I will publish a separate discussion of Mystic’s two big draws: Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium. There’s way too much info to put in one post.
DOWNTOWN MYSTIC The main drag is Main Street (creative!) and parking is tough. Try side streets. The downtown shopping area is only a few blocks long but it has a good selection of shops selling women’s and children’s clothing, home décor, etc. A few places to point out: the ice cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream is fantastic: creamy, flavorful, and homemade tasting. Two thumbs up. The bookstore Bank Square Books (53 W. Main St.) at the other end has a good selection and a nice children’s section with stuff like sticker and coloring books. The Army Navy store (37 W. Main St.) is a welcome change of pace.
There’s a toy store (Mystical River Toys) on the other side of the drawbridge and down the end of that street (Cottrell Street), across from the river is a playground. Mystic River Park has public restrooms.
RESTAURANTS IN MYSTIC S&P Oyster House is a great spot right on the water near the drawbridge. Heavy on seafood; kid’s menu; lively; indoor and outdoor seating (I prefer an upstairs window table); make reservations if you want to go in season.
If you’re craving a lobster roll and you’re on a budget, head to Sea Well, a fish store that will make you a very reasonably priced, very fresh lobster roll. Best to call ahead: (860) 415-9210.
I am convinced that the best lobster eggs Benedict in the universe is made at Kitchen Little, a small, unassuming spot on the second floor of the Mystic Marina. If you like breakfast food, this is your Mecca. You can order breakfast for lunch. My kind of place. I never miss eating here when I’m in Mystic.
In the middle of Main Street, a reliable place to eat is Ancient Mariner; there’s a kid’s menu. Mystic Pizza is good, but not Holy Cow. Pizzetta makes thin crust, more gourmet pizza. Voodoo Grill and Margarita’s are next to each other just off Main Street. One serves New Orleans-style food and the other – can you guess? Both are options for a fun atmosphere and decent but not memorable food. For those angling for haute Southern food, Engine Room is a lively, loud space just past S&P Oyster House on Holmes Street. Just off the highway (Exit 90) there’s a Friendly’s (yum! and cheap and kid friendly). Friendly’s is a chain known for its value, its ice cream, and its slow service.
RESTAURANTS NEAR MYSTIC In Noank, about 10-15 minutes from downtown Mystic are two lobster spots and a clam shack worth seeking out. Honestly, if you have a car and are a foodie, get out of Mystic. Ford’s Lobsters sits right on a dock and is a perfect spot to dig into dishes like the lobster bomb or grilled halibut if you are lucky enough to get a table right away (no reservations). It’s BYOB. Bonus! Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough has been in business since 1947. Here you order at the counter and can take your meal to a waterview picnic table. A stone’s throw from Abbott’s, the cleverly named Costello’s is where to go if you’re craving fried seafood. The fried clams are SO GOOD. You order at the counter and sit on the deck to watch the comings and goings at the marina.
THINGS TO DO IN MYSTIC Besides shopping and eating, and visiting Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, here are some other ideas for what to do in Mystic. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has fun programs. You can walk through the exhibits, see the animals, and do a trail walk. It’s inexpensive and very close to other Mystic attractions but off the main road so visitors usually don’t find it. It has a well curated gift shop with jewelry, kid’s toys, binoculars, etc. There’s a historic house across the street and the 34-acre Coogan Farm.
Enders Island A circa 1918 Arts and Crafts-stlye mansion is the focal point of this tranquil spot now used for Catholic retreats. It’s on a small island literally surrounded by water (Fishers Island Sound) views. Stately yet earthy, the main house and the main chapel are built with rough fieldstone, blending into the location, which is surrounded by a rocky sea wall and has rocks leading from it down to the water on all sides. There are several lovely gardens on its 11 acres, a gazebo, a pergola, stations of the cross, a tiny seaside chapel, and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. An odd fact: the chapel houses a relic, the arm of St. Edmund, in a glass case. The organization now has three rooms to let to the general public – they are no bargain but boy, what a spot. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the grounds. Please be respectful of this serene, spiritual location. To get here, you will have to go by the Mason’s Island gate house. If a guard is on duty, tell him you are visiting Enders Island.
Mystic Library Check their website to see if they have a suitable program for you (both kids and adults) when you’re in town. Wi-Fi and computers. Nice kids’ area with dollhouse, Tinker Toys, cardboard blocks, puzzles. And books of course! Literally two minutes from downtown.
Get Out on the Water There are a number of opportunities to rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks, sail boats; and to relax on a harbor cruise. If you’re visiting the Mystic Seaport, they have options. There are also harbor cruises that leave from the docks by the drawbridge. If you’ve never seen a drawbridge in action, the Mystic River Drawbridge opens at 20 minutes before each hour from 7:40 a.m. until 6:40 p.m. and also by request. Don’t get caught in the traffic!
THINGS TO DO NEAR MYSTIC
Stonington Borough Really picturesque little village not even 10 minutes north of Mystic. A few blocks of stores and restaurants and lovely Colonial homes. Walk the main street for interesting antiques shops, clothing and jewelry stores, but also drive around a bit and look at the architecture. Restaurants: Breakwater right on the water – there’s indoor as well as outdoor seating. It’s toward the bottom of Water Street, the main drag, set off the street. One I haven’t been to is Dog Watch Café – on the water, kids’ menu. There’s a good playground parallel to Water Street toward the water (Northwest St. btwn Grand and Pearl). There’s a Lighthouse Museum that I have not visited. A short drive from Water Street is the Secret Garden – look for frogs in the little pond, play in the little plastic play house, crawl through the caterpillar, learn Braille. It’s near the Stonington Community Gift Shop on Cutler Street.
In Montville, about a half hour inland from Mystic, Dinosaur Place is so much fun! Enormous life-size dinosaur statues (not animatronic) line easy, wide trails (fine for strollers) and there’s a dinosaur-themed water park (spray areas, not rides) and playground and maze. Not cheap but you can spend a whole day there. Good food options for kids. Need water shoes to go in water area.
Florence Griswold Museum In Old Lyme, the “Flo Gris” is a beautiful historic home with spectacular gardens and expansive grounds. A truly bucolic setting, it was once a boarding house for artists. It operates an art gallery and a nice little gift shop and has intelligent programming year round. On summer Sundays, there is a scavenger hunt in the house for kids and canvas and paints — included in admission — for kids to wander the grounds and be inspired to paint a scene en plein air. Very well done. Kids LOVED it.
HOTELS I had family in Mystic for many years so I never needed a hotel. That said, I have stayed at one hotel, the Days Inn Mystic. It is utilitarian but 1) it’s cheap: $75 at peak of summer 2) this means I could get two adjoining rooms so my kids had their own room and I didn’t have to go to sleep at 8pm 3) it has an outdoor pool 4) it’s convenient to all sights and right off I-95 and 5) there’s a free buffet breakfast with bagels, waffles, cereal, yogurt, etc. For those not on so small a budget, the Mystic Hilton is an option (around $200). For an inn and not a chain hotel, try Taber Inn (around $175), which has an indoor pool; Whaler’s Inn or Steamboat Inn (around $300), both right on Main Street; or the Inn at Mystic (about $200), which has an outdoor pool and a hilltop location.