The next time you’re traveling along the New England coast, carve out a day to spend in beautiful Mystic, Connecticut. Founded in 1654, the village is nestled on both sides of the Mystic River and connected by a drawbridge. There’s so much to do here -- it might be hard to fit everything in a day!
Fans of the 1988 movie Mystic Pizza, which introduced Julia Roberts, will definitely want to grab a slice at the real Mystic Pizza. As for the rest of the day? Take a look at all of the options below.
Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum
The village of Mystic, Connecticut, looks remarkably as it did back in the 19th century, but to step even further back in time, visit Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum. Set on 19 acres, Mystic Seaport is a working preservation shipyard and re-created 19th-century seaport village that celebrates the art and romance of the seafaring life.
Home to the largest collection of historic ships in the United States, you can tour below the decks of four National Historic Landmarks, including the world’s last wooden whaling ship -- the Charles W. Morgan. You’ll catch a glimpse of how working sailors lived back in the day by watching on-deck sail-rigging demonstrations and checking out the ships’ compact sleeping quarters.
Wandering the old port town of Mystic Seaport, you’ll encounter costumed role-players and historical interpreters who bring history to life. You’ll see ship smiths, coopers, riggers, and woodcarvers in action. Don’t miss the Treworgy Planetarium or the Mayflower II, which is undergoing restoration in the shipyard.
Plan your trip by checking hours and purchasing tickets ahead of time. You can easily spend a whole day here, or just soak up what history you can in a few hours.
Make no mistake, the Mystic Aquarium isn’t a glorified sea petting zoo for kids. It’s a highly regarded sea research facility focused on education and conservation that’s certified by the American Humane Conservation group. There’s so much to discover here -- starting with the only beluga whale exhibit in the Northeast. The aquarium has over 300 species -- including some that you can actually pet.
The Mystic Aquarium is open year-round, but some outside exhibits may not be available during inclement weather. Prepare for your visit by purchasing tickets online ahead of time. You’ll see prices vary between $26 and $36, depending on the day of the week you’ll attend. There’s also an option to buy a combination ticket for the Aquarium and Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum.
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
On 350 acres of mixed woods, wetlands, and meadows, you’ll find numerous hiking trails to explore at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Open daily year-round, tickets for accessing the nature center, trails, and adjacent Coogan Farm are $8 for adults.
Coogan Farm is one of the earliest colonial farms in the area. Acquired by the nature center in 2013, the farm completes a larger trail system connecting to the aquarium and Maritime Museum.
You can also visit the Denison Homestead Museum, known as the 1717 House. The home, continuously occupied by six generations of the Denison family, is another example of colonial culture and farm life. The Homestead Museum is open year-round. Admission is $5 daily, but tours are only available Friday, Saturday, and Monday between June and October. You can also enjoy an amazing farmers market here on Sunday afternoons from June to October.
Water Adventures In Mystic, Connecticut
Visit Mystic between May and August and there are all kinds of water adventures to enjoy. They range from captaining a vessel of your choice -- from a sailboat to a kayak -- to cruising on one of the historic ships in the Mystic Seaport. One historic ship is the Sabino, a 110-year-old Maine steamboat that was designated a National Historic Landmark after arriving in Mystic. The Sabino offers trips of varying lengths for $25 a passenger.
Another option is to take your picnic provisions on-board the sailing schooner Argia. You can take a two-hour cruise during the day or enjoy a sunset cruise from May to mid-October. Purchase your tickets ahead of time online for $53 a passenger.
The ultimate way to spend a summer day on the water is sailing to Fisher’s Island in Long Island Sound. This option is perfect if you love swimming, snorkeling, and picnics.
Mystic Outdoor Art Festival
If you visit in August, check out the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival, or MOAF. August 2020 will be the 62nd anniversary for this festival -- the oldest of its type in the Northeast. MOAF typically draws about 85,000 visitors over the weekend and hosts a juried art show that features the work of artists from all over the United States. Visiting the two-plus miles of arts and craft booths could easily make this an all-day event.
