If you're reading this article, you've probably already heard of Mystic, Connecticut. This tiny town in the southeast corner of Connecticut has worked up quite a big name for itself across social media platforms for being the most charming little piece of the state. That's why when we found ourselves on vacation about an hour south of Mystic, we decided to take a day trip up the coast to see what all the hype was about. And well, the hype was right!
Mystic ended up being the highlight of our entire trip through CT, and yet I couldn't help but notice all the Mystic blog posts I saved across Pinterest mentioned the same top things to do in town. Why does everyone highlight the same activities when they have so much more to offer? In case you're new here, my husband Eric and I aren't exactly the "top 10" type of travelers. We love to forge our own path and find more unique ways to experience the places we travel. We took on Mystic with this same lens and since then, I rounded up a list of places and experiences that you might have otherwise missed in Mystic. Here's our take on some of the classics, plus some fun extras to add to your list! Happy adventuring!
Why so Mystical?
Mystic, CT certainly seems like a small town, but we learned it's actually an area that spans across Groton and Stonington, CT. We weren't ever able to figure out why this little village became popular enough to be given it's own name on top of the cities it lies within, but our hunch is it has something to do with its historic seaport that was buzzing back in the day.
Mystic used to be a central hub for ship-building and the town has the props to prove it. You can find a replica of the Mayflower ship, plus one of the nation's top maritime museums, The Mystic Seaport Museum. These are of course two of the "top 10" things you'll find recommended to visit on other blogs, and we're sure they're great, but we personally skipped on these given current COVID-19 precautions.
If you're skipping the museums but looking for a good alternative history lesson, take a walk along the waterfront of the Mystic River and do the self-guided tour. There are various info-graphic stops along the rivers edge that detail everything from the wildlife living in the area to geographical facts that outline what makes this river special. We won't spoil all of it, but we found it fascinating that the river is actually an estuary, which means its carries tides to and from the ocean and local fresh-water river systems. This creates a mix of fresh water and salt water and the current direction changes depending on where the water is flowing from. This also makes it a pretty unique ecosystem for animals and during the fall you'll find an overabundance of jellyfish! It isn't every day you see jellyfish in a river!
Shopping, Dining, and So Much More
Mystic is known for its quintessential New England charm, and you'll feel it the second you cross the draw bridge into town. The town was so cute, we just had to park and walk around a few of the shops. I hate to admit this, but I was a tiny bit nervous that Mystic might be stuffy, but that wasn't the case at all! We actually met some of the sweetest and kindest people while we were shopping around. The employees loved to strike up conversation with us (and special shout out to those that gave us awesome hidden-gem recommendations - more on that later!) and even other store patrons were super kind and interested in our time in their small town. Make sure you check out their unique mix of stores, our favorites were Trove & Fat Face.
(BTW: all the shops west of the river were open-air and some even open up to the river, which let's be honest is perfect for any day, but it truly made us feel safe since we visited during the pandemic).
If shopping is a little sleepy for you and you're looking for something more active, then you're in luck! We were so surprised by all the other activities Mystic offered including: boat tours, sailboat charters, stand up paddle-boarding, and kayaking! Also, if you're lucky, you'll get to see the drawbridge open up, which was truly a unique experience!
More Than Mystic
We got a hot tip from some of our new friends we made shopping to check out Stonington Borough. Considering none of the Pinterest articles mentioned this place, we knew we had to check it out. We said good-bye to the small town of Mystic that had captured our hearts and drove 10 minutes north to Stonington, where we decided to adventure around until sunset.
We immediately found free parking right near the water and thought we hit the lottery, but this turned out to be the first of many amazing experiences in this little town. We quickly realized this town was a total ghost town compared to Mystic! While Mystic wasn't crowded by any means, Stonington was truly empty except for those that lived in town. We felt like we had transported to another dimension and couldn't believe other out-of-towners hadn't discovered this place yet.
We spent the next hour or so walking Water Street (the main street) where you'll see a row of historic mansions that opens up to the cutest little main street, where you can find antique shops, art galleries, and plenty of restaurants and cafes. We pushed our coffee desires aside in attempt to reach the beach before sunset, but were sad to have missed out on Social Coffee, which came highly recommended by the locals.
Stonington Point and DuBois Beach are about a mile from the town. If you get there before sunset, there will be ample parking, but we encourage the walk so you can appreciate the huge water-front houses that line the street leading up to the Point. Right before the point, you can also stop off at the Stonington Lighthouse Museum, which unfortunately wasn't open during our visit but it was still incredible to walk around it and think of the 1800s when it was a functioning light house for the area.
Stonington Point itself is an incredible lookout offering a tri-state view, where you can stand in Connecticut and have unobstructed views of Rhode Island to the North and Long Island, NY to the South. We didn't stay for the sunset, but it seemed to be a popular place with the locals as we saw plenty of people propping up chairs to watch from the parking lot.
If you're looking for more on Connecticut, don't miss out on the rest of our trip! We combined our time in Mystic & Stonington with a stop in New London for the best lobster roll of our lives, which you can read about here!
Or, if you're looking for more on our camping adventures in the woods of Connecticut, make sure you check out the start of our series here!
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