I was in Mystic once as a kid, for a field trip, and when I saw signs for it from I95 a few years ago, I was reminded of that time. So, for Rowan’s 4th birthday, we planned a long weekend and booked a room at the Days Inn (near Olde Mystick Village) with our Wyndham Points. Here’s everything we did, saw and ate during the trip!
1) Stop in Norwalk, CT
We left Philadelphia around 9am and drove as far as Norwalk, CT which is just off 95. This is a great area to stop in for lunch, dinner, leg stretching, or burning off some energy depending on how far north you’re going. The SoNo Collection is a large, modern shopping mall (they have a CAMP store which is a great family/toy store with interactive add-on experiences) and nearby is the Stepping Stones Museum for Children. The museum is located in Matthew’s Park which has plenty of spots to stretch out for a picnic or even just play on the playground. A few other museums are also in this space.
We scoped everything out but opted to head to another part of South Norwalk (that’s where the “SoNo” comes from) with a cute strip of restaurants and shops. There’s also an aquarium in this area (we didn’t go as we had tickets for the one in Mystic) and it’s easy enough to walk to a lunch spot after a visit. We ate at Donovan’s Pub which has a nice outdoor space and kids menu, grabbed some iced coffee nearby, and popped into a few shops before heading on our way.
2) Downtown Mystic
Our original ETA for Mystic, CT was 1:30pm but since check in wasn’t until 4 (pretty sure they would have allowed us to check in earlier) and I assumed we’d hit traffic through NYC (we really didn’t), I didn’t have much on our agenda Friday night. We took our time in Norwalk because of that. Friday was mostly just browsing downtown Mystic boutiques. There was an annual sidewalk sale going on that weekend, so many of the shops had outdoor sales.
So, Friday night included shopping, picking up some booze at the adorable boutique bottle shop, Spencer & Lynn Wine and Spirit Merchants, watching the Mystic River Bascule Bridge go up and down a few times (it turned 100 this year!), and eating ice cream. One of our original plans for Friday night was an outdoor concert series called Arts on the Quad which took place at the Seaport Museum. We opted to skip it, but picnics were encouraged and a cash bar was on site. Be sure to check out the This Is Mystic website for events throughout the town and neighboring areas.
Also in Downtown Mystic. One restaurant on my list was Bank & Bridge Brewing which had a nice selection of beers and cocktails, located in an old bank. Also kid friendly with a kids menu. But it was pretty crowded and since it was next door to the original Mystic Pizza location, we obviously went there instead. None of us were super hungry so we ended up splitting a pizza with bacon and peppers, and a few drinks. Despite being a bit of a tourist spot, the pizza was actually delicious and we considered going back another night as well. I had an amazing cucumber lime hard seltzer from Whalers Brewing Company here and regret not tracking down any to bring home. Our server was very kind to bring Rowan two kids cups (when he was on the fence about Sprite or water).
Then it was back to the Days Inn to watch Friends until we passed out.
1) Deviant Donuts…
…in Olde Mistick Village for breakfast and Rowan’s birthday! We planned to wander the village later in the day, so this was just a quick stop before our next adventure. They have plenty of flavors and you can preorder if you’re worried about sell outs.
2) Historic Harbor Tour
We decided the night before that we should take a boat ride. There were a few advertised around downtown Mystic so we settled on the Historic Harbor Tour. It’s a short option at 40 minutes, cash only and walk-up ticket sales (no advance reservations). This was a great way to learn more about Mystic, the bridge, the houses and boats in the harbor.
3) Lunch at David’s Place
This was just a roadside shack across from Dinosaur Place / Nature Art Village. It was convenient, popular, and had a huge menu. Inside and outside seating after you order from the walkup window. The clam roll was pretty great.
4) The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village
Walking trails, dinosaurs hidden in the woods, a huge indoor play space and outdoor play ground, and a massive splash pad area! If you’re going to be anywhere near Oakdale, CT (about a half hour from Mystic), this is a cool spot to check out. There are also some add on options to your ticket like a train ride and mini golf. Get your walking shoes, pack a picnic lunch, and swimwear if it’s summertime! Lockers are available if needed. There’s a no reentry policy, so make sure you have everything you need. Walkable (all in the same parking lot), you’ll find some gift shops, the Genius Museum, and Thunder Creek where you can pan for “gold”. You can see more from The Dinosaur Place on my TikTok (@shamrockenroll).
5) Olde Mystick Village
This is pretty similar to Peddler’s Village with shops, dining and special events. In fact a few of my favorite Peddler’s Village stores like Cloak and Wand and Sticky Situations have locations here too. Of course, I bought treats at both. Alice’s Haunted Little Bookshop was an awesome horror themed book and gift shop. Family and dog friendly spot. We went back to the hotel for a bit after this to use the pool.
