get it? Three Stories?) 1892 Italianate home of railroad engineer, William Vars, is now a luxury “Boutique Inn.” Choose from eight renovated rooms – each one elegant and luxurious in its own way.
Several, like the Katharine Hepburn Suite, offer seaside balconies from which, even in the freezing days of winter, you’ll find magnificent sunrise and sunset views.
Each suite is named after a local notable: Kate Hepburn, of course, but also Anna James, William Vars, and Saybrook Point owners Mary Tagliatela and her son, Steven.
Three Stories Guesthouse Common Areas
Three Stories’ main floor is inviting and warm, with long dining table, an electric fireplace and plenty of room to do puzzles or sit and talk.
Downstairs, the billiards room and large flat screen TV is popular with family or friends reunions.
The Hepburn Suite’s massive bathroom features black and white basket-weave mosaic floor, large multi-head glass shower and just the faintest whisper of lilac paint above white wainscoting.
A high four-poster bed faces an electric fireplace and a sitting area with plenty of plush seating. I loved the selection of Kate Hepburn photography books on several shelves, and discovered that she would have much preferred sitting on the floor!
Three Stories has a room for every taste – including William Vars Room – the former owner’s bedroom. Designed in blues and masculine accoutrements, it’s perfect for a guy who wishes to avoid pink, chintz, or any stereotypical B&B décor at all costs.
My personal favorite is the Anna James Room. This suite with two Queen beds is best for a girlfriend getaway. Three Stories has two such rooms – both stunning.
With a French Country Contemporary decor, the 6-room Tall Tales is slightly more casual than Three Stories next door. But it’s equally eye-catching and eminently lovely and dreamy when it comes to bed comfort.
Like its sister property, Tall Tales features different rooms for different tastes. There’s one with bold red walls, others dressed in pastels, and one with two queen sized beds perfect for a friend getaway.
Tall Tales Guesthouse Rooms and Common Areas
The delightful decor of all rooms and common areas throughout the hotel complex comes from the creative mind of interior designer, Lisa Silver, who sources one of a kind furniture and accessories from “all over.”
Arguably, the most striking piece is a three-tier lamp that hangs over the parlor dining table, crocheted with tiny creme-colored wampum. I wasn’t the first guest who wanted to take it home.
Like Three Stories, this building has a billiard table for all to use. In this case, it’s on the second floor in the common area between two guest rooms. Coffee and tea is available 24/7. And, in the morning, staff delivers homemade pastries to the guesthouses.
Of course, you could always walk across the street for a full breakfast at Fresh Salt. But on nasty days, who’d want to.
Health and Wellness At Saybrook Point Inn
Health Club/Fitness Center
Saybrook Point Inn’s fitness room is much larger than most. That’s because it’s also a fitness center and health club for the community at large. So, feel free to “crash” a class – Aqua, Tai-Chi, Zumba, Spin, Pilates or Yoga – for just $19 per session. Rooms start at $225 off-season – in guesthouses that includes coffee and tea 24/7, morning pastries, wi-fi, parking.