One of the vintage dune shacks that have been preserved as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Photo Credit : Christopher Churchill
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Whether you’re an out-of-stater planning a vacation or a Massachusetts resident looking to check off your bucket list, here’s a sampling of the best things to do in Massachusetts that was inspired by Yankee’s 2020 feature “The 85 Best Things to Do in New England.” How many have you seen, done, or eaten?
10 Best Things to Do in Massachusetts:
Essential Massachusetts Experiences
1. Explore the Other Cape Cod at the Cape Cod National Seashore
Smack dab in the heart of one of the nation’s most popular summer destinations is a pristine oasis of sand and water known as the Cape Cod National Seashore. This is the Cape Cod of open spaces, where traffic and crowds recede. Best of all, it’s the Cape Cod that all of us own, encompassing 43,600 acres of beaches and dunes, freshwater ponds and forests, from Chatham to Provincetown.
2. Lean Into History
Reconnect with the American Revolution. For maximum fife-and-drum drama, it’s impossible to beat Minute Man National Historical Park: Not only does it encompass the town green where colonists took heed of Paul Revere and intercepted the British on April 19, 1775, as well as the Old North Bridge, where the “shot heard round the world” was fired, but each year on Patriots Day the whole thing is brought to life in an epic reenactment.
Get in Touch with Your Inner Middle Schooler. Like countless New England schoolchildren before you, go tramping down dirt roads to an era when blacksmiths still ply their trade, dinner is cooked over an open hearth, and indoor plumbing is not yet a thing. Spanning the 1600s to the 1800s, the living history museums Plimoth Patuxet Museums (formerly Plimoth Plantation) and Old Sturbridge Village make unforgettable classrooms for kids — and terrific playgrounds for history-loving adults.
Make Peace with Plymouth Rock.Half sunken in the earth and looking rather like an oversize beanbag chair, this storied boulder in Plymouth, Massachusetts, elicits far fewer oohs and aahs than what floats in the harbor beyond: the 180-ton, 106-foot-long Mayflower II, the recently renovated replica of the Pilgrims’ vessel that stands as a testament to the skills of shipbuilders past and present.
3. Cruise the Mohawk Trail
Leisure driving as a pastime — aka “Let’s hop in the car” — can trace its start back to 1914, when Massachusetts lawmakers designated a 63-mile stretch of Routes 2 and 2A as the nation’s first scenic byway and named it the Mohawk Trail. More than a century later, its ability to bring motorists into the landscape is as appealing as ever. You’re in a small town … then passing through farmland … then cresting a mountain … then rambling beside a river. It’s no I-90, and, refreshingly, that’s kind of the point.
4. Wander Around the Gingerbread Cottages on Martha’s Vineyard
The island of Martha’s Vineyard could fill days of satisfied exploring, but it’s worth seeking out the enclave of 300-plus Victorian gingerbread cottages known as the Oak Bluffs Campground, whose riot of colors can hold its own against any exotic garden. (If it’s nearing dark, hit up Back Door Donuts afterward for the perfect sweet ending.)
5. Stroll the ’Sconset Bluff Walk
Headed to Nantucket instead of the Vineyard? Make time to seek out the ’Sconset Bluff Walk, a footpath that runs behind private homes and along the bluffs, offering views of both manicured backyards and wide-open ocean. Plus: There’s a lighthouse at the end.
6. Unpack the Ultimate Berkshires Picnic Experience at Tanglewood
Since 1937, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has made its summer home at Tanglewood, a Berkshires estate turned performance space. Though its main, open-air venue holds more than 5,000, many regulars at Tanglewood’s annual music festival wouldn’t dream of sitting anywhere besides the lush, expansive lawns. Do as they do: Pack a fine picnic meal, bring a comfy blanket, and stretch out and soak up the sounds of a world-class orchestra on a perfect summer night.
7. Have the Perfect Day in Boston
Ride the Swan Boats. Glide back into childhood on Boston’s storied Swan Boats. (You may even see Mrs. Mallard trailing along behind you, hoping for a peanut.)
Experience the Green Monster at Fenway. You may have seen the Green Monster on television, but a true appreciation of Fenway Park’s 37-foot-high left field wall requires the smell of mown grass, the sizzle of franks on the grill, and the thump of the ball off the beast itself.
Walk the Freedom Trail. You’ve just gotta do it at least once. Hit up the Freedom Trail to see how our nation got started, then grab something to eat and indulge in the prime people-watching scene at Faneuil Hall to see how it’s looking today.
8. Eat Fried Clams at Woodman’s and J.T. Farnham’s
As the story goes, fried clams were invented in 1916 by Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman of Essex, Massachusetts, when he threw some battered bivalves into the hot oil at his potato chip stand. Essex has since become the nation’s fried clam capital, and there are prime examples to be had at Woodman’s and J.T. Farnham’s, which both offer views of the Essex River salt marshes where some of the world’s best clams are raised.
9. Visit a Candlepin Bowling Alley
With its small ball and skinny pins, candlepin bowling — invented in Worcester, Massachusetts, around 1880 — fools newcomers into thinking it’s easier than its big-ball cousin. When they roll their first Half Worcester (a regrettable hit that “punches out” just one pin and the one behind it), they learn otherwise. For a maximum throwback vibe, visit the c. 1906 eight-lane alley in Shelburne Falls.
10. See the Sunset at Race Point Beach
Sunset is appointment viewing at this strip of National Seashore land in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Dunes at your back, seals bobbing in the waves, sun melting into the horizon … look around. Everyone’s in awe, no matter how many times they’ve stood here before.
What would you add to the list of the best things to do in Massachusetts? Let us know in the comments below!
And see more great things to do in Massachusetts (and beyond) in “The 85 Best Things to Do in New England.”