When you hear the word “Massachusetts,” you might think about things like Boston; the Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics; the American Revolution; lobster; or colorful fall foliage. Massachusetts is known for these things and many more.
I’ve lived in Massachusetts for over two years now (been in New England for almost five!), and I’ve learned a lot about this state during that time.
Massachusetts is one of the smallest U.S. states but I’m always amazed by how much there is to see and do here. The state has a rich, diverse history where people from all walks of life come to live, work, and play.
Keep reading for a full list of things Massachusetts is known for, including popular cities and destinations, food items, sports, universities, famous people, and state “firsts.”
SHORT ON TIME?
Top things Massachusetts is known for:
🇺🇸 Colonial and Native American history
⚾️ Boston Red Sox and 🏀 Boston Celtics
🌊 Coastal escapes like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket
PLANNING A TRIP TO MASSACHUSETTS?
Check out these related posts:
13 Best Beaches in Massachusetts for Families in 2023
13 Awesome Family Day Trips in Massachusetts By Season
28 Hidden Gems in Massachusetts: Fun for All Ages!
What is Massachusetts known for?
Massachusetts is known for its prestigious universities and medical schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Tufts University, Boston College, and Boston University.
Massachusetts is also known for its beloved sports teams: the Red Sox for Major League Baseball, the Bruins for the National Hockey League, the New England Patriots for football, and the Celtics for the National Basketball Association.
Coastal destinations like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket attract millions of visitors each year and have become symbols of the state’s nautical charm.
Many people associate Massachusetts with Colonial American history, as it’s the site of several key events that led up to the American Revolution and the fight for independence from England.
Massachusetts also has a rich Native American history that far predates its colonial history. Several tribes were native to the state prior to the colonists’ arrival, including the Wampanoag, Massachusett, and Mohican tribes.
Cities and Destinations
Below are a few of the most well-known places in Massachusetts:
Boston is the capital of Massachusetts and in many ways is the capital of all of New England. This beloved city has something for everyone. Diehard sports fans love coming into town for a Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, or Bruins game.
History buffs enjoy exploring the endless list of historic attractions that point to the American Revolution, the Underground Railroad, and much more.
If you love to shop, you’ll never run out of places to browse, including Charles Street in Beacon Hill; Newbury Street and the Prudential Center in Back Bay; and Assembly Row in the suburb of Somerville.
Shopping complexes, sports stadiums, performance centers, universities, parks, museums, trails — you name it, Boston has it. There’s a reason it’s earned itself the name “The Hub of the Universe.”
Cape Cod is an idyllic coastal escape where both locals and out-of-towners flock during warmer months to experience the best of the Massachusetts shore. Coast Guard Beach is one of the best beaches to enjoy the sand and surf.
If you take a drive all the way to the end of the Cape, you’ll reach the hip and quirky town of Provincetown, filled with galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket
When on Cape Cod, it’s worth booking a ferry to one of Massachusetts’ iconic islands: Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Nantucket is a bit farther out and takes about two hours to get to by ferry, whereas you can arrive at Martha’s Vineyard in about 30 minutes.
Both islands are filled with coastal charm, offering a mix of local shopping, fine dining, beachcombing, hiking, and biking.
While visitors often think about the Massachusetts coast, the western side of the state can be equally stunning. The Berkshires region, in particular, is comprised of hilly landscapes and winding roads with quaint towns nestled throughout.
This area of the state is especially a hotspot in the fall and winter, for both the stunning foliage and the ski resorts. If you’re looking for a peaceful, rural escape, The Berkshires is where it’s at.
Massachusetts is known for many delicious food items that you have to try:
- Clam chowder: You may often find this spelled and pronounced as “chowdah.” This is a hearty soup loaded with clams, bacon, and seasonings and it’s a New England classic.
- Boston cream pie: This is a delicious cake with a thick custard filling and rich chocolate glaze. It’s SO GOOD.
- Lobster rolls: Lobster rolls are another staple food in New England and you’ll find roadside shacks and restaurants selling them all over Massachusetts.
- Boston baked beans: This dish is what gave Boston the nickname “Beantown.” What makes baked beans “Boston baked beans” is that they are slow-cooked in molasses, giving them a sweeter taste.
