New England contains an abundance of historic and recreational sites and is small enough that a day trip from Boston is sufficient to visit most of them. For weekend getaways, favorite standbys include the Berkshires, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard. Amtrak, the commuter rail, buses, and ferries make most destinations accessible without a car.
Salem can’t seem to get over 1692, the year in which witch hysteria gripped the town. Although Salem has more to offer than witch kitsch, its infamous past has spawned a Halloween-based tourist trade that culminates in the month-long Haunted Happenings festival in October. No matter your interests, though, you’ll likely find Salem to be a wicked cool little town.
Salem certainly doesn’t try to hide the most infamous event in its history. Most of the museums that have opened to capitalize on the witch craze are overwrought, tacky, and not worth the price of admission.
PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM. The Peabody houses an enormous collection of attractively displayed Asian art from China, Japan, and India. The museum also has collections of maritime and contemporary art; a highlight is the Yin Yu Tang house, which was dismantled, shipped from China, and reassembled for display.
HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES. The so-called “second most famous house in America,” the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion became famous as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables. Many changes were made to the home in 1910 to make it more closely resemble the house in the book, including the addition of a secret passageway to the second floor and a recreation of the Cent Shop from the novel.
SALEM MARITIME NATIONAL HISTORICAL SITE. Down the waterfront from the witch-oriented section of town, the site is dedicated to Salem’s colonial and maritime history. The Orientation Center shows a film entitled To the Farthest Part of the Rich East every 30min. throughout the day. Guides lead tours of the 1817 Custom House, where Hawthorne worked, the 1762 Derby House, and the 1672 Narbonne House, once owned by wealthy Salem residents. Visitors can also tour the Friendship, a three-masted ship constructed in the late 18th century.
WITCH HOUSE. The Witch House, once home to witch-trial judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only home with legitimate historical ties to the trials. The museum focuses on everyday life in the 17th century, turning only briefly to its role in the trials.
SALEM WITCH TRIALS MEMORIAL. The memorial consists of stones with the names and dates of the 20 killed during the hysteria.
SALEM WITCH MUSEUM. The museum tells the story of the trials from the perspective of those involved through life-size figures and recorded narration.
Cape Ann, on which Rockport is located, claims to be the “home of the perfect vacation.” While that’s up for debate, Rockport is well worth a visit. With historic and offbeat sights and a beautiful waterfront, it’s got something for everyone. The area can be an expensive stay, but luckily budget travelers will be content just walking the streets of Bearskin Neck.
BEARSKIN NECK. One of the country’s oldest artist colonies, Bearskin Neck is now also one of Rockport’s most tourist-oriented areas, featuring gift shops, ice-cream stores, and, of course, galleries aplenty. Most of the galleries highlight painting, but a few display sculpture and jewelry. Though the area is certainly geared toward tourists, it avoids kitsch, making it an enjoyable area for walking and window-shopping.
MOTIF NO. 1. A sort of little fish shack that could, Motif No. 1 is still just a fish shack, but it is perhaps the most famous fish shack in the world. At the end of Bradley Wharf in Bearskin Neck, the red fish shack is the most-often-painted building in America. Legend has it that the building received its name when artist Lester Hornby saw yet another student’s drawing featuring this popular subject—or motif—and christened it “Motif No. 1.” Visitors can try their hand at painting, but the building itself is locked.
PAPER HOUSE. In 1922, Elis F. Stenman, a mechanical engineer from Cambridge, was experimenting with newspapers as an insulation material for his summer cottage. After the walls survived a harsh New England winter with minimal damage, Stenman decided to leave them exposed, and the paper house was born. While it has a wood frame and a normal roof, the walls and the furniture that Stenman continued to add until his death in 1942 are made entirely of newspapers. About 100,000 newspapers were used to construct the home, a grandfather clock, a radio cabinet, and even a piano.
