Mystic, Connecticut: A Perfect Winter Getaway

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Spend a cozy weekend in the historic seaside town

Learn a bit of maritime history at the Mystic Seaport Museum (Photo courtesy of the Office of Connecticut Tourism)

Known for its world-class aquarium, Hollywood-famous pizza place and New England charm, Mystic, Connecticut, is the perfect weekend destination for Long Islanders year-round. Winter is an especially great time to visit the seaside town, when crowds are fewer and off-season rates are available. When you’re ready to get out of town for a few days, choose an under-the-radar destination like Mystic, and don’t miss out on these awesome activities and refreshing restaurants.

Warm up by the fire in the courtyard of the Hilton Mystic. (Photo source: Hilton Mystic)

A Room with a View

There are many elegant inns and quaint B&Bs in Mystic, but you can’t go wrong staying at Hilton Mystic, 20 Coogan Blvd. The location can’t be beat—it’s a literal stone’s throw to the aquarium and Olde Mistick Village and a short drive to the seaport and historic downtown.

The hotel pays homage to the seafaring heritage of the area with nautical decorative touches and offers all the luxuries you would expect from a Hilton—comfortable guest suites, a fitness center, an indoor pool, event space and on-site dining at The Irons, which features live musical entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you’d like to curl up with a good book, there are plenty of options on the first floor, including one of the seats next to the outdoor fire pits.

Perhaps the best feature is the mini-fridge in the room, where you can conveniently store all the leftovers you’ll be saving from all the great restaurants in town…More on that later.

Explore the last wooden whaling ship in existence, the Charles W. Morgan, at the Mystic Seaport Museum. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

Get Touristic in Mystic

Sprawled across 19 acres on the riverfront, the Mystic Seaport Museum is the largest maritime museum in the country. Long Islanders will recognize it as Old Bethpage Village Restoration with a nautical bent on steroids. More than 60 historic buildings stand on the property to make up a 19th-century seafaring village complete with haberdashery, hoop shop, cooperage, chandlery, clam shack, boathouse and tavern.

The shipyard and collection of historic vessels is impressive. The L.A. Dunton, a 19th-century fishing schooner, is a National Historic Landmark. Another National Historic Landmark, the Charles W. Morgan is the only wooden whaling ship left in the world. Visitors are welcome aboard the restored whaleship than in its 80-year career, embarked on 37 years-long voyages.

There are always different activities and exhibits going on, in addition to the permanent exhibits on display. Especially with kids, you could easily spend a whole day exploring all the Mystic Seaport Museum has to offer.

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Likewise, you could spend many hours exploring the Mystic Aquarium. Around every corner is another incredible close-up encounter with animals you’d likely never happen upon outside of an aquarium. When you first walk in, you’ll see some smiley and friendly beluga whales. These belugas are not shy—they’re always mugging for the camera, and look soft and squishy like a stuffed animal, you’ll just want to pet them.

Next, check out the outdoor exhibits, where you may find turtles among the tall grasses and lily pads. Then head straight to the penguins. Penguins! This group of African Penguins love to zoom all around their tank, flapping their wings like the propeller of a motorboat. You can watch them gliding about from above and also through glass under the surface. The sea lion exhibit is nearby where the ‘dogs of the ocean’ swim around playfully and sometimes come up to exercise their vocal cords.

Inside, you’ll find fish of every variety, plus turtles, crabs, starfish, you name it. Prepare to spend several minutes mesmerized by the motions of jelly fish and the extreme colors of biofluorescent coral.

All around, there are photo opportunities and interactive exhibits supposedly for kids, but fun for adults too, many of which teach about conservation of our oceans and waterways. Educational exhibits about the Long Island Sound hit home when you see the threats to this critical ecosystem we share.

Watch master craftsman Jeffrey P’an at work during his free glassblowing demonstrations. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

Get Artistic in Mystic

For a truly unique experience, drop by Studio Jeffrey P’an on a Saturday at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. for a live glassblowing demonstration. It is amazing to watch him and his team work in his open-air studio at 25 Roosevelt Ave. In the 15 action-packed minutes it takes to make a martini glass, P’an and his team operate as a well-oiled machine, using torches and shaping tools, as well as furnaces reaching unfathomable temperatures. Gloves somehow only figure into the final step.

P’an is an experienced artist and moves with an effortless confidence. He narrates each step along the way as you watch the vessel emerge into existence. The beauty of his finished pieces—ranging from jewelry to vases to sculptures large and small—boggle the mind. After the demonstration, he is happy to answer questions and talk about his process.

The craftsman described a technique that he’s been using lately that involves coins of glass fused together. He explained that each glass color, on a chemical level, reacts slightly differently to the heat, which creates variation in texture. Sometimes he keeps that texture on the outside of the final piece, while other times he smooths the outside and keeps the texture on the inside. Some of his pieces resemble impressionist paintings, while others seem to be channeling abstract shapes like a drippy Dali clock.

P’an’s artwork is even featured at the Mystic Aquarium where visitors and fish have been enjoying it since 2010.

Any trip to Mystic should include a visit to his gorgeous studio where you can find one-of-a-kind souvenirs for your loved ones and yourself.

All You Can Eat

In addition to the historic sites, family-friendly activities and art scene, Mystic also has an abundance of excellent restaurants going for it. Seafood is the name of the game. You can find it on every menu, whipped up every which way.

