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Located between Boston and New York City, the village of Mystic lies along the Mystic River, which flows into Long Island Sound, providing easy access to the Atlantic. An especially picturesque coastal town, it has an incredibly rich, well-preserved history, and is a popular tourist destinations thanks to hosting Mystic Seaport, with one of the country’s largest maritime museums. It was also spotlighted int he hit 1988 film, “Mystic Pizza,” with its famous Mystic Pizza eatery the inspiration for the Julia Roberts movie. Here you’ll find lots of things to see and do, but these are truly not to be missed.
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Mstic Seaport is the country’s leading maritime museum. It was founded in the 1920s and hosts four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last remaining wooden whale ship. It also has a collection of more than 500 other historic vessels, and one of the most extensive collections of maritime photography in the nation. The complex includes a working preservation shipyard, a recreated 19th-century seafaring village, fascinating exhibits and a planetarium as well. From mid-May through mid-October, you can even get out on the water to explore the historic Mystic River.
The Maritime Gallery overlooks the Mystic River and is the foremost gallery in the U.S. If you’re interested in maritime art, this is a great place to check out contemporary works, with many original maritime landscapes of the shoreline, sea and wildlife, as well as ship models and scrimshaw. The gallery also hosts art education and art appreciation events throughout the year, including a unique Behind the Canvas program in which gallery artists share their personal stories about how they create a work of art through lectures, slideshow presentations, and live demonstrations.
The Mystic Aquarium offers a lot more than your typical aquarium, as a research and rescue facility as well as a multi-faceted attraction that’s arguably most well-known for its unique encounter programs that allow visitors to get up close to creatures like African penguins and even beluga whales. It has so much to offer, you’ll really need an entire day to experience it, with touch tanks, a 4D theater, and a sea lion show in addition to its many marine life exhibits. Its interactive “frogs!” exhibit is home to over 30 various frog species.
If you’re here between May and late October, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to sail out of Mystic harbor on the Schooner Argia. It travels under the Bascule bridge which spans across Mystic River, and heads out in the breeze on Fishers Island Sound. Half-day and sunset cruises are available, allowing passengers to take in the surrounding islands and the water, as well as scenic coastlines and picturesque lighthouses along the way. While it includes snacks and lemonade, you can bring your own picnic, including beer or wine too.
In the 1720s, when Mystic was just getting its start, there were no shopping malls but the village streets were filled with a wide range of shops. Olde Mistick Village serves as a reconstruction of an early 18th-century village, while providing a variety of shopping experiences along its tree-lined cobblestoned streets. When you need to take a break, you can enjoy relaxing by the duck pond or a meal one of the restaurants and cafes, which include some of the town’s top offerings. Whatever you do, be sure to sample some of the delectable homemade fudge at Franklin’s General Store.
In the United States, there is just one steam-powered cider mill that’s in working condition, and it’s right in Mystic. The season kicks off in September, featuring sweet apple cider and hard cider, apple wines, jams and jellies, local honey, maple syrup and fudge in addition to offering apple wine tastings. The fall also brings the chance to buy apples, apple pies, pumpkin bread, gourds, Indian corn, pumpkins, candy apples, kettle corn and even apple cider donuts. And, if you go on an October or November weekend, you’ll be able to watch the old press in action, doing what it’s been doing for nearly 140 years.
The movie that launched Julia Roberts’ career is the same film that put Mystic on the map. 1988’s “Mystic Pizza” is what inspired it, and while it wasn’t shot at the restaurant (a replica in a nearby warehouse was used), it still draws numerous visitors to try “a slice of heaven” and check out memorabilia from the movie. The Seafood Delight, topped with shrimp, clams and scallops is a favorite.
The Denison Homestead and Pequotsepos Manor played a significant role in Mystic’s history. The manor was first built in the 17th-century, on the 160 acres of land granted to Captain George Denison for his military service. While the original manor burned down, it was replaced in 1717, and served as the home for six generations of Denisons. In 1946, it was transformed into a museum, and visitors can view its well-preserved, restored rooms that contain original period furniture. A variety of activities are organized as well, including house tours led by costumed guides and Archaeology Family Days which offers the opportunity for kids and their parents to hunt for 17th- to 19th-century items.
Explore Haley Farm State Park
In this picturesque Connecticut state park that’s even more stunning in autumn with its vibrant foliage, you can ride the nearly 1-mile bike trail that’s part of the 7.5-mile walking and biking pathway which meanders from Mystic to Groton. It preserves colonial-era farmland, with its site former part of the lands that were granted to Governor John Winthrop before becoming a dairy farm. Its 267 acres are linked to the adjacent Bluff Point State Park via a foot bridge over railroad tracks.