Mention the word “Mystic” to New England parents and the next nearly guaranteed to follow is “Aquarium.”
The 42-year-old attraction (mysticaquarium.org) is famously home to Beluga whales, African penguins, sea lions, sharks, a Titanic exhibit and more, easily offering a day’s worth of indoor and outdoor exploration and education over its 27 acres.
The aquarium is synonymous with Mystic for good reason: It’s a fantastic place to take the family and encounter up-close some incredible sea life. In 2014, it received two major accolades. It was the only aquarium or zoo honored with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service at a White House ceremony led by First Lady Michelle Obama, and it was named “Best Aquarium Experience in New England” by Yankee Magazine.
So while the aquarium is definitely having a moment and is well worth a visit, there is a lot more family fun to be had in the area beyond the well-known marine life attraction. The small town (population 4,200) gained fame and made history as a major shipbuilding center, with more than 600 vessels built along the Mystic River from 1784-1919. Mystic is now a mecca for maritime history and offers up a plethora of summertime events, museums, art, entertainment, shopping, dining, and more for families with children of all ages.
Here are five must-sees:
The Museum of America and The Sea
75 Greenmanville Ave.
Admission: Adult (18-64) $25;
Youth (6-17) $16; Children
(5 and younger) free.
This 11-acre indoor and outdoor attraction is the largest maritime museum in the world and famously home to the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship in the world. First launched in 1841, the Morgan recently underwent a five-year restoration. Visitors can now board the ship and see for themselves what life at sea was like in the 19th century in a highly-interactive experience. There is also a dedicated Children’s Museum on site, as well as a Discovery Barn geared for kids ages 8 and up. A rundown of family activity offerings can be found here: mysticseaport.org/locations/kids/
Mystic Outdoor Art Festival
Historic Downtown Mystic
The town’s art celebration is the oldest of its kind in the Northeast, celebrating its 58th year in August. For two days, the downtown is home to two miles of white tents offering fine arts and crafts from 270 artists and artisans. Families won’t want to miss the Children’s Art Park event held in Mystic River Park 11 a.m.-3 p.m. both days. Kids can take a break from browsing the festival and enjoy interactive art projects, creating their own masterpiece to take home.
Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
109 Pequotsepos Rd.
Admission: Adults, $8; Children, $5
Offering 10 miles of hiking trails on 300 acres, the DPNC is a place where families can enjoy woodland, wetland, and meadow habitats and meet their residents. Visitors can get up close and observe several species of hawks and owls via outdoor flight enclosures or spy turtles, frogs, and more in the Duck Pond. Inside, there is a variety of exhibits featuring live fish, turtles, and snakes; a classroom exhibit featuring more than 200 mounted bird specimens; shows; and story times. If you visit on a Sunday, don’t miss the Farmers Market.
Historic Downtown Mystic
The picturesque New England Main Street features dozens of places to eat, shop, stay, and more. Kids won’t let you pass by the popular Mystical Toys (4 E Main St.) and you almost have to stop for a bite at the famous Mystic Pizza (mysticpizza.com), the focus of the 1988 movie. (Yes, some of the movie was filmed in town. In 1997, Steven Spielberg shot part of Amistad at Mystic Seaport.) If you’re at the aquarium and want to shop, walk across the street to Olde Mistick Village (oldemistickvillage.com), a 60-store outdoor shopping center built to look like a seaport village.
Art After Dark
Mystic Arts Center
9 Water St.
July 21, Aug. 18, Sept. 15, Oct. 20
6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults $15; Children 4-12 $3; Children (under 3) free
The nonprofit Mystic Arts Center hosts programs and educational opportunities for families and children, and in the summer is known for its Tuesday night concert series Art After Dark. Set on the riverfront patio, the family-friendly Tuesday evenings offer food, live music, live art, and more as the sun sets.
Want more Mystic? Head to the Chamber of Commerce’s events calendar, which is updated daily: mysticchamber.org/events/
Plan your trip
From Boston: 1 hour 45 minutes (99 miles)
From Worcester: 1 hour 20 minutes (68 miles)