Mystic’s main draw, especially for boaters and boat aficionados, is the world-famous Mystic Seaport (“The Museum of America and the Sea”), located on the east bank of the river just above the Bascule Bridge.
Transients can tie up here during the day for free and visit the Seaport (if there’s space), or even stay overnight at the Seaport docks and experience the museum grounds after 6:00 p.m., something “regular” visitors can’t do. However, the Seaport fills up fast in summer, so make reservations well in advance or contact one of the area marinas, most of which have transient slips and moorings.
The Seaport offers numerous events throughout the year and live re-enanctments of shipboard life throughout American history. The “village” comprises 50 antique buildings (many transported to the site), including a cooperage, a general store, a hoop shop and a ship-smith shop.
The Seaport also offers instructional performances, concerts and festivals, boating and boatbuilding classes, a maritime art gallery and summer camp sessions. Last but not least, it’s home to the working steamship Sabino, which gives tours of the Mystic River, and the Charles M. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world. The Morgan is currently undergoing an extensive restoration, affording visitors an up-close look at how a real whaling ship was built.
Another local institution worth visiting is the Mystic Aquarium, reachable by taxi from the major marinas. The aquarium has a range of attractions that go well beyond touch tanks and sea lion shows. One especially neat aspect of the aquarium is how much of it is located outdoors, including the fascinating beluga whales and the engaging sea lions and penguins, all of which can be seen both from above and below the water, thanks to the aquarium’s multilevel displays. Kids can also touch the velvety skin of harmless rays or (for a fee) even feed them.
Downtown Mystic is a 10-minute walk from the Seaport and offers numerous art galleries, stores, restaurants (including the famous Mystic Pizza), bars and boutiques. The stores along Main Street and adjoining Water Street are fairly high-end, but there is a funky Army-Navy store on Main Street and a nautical consignment shop on the far side of the bascule bridge. The homemade ice cream at Drawbridge Ice Cream comes highly recommended.