When travelers think of visiting New England, they often think of visiting quaint little oceanside towns that still retain historic charm–towns such as Mystic, Connecticut. I was there for the first time in June. Because I was there for a family wedding, I had only a little time to explore, but it was enough. Mystic really is as charming as you imagine. For anyone living in southern New York or New England, Mystic is a reasonable drive for a weekend getaway and perfectly safe and comfortable for the solo traveler. (Just try to avoid the peak tourist season of summer.)
The #1 Reason to Visit Mystic: Mystic Seaport
For $24, you can explore this recreation of a 19th Century New England coastal village. Climb aboard classic sailing vessels, including The Charles W. Morgan, the world’s only surviving wooden whaling ship. Take a cruise on a coal-fired steamboat. See how boats were made. Enjoy the views of the water. Explore the gardens. Visit the Planetarium.
Explore the storefronts of the 19th Century. Part of me wishes stores were specialized like this again. They’re not as convenient as department stores, of course, but you could count on the store owner to be an expert in his or her field.
I most enjoyed exploring the old ships, though. The Charles W. Morgan was huge. I got winded just climbing the stairs to get up to the top deck. I spent a long time chatting with a staff member aboard The Joseph Conrad training ship who was passionate about its history. The Joseph Conrad has been used for over a hundred years as a training ship for young sailors.
The amount of time you’ll want to spend at Mystic Seaport will vary, depending on your level of interest. Check the calendar of events when you arrive; you may catch some interesting demonstrations while you’re there.
No Chain Stores Here: Olde Mistick Village
Are you a vacation shopper? I’m not, but if I were, I wouldn’t want to go to the same chain stores I can visit at home, would I? Olde Mistick is a cute little themed shopping village that reminded me a bit of Seaport Village in San Diego, except it’s not on the ocean. Here, you can do some shopping at specialty stores and artisan shops, including Silk Roads Imports, Raining Cats & Dogs, Irish Eyes (Irish-themed goods), and Sofia’s Mystical Christmas, where it’s Christmas all year around.
I mostly just enjoyed just wandering around the property. There are a lot of cool old antiques here, like the water pump above, old wagons, even a train caboose.
Is it touristy? Absolutely. So is all of Mystic. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s cute.
Three Places to Eat in Mystic When You’re Not in the Mood for Pizza
Thanks to the movie of the same name, everyone who visits Mystic wants to try Mystic Pizza. But what if you’re not in the mood for pizza? No worries. I can recommend three other restaurants where I enjoyed good meals during my trip:
If you’re in the mood for seafood, try Go Fish at Olde Mistick Village. The restaurant is a tad upscale (but not stuffy), with a colorful, contemporary decor, including some fun artwork on the walls. Unfortunately, even though the sun hadn’t set yet, it was way too dark inside to take adequate photos. The cup of lobster bisque ($6) and the artisan greens salad with blue cheese and spiced pecans ($11) were both delicious, and more than enough food for me. There’s plenty of bar seating here if you’re feeling social.
For you carnivores, Olde Mistick Village has another solid choice, The Steak Loft, which is owned by the same people who own Go Fish. Skip the restaurant and dine in the bar/lounge for quicker service and an interesting space. Eating in the Lounge felt like eating in a renovated barn. It’s very rustic. Its high ceiling is criss-crossed with wooden beams lined with license plates (why?), and farm-themed antiques decorate the lofts. Paired with your favorite brew, the steak sandwich–thin-sliced steak on a bulky roll with melted cheese, onions and mushrooms and a side of chips—is a tasty and inexpensive choice for lunch.
For breakfast or a great value all day long, try the Mystic Diner & Restaurant at 253 Greenmanville Avenue. It’s located in a large, sunny space with plenty of parking and indoor/outdoor seating. There’s a little counter seating area here if you’re dining solo and want to interact with others, but plenty of booths and tables as well if you’re not prepared to be social before your second cup of coffee. The breakfast menu is pretty extensive—with several different types of omelettes, pancakes, Belgian waffles, breakfast burritos, bagels, egg-meat-toast breakfasts, etc.–all very reasonably-priced. I was really torn between the Hawaiian French Toast and the California Benedict, but the Benedict won out because it had avocado and bacon. (Yes, it was delicious.) If you have a sweet tooth, check out their bakery case, too.
I wish I’d had time to visit the Mystic Aquarium or venture downtown to at least see the Mystic Pizza storefront. But I’m pleased with how much I was able to experience in the short time I had here. If you’ve got to drive ten hours round trip to attend a wedding, I can think of far worse places to wind up than lovely Mystic.
Have you ever visited Mystic? What was the best thing you did there?