So for my first Everyday location I've picked home, southeastern Connecticut. With the popularity of "Staycations" nowadays writing about somewhere close to home seems to make sense. I don't plan on talking about any kind of a budget or anything, just things that can make a great day or weekend trip and won't break the bank for your average person. Any prices for admission or anything else are current as of August 2009.
So where to start? This really depends on your tastes and what you're looking for. want touristy nautical? Mystic Village and Seaport. Want small town seaside New England? Niantic and Stonington. Want to learn about naval history? Groton Subase. Want casinos? Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Want a good, quiet spot to explore and relax? Pretty much anywhere aside from the casinos.
Let's start with Mystic. There are two distinct sections, Olde Mistick Village and the downtown area by the drawbridge. Coming off I95 at exit 90 we first come to Olde Mistick Village. This is definitely a tourist section with an olde worlde feel to it- a number of shops in a quaint little village, a couple of hotels, a few good places for a solid meal and Mystic Aquarium. If you're looking for food there's a brand-new (summer 2009) diner called the Equinox (www.equinoxdiner.com) as soon as you get off the exit. We've been there a few times already- great mixed selection, pretty much something for everyone, decent service, good sized but not frightening huge portions and good prices. Across from the Equinox is the Steak Loft. Awesome salad bar, good food but during tourist season packed and tourist prices year round. My wife loves going here and we're there a couple times a year. Live bands are common on the weekends. Buried in the village is Go Fish, which we've never been to but have heard good things about. There are a couple smaller places tucked in the village too- not bad, for the most part, about what you'd expect to find anywhere.
The Village has a good number of shops, ranging from tourist trap to country store to eclectic stores for your stoner or Asian culture enthusiast. It's an interesting mix that for whatever reason works really well. Some of our favorite stores include the General Store- tons of good foodstuffs, tourist items and fun...Raining Cats and Dogs- just plain unhealthy for the animal lover...a newer store that's great that does sports memorabilia...and the Grey Goose, an epicurian delight that's my last resort for stocking stuffers since my wife already owns most of what Pampered Chef has to offer. The Yankee Silversmith is fun too- tourist prices but some beautiful work. Take the time to explore anything that even remotely catches your eye, it will be worth it.
Just past the Village is the Mystic Aquarium (www.mysticaquarium.org). This is a GREAT place to spend the day with the kids, especially the unexpected rainy day- lots to do, great shows and very educational at the same time. It's not cheap, a family of 4's going to run around $85 for admission so if you plan on going more than once a year the family membership at $169 pays for itself on the second trip. There are a number of other membership deals, check the Web site and there are usually AAA and/or military discounts. The Aquarium underwent a major rework a few years ago, too, so it's better than ever.
Coming out of the Village and taking a left onto Route 27 starts you on the route to the downtown area. This is a nice, scenic drive along the river which can get backed up like crazy on a nice day. About halfway down is Mystic Seaport (www.mysticseaport.org), a reconstructed 19th century village. Definitely hit this on a sunny day, rain will wipe it right out. Again, not real cheap, around $80 admission for a family of 4 but check online for discounts and, of course, AAA. There are exhibitions of life 150+ years ago, people in period garb, a great bookstore for the lovers of nautical lore and it's generally a good visit. During the holidays are special lamplight tours (fun, we did this a few years ago) and the whole thing being right on the water makes it comfortable even on a hot day. I am going to plug a good friend of mine here, Elinor DeWire, who writes books on lighthouses and, last time I was there, had a book or three here. Check her out at www.elinordewire.com, she's got some great stuff.
Continuing down Rte 27 leads you into downtown Mystic itself. Best advice- find a place to park (free for the most part) and start walking. The drawbridge, with its counterweights each the size of a Volkswagen Bug, is beautiful and impressive to see in place or when in motion. There are a lot of great shops and restaraunts along here, and fans of the movie Mystic Pizza will recognize various spots. Personal favorites are 41 North/Dylan's Pub, Margarita's and the bookstore- not big but very close and comfortable. S&P Oyster company is great and right on the water but big-time tourist pricing.
Leaving Mystic and heading north on Route 1, the scenic route to Stonington, on the left is a little place called the Cove Fish Market. This is a must stop for the fried seafood lover- clam fritters roughly the size of baseballs where the person taking your order shouts, "Drop 3" of however many you order, all fresh seafood from water you can see from the outdoor tables, tons of food, good prices, comletely relaxed atmosphere- how can you beat it???
Stonington Village is great for a relaxed afternoon for adults but there isn't a lot here for kids or teens. Some great shops, in particular Anguilla Gallery, small places to grab a bite, and a walk out to the Point is almost required. The drive in is beautiful also- big, beautiful houses partially hidden on large pieces of land, tantalizing glimpses of the water and marinas and traffic overall isn't bad.
Heading back south on I95 for a quick, free look at submariner history hit the Nautilus Memorial on Route 12, right outside the Subase. This has the world's first nuclear sub as a permanent exhibit and some pretty interesting sub lore. It's closed on Tuesdays last I saw.
New London is an old whaling town but, unfortunately, hasn't really done much of anything with it. There are areas of town to avoid like the plague and the two biggest attractions are Ocean Beach and the ferry terminal, where you can hop across to Long Island or Block Island (www.blockisland.com). The ferry ride on the new high speed ferry is about an hour, no cars allowed since there really aren't any on the island- makes sense since there are all of two paved roads on the island. Rent mopeds when you get there for a fun way to zip around and explore as much as possible. If you plan on staying overnight make reservations ahead of time, especially during the summer- the few rooms book FAST and good luck trying to get something last-second. It's a fun day trip; if you're going to stay for more than a day I'd do it midweek. This only runs from New London May through September, year-round service is available from Point Judith, RI, in Narragansett- Rhode Island will be covered another day.
Just a little further down I95 is Niantic- a great little seaside town with a nice beach and beautiful view of Millstone, our local nuclear plant and the reason we have low taxes where we live. Great seafood abounds, and there are some great shops too. Without shame I will plug my brother-in-law's shop, Thames Imports, and the Book Barn- $1 paperbacks, it's incredibly addictive!!! Sunset Ribs under the bridge is fantastic and fun to watch people pull their boats up and stop for a meal.
The last big things I'll mention are the casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. I've seen both literally from the ground up- when I was in high school Foxwoods was just a bingo hall and Mohegan Sun bought a friend's house to build their casino. I won't say a lot about them, the best way I can describe the differences are if you're looking for Vegas, go to Foxwoods...if you want to relax a little more go to Mohegan.
These are the major things in this area. Exploring will bring you to places like Stonington Vineyards, Holmbergs Orchards, Clyde's Cider Mill, Avery Point and a ton of other hidden gems that would take far too long to list here. Looking around a little, off the beaten path, can reveal a treasure trove of hidden gems that I know I'll find more of as time goes on. I hope you enjoyed the first of my Everyday Travels. Where will I head next? Not sure yet but I may start working my way out from home- southern Rhode Island? Northern New England? Or will we jump to Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Hawai'i? Find out on the next installment of the Everyday Traveler...