Guide to Plymouth, MA | HarborPhoto Credit : Aimee Tucker
Founded in 1620, Plymouth, MA, is a coastal town south of Boston that’s anchored in history as the site of the first Pilgrim settlement. But while all its historical markers and sites may be the initial draw, Plymouth has a quintessential New England feel and historic architecture, downtown shops, and expansive ocean views that keep visitors coming back year after year. From tasty cuisine to cranberry festivals, there’s always plenty to do in “America’s Hometown.”
Intrigued by this seaside town that is equal parts historical and modern New England? Here are some of our favorite places to eat, things to do, and places to stay in Plymouth, MA.
This living history museum (formerly Plimoth Plantation) allows visitors to immerse themselves in the past as they walk through a 17th-century English village, tour a replica of the Mayflower (the ship is currently receiving a full restoration and will return in 2019), and visit the Wampanoag Homesite and the beautiful and iconic Plimoth Grist Mill. The plantation, with its interactive elements and ocean view, is a great destination for families. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Historical Experience.”
Set on the grounds of Plimoth Plantation, this market gets extra points for its scenic backdrop and living-close-to-the-land vibe. Held outdoors every Thursday from May to October (and once a month indoors during winter), it rounds up the region’s bounty from 40 vendors that run the gamut from farmers and fishermen to beekeepers and bakers. Relatively speaking they’re a small group, but one clearly devoted to a larger mission—our Pilgrim forebears would no doubt have approved. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Farmers’ Market.”
While you shouldn’t miss Plymouth Rock, touted (more as legend rather than fact) as the first bit of land touched by the Pilgrims after their voyage across the ocean, there are also many historical sites available for touring — including homes of original Mayflower passengers. Among the options are the Jabez Howland House, the Richard Sparrow House, the Spooner House, Hedge House, and Harlow Old Fort House. And be sure to take a moment to view the National Monument to the Forefathers, a towering 81-foot-tall statue on the Allerton Street hilltop that commemorates the Pilgrims.
For history you can enjoy indoors, head to Pilgrim Hall Museum, easily spotted from the street thanks to its ornate architecture and stone columns. Built in 1824, it’s among the oldest public museums in America and brimming with American Indian and Pilgrim artifacts. You can even touch a piece of Plymouth Rock here.
Given Plymouth’s setting on the coast of Massachusetts, there are plenty of lovely natural areas to explore here. Check out Pilgrim Memorial State Park, Nelson Memorial Park, Myles Standish State Forest, Ellisville Harbor State Park salt marsh estuary, or White Horse and Plymouth Long beaches. You can hike the Town Forest Trail (7.9 miles), Center Hill Preserve Trail (1.7 miles), or Russell and Sawmill Pond Trail (1.8 miles), or head to some of the preserves and conservation areas for more options. For a little exploration from the water, try Billington Sea Kayak.
Otherwise known as the Spire Center for Performing Arts, this impressive three-story, 225-seat performance hall downtown is the place for enjoying theatrical and musical productions while visiting Plymouth.
Every October, locals and visitors alike gather in nearby Wareham for this weekend celebration of the Massachusetts state berry. Hop on a bus for a ride to a stretch of bogs to learn about the harvest process, or slip on some waders and get right into the flooded cranberry bog. Enjoy food, music, crafts, paddleboat rides on Tihonet Pond, children’s activities, cooking demonstrations, wagon rides, and even helicopter rides.
If you’ve had your fill of history, head to Plymouth’s premier shopping and dining destination, Colony Place. At the region’s largest open-air retail center, located just minutes from downtown, you can browse among 40 stores and get a bite at any of nearly a dozen restaurants on-site.
A 50-guestroom retreat in a French manor house, Mirbeau surrounds its guests in beauty, thanks to detailed architecture, Monet pond gardens, and lovely landscaping and decor. On-site dining is available at the Bistro & Wine Bar. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Chateau Lodging.”
This bed-and-breakfast on Watson’s Hill, overlooking downtown and the harbor, offers a perfect blend of history (it was once the home of Revolutionary War captain Jesse Harlow) and modern luxury (full gourmet breakfast, silk drapes, landscaped gardens). Plus, it’s within walking distance of many Plymouth attractions and dining options.
If you want to be in the heart of history, consider the Whitfield, an 1782 Federal home on Plymouth’s second-oldest street. Located in the historic waterfront district, the house was occupied by descendants of the original owner for 200 years before being passed to its current owner, in 1987.
This 80-room boutique hotel is a solid option for families, as it provides a range of amenities that appeal to all ages. The on-site Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool features an 80-foot water slide, waterfalls, and a Jacuzzi. Pamper yourself at the Beach Plum Spa, dine at the Hearth ’n Kettle Restaurant or WaterFire Tavern, and then settle into one of the spacious rooms or fireplace suites. Named a 2014 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Indoor Pool.”
For fans of the great outdoors, Pinewood Lodge Campground — with its 200 acres of white pine forest, 3,000 feet of lake frontage, six-acre island, and 300 campsites — is a great option. Enjoy fishing, swimming, boating, exploring, or just relaxing. The campground has a store with all the supplies you may need, plus modern bathroom facilities and RV hookups.
If you like the idea of walking out of your room and onto the beach, Pilgrim Sands might be the place for you. Its private beach leads to Plymouth Long Beach, which offers miles of seaside strolling. If the ocean doesn’t beckon you, however, Pilgrim Sands features both an indoor and outdoor pool, plus beachfront dining and a lounge. Named a 2012 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Base for Families.”
This downtown dining destination specializes in farm-to-table cooking that spotlights seasonal ingredients from local producers. From beet salad to braised lamb, there’s a dish for every palate at this inviting and relaxing eatery.
Sometimes you just really need a good burger, and that’s what you’ll get at “Kuh-Katie’s,” served fresh and prepared to order. With a full menu of burgers (plus other options), there’s plenty to choose from, but we suggest trying “The Plymouth Rock”: four quarter-pound patties stacked with cherrywood-smoked bacon, cheese, crispy onion rings, and “special sauce” on a grilled roll.
Built in 1792 by Josiah Cornish, the building that is now Rye Tavern was for years a popular inn, tavern, and stopping place for horse-drawn carriages. The tavern now has a new name, but it looks and feels much the same as it did centuries ago, with its preserved historic details and welcoming atmosphere.
With 32 drafts on tap and more than 120 bottle selections, the New World has a beer to complement anything on its menu of hearty tavern food. Plus, it often hosts live entertainment, so stop by to grab a meal or just to enjoy some music while sipping a cold one. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Beer List.”
If you’re all about a good breakfast, look no further than Local Yolk Company. The breakfast and lunch restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients to provide made-from-scratch meals every day, from savory Southwestern frittatas to sweet cinnamon bun crepes.
There’s something about visiting the New England coast that can whet your appetite for a bowl of clam chowder. You can find it — as well as everything from comfort food to cocktails — at Dillon’s Local, overseen by a chef who is also a Plymouth native.
Have you ever been to Plymouth, MA? Tell us about it!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.