Glorious Coastlines — Southern Tour
Connecticut, Rhode Island & Massachusetts
It is said that all New Englanders have a little salt water in their bloodstream – particularly those who live along the coast of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. From ports on this shoreline, American seamen set out to battle whales and trade with the world. From New Haven to Boston, this maritime heritage lives on and provides plenty to interest ocean enthusiasts and landlubbers alike. Below are some choice stops for this part of New England's coast.
Trip ideas and itineraries are meant as suggestions only. They are intended as ideas and to highlight all there is to see and do in New England.
- New Haven, Connecticut: The Freedom Schooner Amistad
In season, you can go for a sail on the reproduction of the Amistad, whose home port is New Haven, where the Africans gained their freedom. On the site of the jail where they were held stands a 14-ft. statue of Joseph Cinque, the slaves’ leader. Learn about the pivotal legal battle and other related Connecticut sites.
- Essex, Connecticut: The first submarine
In the 1770s, David Bushnell, a Yale student, built the first “submarine,” the American Turtle, which was lost in a battle with the British. See what it looked like at the Connecticut River Museum. The shipbuilding tradition of this attractive town, where racing yachts are still built today, includes the Oliver Cromwell warship, launched in 1775.
- New London, Connecticut: US Coast Guard Academy
Thanks to its deep-water harbor, New London served as a major fishing, trading and whaling port. On Whale Oil Row, four pillared 1832 mansions testify to the wealth of years gone by. The Coastguard Academy opened here in 1876; the city is also the home port of the Eagle, the 60-year-old sailing ship that provides training for cadets. Tours are offered when it is in port.
- Groton, Connecticut: The first nuclear submarine
Go inside the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, which was built here in 1954. Star attraction of the Submarine Museum (Groton is the “Submarine Capital of the World”), the sub was also the first to dive under the North Pole.
- Mystic, Connecticut: Mystic Seaport / Mystic Aquarium
Mystic Seaport is one of New England’s most popular attractions. In this recreation of a 19th-century seaport community, you can watch craftspeople at work, go aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship, and much, much more. At Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, you can discover how modern-day explorer Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic.
- Stonington, Connecticut: Patriotic heroes
The quiet charm of this village belies its working fishing fleet, let alone the two moments in history when the locals repulsed the British Navy – during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. See the cannonballs and cannons commemorating the feat on Cannon Square. The Old Lighthouse Museum is in the state’s first (1823) lighthouse.
- Side Trip: Block Island, Rhode Island
Galilee (across from Jerusalem) is a busy fishing port with a ferry service to Block Island, 12 miles/20 km offshore. Small and rural, the island is ideal for quiet, old-fashioned summer vacations.
- South County, Rhode Island: Scenic coastal drive
With its quaint seaside villages and fishing ports, Rhode Island’s South County exemplifies New England life down through the centuries. Winding roads link up with the sandy seacoast, offering wide-open vistas and photo opportunities, including the magnificent lighthouses at Watch Hill, Point Judith and Plum Beach.
- Newport, Rhode Island: Yachting capital of the world
From 1851 to 1983, the USA retained yachting’s prestigious America’s Cup. The most famous races took place off Newport, where sailing is the No. 1 sport. The Museum of Yachting (Fort Adams State Park) tells the tale, while the International Yacht Restoration School on Thames Street continues the tradition. Newport’s naval connection includes the Naval War College, whose museum focuses on naval strategy. Best of all, you can go for a sail aboard glamorous yachts that are past winners of the America’s Cup.
- Fall River, Massachusetts: Modern heroes
Battleship Cove is a floating memorial to sailors who fell in World War II. Star attractions include USS Massachusetts, nicknamed Big Mamie, USS Lionfish, a WW II submarine, and the destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
- New Bedford, Massachusetts: 'Thar she blows'
In the early 1800s, New Bedford was the world’s largest whaling port. In addition to the world’s finest collection of scrimshaw (carved whale ivory), the Whaling Museum recalls the life and times of the sailors who provided inspiration for Herman Melville. In his novel Moby-Dick, he also describes the Seaman’s Bethel, with its prow-like pulpit. Find it across from the museum.
- Falmouth, Massachusetts: Tomorrow’s world
Southwest of Falmouth, the village of Wood’s Hole is home to three scientific research centers: the Oceanographic Institution, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Marine Biological Laboratory. A ferry connects to Martha’s Vineyard.
- Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts: Island fun
Just 5 miles/8 km offshore is the popular summer resort of Martha’s Vineyard. Between 1820 and 1860, Edgartown thrived and the grand mansions reflect the wealth of the whaling captains. Today, some are inns, others restaurants, many are still private homes. Nantucket, some 30 miles/48 km off Cape Cod, was the birthplace of New England’s whaling industry back in 1712. This story is told in the excellent Whaling Museum, while the Lifesaving Museum records heroic efforts to rescue shipwrecked sailors and passengers.
- Provincetown, Massachusetts: Pilgrims and sea faring
In 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor off Provincetown: the Pilgrim Fathers had arrived. At the base of the Pilgrim Monument, the museum recalls the whaling and cod-fishing industries. Today, some fishing vessels still go out, often accompanied by whale watching boats. “P-town” is near Stellwagen Bank, a popular feeding ground for whales.
- Route 6A, Massachusetts: Captain’s Choice
Route 6A, the road that runs along the bay, is known as the Old King’s Highway. Along this scenic route, in towns such as Brewster, Dennis, Yarmouth and Barnstable, are the handsome homes of whaling captains. In Wellfleet, nautical traditions survive: the clock on the First Congregational Church rings out ship’s time!
- Plymouth, Massachusetts: Pilgrim heritage
Although the Pilgrim Fathers first stepped ashore on Cape Cod, they settled in Plymouth. Today, Mayflower II, a reproduction of their tiny ship, is a reminder of the cramped conditions they endured on the voyage.
- Quincy, Massachusetts: Kilroy really was here
In 1789, the largest merchant ship in North America was built here, followed by fishing boats, clipper ships and more. During World War II, when warships such as the Massachusetts were constructed, welder inspector James J. Kilroy approved work by chalking a head looking over a fence. Underneath, he signed: “Kilroy was here.” Today, USS Salem is the site of the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum.
- Boston, Massachusetts: Old Ironsides
Come aboard the ship the British Navy couldn’t sink, USS Constitution. Restored to fighting trim and docked at the Charleston Navy Yard, “Old Ironsides” is the oldest warship afloat. Afterwards, explore the rest of this vibrant city, home to so much history, culture and New England charm.
See also: New England Coast (Northern Tour)