6) Dinner at Taquerio
Taquerio is in an old, converted gas station and garage! Big indoor and outdoor space with tacos a la carte so you can mix and match as many as you want. The fried avocado taco was excellent. Plenty of cocktails and beer to choose from. The only bummer was that they were all out of (what I assume to be) house made choco tacos. Fair, though, as it was around 8pm. And since they were sold out we ended up at Sift Bake Shop where I had the most amazing cheese and guava danish. More on that Sunday though…because we did go back for more.
1) Mystic Aquarium
Get here early! We were there just after it opened and by the time we left- almost three hours later- lines were forming. I came to Mystic on a field trip in fifth grade and have vague memories of this aquarium, but I knew it was a good one! The belugas were cute, we touched some sting rays, and watched the adorable sea lions in a show (don’t miss it). There’s an add-on Jurassic Giants exhibit with 4D movies, dinosaurs and reptiles too. You can see more video footage on my TikTok.
2) Seaview Snack Bar
Another shack! This one is right along the Mystic river and close to the Seaport Museum. Next door is Twisters Ice Cream. Though the seafood is fresh and locally sourced, I just really wanted a hot dog. It paired nicely with a frozen latte from Twisters.
3) Submarine Force Library and Museum
This is a small museum with a lot of content. It’s free but donations are appreciated. It’s not open year round, so check the website before going. The USS Nautilus submarine was closed for exploring when we visited, but reopens on September 9th. This is in Groton, CT.
4) Back to Downtown Mystic
We went back to the shopping area to check out some stores that were closed Friday. Shoutout to Mystic Disc, a wonderful used record shop that had a small collection of CDs…including a Spice Girls single that I once owned way back when. The owner of the shop told me to just take it because he could tell how much it meant to me. Please support your local record stores and indie bookshops. Protect them at all costs! We discovered a great little nanobrewery called Barley Head and I enjoyed an incredible Sauvignon Sour. Then back to Sift Bake Shop where the line seems to always be out the door (and well worth it). Sift is owed by Adam Young, a “Best Baker in America” winner on the Food Network.
5) The Jealous Monk for dinner
This is a spacious beer garden and restaurant in Olde Mistick Village. I loved their house made seltzer and they had a kids menu with a lot of variety. Overall, I was impressed by how many restaurants had more than a basic menu for kids, with a lot of options. The Jealous Monk is the sister location to Taquerio.
1) It was rainy! Pouring. Luckily we were heading home and the cold, chilly weather gave me an excuse to get a hot coffee off Dunkin’s new fall menu. The Nutty Pumpkin is available in hot or iced and it’s delicious.
2) The PEZ Visitor Center!
Whether you’re a hardcore collector or just like roadside attractions, this is a nice way to get off the highway for a bit or a good rainy day activity for the locals. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for 3-12 year olds. You also get a $2 credit per ticket to use in the gift shop. You’ll see PEZ from all decades, collector and one of a kind pieces, and you can even partake in a scavenger hunt for a prize. A look inside is on my TikTok.
Aside from PEZ, we made one rest stop on the way home at the Thomas Edison service area in Woodbridge, NJ. It was spacious and clean with a lot of outdoor tables, and many food options inside (including both a Starbucks and a Pret). I was intrigued by the Cake Boss cake vending machine, but not enough to actually get a slice.
Things we almost considered on this trip:
Mystic Seaport Museum: Okay…why would you come to Mystic and not go to this museum? You’re right. I wanted to! But by 3pm on Sunday- when we were headed there- we had already done a lot of walking and exploring. And we were tired! The museum and grounds close at 5pm so I felt like we’d be rushed. It’s disappointing that we didn’t make it here, especially because the seaport village is only accessible with entry to the museum, and you can explore the boats too. But the Historic Harbor boat tour we did gave us a close up of some exteriors and a good bit of information. There are also combo ticket deals you can get for a discount between the Seaport Museum and the aquarium.
A day trip to Boston: This was the initial plan. Rowan loves trains and while there are some fun touristy train options (honestly, not my thing), the Amtrak fares were pretty cheap. So why not go for the day, hit up the children’s museum, some food, Faneuil Hall and head back? When we were looking at fares while planning the trip, we found some trains that were $75 TOTAL for the three of us! The whole trip! Just $25 round trip per person! Of course, when I went to book these tickets the next day, the price jumped up to over $175. Sure we could drive, but that wouldn’t be as fun. So we stayed put with plenty to do.
I also picked up some pamphlets for a Connecticut taco trail and a pizza trail! I think we made some pretty good choices in Mystic, though. But if you want the list, I have them!
This was an easy, long weekend. I’m happy to answer any questions or go into more detail if you are interested in anything mentioned here. There’s so much more to do and see, you could spend a week in the area and not get bored. Be sure to check seasonal hours and Covid safety precautions as you plan your trip too. Follow me at @shamrockenroll on Instagram/Tiktok for things to do in and around Philly with a toddler. And follow @rowhomemag for even more Philly news and events.