Why waterfront Mystic should be on your travel list
Set in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Mystic, Connecticut, Stone Acres Farm has always been about more than just creating quality produce. It’s about heritage. Stone Acres has been an integral part of Mystic’s collective history and Jane Meiser’s family since 1765, when the town was one of the most important seaports in the United States.
In Mystic, it's the community's deep rooted heritage that has laid the groundwork for reinvention — this time, in the culinary scene, which is helping the town become one of New England’s, if not the country’s, most exciting food destinations. For the past few decades, Mystic has been known (for better or worse) for that 1988 Julia Roberts rom-com that made the locale synonymous with pizza. However, it's this exact perception that Jane, who has helped steer Stone Acres into the modern era, and her restaurateur husband, Dan, are about to turn on its head with new culinary projects that will make you forget about slingin’ pizza.
From bakeries that are serving up pastries we didn't know we needed (e.g. a cacio e pepe flavored donut) to food shops that are celebrating local cheesemakers to restaurants that are putting a spotlight on area farmers and fishermen, this is a scene worth checking out. Combined with a rich nautical history, scenic walks, and even some dazzling nearby casinos, and you have all the ingredients for the ultimate weekend escape. Now let’s get eating.
This is from The WeekEnder series: local insider guides for new destinations a short drive from New York City, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here!
-Laura Begley Bloom, New York's Senior WeekEnder Writer
Many places have updated safety procedures due to COVID-19 restrictions and reopenings. Visit our Travel Safe landing page to learn more.
For New York state specific information, visit the official Connecticut COVID-19 Information Page.
Where to stay
The Whaler’s Inn
A food town like Mystic needs a hotel with chops, but surprisingly, it didn’t exist here until a few years ago when The Whaler's Inn went through a reboot. Now the 125-year-old property has a modern nautical look and a notable restaurant: Shipwright’s Daughter, run by chef David Standridge, who earned two Michelin stars while working with Joël Robuchon in New York City. The hotel is spread across five historic buildings in the center of Mystic, including the white clapboard 1910 Main Inn, which has guest rooms with tin ceilings and suites with bunk-bed nooks for kids. Fun fact about the 1865 House — it was actually built by a shipbuilder in 1855. Someone got the date wrong when they named the building.
Insider tip: Our favorite space at The Whaler’s Inn is the Hoxie House, where all the rooms have views of the Mystic River. Try to snag Room #74, which has a killer panorama of town and a fireplace for cozy New England nights.
Honorable Hotel Mentions
For Sweethearts: Inn at Stonington in Stonington - A hideaway in the tree-lined village with individually decorated rooms, gas fireplaces, and a quintessential New England vibe. Have a glass of wine on the deck as the sun sets over the harbor.
For History Buffs: Spicer Mansion in Mystic - Restored mansion that was once the summer home of a fishing captain and is now owned by the people behind the Ocean Club in nearby Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Each room was named for a vessel in its former owner’s fleet.
For a Cheap Sleep: Hyatt Place in Mystic - Attached to the aquarium, the Hyatt Place has sleek rooms, grab-and-go food options, and a fitness center. Bring Fido: It’s pet friendly.
For High Rollers: Foxwoods in Mashantucket - Ten miles outside Mystic is the largest resort in the Northeast. Good for gambling, shopping, entertainment, even ziplining.
For Instagrammers: Mohegan Sun in Uncasville - A bit farther afield is Mohegan Sun, with a spa, casino, golf course, 10,000-seat concert arena, indoor and outdoor pools, 75 shops, go-karts, kids’ club — and of course, ‘gram Dale Chihuly’s River Blue statue.
▶️ Want to get a glimpse of Mystic’s fall colors from the air? Video: Mystic Seaport Museum Aerial
Where to eat
It’s probably not a coincidence that Dan Meiser — one of the architects of the Mystic food scene — happens to be married to Jane from Stone Acres. A Connecticut born and bred chef, he originally came to the area to launch a food program at a hotel in nearby Watch Hill, Rhode Island. But as he fell in love with the area around Mystic (along with his wife, Jane), he realized something was missing.
“When I moved here 10 years ago, there were no restaurants taking advantage of Mystic’s incredible bounty — from some of the best seafood in the world to a 250-year legacy of farming, plus extraordinary artisanal products,” says Dan. So he paired up with another rising star, James Wayman, and the duo launched Oyster Club, a seafood restaurant in an old carriage house. It was an instant success. Travel + Leisure anointed it one of the best oyster bars in America and The Daily Meal named it one of the 101 best restaurants in the country.
Next up was Engine Room, a burger bar on the banks of the Mystic River, and Grass & Bone, an artisanal butcher and prepared food store — and a mini food empire was born. A number of other restaurants followed in their wake, taking cues from Dan and James’s mission of tapping into the wealth of area farmers, fishermen, and artisans to create menus that are fresh and original.
