If you’ve been itching for an eastern getaway that feels far from any urban chaos, the coast provides an especially attractive lure for the formerly landlocked. Nothing feels quite as boundless as the seaside, and while most of the Northeast has been hibernating, two favorite ports have not only spruced up their celebrated attractions, but they’ve quietly crafted new reasons to visit. A drive through Mystic, Conn., and Greenport, N.Y.—both quick trips from either New York City or Boston—present easy itineraries for locals who want to get their travel feet wet again, while enjoying the charms of the land and sea.
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The iconic sight of Mystic’s tall masts embodies the essence of the town, which was settled as a shipbuilding port in the mid-seventeenth century. What many don’t know about the river port is that it also has a laid-back art community and an up-and-coming dining scene that goes way beyond the pizza joint made famous in the 1988 movie.
Check into the historic The Whaler’s Inn (rooms from $170) overlooking the Mystic River. Made up of 45 rooms in five buildings, each from a different era, the oldest dates back to 1818 and has been welcoming lodgers for over 200 years. Rooms in all the buildings maintain maritime charm, some with four poster beds, gas fireplaces, air-jet tubs, and river views. You may even spy the iconic Bascule Drawbridge, built in 1920, as it mesmerizingly lifts to let through boat traffic. The hotel completed renovation of all rooms in March 2021.
What to do in Mystic
You can see those masts up close at the Mystic Seaport Museum, by exploring historic ships such as the Charles W. Morgan, the U.S.’s oldest commercial ship, built in 1841. The museum also includes reproductions of the Mayflower II and the Amistad Schooner; an 1800s seaport village recreation; rotating exhibits; and the working shipyard where painstaking restoration takes place. If your “waterlust” is piqued, head downtown to set sail on the schooner Argia for day or sunset cruises (May 1 through October). Pro-move: pop into the brand-new boutique bottle shop Spencer & Lynn a few blocks from dock for a bottle of wine to bring on board. To see what’s under the sea, visit Mystic Aquarium. Certified by the American Humane Conservation Program, it’s known for its beluga whale rescue and rehabilitation program, as well as housing penguins, sea lions, sharks, and rays.
Browsers will enjoy lingering through Olde Mistick Village, filled with shops and eateries within Colonial-style barns and buildings. The charming grounds also hold a community green, a watermill, and some lovely landscaping. West Main Street in Downtown Mystic is also lined with worthy independent shops, proffering everything from books to Victorian-inspired clothing to sailor knot jewelry. But perhaps the best reason to stay on land in Mystic is to enjoy the notable Mystic Museum of Art, founded in 1913 by a colony of New England artists who were inspired by the landscapes of 19th century French painters. Its permanent collection showcases artists from the 19th to 21st centuries, and works from the neoclassical to impressionism to deconstructivism. Mystic’s artists continue to thrive today in local galleries such as Finer Line, Trade Winds, Studio Jeffrey P’an, and Betsy Barry Art.
Where to eat in Mystic
Recently opened Nana’s Bakery & Pizza is considered the “new Mystic Pizza,” and is the latest addition to the mini-empire overseen by James Wayman and Dan Meiser, who have transformed Mystic into a dining destination. Try the “New England” pie, laden with potato, bacon, garlic butter, and clams—an homage to the area’s famous clam chowder. The warm sourdough donuts, in genius flavors such as cacio e pepe, are a must, too. Other restaurants in Wayman and Meiser’s group include seafood favorite Oyster Club; the butchery-meets-eatery Grass & Bone; and spacious steampunk pub Engine Room. The Shipwright’s Daughter, the brand-new restaurant within The Whaler’s Inn, brings refined cooking to a comfortable setting via chef David Standridge. Standridge’s experience spans top-tier restaurants such as NYC’s Eleven Madison Park and L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, and his love of local seafood shines in dishes such as mini lobster rolls, smoked clam dip with Old Bay chips, and absinthe-spiked lobster, scallop, mussel, and fluke bouillabaisse, which happens to pair perfectly with the bar’s absinthe cocktail program.
Greenport, New York
To get from Mystic to Greenport, connect at the Cross Sound Ferry in New London. All you have to do is reserve a spot, show up 30 minutes prior to departure, then drive right onto the boat. Once on the ferry, ditch the car and hit the upper deck to watch New London’s skyline fade into the distance. For one hour and 20 minutes, you’ll sail, traffic-free until arrival, when you’ll roll your car off the boat onto the North Fork of Long Island.