HALIBUT POINT STATE PARK. Occupying the land around the Babson Farm Quarry off Rte. 127, Halibut Point State Park features a half-mile, self-guided walking tour around the 60 ft. deep quarry. Brochures detailing the tour and its sights are available at the visitors center, which highlights the history and natural habitat of the park and the artifacts left over from the quarry. Visitors can also follow a path down to a beach of huge rocks, but wear shoes suitable for climbing over stones and exploring tide pools.
ROCKPORT BEACH. Along Beach St. ½ mi. north of the commuter rail station. Right on the edge of Cape Ann, this is perhaps the most scenic stretch of New England shore. The beach is quite rocky, but it still draws tourists by the droves. Front Beach and Back Beach are both on Sandy Bay in the center of Rockport, with parking, food, and toilets within walking distance. Sandy Bay’s Old Garden Beach is more secluded and popular with locals, but it’s still within walking distance.
3. NORTH SHORE
The ports of Massachusetts’s North Shore once bustled with trade and adventure. Today, the quaint towns and beautiful beaches are the area’s main draw. Many North Shore residents work in Boston, so the commuter rail runs often.
CRANE BEACH. Argilla Rd., Ipswich. Buffering the grounds of the Crane family mansion from the ocean, this 4½ mi. barrier beach offers the classic New England coastal scene with typical North Shore attractions—a wide stretch of white sand and frigid water bursting with teens and families in the summer. The acres of dunes and maritime forest protect a fragile ecosystem, so look but don’t touch. You may enjoy the natural tidal pools year-round, but bathhouses and toilets, lifeguards, and snack bar are available Memorial Day-Labor Day.
GOOD HARBOR BEACH. Thatcher Rd., Gloucester. Clean sand and clear water in a peaceful setting. Toilets and a snack bar, but not much in the way of surf. A favorite for frolicking families, but game-playing (e.g., Frisbee) is prohibited.
PARKER RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. 6 Plum Island Tpke., Newburyport. Arrive early—if the lot is full, you might be out of luck. A long beach sculpted by a strong surf rims dunes and marshes with observation areas, trails, and towers. Fishing, picnicking, and walking the trails are all permitted; alcohol and pets are not. The 4662-acre refuge sometimes closes to protect the wildlife, such as the endangered piping plover, so call ahead.
SINGING BEACH. Beach St., Manchester-by-the-Sea. Named for the squeaky sound the sand makes when you walk on it, beautiful Singing Beach offers a slice of idyllic New England summer, complete with a view of mansions abutting the seashore. Toilets and snack bar available Memorial Day-Labor Day. $25 to use Boy Scout parking lot; otherwise, parking is a challenge (only residents may park at the beach).
WINGAERSHEEK BEACH. Atlantic St., Gloucester. West Gloucester, but it’s far from the station. Another glorious white-sand beach a la Crane, just to the northwest.
Tiny Essex—without even a traffic light to its name—is known for two distinctive features: its many antique shops and flea markets and Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman, who, in 1916, dipped the clam in vegetable oil and cornmeal and invented the fried clam, changing the world as we know it. Getting a fried clam box from Woodman’s is a New England rite of passage and well worth the day trip on its own. (Pro tip: pony up for the bellies, not the cheaper strips).
Lexington, a well-to-do suburb, has a beautiful town green, where ragtag colonial militiamen face British Redcoats (and a bleary 6am crowd of history-buff spectators) in the annual Patriots’ Day reenactment battle. It remains unknown who fired that first shot that started the American Revolution.
NATIONAL HERITAGE MUSEUM. The National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Rd., commemorates Lexington’s place in American history, but its vaguely related other exhibits (for example, the enchanted clocks) also stand out. The green itself, with its statue of Captain John Parker, who headed the American troops on April 19, can be both a moving reminder of the significance of historical moments and American war deaths and a lovely place to picnic. Around the green are numerous historic buildings, including the Hancock-Clarke House, 36 Hancock St. (Paul Revere’s destination on the night of his famous ride), the Munroe Tavern, 1332 Mass. Ave. (a field hospital for wounded British regulars), and Buckman Tavern, 1 Bedford St. (where the militiamen waited for the Brits).
