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18. Mystic Magic

There's a reason why the historic former whaling center in Connecticut's southeast corner is called Mystic. Its attractions, family-friendly accommodations, and waterside scenery cast a spell on visitors. Take two days, if you can, to explore the offerings.

Mystic Magic
Experiences Types: Family Fun
Seasons: Summer
Driving Tip: All within 10 miles


Your getaway actually begins not in Mystic, but in the nearby Native American community of Mashantucket, where the extraordinary Mashantucket Pequot Museum will give you dazzling new perspectives on an important part of American history. Here, you’ll witness 18,000 years of Native and natural history through walk-through dioramas, interactive exhibits, live performances and even a children’s library.


Next, head a few miles south for lunch (Cove Clam Shack in Mystic is a fun stop) and then a visit to the Mystic Aquarium/Institute for Exploration, two highly enjoyable attractions at one site. At the aquarium, there are sea lion shows, dozens of African penguins on parade, beluga whales and of course the wonderful indoor tanks. You can put on the 3-D glasses for a movie in the XD Motion Theater.

Meanwhile, the adjacent Institute of Exploration highlights the accomplishments of famed undersea scientist and explorer, R. Robert Ballard. Visitors can view footage from Ballard’s many expeditions, including the discovery of the remains of the Titanic in 1985. There’s even an 18-foot model of the great liner that took three years longer to build than the actual Titanic did.

There are lots of places to eat and stay overnight in Mystic. Good restaurants range from Captain Daniel Packer Inne Restaurant and Pub and S&P Oyster Co. to the renowned Mystic Pizza. For ideas on accommodations, go to the Mystic Country website here.


As an option, you can start off Day 2 with a hike through the 300-acre wooded preserve at Denison-Pequotsepos Nature Center. On eight miles of trails, looks for bluebirds, turtles and bullfrogs.


Whatever you do, be sure to save plenty of time for Mystic Seaport, a 19th-century maritime village along the banks of the Mystic River. Climb aboard the 1841 whaler Charles W. Morgan to see and feel what life was like during the golden age of sail, take a ride on the historic steamboat Sabino or walk along the recreated seaside village. There are demonstrations and performances related to maritime life, and exhibits and galleries to see. For kids, there’s a children’s museum, discovery barn and playground.


Finally, set aside time to stroll Mystic’s busy Main Street, stopping for a sweet treat at the Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream Shop. Enjoy a cone as you people-watch or take in the ups and downs of the Mystic River bascule bridge right next door.