In Mystic, Connecticut, you’re always close to the sea — to the look of it, the scent of it, the way the air seems to make room for it. This village on the Mystic River, an estuary of Long Island Sound, has only about 4,000 people, but it’s home to two of New England’s most popular tourist destinations: Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, both just upriver from Main Street and the old waterside downtown.
The Mystic Aquarium is part of the nonprofit Sea Research Foundation. Dedicated to education, the facility’s most popular attractions include New England’s only Beluga whale exhibit, habitats for rays, sharks and barracuda, a below-water viewing gallery where you can observe over 28 African penguins, a glimpse into the underwater world of the Amazon, and chances for kids to touch small sharks and over 20 other species in the Discovery Lab.
Mystic Seaport calls itself the Museum of America and the Sea. It is the largest maritime museum in the world, notable for its collection of sailing ships and boats, and for its re-creation of the crafts and fabric of an entire 19th-century seafaring village. It is home to the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaling ship.
Old downtown Mystic centers on the Mystic Bridge Historic District. The district lies along the east side of the river and is bisected by Main Street, which is also the major artery U.S. Route 1. The vibrant center of village life, downtown alive with local businesses like Bank Square Books, Bartleby’s Café, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream — and a certain pizza place on the corner of West Main and Bank Street. Mystic Pizza owes its worldwide reputation to the popular 1988 movie by the same name, which included Julia Roberts among the cast of then-unknowns.
Closer to nature, Mystic River Park features a park and pier for fishing. The Mystic Outdoor Art Festival is the oldest festival of its kind in the Northeast, with crowds of more than 85,000 coming from all over New England. The two-day affair features more than 250 artists and artisans. The art festival is just one of many events organized and supported by the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, a unifying voice in a community.
West Main Street and Bridge photos courtesy of Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce
All other photos courtesy of Eastern Regional Tourism District/Mystic County