Fun-filled, family-friendly, and affordable, it’s the perfect getaway on Massachusetts’s South Shore.
By Ian Aldrich
Jul 18 2022
Scituate Light caption TKPhoto Credit : Ted Curtin
Sponsored by See Plymouth
Spend any time in Massachusetts’s Plymouth County, and it’s easy to see why people love living here — and why so many travelers keep coming back year after year. Coastal beauty, quaint towns steeped in history, and strong farming and fishing traditions give the region a flavor all its own; factor in the many tourist-friendly attractions and diversions, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a perfect summer getaway. From barefoot walks on sandy beaches to eye-opening museum exhibits to a bounty of fresh-caught seafood, there’s far more to Plymouth County than you can fit into a single vacation getaway … but it’s awfully fun to try!
Nothing says summer in New England like a sparkling expanse of water and a salty breeze on your face. One of the most thrilling ways to venture onto the water is a whale-watching trip, like those offered by Captain John Boats. Founded in 1946, the company leads deep-sea fishing trips, harbor cruises, and private charters, but it’s the whale excursions that introduce visitors of all ages to the magic of the ocean. Accompanied by expert naturalists, passengers embark on a four-hour trip to Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a primary feeding grounds for humpbacks, finbacks, minke whales, and other majestic denizens of the deep.
For something a bit closer to shore, consider catching a ride on Plymouth Cruises’ Lobster Tales for a hands-on look at a key part of New England’s culture: lobstering. During the one-hour cruise on Plymouth Harbor, volunteers can roll up their sleeves and help haul in lobster traps, while everyone can enjoy seeing marine life up close, from lobsters and crabs to moon snails and sea stars.
Even more laid-back is a harbor cruise on Captain John’s Pilgrim Belle, an authentic paddle wheeler, where guests can soak up the sun or relax inside the climate-controlled cabin with galley service and full bar; sunset cruises are also available.
Prefer to travel under your own steam? Nemasket Kayak Center in Wareham and Billington Sea Kayak stand ready with kayak rentals and instruction; Nemasket also offers a slew of regularly scheduled guided tours of Plymouth Harbor, Onset Bay, the Agawam River, and other beautiful stretches of water.
Get out the flip flops and sunscreen and head to Marshfield for maximum beach-life vibe, as the town is home to no fewer than five public swaths of sand: Rexhame Beach, Green Harbor, Fieldston Beach, Sunrise Beach, and Brant Rock Beach. Lifeguards on duty offer families peace of mind at all of the beaches, although Rexhame — with its snack bar and basketball courts — plays particularly well with the young ones.
Farther north, the town of Hull boasts Nantasket Beach Reservation, one of the most popular summer escapes in the area. Home to more than a mile of Atlantic shoreline, the reservation also has hiking and biking trails and playgrounds. Speaking of hiking, just next door in Hingham lies the jewel-like World’s End, a 251-acre park and conservation area owned by the Trustees of Reservations. You can easily while away a summer afternoon strolling the Frederick Law Olmstead–designed carriage paths, rolling hills, and rocky shoreline while enjoying a sweeping view of the Boston skyline.
No visit to the seashore is complete without a lighthouse sighting. Plymouth County has five historic beacons, but by far the most accessible is Scituate Light: Operated by the Scituate Historical Society, the lighthouse has been a coastal fixture for more than two centuries and today is open to the public for tours.
Half-sunken in the earth and looking a bit like an oversize beanbag chair, Plymouth Rock is nonetheless a bona fide Plymouth County celebrity, drawing crowds of fans from around the world eager to see the literal cornerstone of America. Ensconced in a portico on the Plymouth waterfront, the same storied granite boulder upon which (supposedly) the Mayflower Pilgrims first stepped in 1620 now stars in “Talk to the Rock,” a campaign encouraging modern-day visitors to share their thoughts with the relic. Why? Organizers offer a delightful Top 10 list, including “Talking to the rock will calm you” and “You can trust the rock to never repeat your thoughts.” But the most enticing reason may be the chance to win money by creating a “Talk to the Rock” social media video and posting it to See Plymouth; the top five winners will receive cash prizes. Rock on!
