Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Mariner's havenMariner's haven

Mystic, ConnecticutMystic, Connecticut

Editor's note: Groton-New London Airport is the host airport for AOPA's Groton Fly-In, presented by Columbia Aircraft Sales, Oct. 6 and 7. Come to the fly-in and then explore Mystic, Connecticut!

Mystic, Connecticut, is a great getaway, especially when the weather starts to cool off. School’s back in session and the crowds are gone. In fall, the leaves are turning. In winter, a gentle mist sends you scurrying in to one of the great chowder houses for a hot, satisfying bowl of clam chowder. Once you’ve warmed up, maritime history galore, both old and new, awaits your exploration.

  • The watercraft collection at Mystic Seaport is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and includes four National Historic Landmark vessels: the whaleship Charles W. Morgan (center), the L.A. Dunton, steamboat Sabino (left) and the Emma C. Berry. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • Dozens of other historic ships at the Mystic Seaport include the Danish Gerda III, a common lighthouse-supply workboat put to much higher use. During World War II, ordinary Danish citizens were outraged by the Nazi plan to deport Jews to death camps. The Danish people mounted a spontaneous effort that saved more than 7,000 of their Jewish neighbors—almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark. During the war, under the direction of a 19-year-old Danish woman, the Gerda III and her heroic crew of four smuggled over 300 Jews out of Nazi-occupied Denmark, in groups of 10 to 15, to the coast of neutral Sweden. Although the vessel was regularly boarded and checked by German soldiers, the refugees were never discovered. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • The Draken Harald Hårfagre at her summer berth at Mystic Seaport. On April 26, 2016, Draken Harald Hårfagre left her home port Haugesund in Norway to sail to America, reliving the first transatlantic crossing and the Viking discovery of the New World. She is the world’s largest Viking ship sailing in modern times. She carries one large, square sail, which can drive the ship at a speed of 14 knots. She has 25 pairs of oars and can be rowed by one hundred oarsmen. During her transatlantic Expedition America 2016, Draken Harald Hårfagre was crewed by 32 sailors. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • You can get out on the water at Mystic Seaport by renting a rowboat or sailboat, taking a ride on a launch, or a cruise on the 1908 steamboat Sabino. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • The 1908 coal-fired steamboat Sabino is a National Historic Landmark. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • The chance to immerse yourself in another time in history abounds at Mystic Seaport, including here in the ship chandlery. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.
  • Bluff Point view of Long Island Sound with Fisher's Island (left) and the New London Ledge Lighthouse (right) visible on the horizon. Photo by Morrowlong via Wikipedia.
  • Board the U.S.S. Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, at the Submarine Force Museum. Photo by Douglas Muth via Flickr.
  • Those who’ve always wondered what a real Navy submarine is like inside can have their curiosity satisfied inside the U.S.S. Nautilus. Photo by Selbe Lynn via Flickr.
  • The one-and-only Mystic Pizza, “A Slice of Heaven” since 1973 and a tourist attraction since the 1988 Julia Roberts film. Photo by James Lee via Flickr.
  • Juno the beluga whale checks out visitors at the Mystic Aquarium. Photo courtesy Mystic Aquarium.
  • Feeding time for the sea lions at the Mystic Aquarium. Photo by Picabu via Wikipedia.
  • The Foxwood Casino sprawls in the forest outside Mystic, draped in the mists of winter. Photo by Elfenbeinturm via Wikipedia.
  • The Steamboat Inn sits right on the Mystic River and offers around-the-town bicycles to guests. Photo courtesy Steamboat Inn.
  • Take a ride on the gorgeous schooner Argia. Photo courtesy Steamboat Inn.

Fly to Groton New London Airport, about 6 miles west of town. If you’re hungry, DeMarinis Family Restaurant is right on the field. Watch the airplanes come and go as you nosh on pizza, pasta, or seafood. Or, just order up a steaming bowl of New England-, Boston-, or Rhode Island-style clam chowder. Next, head over to Mystic Seaport, “The Museum of America and the Sea.” The Mystic Seaport is home to more than 500 vessels, including spectacular tall ships and a beautifully restored 1841 whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship of an American fleet that numbered over 2,700 vessels. Board this and other historic ships, or take a cruise along the Mystic River. There’s a Viking Longship, and, if you visited Plymouth, Massachusetts, and missed seeing the Mayflower II reproduction, you’ll be happy to know the ship is here undergoing restoration. The Seaport offers a variety of dining venues, as well as a planetarium and a diverse array of gardens. For more hands-on fun, take a sailing class and hike or bike the undeveloped coastline at the Bluff Point Coastal Reserve.

For more recent seafaring history, visit the Submarine Force Museum and tour the U.S.S. Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine. Inside the museum, you’ll find a signed first edition of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—the book that gave the submarine its name—as well as detailed displays of World War II and Cold War history.

The 'Mayflower II' at sea. Normally berthed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, she’s now undergoing restoration at the Mystic Seaport. Photo courtesy Plimoth Plantation.

Remember the 1988 classic film Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts? The eponymous pizza palace, first opened in 1973, is still here, catering to Roberts fans and those who simply love a good pie. Kids and adults alike love the Mystic Aquarium, one of only three U.S. facilities that house Steller sea lions, and the only New England aquarium with beluga whales.

Gamblers can take full advantage of one of the world’s largest casinos, Foxwoods, just inland from Mystic. Shopping, dining, concerts, a spa, golf, bowling, and an arcade could keep a family busy for days. But wait: The area holds not just one, but two giant casinos, because the Mohegan Sun Casino, the more upscale of the two, is here too, with its own golf course, spa, and the rest, including Chihuly glass sculptures and Michael Jordan's Steakhouse.

Mystic Seaport's recreated 19th century seaside village, at sunset. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.If you prefer your spa without the casino attached, check out (and check into) The Spa at Norwich Inn. Here you can play tennis, swim in the indoor pool, or simply indulge in a day of relaxing spa treatments. This inn has two restaurants as well: Acsot’s, a classic pub with knotty pine walls, and Kensington’s, a fine-dining restaurant that serves steaks as well as Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, and vegetarian specialties. Each of the Inn’s 49 guestrooms has unique characteristics that harken back to its opening in 1929. Don’t worry; modern amenities abound like Wi-Fi, plush bathrobes, luxurious bathrooms, and windows that look out on the country scenery. 

If you’d rather be in the middle of it all, the Steamboat Inn is Mystic’s only waterfront property. The 11-room luxury inn is in the heart of downtown Mystic just steps away from shopping and dining, and boasts delightful views of the Mystic River. In summer, the beautiful schooner Argia offers sailing trips right from the Steamboat Wharf. The inn serves a full breakfast each morning; guests enjoy complementary sherry and cookies at 5 p.m. and fireplaces in operation October through April.

Aside from Mystic Pizza, other Mystic dining choices include the Captain Daniel Packer Inne Pub, originally constructed in 1756, and the very popular Kitchen Little, known for its omelettes and seafood, and open for breakfast and lunch.

Visit Mystic and enjoy the food, the inns, and the maritime history of New England.

 The Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard is a working shipyard that engages in historic vessel restoration and maintenance. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport.

Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

Related Articles