37 Best Sights in Side Trips from Boston, Massachusetts

Crane Beach on the Crane Estate

Fodor's choice

Crane Beach, one of New England's most stunning beaches, is a sandy, 4-mile-long stretch backed by dunes and a nature trail about an hour from Boston. Public parking is available, but on a nice summer weekend it's usually full before lunch. There are lifeguards, a snack bar, and changing rooms. Check ahead before visiting mid-July to early August, when greenhead flies terrorize sunbathers. The Ipswich Essex Explorer bus runs between the Ipswich train station and Crane Beach weekends and holidays from June to September; the $5 pass includes round-trip bus fare and beach admission. Contact the Ipswich Visitor Information Center for information. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets; showers. Best for: swimming; walking.

Peabody Essex Museum

Fodor's choice

Salem's world-class museum celebrates superlative works from around the globe and across time, including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, and maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic, and African art. With a collection of 1.8 million works, housed in a contemplative blend of modern design, PEM represents a diverse range of styles; exhibits include pieces ranging from American decorative and seamen's art to an interactive Art & Nature Center and photography. While there, be sure to tour the Yin Yu Tang house. This fabulous 200-year-old house dates to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) of China. The museum brought it over from China in sections and reassembled it here.

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Plimoth Patuxet Museums

Fodor's choice

Against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, and 3 miles south of downtown Plymouth, this living museum shares the rich, interwoven story of the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag homeland through engaging daily programs and special events. A 1620s Pilgrim village has been carefully re-created, from the thatch roofs, cramped quarters, and open fireplaces to the long-horned livestock. Throw away your preconception of white collars and funny hats; through ongoing research, the Plimoth staff has developed a portrait of the Pilgrims that's more complex than the dour folk in school textbooks. Listen to the accents of the "residents," who never break out of character. Feel free to engage them in conversation about their life. Don't worry, 21st-century museum educators are on hand to help answer any questions you have as well. On the Wampanoag homesite, meet native people speaking from a modern perspective on the traditions, lifeways, and culture of Eastern Woodlands Indigenous people. Note that there's not a lot of shade here in summer.

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Walden Pond

Fodor's choice

For lovers of Early American literature, a trip to Concord isn't complete without a pilgrimage to Henry David Thoreau's most famous residence. Here, in 1845, at age 28, Thoreau moved into a one-room cabin—built for $28.12—on the shore of this 100-foot-deep kettle hole formed by the retreat of an ancient glacier. Living alone for the next two years, Thoreau discovered the benefits of solitude and the beauties of nature. Walden, published in 1854, is a mixture of philosophy, nature writing, and proto-ecology.

The site of the original house is staked out in stone. A full-size, authentically furnished replica of the cabin stands about a half mile from the original site, near the Walden Pond State Reservation parking lot. During the summer, don't be shocked if you aren't allowed entrance: Walden Pond has a visitor capacity. Get there early or visit later in the day for the best chance of getting in.

Wingaersheek Beach

Fodor's choice

With white sand and dunes, Wingaersheek Beach is a well-protected cove with both a beach side and a boat side. The white Annisquam lighthouse is in the bay. The beach is known for its miles of white sand and calm waters. Make a required parking reservation online after Memorial Day through summer. The parking lot is accessible and beach wheelchairs are available on request. Amenities: food and drink; parking (fee); toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

232 Atlantic St., Boston, MA, 01930, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Limited parking, from $30 per car; reserve online at gloucesterweb.yodelpass.com/beaches

Abbot Hall

The town's Victorian-era municipal building, built in 1876, displays Archibald Willard's painting The Spirit of '76. Many visitors, familiar since childhood with this image of the three Revolutionary veterans with fife, drum, and flag, are surprised to find the original in an otherwise unassuming town hall. Also on-site is a small naval museum exploring Marblehead's maritime past.

188 Washington St., Boston, MA, 01945, USA
781-631–0528-town clerk
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Buckman Tavern

While waiting for the arrival of the British on the morning of April 19, 1775, the minutemen gathered at this 1690 tavern. A half-hour tour takes in the tavern's seven rooms, which have been restored to the way they looked in the 1770s. Among the items on display is an old front door with a hole made by a British musket ball.

