A Weekend In Mystic, CT
A weekend trip to Mystic - some wonderful off-season quiet. Even a mean New England winter didn't stop this from being a wonderful time.
Mystic, CT Overview
This time we're going to a place pretty well known around New England: Mystic, CT. Now, you might not know it that well, and that's OK. That's where I come in. This is a city that should be on your list as a weekend destination if you're in the area, or if you're trying to escape one of the bigger metro areas like Boston or NYC. It's perfect for a getaway.
The actual original village, is hundreds of years old. That's old for America. It was a famous seaport - with a huge shipbuilding past. A past that includes the whaling industry, unfortunately. But, that's of course no longer a thing. Now the seaport itself is a fantastic museum. The village is kept alive, and it's a full little town with a great little main street to stroll along.
There's a few nice hotels in the area, the seafood is fresh, and you're really close to some of CT's nice beaches.
Let's dig in to a weekend in Mystic, CT - the perfect length of time for this town.
What To Do In Mystic, CT
So you're coming to Mystic and you've only got one weekend. No problem. I got you.
There's a surprisingly large amount to do here in such a little town. I'd say more so than in other New England towns of this size. And that's because it's got a trick up it's sleeves. More on that in a bit.
First - the old stuff. Mystic has the largest maritime museum in the United States, and it's awesome (Mystic Seaport Museum) . Lot's of old ships tend to be here - really old ships. They do a lot of fixing and repair here, even today, keeping the old fellas in working order or restoring them. They've taken the shipyard, and fashioned a little working crafts village here. It's got all sorts of things - a blacksmith, a cooper, a watchmaker/clock specialist, etc. Kind of a living, working museum.
Then when you're done there, you can go into the actual museum. It's dedicated to the workers and industry these ships used to serve, mainly the fishing and whaling industries. They have some great exhibits here and it's worth your time walking around. You'll easily spend an afternoon in total at both. In fact, when we were kids, we used to take field trips here for school. So it had been probably 30 years since I was last here. Still wicked cool. Unfortunately I was now closer in age to the ships....ba dum cha....Yeah I'll see myself out.
In terms of walking around, Mystic itself is very walkable. Main street cuts right through town, and the river is covered by the old Mystic Drawbridge. Yeah that kind of drawbridge. A working one. If you're lucky, you'll see it go up (well, that is unless you're driving, then it's not so lucky as you probably have somewhere to go). We walked right from the little downtown to the museum and back. If you're staying right in town, there's no need to drive. It's a nice walk.
In town you've got a lot of what you'd expect in a main street like this that caters to tourists. There's a few places to eat, some ice cream spots (I hear Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream is worth a taste). The bookstore in town is pretty cool if you like to browse. You'll find some clothing shops, too, and places for gift shopping. Around the corner off main street is a place you should definitely stop in - Sift Bake Shop. It's full of it's own creations and classic European bakery treats, though if a French person ever walked in I think they'd be terrified. The items here are pretty large, haha. All delicious though! Like seriously, delicious. The croissants, guava cheese danish, and sticky bun are out of this world. Classic to a 'T'? Probably not. Fantastic? Yes.
Next up, it's a big one and that trick I mentioned. The Mystic Aquarium is here! I get pretty excited about that, because it's great. It's not as big as the Boston one, or especially the Chicago one, etc. But it's full of charm. Best of all, it's not just an aquarium. Far from it. It's huge on the conservation scene, and is more of a research focused place. It's worth going to for support. I linked to their About Us page so you can learn more about their mission. It's not just a fish tank. They're one of two places in the US with specific type of seal, and one of two places in New England with beluga whales. If you haven't seen those, well, they're cute. Yeah I said it. Mystic Aquarium has a great penguin exhibit as well, which is always a big hit. I'll admit, I'd probably only go here in the off season. It can get pretty busy here otherwise. So that's not my thing. But on an off day in the winter? This place is a gem to pop into.
Then, right across the parking lot from here, is Old Mystic Village. Here they've preserved a lot of the original buildings from the village days, and turned them into a bunch of local shops. Great for a nice stroll. My favorites there are the general store (been going to these since I was a kid around New England so I love them) and the honey shop. I always stop in for some local honey. Typically, we'll hit this village up as we're leaving on our last day, it's convenient to stop by as you're heading out of town because it's not too far from the highway exit. Definitely stop by here!
What To Eat In Mystic, CT
If you've read any of my other reports on little sea side towns in the North East, you know one thing about the food I target. Seafood. That's right - if I'm going to a little tiny seaside town you can bet your bottom dollar I'm getting New England seafood. (And, yes I can say that expression because I'm writing about some place old, get it?). Our main target on these trips, fresh oysters. Give them all to us!
Thankfully, there are couple of great choices right in the main street area to scratch your itch. Our main stop, for oyster lunches or other delicious seafood, is S&P Oyster. It's right at the drawbridge, right on the water, it's a great spot. I'd say it's a little bit nice in terms of the scene. Still casual mind you - cause the whole town is casual. But it's a good choice to a more stepped up meal in terms of ambiance. As of this writing in Aug 2020, they are also doing a great job with a safe environment. They have lots of spaced out, outdoor seating. Their indoor seating is also spread out per state guidelines, they have new air filtration systems, and UV lights for disinfecting the rooms (same idea as the tech used on NYC Metro trains. This restaurant has good seafood and Italian dishes, and always has local oysters, which we appreciate. The fried oysters are great too, though I'd recommend getting the sauce on the side.