Lincoln is colonial, but unlike Concord or Lexington; Lincoln’s cows and drafty houses are for real.
MINUTE MAN NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK. Minute Man National Historical Park proper begins in Lincoln along Rte. 2A, or the “Battle Road,” where the Redcoats marched to and from Concord on April 19, 1775 (and where Paul Revere was captured the previous night). On the return march, the British faced guerrilla attacks from colonial militiamen hidden in the surrounding trees—a series of unplanned skirmishes that capped off the Battles of Lexington and Concord and ignited the American Revolution (p. 56). The trail along the Battle Road makes for an excellent stroll or bike ride, particularly in the autumn. The park preserves and protects the landmarks of that day at every turn, putting you in the shoes of those whose footprints immortalized these grounds.
DRUMLIN FARM. Also in Lincoln is Drumlin Farm, 208 S. Great Rd., headquarters of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which protects 33,000 acres at 45 wildlife sanctuaries across the state. The farm is arranged as an educational site and is home to a seasonal farm stand.
DECORDOVA MUSEUM AND SCULPTURE PARK. The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 51 Sandy Pond Rd., is named for Julian de Cordova, a wealthy 19th-century businessman who traveled all over the world collecting art, requesting that his home in Lincoln be turned into an art museum after his death. Sadly, Cordova’s passion for art collection far exceeded his tastes, so the original art was sold and the mansion transformed into a sleek contemporary art museum.
Concord is famous as the site of the second battle of the American Revolution and for its status as a 19th-century haven for authors and Transcendentalist philosophers. The outbreak of the war, reenacted here each Patriots’ Day, witnessed the Redcoats marching fatefully to their defeat at Old North Bridge.
MINUTE MAN NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK. Minute Man National Historical Park extends into Concord, and its highlight here is indisputably Old North Bridge. On this spot, veritable colonial minutemen (farmers trained to take up arms at a minute’s notice) stood waiting for the British after they had raided Concord’s supposed stash of munitions. A few hours after the Redcoats had killed eight Patriots in Lexington, the minutemen routed them at the bridge, and for the first time Americans had successfully stood up to the most powerful army in the world. The modern Minuteman Statue by Daniel Chester French (who also sculpted Abe for the Lincoln Memorial) embodies the spirit of their resistance. Inscribed on the statue base are the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Concord Hymn,” including the famous line, “the shot heard ’round the world” (we can overlook the fact that the history-making bullet was actually fired in Lexington).
OLD MANSE. The Old Manse, right next door, was the first home of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife.
EMERSON HOUSE. On the way out of town to the east, Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson used to live in the white colonial now known as, yes, Emerson House, 28 Cambridge Tpke.
CONCORD MUSEUM. Colonial history and Transcendentalist thought come together at the nearby Concord Museum, 200 Lexington Rd.
ORCHARD HOUSE. Orchard House, 399 Lexington Rd., the place where Louisa May wrote Little Women, provides exhibits on the Alcott family.
WALDEN POND. Finally, south of Concord center on Rte. 126, Walden Pond is the old haunt of Henry David Thoreau. A network of trails twists through the woods, including to the site of Thoreau’s cabin; you can hike them with or without a guided ranger tour. Boating and fishing are popular on the pond, and swimming here will bring back memories of your youth. The beach’s amenities, available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, include bathhouses, toilets, and lifeguards.
Your textbook may say otherwise, but the Pilgrims’ first step onto the New World was not actually at Plymouth. They stopped first at Provincetown, then promptly left because the soil was inadequate. Today, the second-oldest permanent British settlement in the Americas (founded in 1620) is heavily commercialized and attracts a large crop of tourists and field-trippers.
PLIMOTH PLANTATION. The historical park recreates the Pilgrims’ early settlement in painstaking detail, exactly as it looked in 1627. In the Pilgrim Village, costumed actors play the roles of villagers carrying out their daily tasks, while Hobbamock’s Homesite represents a Native American village of the same period.
