Plymouth MA and the True Thanksgiving Story

Travel guide to Plymouth MA, site of the real Thanksgiving Story. #NewEngland #USA #historyEvery American child grows up hearing the Thanksgiving story. If I remember it correctly, it goes something like this. A bunch of pointy-hat Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower, landed on Plymouth rock, and met some Native Americans who treated them to a harvest meal. There may have been a few more steps along the way, but that was basically it, right? This Plymouth MA getaway retraces those steps, but, spoiler alert, you may find that there’s a lot more to this story.

Mayflower II - Plymouth MA

Things To Do In Plymouth MA

TOUR: Mayflower II. In 1620, 102 men, women, and children sailed for ten perilous weeks from England to Plymouth, MA aboard the original Mayflower ship. No one knows what happened to the original, but its replica, the Mayflower II, recreated that journey in 1957. Upon arrival, it was tied down to a pier where it remained until being restored to sailing condition in 1990. Now, she sails occasionally but mostly she is available for tours led by costumed guides who describe the dangerous journey and share the history behind the Mayflower Compact while escorting visitors through the ship’s narrow confines. More on the tour and photos HERENot recommended for claustrophobics. Open 9-5, seven days a week, closed in winter.

Plymouth Rock Portico - Plymouth MA

SEE: Plymouth Rock (located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park) is reputed to be the spot where the pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620. But the rock was not identified until one hundred years later when a 94-year-old man who claimed to have known the original pilgrims pointed out a 15-foot long rock that served as a natural pier. Since then, the rock has been moved a couple times resulting in fractured pieces that were carried off. Today, just 13 of the top portion remains, under cover of a  multi-column portico designed in 1920 by McKim, Mead and White for the Tercentenary Celebration of the landing. Look for “1620” clearly carved on its face, it’s a later addition from about 1867.

Fenced in Plymouth Rock under the portico. |Plymouth MA

Plymouth Rock, inscribed with the year 1620, and surrounded by pennies. | Plymouth MA

Spot the pennies surrounding Plymouth Rock?

This Maven tends to agree with Bill Bryson in Made in America:

The one thing the Pilgrims certainly did not do was step ashore on Plymouth Rock. Quite apart from the consideration that it may have stood well above the high-water mark in 1620, no prudent mariner would try to bring a ship alongside a boulder on a heaving December sea when a sheltered inlet beckoned from near by.

Regardless, Plymouth Rock is an important symbol of America, and not to be missed.

Pilgrim Memorial State Park Map - Plymouth MA

WALK: Both Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II are located at Pilgrim Memorial State Park, along Plymouth Harbor, where there are a number of other monuments worth seeing. Look for the Pilgrim Mother Statue & Fountain across the street from Plymouth Rock, and climb Cole’s Hill for a scenic view of the waterfront as well as the statue of Native leader Massasoit and a sarcophagus holding the remains of several early pilgrims.

Pilgrim Mother Statue Fountain - Plymouth MA via

WALKING TOUR: Jenny Museum. Join a guide in period clothing on a one hour walking tour of the historic district, includes Plymouth Rock and the waterfront. Advance reservations required.

Plymouth Colony - Plymouth MA

VISIT: The place to investigate the Thanksgiving Story is Plimoth Plantation. Set nearly three miles from Plymouth MA, the complex recreates a Wampanoag Homesite and Plymouth Colony circa 1627, side by side. On the Wampanoag Homesite, you meet authentic Native people in traditional attire who share culture and conversation. In the fortified colonial walls, you are introduced to actors who live and breathe American history. Ask about that First Thanksgiving and they’ll be happy to tell you everything they believe to be true. There’s also a craft center and livestock barn, plus a Visitor’s Center that hosts movie nights. More photos and tour details HERE. Open 9-5, seven days a week, but closed in winter.

READ: Learn about Thanksgiving history in these Albany Kid articles by Cie McCullough Buschle: Debunking Thanksgiving Day Myths and An Extra Serving of Thanksgiving History.

Where to Eat in Plymouth MA

SPECIAL EVENT: People come from all over the world to experience the traditional Thanksgiving meal at Plimoth Plantation, but it’s only scheduled a few times a year. Never fear! There’s a whole slew of themed meals planned spring through fall.

BREAKFAST/BAKERY: The Blueberry Muffin. Described as the “best breakfast on the south shore,” servings are fresh and plentiful. The bakery is pretty good too, pick up a muffin to go.

New World Tavern - Plymouth MA

EAT: The New World Tavern. I dined in the tavern with my young nieces, and while there’s a great bar and excellent beer selections, it is family-friendly. The menu is a cut above the usual pub fare, with several unique twists and special events such as a weekly noodle night. When we went, the girls got the standard chicken tenders while I savored a Japanese noodle dish. Locals rave over the char-broiled flatbreads too.

Where to Stay in Plymouth MA

FAMILY: When we stayed at the John Carver Inn, it was years ago in the days before digital cameras. As it is, I will spare you my scanned images of the pilgrim-themed pool. Suffice it to say that the pool is awesome. Children and anyone young at heart cannot resist the 80′ water slide winding through a replica of the Mayflower and the whirlpool set in a mock Plymouth Rock. The hotel itself is charming, equally suitable for family or romantic getaways, and interestingly enough, it’s located on the site of the original pilgrim settlement. For a recent in-depth hotel review, follow the link from

B&B:By The Sea Bed and Breakfast. Guests rave about the view and location. Located on Plymouth Harbor, the B&B sees stunning sunrises from the front porch and guest room windows, and it’s in easy walking distance from most historical landmarks.

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In Category: Historic Getaways, Massachusetts

Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of many cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Nowadays, she stars in her own version of "Where's Waldo?," always in search of sweet treats and grand adventures.

Show 3 Comments
  • Wandering Educators November 16, 2015, 5:33 pm Link

    That’s hilarious, what Bryson said about the Rock. Great tips – I especially appreciate the food and accommodation ones!

  • Tawanna November 17, 2015, 10:13 pm Link

    Reminds a little of Williamsburg, VA which I love a ton. I’ve always been interested in visiting so I’ll have to put on my family travel list.

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel November 22, 2015, 10:13 am Link

    Thanks for sharing a list of activities in Plymouth as well as photos of what Plymouth Rock really looks like. As a child growing up in the USA, it seemed like Plymouth Rock would be more of a huge boulder vs. just a smallish rock.

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