Every summer throughout my childhood, my family and I would head to a small town on the Connecticut shoreline. The tradition of spending the summertime in Westbrook, CT began with my great grandfather in 1948 and has continued for seven generations. In fact, my first stay in this beachside town, I was six months old. This ritual of packing up the car and heading to the shore continued until I was in my late teens when the cottage we stayed at was no longer available. Not wanting to give up vacationing in the same town that holds a ton of special memories, we switched to Water’s Edge Beach Resort and Spa, which is right down the street.
When I was 27, I moved to Los Angeles, and since then I’ve only been back to Westbrook once. This August I will be heading back to a beach house on the same street I spent my childhood summers on and I’m counting the days until I can return. Billy will be joining us and I’m eager to show him this place that I regard as a second home. Planning for this vacation got me thinking and reminiscing about all my favorite things about this charming and tranquil place. Of course, after years of being away, some places I came to know and love are no longer there, but plenty still are. Here’s a look back at some summer nostalgia.
Starting from the beginning, some of my earliest memories are the scent of my grandfather’s Tropicana suntan oil and taking a morning stroll to Emily’s Bakery with my aunt Paula. The bakery was located in a house down the street and you could smell the aroma of fresh donuts a mile away. Because I was too young to go on the beach by myself, my sister and I would wake up early and watch reruns of Saved By The Bell and Beverly Hills 90210 while we waited for someone to take us across the street. After a day on the shore playing wiffle ball, crabbing, collecting seashells, and floating on a giant blue and yellow raft, AKA “The Fun Island” we would go out to dinner and then head to Saybrook Point Marina for a game of mini golf.
Evenings were spent on the porch waiting for Daisy and her ice cream truck while the adults played Trivial Pursuit. Other memories that stand out are the day trips to Mystic Seaport and Olde Mistick Village and back-to-school shopping at the Crystal Mall in Waterford (Kelly Kapowski, Cher Horowitz, and Kelly Taylor were my style icons). I remember boat trips to The Hamptons, Greenport, NY, and Block Island for dockside lunches and shopping in the quaint villages. Looking back I can remember dinner with my grandmother at the Griswold Inn in Essex like it was yesterday and walks to the Westbrook Town Beach for lunch at the snack shop and to play on the rock jetty. One of my favorite memories was falling asleep while listening to the waves crash on the sand below my window.
As I got older, I would bring friends from home with me and I met a lot of people that either lived in the town or had a vacation home there. None of us had cell phones so we would make plans over a landline and meet up at the town beach. Then, I’d go to their homes or cottages, or they would come to mine for a card game of Spit or to watch a movie from Blockbuster. We would annoy my family (and neighbors) by blasting music out of my boombox on the front porch.
I traded in my pails and shovels for a skimboard, and I’d look forward to jet-skiing and wakeboarding. Days were spent getting a tan by rollerblading or bike riding down Seaside Avenue. After a few hours on the beach, we would walk to The Whole Enchilada for lunch and I’d order a quesadilla and then head back to the beach for some more sun. It wasn’t vacation without getting corn fritters and blueberry pancakes from Marty’s on Sunday mornings. On hot and humid nights, we would sneak into the pool at Pilots Point Marina for a midnight swim.
My favorite shop was Old Glory where I loved buying jewelry, trinkets and concert tees, and I’d look forward to purchasing a new hemp necklace with a hand-blown glass charm (I still have them to this day). I’d get excited about shopping for new beachwear at Abercrombie & Fitch, PacSun, and Contempo Casuals, and I loved wearing Roxy, dELiA*s, puka shells, platform flip-flops, spaghetti-strap tank tops, and tattoo chokers.
Rainy days were spent at the local movie theater seeing summer hits like The Blair Witch Project, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Virgin Suicides, Cruel Intentions, Scary Movie, Halloween: Resurrection, Blue Crush, and Thirteen. At that time, Dawson’s Creek was all the rage, and the small beachside town in the show reminded me a lot of Westbrook.
I remember keeping Demeter fragrance sprays (Salt Air and Ocean) in my purse and spraying them all summer long. Actually, I just re-bought them for the first time to take with me on my upcoming trip. The scents bring me back to my teen years and summers at the seashore.
Once I was in my twenties, my family and I started staying in a condo at the Water’s Edge Beach Resort and Spa. I welcomed the change in going from a cottage to a resort on the water. Even though the hotel was close by to where I grew up, the vibe was so different. Each year, I’d look forward to eating at one of their outside restaurants that overlooks the Long Island Sound, and enjoying an evening cocktail at Seaview Bistro. Sunday mornings meant dining at Dattilo for an award-winning brunch.
My days were spent swimming in the pool that sits on top of the ocean, while drinking Piña Coladas and Strawberry Daiquiris. On rainy days I would relax at the spa on site by getting a massage and facial. One night a week the resort had a reggae night where hundreds of people would pop in and listen to live music. My sister and I would show up with our friends and get tipsy on Long Island Iced Tea. My family and I spent evenings shopping, gambling, and dining at one of the casinos close by (Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun). Pizza from Sal’s and dinner at the Log Cabin was a must. The weekends were for meeting up with friends and heading to The Pavilion in Old Lyme where we would listen to a band performing on the beach and drink Three Olives Cherry and Sprite.
It became a tradition to shop for summer clothing before I left for vacation. My style evolved over the years and I traded in my boardshorts and surfer style tank tops for trendier pieces. I would do my shopping online at Los Angeles based boutiques like Kitson and Shop Intuition and adored labels like Juicy Couture, Ella Moss, Ugg, Splendid, Von Dutch, and Ed Hardy (which some are embarrassing now that I look back). Counting down the days until I could wear my new clothes while having photographs taken on the beach became a ritual of mine.
When I think about events, places, and people of the past, songs that were popular during those time periods, helps to bring back the summer nostalgia. A few months ago, I created a Spotify playlist filled with over 150 prevalent hits of the 1990s and early 2000s. I’ve been listening to it all summer long, and it’s taken me back to this beloved place. Here are a few that really stand out:
- Dreamboy/Dreamgirl, Cynthia
- Summertime, DJ Jazzy & The Fresh Prince’s
- Don’t Walk Away, Jade
- It Was A Good Day, Ice Cube
- Real Ting, Mad Lion
- Loungin (Who Do Ya Luv), LL Cool J
- Intergalactic, Beastie Boys
- How Do U Want It, 2Pac
- Summer Girls, LFO
- Last Kiss, Pearl Jam
- Sunny Day, Big Tymers
- Heaven, DJ Sammy
- I Need A Girl Pt. 2, Diddy
- We Takin Over, DJ Khalid
- I Gotta Feeling, The Black Eyed Peas
Although a lot of these traditions have evolved over the years, one factor has remained—my love for the Connecticut shoreline. Even though I live in Los Angeles, a metropolis saturated with endless amounts of beautiful white sandy beaches, nothing can replace the recollections I have of summers in Westbrook with my family and friends. I often think about how blessed I am and I’m counting down the days until I will be back to relive these wonderful memories (while creating new ones). August can’t come soon enough!
What are your summer nostalgia memories? I’d love to hear about them.