The Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington tells the story of this small seafaring community throughout the centuries. The stone lighthouse was the first in the United States to be established by the federal government. Inside are preserved artifacts of daily life, work, and momentous events, such as the War of 1812 battle in which determined townspeople managed to hold off the Royal Navy. Visitors can also climb the spiral staircase to the top for a panoramic view of the town and of Fishers Island Sound, where the watery borders of Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island meet.
But the best thing about this museum may be its location. Situated at the tip of the mile-long peninsula that is Stonington Borough, the lighthouse is the perfect starting place to explore a place that could easily vie for the title of Connecticut’s most charming setting. From the houses and streets, changed little since the 18th and 19th centuries, to the docks, home to the state’s last commercial fishing fleet, every square inch of this little borough is delightful.
The Mystic River Bascule Bridge (locally known as the Mystic Drawbridge) was built in 1920 and is 85 feet wide and 218 feet long. The Mystic Drawbridge is a type of drawbridge that uses counterweights to open and close. The bridge opens numerous times per day to allow boat traffic to pass along the Mystic River. Watching the drawbridge open and close offers a great photo opportunity and is best viewed from the Mystic River Park, which is near the west side of the bridge. Standing on the bridge you can view downtown Mystic, the ships at Mystic Seaport, and the Mystic River.
The Stonington Borough, locally known as the borough, is a quintessential New England community that boasts cute shops, delicious restaurants, and shore-front views. From the point at the end of the mile-long downtown, you have views of the Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut shoreline. The borough has a Saturday farmers market during the warmer months where you can find fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, and local seafood. Recently, Stonington Borough has received a lot of attention because of the American movie “Hope Springs” with the actors Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. The Stonington Borough is conveniently located only ten minutes away from downtown Mystic, making it a perfect afternoon trip.
Surprisingly to many, Connecticut has a flourishing wine industry and even has collected vineyards to create the Connecticut Wine Trail. One of the vineyards along this wine trail happens to be Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Located in Stonington. The vineyard is open to the public most days of the week and offers wine tastings of four wines for 10 USD. If you already have a favorite wine from Saltwater Farm you can purchase a bottle and enjoy their grounds and outdoor tables. Saltwater Farms does not serve food, but does allow you to bring your own food to enjoy with your bottle of wine. They also frequently have outdoor entertainment, so check their website!
Franklin's General Store, in the popular outdoor shopping center of Old Mystic Village, is chock full of local goods made in the area. It is a great place to pick up souvenirs such as salt water taffy, apple liquor, jams, jellies, books by local authors, and t-shirts. They also make delicious and rich fudge in store, of which they sell 21 different flavors. If you are looking for a specialty souvenir or gift purchase salt water taffy- everyone loves it. Whenever I'm in Mystic this is usually one of my first stops when looking for specialty local gifts for visitors.
If you happen to be visiting Mystic with little ones or looking for a unique toy souvenir be sure to head to Mystical Toys in downtown Mystic. This is one of the best independent toy stores in southeastern Connecticut. It carries wonderful games, a huge selection of Playmobils, plastic animals, giant rolls of stickers, cool arts and crafts items, and so much more. This really is the ultimate toy heaven. Mystical Toys also always has a magical window display year 'round, so even just strolling by during your visit in downtown Mystic is worthwhile.