Mystic, CT
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Mystic, CT

This quaint fishing village is home to a world-class aquarium and, of course, Mystic Pizza.

Sailors and Whalers

Whether you have "Little Mermaids" or "Captain Nemos" in tow, a trip to Mystic is a sure-to-please maritime adventure. The nautical fun includes exploring nooks and crannies of tall ships, coming nose-to-nose with beluga whales, and "manning" controls of the world's first nuclear submarine.

Part of Mystic's appeal is its old-time ambiance. This former shipbuilding and whaling village is quintessential New England charm -- plenty of white steeple churches, clapboard buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and weathered boats. During a long weekend, there's lots of time for sailing, swimming, and super-fresh seafood.

Something's Fishy

Mystic's major attraction is Mystic Seaport, a 17-acre re-creation of a 19th-century maritime community. Your little ones will be happiest in the village area, where they can scramble from one ship to the next -- turning captain's wheels, peeking through portholes, and climbing ladders between decks. The village also has more than 30 historic buildings, including homes, a one-room schoolhouse, and a general store with old-fashioned toys and games on display.

For hands-on activities, plan time at the Children's Museum (ideal for ages 7 and under) and the Discovery Barn (ages 8 and up). The fun includes floating paddleboats, donning sailor's garb, and "cooking" in the galley. Over at the Discovery Barn, young mates can test their seamen's skills tying knots, identifying signal flags, and furling sails.

Older children, as well as sailors and history buffs, will enjoy talks about life on land and sea during the whaling industry's heyday. But the big wows go to Seaport "sailors," who'll climb 60 feet of ropes and rigging to show how a tall ship is readied for sail. Visitors are usually welcome to pitch in with the hauling and hoisting. All hands on deck!

Throughout the day, there are plenty of family events and activities. Here are some of the best:

  • A Tale of a Whaler
    A funny and fast-moving play about life onboard a whaling ship, with plenty of acting roles for kids. Tell Dad to behave or he might be used as a lighthouse prop.
  • Planetarium
    Presentations on the night sky, celestial navigation, and constellations. On Wednesday evenings in summer, you can view the stars and planets through outdoor telescopes.
  • Games on the Village Green
    A chance for soccer stars and budding gymnasts to give old-fashioned games like hoops, stilts, graces, and tug-of-war a whirl.
  • Arts and crafts
    Some days, it's designing scrimshaw and quilt squares. Others, it's rope-making and crafting boats. Activities change constantly but are always creative and fun.
  • Preservation Shipyard
    Watch craftspeople repair, restore, and maintain the museum's expansive collection of wooden boats.
  • Dead Horse ceremony
    Sounds gruesome but it's not. This recreation of an old-time tradition involves singing sea chanteys, marching around the deck, throwing a stuffed canvas horse overboard, and setting the sail.
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
    Clip-clop your way through the village the way they did in the 19th century. But before you go, visit the street vendors. The ride is even more fun when you're sipping lemonade and munching on snicker-doodle cookies!

Baby Belugas

Ever sing Raffi's "Baby Beluga" to the kids when they were little? Then they'll enjoy seeing the real thing at Mystic Aquarium. Three beluga whales share an outdoor home in the Alaskan Coast exhibit with several neighbors -- seals, sea lions, and African penguins, who "fly" underwater. Inside, touch-tanks housing tropical fish, sharks, seahorses, and a new California sea lion show offer plenty of thrills.

River Rides

What's a trip to a seaport village without a boat ride? Here are some fun ways to travel up and down Mystic River.

  • Mystic Whaler and The Argia
    Both of these tall ships are replicas of schooners from 100 years ago. Day sails include either lunch or light refreshments, a chance to help the captain steer the craft, and insights on local history, lighthouses, and islands.
  • Steamboat Sabino
    Built in 1908, the Sabino chugs along mid-May through mid-October at the Seaport. The half-hour trip offers great views of the Seaport.
  • Rowboat/sailboat rentals
    Be skipper of your own ship. The Boathouse at Mystic Seaport has classic small wooden rowboats and sailboats for rent. Another option: Rent a boat with a captain and let him do all the work.

