Being unable to entertain oneself for time between meetings or other activities seems like a curse, one which most would benefit from breaking themselves of. The complaint that there is “nothing to do” in downtown, besides being false, speaks most loudly about the person waging it. This guide is not for them. It is for those who do not need constant stimulation — just a place to sit where they will not be hassled¹.
Heaven and New Ross, County Wexford Park
Above the I-84 tunnel, you will find a park that embraces loitering, skateboarding, and painting. Some people have said it looks like an eyesore, but creative expression is no less attractive than the plethora of fast food billboards, electronic signs, or the stark, gray slabs of concrete.
The area between Trumbull, Main, and Morgan Street contains many benches and a few tables. There is not much in the way of vegetation; the scenery here consists of regularly changing artwork and skaters.
Outside Stilts Building
If you would rather be in a more visible location, just around the corner from Heaven is a small seating area next to the Stilts Building at Main and Church. Most properties outside of businesses are considered private, which means security is tighter, but years of experience have taught us that if we are just eating a sandwich or reading a book, it is rare to be bothered. Drawing attention to oneself by protesting or panhandling would be a different matter.
This space is right next to a deli.
Christ Church Cathedral
Crossing Church Street will take you to the Christ Church Cathedral‘s patio, which has its entrance on Church Street.
If you are tired of breathing everyone’s secondhand tobacco and marijuana smoke, take refuge here.
Saint Patrick - Saint Anthony
Another block up Church Street will bring you to a below-street level garden at Saint Patrick-Saint Anthony church.
There may be no evidence to support this, but it seems that the churches and synagogues that allow a degree of loitering are also the ones that manage to fill their pews during services. Those churches struggling with attendance may want to rethink the messages that they are sending to the public on the other six days of the week.
Outside of the Metro Center on Church Street
The security guards might stare you down, but there are benches. This basically offers a view of a parking lot. It may not be the first or second choice for killing time, but if all you want is to sit for a few minutes and eat a slice of pizza, it’ll do.
State House Square
This outside area is slated to be destroyed, with the pedestrian area removed to make room for a street.
Until then, there are plenty of benches in the space beyond the fences of the Old State House. This area has free Wifi, food carts and trucks, and is generally good for people-watching.
At the moment, there is construction closing off part of the plaza — the area that seems to get most of the foot traffic.
If you head toward the old hotel on the plaza, you will see a sort of garden alcove. The bell from the USS Hartford is displayed here. This is a quieter area, not used by too many power walkers on their lunch breaks.
Constitution Plaza basically flows into Riverfront Plaza. If you sit near enough to the Connecticut Science Center, you can sometimes hook into the free Wifi.
This area is patrolled by the Riverfront Rangers, which means you will be noticed — at some point — if you decide to walk in the flood waters.
There is little litter here. In the winter, this also tends to be cleared of snow before other recreational areas in Hartford.
This is a solid place for viewing the Connecticut River, but if you were hoping for picnic tables, you will have to walk down to Riverside Park or Charter Oak Landing.
Ancient Burying Ground
Back on Main Street, the old cemetery has a few places to sit and there is a lot of shade.
The gates are often closed, so if you are not someone who is willing to enter through a broken piece of gate, this is hit-or-miss.
Sometimes there are tours that come through here.
Exit the cemetery toward Gold Street and you will find yourself in the Carl Andre’s Stone Field sculpture.
There’s shade. You can sit on the rocks. Of course, rocks are not very comfortable, so sitting here for long seems impractical.
That space between the Wadsworth Atheneum and City Hall has a name. Burr Mall, besides offering lots of benches, has Alexander Calder‘s Stegosaurus sculpture, which is probably the most Instagrammed thing in Hartford.
This is an interesting spot because you get the foot traffic of those going to City Hall, the library, the art museum, and people just wandering through. Time it right and you’ll see skateboarders.
This is one of the more reliable spots for free Wifi downtown.
Hartford Public Library
This almost did not make the list. While people do hang around the front of the building, this should be a better hangout spot than it is. There is a large patio, but a dearth of furniture. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit outside and read a book in the sunlight? We can only hope that when the cafe opens at the library, the seating area will be extended out-of-doors.
Where Main and Capitol intersect, there is a pedestrian-only walkway. There’s shade, benches, and you can peek in at the Butler-McCook garden.
An obvious choice, listed last, because sometimes we want to opt for something less mainstream.
Benches, yes, though not as many as one might expect in a public park.
There are picnic tables in the playground area next to the carousel.
Although the police are generally fine with letting people use the park day and night, there have been occasions when people have been kicked out. Last year, someone did not approve of Ultimate Frisbee in the park, and before that, people kicking a ball around were told to stop. Just last week, Joe the Barber was thrown out for doing what he’s done for decades. While the Frisbee players and Joe the Barber are being allowed to resume their activities, there is undeniable tension over what is appropriate use of park space. For the time being, it seems that simply sitting on a bench is acceptable.
¹Loitering, while simply meaning to be idle, is actually something for which one can be arrested. The municipal code explains as much:
Sec. 25-8. – Loitering.
As used in this section, “to loiter” means standing around, moving slowly about, spending time idly, sauntering, delaying, lingering or lagging behind.
It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons to loiter on the streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, walks in public parks or any other public area so as to impede and interfere with the use of the street, sidewalk, crosswalk, walk in a public park or other public area by any other person. Any police officer may order any person violating this subsection to cease and desist from interfering with the right of any other person to use the streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, walks in public parks or any other public area.
It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons to loiter on the grounds or within any building of a school within the City so as to in any way impede, interfere with or interrupt the operation of any school or class within such school. Any person in charge of such school or his designee may order any person violating this subsection to immediately quit such premises.
It shall be unlawful for any person to loiter on private property within the City if ordered to quit the private property by the owner thereof or his agent.
If you are doing nothing to impede, interrupt, or interfere with others, it is not likely — based on the HPD arrest log — that you are going to be arrested for loitering. With that said, Real Hartford is not responsible for the choices that you make or the sketchiness that you exude, or for the consequences that may follow.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
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