Mystic, CT: Breathing new life into local wellness experiences

We recently moved near Mystic CT to enhance our healthy lifestyles. After five years in densely populated Jersey City, we needed more breathing room. We no longer needed to commute to the city with our remote work status, and we decided a change would do us some good.

Finding space

The move here was an intentional one designed to embrace my amphibious nature. I love the water. I learned to swim as a toddler, and spent most of my childhood summers in Miami Beach, splashing in the waves. My family moved from New York to Florida when I started high school, and for most of my adult life, I have lived near or on the water. From man-made lakefront homes in Florida to a luxury condo on the Persian Gulf, to a high-rise with million-dollar views of New York's busy Hudson River harbor. In other words, water views have been a mainstay in my life.

Somewhat caught up in the COVID frenzy of leaving the city, we were intrigued by the idea of buying our own home. We had explored various communities even before the pandemic: Cape May, NJ, and Rehobeth, DE for their beaches. Rhinebeck, Athens, and Hudson, NY, for access to the Catskill and Berkshire mountains. All within driving distance to New York, we reasoned owning a "weekend" retreat could generate supplemental AirBNB income and serve as a family escape from the rat race.

Location, location, location

The Town of Mystic is one of New England's most charming small towns, and it "checked" many of our "boxes": Easy access to New York City and Boston (approximately two hours by train or car ride). Access to two international airports (PVD and BDL). Quaint villages and historic downtown areas. Beautiful trails. Scenic views. And gorgeous shorelines.

We hoped to find a waterfront home along the Long Island Sound close to the top things the area offered that met our individual needs: fun things to do like hiking, biking, paddling, boating, and outdoor adventures the whole family can enjoy. At the peak of the hot real estate market, we found our beach house in Groton City.

Luckily Rosemary, my Hoboken yoga buddy (and guide to "all things New England"), had recently bought a home here. When she invited me to visit last summer, three days turned into five. I followed my muse on 20-mile bike rides to and from Mystic. We trekked Bluff Point and Haley Farm state park and traversed UConn at Avery Point. We walked amongst the storied Victorian homes that dot the neighborhood. We even swam at Eastern Point Beach, and I soon discovered there's an indoor pool on UConn's campus. I felt the allure of life here, surrounded by nature and opportunities to join a yacht, beach, or golf club. In short, here were all the ingredients for a good time.

Digging In

On our first time here we visited downtown Mystic and most of the prescribed attractions and historic landmarks. These are the places we'll take our family and friends as well. The famous drawbridge has had a few makeovers since 1919 and connects the two sides of Mystic. The bridge can be crossed by car, but it's somewhat easier to park and cross from one side to the other, depending on the season. Mandatory stops at the iconic Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream and Mystic Pizza (made famous by the 1988 movie starring Julia Roberts) are crowd-pleasers. There is also a bevy of adorable gift shops and art galleries, an Army/Navy supply store (a bi-product of nearby Navy and Coast Guard installations), and a Black Dog store.

Downtown Mystic has plenty of choices for nutritious meals and drinks. A popular choice is the S&P Oyster Restaurant (don't miss their lobster rolls!) on the east side. The Bank & Bridge Brewery is an oasis for craft beer in the Old Bank building on the town's western edge. This brew pub offers dog-friendly outdoor seating, as does down-the-road Dog Watch Cafe. My drinking preference on a sunny day is a drive to Stonington Vineyards where you can sip a 5-flight tasting of local wines for $16 and take in views of the working farm. In the fall, we'll visit B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill for fresh apple cider.

The Mystic River is a terrific spot to paddleboard. I first paddled in from Adventure Mystic Outdoor on Holmes Street.  Jeff and his team are pros at providing paddle boarders and kayakers with the right rentals and gear from their dock. The river lets out to the Long Island Sound but is sheltered and provides an easy paddle around the historic seaport. You'll get glimpses of the vessels that have made nautical history as well as many private yachts in the marina. You may also get some welcome encouragement from pedestrians crossing the historic bascule bridge above you.

