date published: November 10, 2003

In the year 1620, an idealistic and brave group of English explorers left their homes behind to seek out a new, better life on the shores of the mostly unexplored mass of land known as America. When their ship, The Mayflower, landed on the banks of what is now known as Plymouth, the world was
forever altered.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, visitors to Massachusetts often conduct their own pilgrimage to Plymouth, the site of one of the earliest European colonizations of America and the very first Thanksgiving. The town takes great pride in its recognition as America's Gateway and continues to function as a living tribute to its heritage. Visitors can revel in the many fun and educational facets that dot the town's landscape while also enjoying breathtaking beaches and the general charm of an oceanside town on the South Shore of Massachusetts.

The logical place to start your trek is, of course, historic Plymouth Rock (Water Street). This mineral monolith continues to stand strong as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, symbolically marking where early Puritan settlers first came ashore. Since the rock wasn't even dubbed with its current honor until 1741, its legitimacy is up for debate. But regardless of its authenticity, it's long represented an important part of American history and remains a monument to the determination of the early settlers. Unfortunately, years of enterprising visitors looking for a souvenir have whittled the rock down to a fraction of its former size. Today it is safely displayed in a granite pavilion a short distance from its original location.

However popular, Plymouth Rock is.well, just a rock. So after you've taken a peek, head over to The Mayflower II (State Pier on Plymouth Harbor, 508-746-1622), a full-scale reproduction of the original vessel which was built in England in 1955-56, which is moored just a few feet away from the famous stone. While on board, consider its size and the fact that when it took its now-famous voyage across the Atlantic it carried 102 Pilgrims, 25 crew members and various supplies and animals. The cramped wooden ship provides a tangible indication of what early settlers went through to get to the New Land.

Located 40 minutes south of Boston at the Cape Cod Gateway. Take I-93 South to Route 3 South to Exit 6.
BY TRAIN: Take the MBTA Commuter Rail (Plymouth/Kingston line) from South Station (a round-trip ticket is $5 for adults). Call Mayflower Cab (508-746-7887) or Mayflower Taxi (508-224-8484) for transportation to area sights.
BY BUS: From South Station or Logan Airport, board the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway bus (call 508-746-0378).

For a taste of what life was like in 1620, visit Plimoth Plantation (137 Warren Ave., 508-746-1622). This sprawling, painstakingly detailed representation of what Plymouth may have looked like during the Pilgrims' time is laced with a wide array of attractions that should impress visitors of any age. From its interactive presentation of the true history of the first Thanksgiving to Hobbamock's Homesite-a reconstructed Wampanoag village-the Plantation provides a well-rounded history lesson with help from a team of knowledgeable actors. Since nothing is labeled and there are no tours, be prepared to ask lots of questions of the welcoming "Puritans."

Anyone interested in just straight facts with the requisite reading material would be well advised to seek out the town's various museums. The Pilgrim Hall Museum (75 Court St., 508-746-1620) houses the world's largest collection of Pilgrim possessions and presents a wide tapestry of how these people cultivated the distinctly New England way of life. The Plymouth National Wax Museum (16 Carver St., 508-746-6468) is also a good complement to one's Pilgrim education as it presents their unique history in a show complete with light, sound and animation.

After an invigorating day of delving into history, nothing feels better than fast-forwarding four centuries and dining in the lap of modern luxury in one of Plymouth's many eateries. Isaac's on the Waterfront (114 Water St., 508-830-0001) offers a breathtaking view of the Atlantic in an elegant, serene setting. For something different, the Plymouth Colony Winery (56 Pinewood Rd., 508-747-3334) is a renovated, circa 1890 cranberry screening house that invites visitors to picnic in the heart of Cranberry County, enjoy free samples of award-winning wines and tour the wine production area.

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