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New England Regional

Mystic, Connecticut

By train, boat, and bike

July-August 2009

This picturesque mid-coast village, easily accessible by Amtrak trains, offers not only the multifaceted Mystic Seaport, but boat rentals to explore the eponymous river, a shuttle bus, and a new cooperative bikes program--which means the whole area around the adjacent town of Stonington can be explored over several days without bothering with a car.

At the seaport, antique vessels, tall ships, and other historic boats are on display, while visitors can also witness preservation in action: conservators are currently working on the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world. In addition, an extensive nineteenth-century village creates a tangible history of seacoast life; there are also an aquarium and planetarium, a museum for young children, and a series of gardens, including a sweet patch of plants named for animals (e.g., “lamb’s ears”). “People think when they’ve been here once, they’ve ‘done Mystic,’” says the seaport’s public-relations director, Michael O’Farrell. “But there’s always a reason to come back.”

Mystic Cycles rents bikes, but visitors can also take a water taxi to “Downtown” Mystic (a half a mile away), which has shops, restaurants, and pretty walks through residential streets. Visitors can also stop at one of the Mystic Community Bikes kiosks and, for a $10 deposit, receive a bike, a helmet, and a lock--then tour the area for as long as they like. A public bus operates during the week, shuttling people around town--and to stately Stonington Borough, where art and antique shops, marinas, restaurants, and historic homes abound.

From the Amtrak station, you can walk to the seaport itself (one mile), as well as to closer bed and breakfasts and a few choice hotels, including The Inn at Mystic and The Taber Inne, which have swimming pools. There’s a thriving restaurant scene; one favorite is the Italian bistro Anthony J’s; for a water view try the S & P Oyster House.

For an interesting side trip, take a taxi 10 miles south to New London and hop on the ferry to Block Island, where bike rentals are seasonally available within walking distance of the dock. A cross between Maine and Cape Cod, the island offers natural beauty and quiet space for meditative arts--along with an active nightlife, restaurants, and other artful entertainment.