Two hundred years ago, this port was filled with whaling vessels and the village was producing swift clipper ships. Whales are no longer bountiful in the nearby sea and the wooden sailing vessels once built here are also obsolete, but Mystic maintains its alluring Colonial charm.
Situated on the Mystic River that empties into Long Island Sound, the port embraces its maritime heritage. At Mystic Seaport, the country’s largest maritime museum, history is preserved in 19 acres. It features a recreated village made up of more than 60 historic buildings that are genuine commercial structures from the 1800s—they were restored and moved to the site. The museum also houses a fleet of historic vessels that visitors can climb aboard, including the world’s only surviving wooden whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan. Boaters can experience Mystic Seaport in as genuine a fashion possible—dockage is available. The marina is well-protected and modern, even though your first step off the boat will be a step back in time.
Just beyond the seaport is a bustling village along the Mystic River. Time spent here on a late summer day is pure pleasure; sailboats and kayaks line the grass, smiling faces poke out of windows on day cruisers; and the scent of honeysuckle and beach rose can be detected as you walk the New England streets.
Seaport Marine, with seasonal and transient slips, is the closest marina to downtown. Its sister marina, Noank Shipyard, has another 158 slips, as well as 1,100 feet of face dock for larger vessels. Dockage is also available at the Mystic Downtown Marina. Protected on either side by a drawbridge and a swing bridge, conditions in the marina are calm and it offers most amenities.
Brian Norman, dockmaster at the Mystic Downtown Marina, has been here for 12 years and lives aboard his boat. “The variety of boats is very mixed,” he says. “We get everything from sailboats to megayachts, but the primary mode of transportation in the river is dinghy.”
Dinghies are also the preferred mode of transportation to nearby beaches in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and Fishers Island, New York. (There are no “real” beaches in Mystic.) Fishers Island is a top destination for many local anglers, too, as it’s accessible and teeming with striped bass and bluefish. Mystic is also a 90-minute run to Block Island. “It’s definitely a good stepping off point to many places,” Norman says.
Kayaks and paddleboards are staples on the river, though operators of non-motorized craft should watch the tide. “We get some currents here depending on where the tide is flowing,” Norman says. “We can get a good three-knot current.”
In the heart of downtown, The Mystic River Bascule Bridge provides hourly reminders of the village’s waterside function. Between May 1 and October 31, the bridge opens for five minutes at 40 minutes past the hour during daylight hours. When it’s closed, you can walk across and get up close with the exposed mechanical parts. The bridge connects to the downtown area where there are a few boutiques and the famous 100-year-old Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream shop.
There are good restaurants in Mystic. Seafood is a culinary staple at many of them, including Red 36. This eatery, named after a buoy in the channel, offers waterside dining at Seaport Marine, and there’s dockage for those who arrive by boat. For a more casual meal, there’s Mystic Pizza. It’s popular with visitors because it served as the inspiration for the Julia Roberts movie by the same name.
As fall approaches, the village will be gearing up for its annual Mystic Eats, a food and music festival on Cottrell Street downtown that runs from September 6 through 8. More than 20 local food vendors will participate, along with local musicians. It’s proof that in Mystic, the season does not end with the summer.
“We don’t quiet down in town until after New Year’s, and then we start right back up again in March,” Norman says. “You definitely don’t have to go too far to find something fun to do here.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.