Cape Ann Museum

The Cape Ann Museum celebrates the art, history, and culture of Cape Ann. The museum’s collection includes fine art from the 19th century to the present alongside artifacts from the fishing, maritime, and granite-quarrying industries, as well as textiles, furniture, a library-archives, and three historic houses.

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

This 59-room Stuart-style mansion, built in 1927 for Richard Crane—of the Crane plumbing company—and his family, is part of the Crane Estate, a stretch of more than 2,100 acres along the Essex and Ipswich rivers, encompassing Castle Hill, Crane Beach, and the Crane Wildlife Refuge, all of which are now owned and operated by the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations. Although the original furnishings were sold at auction, the mansion has been elaborately refurnished in period style; photographs in most of the rooms show their original appearance. The Great House is open for guided and self-guided tours and also hosts concerts and other events. Inquire about seasonal programs like fly-fishing or kayaking. If you're looking for an opulent and exquisite overnight stay, book a room at the on-site Inn at Castle Hill.

Concord Museum

The original contents of Emerson's private study, as well as the world's largest collection of Thoreau artifacts, reside in this 1930 Colonial Revival building just east of the town center. The museum provides a good overview of the town's history, from its original Native American settlement to the present. Highlights include Native American artifacts, furnishings from Thoreau's Walden Pond cabin (there's a replica of the cabin itself on the museum's lawn), and one of the two lanterns hung at Boston's Old North Church to signal that the British were coming by sea. Those with kids should stop by the Family Station to get kid-friendly guides, scavenger hunts, and drawing sets.

Fort Sewall

Magnificent views of Marblehead, of the harbor, the Misery Islands, and the Atlantic are best enjoyed from this fort built in 1644 atop the rocky cliffs of the harbor. Used as a defense against the French in 1742 as well as during the War of 1812, Ft. Sewall is today open to the public as community parkland. Barracks and underground quarters can still be seen, and Revolutionary War reenactments by members of the modern-day Glover's Marblehead Regiment are staged at the fort annually.

Good Harbor Beach

This beach has calm, waveless waters and soft sand, and is surrounded by grassy dunes, making it perfect any time of year. In summer (June, July, and August), it is lifeguard patrolled and wheelchair accessible, and there is a snack bar if you don't feel like packing in food. The restrooms and showers are also accessible, and you can pick up beach toys at the concessions. On weekdays parking is plentiful, but the lot fills by 10 am on weekends. In June, green flies can be bothersome. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

Boston, MA, 01930, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Parking $20–$35 per car; reserve online at gloucesterweb.yodelpass.com/beaches

Hammond Castle Museum

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr., credited with more than 500 patents, including remote control via radio waves, built this structure in 1926 to resemble a "medieval" stone castle. The museum contains medieval-style furnishings and paintings, and the Great Hall houses an impressive 8,200-pipe organ. From the castle you can see Norman's Woe, the rock made famous by Longfellow in his poem "The Wreck of the Hesperus." In July and August, unique "Spiritualism Tours" are an additional option on Thursday night (for an extra fee), with discussion of topics like the Ouija board, spirit photography, séances, and the science behind Spiritualism. Note: the museum is not wheelchair accessible. Parts of the grounds are free to visit.

80 Hesperus Ave., Boston, MA, 01930, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $20, Closed Jan. and Mon.–Thurs. in April, Nov., and Dec.

Hancock-Clarke House

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere came here to warn patriots John Hancock and Sam Adams (who were staying at the house while attending the Provincial Congress in nearby Concord) of the advance of British troops. Hancock and Adams, on whose heads the British king had put a price, fled to avoid capture. The house, a parsonage built in 1698, is a 10-minute walk from Lexington Common. Inside is the Treasures of the Revolution exhibit, and outside, a Colonial herb garden.

