Given the fast pace of Stamford’s  frenetic downtown, the Stamford Museum & Nature Center (39 Scofieldtown Rd., Stamford, 203/322-1646, www.stamfordmuseum.org , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat.; 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.; some exhibit hours vary, $8 adults, $6 seniors, $6 students over 17, $4 children 4–17, free members and children under 3) in North Stamford is a welcome relief.
The sprawling preserve contains over 100 acres with woodland honeycombed with quiet creeks and ponds, as well as a tidal river with a boardwalk nature trail. Animals such as red foxes, raccoons, woodchucks, and otters are commonly spotted on the trails.
Not that everything here is wild—the center was once an elegant estate, and a stone mansion full of museum exhibits and a working farm still grace the grounds. Behind the farm, an observatory invites you to look past the bright lights of Fairfield County  to glimpse some more impressive celestial bodies. It’s open to the public on Fridays from 8–10 p.m. ($3 adults, $2 children).