The locale: A community of 4,200, about 7 hours east.
The scoop: Mystic is a major tourist destination known for its seaport, Maritime Museum, aquarium, restored ships and art galleries. Although there’s plenty to do off-season, summer and spring require at least a days-long stay to enjoy all that, plus shopping, river cruises, water sports, outdoor adventures and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. It’s also where the 1988 movie classic “Mystic Pizza” was filmed.
Mermaid Inn of Mystic, 2 Broadway Ave. — The area offers many hotel chains plus private inns and B&Bs. It’s the Mermaid Inn’s convenient location, friendly staff, wonderful breakfast and inviting wraparound porch that earns it high praise.
Latitude 41, 105 Greenmanville Ave. — We stopped at a couple of lunch spots near Mystic Seaport before choosing Latitude 41, and we weren’t disappointed. The five of us each picked a different item, then asked the waitress for recommendations before ordering. Salmon tacos (with corn salsa fresca and cilantro lime crème fraiche) and fish & chips were among the local favorites, and they were delicious.
Mystic Aquarium, 55 Coogan Blvd. — All manner of sea life is at home here. You’ll even get a chance to touch a shark (don’t worry, they’re small) or stingray, and gawk at ethereal jelly fish seemingly suspended in blue water. A sea lion show comes with the price of admission; if you’d like an up-close experience with seals, penguins or a beluga whale, plan to pay anywhere from $69 to $179 per adult.
Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave. — A 19-acre site with more than 60 original buildings and the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaling ship. Here’s where you’ll find the maritime museum and planetarium, watch restoration work, and tour three tall ships and a recreated 1870s village.
The Bascule Bridge, on Route 1 — Connects the two sides of Mystic over Mystic River. Many recommend stopping just to watch the bridge go up and down, but it will also take you from the aquarium side of Mystic to the downtown shopping district. A bascule bridge (similar to the Ferry Street Lift Bridge in Buffalo) is a balanced drawbridge. Mystic’s moveable span weighs 599 tons.
You can’t go wrong here. Olde Mistick Village, 27 Coogan Blvd., has a general store and 40-plus shops dedicated to such things as Murano glass, Scandinavian and Irish imports, oil and honey, artisanal foods and running apparel. About 1.5 miles away is Downtown Mystic’s equally eclectic assortment featuring blown glass, knot work, clothing, soap, yarn, marine consignments, sail-cloth bags and “men’s provisions” (such as bacon jam).
What the locals know
A friend suggested we drive around the borough of Stonington to admire all the old houses, and then follow Water Street onto a spit of land from which we’d be able to see Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. It was there where a couple of friendly bikers gave me the local lowdown: Skip the pizza place of movie fame, because it’s only so-so; Avanti’s Pizza at 55 Williams Ave. is the best. They also like Anthony J’s Bistro at 6 Holmes St. But, far and away, their favorite meals are the summertime dinners (think steamship round) on the lawn of the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society at 26 Main St.