Mystic, Connecticut is a quick, hour long drive along the coast from our home that our family enjoys making several times a year. The seaside town is home to many popular family friendly spots, and the nearby towns and cities of Stonington, New London, East Lyme, Norwich, and Niantic offer plenty more to see and do. Mystic was one of our first City Guides back in 2018; we have recently discovered some new-to-us places and thought we would update our guide.
Be sure to check out ThisisMystic.com and CTVisit.com for more ideas and recommendations on lodging, dining, shopping, and special events. Both sites also break down activities by season. Some of our favorite traditions include summers at the beach, the famous Pirate Invasion in the fall, the arrival of Santa via tugboat and holiday strolls in December, and the popular Mystic Irish parade in March.
20 Ways to Have Fun in Mystic:
1. Recreate daily life in a 19th century earring village at Mystic Seaport. The largest maritime museum in the United States, Mystic Village is spread out over 19 acres, with over 60 areas to explore. There are museums, recreated merchant shops (with live interpreters), three ships that visitors can board and explore, two museums geared towards children, places to eat and shop, and daily workshops and demonstrations.
Travel Tips: The complex is open May through December; updates on hours and admissions (there are a variety of discounted ticket options) here. Bring a stroller for little ones. Dining options on site and plenty of restaurants within walking distance or less than a 5 minute drive in either direction of the complex. Plan on 4-5 hours to explore the various areas. Read our full post here.
2. Touch a variety of sea life at the Mystic Aquarium. The aquarium is home to whales, sea lions, harbor seals, penguins, sand tiger sharks, and thousands of smaller sea creatures. There are walking paths, rotating indoor exhibits, and daily shows that feature the sea lions and whales. Indoor touch tanks offer the opportunity to touch stingrays and crabs.
Travel Tips: The aquarium is open year round and includes indoor and outdoor exhibits. There are daily feedings and meet and greets with various sea creatures. Quick service dining is available on site, and Mystic Village, located across the parking lot, offers plenty of full service restaurant options. Plan on 3-4 hours to fully explore the complex and watch a show. Read our full post here.
3. Learn about the woodlands, wetlands, and meadows at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Founded in 1946, the 300 acre complex includes almost a dozen hiking trails, indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring live animals, a 19th century colonial farm, and tons of educational programs, camps, and workshops.
Travel Tips: Both the Nature Center and Coogan Farm have parking lots and indoor facilities with exhibits, meeting space, and restroom facilities. Check here for more information on hours of admission and programs. The trails are free to visitors. Plan on 1-2 hours to explore.
4. Shop for fresh produce and have a gourmet meal at Stone Acres Farm in Stonington. The 63 acre working farm produces eggs, herbs, flowers, honey, and tons of vegetables. Guests can shop at the Farmstand, explore the two greenhouses, and attend culinary workshops and farm dinners. For guests local to the area, there are CSA for both vegetables AND flowers.
5. Hike through some of the thousand plus acres of public spaces throughout the Mystic. In addition to the Denison and the CT College Arboretum, we have enjoyed hiking at state parks, public woodland parks, and state beaches.
Travel Tips: Most locations have paved parking lots, but some locations have limited cleared dirt lots. Most locations do not have restroom facilities. All locations have posted maps of trails, most of which are less than four miles. Read our full post on 10 places to hike throughout Mystic and trail recommendations here.
6. Study dozens of species of plants and flowers at the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London. Located on the campus of Connecticut College, the 25 acre space has dozens of (labelled) native plants, gardens, and trails around the pond that total two miles. Various programs, Music in the Meadow, and workshops are offered throughout the year.
Travel Tips: The arboretum is free to visit; no restroom facilities, and parallel parking on the main road only. Plan on one hour to walk the trails and follow along on the self guided QR tour, which included audio clips and historical photos at various spots; paper maps are also available.
7. Sample ice cream at a variety of spots on the Mystic Ice Cream trail. There are over three dozen locations spread out along the shoreline, inland, and in the “quiet Corner” of northeastern Connecticut. Some locations are open year round; be sure to check hours ahead of time.
