Stepping into Another World | Bluff PointPhoto Credit : Julie Bidwell
Founded in 1654, this waterside village includes parts of the towns of Stonington and Groton, but centers on a historic downtown area nestled along the banks of the Mystic River. There are things to do in Mystic, CT, for everyone — whether you’re a nature lover, maritime history buff, or just someone who enjoys discovering great places to stay and eat within sight of one of New England’s most scenic shorelines.
The 800-plus acres that make up Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve, located between the Poquonnock River and Mumford Cove in Groton, are home to not only great spots for fishing and wildlife viewing, but also a top-notch coastal walking trail. From the park entrance off Depot Road, you can hike directly south on an old carriage road that leads to Bluff Point itself, about 1½ miles, offering views of distant islands and New London Ledge Light.
SEE MORE: 11 Magical New England Coastal Walks
In 2017 this venerable Mystic attraction notched a weighty honor: It became one of fewer than a dozen institutions worldwide to be certified by the American Humane Conservation, which works to ensure the wellbeing of animals living in aquariums and zoos. The certification won’t surprise anyone who’s been to this rigorously education-and-conservation-focused facility, home to Steller sea lions, beluga whales, penguins, shark, stingrays — more than 300 species in all.
SEE MORE: Guide to New England Aquariums
History floats at the nation’s leading maritime museum, where no fewer than four ships at its piers have been designated National Historic Landmark vessels (including the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaling ship). Located on 19 acres along the Mystic River, Mystic Seaport also offers visitors the chance to explore a re-created 19th-century seafaring village and a working preservation shipyard (where the Mayflower II recently underwent a rebuild before returning home to Plymouth, Massachusetts).
Partially obscured by a rocky outcropping near its entrance off Water Street, this little gem is worth seeking out. Having begun life in 1913 as an artist colony, the MMoA today spotlights the work of prominent American artists, with several Connecticut-associated names (Robert Brackman, Beatrice Cuming, future Old Lyme Art Colony founder Henry Ward Ranger). Plus, it has frequently changing exhibits and a full slate of classes for budding artists, from painting and photography to basket-making and other crafts.
The legend underneath the name of this lively, casual 120-seat eatery promises “beer, bourbon, and burgers” — and boy oh boy does it deliver. The beer selection is daunting, starting with a rotation of 16 craft beers and ciders on tap, and moving into more than 50 kinds of bottles, cans, bombers, and big boys that hail from Nebraska, Japan, Belgium, Michigan — almost any place you can think of. If the hard stuff’s your thing, there are 20-plus Kentucky bourbons just to get you started. And the burgers? Locally sourced, dry-aged beef stars in gourmet creations such as the Hot Fire, featuring a habanero cheese sauce, salted onions, and house-made bread and butter pickles.
Opened in 2014 at Seaport Marine, Red 36 immediately became a waterfront hot spot. Its sweeping deck, with up-close views of boats at the marina, has seating for 40-plus and is usually filled with a boisterous crowd in summer. Inside is equally inviting, with the lofty dining room offering a casual nautical vibe and — to warm the winter clientele — a cozy fireplace. On the eclectic menu (Thai peanut calamari, shrimp and grits, sesame salmon burger), the huge and flavorful salads are a must-try, as are any of the loaded and perfectly crisped flatbreads.
It’s true that Sift is a terrific place to go when packing a picnic basket, what with its elegant, seasonal sandwiches (think prosciutto on a fresh-baked baguette, with arugula, chèvre, and balsamic glaze), artisanal breads, and buttery quiche slices. But honestly, at this family-owned, French-accented bakery, we have a hard time focusing on anything beyond its sweet indulgences: papery-flaky croissants filled with dark chocolate, lemon meringue tarts, carrot cake roulade… It’s hard not to drool, especially when you can actually watch the bakers in action through glass windows as they put the finishing touches on that day’s masterpieces.
It took more than two years of meticulous renovation, but it was worth it: A beautiful 1853 sea captain’s mansion that had been chopped up into apartments and gone to seed came dramatically back to life in May 2016 as an eight-room luxury hotel. Original plasterwork, muraled ceilings, and walnut parquet floors are among the genteel grace notes that await guests at this property, which also boasts sweeping views of the town and waterfront. Equally sweeping is the list of amenities, which range from luxury bedding from the Massachusetts company Matouk to access to local high-end gym UP Fitness.
SEE MORE: Best New Hotels in New England
For some travelers, it’s all about the water view. If you’re one of them — or if you’re just intrigued by the promise of a one-of-a-kind location — set your course for the Steamboat Inn, Mystic’s only waterfront accommodations. The windows in all but one of the 11 antiques-filled rooms overlook the Mystic River; some rooms also have wood-burning fireplaces and/or whirlpool tubs. Right outside the front door are the restaurants, galleries, and boutiques of downtown Mystic, and attractions such as Mystic Seaport are just a short walk away.
A centrally located boutique hotel that offers some surprisingly reasonable overnight options, the Whaler’s Inn comprises five buildings from different eras. The 1865 House, for instance, is a historic Victorian that was once owned by shipbuilder George Mallory; the Main Inn, which is where you’ll find the lobby and the breakfast café, is a c. 1920 building that still retains some of its original tin ceilings. The décor throughout is a mix of traditional and modern, but uniformly classic and comfortable. And here’s a perk: The complimentary continental breakfast includes craft-coffee favorite Dave’s Coffee and pastries from Mystic’s best bakery, Sift (see above).
What are your favorite things to do in Mystic, CT? Let us know in the comments!
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.