- Fried clams: These deep-fried and breaded clams were one of my dad’s favorite things. He was born in Massachusetts and every time he came back to the state, he had to scope out a place to order himself some fried clams.
- Oysters: There’s no flavor that can quite compare to oysters straight out of the ocean. I have often said that oysters basically taste like the ocean — wet, salty, and fishy.
- Dunkin’ Donuts: I was familiar with Dunkin’ growing up in Michigan, but in Massachusetts, Dunkin’ has a cult following. This popular chain was founded in Massachusetts and locals are crazy about it. You can find a Dunkin’ pretty much anywhere in the state.
- Cranberries: Cranberry bogs are a common feature in Massachusetts, and you can even take a tour at certain farms to see how cranberries are harvested.
- Cannolis: Boston’s North End, or “Little Italy,” is known as the place to go for an excellent cannoli. There are two popular cannoli shops that are in hot competition: Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry. Most locals seem to prefer Modern Pastry, saying they are fresher. I’ve tried both and liked them both, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide…
- Apple cider donuts: In the fall, you have to visit one of Massachusetts’s many farms and grab an apple cider donut…or two…or three.
Massachusetts has a great line-up of national teams with long-time histories:
- Boston Red Sox: This beloved baseball team has been around since 1901, making it one of the oldest teams in the country. Their home turf is Fenway Park, which has become a shrine for baseball lovers everywhere.
I’m not much into sports, and even I made it to a Red Sox game for the experience. It’s a must-do thing when you’re in Boston.
- Boston Celtics: This professional basketball team has won 17 NBA championships since its inception in 1946. It’s one of the most successful NBA teams in the country. Their home games take place at TD Garden in Boston.
- Boston Bruins: Massachusetts’ professional hockey team is based in Boston and has won six Stanley Cups since its founding in 1924. They were the first American team to join the NHL.
- New England Patriots: And of course, Massachusetts is home to the Patriots, New England’s NFL team that has won six Super Bowl titles.
Top Universities in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is known for its many world-class universities, including:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ranked #2 in the U.S.)
- Harvard University (ranked #3 in the U.S.)
- Boston College
- Tufts University
- Boston University
- Williams College
- Wellesley College
- Northeastern University
- Amherst College
- Smith College
- University of Massachusetts Amherst
Massachusetts is filled to the brim with National Historic Landmarks and other historic attractions. If you’re into history, Massachusetts will be a treasure trove for you. Below are a few of the key historic sites to explore:
Massachusetts is famous for Plymouth Rock in the town of – you guessed it – Plymouth. This rock is known as the site where the Mayflower Pilgrims first landed in 1620. Spoiler: The real first place where they landed was Provincetown on Cape Cod.
When in Plymouth, check out the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower ship, which is docked in Plymouth Harbor.
For a glimpse into life for Colonial English settlers and the Wampanoag People in the 17th century, you’ll also want to visit the Plimoth Patuxet Museums.
The Freedom Trail
Boston has many sites with historic significance, but a must-do activity within the city is walking the 1.5-mile Freedom Trail.
The trail is marked by a line along Boston’s streets that takes you past 16 key sites that played a role in the American Revolution.
A few of those sites include:
- Old North Church, where Paul Revere lit lanterns to signal that the British were coming
- Paul Revere House, where Revere once lived
- Faneuil Hall, where many Patriot rallies took place in the days leading up to the war
Minute Man National Historical Park
Located in Concord, Massachusetts, Minute Man National Historical Park marks the place where the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place — the first battles in the American Revolution.
Walk across Old North Bridge, where it’s said that the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired, signaling the beginning of the war.
📖 When in Concord, it’s also worth exploring the town’s rich literary history, including the former homes of beloved authors Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
Salem Witch Museum
Salem, Massachusetts is infamously known as the place where the Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692.
During these trials, 25 innocent men, women, and children were killed by hanging after being accused of witchcraft. To learn more about this dark part of early American history, visit the Salem Witch Museum.
While in Salem, you can also visit the Witch House, the only structure in town with a direct connection to the Salem Witch Trials. This house was the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin who presided over the trials.
Famous People from Massachusetts
Several prominent people were/are from Massachusetts, including:
The first governor of Massachusetts and the first to sign the Declaration of Independence was from Braintree, Massachusetts (part of Quincy today).
