I began my day in South Norwalk at the Coffee and Chocolate Lounge. As I sipped my latte and ate my gourmet Key Lime truffle, I noticed the mismatched, yet tasteful decor throughout the store. Throughout the dark, antique-filled interior loomed a few surprises: a disco ball, a leopard print curtain, and a black velvet painting. It occurred to me how accurately this reflected the town’s current situation: a mix of old and new.
Once a thriving commercial and manufacturing town in the late 19th century, SoNo, as it is now called by locals, experienced a dark period in the 1970’s when the downtown business district was scheduled for demolition. Today, South Norwalk is experiencing a renaissance. Nowhere is this more apparent than Washington Street, a historic block filled with restaurants featuring every type of popular cuisine at surprisingly affordable prices, cafes, and specialty shops.
Also on Washington Street is the SoNo Switchtower Museum originally built in 1896. This is where visitors can learn about the history of railroads and how operators switched trains from one track to the next. The museum is open May through October and admission is always free.
Located on the Norwalk River is the city’s most popular attraction, the Maritime Aquarium featuring more than 1,000 animals native to the Long Island sound, such as bull sharks, river otters, seals, and sea turtles. There’s also an IMAX movie theatre on premises and marine life study cruises are offered April through August, which allow participants the opportunity to pick through a dredge sample of snails, crabs, and other bottom feeders.
South Norwalk is a great place to day trip from New York City and is easily accessible via the Metro-North Railroad. Although the original train station in SoNo was built in the 1890’s, the Eastbound side experienced a major reconstruction in the 1990’s that recreated many of the original features, whereas the Westbound side was rebuilt to have a more modern look. As I sat waiting for my train, I realized how much the building I was sitting in had in common with the coffee shop I visited earlier in the day. Just like South Norwalk itself, both were an impressive mix of antique and new.