MAYFLOWER II. Docked off Water St. in Plymouth, the Mayflower II is a 1950s scale replica of the Pilgrims’ vessel, staffed by actors who recapture the atmosphere of the original ship.
PLYMOUTH ROCK. This piece of geology is actually a small stone that has been dubiously identified as the rock on which the Pilgrims disembarked the second time. A symbol of liberty during the American Revolution, it has since moved three times before ending up beneath a portico on Water St., at the foot of North St. After several vandalizations and one dropping (in transit), it’s cracked and under “tight” security.
PLYMOUTH COLONY WINERY. As the home of cranberry conglomerate Ocean Spray, the Plymouth region might as well be the unofficial cranberry capital of the world. Each year, the tiny berry generates more than $200 million in revenue for Massachusetts farmers. With that many cranberries, who needs grapes? If you miss the cranberry season, drown those sorrows with Plymouth Colony Winery’s one-of-a-kind cranberry wine. The nine-acre winery offers free tastings.
PILGRIM HALL MUSEUM. The Pilgrim Hall Museum contains objects owned by the Pilgrims, including a hat stained with Pilgrim sweat.
NATIONAL MONUMENT TO THE FOREFATHERS. Atop a hill on Allerton St., the National Monument to the Forefathers,erected in 1889 to pay homage to the Pilgrims, holds the esteemed honor of being the largest solid granite statue in the nation.
1749 COURT HOUSE. The 1749 Court House has a museum on the first floor and a real courtroom on the second. The courthouse was the Plymouth court for over 70 years, hosting young attorneys like John Adams and James Otis.
9. CAPE COD AND THE ISLANDS
In his book Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau wrote that the Cape “is wholly unknown to the fashionable world, and probably it will never be agreeable to them.” Oh, how wrong he was. This thin strip of land, now one of New England’s premier vacation destinations, draws droves of tourists with charming towns, sandy beaches, sun-drenched landscapes, and cranberry bogs. Though parts of the Cape are known as playgrounds of the rich and famous—and the peninsula is in general geared toward bigger spenders—it can be an option for impoverished travelers, thanks to an emphasis on free outdoor activities and decent hostel and camping options. Stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean south of Boston, Cape Cod resembles a bent arm, with Hyannis at the triceps, Chatham at the elbow, Cape Cod National Seashore tattooed onto the forearm, and Provincetown at the clenched fist.
Chatham is an expensive stay, popular with an affluent family crowd. Though you may not want to spend the money to stay the night, it’s a pleasant stop for an afternoon, with a quaint downtown and historically relevant museums.
MAIN STREET. One of the best (and cheapest) things to do in Chatham is walk along Main Street, which is home to shops, restaurants, and galleries.
ATWOOD HOUSE MUSEUM. Run by the Chatham Historical Society, the 250-year-old Atwood House Museum, 347 Stage Harbor Rd., has artifacts and pieces of art documenting over two centuries of life in Chatham. Be sure to check out Chatham resident Alice Stahlknecht’s haunting Depression-era paintings of townspeople.
CHATHAM FISH PIER. The Chatham Fish Pier, on Shore Rd. north of the intersection with Main St., attracts many summer tourists. In the afternoon (2-4pm), visitors can watch the fishing fleet bring in haddock, cod, lobster, and halibut that can be purchased in local fish markets later the same day.
FISHERMAN’S MONUMENT. You can also see the Fisherman’s Monument,built to honor the town’s fishing industry. The monument, called “the Provider,” is a little unusual: an abstraction of an upturned hand is supported by a structure of poles over a base of fish and shellfish in relief.
JOSIAH MAYO HOUSE. The Josiah Mayo House, 540 Main St., was built from 1818 to 1820 by the town postmaster for his bride to be. It is now maintained as an accurate representation of a home from that era.
