Connecticut is a small state in southern New England that's the perfect blend of coastlines, history, and small towns. The entire southern border sits on Long Island Sound, which is why so much of Connecticut's past is shipbuilding, shipping, and fishing. The Nutmeg State is an ideal destination for just about any traveler, whether you're a history buff, outdoor enthusiast, or simply enjoy relaxing on the beach. People tend to lump the New England states together, but Connecticut has a natural beauty and small-town charm all its own.

01Thimble Islands

Thimble Islands Winter Connecticut enfi / Getty Images   

There are a lot of ways to explore the outdoors in Connecticut, but the Thimble Islands are truly unique. Located offshore in the Long Island Sound, the 350 islands, some of which disappear at high tide, are an ideal location for biking, boating, or hiking. Each of the larger islands has an identity all its own. A granite quarry on Bear Island provided stone used in building the Lincoln Memorial and the base of the Statue of Liberty, and President Taft once called Davis Island his summer home. Plenty of cruises will take you around the Thimble Islands, but one of the best ways to see them is by kayak.

02Kent Falls State Park

Kent Falls State Park Holcy / Getty Images

Kent Falls State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Connecticut and is located not far from the Appalachian Trail. The waterfalls and cascades are its most notable feature, and you can view them from the parking lot. If you want to get closer, hike the 1/4-mile trail to the top of the falls or stop at some of the vantage points along the way for great photo ops. The falls are most impressive in the spring as the mountain snow melts; they fade to a trickle by the end of summer.

03Mystic, Connecticut

Kent Falls State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Connecticut and is located not far from the Appalachian Trail. The waterfalls and cascades are its most notable feature and they can easily be seen from the parking lot. If you want to get closer, hike the 1/4 mile trail to the top of the falls or stop at some of the vantage points along the way for some great photo ops. The falls are most impressive in the spring as the mountain snow melts and fade to a trickle by the end of summer. shunyufan / Getty Images

From the 17th to 19th centuries, Mystic was a hub for shipbuilding and whaling. The city is situated along the banks of the Mystic River and is an interesting blend of a modern seaside town and a historic district where you can step back in time. The Mystic Seaport Museum is a 17-acre village where visitors can embark on whaling ships and chat with artisans. For something more adventurous, take a sail on a schooner or stroll through downtown, where more than 80 shops, cafes, independent shops, and restaurants await.

04Dinosaur State Park

Dinosaur State Park mcpuckette / Getty Images

There's a lot of history to experience in Connecticut. At Dinosaur State Park, it goes back more than 200 million years. The main attraction is the preserved Mesozoic floodplain, covered in fossilized footprints believed to be made by Dilophosaurus. The tracks were accidentally discovered during excavation for new construction in 1968. Workers found more than 2,000 tracks. Today, about 1,500 remain buried for preservation with more than 500 visible at the Exhibit Center.

5. Chowdafest

You can't visit New England without having clam chowder, and what better place to have it than at Chowdafest? This yearly event is held in Westport on the first Sunday in October. It started as a small local competition; today, chefs come from as far away as Seattle to participate. Come hungry and prepared to vote for your favorite. You'll sample traditional New England chowders as well as the Manhattan variety and many other twists on this classic dish. If clam chowder isn't your thing, check out Chowdafest's sister event in November, the Great Mac and Chili Challenge.

New England Clam Chowder Carminooch13 / Getty Images

06Essex Steam Train and Riverboat

Steam Train Tour CHBD / Getty Images

Sightseeing is one thing. Sightseeing from a steam train and riverboat is another. Essex Steam Train and Riverboat is an amazing way to see small towns, tidal wetlands, and historic sites in southeastern Connecticut. Your journey begins at Essex Station, where a steam locomotive pulls vintage dinner and open-air cars through the Connecticut River Valley. At Deep River Landing, passengers board the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a breathtaking cruise where coves, marches, wildlife, and the rocky shoreline are on display.

07Rocky Neck State Park

Rocky Neck State Park shunyufan / Getty Images

One of the best places for camping in Connecticut is Rocky Neck State Park. Soak up the sun on the white sandy beach or experience the water while fishing and crabbing. A large stone pavilion is perfect for picnicking, and trails lead to Baker's Cave, Tony's Nose, and the salt marsh where you can spot cranes, herons, and hawks along the way.

08Hammonasset Beach State Park

Hammonasset Beach State Park Holcy / Getty Images

Another option for beach lovers is Hammonasset Beach State Park. This is the state's largest public beach, with more than two miles of sandy shoreline to enjoy. Visitors can go fishing, biking, swimming, and hiking, but camping is one of the most popular activities. More than 500 campsites are available from late spring to early fall. This is one of the best places in the state for stargazing, and the nature center even has telescopes available if you want to get a closer look.

09Old Saybrook

Old Saybrook Lighthouse mcpuckette / Getty Images

Old Saybrook is an enchanted coastal town dating all the way back to 1635. It sits where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound and boasts more 18th century Colonial architecture than most New England towns of its vintage. In the summer, Old Saybrook serves as a gorgeous backdrop for canoeing through the surrounding coves and marshes. Others might choose to enjoy the beach, go sailing, or spend the day relaxing on a fishing boat. There are plenty of seasonal events, too, including beautiful autumnal foliage and the Torchlight Parade during the holidays.

10Elizabeth Park

Elizabeth Park Roses LeenaDamle / Getty Images

Elizabeth Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is comprised of more than 100 acres of walking trails and gardens, and the grounds are absolutely stunning. This is the ideal place for a casual nature walk, especially in the summer when the rose garden is in full bloom. Best of all, it's free to the public and open year-round.