Last updated on February 5, 2024
I was a latecomer to the Gilmore Girls. Steve and I devoured it in the hazy days of pregnancy with Otis, our final hurrah as a two as we awaited our big life change. I think the cosiness of Stars Hollow and the closeness between Rory and Lorelai was a comfort, an inspiration of sorts. ‘Lorelai’ was on our baby name list. And I still dream of a Stars Hollow life.
So when planning our big New England road trip, the Gilmore Girls was a big part of it, and I made it my mission to find the real Stars Hollow. I wanted the bandstand, the local “Doose’s” supermarket, an indy bookstore that Rory would be at home in, a bustling local community, mom and pop stores, and, of course, a Luke’s style café.
I’m not the first to embark on this mission and I found many forums and websites debating the real Stars Hollow. Not all are in agreement, and there’s even debate about creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s original inspiration, so I used those as a starting point and set out to investigate myself…
Did I find the real Stars Hollow?
Along the way, I did indeed find those magic Stars Hollow ingredients – the books, the village green, the antique store, friendly locals, a bandstand, and coffee shops. But they weren’t all in the same place.
Stars Hollow can be found in pieces throughout Connecticut, and for me that was enough. Those places that lacked in some Stars Hollow measures made up for it in others, and as we travelled around I was still charmed by the permeating Stars Hollow vibe. The only thing that would have made it better would have been an appearance by Milo Ventimiglia (Team Jess always and forever here!).
So where you can find the real Stars Hollow? There was one town that had the biggest Stars Hollow vibes, and a few more that were serious contenders, so here’s my guide to the best places to find it…
Where was the Gilmore Girls filmed?
First thing you need to know is that the Gilmore Girls was filmed on set at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. So the actual Stars Hollow is a TV set. But the pilot was filmed in Unionville, Ontario in Canada. Apparently, you can see echoes of Stars Hollow there, but its real inspiration was from New England, and specifically Connecticut.
Where inspired Stars Hollow?
The story goes that Amy Sherman-Palladino was inspired to create Stars Hollow while on vacation in Connecticut at the Mayflower Inn in Washington Depot. She said in an interview with AV Club:
“I was going to put them in a city area, but then I went on vacation to Connecticut…I stayed at an inn, and it was very charming, in a tiny town, and everybody seemed to know each other, and there was a pumpkin patch across the street. I went to a diner, and people kept getting up to get their own coffee. No one was there to be waited on. It seemed like a fun environment to put [the characters] in.”
The place she seems to be talking about is Washington Depot as that’s the town the Mayflower Inn is closest to. But there’s a fair amount of debate about whether or not she meant one of the other nearby towns – or perhaps an amalgamation of all of them. Either way, it was the Litchfield Hills area of Connecticut where she was inspired to create Stars Hollow.
I recommend reading the rest of the interview – because if you’re reading this and hankering after Stars Hollow vibes, you might find you resonate with some of her thoughts. I liked this bit:
“I come from the Valley, so I don’t know shit about small-town America. I grew up where my parents would literally shove me in the car rather than have to say hello to a neighbor. I grew up with that feeling of, “Gee, if you lived in a town where everyone knew who you were, wouldn’t that be delightful?”.
And she also talks about how her time in Venice Beach informed some of the Stars Hollow themes.
Which towns in Connecticut are most like Stars Hollow?
Washington Depot, CT
Let’s start with Washington Depot, the town most widely thought to be the inspiration for Stars Hollow, and the one that claims that title in its gift shops.
Whether or not this is the actual town Sherman-Palladino was talking about in the interview above is debateable, and it definitely wasn’t the most Stars Hollow of the places we visited. But perhaps it was different when Palladino visited, which would have been back in the late 1990s. Certainly today, the local café isn’t somewhere you’ll see locals pouring their own coffee, but there are some elements of the Stars Hollow life.
There’s a wonderful bookstore, Hickory Stick Bookshop, which is cosy, well curated and staffed by friendly people. There’s even a Gilmore Girls area with a selection of “Rory’s Picks”. I met a woman there who had moved to Washington Depot from England, and she assured me it felt like Stars Hollow in terms of the community vibe. The bookshop even has a local area guide to finding Stars Hollow.
Across the street from the bookstore is the Washington Food Market, a local grocery store, which ticked all the Doose’s boxes. It’s a tiny place with little nearby, so this is where locals genuinely do their shopping. You might even find a local teenage “Dean” packing your bags.
The local café, Marty’s Café, is next to the Hickory Stick Bookshop. It’s cute, but it felt far from Luke’s Diner and lacked that community vibe. It’s more of a modern café where you’ll find people on laptops and not much conversation between its patrons. The nearby Po’s Café, about 10 minutes down the road, is said to be where you’ll find more of the Luke’s Diner aesthetic, but this was closed when we were there.
The main issue for me with Washington Depot was its layout and size. There are only a handful of businesses in the main area and they’re set across a busy intersection, which doesn’t facilitate the bustling small-town vibes. You perpetually feel like you’re beside a busy roadside. And it doesn’t have a central heart like the green of Stars Hollow.
There is a town green, complete with a white-steepled church (but no gazebo), just 10 minutes down the road from “downtown” Washington Depot. But it’s too far away to really count. This is also where you’ll find Po’s Café. It’s just a shame all these things aren’t right next to each other!
