A visit to Madison in Connecticut offers not only one of the best independent bookstores but also the state's largest shoreline park.
Central Madison, in the US state of Connecticut, has the feel of a beach town, though the beach itself is nearly three kilometres away.
In addition to shops and restaurants, the town has one of the best independent bookstores in the state and a century-old independent cinema.
For sand and shore, head to Madison's Hammonasset Beach State Park, often called the crown jewel of Connecticut's state parks.
Hammonasset, located on Long Island Sound, offers more than a day at the beach.
Visitors to Connecticut's largest shoreline park can explore its wetlands and woodlands and get up close to the dunes from a boardwalk. You can also bike, hike, kayak, camp, study nature or just watch birds.
The Madison Art Cinemas, which opened more than 100 years ago, screens first-run independent art and foreign and domestic films. Once used as a gym with a basketball court beneath its wooden floor, it also serves as a community centre.
Make sure to visit RJ Julia Booksellers in central Madison. You can spend hours browsing and if you visit at the right time, you can attend a book meeting with authors. The store has drawn Caroline Kennedy, Julie Andrews and Gene Wilder - not bad for a town 160 kilometres from Manhattan with a population of 18,000.
At Hammonasset, Meigs Point Nature Centre is home to turtles, snakes, amphibians, crabs and fish. Many of the animals were taken to the centre because of injuries and cannot be returned to the wild. The centre offers programs and lectures about marine life, the history of Indian communities in the area, oceanography, lessons about animal tracks and other topics. Summer hours are 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
The state is building a new nature centre that can accommodate large school groups and provide interpretive and educational program work spaces and exhibits. It is due to open in 2016 and will include geothermal heating and cooling, and solar power panels to generate electricity.
For the trip to Hammonasset, bring your bicycle. Park your car at any parking lot at shopping areas in Madison and ride the 3km trip along Route 1, known locally as the Boston Post Road, to the Hammonasset park. Free bike racks are available.
The eastern end of the Shoreline Greenway Trail is at Hammonasset. The trail extends 1.6km along the peninsula overlooking marshland and can be used for walking, biking and cross-country skiing. It is also wheelchair-accessible.
* STAYING THERE
Madison Beach Hotel
Located on the beach overlooking Long Island Sound, in addition to beachfront rooms it offers a spa and wedding space and dogs can stay for an extra $US50 ($A68) a day.
The Scranton Seahorse Inn
Owner Michael Hafford, who is also a pastry chef, advises potential customers to leave plenty of time for reservations. Located in central Madison, a month before time will reserve a room for weekends, which range from $US185 to $US235, including breakfast, he said. A room costs $US150 to $US200 mid-week.
Hammonasset Beach Campground
Open during the northern summer until October 12, it offers more than 550 campsites.