With its modest boating community and historic Victorian architecture, many think of the village of Greenport as the “anti-Hamptons.” It’s marked by a sleepy charm with all the benefits—great food, great wine, and great beaches—without the attitude or formality.
Quaint and cool collide at the 16-room Menhaden Hotel (rooms from $279), Greenport’s newest boutique stay. Each room is furnished by Restoration Hardware and outfitted with spacious rain showers and luscious linens. But the best perk is the communal “galley” on each floor, filled with complimentary snacks, beverages, and divine house-made pastries in the morning. The hotel also boasts Greenport’s only rooftop bar and deck—a great spot to get cozy next to a firepit with a cocktail while enjoying sunset views of charming Main Street, Greenport Harbor, and neighboring Shelter Island.
What to do in Greenport
The 67 Steps Beach—count ‘em as you walk down the wooden stairs to the peaceful, pebbly waterfront—is a great spot for meditation and swimming, with expansive boulders beckoning to sunbathers. The Menhaden will even take you there in their complimentary moke (a small, open air car) with a beach chair, umbrella, and towels. Or, grab a house bike from the hotel for a lovely 10-minute pedal. Nearby Preston’s Dock is where you can step aboard the zero-emission Glory, a solar-powered boat conducting 45-minute harbor tours staring Memorial Day.
A walk along charming Main Street reveals unspoiled Victorian architecture, historic monuments, and a wealth of lovely local shops. The town of Greenport’s website offers a fantastic self-guided walking tour that’s perfect for history buffs. But head outside of town to really get a taste of the land, as the North Fork is synonymous with farms and vineyards. In Cutchogue, 8 Hands Farm is one of the area’s best stands to pick up eggs, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat, and produce grown on-site. Among the 40-plus wineries in the area, two have emerged from the pandemic with stellar new ways to sip and savor. Macari Vineyards in Mattituck conceived the ultimate private tasting and dining for pods of two to six people: the Bergen Road Bungalows. Set alongside the vines, heated platform tents feel like your favorite wine bar went glamping. Tastefully tricked-out by local designer Jesse Elliott with flowing white fabric, vintage and modern furnishings, guests can play DJ with a turntable and vinyl selection, or spend the afternoon playing board games. That is, after the splendiferous lunch provided by local chef Lauren Lombardi of Love Lane Kitchen. And, of course, you’ll be presented with a flight of five signature wines to taste, including the flagship Bergen Road red blend. It’s a great way to spend an entire afternoon, and at $150 per person, it’s yours for the duration; reservations are required.
Newcomer RGNY in Riverhead is the North Fork’s only Mexican-inspired winery, as it is the sister to a Coahuila vineyard. The winemaker, Lilia Perez, has already been making a splash with their cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, and rosé. Visitors can reserve for various experiences, such as a hands-on class where the guests become the winemaker, creating their own blends. There are also guided tastings, complete with artisanal snacks, in the tasting room, and wine and food service outdoors under shaded canopies, or in the Anakin garden “lounge,” or the gorgeous rosé garden, a treat when in bloom. Reservations for all experiences can be made here or via Open Table.
Where to eat in Greenport
Greenport’s newest culinary hero is Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, who was able to focus his efforts at The North Fork Table & Inn when pandemic temporarily shut down his NYC restaurants. Fraser has fully embraced the local farms and wineries at both his casual “food truck” on the property, complete with brand-new smoker for the season, and the upscale, contemporarily designed restaurant within the inn. Everything on the menu feels like a signature, from roasted Long Island duck with honey glaze to Montauk tuna with kale kelp. In May, the Inn will also inaugurate renovated rooms. A meal at Claudio’s is a must for a quintessential taste of Greenport, and at over 150 years old, is one of the oldest restaurants in America. Recently refurbished, it offers several dining experiences in one place. Claudio’s Pizza debuted in March 2021 for take-out slices, pies, pasta, and other Italian classics. Sit-down service starts later in the spring. Claudio’s Waterfront reopens in April with a new raw bar and oysters shucked-to-order. Claudio’s Tavern & Grill reopens in May with a new outdoor veranda with water views and a newly polished menu highlighting local farms, seafood, and Claudio’s classics. Longtime favorite Crabby Jerry’s will continue to offer burgers and seafood via their walk-up window.
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