Coastal New England is beautiful at any time of year and also holds so much history. We love road trips. They give us the ability to be free, to come and go as we please, and still take in all the city or town has to offer. Here in New England, there is so much to explore along the coast. This road trip is about the route the Mayflower II took from restoration to celebration. Come along and let’s explore on this great road trip.
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Our Drive through Coastal New England
On this road trip, we will start at Mystic, CT after exploring Mystic we will head over toward Narragansett, Rhode Island. We have many towns with amazing history and beaches for you there. I can’t wait to explore Newport, Rhode Island as well. Oh, the mansion we will see. They are something special for sure. After Newport, we’ll check out Bedford, Massachusetts, and its whaling history. I will be highlighting Cape Code on a future road trip so, for now, we will head north toward Boston.
First, we will stop in the town of Plymouth. There is lots to explore here in town plus there’s also Plimoth Plantation. Next, we will stop off in Quincy to get a great view of Boston. We’ll visit the Adams Family house where both the 2nd and 6th presidents of the United States were born. Then we’ll head into Boston.
Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic Seaport Museum is a living history museum along Connecticut’s southern coast. This seafaring museum has ships to board and discover as well as a small village to explore. The village has many buildings in which you can go in and learn about life in the 1800s. A few really interesting businesses are the Cooperage, the Ship Carver, and the Nautical Instrument House.
The Cooperage is where wooden barrels were made. These were important on ships as well as in homes. See how they are made while visiting the museum.
The Ship Carver makes all the decorative parts of the ship. The figureheads, name boards, stern boards, shop signs, and tobacconist figures are all made in this shop. I love watching masters carve wood. There’s such an art to it.
The other shop that is special to the nautical theme of this living history museum is the Nautical Instrument House. This shop has all the sextants, quadrants, and chronometers a sailor could want. These talented shopmen are also able to make adjustments to your instruments if they go out of alignment. Certainly, a hand shop to have in a seashore village.
The museum also has a planetarium with several different shows. How would you like to learn about navigating the seven oceans by the stars? Or you can learn how the sailors used their equipment like the sextants with the stars. Whichever show you chose you will walk away with a better understanding of how the stars help us know where we are on the planet.
The Ships of Mystic Seaport
Now it wouldn’t be a shipyard without seafaring vessels, so let’s talk SHIPS! Mystic Seaport has the largest amount of ships in the United States. They have four that are National Historic Landmark vessels. Not only can you see these wonderous ships from the ground but you can board them as well. You can talk to the people involved in the restoration of some of the ships. Learning how to restore a ship from the 1800s is a pretty great skill to learn.
Mystic Seaport also has the oldest whaling ship in the world. The Morgan was launched in 1841 and is still afloat today thanks to the restoration and preservation by Mystic Seaport. The ship is on both the National Historic Landmark and has also received the World Ship Trust Award. Now she teaches millions of visitors all about America’s whaling history.
If you are adventurous you should book a trip along the Mystic River on one of the museum’s ships. You will even be called upon to help set the sails on the 1882 ship. How amazing is that? The museum also has rowboats, sailboats, paddleboats, and evening charters. If you live close to Mystic, you can even take sailing lessons or go to summer camp too.
As you can see Mystic Seaport Museum is a wonderful stop along coastal New England.
Mystic Seaport workers along with the help of Plimoth Plantation restored the Mayflower II.
Wherever possible we try and take the slow road to really enjoy the area we’re exploring. For this road trip after we explore Mystic, we’ll take Route 1 to Pawtucket and then down to Watch Hill.
Rhode Island, quintessential Coastal New England
Watch Hill is one of those sleeping coastal New England towns that people want to spend their summer in. The town has wonderful old Queen Anne and Victorian-style homes that you can admire while exploring this town. East Beach on the Atlantic side is the local’s favorite beach. You can walk on this beach from the Watch Hill Lighthouse all the way to Misquamicut. That is certainly a good walk being seven miles long.
For a real treat head over to Bay St and take a ride on the Flying Horses Carousel. The horses are hung on chains so you really feel like you are flying. What a thrill. Grab an ice cream and enjoy the rides.
For a shorter stroll walk along Napatree Point and Beach. Here you will see the Atlantic on one side and Narragansett Bay on the other. Great for an end-of-day walk.
After Watch Hill continue on Route 1 to Route 108 south to Galilee.
Point Judith and Galilee
This area is more of a typical fisherman’s town. You can see the boats come in at the end of the day with their catch. There is a fun story about the naming of Galilee and Jerusalem by a local fisherman. Yes, he did name the towns after the biblical ones. He thought since it’s a fishing village it should be called Galilee and if his side was Galilee the other side of the inlet had to be Jerusalem. And so it stuck.
