Mystic, CT, with its all too classic New England small town charm, is one of those places that if you haven’t been to it with the kids yet, then plan a trip and go. Located on the Mystic River, this picturesque maritime village is famous for its seaport and drawbridge, and quaint main street filled with ice cream shops and cute mom and pop stores.
It is also known for its aquarium, the Mystic Aquarium, which is how I always remembered the town as a child, growing up about an hour and a half away. When my family and I decided to take a day trip there recently (approx. 2 hours from where we live, 2 ¾ of an hour from NYC), the aquarium was at the top of my girls’ list, an absolute must visit. But due to some unforeseen circumstances, we never made it there. And you know what? We had the best day.
About 45 minutes into our drive up, my older daughter was suddenly not feeling well. She is prone to car-sickness, but this was unusually bad; we thought maybe a stomach bug had entered the picture. We pulled over a few different times to let her get some air and stop the motion of the driving, but after a few failed attempts we decided it was time to turn around and head home. As we were about to get on the exit to I 95 to go back, she almost immediately fell asleep. So we decided to take our chances and continued on north, and to our surprised delight, she was completely fine when she woke up; it had indeed been motion sickness. Thank god for that, but it also meant we lost some time on our day trip. We knew then that we weren’t going to be able to do everything we wanted to do, so we decided to just park the car and see where the day took us. In hind-sight, these are always the best days – days of unplanned activity.
Having scored a good parking spot near the water, the first thing we did was stroll along the river and watch the boats go by. That quickly led us to the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, the famous drawbridge that crosses the center of the village. The bridge goes up every hour for about 5 minutes, but even when it’s down, it’s hard not to just sit there and stare at it, perhaps because you know the inevitable. Seeing as we weren’t nearing the hour, we decided to cross the bridge and go to the other side of town, where we window-shopped and walked around.
Soon enough we were hungry – including my previously passed out sick daughter, who was actually starving. So we headed back over the bridge to a restaurant we had eyed and read about, S & P Oyster Co. We had noticed it because of its outdoor seating by the water with lovely flowers all around, and were lucky enough to get a table outside. It was the perfect spot to go to – and maybe the highlight of my day – because not only were the drinks and food delicious, but we had the perfect vantage point from which to see the drawbridge go up, which it did about 10 minutes after we sat down. Sitting there with a drink and app in tow, with the girls fixated on the bridge, I felt completely decompressed from the drive up, and in day trip heaven. No matter how may times you see the bridge go up and down, it’s always a sight for the eyes. If you’re looking for a restaurant, I highly recommend this one.
We decided to forego dessert, because we of course had to get ice cream at the famous Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream shop, right next to the bridge. As we were making our way to the bridge to walk over it (again), suddenly the bell went off – it was at the hour. Our girls looked at us wondering if we should wait or go, and without us saying a word, they let out some cackling and went full steam ahead over the bridge. We were running behind them, all trying to make it across in time, and as I passed by another woman running, she said, “this is what they will remember the most”. Honestly, it’s what I will remember the most too – to see the dare-devilish looks on their faces, and then racing and squealing in sheer delight…it was priceless. We made it to the ice cream shop, which was delish – home-made and creamy, and not too heavy.
We had about just enough time to get back in the car and head to the aquarium, when as we were walking back over the bridge for the umpteenth time, we spotted a tour boat operator down below us on the side of the water. My husband and I quickly talked in code – as we knew it was either a boat tour or the aquarium – and decided on the boat ride. We’ve been to the Mystic Aquarium before, along with – like most families – a string of other aquariums. A boat ride in Mystic, however, is something we had never done.
The Mystic Express, as it was called, took us on a scenic tour through the harbor and Mystic Seaport. We have not been to the Mystic Seaport yet (it sounds very cool, with its recreated 19th century village and historic maritime museum), but it was nice to see it by boat too. We saw all the famous boats including the Charles W. Morgan (“The Last Wooden Whaleship in the World”), and quite simply, it was just relaxing to be on a boat with petty views. It was about a 45-minute tour, and a nice way to explore in and around Mystic. The girls loved it, and the aquarium was soon forgotten. It was a great way to end our Mystic day – that and a stop at the candy shop and local playground on our way back to the car. (Note: seeing the Mystic Seaport on foot by all accounts comes highly recommended, and we plan to go back, if not just for that. It’s big and takes some time).
For a day trip, overnight or weekend get-away, you can’t go wrong with Mystic. It pretty much defines the term “family vacation”, no matter how short or long.