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Northbound on I-95

There are convenient towns clustered shortly off the highway that make idyllic summer day trips.

I love being labeled "stranger" in a town I label "foreign," even when the town is only two hours away by car. "Stranger" cloaks me in anonymity and makes my everyday summer activities, such as where I eat, relax and even park into an adventure.

After numerous road trips, I've settled on my four favorite close-to-home foreign adventures, all towns accessible along Interstate 95. Two I recommend for half-day stays, and two I recommend for full-day stays.

To stop, eat and stroll, I suggest Stonington and Essex. Both have traditional Main Streets filled with beautiful architecture. Upon arriving in Stonington Borough, drive down Water Street until you reach the gravel parking lot. After taking in the tranquil view, return up the street to enjoy small-town charm and life's silence.

In Essex, a stop well-suited for your return from the state's southeastern corner, park along Main Street, wander about, and settle in the small park across from the church for a lazy afternoon.

Full-day location number one: Mystic.

Mystic, a ZIP Code that lies partly in Stonington and partly in Groton, offers a little bit of everything. But it's all fairly spread out, and addresses should be kept handy.

For the history folks, there's Mystic Seaport, a maritime museum and historical village along the Mystic River. For children and children at heart, the Aquarium is full of colorful sea life and infamous beluga whales. For shoppers and diners, downtown Mystic is scenic and walkable, characterized by its impressive, shop-lined drawbridge. For couples with strollers, the quaint shopping area Olde Mistick Village, right near the aquarium, has winding paths that take you past gazebos, a wishing fountain and a pond filled with friendly ducks.

Full-day location number two (because I save the best for last): Waterford. You won't be going for the town's Main Street, but rather for Waterford Beach Park and its neighbor, Harkness Memorial State Park.

I recommend parking at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center to save on beach parking and then moseying towards the shore. If you walk straight through the open fields, you'll pass pools of water perfect for wading and viewing tadpoles and crabs. Upon arriving at the beach, you'll notice the perfect waves for the little ones to boogie board.  

At Harkness Memorial State Park, walk the grounds around the Harkness mansion through botanical gardens, dunes and more green fields.

You can easily spend a whole day discovering both parks, taking photographs, throwing the Frisbee, flying kites and picnicking. Plan to walk around at dusk to see the wide spaces turn magical in the fading sunlight, and then head back down I-95.

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