8. Take a scenic boat tour or cruise around the harbor and the Mystic River in Mystic. Options include intimate wooden motorboats, schooners, steamboat cruises down the Mystic River, and even two person boats that guests can operate! Many of the boats are docked in downtown Mystic and set sail for 1-2 hour cruises up to full day sails. Reservations are highly recommended.
9. Defend the fort at Fort Griswold and Fort Trumbull. Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park in Groton is the site of the largest Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut, has a museum and monument open to the public from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The grounds are open all year and signage explains the details of the battle. Fort Trumbull State Park in New London was built to protect the New London Harbor from British attack and later served as part of the country’s coastal defense system. The site was also the first home of the first U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The paved path around the fort leads down to the riverfront and docks.
Travel Tips: Fort Griswold Battlefield has a cell phone tour; look for the posted signs with instructions and contact information. The grounds are open year round and there are areas for picnicking. There is no fee to explore the museum and monument. Fort Trumbull has a Visitor Center with indoor exhibits, restrooms, and a small gift shop. The Visitor Center is usually open Wednesday- Sunday from late May through early October and guided tours are also offered in season. There is plenty of open lawn space for running and picnicking.
10. Taste the fresh apple cider at Clyde’s Cider Mill. Open from September through early December, Clyde’s is the oldest steam powered cider mill in America, dating back to the 1880s. Fall is the best time to visit, with plenty of options for homemade drinks, wine, jams, fudge, breads, pies, kettle corn popcorn, and the famous cider donuts. Demonstrations at the cider mill are given on Saturdays and Sundays.
Travel Tips: Check ahead for hours of operation. The location is beautiful to walk around and many of the seasonal plants and decor are available for purchase. The store sells all homemade provisions. No indoor restroom facilities. Plan on one hour to explore, including a cider mill demonstration.
11. Shop and dine at some of 40+ the shops and restaurants in Mystic Village. One of a kind stores sell everything from chocolates and olive oil to eye glasses, garden supplies, jewelry, and kites. There are also nine dining options from full service dining establishments like The Steak Loft, Go Fish, and The Jealous Monk (our favorite) to coffee shops and ice cream shops. Alice in the Village is an Alice in Wonderland themed tearoom.
Travel Tips: Pets are welcome at Mystic Village. Plenty of free parking is available around the complex, which is adjacent to Mystic Aquarium. The grounds of Mystic Village are beautiful and it is easy to pop in and out of stores (they are not attached).
12. Tour the historical homes of the Denison Homestead, Captain Palmer House and the Harkness Memorial State Park. The Denison Homestead in Mystic is typically open for tours during peak spring, summer, and fall season and has a popular farmer’s market on Sundays June through October. The Captain Palmer House in Stonington Village was the home of two sea captains and is open for tours on Thursday through Monday from May to mid October. The home, located across the street from DuBois Beach and Stonington Point, features model ships, period furniture and textiles, and even a dollhouse used by the captains’ children. Harkness Memorial Park in Waterford is on a 230 acre property that includes hiking trails and Niering Preserve at Goshen Cove, beach side. The mansion and carriage house are open for tours on the weekend during the summer. Plan on one 1 hour for guided tours of each homestead.
13. Climb aboard the USS Nautilus at the Submarine Maritime Museum in Groton. The museum and submarine are free to visit. The museum exhibits include an outdoor exhibit featuring the smallest nuclear powered submarine, and indoor exhibits featuring Bushnell’s Turtle and the evolution of submarines. Guests can also board the USS Nautilus and take a self guided, narrated tour of the submarine.
Travel Tips: Free to visit; closed on Tuesday. The submarine is not handicap accessible and has very low ceilings. Gift shops and restroom facilities are in the main museum space. No dining facilities. Plan on 2-3 hours to fully explore the museum and submarine. Read our full blog post here.
14. Get wet at Ocean Beach Park in New London. The 50 acre park includes a half mile, sugar sand beach, boardwalk with amusement park and arcade, three water slides, and an Olympic size pool. There are plenty of activities for younger children including a playground, sprinkler park, and miniature golf.