Eating In Mystic
Mystic has turned into a must-visit destination for devoted New England foodies. There’s a growing collection of farm- and sea-to-table restaurants and casual eateries all showcased in historic settings.
Rise, in the heart of downtown Mystic, offers a hearty breakfast menu featuring fluffy buttermilk pancakes, challah bread french toast, and killer breakfast sandwiches. The Egg, Peanut Butter, and Bacon breakfast sandwich comes with maple syrup. Just know that they don’t serve espresso drinks here. There are sandwiches, salads, or ramen for lunch.
Sift, the French-forward bakery in downtown Mystic, is where you can order an espresso drink to go along with sweet and savory anytime pastries, artisanal bread, and desserts. Their bakers arrive in the middle of the night to begin prepping and baking treats -- including the 81 layers of dough and butter that go into their croissants. You can also pick up gourmet provisions here if a picnic’s on your agenda for the day.
Oyster Club + Treehouse’s sign above the clapboard home these restaurants are situated in says, “Farm + Sea to Table,” and the food tells the story from origin to harvest. One look at their menus and you’ll want to spend the day eating fresh oysters and clams, Quahog chowder, Stonington crabs, and homemade tagliatelle with prime beef and pork ragu. In summer, try Treehouse above the main restaurant. Catch the coastal breeze while eating clam-shack classics outside.
Oyster Club’s sister restaurant, The Engine Room serves beer, burgers, bourbon, and more in the refurbished Lathrop Marine Engine building. The beef in the burgers comes from the Grass + Bone Butcher, also owned by the same group. Outside of burgers, they serve a mix of New England classics with a Southern touch, including the Stonington Scallops and Grits. Round it all out with one of the 16 beers on tap or a bourbon-centered cocktail.
Mystic is also home to the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the United States. B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill, a National Historic Landmark, is open seven days a week from September to early December. Since 1881, the mill has used fruit from local apple orchards to make cider, hard cider, and apple wines. Try one of their famous apple donuts to go with your cider.
Finally, all dedicated fans of the famous Mystic Pizza movie starring Julia Roberts should visit the movie’s location -- the real-life Mystic Pizza -- for a slice of pizza. Besides the pizza, you can also try the fried artichokes, fried meatballs, or fried pickles.
Shopping In Mystic
Shopping in this unique, well-preserved historic town’s 80+ shops is an experience in itself. Package up unique stores in a historic setting and I can lose myself for a full day, stopping only for food and wine.
Mystic Knotwork started in 1957 and moved to the current store in 2015. You’re likely to find artisans tying knots when you visit the store, now located in a former sail and rigging repair shop -- the perfect spot for this heritage shop that specializes in nautical knots. Find something wearable or explore the home decor items for a unique souvenir.
Nearby, on West Main Street, you’ll find the shop Sea Bags. The company behind the store makes all types of bags from used sails. Purses, travel bags, and even wine bags printed with nautical themes are made from gently used sails. These are the perfect one-of-a-kind souvenirs from a New England seaside village vacation.
Kitch is a one-of-a-kind cooking and kitchen equipment store located near the Mystic Aquarium. Owned by a local couple, the store sells cookware, Jansal Valley Provisions spices, and over 40 varieties of local and small-batch sauces from their hot sauce bar.
Look for the painted whale outside a shop on West Main Street to find Bank Square Books. The independent bookstore has been a Mystic establishment since 1988. It’s the perfect spot to find works by local and New England authors.
Round out your shopping experience by visiting Olde Mistick Village, a recreated early 18th-century village complete with tree-lined cobblestoned streets. The 60 small boutique shops within sell handmade jewelry, gifts, and souvenirs.
If you’re pining for a Connecticut vacation, you’ll also want to consider a Weekend Getaway To New Haven, Connecticut with The Best Things To Do.