Air-conditioned retreats can be a welcome break from the summer heat, and even more so when they offer an unforgettable vacation experience. For instance, dive into a world of artistry at New England’s only craft museum, the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton. Founded in 1946 and situated amid 700 acres of scenic woodlands, it’s a showcase of artisan-made furniture, ceramics, glass, jewelry, wood, textiles, and more. In addition to its dazzling permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year, including “Out of Bounds: The Art of Croquet” (now through Nov. 6) and “Mosaics Today: Ancient Art Through a Contemporary Lens” (now through Dec. 4).
Find more artful eye candy at the recently renovated Art Complex Museum in Duxbury. Among its collection of more than 8,000 art objects are American paintings by the likes of Albert Bierstadt and John Singer Sargent, Shaker furniture and artifacts, American and European prints, and an Asian art collection that encompasses paintings, bronzes and ceramics dating from prehistoric times. Another stop for culture vultures: the Plymouth Center for the Arts in Plymouth, which in addition to hosting classes and workshops uses its beautiful gallery spaces to spotlight the work of local artists.
The performing arts, too, are a cool option for summer visitors. At The Company Theatre in Norwell, audiences can celebrate “harmony and understanding” with this summer’s production of Hair, the Grammy Award–winning rock musical (July 29–Aug. 21). The First Parish Church in Duxbury, meanwhile, delivers family fun with its version of The New York Times–acclaimed Young Pilgrims: The Play, which puts a rollicking spin on the story of the Pilgrims’ landing in the New World (July 1–Aug. 13).
And as if there weren’t enough reasons to visit Plimoth Patuxet Museums, it hosts first-run movie screenings at Plimoth Cinema, with showings daily and refreshments — freshly popped popcorn, candy, and fountain drinks — available for purchase daily (on Saturdays, beer and wine are available, too).
Massachusetts seafood is tasty no matter where or when you find it — but there’s just something about tucking into lobster, clams, and other seafood treats on a coastal summer day that adds a kind of flavor boost. The family-owned Wood’s Seafood in Plymouth boasts an expansive fish market while also serving up fresh fried clams, lobster rolls, and clambake dinners, which can be enjoyed at tables overlooking Plymouth Harbor. The menu is equally savory at TheLobster Hut, where generously portioned fishermen’s platters, fish and chips, and more lobster options than you can shake a fork at have been delighting diners for more than half a century.
When the temperatures climb, chilled craft beers are especially refreshing — and Plymouth has no shortage of top-notch brewers happy to pour your order. Belgian- and German-styles beers are the name of the game at Independent Fermentations, where nonalcoholic choices include small-batch kombucha. Second Wind Brewing, meanwhile, is known for a creative array of styles, from rich stouts and fruited sours to crisp lagers and hoppy IPAs. At Mayflower Brewing Company, the Crispy Business — a smooth, refreshing golden ale — is the perfect pick-me-up after a long day in the sun. Prefer apples to hops? Try High Limb Cider, whose creations range from the dessert-like Blueberry Crumble to Honeypot, a “saison-style” cider fermented with local New England honey for bright and floral notes.
And for the sweetest of summer memories, don’t skip dessert, whether it’s a scoop of local ice cream or artisan candy. Near the Plymouth wharf, Kilwins has sweet tooths covered with handmade chocolates, fudge, and ice cream, plus gift baskets for the trip home. In Hull, Nantasket Sweets by Swedes bills itself as a “candy store for all ages” and offers many treats that are vegan and gluten- or GMO-free; at Plimoth Candy in Plymouth, meanwhile, enticements include candies featuring that Plymouth County staple, the cranberry. For baked goodies, look no further than Guilty Bakery in Plymouth, known for its artful cakes and decorated cookies, and Cupcake Charlie’s, where the namesake confections include Funfetti and Rockin’ Red Velvet.