A 4-day trip to Bridgeport, Mystic and Waterbury

Looking for a short get-away that isn’t a budget buster, but is still filled with tons of family fun?  Then why not head up I-95 to Connecticut and get to know a piece of the Constitution State. 

Connecticut is over 5,000 square miles, so don’t expect to see it all – but a good start is along the Southeast corridor, with stops in Bridgeport, Mystic and Waterbury.   Along the way, you’ll get a good sampling of nature, history and underwater fun (for both you and the fish!).  And even better, it’s all just hours from New Jersey.  Note:  Many of the places listed are open year round, but a few do close during the winter months.  Please check to make sure of hours and closures!

Day One:  Bridgeport

Plan on getting an early start – you’ll get to see more during the day AND hopefully miss the inevitable I-95 congestion – and head up to Bridgeport, the most populous city in Connecticut.    Originally named Pequonnock – the Englishmen who arrived there in the mid 1600s first settled on the banks of the Pequonnock River – the town was a center of Privateering during the American Revolution.  Today, it remains a vibrant town – where PT Barnum (the circus promoter) was once the mayor, the first Subway was opened in 1965; and claims to be the home of the Frisbee.

There’s a lot to choose from in Bridgeport.  A few highlights include:

  • Beardsley Zoo – Connecticut’s only accredited zoo, the Beardsley Zoo is a 36-acre park with an indoor rain forest, free flight aviary, New England Farm, a greenhouse and more.  There’s also a carrousel – a favorite of children, young and old!  Open every day, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, 9AM-4PM.  1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 203-394-6565
  • The Discovery Museum and Planetarium – A hands on, interactive museum for all ages.  There are over 65 exhibits that explore science, technology and ideas in a fun, educational way.  The planetarium offers daily shows for the very young and those over 8 years. Tuesday – Sunday, 10AM-5PM 4450 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 203-372-3521
  • Adventure Park at Discovery Museum – Behind the Discovery Museum in 5 acres of woodland lies Adventure Park, an aerial adventure park where children (ages 7 and up) and adults can climbs through a series of treetop trails via ropes, ladders and zip lines.  Prior to your first visit, print and fill out waivers from their website. Summer: Daily; Spring and Fall: Weekends; Winter: Closed.  4450 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT  203-690-1717
  • Housatonic Museum of Art- This museum has one of the most significant collections of art of any two-year college, including works by Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, Miro and Chagall.  Summer: Monday – Friday; Winter: Daily.  900 Lafayette Blvd.  Bridgeport, CT 203-332-5052
  • National Helicopter Museum - Stratford is the home of the American helicopter industry, and this small, non-profit museum housed in a railroad station explores the American helicopter industry from the 1900s to present. Many models and photographs are on display and exhibits vary.   Seasonal hours.  2480 Main Street, Stratford, CT   203-375-8857

In the late afternoon, it’s time to head up to Mystic. It’s about a 1½ drive. Hotel suggestions:  Mystic and the nearby towns have a variety of chain hotels to choose from.  There is a hotel for every budget, including Days Inn, Hampton Inn, Hilton and Marriott. 

Get a good night sleep - there are tons of things to do tomorrow.

Day 2: Mystic

Mystic Village (it’s actually not a town with it’s own independent government, but rather a part of Groton and Stonington) is located on the Mystic River and was, historically, one of the areas most important seaports.   Today, it remains a fascinating place to visit and explore.

