A road trip in New England will take you past beautiful beaches, historic old towns and a number of State Capitols, driving on Interstate I-95, one of the US’s oldest interstate highways. During a road trip in New England you will learn about the history of the US, visiting centuries old towns dotted along highways off the beaten path. An autumn road trip will also allow you the opportunity to go on a bit of “leaf peeping“, discovering the beautiful scenery these states have to offer.
You can do this scenic road trip any time of the year but the best season is undoubtedly the fall, when the leaves start to turn a myriad of colours. From September onward, the roads are lined with golden and orange coloured trees and locals and tourists alike flock outdoors to immerse in some of the most breathtaking views in the Northeast.
My first trip to this region was in mid-October, arriving in Boston in the fall where I hired a car for a week and drove all the way to New York. By then the trees had sufficiently turned red and yellow but the weather was still warm for a nice long walk at the occasional stops.
I stopped at these place along the way, taking one night and two days to arrive in New York via the I-95.
- Providence, the state capital of Rhode Island
- Mystic Seaport where I visited the Living Maritime Museum
- Rocky Neck State Park where I walked to the beach
- Lordship in Stratford where I stayed at Marnick’s
- Greenwich where I saw an impromptu Old Timer Exhibition
- And finally Bronx, where I drove through towards Manhattan
New England Driving Tips
But before I start writing about the places I visited, I thought it would be useful to point out some important rules of the road.
Keep to the speed limit – there are police everywhere and also speed cameras checking your speed. The speed limit is posted regularly so you cannot miss it and the police cars have radars so they can tell how fast you are going from a mile away.
Check the signs – you can turn on red in most junctions although there are some where you cannot. A sign under the traffic light will show where you cannot turn so you won’t be able to miss it.
Look both sides when you are overtaking on the freeway – some people zigzag and if you don’t look you can have a pretty big crash.
New England Road Trip Rental Basics
Also, here is some basic advice for renting a car – you can use some of these tips even if you are driving your own car.
Rent in Advance – rent at least 2-3 months in advance to save on rental costs and make sure you get full insurance cover as most rental companies will charge for even the smallest scratch.
Choose Unlimited Mileage – you don’t want to be worrying about how much you can drive, so check the rental form before you book whether you are booking with unlimited mileage.
Pick Up Full Return Full – any other option will be a rip-off. Full-to-full means you pick the car up with a full tank of fuel and return it with a full tank. This gives you the flexibility of driving as much or as little as you want.
Other options include full-to-empty, which is probably the biggest rip off in the history of rental cars. In that instance, you pick the car up with a pre-paid tank of fuel (charged at twice or three times the retail fuel price) and you have to return it empty otherwise you lose the fuel and you will not get a refund. AVOID AT ALL COST!
Take photos at the time of pick up – you want to be sure to have proof in case of a dispute. I would go even as far as recording the conversations you have, which is what I have done on a number of occasions.
Rent an EZPass – it will make your life a lot easier when driving on toll roads. Most rental companies have this at an added cost. You will receive a bill about two weeks after you’ve returned the car.
Leaving Boston and Providence
After Providence I made my way to Mystic Seaport where I spent much of the afternoon. The Mystic Seaport Living Museum is perhaps the most amazing place you will see along this road trip, so make sure you read my other post for more details.
Driving from Mystic Seaport to Stratford
The road from Mystic to Stratford is quite an easy one: you have the choice of the I-95 or the coastal Highway 1. Now, you might ask “why would anyone want to stop off at Stratford?” but let me assure you: Stratford is well worth a visit. I would personally take Highway 1 but if you are short of time you can drive along I-95. If it is already dark then it makes absolutely no difference at all, which was the case for me.
As you leave Mystic Seaport you can either go north to I-95 or down south and join Highway 1. The latter is the more scenic option but chances are it will be already quite late in the day by then to see anything. If it is still light, one park I would definitely recommend for a short stop-over is the Rocky Neck State Park. It is just off I-95 and if you park up at the north of the park you will be able to walk to the sea through the red and yellow forest.
Visiting Rocky Neck State Park
There is also a bird watchers paradise at the heart of the park where the road crosses over the lake. In the summer this place must be heaving with day-trippers as there were hundreds of BBQ grids set up in the park. Once you get to the railway line you can cross underneath and there will be a nicely hidden sandy beach with soft white sand.
I watched the sunset by the beach then walked back to the car. I was even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the local commuter trains! Driving in the dark to Stratford wasn’t super exciting although past New Haven the city lights were quite amazing. For miles and miles there was industry on both sides of the road mixed in with the suburbs.
Dinner at Wendy’s on I-95 in Guildford
By the time I got to Guilford in Connecticut I was so hungry my eyes were literally popping out of their sockets. All I had for food since the iHop was some beef jerky and snickers that I bought at the Dollar Tree back in Revere. I also bought some fruits and vegetables at the market in Boston but they were long gone. So I did what Americans do best and stopped off at Wendy’s, a fast food chain. A little bit about Wendy’s: it is on the Nasdaq and was founded in 1969, not too long after McDonald’s. The difference is Wend’ys tastes much better and the burgers are square not round.
