It never fails. Every year, this time of year, the overwhelming urge hits to visit a “Hallmark town.” You know the type: a place with a charming Main Street, trees draped with twinkling lights, and people clad in cozy scarves strolling around shopping (with lattes from an impossibly cute local coffee shop in hand, no less). A Hallmark town, by its very nature, is the kind of town featured in the Hallmark holiday movies we all unabashedly binge-watch during this most festive of seasons.
So, when I had the chance to visit an actual Hallmark town during the filming of an actual Hallmark movie, I obviously couldn’t get there fast enough. Let me be clear: When it comes to the holidays, I am the most basic of all basic b*tches. Give me a flannel blanket, a white chocolate mocha, and let me live my best life.
It’s with that energy I boarded a plane headed toward the charming seaport town of Mystic, Connecticut, to visit the set of Hallmark’s new holiday movie Mystic Christmas.
Let me set the scene for the film.
Marine biologist Dr. Juniper Jones (Chicago Med’s Jessy Schram) never stays in one place long. The introvert prefers places to people and has big plans to visit Scandinavia for the holidays before taking an assignment in South Africa. But a call from her best friend Candice (Patti Murin, aka Anna in Disney’s Frozen on Broadway) brings Juniper back home to Mystic to fill in at the Mystic Aquarium.
The rom-com hitch? Candice’s brother Sawyer (Days of Our Lives’ Chandler Massey) also still lives in Mystic, and he and Juniper have a little, ahem, history. In a re-meet/cute, the pair’s paths cross… and while the chemistry is still there, the question remains whether they could actually make a go of a relationship.
Mystic, of course, has been the setting for several Hallmark movies but most memorably served as the setting for the 1988 cult classic Mystic Pizza — a movie I hadn’t seen when, many (many) years ago, I moved to the area as a young newlywed.
My husband and I lived in a tiny apartment over an ice cream shop in a building right on the Mystic River. You could see the drawbridge from our window. Who would have thought that, years upon years later, that same drawbridge would be the location for scenes of a movie I was visiting as it was filmed?
Fun fact: William R. Moses, who starred in Mystic Pizza, also stars in Mystic Christmas!
As Hallmark towns go, Mystic lives up to the hype. It has all the expected charms of a small town on the eastern seaboard: maritime galleries, docked whaling ships, cedar-shake buildings.
It also has trendy new additions; during my trip, we tried Port of Call, which was recently named one of the best bars in America by Esquire.
There’s also Old Mistick Village, a recreation of a 1720-style Colonial village with shops like Cloak and Wand (it’s giving Harry Potter) and Alice’s Haunted Little Bookshop, along with eateries like Deviant Craft Coffees & Donuts and Mango’s Wood Fired Pizza Co.
The latter of that list brings us back to Mystic Christmas because, yes, much like Mystic Pizza featured a local pizza shop you can visit to this day, Hallmark’s new Mystic-set holiday movie also features a local pizza shop: Mango’s.
A Hallmark movie town famous for pizza? YOU MUST.
And, as you might expect from the film’s title, the local Mystic Aquarium plays prominently in the film. Since Juniper and Candice both work at the facility, the movie highlights the aquarium’s real-life mission to rescue and rehabilitate injured, sick, or stranded marine mammals. Peppermint, the seal who steals scenes in the movie, is one of the aquarium’s permanent residents, Cork the harbor seal.
If the mere mention of meeting a movie-famous harbor seal has you putting Mystic on your must-visit Hallmark towns list, there are a few other stops you should hit after stopping by to say hey to Cork.
It goes without saying there’s Mystic Pizza in downtown Mystic. While you’re downtown, make sure you stroll over the iconic drawbridge like Juniper and Sawyer, stop into Sift Bake Shop, or have a nightcap at Friar Tuck’s Tavern. Just make sure you also hit Mango’s and the other stops in Olde Mistick Village, too.
At Mystic Seaport, there’s no shortage of scenery to act as an incredible backdrop. This is where we spent most of our behind-the-scenes time, watching two scenes being filmed: one at the entrance to the Mystic Seaport building, and another inside Anchor Cafe & Sweets.
What struck me the most, aside from how gorgeous Mystic is (not me Zillowing houses for sale in the area), was how much goes into each shot of a movie.
One scene takes an army of people, takes from several different camera angles, and so much more. Seriously… so.many.people.
What shows up on our screens as a three-minute, golden-lit, warm-and-fuzzy Hallmark moment was, in reality, an hour of highly choreographed and edited shooting.
At the end of the day, though, it’s worth it: Without Hallmark movies, we wouldn’t have Hallmark towns. And, honestly, the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without ‘em.
According to Hallmark’s website, you can watch Mystic Christmas on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 26, at noon.; and Friday, Dec. 1, at midnight.
*Editor’s Note: Mystic Christmas was filmed prior to the ongoing writers’ strikes.