While in the town of Galilee check out Salty Brine State Beach for a nice swim. You’ll also get to watch the fishing boats coming and going and bringing their catch to the local restaurants. You have two wonderful restaurants competing for your business in this town. There is Champlin’s Seaford and George’s of Galilee. Now with any great rivalry, they will claim they have the best seafood in town. My suggestion is always to buy from both restaurants and decide for yourself.
Gallilee is where you can pick up the Block Island Express. I highly recommend you going to Block Island if you can.
If you have the time a day trip out to Block Island will reward you handsomely. The island boasts beautiful beaches, scenery, a lovely coastal town, and two lighthouses. Spend the day at the beach, hike to see many species of birds, or go bike riding around the island. No matter how you spend your time on Block Island you will love this tiny piece of paradise along the south side of Coastal New England.
Beaches along coastal New England
You can spend your day at one of the three other beaches in the area. Roger W. Wheeler Beach, Scarborough State Beach, and Narragansett State Beach.
Roger W. Wheeler is a great family beach and is on the other side of the point. This beach has a very gradual dropoff and little surf. Clint’s family likes this beach the best. In fact, we’ve had many family reunions with his mom’s side of the family here. There is also a playground, bathrooms, and such at Roger W. Wheeler beach.
Scarborough State Beach is one of the state’s biggest and most popular beaches which is on Rhode Island Sound.
Narragansett State Beach is a little way up the coastline and has some 1000 cabanas to rent. They also offer a surfing area and concession stands. The beach has playgrounds at either end.
To get to Narragansett take Route 108 north to pick up Route 1A east.
Next on our journey along coastal New England will be Narragansett, Rhode Island. This small town is wonderful to walk around and savor the atmosphere and beautiful buildings. While in Narragansett don’t miss the Twin Towers. This was the old Narragansett Pier Casino, the premier resort in the area. If you are lucky enough to be in town while an event is going on, you should participate. What a grand structure to be in for a wine and food event, music concert, or even ballroom dancing. Check out their events calendar here.
Another really fun activity is to take the Narragansett Pier and Historic District walking tours. These walking tours will take you from the beach to the woods, to the mansions to the pier. They are certainly a great way to learn about the area.
South County Museum
Narragansett also has a living history museum. South County Museum has so much to see. They have a carpentry shop, a one-room schoolhouse, and a carriage barn. There is also a working blacksmith’s forge where people in the neighborhood can take classes. Oh, would that be fun! I like to watch Forged in Fire so I know going to the blacksmith forge would be intriguing. The museum also has one of the most equipped print shops in the northeast. I would love to have our family’s Christmas Cards printed on an old type print machine. The museum also has a small farm with goats, sheep, chickens, and a bunny. I’m certain my girls will love to see the animals.
Detour #1 along coastal New England
If you enjoy Victorian Era houses and meandering among the streets and stores in seaside towns, Wickford is worth the stop. To get to Wickford from Narragansett take Route 1A north. There you can take an audio walking tour of the town to learn all about it. Wickford has more than one thing about their town that hoists them to fame. One is the town has the most owner-occupied Colonial and Federal houses in the nation. Another is that they have the oldest wooden lighthouse in America.
Fun fact about Wickford: Gilbert Stuart, an American painter, was baptized in the Old Narragansett Church. Stuart is famous for his portrait of George Washington. You can see it anytime you’d like. Just look at the front of the one-dollar bill.
To get to Conanicut Island you need to take Route 138 from Route 1 or 1A.
Jamestown and Conanicut Island
This island is connected to the mainland by the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge on one side and the Newport Bridge on the other. You can just pass by this island or you can take the time to look for treasure and see the best views and sunset in Rhode Island.
If you are a treasure hunter you should test your skills on Conanicut Island and see if you can find Captain Kidd’s treasure. With many places to dig, I’m sure you will have a great time trying to find his treasure. Let me know if you find anything.
At the southern tip of Conanicut Island in Beavertail State Park. Here you can explore the Beavertail Lighthouse, bike, hike, or have a picnic and enjoy the sunset.
After crossing over the Newport Bridge, Route 138, along coastal New England we arrive in Newport. Newport, during its heyday, was a playground for the rich and famous. This is where ‘The Great Gatsby’ was set. The Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans spent their summers here in the grand ‘cottages’ they built. These mansions are wonderful to tour and a large part of the Gilded Age of America. You can take a tour of these mansions or just drive or walk down Bellevue Avenue and admire them from the road.
Newport is more than just the famous mansions though. You shouldn’t miss the cliff walk. It’s a beautiful 3.5-mile walk along the ocean’s edge. There are several entrances along the walk so you can do all or part of the walk. See the route on this map. There is also a wonderful scenic drive shown on this map.
For some more historic fun head into downtown Newport to see the oldest tavern in the state, the White Horse Tavern. It’s a bit fancy for my kids so we’ll probably go to eat at the Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant. However, don’t miss walking past the White Horse for its historical significance.