Inside a Submarine

The kids will really appreciate the comforts of home once they get a look at the tight quarters on the Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine. A crew of 116 men lived on the sub (319 feet long by 27 feet wide) during its historical crossing underneath the North Pole (1958). The self-guided tour takes about 20 minutes and visits all the most exciting areas -- the attack room, torpedo room, control center, and officers' living quarters.

At the Submarine Force Museum next door, you can fiddle with periscopes, watch films on submarine history, and check out some mini subs. Sorry, no film clips of Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, but numerous references to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After all, the Nautilus was named in honor of Captain Nemo's pride and joy.


Type of trip: Historical, educational, sightseeing

Best ages: 5 and up

Ideal trip length: Long weekend

Distance: Hartford (47 miles), Boston (108 miles), New York City (125 miles), Albany (160 miles)

Best time to go: May to mid-October, for the most comfortable and dependable touring weather. Summer weekends can be hot and crowded.

Weather: 70/48 degrees in May, 79/57 in June, 82/62 in July and August, 74/53 in September, and 64/42 in October

Lodging: Mystic has only 1,200 hotel rooms, making it difficult to get last-minute reservations for holiday and summer weekends.

Squirm factor: Some, if you don't choose activities carefully.

The Inside Scoop

Mystic Chamber of Commerce Information Center 28 Cottrell St. in Historic Downtown Mystic Phone: 860-572-9578


Mystic Seaport 75 Germanville Ave. on Route 27, one mile south of I-95 (exit 90) Phone: 888-9SEAPORT


Mystic Aquarium 55 Coogan Blvd., off I-95 (exit 90) Phone: 860-572-5955


Mystic Whaler Cruises 15 Holmes St. Phone: 800-697-8420 or 860-536-4218


Voyager Cruises - Tall Ship Argia Steamboat Wharf Phone: 860-536-0416

Steamboat Sabino Sabino dock near the main entrance of Mystic Seaport Phone: 888-9SEAPORT


Sailboat/Rowboat Rentals Boathouse at Mystic Seaport Phone: 888-9SEAPORT


Historic Ship Nautilus/Submarine Force Museum Naval Marine Base, Route 12 (Exit 86 off I-95), Groton Phone: 860-694-3174


If You Go...

Favorite local spots:

Mystic Pizza I 56 West Main St., downtown Mystic Phone: 860-536-3700 This is the pizza parlor featured in Mystic Pizza, the movie that launched Julia Roberts' career. Hollywood hasn't gone to the restaurant's head, though...the pizza is still mouthwatering.

Local foods: Yankee pot roast, lobster, fried clams, and clam chowder

Best souvenir: Captain's hat from Mystic Seaport

Seasonal Events: Unless otherwise noted, contact Mystic Seaport (888-9SEAPORT) or the Mystic Chamber of Commerce (860-572-9578) for more information.

  • Lobster Fest
    Mystic Seaport
  • Sea Music Festival
    Mystic Seaport
  • Independence Day Celebration
    Mystic Seaport
    4th of July
  • Melville Marathon
    Mystic Seaport
    End of July
  • Mystic Outdoor Art Festival
    Downtown Mystic
    Phone: 860-572-5098
  • Meet the Artists and Artisans
    Olde Mystick Village
    Phone: 860-536-4941
    Labor Day weekend

Traffic alert: Beware of the working drawbridge in downtown Mystic. It's charming but can snarl traffic when it rises to let boats pass. During peak boating months, the bridge goes up 15 minutes past the hour throughout the day. The only exception is noon, when lunch-hour traffic takes precedence.

Side Trips

Nature Center

After a few busy days of seaside touring, give that gang of yours a change of pace. At the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a 125-acre wildlife sanctuary, seven miles of trails wind through meadows, woodlands, wetlands, and a butterfly garden. The 20-minute red trail and one-hour white trail are the easiest for families with small children.

Call ahead about educational programs. If you hit it right, your little ones might be able to participate in classes about "Cold and Clammy Critters," "Warbler Watching," "Fireflies and Friends," and more. There are also canoeing and salt marsh adventures for the whole family. Don't forget to pack your pond nets and bug catchers. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center 109 Pequotsepos Rd. in Mystic, 2 miles off Route 27 Phone: 860-536-1216

Reviewed April 2004.