A thriving food scene, boutique shopping, maritime history, and natural beauty make this coastal Connecticut town the perfect mid-winter getaway.
It's that time of year when everyone in the Northeast starts fantasizing about warm breezes and sandy retreats. But if you're looking for a break from the winter doldrums and don't want to deal with the headaches of air travel today, chart your course for Mystic, Connecticut.
Equal parts quaint and cozy, Mystic is an absolute treasure of a New England coastal town. There's history around every corner (the "village" of Mystic was founded in 1654), boutique shopping, fine and casual dining, art and culture — and so much more. In fact, Mystic has become such a hotspot that four of its most buzz-worthy eateries just made it onto Connecticut magazine's 2022 list of Best New Restaurants in the state.
So whether you're looking for a romantic getaway for Valentine's Day or want to make a weekend trip with the family for Presidents' Day weekend, Mystic is the place to be this month.
Here are 11 of the best things to do while you're there.
Where Maritime History Meets Modern Art
Mystic Seaport Museum
The leading maritime museum of the U.S., the Mystic Seaport Museum has been around for nearly a century, inspiring visitors to learn more about the area's rich seafaring past. Across more than 19 acres of grounds, you can explore exhibitions, a recreated 18th-century New England coastal village, a working shipyard, and four National Historic Landmark vessels — including the 1841 whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, the U.S.'s oldest commercial ship still in existence.
And if you're headed to Mystic with the family over Presidents' Day weekend, be sure to check out the museum's annual Ice Festival - three days of ice sculpture demonstrations, games, crafts, and live music.
Inspire awe and wonder in your family at Mystic Aquarium, where you'll be able to get up close (but not too close!) to thousands of species of marine life — from seals and sea lions to African penguins, sharks, rays, and more. Mystic Aquarium even has the largest outdoor beluga habitat in the United States! Couldn't we all use a relaxing afternoon spent watching the graceful movements of beluga whales?
Mystic Museum of Art
Spend even just a few hours taking in the bucolic scenery in Mystic and you'll understand why it's been an artist haven for more than a century. Initially founded as an artist colony in 1913, the Mystic Museum of Art (as it's known today) has a stunning collection of more than 250 artworks, as well as galleries featuring the work of artists active today in the Mystic area. Be sure to stop by to enjoy their roomy, sunlit exhibition spaces or even sign the kids up for a studio class.
Savor the Flavors of the Sea
Named one of the Best New Restaurants by Connecticut magazine, Shipwrights Daughter celebrates the flavorful food heritage of coastal Connecticut. Executive Chef David Standridge's inspiring menu changes daily to reflect the freshest catch, but you can certainly expect a mouth-watering assortment of fresh seafood, organic meats, and savory small plates.
Another of Mystic's restaurants focused on supporting the local food community, the beloved Oyster Club offers thoughtful, dynamic menus that include a raw bar, line-caught fish, locally grown veggies, flavorful pasture-raised beef, and an array of artisanal cheese. And in those moments you dare to look up from the sumptuous meal on your plate, you can enjoy the rustic charm of the restaurant's setting in a historic clapboard house.
Sneeze and you might miss this tiny restaurant next to the Mystic train station. But what the location lacks in size, Noble Smokehouse more than makes up for in flavor. Think: brisket macaroni and cheese, pork belly glazed in BBQ sauce and smoked chicken chili. Also named a 2022 Best New Restaurant, this is American comfort food at its finest.
We can't give a rundown of our favorite Mystic eateries without mentioning the fabulous French pastries at Sift Bake House. And if you're looking for grab-and-go food to enjoy later by the fire, be sure to check out the smorgasbord of specialty foods on offer at Mystic Market.
Winter Adventures in Nature
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
Sure, you won't be able to lounge on Mystic's incredible beaches or rent a paddleboat in February, but there's still plenty of nature to enjoy. Start with the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a wildlife sanctuary featuring more than eight miles of hiking trails. And for those interested in learning more about nature conservation at work, the center also has a natural history museum and educational programs that shine a light on all of the efforts taking place every day to preserve and maintain natural habitats across the region.
Napatree at the Watch Hill Conservatory
OK, this entry isn't located in Mysitc proper, but venture about 30 minutes east and you'll discover the Watch Hill Conservancy in Westerly, Rhode Island. There you'll find the Napatree Point Conservation Area — 86 pristine acres of rare natural habitats. Bird watchers in particular will delight at the views here: Napatree has been designated a "Globally Important Bird Area" by the National Audobon Society and is home to many species of endangered birds, including Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and Osprey.
Small Business Shopping
Take a trip around the world every time you shop at Adore, which features a range of beautiful items — from genuine leather Italian handbags to stunning stoneware bowls crafted by artisans in Bangkok. Each piece on offer has been hand-selected by the owners, Deborah and Rick Kollmeyer, during their frequent travels. Home to Harbour shoppers will love the variety of pieces here with a coastal flair!
La Côte Mystic
You'll find fine jewelry, accessories, and many one-of-a-kind gifts at La Côte, but luxury wellness and skincare products are their forte. So be sure to stop by to select candles, incense, and herbal infusion blends to transform your home (or Airbnb!) into a sanctuary of meditative bliss.