Mystic's maritime history is celebrated at the Mystic Seaport Museum, an extensive maritime museum complex on the town's riverbank. The permanent collection includes the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship to survive. Rotating exhibits, like the upcoming Wooden Boat Show (June 24-26) will keep us coming back. It is also a working shipyard, so you can charter a boat here for day trips or overnight excursions. Alternatively, you can take a 25-minute guided tour of the river aboard the Liberty. More of a landlubber? The museum is also home to a Planetarium featuring daily full-dome movies as well as 19 acres of gardens to explore.

Time for a "cool change"

As the Little River song goes, "I was born in the sign of water, and it's there that I feel my best." I can relate to the lyrics about kinship with the albatross. With the nearby Mystic Aquarium, I can visit the beluga whales, sea lions, or penguins whenever I need inspiration. We were surprised to learn these exhibits are outdoors, but we didn't mind getting wet on a rainy day to interact with the sea life. The best things about the aquarium are particularly appealing for families: touch pools, an undersea Virtual Reality experience, exhaustive interactive displays, and gift shops full of educational and plush marine-inspired toys.

Adjacent to the aquarium is Olde Mistick Village, an open-air shopping village. Here you'll find a variety of unique gift shops. As a new homeowner, I love Garden Specialties, which offers an array of unusual windmills and garden gnomes. Kitch has high-end culinary appliances and supplies. Bekka Rose-Magickal Elements & Wellness intrigues with its crystals and natural skincare products. Deviant Craft Coffee & Donuts needs no explanation (and even offers vegan baked goods). Or take cover in the Mystic Luxury Cinema when there's incle ment weather (we watched Top Gun: Maverick recently).

For an even more Bohemian vibe, we like to stroll the nearby Stonington Borough. Here you'll find an eclectic mix of boutiques, vintage consignment stores, and independent shops. History steeps from the Borough's manicured homes and gardens, some dating to the American Revolutionary War. Stroll down Water Street to Dubois Beach to catch a glimpse of Rhode Island's beaches across Little Narragansett Bay. Or dine at Noah's for some New England "comfort food". (The menu changes daily so check their website ahead of time.)

Other indulgences

Part of my wellness routine involves chiropractic care and massage therapy. I just indulged in a 60-minute relaxation massage (courtesy of my son Geoff!) at Mystic Massage & Wellness. Carrie R. is a superior therapist and seemed to know how to ease all my pain points. There are several other day spas I've yet to explore, including Raffa Yoga Active Relaxation, Wellness and Spa. Located in Cranston, RI, this day spa combines yogic practices with "Urban Sweat". I look forward to relaxing in Raffa's black charcoal sauna, Himalayan salt grotto and eucalyptus steam room. Definitely worth the 45-minute drive from home.

We're just getting started, with so many things to do in the Mystic area that will keep us active and healthy. Now that we're into summer, we're attending live music events at local parks and beach areas. Several yoga studios offer various disciplines. There are zip lines and ropes courses for thrill-seekers (but not for me). Runners can register for the Mystic Half Marathon (May) or Tour de Noank 5K (June). And spectators can be a part of the annual Mudhead Benefit Regatta & MegaParty (July). There are fresh markets year-round in Stonington, and an outdoor farmers' market in most surrounding communities during the warmer months.

Sit back, relax, and breathe! 

When we're ready to unwind, we simply sit in our sunroom overlooking Beach Pond and the Sound. Groton is known as the "submarine capital of the world", and each submarine siting is as exciting as the one before. I can also spy UConn's Project Oceanology heading out on exploratory cruises (Rosemary and I went on a seal watch cruise, offered March-April.) There are six different lighthouses visible from our home to embellish those magnificent sunsets!

Best of all, we have plenty of space (and time!) to breathe!