A lot of people come to Washington Depot believing they’ll find Stars Hollow, only to leave disappointed. So while it has its charms, specifically in the bookshop and grocery store, it’s unlikely to be where you’ll find your Stars Hollow dreams.
All that said, you can pick up some cool Stars Hollow souvenirs in both the Hickory Stick Bookshop and in Five Janes boutique.
Where to stay in Washington Depot
The Mayflower Inn where Sherman-Palladino stayed is just outside of Washington Depot. It’s said to be the inspiration for the Independence and Dragonfly Inns in the show. Only problem is it’s super fancy with high prices, so it’s not an easy one for most people to include in their Gilmore Girls tour. Plus the extreme fanciness somewhat destroys the Gilmore Girls vibe.
That said, it’s a beautiful hotel and would be a fun place to stop for a meal on your search for Stars Hollow. We didn’t do it as we felt as though our littluns weren’t going to be a good match for a fancy lunch there!
Also see our guide to the best family resorts in New England, which has some options in the area.
We stayed in Kent, Connecticut during our road trip and I was immediately charmed. It has strong Stars Hollow vibes, but its lack of a central green somewhat lets it down when it comes to being crowned the “Real Stars Hollow”.
But the little town in Litchfield Hills definitely ticks a lot of other Stars Hollow boxes. Firstly, there’s the House of Books, a gorgeous indy bookstore where we were delighted to see locals chatting around the counter.
Even better, the local library holds regular used book sales where they fill the street with tables of books. It looked straight out of a Gilmore Girls’ scene. And the pharmacy building next door reminded me of Patty’s barn.
The closest thing to Luke’s Diner in Kent is The Villager Café, a hybrid American-Mexican cafe, which definitely has similarities to Luke’s but lacked the hubbub (and gruff owner!). You can also get coffee at JP Gifoord and Wilson’s, which both had a cosy, local vibe.
There’s no obvious Doose’s, although there are a ton of antique shops that could be mistaken for Mrs Kim’s.
And just out of town, there’s the covered Bulls Bridge, which looks like the sort of thing a town would be constantly trying to save, like the infamous Stars Hollow town bridge!
As I said before, the main issue with Kent when it comes to Stars Hollow comparisons is the layout. It’s all a bit too linear with the town running along the main street, rather than gathered around a green. There is a gazebo and green, but it’s a bit out of the way next to the Kent Green shopping center, rather than a centerpiece to the town.
But that doesn’t stop it from being a strong Stars Hollow contender, especially due to its architecture (there’s even a steepled church) and the pervasive community vibe. While we were there, we went to the weekly farmers market, which also had live music, and where everyone seemed to know one another. And the town holds regular local events, like this fun Second Saturdays at the Kent Barns with live music and kids crafts.
Where to stay in Kent, CT
While in Kent, we stayed in a stylish converted railway carriage, which is part of the Kent Collection Inns. It was perfectly located next to the high street, and the kids in particular loved the novelty of staying in a train carriage! They also have two guesthouses, including one called The Firefly Inn, which seems like an obvious nod to the Dragonfly Inn of Stars Hollow. I also loved the look of The Victorian, which would 100 per cent look at home in Stars Hollow.
New Milford, CT
If I had to choose a winner for the “Real Stars Hollow” crown, I’d go with New Milford. We visited on a Saturday when downtown was bustling with local people at the weekly farmers market, all chatting to each other and giving off a strong community vibe.
The central green and its gazebo is perhaps the most “straight out of Stars Hollow” scene I saw in all of New England. A local band were setting up when we got there, which made it feel even more perfectly Gilmore.
A white-steepled church presides over the green, and the downtown feels compact yet plentiful, just like Stars Hollow. However if you go beyond downtown, you quickly come to chain stores, which somewhat ruins the illusion.
When it comes to Luke’s, there are two good contenders: Theo’s Downtown Diner and Dukes, although neither are quite the same (I think a search for the real Luke’s Diner might always end in disappointment unless you run into the man himself, plus Lorelai and Rory!).
We didn’t find a Doose’s or a good bookshop equivalent either. Washington and Kent definitely come up trumps on those fronts.
One final point for New Milford is the nearby Canterbury School, which could easily be mistaken for Chiltern.
Where to stay in New Milford, CT
For somewhere to stay, the Homestead Inn is recommended as having a similar vibe to Suki and Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn. It’s in a beautiful white clapboard building and is known for its welcoming hospitality.
Other places we felt the Stars Hollow vibe
There were a few places outside of Washington, Kent and New Milford where we felt the Stars Hollow vibe.
Firstly, there was Madison, Connecticut. The Madison Homestead was so quirky and friendly that it gave off a Stars Hollow scent. And when we went to a live music event at the local farm, there was a table next to us that said “Welcome to Madison” where a group of newcomers to the town were being greeted by local residents – can’t get much more Stars Hollow than that! But the town itself is fairly spread out and the town gazebo is next to the sea, which, while awesome, isn’t very Stars Hollow.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Another place where I was reminded of Stars Hollow was Bar Harbor in Maine. It’s too touristy to be a true Stars Hollow, but there was one particular night there where we wandered through the town green and saw a concert happening at the bandstand. The Stars Hollow vibe was off the scale, and it was one of my best Gilmore Girl moments in New England.
Map of Stars Hollow sights in Connecticut
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