“Explore Fairfield County” is an informational series that provides a glimpse into the wonderful towns and cities in Fairfield County. Fairfield County is diverse, including big cities, small suburbs, beaches, farms, and busy highways. It covers a large geographic area and, because of this, it has a lot to offer families! To help you get the most out of Fairfield County, our contributors have shared the top things they love about each local area. To read more in this series, click here.
Stamford, also known as the “city that works,” is Fairfield County’s second-largest city, with a population of 136,309. Located approximately 34 miles from Manhattan, Stamford is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, has the largest financial district in New York Metro outside of New York City itself, and has one of the largest concentrations of corporations in the nation. The shoreline city offers abundant shopping, culture, amazing eateries, parks, nightlife, and more.
There are 13 elementary schools, including two International Baccalaureate schools, five middle schools, and three high schools. Stamford is also home to multiple private schools and a large branch of UCONN that grows each year.
Some well-known Stamfordites include former CT Governor Dan Malloy, ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ singer Cyndi Lauper, Baseball Hall of Famer Bobby Valentine, and Willy Wonka himself, Gene Wilder
The Stamford Museum & Nature Center, once the home of Henri Bendel, is an art, history, nature, and agricultural sciences museum. The 118-acre museum property is home to a 10-acre working farm, a Tudor-style mansion that usually houses different art exhibits that change seasonally, many acres of outdoor trails, a large planetarium, an otter pond, and soon will be home to a new observatory.
This amazing facility is also home to one of the best Fairfield County playgrounds designed for children to experience an animal’s perspective on nature. The SM&NC offers seasonal family-oriented exhibits, weekend festivals, year-round childhood educational programming, camps, and volunteer opportunities. It is definitely worth the membership fee (families cost $125 for 2023), and they even host a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings and drive-in movies on Friday nights during the summer months (sponsored by our friends at Riley Volvo Cars Stamford).
Stamford hosts a variety of smaller, unique shopping opportunities. You can find cute boutique shops all over town. A couple of my personal favorites are Fox’s and Resale Resale, both of which can be found in the High Ridge Shopping Center. As a mom, I find it especially helpful that Stamford is home to Target, Trader Joe’s, Saks off 5th, Barnes and Noble, and many other awesome retail shops! A special shout out to the local toy store, Awesome Toys; it’s the place to go to grab all my last-minute birthday gifts or take my kids to pick out something for special occasions.
3. Arts & Culture
Downtown Stamford is the hub of art and culture in this city. The Palace Theatre is the place to see off-Broadway shows, big-name musical acts, and the Stamford Symphony. There is also the Avon Theatre Film Center on Bedford Street. This is a small movie theater that includes two screens and shows mostly independent films but has ventured into bringing mainstream movies back. We most recently saw Barbie there, and it was great to be in a theater that I had not been to since I was a kid. Each summer, downtown Stamford comes alive with an outdoor sculpture display. The 2023 exhibit was a duck, duck, goose theme! My kids had so much fun looking out for all the ducks and finally finding the goose!
4. Focus on Fitness
Stamford residents love to get their sweat on, and no matter how you like to burn those calories and increase those exercise endorphins, Stamford has a place for you. We have numerous state-of-the-art fitness facilities, such as LA Fitness and Orange Theory, and an amazing family-friendly gym, Chelsea Piers, which has everything the New York City one has without the long drive up the west side highway. If exercising indoors is not your thing, Stamford has the Mianus River Park and Bartlett Arboretum, filled with beautiful hiking and biking nature trails. You can also run, walk, or bike at one of the three beaches.
5. UBS Spectacular Thanksgiving Parade
One of the largest helium balloon parades in the country, the yearly event is best known for all the awesome characters they bring to life for the spectators, including Abby Cadabby, Bob the Builder, Daniel Tiger, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Mr. Potato Head, Peppa Pig and more. In all, there are usually around 14 giant helium balloons on display each year (weather dependent; they don’t come out with high winds). The day before the parade, a balloon inflation party will be located at the intersection of Hoyt and Summer Street, featuring live music and a special appearance by Santa. Both events are fun for the whole family!
6. Alive at 5
This is one of the highlights of Thursday nights during the summer in Stamford! This live music series features local artists and big-name acts (some acts this year included Ashanti, Lil Jon, and All Time Low). Concerts are being held in Mill River Park. The concert location is easily accessible from the train station, attracting a fun and big crowd. However, this is an adults-only event. 21 and over, please!
7. Public Transportation
Speaking of the train, Stamford has a major hub train station for Metro-North and Amtrak trains. The trains to Grand Central Station run about every ten minutes and average 50 minutes long. Stamford is one of the stops on the Northeast Regional Amtrak train route that runs from Boston down to Virginia. It’s a quick and easy ride from Stamford to Boston or D.C. – a great option for family travel! The Harbor Point neighborhood in Stamford also offers a free trolley. It stops at the train station, downtown office buildings, the mall, UCONN, and Sacred Heart. The Stamford City Bus is also a great and economical way to travel. Getting around Stamford has never been easier!
8. Restaurants and Food Festivals
Stamford has something for everyone when it comes to food. Looking for family favorites? Head to Tomato Tomato, Amore Pizza, Fortina, Crabshell, or Coalhouse Pizza. Looking for a great date night spot? Try Cafe Silvium, Madonia, The Capital Grille, or Zaza. Want a great drink and scene? Head to Brickhouse, BarTaco, Sign of the Whale, or Hudson Social. Plus, there are MANY more restaurants, with new ones always opening! Stamford hosts a food festival every August in Mill River Park that happens over two weekends. You’ll never go hungry in this city!
Stamford is truly a family-focused city. There are always events going on to entertain all the members of your family! Stamford’s many different neighborhoods all offer family-friendly activities. Chelsea Piers Stamford is a huge center of activity for any family in Stamford. The Stamford Museum & Nature Center is a great place to spend a day at the farm, the great playground, or walking the trails. Downtown Stamford also has family-friendly places like the library, the mall, and two movie theaters. We are also lucky enough to be a beach town with a fun trolley that loops Cove Beach and offers opportunities for fishing, kite flying, and bike riding.
10. Parks and Recreation
Stamford has many parks and playgrounds that offer different recreational activities for everyone. Mill River Park has an indoor carousel and an outdoor ice skating rink during the winter months. Scalzi Park has bocce and handball courts and frequent ice cream trucks! Mianus River Park is a wooded haven for dog walkers and trail runners. It’s on the Stamford/Greenwich line and is accessible for all residents from both sides.