The deviled farm eggs at The Engine Room are perfection with sour cream, paprika and crispy shallots on top. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

The Engine Room

The Engine Room, located at 14 Holmes St. in the beautifully restored Lathrop Marine Engine building, serves up locally sourced American comfort food, plus a large variety of craft beers and bourbon. They make good burgers—including a tasty veggie burger made from wheat berries and mushrooms—and great fries that are seasoned and salted to perfection. Their butternut squash appetizer is delicious due to the addition of crème fraiche and pecans. Also try the deviled farm egg topped with crispy onions for a nice mix of textures.

Salads at the Engine Room are also a good choice for lunch or dinner. The “Gado Gado” Indonesian Salad features local vegetables, boiled potato, crispy soft-boiled egg and a spicy peanut dressing. The farm fresh chopped salad has chicken, roasted carrots, avocado, pickled onions, cornbread croutons, bell peppers, crumbled feta and green goddess dressing over local greens from Stone Acres Farm.

The gastropub also offers several sandwiches, including pulled pork, hot chicken, fried fish and sausage, and shakes in unusual flavors like banana bread and chocolate mint. The shakes can cleverly be spiked with bourbon or rum upon request.

The farm egg omelet is served over local greens with a tasty herb pesto. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

Grass & Bone

Less than two blocks away at 24 E Main St., Grass & Bone, affiliated with the Engine Room, is both neighborhood butcher shop and restaurant, offering casual counter service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Filled with eggs, black beans, hash browns, chimichurri, cilantro and pickled red onion, the griddled breakfast burrito is a hearty option to start your day. The farm egg omelet is a lovely option featuring two eggs, diced tomatoes, creamy feta and an herb pesto over delicate dressed greens. The herb pesto enhances the dish, but when has pesto not enhanced everything it touched? Grass & Bone is kind enough to sell their homemade sauces so you can bring the tastiest bits of your vacation home with you.

Enjoy seafood overlooking the river at Red 36. (Photo source: Red 36)

Red 36

Tucked away on the Mystic River waterfront, Red 36 is Mystic’s best kept secret. With its prime location at 2 Washington St. and big windows, the seafood-centric restaurant is an excellent place to take in a sunset over a nice shrimp cocktail or glass of wine.

Of the appetizers on the dinner menu, the Thai peanut calamari and nachos are particularly popular. The fried Brussels sprouts, which are common on many menus these days, are on point. Not every restaurant does them right, but Red 36 does. The little cruciferous veggies are fully cooked through with crispy, brown outside layers and lots of flavor added by the bacon and garlic aioli. The Thai cauliflower with togarashi spice, nuoc cham and arugula has the right amount of heat to kick things up a notch.

The entrée menu features lobster roll, cod cakes, lobster carbonara, linguini & clams and more. The seared scallops are served with a truffle mushroom risotto. As a change to seafood, try the cashew encrusted pork, which is served over sweet potato and apple hash, with a bourbon apple sauce and haricot vert. The cashews impart tons of nutty flavor and a nice amount of crunch to the dish, and, combined with the hash and sauce, makes for the perfect seasonal dish.

If there’s room for dessert, try the crème brûlée and whipped cream for a heavenly combination of textures to top off the evening.

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S&P Oyster

The delectable food in Mystic doesn’t end there. The lovely S&P Oyster Restaurant and Bar sits on the riverfront offering a front-row view of the Mystic Bridge, which you may be lucky enough to watch open and close through the large picture windows. When the weather is calm, the location at 1 Holmes St. is also prime for people-watching as they walk by or kayak past.

Chef Edgar Cobena adds a South American flair to classic New England dishes. Take for example the sea scallop ceviche served with plantain and lavosh chips or the fried oyster taquitos made with blue corn flour, yellow corn taquitos, remoulade with citrus slaw and yucca fries on the side.

S&P Oyster does the basics very well, such as their clam chowder. The rocket salad is delightful with arugula, jicama, avocado, goat cheese, grape slices, toasted pecans and a light agave white balsamic vinaigrette. A standout on the seasonal soups menu, the pumpkin bisque alone is worth the three-hour drive to Mystic. It had the ideal level of sweetness, enhanced by a drizzle of molasses and complemented by the pecan garnish. Like drinking a pumpkin pie—warm and comforting.

On the entrées list, the wood grilled salmon is crispy, while the jumbo shrimp scampi risotto is creamy and cheesy. And you can’t go wrong with the filet mignon, cooked to perfection, served beside charred broccolini and fancypants twice-baked potatoes, infused with poblano and pepper jack and singed under a broiler.

Mystic is famous for its pizza. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

Walk across the bridge after your meal to go shopping and sightseeing in the cute historic district, where you’ll find Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, The Spice & Tea Exchange, Tidal River Clothing, Mystic Sweet Shoppe, Bank Square Books, Vault Coffee Roasters and Mystic Pizza of Julia Roberts movie fame.

As you can see, Mystic is an underrated winter vacation destination. Sure, it may be cold, but there’s still a lot going on in this seaside village and many inviting places to warm up. There’s so much to do and so much to eat, you’ll want to extend your weekend getaway to a whole week.

For more ideas on how to spend your time in Mystic, visit ctvisit.com.

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