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What To See, Eat & Do With Kids In Mystic


Like Mystic? Read about nearby Newport, RI with kids, too.

We’ve been to Mystic with Tiny Traveler three times now. It’s an easy weekend or overnight from New York City and its New England coastal vibe — sailboats, wood frame house, clam shacks and ice cream— deeply appeals to me. We’ve had by-and-large good experiences at the Seaport, the main attraction (though taking kids weekdays off-season is not ideal, we’ve learned). But we’ve also discovered plenty of other things to do. And there are countless good places to eat.

Here are our recommendations for a visit:

Mystic Aquarium

penguins at Mystic AquariumI’d frequently heard that the Mystic Aquarium*  is fantastic but shockingly expensive,  a pretty fair assessment.

The unexpected highlight for all of us was the seasonal Birds of the Outback exhibit.  At the birdhouse entrance we each got what looked like a birdseed lollypop.  Walk in, hold up your stick and tiny yellow or blue parakeets land for a snack.

A contrived “game show” theme turns ten minutes of sea lion tricks into a 20-minute show that had me rolling my eyes. I love sea lions, but I’ve seen better. Most kids seemed to like the eight-minute SpongeBob 4-D flick, but it was jarring to 4.5 year-old Tiny Traveler, who doesn’t do well with loud noises.

There are Beluga whales (adorable), lively African penguins (TT’s favorite) and indoor tanks with a plethora of fish, jellyfish and other sea creatures (I petted a small shark!).

The aquarium is sprawling and largely outdoors. Consider a stroller for 6-and-unders, and remember water and sunscreen. It takes easily half a day to see everything.

Mystic Seaport

I love Mystic Seaport’s* setting. The view of trim 19th century buildings backed by boats on the Mystic River is picture perfect on a sunny day. Seeing and doing everything will take the better part of a day.

Olde Mystic Seaport on the Mystic River, CTOn that previous visit when TT was 4 1/2 we took time out for boat building, which she loved, and candle making (which we didn’t see our a recent trip). When I needed a rest but she still had energy we head to the Children’s Center, a ship-themed play space under-7s and the boat-themed playground across from it (below), which attracts younger and older kids. There’s also a new Home Port for 8-t0-12 YOs with some small art activities and oversized versions of old-fashioned board games.

We enjoyed crabbing with small nets on the small beach behind the oyster house on this visit, looking at the faces on the collection of figure heads (in the Home Port) and admiring all the fancy nautical gizmos and old-fashioned clocks in the clock shop. I love sea-shanty singing in the gazebo, but TT was thoroughly bored.

Update:

navigation quest at Mystic SeaportWe revisited during the last week in August when TT was 8 1/2. Our favorite activity this time was Navigation Quest, which you start at the clock shop. By using a map, compass and GPS and counting paces, you find four locations around the village, collecting cards as you go. TT had a fun time learning to use the compass and map. And upon returning to the clockshop she was able to trade her four cards for a compass of her own.

Aside from that it was a frustrating visit. Mystic changes over to its fall Schedule a good week before Labor Day, which means their  most popular kid activities, the toy-boat building and a staged man-overboard rescue, are on weekends only. This was hugely disappointing to TT, who was planning out her next boat in the car on the way.  The Mystic folks might want to consider offering boat building for an hour or two a day during shoulder weeks like this, as we were one of several families asking about it.

There was a kids printing activity in the print shop, but you have to sign up ahead and they don’t note this on the schedule, so when we turned up at the print shop 15 minutes before it started it was full. We weren’t the only ones turned away so Mystic might want to offer more than one of these or make or note the limited space and sign-up on their schedule.

playing at Mystic SeaportTwo strikes on the interactive front and TT was starting to complain of being hot and bored. So we also tried the planetarium, for which you have to pay $4 extra per person. This is extremely skippable. The show was supposed to be “The summer sky and maritime navigation.” In reality an intern (who  mumbled) use a pointer to tell us where all the common constellations are in the summer sky. She went into way too much detail and told us nothing at all about how sailors used the stars to navigate, which would have been interesting. If the Seaport wants to charge extra for this they need to improve their show and also offer age guidance; kids younger than 6 were bored and noisy, which didn’t help things.