For another fun way to explore Newport is to take a cruise with Classic Cruises of Newport. Seeing the coastline from the water is very special. If you decide on taking an evening sunset cruise, I’m sure you will be thrilled by the sunset.
Fort Adams has another 2.5-mile walk around its perimeter for free or you can take a guided tour. This fort built in the early 1800s was strategically placed to guard Narragansett Bay. Now a state park, the walk along the coast is the best place to see the sunset along this stretch of coastal New England. Along the walk, you will get great views of several lighthouses as well as the Newport Bridge. The fort also hosts the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals.
International Tennis Hall of Fame
If tennis is your game you can’t miss the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Here you can see tennis attire, rackets, balls, and the like from the start of the sport. The building alone is worth a walkthrough. The building is the former Newport Casino which opened in 1880. Although never a gambling casino it was the social club of its day. If you have your ‘whites’ with you and would like to try your hand on the grass courts, it will set you back $130 for an hour session. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation. If you would rather just watch get yourself a fancy cocktail at the La Forge Casino Restaurant.
For another great stop and adventure check out Rail Explorers in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
To get to New Bedford, Massachusetts we’ll drive north out of Newport, Rhode Island on Route 114. We’ll pick up Route 24 around Portsmouth and then connect with Highway 195 south to New Bedford.
Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims landed
During the first half of the 1800s when whaling was a lucrative business, New Bedford became the most active port. This is where Herman Melville went out on his famed voyage and caught “Moby Dick.” There are a few must-stops in New Bedford. There is a self-guided walking tour through the town that takes you past several of the town’s monuments, historical buildings, and the waterfront. There are a few buildings and museums outside the walking tour that are of note. The New Bedford Whaling Museum is certainly worth everyone’s time. They have a full-sized model of a whaling ship as well as full skeletons of a few different whales.
To go straight to Plymouth take Highway 195 north to Highway 495 north to Route 58 north into Plymouth.
Detour #2 along coastal New England
Our next stop along this coastal New England road trip will be Plymouth. For now, we are going to skip the cape, which will be its own road trip adventure. However, if you have the time and someone in your group loves trains you might want to hug the coast on Route 6 East to Buzzards Bay to see the Cape Cod Canal Railway Bridge. If you time your trip just right you will see the bridge lower for a train to pass which is pretty special. After this continue north to Plymouth on Route 3.
The first stop in Plymouth is the famous rock. It’s a must! Then go over to Plimoth Plantation and explore their living history museum. The museum has a replica of a 17th-century farming village as well as a recreation of a Wampanoag Homesite along the eel river. This is one of my favorite sites in the museum. Talking to the native American’s, going into their ‘houses’ and seeing them work on a canoe is very special. The museum also has a grist mill and the Nye barn where they continue to expand their rare and heritage breeding program.
The Mayflower II will be at Plimoth Plantation after the celebration in Boston this spring. Don’t miss a visit to this icon ship that really started the colonists thinking about governing themselves. Read more about The Journey of the Mayflower.
To get to Quincy you take Route 3 north.
Before we head into Boston we need to stop off in Quincy. The Birthplace of Presidents, two presidents in fact. This national park is available as a guided tour only which takes approx. 2-1/2 hours and gives you a great look at 4 generations of the Adams family. No, not Morticia Adam’s family but John Quincy Adam’s family.
Now if you need another dip in the ocean prior to going into Boston you have several to choose from. A few favorites are Tenean Beach, Mound Street Beach, and Wollaston Beach. All three beaches offer good swimming, and either a playground, soccer fields, promenades, or other services for you. If you are ready to eat head on over to Tom’s Clam shop on Wollaston Beach. You won’t be disappointed.
Take Highway 93 north into Boston. To get to the Charlestown Navy Yard continue on Highway 93 across the Charlestown Bridge. Make a right onto Chelsea St another right onto Fifth St, left on First Ave then start looking for parking. If you park in Boston you can take the 93 bus from the aquarium to the Navy Yard.
There is so much to see and do in Boston when you talk about historical sites. However, we will keep this to the route of the Mayflower II.
Mayflower II will be at the Charlestown Navy Yard next to the USS Constitution. Don’t miss out on exploring the USS Constitution and the museum at the Navy Yard. These sites are part of the Freedom Trail’s Junior Ranger badge your kids can earn if they are interested.
Another part of the Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument and museum which are close by. If you’d like a great view of Boston from way up high, you should definitely check them out.
The rest of the Freedom Trail, which is depicted throughout the city by a red brick trail are across the river in Boston. I highly recommend going to see them all and finding out why we have a unicorn on top of our old statehouse.
Pin For Later
Do you enjoy road trips? Do you like to explore the different towns and historical sites on your road trips? Or do you just like the drive for the scenery? Where was your last road trip too?