Travel Tips: Parking fees include admission for up to 5 people per car and there are separate pedestrian walk-in and single amusement park ride fees. There are four options for food at the park, ranging from a full service restaurant to take out counters and ice cream parlor. Restroom facilities and changing rooms are available. Plan on spending the day!
15. Catch a fly ball at the Sea Unicorns Minor League baseball game in Norwich. The team plays at Dodd Stadium in Norwich with games from mid May through August. It’s a great spot for younger children, as the stadium holds 6200 seats (great viewing for everyone) and many weekend games are in the early to mid afternoon. There are fireworks scheduled for Friday night home games and July 4th (for 2021).
Travel Tips: There are plenty of concession options, restrooms, and promotions on various game days- check here for up to date information. Information on parking here.
16. Dig in the sand at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme. The 700+ acre property sits on.a half mile, crescent shaped beach. There are also several hiking trails and bike paths. There are 160 campsites (reservable from May through September), a pavilion that can be rented for large events that can be rented Memorial Day through Labor Day,
Travel Tips: There is a parking fee for out of state cars and the park often reaches capacity and closes by lunchtime on the weekends in summer. Restroom facilities are available and concession stands are open during the summer.
17. Look out for passing boats at the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington Village. Built in 1840, the lighthouse and attached home opened as a museum in the late 1920s. Visitors can climb to the top and view three states on the horizon. DuBois Beach is located across the street, along with a large parking lot at Stonington Point with many placards describing the historical significance of the area.
Travel Tips: The lighthouse and museum are open mid May through mid October, Thursday through Sunday, Children under age five receive free admission. The best parking is available down the street by the point. Plan on one hour for tours and climbing to the top of the lighthouse.
18. Search for dinosaurs at The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village in Montville. The complex includes dinosaur trails (look out for dinosaurs hidden amongst the trees), a splash pad, miniature golf, multiple playgrounds for various ages and abilities, and shops. There are plenty of dining options on site. The Discovery Depot is open on the weekend and offers the chance to dig for dinosaur bones.
Travel Tips: Tickets for Dinosaur Place include the major attractions (some attractions have specific days and hours). There is plenty of free parking and restroom facilities are located throughout the complex. Plan on spending a whole morning or afternoon exploring the complex.
19. Explore many hands-on exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut in Niantic. It’s the perfect spot for the under six crowd, with an indoor Light Lab, creation stations, replica market and firehouse, and a padded, no shoes allowed Toddlerland for kids under four. There is also an outdoor playscape. There’s also a classroom for special programming and themed weeks with demonstrations and craft projects.
Travel Tips: Best for younger children; restroom facilities available and a small parking lot behind the museum, with additional side street parking available. Plan on two hours to explore all exhibits.
20. Run through the fields of a vineyard at some of the vineyards in the area, including Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, Stonington Vineyards in Stonington, Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington. While wine vineyards may not be the top spot to entertain children, vineyards are becoming more family friendly, with live music on the weekends, food trucks, and tons of beautiful outdoor space for kids to burn off energy.
Travel Tips: Best to visit with children on a good weather day; some tasting rooms have restrictions on children, so it’s best to stay outdoors.
Eating Local: There are dozens of options for dining in the Mystic area. We have a few favorites and try to check out a new spot every time we’re in town:
Dogwatch Cafe in Stonington
Red 36 in Mystic
S&P Oyster House in Mystic
Alice in the Village in Mystic
Grass and Bones in Mystic
Go Fish in Mystic
Mango’s Wood Fired Pizza in Mystic
Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream in Mystic
Sift Bakery in Mystic
Staying local: We have had the opportunity to stay at both the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa in Groton and the Residence Inn by Marriott in Mystic. The Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa offers a full service restaurant, spa, indoor pool, and a Starbucks in the main lobby. There are also several spaces for meetings and gatherings such as weddings. It was recently renovated in 2020. The Residence Inn is less than a mile to Mystic Village and the Aquarium and less than a five minute drive to the Seaport and other popular Mystic locations. The hotel does have an indoor pool and the extended stay 1 and 2 bedroom suites make it a great choice for families.
Looking for more fun throughout Connecticut? Check out our Coastal Connecticut Guide and our list of top 30 things to do. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.