For dinner, I can't recommend this next place highly enough. In fact, I think it's just what Mystic needed. In June 2020, a new kid joined the team. That would be The Shipwright's Daughter. It's located in the Whaler's Inn (which also happens to be my top recommended hotel in town) and comes with an ambitious Chef at the helm. I would one thousand percent call this elevated, refined cuisine. The techniques and ingredients would not be out of place in your nearest cosmopolitan metro. And frankly, I think this is smart. Mystic has a lot of city people coming there to visit. And often times, a clientele that likes to get a more elegant dining experience. Not TOO elegant, but like, a step up. That's not a condemnation of the local casual fare joints - they are great, too. But it's good to have a bit of everything. And until now, I think this was missing in Mystic. We're big diners when we travel, so have been exposed to quite a bit. We also live in NYC, so again, we're exposed to all different kinds of restaurants. We loved everything we had here. I liked the use of Japanese ingredients you don't see in a lot of American places outside of the Michelin scene (like shisho leaves). I would say if you're in town, and you like that refined dining experience, this is your place. Make a reservation. It also gets two AW thumbs up on their gin selection, carrying Nolet's Silver, which is one of my absolute favs.
Another spot I would not want to leave off for you to consider, is the Oyster Club. Now I will say I have not actually been here yet, but it's got such a following and good things said about it, that I think you should consider it. For good measure - I would certainly go here myself, too. Lastly, to keep on your radar but maybe don't rush to, is the Spicer Mansion. This has a lot of potential - and we've eaten here twice. This past visit in Feb 2020, they seemed to have a different Chef than the previous visit, and the food just wasn't up to that environment. It was good, solid food, but it was just not refined at all and was more suited to an American gastro pub. Servings were way too big (comically big), and it's not the kind of place you go to equate size to value. The previous visit, we had the tasting menu and it was much, much more in line with the environment there. That said, the service is fantastic (both times) and the setting is also beautiful. There would be no reason to send someone there right now over Shipwright's Daughter, however. At least, not yet (Your move, Spicer).
Where To Stay in Mystic, CT
Mystic is a small city, let's be honest. It's more of a town with a village. So, this won't need to be that long of a section. To start, if you're of the loyalty crowd (I am at times) - there is pretty much a representation here for the Big 3. Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt. They all have spots here for you. But, also all out of center. I stayed in the Hilton here, and it was fine. Modern, standard Hilton with a nice staff. Breakfast nothing to write home about (but wait staff working hard in admittedly harder new conditions).
For me, the best recommendation I have is the Whaler's Inn. We stayed here on the first of two visits, when it was around negative 15 degrees F. Yeah. But bonus - we got a room with a fireplace and actually took a nap in front of it. Was awesome. It's dead center of town, right at the bridge, so you can walk everywhere except the Village and Aquarium. I know they also just renovated quite a lot of the rooms, too. It's a nice boutique hotel. It's not super luxury, but it's well appointed if that makes sense. Really nice staff in our dealings. New bonus, the breakfast is served at the Shipwright's Daughter!
Another spot that we really like the potential of is the Spicer Mansion. We stayed here on one visit as well. The mansion itself is fantastic. So much charm to it, and the original workings are amazing inside. The room we had was big, and pretty nice. I think it could be updated a bit, it was kind of sparse - but not bad. I think in general, the mansion could use some modernization in terms of pipes and such, we had some hot water issues while there. But, it's got a lot of pluses, too. Speakeasy in the basement. Check. Viewing room for the highest point in Mystic. Check. Great staff that worked hard to help with anything we needed, check. I think value wise? Maybe a bit over priced because they add in a "resort" fee on all the costs, mandatory. I think if ownership took the restaurant menu more seriously, and maybe worked to modernize some of the behind the scenes stuff without losing the historical side, this place would be crackin'. No breakfast here at the time of our visit. For this kind of place, and at that price, you'd expect one. To be clear though, it's gorgeous.
Final Thoughts on a Weekend In Mystic, CT
Mystic might be one of New England's best kept secrets. Or at least, secret from those outside of New England. For those of us from this area, we've known about it all along.
With more to offer than your typical seaside town of this size, it's such a great way to spend a weekend. Museum, aquarium, walking around, even a quick drive to some beaches if you prefer.
Beyond that, the food choices are great here. Lot's of casual American fare and Italian choices, with some nicer spots as well (especially the brand new as-of-2020 Shipwright's Daughter, a standout spot) coming in for when you want a special meal. Both S and P Oyster and Shipwright's Daughter also did everything right about following state and local guidelines about facemasks for their staff, guests when not seated, and proper spacing for the tables. Nice to see.
Pretty equally located between Boston and NYC, just over the border from Rhody, it's really never too far from anywhere in the area where you might regularly be. Make sure to check this place out soon. Thanks Mystic!
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