Lexington Green National Historic Landmark

It was on this 2-acre triangle of land, commonly referred to as simply the "Battle Green," on April 19, 1775, that the first confrontation between British soldiers, who were marching from Boston toward Concord, and the Colonial militia known as the minutemen took place. The minutemen—so called because they were able to prepare themselves at a moment's notice—were led by Captain John Parker, whose role in the American Revolution is commemorated in Henry Hudson Kitson's renowned 1900 Minuteman statue. Facing downtown Lexington at the tip of the Battle Green, the statue is on a traffic island, making for a difficult photo op.

Long Beach

Just as its name implies, this soft-sand beach that is half in Rockport, half in Gloucester is long, and it's also broad. It draws crowds from the houses that border it, particularly on weekends. Pay attention to the tide schedule, or you may find there's no beach to sit on. Cape Ann Motor Inn is nearby. Parking is very limited. Don't even think of parking on neighborhood streets if you don't have a town parking sticker—you will be towed. However, there is a lot on the Gloucester side. Amenities: none. Best for: swimming; walking.

Off Rockport Rd., Boston, MA, 01930, USA

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

The dark brown exterior of Louisa May Alcott's family home sharply contrasts with the light, wit, and energy so much in evidence within. Named for the apple orchard that once surrounded it, Orchard House was the Alcott family home from 1857 to 1877. Here Louisa wrote Little Women, based in part on her life with her three sisters; and her father, Bronson, founded the Concord School of Philosophy—the building remains behind the house. Because Orchard House had just one owner after the Alcotts left, and because it became a museum in 1911, more than 80% of the original furnishings remain, including the semicircular shelf-desk where Louisa wrote Little Women. The only way to visit the house is by guided tour; reservations are recommended.

Mayflower II

This seaworthy replica of the 1620 Mayflower was built in England through research and a bit of guesswork, then sailed across the Atlantic in 1957. As you explore the interior and exterior of the ship, which was extensively refurbished in time for Plymouth's 400th anniversary in 2020, sailors in modern dress answer your questions about both the reproduction and the original ship, while costumed guides provide a 17th-century perspective. This attraction is part of the Plimoth Patuxet Museums system. Plymouth Rock is also nearby.

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Boston, MA, 02360, USA
Sights Details
$15; combination tickets for other sites available
Rate Includes: Closed late-Nov.–late-Mar.

Minute Man National Historical Park

West of Lexington's center stretches this 1,000-acre park that also extends into nearby Lincoln and Concord. Begin your park visit at the Minute Man Visitor Center in Lexington to see the free multimedia presentation, "The Road to Revolution," a captivating introduction to the events of April 1775. Staffed by costumed park volunteers, the Whittemore House has a hands-on Try on 1775! exhibit where kids can wear Colonial clothing and gather ingredients for a meal.

Continuing along Highway 2A toward Concord, you pass the point where Revere's midnight ride ended with his capture by the British; it's marked with a boulder and plaque, as well as an enclosure with wayside exhibits. You can also visit the 1732 Hartwell Tavern, a restored drover's (driver's) tavern staffed by park employees in period costume; they frequently demonstrate musket firing and militia drills and talk about life in Colonial Massachusetts.

Munroe Tavern

As April 19, 1775, dragged on, British forces met fierce resistance in Concord. Dazed and demoralized after the battle at Concord's Old North Bridge, the British backtracked and regrouped at this 1695 tavern 1 mile east of Lexington Common, while the Munroe family hid in nearby woods. The troops then retreated through what is now the town of Arlington. After a bloody battle there, they returned to Boston.

National Monument to the Forefathers

Said to be the largest freestanding granite statue in the United States, this allegorical monument stands high on an 11-acre hilltop site. Designed by Hammatt Billings of Boston in 1854 and dedicated in 1889, it depicts Faith, surrounded by Liberty, Morality, Justice, Law, and Education, and includes scenes from the Pilgrims' early days in Plymouth.

