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For a coastal New England vacation with a side of history, there’s no place like Massachusetts’ South Shore, where quaint towns dating back to before the Revolutionary War and beach-lined suburbs fill the space between Boston and Cape Cod. Settled by the Pilgrims more than 400 years ago, the area surrounding Route 3 brims with Colonial architecture, migrating whales (and the boats that watch for them), cranberry bogs, and picture-perfect stretches of rocky coastline where you can relax, breathe in the salty air, and gaze out over the water. Most of the South Shore towns boast convenient connections to Boston, invitingly cool Atlantic waters for escaping summer heat, and wind-wisped sand for shoreline strolls, but each has its own charms. The legendary and emblematic Plymouth Rock can be found in a state park in the town of Plymouth, Hull brings people in for its famous Nantasket Beach, and birders flock to Marshfield’s wildlife sanctuaries, Daniel Webster and North River.
One of the big advantages the South Shore has over Massachusetts’ other coastal regions is its accessibility. Commuter rail connects many of the South Shore towns, including Plymouth, Braintree, and Quincy, to Boston’s South Station. Buses also run regularly from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) and downtown Boston. Without traffic, it can take about 45 minutes to drive from Boston to Plymouth at the far end of the South Shore. However, congestion along Massachusetts Route 3 is notoriously bad. Once you’re on the South Shore, having a car is convenient for traveling to and from parks and beaches and between towns, so consider renting one, which you can do in many of the towns, or at the airport.
Summer is peak season along the South Shore, when the coastal winds bring relief to the often stifling heat and humidity, and you can jump into the refreshing Atlantic for additional reprieve. But as summer fades, the mild temperatures of autumn and picturesque fall colors also make for a nice time to visit before the winters bring freezing temperatures and snow.
Summer also coincides with the South Shore’s festival season. With the region’s prominent place in America’s Colonial and Revolutionary history, there’s no shortage of big celebrations, especially around Independence Day, where it can seem like every town throws a party. There’s also Flag Day (June 14) in Quincy and Marshfield’s annual August fair, while later in the year, Plymouth honors its own role in history with Thanksgiving celebrations.
Watch as harvesters wade through layers of bright red baubles as they rake cranberries from flooded fields. Farms around the region are open to visitors looking to catch a glimpse of the unique and colorful way that the holiday staple makes its way to tables around the country. Pick up fresh berries in season ― mid-October through the end of the year ― or pop by for frozen or canned products anytime.
Book a tour on a whale-watching boat from Plymouth during whale season, from late spring to early fall, and relish the chance to spot majestic humpback whales as they frolic just off the coast.
Considered by many to be the South Shore’s best beach, this sandy stretch of shoreline in the town of Hull clocks in at just over a mile long. On hot weekends, it can seem like the entire Commonwealth of Boston is here. Families in particular love it for its historic carousel, playground, and evening concerts. When the tide is out, the beach turns into a hotspot for tidepooling.