A free association with “New England” conjures up summery images of tall sailboats, wooden docks, and lobster rolls. Mystic, CT has all the rigging of a quaint seaside village, minus the transportation hassle of a trip to Cape Cod. The greater Mystic area—we’ve included Stonington, a nearby town just as pleasant, if not more, than Mystic itself—is a merry place to visit during the summer months, with enough to do to satisfy your need for a day-trip or weekend adventure.
What to Sea
Mystic’s nautical history is apparent in the town’s two main attractions, the seaport and aquarium. Mystic Seaport (75 Greenmanville Ave.; 888.973.2767; mysticseaport.org) is a living maritime museum situated along the banks of the Mystic River that boasts an extensive collection of historic ships and a recreated 19th century coastal village, in addition to its formal exhibit galleries. Arguably the greatest aquarium on the East Coast, Mystic Aquarium (55 Coogan Boulevard; 860.572.5955; mysticaquarium.org) counts among its residents Beluga whales, six different species of jelly, and many adorable African penguins. Mystic Aquarium is located by Olde Mistick Village (860.536.4941; oldmistickvillage.com), a unique shopping center disguised as an early American village. Though the Village is not an attraction high on our list of places to visit in Mystic, if you do go, stop by Munson’s Chocolate (27 Coogan Boulevard; 860.536.4351; munsonschocolates.com) for some fudge.
Where to Chow-da Down
For good eats, we recommend steering clear of the restaurants built-in to the town’s attractions. The gems of New England eating are the roadside restaurants that entice passerbys with a wafting aroma of fried seafood. These shacks serve up some of the best New England cuisine you’ll find around, including chowder, lobster rolls, and fried clam strips.
En route to Mystic, you’ll find Sea Swirl (30 Williams Avenue; 860.536.3452; seaswirlofmystic.com) and the Cove Fish Market and Clam Shack, our personal favorite (20 Old Stonington Road; 860.536.0061; covefishmarket.com).
The best—and conveniently eco-friendly—way to get around Mystic is to rent a bike through the local bike share. Mystic Community Bikes (mysticcommunitybikes.org) offers used but tuned bikes that can be picked up (and dropped off later) at various distribution centers, all you need is a $10 deposit. (Remember to grab a helmet with your rental!) Quaint as Mystic may be, bike-friendly it is not, especially if you plan on riding over to nearby Stonington.
Nautical and Nice: Mystic’s Summer Arts & Music Events
Cocktails with the Whales
Mystic Outdoor Art Festival
A Stone’s Throw From Mystic
Once a trading post, Stonington is a scenic and secluded little town on Connecticut’s southeastern shore with much less of the tourist traffic you’ll find in Mystic. Sit and watch the sailboats drift across the sound, or take a look at some of the town’s historic homes, many of which were built by sea captains when Stonington was still a whaling village. Water Street, the town’s commercial center, is lined with cafés, shops, and art galleries. Today, Stonington remains the home of Connecticut’s only surviving fishing fleet.
Skipper’s Dock (66 Water Street; 860.535.0111; skippersdock.com) is a must-stop for a tasty seafood lunch on a pier overlooking Stonington Harbor. What better accompaniment to your crab cakes than a view of seafaring life? Work off some of that fried deliciousness with a leisurely stroll north down Water Street to duBois Beach, a “petite” beach on Long Island Sound. The beach is privately owned by a local association, but visitors are welcome in the summer season for a small fee. Across from duBois Beach you’ll find the Old Lighthouse Museum (7 Water Street; 860.535.1440; stoningtonhistory.org), a landmark lighthouse that now features historical exhibits.
How to get there: Mystic is easily accessible by bus and train from New York City. By train, take Amtrak out of New York Penn Station. The ride is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, and a round-trip ticket can cost up to $150. Peter Pan Bus Lines offers service to Mystic through its Bonanza Bus Line from New York Port Authority. Tickets are $60/round trip, and the ride is approximately 3 hours.
Top photo: Courtesy of mragan