A real pizza parlor inspired the setting of the 1988 classic movie “Mystic Pizza,” which not only helped launch the career of Julia Roberts, but also garnered attention for its namesake Connecticut seaport village.
The pizza place still thrives in Mystic, a destination that offers not only a delicious piece of pie, but also myriad opportunities for unique travel experiences.
The Mystic Seaport Museum is probably the most compelling draw for visitors. It’s a living museum of America’s maritime past situated on 19 acres on the banks of the Mystic River.
The museum’s watercraft collection, with more than 500 historic ships and other vessels, is the largest of its kind in the U.S. Visitors can climb onto the meticulously restored Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last authentic wooden whaling ship. Once part of a fleet of more than 2,700 vessels, it was known as a “lucky” ship, because it successfully navigated Arctic ice and countless storms and has rounded Cape Horn multiple times. Built and launched in 1841, the Morgan is now America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat.
You can also see the L.A. Dunton, the last example of early 20th-century New England fishing vessels, and two more National Historic Landmark vessels.
The Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard offers a view of carpenters’ shops, an 85-foot spar lathe, a rigging loft, and a large, open area where vessels are brought indoors for repair and restoration. Within the 19th-century Seaport Village are 1800s-era trade shops and businesses that were transported from locations around New England. Here, ship smiths, coopers, woodcarvers, and riggers perform their now almost-extinct skills.
And that’s not nearly all: the Children’s Museum and the Treworgy Planetarium are both onsite.
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, the museum is located at 75 Greenmanville Ave. Tickets range from $19 to $27.
Perhaps the most fascinating experience at the Mystic Aquarium is watching through a 20-foot underwater window as New England’s only beluga whales swim by – very slowly, from 2 to 6 miles per hour. They live in a one-acre habitat filled with 750,000 gallons of water. The whales swim close to the window and often interact with guests.
But the whales are not the aquarium’s only not-to-miss features. The Mystic Aquarium is one of two places in the country where you can see Steller sea lions. California sea lions are the stars at the Foxwood Marine Theater. There are also African penguins and Northern fur seals, a shark and ray touch pool, a jellyfish gallery, and a “Jurassic Giants” exhibit, which features giant animatronic dinosaurs.
The aquarium, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, is located at 55 Coogan Blvd. Tickets range from $28.99 to $38.99.
Budding engineers will be fascinated by seeing how the Mystic River Bascule Bridge works – and there’s no cost to view it. One of the country’s only surviving Brown-type bascule bridges, the picturesque bridge, which spans its namesake river, carries vehicle and foot traffic directly into Mystic’s tourist district. The bridge was extensively rehabilitated in 2012.
Also called a drawbridge or a lifting bridge, a bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic.
The Mystic bridge, which can raise to a nearly perfect 90-degree angle, stays open for about five minutes, and opens and closes about 2,200 times each year. While you wait on Route 1 for the bridge to go up to enable a large ship to pass and then go back down so road traffic can resume, check out the exposed machinery – operating links and struts, and trunnions — that make this possible.
Mystic is celebrating the bridge’s 100th birthday this year, culminating Oct.15 in the official Bridge Anniversary Dedication and Fireworks Celebration. Check out the Go Mystic app for updates on celebratory activities. No trip to Mystic would be complete without a visit to Olde Mistick Village, an outdoor venue full of shops, boutiques, restaurants, and seasonal events in a quaint village setting. A replica of New England’s charming village streets of the 1720s, it is a lovely place to spend a day strolling along tree-lined cobblestone streets, browsing through interesting shops, and relaxing by the duck pond.
by Ellyn Wexler