The village of Mystic in Connecticut is a charming little getaway for New York City families. About two hours by car from Midtown Manhattan, Mystic offers lots places for fun with the kids: a fabulous aquarium, the largest maritime museum in the country, and a beautiful outdoor retreat for hiking, birding, and exploring nature—an ideal family excursion no matter if you stay for the day or the entire weekend. Mystic is especially fun during Memorial Day weekend when the Rotary Club hosts its annual “Lobster Days” celebration with children’s lobster-themed storytelling, cooking and fishing demonstrations, and of course lobster dinner.
55 Coogan Boulevard
The marquee attraction here is the arctic coast exhibit where you will find three beluga whales. These little white whales swim right up to the porthole windows and almost look like they are smiling at you. You will have a seriously hard time pulling the kids away from them. If you are successful, check out the ray touch pool where they can (try) to pet the rays as they zoom by.
Something I particularly like about this aquarium versus others is the indoor marine mammal show. You just don’t realize how brutal (sun, heat, no shade) the outdoor sea lion shows actually are until you enjoy one in the comfort of the great indoors. Seriously, someone in my family always comes away with a sunburn after a sea lion show in Coney Island. The aquarium also has a deep sea 3D motion ride, a cool boardwalk through a marshy area full of frogs and turtles, a seasonal exotic bird exhibit and an animal encounter programs for kids as young as 6 years old. There's also a shark encounter tank, where kids can actually pet a small, docile shark.
One of the best things about the Mystic Aquarium is that it validates admission tickets for two more consecutive day return trips, which is just great for my whale-obsessed son.
Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea
75 Greenmanville Avenue
This museum is a huge maritime complex spread across 17 waterfront acres and set up as a 19th century village with 30 period-buildings from around New England. You can walk through or take a fun horse and carriage ride stopping in the various stores, workshops, and other buildings. Being a coastal town there are hundreds of ships on display, including ancient whaling and fishing ships. Kids will love to a get out on the water on a coal-burning steam boat or rented row boat. The museum offers a lot of hands on fun for kids both modern and period: toy boat-making, map lessons, open-ended art programs, storytimes, and old-fashioned games. In the warmer months, kids can climb into the water with naturalists and learn about what is living in it and hit an outdoor play space with wooden boats to climb on. Be sure not to miss the children’s museum or the planetarium where they offer real star shows. You will need two days if you want to do it all, and here too, they will validate tickets for reentry again within seven days of your original visit.
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
109 Pequotsepos Road
Eight miles of trails meander through this beautiful 300-acre woodland preserve where you may catch a glimpse of painted turtles, bullfrogs, and blue birds among the flora and fauna. Kids will love the aviary where they can see owls, falcons, and red-tailed hawks in action. Find more live animals at the onsite natural history museum.
The Sea Swirl
30 Williams Avenue
I love to hit roadside places for authentic eats and this clam shack hits the spot with lobster rolls, codfish sandwiches, and fantastic fried clams (burgers, dogs and ice cream on offer too.) The Sea Swirl has been serving up fresh and fantastic seafood for 25 years in a renovated ice cream stand on the side of the road. They don’t offer a dining room, but you can dine outside at picnic tables overlooking the harbor, which is even better!
56 West Main Street
You can't visit Mystic without stopping in for a slice at this pizza spot made famous by the film, Mystic Pizza. They have a large selection of choices on their Italian food menu. Stop in for lunch or dinner. Perfect for families.
Alice in the Village Tea Room
27 Coogan Blvd., Building 26A
As if there were not already enough reasons to love Mystic, a new tea house opened in town, bringing with it some British deliciousness and an atmosphere sure to please any Alice in Wonderland fan – or anyone looking for a few sweet bites and a comforting cup of tea.
Top image: Beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium. Photo by Lisa Jacobs via Flickr.
This article was first published in May 2010 but has since been updated.