Old North Bridge

A half mile from Concord Center, at this bridge, the Concord minutemen turned the tables on the British on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Americans didn't fire first, but when two of their own fell dead from a redcoat volley, Major John Buttrick of Concord roared, "Fire, fellow soldiers, for God's sake, fire." The minutemen released volley after volley, and the redcoats fled. Daniel Chester French's famous statue The Minute Man (1875) honors the country's first freedom fighters. The lovely wooded surroundings give a sense of what the landscape was like in more rural times. Guests who take the Liberty Ride trolley tour from Lexington Center will be treated to a quick stop at the bridge.

Pilgrim Hall Museum

From the waterfront sights, it's a short walk to one of the country's oldest public museums. Established in 1824, Pilgrim Hall Museum transports you back to the time of the Pilgrims' landing with objects carried by those weary travelers to the New World. Historic items on display include a carved chest, a remarkably well-preserved wicker cradle, Myles Standish's sword, and John Alden's Bible. In addition, the museum presents the story of the Wampanoag, the native people who lived here 10,000 years before the arrival of the Pilgrims, and who still live here today.

Plymouth Rock

This landmark rock, just a few dozen yards from the Mayflower II, is popularly believed to have been the Pilgrims' stepping-stone when they left the ship. Given the stone's unimpressive appearance—it's little more than a boulder—and dubious authenticity (as explained on a nearby plaque), the grand canopy overhead seems a trifle ostentatious. Still, more than a million people a year come to visit this world-famous symbol of courage and faith. The views of Plymouth Harbor alone are worth the visit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson House

The 19th-century essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson lived briefly in the Old Manse in 1834–35, then moved to this home, where he lived until his death in 1882. Here he wrote Essays. Except for artifacts from Emerson's study, now at the nearby Concord Museum, the Emerson House furnishings have been preserved as the writer left them, down to his hat resting on the newel post. You must join one of the half-hour-long tours to see the interior.

28 Cambridge Tpke., Boston, MA, 01742, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $12, Closed Mon.–Wed. and Nov.–late-Apr., Call ahead for tour-scheduling information

Richard Sparrow House

Built in 1640, Sparrow House is Plymouth's oldest structure. One of several historic houses in town that are open to visitors, it allows guests to take a peek into rooms furnished in the spartan style of the Pilgrims' era. In the adjoining 1720 section of the building is an art gallery, which supports the museum and has been in operation since the 1930s.

42 Summer St., Boston, MA, 02360, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Museum $2; gallery free, Closed Sun.–Wed. in Jan.–Mar.

Rocky Neck

On a peninsula within Gloucester’s working harbor, the town's creative side thrives in this neighborhood, one of the oldest continuously working artists' colonies in the United States. Its alumni include Winslow Homer, Maurice Prendergast, Jane Peterson, and Cecilia Beaux. While some venues stay open year-round, expect many to be closed in winter.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Near Derby Wharf, this 9¼-acre site focuses on Salem's heritage as a major seaport with a thriving overseas trade. It includes the 1762 home of Elias Derby, America's first millionaire; the 1819 Custom House, made famous in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; and a replica of the Friendship, a 171-foot, three-masted 1797 merchant vessel. There's also an active lighthouse dating from 1871, as well as the nation's last surviving 18th-century wharves. There is also the 1770 Pedrick Store House, moved from nearby Marblehead and reassembled right on Derby Wharf; the two-story structure once played a vital role in the lucrative merchant seaside trade. The grounds are open 24/7, but buildings open on a seasonal schedule.

Salem Witch Museum

An informative and fascinating introduction to Salem's witchcraft hysteria, this museum offers a look at 1692 with 13 life-size stage sets featuring narration of what life was like at that time, plus a 15-minute guided tour through the exhibit Witches: Evolving Perceptions, which describes witch hunts through the years. Tickets are sold online exclusively. In winter, the museum might not open in bad weather. Call ahead.

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Salem Witch Trials Memorial

Dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in 1992, this quiet, contemplative space—an antidote to the relentless marketing of the merry-witches motif—honors those who died because they refused to confess that they were witches. A stone wall is studded with 20 stone benches, each inscribed with a victim's name, and sits next to Salem's oldest burying ground. Many people leave small tokens on the sites to commemorate the victims to this day.