Louisa May Alcott
The beloved author of the novel Little Women was born and raised in Concord, Massachusetts. Her family home, Orchard House, is still standing and open to public tours.
John F. Kennedy
The 35th U.S. president was born just outside of Boston in Brookline, Massachusetts.
George H.W. Bush
America’s 41st president was born in Milton, Massachusetts.
The actor known for his roles in movies like The Fighter and The Departed is from Dorchester in Boston. He was the youngest of nine children in a working-class family.
This actress, comedian, writer, and producer known for her roles in Saturday Night Live and Parks & Recreation was born in Newton, Massachusetts.
He became famous through his role in the film Good Will Hunting, which was set in Boston. He himself grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just over the Charles River from Boston.
With Massachusetts being one of the first U.S. states, it probably doesn’t come as a shock that it’s known for many other “firsts” in the U.S., including:
- First lighthouse: Boston Light (est. 1716)
- First public park: Boston Common (est. 1634)
- First subway system: MBTA (or the “T”, est. 1895)
- First public school: Boston Latin School (est. 1635)
- First printed book: The Bay Psalm Book (1640)
Other things Massachusetts is known for
But wait, there’s more! Here are a few other things Massachusetts is known for:
New England is one of the best places in the country for fall foliage, and Massachusetts is known for a few leaf-peeping hotspots, including the Mohawk Trail and the Berkshires region in the western part of the state.
Boston is also beautiful in the fall, especially in Boston Common and the Public Garden, where you can see all the vibrant colors in the trees.
Massachusetts can get crazy in the winter, thanks to ocean-effect snow and wind. It’s not uncommon for snowstorms to bring more than a foot of snow.
And with snow comes the fight for parking spaces in Boston. Check out my detailed post on parking space-saving in Boston. It’s a thing.
Massachusetts locals have a reputation for their one-of-a-kind accent. I’m not from here originally, and I’ve learned I should never attempt to speak the accent because I won’t get it right.
You’ve probably heard the cliche phrase that popularized the accent, “Pahk the cahr in Havahd Yahd.” Well, say it out loud here and locals will likely roll their eyes and instantly know you’re from somewhere else. 😉
Did you know Massachusetts has one of the largest turkey populations in the country? Turkeys used to be endangered here, but these hardy birds had a comeback, and now you can find over 30,000 turkeys all over the state.
They are known to appear even in suburban and urban areas. Gobble gobble.
Traffic in Massachusetts can be really bad, especially in the Boston metro region and anywhere along the coast where it’s more densely populated.
Many towns were constructed before there were cars, so roads aren’t laid out in a grid pattern. Expect lots of winding roads, and for the GPS to be your best friend.
One of the first things I learned after moving to Massachusetts, other than the fact that driving in Boston is crazy, is that Massachusetts drivers are known as “Massholes.” The term speaks for itself.
I’m not sure if I would call people here “bad” drivers, but they are definitely impatient. There will be lots of honking if you wait too long to press on the gas when a light turns green.
At the same time, people can be surprisingly courteous, flashing their lights to indicate you can turn in front of them even when they have right of way. (Whatever it takes to keep the flow of traffic going is my guess.)
More questions about Massachusetts
What fruit is Massachusetts known for?
Massachusetts is probably best known for its cranberries. It’s the second highest-producing state for cranberries in the United States, after Wisconsin.
Cranberry farming started on Cape Cod back in the 1800s, and most people are likely familiar with the Ocean Spray cranberry brand that is headquartered in Middleborough, MA.
Massachusetts is also a top producer of apples in the country, which isn’t hard to believe if you live here. There are so many apple orchards in this small state, and apple-picking is a favorite pastime for friends and families in the fall.
What is the Massachusetts capital?
The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, which was established in 1630. It’s the fourth-oldest city in the U.S., following St. Augustine, Florida (1565); Santa Fe, New Mexico (1607); and New York, New York (1624).
What are the Massachusetts state symbols?
These are the main state symbols of Massachusetts:
- State bird: Black-capped chickadee
- State tree: American elm
- State flower: Mayflower
- State dog: Boston Terrier
- State dessert: Boston Cream Pie
Conclusion: Massachusetts is known for many things
…and you should visit!
Want to learn more about the best places to visit in Massachusetts?
Check out these posts: