Mystic, Connecticut — a scenic train ride under two hours away from Boston — may be best known for its historic seaport museum, expansive aquarium, and Mystic Pizza, made famous in a Julia Roberts film, but you can fill a day in this charming waterfront town with adventures and good eats beyond those three icons.
Once you step off the train, walk 10 minutes in the opposite direction of downtown to ensure you don’t miss fried-to-order sourdough doughnuts at Nana’s. It’s hard not to order one of each since coatings run the gamut from classic, like cinnamon sugar, to savory, such as cacio e pepe, but try to leave room for Nana’s outstanding sourdough pizza. Local cornmeal from New England’s oldest continually active farm, Davis Farm in nearby Pawcatuck, Connecticut, gives the flavorful, chewy crust an extra crunch, while koji amplifies the tomato’s natural umami in the red sauce.
If you’re still hungry, Nana’s shares a parking lot with Sea Swirl, a popular stop for fried whole-belly clams and succulent Stonington scallops. Across the street, Bangladeshi chef Sheuli Solaiman impresses with savory moong dal with marinated lamb curry and spicy eggplant at Mystic Royal.
After you make your way to the center of town, rent a kayak from Adventure Mystic or board the Argia for a day sail to explore the waters around the famous Mystic River Bascule Bridge. Argia is BYOB, so pop into the excellent bottle shop Spencer & Lynn first if you want to grab drinks for your journey. Afterward, refuel with a cool drink such as a Green Medley cold-pressed juice or a local 860 Kombucha at Karma Kitchen and a Shellcuterie board from Mystic Oysters next door before browsing Mystic Nautical Marine Consignment for maritime treasures of yore.
Shop along Main Street, stopping for croissants and pecan sticky buns at Sift Bake Shop, steaming bowls of spicy garlic ramen and fluffy bao at Samurai Noodle Bar & Grill, or massive pancakes and perfectly runny yolks at Rise. Then, visit Mystic Museum of Art for the current exhibition of original lithographs from artists like Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder.
As evening arrives and you start to get thirsty, head to the Port of Call. Pick your vibe at two separate bars in the space: Upstairs offers the timeless elegance of a captain’s quarters, with light filtering through red velvet curtains across warm wood paneling and onto the centerpiece, a majestic curved bar made from salvaged ship wood. Downstairs at Dive Bar, there’s neon signage, a vinyl record collection, vintage games, a photo booth, and a diving suit in the corner. While Dive focuses on cold beer and simple cocktail builds, Port of Call’s upstairs drink list, led by director Jade Ayala, is more complex and tropical. (The bar has an ongoing partnership with the Real McCoy rum.)
Try the smooth Boozy & Honest featuring mezcal, cachaca, and banana justino — a fruit-infused rum — or Ancient Medicine, a floral play on the Penicillin. On both levels, find the same top-notch food menu created by 2023 James Beard nominee Reneé Touponce, who works magic with cured local fish in particular. Order the bacalaitos — a golden, Puerto Rican salted fluke fritter served with ephemeral cilantro lime foam — tender adobo-marinated beef tongue, and a snappy smoked hot dog dressed with bonito aioli and kimchi in a light and tangy double-fermented bao bun. The Port of Call also hosts performances almost every night, from sultry jazz to disco drag shows; it’s a lively draw for visitors and locals alike.
Next door, Touponce continues to delight at the cozy yet modern Oyster Club with dishes like a warming quahog chowder, mackerel and ramp scotch eggs, and John Dory white fish cooked with nutty red-and-white Jacob’s Cattle beans and confit smelt served alongside more of Ayala’s inventive cocktails.
Keep the seafood theme going in a plush, dark-blue velvet booth at the Shipwright’s Daughter, whose executive chef, David Standridge, offers herbaceous fish head rillette and local scup pickled and plated in green crab vinegar as well as entrees like a rich Seacoast mushroom bucatini. Sommelier Kathleen Standridge curates a diverse wine menu of over 135 bottles focused on low-intervention practices.
Whichever dinner spot you choose, there’s an opportunity to stay the night steps away: Shipwright’s Daughter sits within the charming Whaler’s Inn, comprising a collection of five historic buildings on East Main, while the Port of Call boasts a trio of whimsically renovated AirBnB suites above its Water Street bar. If you’re headed home straight away, however, you can finish the day at Taquerio, a hip refurbished gas station with an outdoor fireplace just steps from the train station so you can savor frozen margaritas and fried plantain tacos ’til the very last minute.