OLD GRIST MILL. The Old Grist Mill is a small windmill built in the late 18th century to grind corn. The mill itself is locked, but it is surrounded by a small park.
Provincetown has changed quite a bit since the Pilgrims landed here briefly in 1620. On the very tip of the Cape’s arm, P-town looks like a doll’s town teeming with tourists, craft stores, penny-candy shops, street artists, and restaurants. The town’s popularity soared in the early 20th century with resident artists and writers like Norman Mailer and Edward Hopper. Provincetown’s tradition of open-mindedness has attracted a large gay community, making it a premier destination for gay vacationers, who fill the town to capacity in summer. Although far from cheap, P-town has better options for outdoor activities, dining, and nightlife than the rest of Cape Cod.
PROVINCETOWN ART ASSOCIATION AND MUSEUM. The museum has an eclectic collection of art, tied together only by the fact that it all relates somehow to Provincetown. The museum showcases mainly 20th-century art, though exhibits are ever-rotating.
PILGRIM MONUMENT AND PROVINCETOWN MUSEUM. The monument, the tallest all-granite structure in the US at 253 ft., and the Provincetown Museum commemorate the Pilgrims’ first landing. Hike up to the top of the tower for stunning views of the Cape and the Atlantic; unfortunately, you have to gaze through wire fencing.
PROVINCETOWN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. If you’re in town for mid-June, definitely join in the fun of the Provincetown International Film Festival, with over 50 films and events over five days.
CARNIVAL. P-town’s gay community comes out in droves for Carnival, held every August. Be sure to book rooms well in advance, as visitors flood into town for the weeklong celebration and colorful parade.
MEET YOUR MAN. On the first weekend in November, gay singles gather for Meet Your Man, a whirlwind weekend of speed dating and clubbing.
BREAKWATER BETTY. P-town’s miles of shoreline provide spectacular scenery and more than enough space to catch some sun. At the west end of Commercial St., the 1 mi. Breakwater Jetty stretches into the bay, providing fantastic views of marsh, sand, and Provincetown. Follow it all the way to the end to find a secluded peninsula with empty beaches, two working lighthouses, and the remains of a Civil War fort.
RACE POINT BEACH. At Race Point Beach, waves roll in from the Atlantic.
HERRING COVE BEACH. Herring Cove Beach, at the west end of town, offers calm, protected waters. Directly across from Snail Rd., on US 6, an unlikely path leads to a world of rolling sand dunes; look for shacks where writers such as Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, and John Dos Passos spent their days.
Smaller, more expensive, and more exclusive than Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket has quickly become the premier Massachusetts island destination for the trendy, well-to-do city dweller. Oozing New England charm and complete with dune-covered beaches, precious cottages, cobblestone streets, and spectacular bike paths, Nantucket has grown from a tiny fishing and whaling village into a summer stomping ground for over 50,000 visitors. About 36% of Nantucket is protected from development, and, despite the incessant influx of obnoxiously wealthy summer tourists, the island often feels like a natural, peaceful paradise. Even as summer reigns supreme, the best way to experience the real Nantucket is a weekend visit in the spring or fall.
BEACHES. Nantucket’s silky beaches, especially far from town, are breathtaking. The beaches on the northern side, including Children’s, Jetties, and Dionis, face the tranquil waters of Nantucket Sound. Those on the southern side, such as Cisco, Surfside, and Nobadeer (a young, drive-on beach) face the rough and tough surf of the Atlantic Ocean. Each beach has its own unique draw. For sunsets, you can’t do better than secluded Madaket, one of the only spots on the East Coast where you’ll see the sun set over the ocean. Dionis and Jetties both have rolling dunes and calm water. For isolated expanses, head east to the beaches of Siasconset (known as ’Sconset) and Wauwinet. From Wauwinet, you can walk to Great Point, which splits Nantucket Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. In terms of popularity, Jetties (which is nearest to town) and Surfside are the most crowded, with full facilities for daytrippers, while Siasconset and Madaket are more isolated. On the southern shore, Miacomet is the most peaceful, while the biggest waves are at Nobadeer and Cisco.
