Take the family to nearby Mystic, Connecticut, a coastal New England town with a big history, small-town charm, and maritime culture. Read on for exciting descriptions of such Mystic attractions as the Pequot Museum, the Mystic Aquarium, and Mystic Seaport.
About 90 miles northeast of the George Washington Bridge, I-95 changes: The highway narrows from four lanes down to two. The strip malls give way to grassy estuaries that glisten in the sunlight and stretch out to the Long Island Sound. You've entered New London County in Connecticut. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Just before you get to Mystic, take exit 92 and head to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. You'll find 85,000 square feet chronicling the archaeological history of the region and the lives of the Native Americans that inhabited it. The tribe-owned museum uses dioramas and films to transport visitors back to the Ice Age and moves through time to show how the Mashantucket thrived and then eventually declined at the hands of European settlers. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. $20; $12 children ages 6-18; free for children younger than 6. 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket. 800-411-9671. pequotmuseum.org.
Mystic Seaport provides the next chapter in the region's history. The early European settlers established themselves here more than 300 years ago, taking advantage of its proximity to the water. The era comes alive as you climb aboard historic tall ships, stroll through a recreated 19th century coastal village, and visit the shipbuilding yard. Specially designed exhibits such as Art Spot, Children's Museum, and Discovery Barn help recreate the area's maritime past for younger visitors with hands-on activities.
The Seaport attracts crowds from late spring through early fall. Decoration Day 1876 on Memorial Day Week-end pays tribute to fallen Civil War soldiers. Early June brings the Sea Music Festival, featuring sounds from maritime cultures around the world, and late June ushers in the WoodenBoat Show. Celebrate July Fourth in the style of 1876 during the annual Independence Day Celebration, then enjoy an Antique & Classic Boat Rendezvous later in the month. In September, discover competitive rowing at Coastweeks Regatta and ogle some classic cars at the Antique Vehicle Show. Finally, warm up at Chowder Days in early October with a host of sea-inspired fare and activities. Open 9am-5pm daily. $24; $15 ages 6-16; free children under 6. 75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic. 888-973-2767. mysticseaport.org.
Whale of a Good Time
The curvaceous maritime theater of the Mystic Aquarium, which can be seen from the highway, lets you peek into the lives of whales, jellyfish, birds of prey, penguins, seals, and more. For an additional fee, you can reach out and touch certain animals. Some may be content to grab a peanut butter lollipop to feed birds of the Outback, while the brave-hearted may get up close with a Beluga whale or face to face with an African penguin. Open daily at 9am; opens at 10am December through February. $29.95; $21.95 children ages 3-17; free for children ages 2 and younger. 55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic. 860-572-5955. mysticaquarium.org.
Getting There from the NYC Area
Manhattan: Mystic, CT is approximately 130 miles from Midtown (about a 2.5-hour drive)
Brooklyn: Approximately 135 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge (about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive).
Queens: Approximately 125 miles from the Whitestone Bridge (about a 2½-hour drive).
Westchester: Approximately 110 miles from White Plains (about a 2-hour, 10-minute drive)
Rockland: Approximately 130 miles from Nanuet (about a 2½-hour drive).
Fairfield: Approximately 90 miles from Norwalk (about a 1-hour, 45-minute drive)
Nassau: From Levittown: About 140 miles (3-hour drive). By car & Orient Point/New London ferry: About 110 miles (a 2-hour, 45-minute trip)
Suffolk: From Huntington: About 150 miles (3-hour drive). By car & Orient Point/New London ferry: About 105 miles (a 2-hour, 45-minute trip)
Visit mysticcountry.com for more information on Mystic County.