And now, at a moment when many restaurants around the country are closing at a frantic pace, they’re opening Nana’s. A bakery slash donut bar slash pizza shop, Nana’s will be making fried sourdough brioche donuts cooked to order with outrageous flavor combinations both sweet (umami caramel) and savory (cardamom espresso). At 11 a.m., the restaurant will transition into a pizza joint with unusual toppings (a New England pie with potatoes, bacon, and clams) and naturally fermented dough. It’s a glimmer of hope and creation — and just another indication of how vibrant the food scene here really is.
Want to eat your way through Mystic? We got Dan and James to give us the lowdown on the (friendly) competition.
Rise in Mystic - Made-from-scratch spot opened by a former Oyster Club chef (“she’s part of our extended family,” says Dan). Instead of Eggs Benedict, how about eggs, peanut butter, and bacon on an English muffin?
Young Buns Doughnuts in Mystic - Opens at 7 a.m. and serves donuts like the Mystic Cream (topped with sea salt and chocolate ganache) until they sell out. “Adam Young, the chef-owner, has a classical French pastry background,” says James.
Sift Bakeshop in Mystic - Another sweet spot from the owner of Young Buns. Don’t miss the croissant dough sticky bun and the seasonal lattes (caramelized white chocolate, peanut butter truffle). “It’s a little more traditional than the rustic sourdough breads and donuts we’re doing at Nana’s,” says Dan.
Mystic Cheese in Groton - “The owner Brian and his small team make all the cheeses by hand,” says Dan. “He truly is a world-class artist and we’re lucky to have him in our backyard.”
Barley Head Brewery in Mystic - Brewery with three to five beers on tap. “Just one block from Oyster Club, this is a true nano brewery, making small batch and limited beers with great local ingredients,” says Dan.
Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington - “A stunning place with beautiful lawns and a retail shop selling snacks that you can have during your tasting,” says Dan.
A sit-down meal
Ford’s Lobster in Noank - “A classic New England lobster roll experience,” says James. Order them hot and buttered, cold with mayo and celery, or in the form of a BLT on grilled Texas toast.
The Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic - Restaurant at the recently renovated Whaler’s Inn with a daily changing menu influenced by the farms and sea. “The newest addition to the exciting Mystic restaurant scene, it offers well-executed coastal fare using local and seasonal ingredients,” says Dan.
Whitecrest Eatery in Stonington - “A super talented couple — he runs the kitchen and she runs the front of the house,” says Dan. Look for local ingredients served on stylishly mismatched plates.
▶️ Want to listen to chef Dan Meiser talk about what makes local oysters so special? Podcast: How to Sear Scallops + Oyster Farming in Connecticut
What to do
Take a walk
In a past life, Amanda Arling — president of the Whaler’s Inn — was a guide for the adventure company, Backroads, and that passion still endures. “One of the things that drew me to Mystic is the accessibility to the outdoors,” says Arling. “There aren’t many small towns along the coastline where you have so much accessibility to nature.” Whether you’re a pro hiker or a Sunday afternoon stroller, she shares her favorite places to do one of the most Covid-safe activities around: take a walk.
River Road in Groton: “My number-one choice. It stretches for three miles along the west side of the Mystic River. I'm a huge architecture buff, and I love walking by all the old ship captains’ homes, which have plaques showing the date they were built and who they belonged to. I like to Google them and learn the history of the former occupants."
Bluff Point State Park in Groton: “This used to be an estate, and some of the old buildings are fun to explore. Follow the three-mile loop that goes out to the point and back to the parking lot. About halfway out, there’s a gorgeous bluff where you can sit and look at Long Island Sound and Fisher’s Island.”
Hayley Farm State Park in Groton: “There are 30 miles of hiking trails with some of the most exceptional coastline views. It’s wildly popular with mountain bikers, too; I've strung together about 26 miles of single track. I also love the old stone walls that are still intact.”
Barn Island in Pawcatuck: “Located to the east of Mystic, this is a beautiful estuary and marshland that’s also popular with bird watchers and kayakers. You also get nice views of Watch Hill and Napatree Point Beach in Rhode Island.”
Lantern Hill in North Stonington: “This is the highest point in Southern Connecticut, up near Foxwoods casino, and on a clear day you can see it from the roof of The Mystic Inn. It's a steep climb, but it offers gorgeous views of the surrounding area. Since it’s a little bit more rigorous, you’re going to want your hiking boots.”
See the seafaring side
You can’t come to a place like Mystic without getting a little salty. Here are some nautical moments that are not to be missed:
Mystic River Cruises in Mystic - Cruise around on an antique 1947 wooden picnic boat, which sails in the morning and at sunset through November.
Stonington Lighthouse Museum in Stonington - Love a lighthouse? The light is no longer, but you can still climb the 29 stairs to the top of this 170-year-old stone structure.
Mystic Seaport in Mystic - The nation’s largest maritime museum will transport you back to the pre-pizza era.
Mystic Aquarium in Mystic - Meet sea lions, feed stingrays, and check out some seemingly happy Beluga whales.
More like this: