Eclectic Plymouth, from shops to shore in a modern mode

Email|Print| Text size + By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / November 21, 2004

PLYMOUTH -- There's a lot more to Plymouth than Pilgrims.

Certainly, if you want to know about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock or see how the Pilgrims lived, this is the place to come.

Sometimes, however, one yearns for more contemporary amusements. Fortunately, even if you come here for the history, this town of 52,000 inhabitants offers much in the way of dining, wine tasting, and nightlife, as well as coastal drives and nature walks.

The town's traditional downtown is just a block from Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower replica. Take Water Street, or any street uphill, to Route 3A, which, in less than a mile, has four names: Court Street, Main Street, Main Street Extension, and Sandwich Street.

For many years, downtown Plymouth catered strictly to locals. Then, in 1989, the Independence Mall opened in neighboring Kingston and siphoned off the customers from town. The business district set about reinventing itself, and today the area has an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and bars. Two of the old department stores have been turned into antique mini-malls: Main Street Marketplace and Main Street Antiques, sprawling establishments both owned by Michael Longo, with two floors of antiques of various kinds.

On nearby North Street, which runs from Water to Main and is a good route to take from the Rock to downtown, are several smaller antiques and furniture stores. Dillon and Co. specializes in English country furniture. Old North Street Tea and Curiosity Shop (the name says it all) is a small, quirky place specializing in, yes, antiques, old books, jellies, and a vast selection of teas.

Plymouth is not an antiquer's mecca. You wouldn't come here to spend an entire day antiques shopping, though you could certainly spend a couple of productive hours at it.

Among the town's other shops are Revolution, a used-record store with a wide selection of CDs and vinyl and DVDs; British Imports on Court Street, selling authentic English porridge, puddings, and potato crisps; and Pilgrim's Progress with men's and women's clothing.

Common Sense is an enchanting and fragrant establishment that sells fresh baked goods, soaps, herbs, and other natural products. The shop is run by the Messianic Community, a Christian sect that shuns modern conveniences.

Plymouth will never be confused with Napa Valley, but it does now boast three wineries: Plymouth Winery at Village Landing, Plymouth Bay Winery a couple of blocks south on Water Street, and Plymouth Colony Winery on Route 44 west of downtown. All three produce wines on site, and you can sample and purchase the finished products. Cranberries provide the local flavor for many of the wines.

. . .

Before there were tourists there were fishermen, and Plymouth remains a fishing village. At the Town Wharf, the pier north of the Mayflower, commercial fishing boats come and go and offload.

Sport fishing on boats docked at Town Wharf slows considerably in fall and winter, but it is still possible to book a charter or sign up for a haddock and cod fishing trip to Stellwagen Bank. Dress warmly.

A cluster of seafood restaurants is close at hand on the wharf and nearby sections of Water Street. The Lobster Hut and Wood's Seafood are informal, local favorites, while East Bay Grille is a popular sit-down option.

For variety, head back downtown. Cafe Strega on Main Street Extension is a romantic Italian restaurant housed in a solarium set high above Brewster Gardens, the waterfront park across from Plymouth Rock.

Other downtown restaurant options include the friendly and modestly priced Court Street Bistro, the immodestly named but excellent Cuisine of Mark Connolly on Sandwich Street, and on Main Street, Namaste, which features first-class Indian cuisine from the subcontinent.

North of town on Route 3A, Martha's Galley is a small, casual Italian restaurant. West on Route 44 will take you to one of the newest arrivals to Plymouth's dining scene -- and its only Japanese restaurant -- Sushi Joy.

The nightlife here also has been on the upswing. Kiskadee, a coffee shop on Main Street, often has live entertainment. Sean O'Tooles and Riptides, both on Main Street, are lively bars that tend to draw a younger crowd. British Beer Co., with leather wing chairs and a huge selection of imported draft beer, draws more sedate patrons.

Also downtown is Memorial Hall, a 1,400-seat concert venue that got a big rehab a few years ago and now hosts national acts. Judy Collins is scheduled Nov. 27.

. . .

But enough hustle-bustle. For escape, no better place exists than Plymouth Beach, 3 miles south of town on Route 3A. Turn left into the parking area, drive past the attendant's booth, which is closed in off season, and down the bumpy roadway to the end of the lot.

Sea ducks, shorebirds, even an occasional loon or a seal can be spotted in or near the water. The beach is about 3 miles long, and if you don't mind scrambling over rocks or plodding along a rutted roadway for a mile or so, you will eventually come to a beautiful, sandy stretch that you probably will have all to yourself.

Farther south on 3A, hugging the coast on Rocky Hill Road to Taylor Avenue and Manomet Point Road, is one of the most picturesque ocean drives this side of Maine.

Manomet Point Road dead-ends at the Lobster Pound, a fresh fish and takeout market. The parking lot behind the store is on a cliff high above the water, with a sweeping view of Cape Cod Bay, the Plymouth coastline, and Cape Cod itself, stretching east toward Provincetown.

Continuing south on 3A, about 5 miles north of the Cape Cod Canal, is a hidden waterfront haven: Ellisville Harbor State Park. Added to the state system in 1991, the park is 101 acres of forested uplands, meadows, bogs, salt marshes, and beach. A trail network leads visitors through the striking landscape.

Route 3 will take you back to Plymouth Center or other points north, but a more interesting route is Old Sandwich Road. This narrow roadway off Beaver Dam Road is just a dirt road in some places. It was once a path used by the Indians and later the Pilgrims, and winds through the pine woods and around hills and boulders.

Look around. Imagine what it was like for the Pilgrims, on foot or on horseback. If you go straight and follow the signs, the road will take you right to Plimoth Plantation -- a pleasant transition to the 1620s.

Robert Preer can be reached at

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