Start your day at the Mystic Seaport. It is one of the nations leading maritime museums and historical villages.  Climb aboard tall ships, stroll through a 19th-century coastal village, explore exhilarating exhibits, and watch a working preservation shipyard in action.   Museum volunteers stroll the grounds in period costumes and horse and carriage rides are available.  There are also seasonal kids activities and exhibits.  The Treworgy Planetarium on the grounds of the seaport offers shows and exhibits on celestial navigation using the stars and planets of the season.  Summer hours: 9AM-5PM; Winter Hours: Vary. Closed: January – mid February. Special discounts for military families. 75 Greenmanville AvenueMystic, CT 888- 973-2767

Following your visit to the seaport (and if you have time), head west about 20 minutes to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum where visitors travel back 18,000 years and discover the native and natural history of Southeastern Connecticut.  The museum includes interactive exhibits, dioramas, historic artifacts, movies and an observation tower.  Open year round.  110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, CT   800-411-9671

Day Three:  Mystic and Beyond

Stay in Mystic for the morning and enjoy the Mystic Aquarium, a hands-on aquarium that offers unforgettable animal encounters, fun interactive experiences and dynamic learning opportunities for people of all ages. Sea lion shows, beluga whales, African penguins, deep-sea exploration exhibits and more!  Open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9AM-4PM.  55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, CT 860-572-5955

After the aquarium, there are two options, depending on what your family is interested in. 

Option 1: Are you a family of Dinosaurs lovers?  Then, you have two choices (both are slight detours, but not too bad):

  • The Dinosaur Place in Oakdale - 1.5 miles of prehistoric trails winding through a 60-acre dinosaur-themed park filled with 30 life-sized dinosaurs. This outdoor adventure includes a"MAZE"asaurus -- New England's largest self-standing maze; Monty's Playground and Space Net, the Splashpad, a zero-depth aquatic park complete with dinosaur-themed water cannons and much more. Inside there is an Activity Center where you can learn to pan for "gold" in Thunder Creek, help to uncover a dinosaur fossil in the Bone Zone, or dig for gems and polished stones in our Jackpot Mine.   Seasonal Hours. 1650 Hartford-New London Turnpike, Oakdale, CT  860-443-4367
  • Dinosaur State Park – This state park in Rocky Hill, CT has one of the largest dinosaur track sites from the Jurassic period in North America.   There are also 2 miles of nature trails and the Dinosaur State Park Arboretum, which containing more than 250 species and cultivars of conifers and other living representatives of plant that appeared in the Age of Dinosaurs.

Option 2:  Not Dinosaur Fans?

  • Submarine Force Museum  - Located on the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut, this museum maintains the world's finest collection of submarine artifacts. It is the only submarine museum operated by the United States Navy, and as such is the primary repository for artifacts, documents and photographs relating to U.S. Submarine Force history. The museum traces the development of the "Silent Service" from David Bushnell's Turtle, used in the Revolutionary War, to the Ohio and Virginia class submarines.

End the day in Waterbury.

Day Four:  Water Fun

End the trip with a surprise for the kids – a Day Pass at the Coco Key Water Park. There is over 55,000 square feet of indoor water fun – rain or shine! Water slides, rafts rides, Adventure River, kiddie area and more! 

(Side note:  Kids love waterparks – a lot of adults do as well. But if you tire of the water park and have some spare time before heading home, consider heading to the Timexpo Museum – a museum detailing the history of the Timex.  Learn about this famous watch, discover the role of the Waterbury Clock Company during the war, and more.  Hands-on activities are also available. 

It’s time to head home.  It was a busy 4 days – and there was so much more to do, but not enough time!   If you do have another day or two, you can check out a few of these fun sites and activities that are all within driving distance of Mystic; others are on the way home to NJ:

  • Fort Hill Farms – 260 Quaddick Road, Thompson, CT 860-923-3439
  • Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center - 109 Pequotsepos Road Mystic, CT  860-536 1216
  • Yale Peabody Museum of Art – 170 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, CT (203) 432-5050
  • Fort Trumball State Park – 90 Walbach Street, New London, CT  860-444-7591
  • Stamford Museum and Nature Center - 39 Scofieldtown Rd Stamford, CT 203-322-1646
  • Ambler Farm - 257 Hurlbutt Street, Wilton, CT  203-834-1143.
  • Danbury Railway Museum - 120 White Street, Danbury, CT 203- 778-8337
  • Military Museum of Southern New England - 125 Park Avenue, Danbury, CT 203-790-9277
  • Grove Street Cemetery – Grove Street, New Haven