We did enjoy an exhibit on whaling, Rich and because we learned quite a bit and TT because she got to see an example of hardened whale vomit (amber gris).  We exited and got to check out the whaling ship they’ve restored. So that ended a mixed visit on a relative up beat.

A Way To Save

A Mystic Pass combines General Admission to the Aquarium and the Seaport. You save a few dollars per pass on admission, and it carries discounts at area stores, restaurants and hotels (have your passes before you make your hotel reservation).

When you buy, keep in mind that kids under age 6 get into the Seaport for free (and under age 3 at the aquarium). Also, the aquarium’s General Admission doesn’t include the 4-D movie or Birds of the Outback (a Value Ticket includes them or you can pay for them separately inside).

Other Nearby Excursions

SUPing on the Mystic RiverRenting SUPS: On our return visit we rented stand-up paddleboards from Mystic River Adventure Co. Whenever we visit Mystic, the river looks inviting with its various sailboats and watercraft. So I was excited to finally get a chance to go out on the water myself. It was $60 for an hour for two SUPs, which is plenty of time.  TT sat on the front of our boards, swimming between them from time to time. It’s an easy sport to learn, there is a current but it wasn’t very strong, and it was indeed really fun to get a view of the other watercraft, the bridges, the coastline and th Seaport from out on the water.

 Blown Glass: The first time around, we visited Prescient Studios, a glass blowing workshop 15 minutes from town, where they give free 30-minute demonstrations daily. We liked watching as a molten glass blob evolved into a peppermint-stripped drinking glass. If you go, you’ll recognize the studio’s work on the aquarium’s walls.

Charming Town: The genuinely old town of Stonington, 15 minutes from Mystic, is a nice evening destination. Walk to end of town to admire the tiny stone lighthouse and clapboard houses, then choose one of a handful of welcoming restaurants for dinner.  Afterward, detour to the marina for ice cream at Dog Watch Café.

Narraganset, RI and Hammonasset State Park (Madison, CT) are about 45 minutes to the north and south, respectively. Both are known for great beaches.

Dining

Mystic Town and its best ice creamYou can leave the seaport and the aquarium (get a handstamp) for lunch, which I recommend, given all the good food nearby.

Mystic Town Center has a short river walk and drawbridge. Its three or four blocks of shops and restaurants are far more interesting than the strip-mall options closer to the aquarium. No matter where you eat, leave room for ice cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, where creative homemade flavors and yummy seasonal-fruit ice creams will knock your socks off.

I loved S&P Oyster Company’s children’s menu. Instead of the usually fried chicken fingers, TT got a  juicy grilled breast that came with cauliflower. The adult food was really good, too and there’s a nice outdoor patio. prices are more family friendly at lunch.

The engine room in MysticThe price of our SUP adventure included a coupon for a free beer or soda for each of us at nearby The Engine Room, a ruggedly stylish pub located in a former boat-engine factory. So we decided to go there for lunch and really enjoyed it. All the kids menu items are freshly made including the breaded-just-enough chicken nuggets TT ate up along with a local root beer.  My hunter-style hamburger special was assertively seasoned with pickled cabbage and beer-cheese sauce; it was a nice change from a usual burger. Rich’s steak sandwich was a jaw-stretcher but also tasty and everything else coming out of the kitchen looked good.

 Cove Fish Market is a clam shack less than 5 minutes from of town by car. We had a generous pile of plump, fresh steamers for $11, a great deal.

a feast from Abbott's in Mysticabbotts, just outside of MysticThe Seaview Snack Bar is on the river, pretty much next door to the Seaport. We always avoided it on the premise that it must be too convenient to be good. But we went for convenience on our second visit and enjoyed fried clams — whole bellies fried crisp on the outside and still briny and soft on the inside— crispy fries and a burger for TT, all at a very reasonable price.

At Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough lunch we enjoyed lobster rolls, raw oysters, steamed shrimp and freshly brewed iced tea with the best water view of any clam shack I’ve been to. It’s in Noank, about ten minutes from the Mystic drawbridge and so worth it.

Note: It’s BYOB, but there is a package store on Pearl St., about two blocks before Abbotts. When we returned for dinner on our second visit we picked up a few bottles of local beer (for a bar tab of about $6).  Supping on cold beer, raw oysters and clams and more lobster rolls with a view of the river was a great way to signal that we were indeed on vacation.

Planning a trip? Look for hotels and packages on *Expedia.

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 *We were guests of CTVisit at these venues on our first visit. We did not agree to provide coverage or to any particular coverage in exchange for being hosted. Our opinions are always our own.

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14 Comments

  1. September 5, 2016 at 1:59 am — Reply

    We were in Mystic late last year and had a lot of fun exploring this area of CT. Loved the different light houses, and yes to lobster rolls

  2. September 4, 2016 at 1:55 am — Reply

    Mystic CT first came on my radar when the movie Mystic Pizza came out. This looks like a nice weekend getaway. I love lobster rolls, so I would definitely want to dine at Abbott’s. I think my daughter would enjoy both Navigation Quest and Birds of the Outback.

    • September 5, 2016 at 9:28 am — Reply

      we’ve never eaten at Mystic Pizza. We always feel like we can eat pizza back in New York. If you’re on the New England coast you should be eating clams and lobster and oysters.

  3. September 3, 2016 at 11:04 pm — Reply

    Looks like a fun New England getaway! The Navigation Quest sounds like a great activity for young kids to learn maps and about Mystic. I would definitely be up for some SUP, looks like the perfect location for it!

  4. September 3, 2016 at 11:51 am — Reply

    I just love when they have the aviaries where you can feed birds! That would be more than enough to get me in the door.

  5. September 1, 2016 at 11:41 pm — Reply

    Looks fun – I love lobster rolls!!

  6. […] Mystic Seaport, the largest maritime museum in the world, is an awesome place to immerse your family in New England’s maritime and shipbuilding history. Climb aboard historic tall ships and stroll through a 19th-century village with more than 60 restored buildings. Costumed interpreters help kids make candles the old-fashioned way, play 19th century games and learn how sailors did laundry. Visit nearby Mystick Village and the wonderful Mystic Aquarium to turn a day trip into a weekend. […]

  7. Becca@RWTYM?
    September 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm — Reply

    So funny – as soon as I saw the title to this post I thought about the movie!! And there it was “Mystic Pizza”. Looks like a fun place to visit! Thanks for linking up this week!

  8. Sonja
    September 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm — Reply

    We visited there once before we had kids and thought the little town was so lovely! Didn’t even know they had lots of fun for kids!

  9. Tonya @ The Traveling Praters
    September 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm — Reply

    Mystic is on my list of places to visit! I love your list of what to see and where to eat! My teens never pass up an opportunity to eat pizza when we’re on the road (or any other time).

    • September 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm — Reply

      we didn’t eat at Mystic Pizza (TT doesn’t like ‘za, oddly enough, and we were on a seafood bender), but I peaked in the window and it looked pretty good!

  10. Kerrie @ Family Food Travel
    September 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm — Reply

    Looks fantastic! If a trip includes eating seafood and visiting an aquarium my family is in!

    Thank you for linking up to Travel Tuesday. Hoping you’ll come back again next week.

    Would love for you to guest host with me!

    Kerrie
    http://familyfoodtravel.blogspot.ca

  11. InsideJourneys
    September 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm — Reply

    Travel passes are such a great way to manage costs.
    That birdseed lollipop sounds like the ticket.

  12. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista
    September 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm — Reply

    Lobster rolls, yummy! Love sitting seaside watching boats sailing in the water. Add in lobster rolls and you have a marvelous day.

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