Given the despair that pervades many New England cities, the continuing betterment of this city's once notorious South Norwalk neighborhood gladdens the heart. The rehabilitation of several blocks of 19th-century row houses is transforming the waterfront into a trendy precinct that has come to be called, inevitably, "SoNo." The Norwalk Seaport Oyster Festival (tel. 203/838-9444;, held in early September, attracts over 90,000 visitors to its tall ships, oyster boats, crafts show, and food booths. There are even skydivers.

Bounded roughly by Washington, Water, and North and South Main streets, SoNo is readily accessible from the South Norwalk railroad station.

Cruises -- Excursions by 49-passenger ferry to Sheffield Island and its historic 1868 lighthouse are offered by the Norwalk Seaport Association, 132 Water St. (tel. 203/838-9444; The boat departs from Hope Dock, near The Maritime Aquarium. Weather permitting, the boat sets out two to three times daily, on Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day weekend to late September, as well as Monday through Friday from late June to late September. The round-trip takes about 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute layover on the island. Fares are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors (Mon-Wed), $12 for ages 4 to 12, and $5 for ages 3 and under. Thursday evenings from 6 to 9:30pm in season bring clambakes to the island. Other outings include sunset cruises and occasional Sunday picnics. Always call ahead for schedule.

Similarly, the research vessel Oceanic has "creature cruises" on weekends from April to June and September to October, as well as daily in July and August, to spot seals and bird life. There are also marine study cruises at other times, a service of The Maritime Aquarium. Fares are $18 per person. Reserve ahead by calling tel. 203/852-0700, ext. 2206.

Dining -- For a break from shopping and strolling, drop into SoNo Caffeine, 133 Washington St. (tel. 203/857-4224;, which provides breakfast and lunch, offers live jazz and pop some nights -- check the website for schedules -- and sticks a price tag on virtually every piece of furniture in the place.

After Dark -- Several of SoNo's restaurants offer musical entertainment on unpredictable schedules. SoNo Caffeine, mentioned above, has presented folkies, Brazilian bands, and pop singer-songwriters. The Black Bear Saloon, 80 Washington St. (tel. 203/299-0711;, delves into karaoke and brings on cover bands of various enthusiasms. It's open every day from lunch through late evening.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.