Tucked away on the eastern side of Connecticut, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, is the idyllic coastal village of Mystic. Perhaps you have heard of its rich colonial and maritime history, or maybe you just saw that one movie, Mystic Pizza, with Julia Roberts in the 80s. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. Mystic has a lot more to offer than just nautical heritage and sites of coming of age films from the 1980s. There are a wealth of things to do on a trip to this wonderful destination from museums to casino resorts.
In actuality, there is nothing supernatural or otherworldly about Mystic, Connecticut. The name Mystic is a derivative of the word missi-tuk, a term meaning a river that flows into waves at the sea in the native Pequot language. The Pequot American Indian tribe are the earliest known inhabitants of the Mystic area.
After the Dutch, and subsequently, the English, took up residence and displaced the native population, Mystic became an important port area. The easy access to the river and the sea made trading in the resource-rich region highly profitable for the colonists who lived there. Trade and agriculture, as well as whaling, became major industrial endeavors.
Mystic continued to thrive throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but as the industrial revolution and urbanization drove populations and industry to the big cities like Boston and New York, Mystic fell out of importance as a seaport. These days, however, Mystic flourishes thanks to a strong tourism industry and has reinvented itself as a coastal vacation destination.
Geography and Weather
Mystic, Connecticut, as a coastal village, has a flat but heavily wooded landscape, adding to its natural beauty. Its rocky shores have little in the way of beaches, but that isn’t why visitors come here. The scenic views of the sea and vintage lighthouse points are what keep the tourists coming.
Because it is a Northeast Coast village, Mystic enjoys a temperate climate with predictable seasonal weather. Warm and sunny summers followed by crisp Autumns. Cold and snowy winters for white holidays that give way to balmy and sometimes drizzly Springs. Depending on your preference for weather, there really isn’t a wrong time to go to Mystic or an “off-season.”
Mystic, Connecticut’s weather averages over 200 sunny days a year. The average high in July is only 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature drops to as low as 19 degrees in January. You will have to dress accordingly for Mystic’s weather, but it isn’t prone to extremes so there shouldn’t be many surprises.
Activities in Mystic
Visitors have a diverse set of options to choose from for things to do in Mystic, Connecticut. While the village is famous for its history and heritage, the local industries have diversified available activities and attractions to maximize traffic and enjoyability. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of thing to do there.
First, the most famous draw of Mystic. As mentioned above, Mystic has a long and storied history that has provided it with a rich collection of heritage sites and significant artifacts. Both the sea and the land hold insights into America’s past that are sure to be of interest to anyone with at least a passing interest in the nation’s maritime and colonial history.
- Mystic Seaport: By far the most famous of Mystic’s attractions is its seaport. This faithful recreation of a 19th-century coastal village is a sort of living museum with displays, historical buildings, cafes and activities. It is home to a collection of recreated and authentic, preserved ships including the Charles W. Morgan. She is the oldest surviving merchant vessel of any kind, and the only intact wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American merchant fleet. The seaport truly has something for everyone.
- Olde Mystick Village: Another preserved American historical site, the Olde Mystick Village is an area of town with both preserved and recreated buildings from some of the nation’s earliest days. The area has a wide array of specialty shops where you can find gifts and treats for just about anyone. There are also several popular seafood restaurants where you can get a nice meal and rest your feet after a day’s shopping.
- Mini Museums: Aside from the main historical areas of Mystic, there are several smaller attractions dotting the village. The Denison Homestead Museum is a colonial homestead preserved by the original family who built it, the Denisons, and gives insight into Mystic life throughout the years of America’s history. B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill is a vintage cider mill that makes apple cider the old-fashioned way. They offer tours, samples and goods for purchase. There are also many smaller sites and monuments like Liberty Pole Square for the history buff or just someone who wants to check out some interesting stuff on a walking tour.
The Natural World
For the nature enthusiast or young children, there are a few places to get closer to flora and fauna of the region.
- Mystic Aquarium: The Mystic Aquarium is a fantastic family outing for anyone who likes to experience sea life first hand. The have beluga whales, sea lions, stingrays, penguins and more. The facilities and staff are all tailored for the comfort of the animal, and there are demonstrations and displays to educate visitors about these ocean animals and their conservation.
- Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center: This area, which is not far from the aquarium, is a nature preserve and educational center. It is a collection of hiking trails and habitats including a duck pond. There is also a nature center with displays and exhibits for educational purposes and some birds of prey such as hawks and owls living on the grounds.
Arts and the Outdoors
If the arts are more your thing, Mystic has that covered, too. The Mystic Museum of art has a diverse collection of art from local and visiting artists on display. Admission is free, and it’s a great place to visit if you are into art of all kinds or are just looking for something interesting to do on a rainy day. If the stage is more your speed, the Mystic Dark Room is a local theater that puts on high quality performances year round. Tickets do sell out sometimes, so be sure to book ahead of time.
For the outdoorsy types, the land and sea provide ample opportunity to get out there and have fun. On the water, there are boat tours, day cruises, paddle boarding and other rental services in town. On land, there are plenty of hiking trails and bike rentals so you can get around and explore.
Food and Lodging
As far as food goes, Mystic’s main claims to fame are seafood and pizza. As a New England seafaring village, it has a rich tradition of gathering the bounty of the sea. As such, Mystic’s seafood restaurants are among the best in the region an are a major draw. They are dotted around the village, and concentrated more heavily in the historic downtown areas.
As mentioned before, the movie Mystic Pizza was inspired by the pizza parlor in Mystic of the same name. It exists to this day and enjoys the benefits of its 15 minutes of fame in the way of tourists and fans of Julia Roberts. The pizza is pretty good, too!
Where you stay will be influenced by what you plan to do in Mystic. If you are looking for a more exciting time, preferably without kids in tow, then the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casino resorts are prime destinations. Positioned on nearby American Indian reservations, these resorts offer gambling and entertainment as well as luxury accommodations.
If you are looking for a quieter stay, many major hotel chains have branches in the Mystic area including Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and more budget-friendly stays like Days Inn and Econolodge. Not quiet enough? Well, there are a number of comfortable and secluded bed and breakfasts in Mystic as well. Enjoy a stay in authentic colonial homes like the House of 1833, Brigadoon and Whitehall Mansion bed and breakfasts.
Fun Facts about Mystic
Did you Know?
Some fun facts about Mystic:
- Mystic Pizza was not actually filmed in the now famous pizzeria. Exteriors and other location shots were filmed in parts of Mystic, but not the pizzeria itself.
- Mystic is not legally a town in Connecticut. It is a village within the towns of Groton and Stonington.
- Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall honeymooned at the Inn at Mystic.
- The Mystic River (yes, the one from the movie) divides the village in half into an east and west side.
A Historic Stay
A vacation in Mystic offers an unparalleled opportunity for immersion into American maritime history. The village also has much to teach about the nation’s colonial and old New England past. Understandably, this may not interest all visitors, but the various outdoor activities, natural attractions, puppet shows, specialty shops, gambling, art and entertainment opportunities make Mystic a destination diverse enough to attract all comers. Whether it’s at a big hotel or quaint bed and breakfast, your stay will create plenty of memories.