Wendy’s doesn’t make frozen burgers, all is supposed to be fresh from a nearby farm. I had one of Dave’s Double with no cheese plus the green tea. It was pretty tasty, decided to eat there another fives times during the next week.
If you are interested in the history of the company and how they’ve opened 6,000 individual stores, check out this link.
Marnick’s in Lordship, Stratford
Driving on from Guilford it was a straight road to Stratford then left off on the 113 to Lordship. I stayed at the Rodeway Inn in Lordship by the coast. The Rodeway Inn or Marnick’s – as it used to be called – is an original motel/restaurant from the 1950s. It was founded by an Italian-American war veteran and still serves the best food on the coast.
Here is a bit of history: Lordship is at the southern tip of Stratford, jutting into the heart of Long Island Sound. When the first settlers arrived in 1639, they found that Indians were using this area to plant corn, so there was little clearing necessary. Originally Lordship, called Great Neck, was a Common Field worked and owned by settlers who returned home to the safety of the palisade fort at night. Originally called Point No Point a name which goes back over 200 years, Lordship Beach became a beach resort in the early 1900’s.
Beach patrons would take a trolley ride from Bridgeport at the corner of Hollister and Stratford Avenues through the marshes and into Lordship. The trolley ran through Lordship Center and took a right onto Ocean Avenue. The line ended at Washington Parkway and the passengers would walk down to the Lordship Pavilion which is now Marnick’s. Marnick’s Motel and Restaurant is family owned and operated, and has been in business since the 1956.
They have lots of photos on the wall and various awards they won through the years, and the breakfast was quite good too. Unfortunately I still felt stuffed from Wendy’s so I wasn’t going to have dinner. The rooms are still quite old fashioned, especially the bathroom (see photos). But otherwise it was a very good place.
In the morning the sunrise was pretty amazing. As you sit at the table you face towards the East watching the sun come up. The beach was sandy here too. It must be full of New Yorkers in the summer. If you have the time it is definitely worth a visit, I really enjoyed it there.
Lordship is a typical suburb of New Haven and/or New York. It takes about an hour to walk around it, including the sandy beach. The breakfast was OK at Marnick’s but I stocked up on sweets at one of the local stores.
The Lordship Local Store
When I am in the US I always buy some peach flavoured iced tea. My favourite variety is the AriZona Peach Iced Tea – Walmart sells the gallon size. It really does give a kick, but the problem is it is very addictive. A bar of peanut butter snickers and a “big gulp” (500 ml iced tea) sorts anyone out for the day.
By the way, here is a little tip for those that want to drive really off the beaten path: use google maps and set it to walk you along the main road instead of driving. This will set it to the shortest and straightest route, through towns and industrial estates instead of the interstate.
Otherwise by default gmap will send you on the fastest route. That is not a problem if you are in a hurry or you don’t know the way. However, I don’t trust google any more as I’ve proven it wrong on various occasions. Instead, I always check its suggested route and then use my own, getting to the destination far faster than with Google Maps. Luckily I can memorize maps quite easily so it’s not a big deal. So I put in my destination and set it to walk then I did some detours here and there as I saw fit.
Brunch in Westport at the Panera
By the time I got to Westport it was time for breakfast number two. Whenever I went to Chicago I used to go to a Panera Bread breakfast bar and it so happened that there was one in Westport too. Turns out this branch is now closing down – hopefully not because of me!
I always used to have the Egg Bagel sandwich, but this time I had a special version with avocado and spinach inside.
There was and English couple in the line waiting for their caffeine top up. I thought I should ask them for some driving advice just in case. At first they were quite unfriendly as is usual with English expats but then they warmed up and the guy gave some driving tips. He also told me to keep to the speed limit – I wish I had, but more on that later!
As everything else in the US, Panera is a chain store, with hundreds of units across the states. According to the Huff Post, it is one of the most popular and fastest-growing chains in America today.
After Westport I stayed on the Old Boston Post Road, all the way to the Co-op Towers in New York. After that I joined I-95 again for a while then back into the streets of NY. I was in a bit of a hurry by then as I wanted to visit a synagogue in Fort Lee for Erev Sukkot.
Arriving in New York City
The drive is quite interesting all the way to New York through expensive suburbs followed by some downtrodden industrial estates. This seemingly goes on forever until you start seeing the high-rises of New Rochelle, Pelham, Baychester and so on. By the time it was Bronx the traffic built up so I looked for quieter side streets. Some of the images below are from these.
By this time I completely gave up on the GPS and I was self-driving, following the sign posts to George Washington Bridge. It wasn’t super difficult and I got there in a short while. From there I drove the Meadowlands, where I checked into the Econo Lodge by the Stadium and spent four days in New York City, taking in the sights of Manhattan.