BIKING. There are several popular bike routes on Nantucket. To trace one from Steamboat Wharf, turn right on N. Water St. and bear left on Cliff Rd. to head for Madaket Beach (6¼ mi.). Many combine this with the Sanford Farm Hike, a single trail made up of several loops running through the brushy flatlands and gentle slopes of the old Sanford Farm, a preserved area at the heart of the island. Surfside Rd. (3 mi.) to the south shore is another well-worn option. A longer bike route runs to Siasconset (8¼ mi. of flat terrain) from Straight Wharf. Head up Main St. and turn left onto Orange St.; there are signs to the path after the traffic circle. To see more of the island, return from ’Sconset on Polpis Rd. (10 mi.). Look for maps of the bike routes at the visitors center and rental shops.
13. MARTHA’S VINEYARD
With the same beaches, charm, and exorbitant prices but a greater diversity of activities than its cousin farther out to sea, the Vineyard is a favorite summertime escape. Since President Bill Clinton began summering here, the island has become one of the most popular vacation destinations for the region’s socialites; the rest of us come to see the beaches immortalized in Jaws or to buy yet another T-shirt from the Black Dog. Savvy travelers might consider a weekend visit to the Vineyard in the spring or fall, when many private beaches are open and B and B prices plunge.
OAK BLUFFS. Oak Bluffs, 3 mi. east of Vineyard Haven on Beach Rd., is the most youth-oriented of the Vineyard villages. A tour of Trinity Park, near the harbor, includes the elaborate, Victorian gingerbread houses, while the Flying Horses Carousel, in the center of town, is the oldest operating carousel in the nation. Snatch the brass ring and win a free ride.
CHICAMA VINEYARDS. Chicama Vineyards, 191 Stoney Hill Rd., West Tisbury has tours and wine tastings.
GAY HEAD CLIFFS. The native Wampanoag used to save sailors shipwrecked on the Gay Head Cliffs, near Aquinnah. The 100,000-year-old precipice shines brilliantly and supports a lighthouse, 9 Aquinnah Cir., one of Martha’s Vineyard’s five.
GAY HEAD BEACH. (Moshup Beach), Aquinnah. Follow State Rd. all the way to the end of the island. It’s a 10min. walk from the parking lot. The brilliant colors of the towering clay cliffs make this the Vineyard’s best public beach. To access a private beach frequented by nude bathers, go to the beach’s main entrance where signs say “no nudity,” then walk down toward the cliffs.
JOSEPH SYLVIA STATE BEACH. Seaview Ave., Oak Bluffs. Along Beach Rd. between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. State Beach’s warmer waters once set the stage for parts of Jaws (1975), the granddaddy of beach horror films.
LONG POINT WILDLIFE REFUGE BEACH. Edgartown-West Tisbury Rd., West Tisbury. Turn left just beyond the airport as you head away from Edgartown; the shore is some distance from the road. Great ocean waves and a freshwater pond.
MENEMSHA BEACH. Chilmark. Take State Rd. to North Rd. in North Tisbury and follow signs to Menemsha. The calm waters of the Vineyard Sound are a frequent swimming spot for children. Menemsha is the most popular spot on the island for watching the sunset. Restrooms with showers and public parking.
OAK BLUFFS TOWN BEACH. Seaview Ave., Oak Bluffs. Along Beach Rd., between the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal and Joseph Sylvia State Beach. Gentle and shallow.South Beach (Katama Beach), Edgartown. At the end of Katama Rd., a good 3 mi. south of Edgartown. This 3 mi. gem attracts young people with its sizable surf. An occasionally nasty undertow. Lifeguards on duty.
BIKING. You’ll find many bicycle paths on Martha’s Vineyard, but the island is significantly larger and more hilly than Nantucket. Mopeds and bicycles are available for rental at several shops in town.