Revolutionary Road

Exploring early American history and New England cuisine in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and their isles.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Leslie A. Westbrook

Lighthouses are some of the most recognizable landmarks on the New England coastline, and the Sankaty Head Light is no exception. Built in 1850 on the easternmost point of Nantucket Island in the village of Siasconset, it alerted mariners to hazardous sho


oston makes an excellent beginning to any tour of the northeastern United States. Arriving a night early, my pre-tour included the fantastic Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the delightful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Another highlight was a delicious dinner at a Brazilian restaurant off the beaten tourist track— a great kickoff before a week of seafood, pilgrims and U.S. history lessons.

Day 1: History, Gilded Age splendor and lobster rolls
Forty-five people board the bus for the first day of a seven-night Islands of Massachusetts tour with travel company Collette. We are based in Provincetown, Rhode Island, for the first three nights, where we receive a crashcourse in U.S. history and the American Revolution, as well as more in-depth knowledge of the early colonies. We visit the impressive State House, drive past Brown University and learn about its founders, the Brown brothers, as well as all kinds of cool factoids about Providence from our great guide, Brenda. Later we take the bus to Newport, with enough time to sample a terrific lobster roll sold from the Newport Lobster Shack food truck, which boasts a fantastic view of the harbor. I feel obliged to sample a tasty bowl of original “clear broth” Rhode Island clam chowder at the atmospheric White Horse Tavern, opened in 1673 and one of the oldest bars in North America. It also appeared on the silver screen: Steven Spielberg filmed some scenes for Amistad here.

Another highlight: a tour of Marble House, one of the Gilded Age mansions. This 19th century “summer cottage,” built along the waterfront for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, allows a peek into another place and time in U.S. history. 

Back at home base in Providence, we enjoy a family-style Italian dinner, with enough platters of food to feed a Continental Army. 

Day 2: Early American History 2.0
The tour continues in Boston, where we walk a portion of the Freedom Trail, see Paul Revere’s house being restored, and visit the Old North Church (officially Christ Church, 1723, one of four churches and 16 stops on the trail). This is where, in 1775, American patriots (church sexton Robert Newman and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling Jr.) stole away in the middle of the night, climbed to the top of the steeple and hung two lanterns to warn the colonists/resistance movement that the Red Coats were coming by water. “One if by land, two if by sea” was Longfellow’s artistic license — the British actually crossed the Charles River. The event officially kicked off the American Revolution.

After our stroll, I enjoy a big bowl of plump mussels served at the counter/bar at “America’s oldest restaurant,” Union Oyster House (dating back to pre-Revolutionary times, it started serving food in 1826), frequented by many a patriot, including a young Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who is rumored to have loved the lobster stew for breakfast while poring over all the daily newspapers. 

Beantown is steeped in history — colonial days, the American Revolution, the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Fenway Park, black history and more. I could spend a week here. At day’s end, it’s time to pack up and relocate to the sea — and another day of adventures, both historical and culinary.

Day 3: Eat like a pilgrim
Bright and early, we pile onto the bus to hit the countryside, followed by the seaside town of Falmouth. En route we visit a dry cranberry bog and, later, a water mill where non-GMO organic fresh-ground cornmeal is available for purchase. We proceed to the heavily symbolic and very crowded Plymouth Rock. An “eat like a pilgrim” lunch at Plimoth Plantation included tasty turkey; squash flavored with ginger, pepper and vinegar; homemade bread; pickles, cheese and grapes — topped off with a pudding that tasted like a cross between pumpkin pie and gingerbread. The setting is a re-creation of early colonial life/living history museum. It was truly lovely, but I felt uncomfortable watching modern-day Native Americans on display demonstrating for the white man. 

Our Cape Cod accommodations for the next four nights of island explorations are at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel.

Day 4: Nantucket, here we come!
Our bus takes us to Hyannis, the “Capital of the Cape,” where a flock of geese wander at one of many JFK memorials we pass on the tour. From there, high-speed ferry Gray Lady 2 whisks us in just 40 minutes to the charming island of Nantucket, where I grab a clam chowder for $2.99 at the local Stop-N-Go market to eat on a bench harborside. This town is cute, filled with shops, and I am glad we are here at the end of the summer season, when crowds have thinned. We return to Hyannis and have another tasty Italian dinner — complete with a Littleneck clam shucking demo (yum!) and a scrumptious pork osso bucco.

Day 5: Martha’s Vineyard
We push off in the morning for Martha’s Vineyard and Edgartown, which boast a rich past and much living history. Our guide sprinkled bits of local gossip into her historic tour: naughty affairs of the Kennedys, juicy tidbits about Barbara Walters and others. What is it about islands that make people throw their cares to the wind? Ted Kennedy’s infamous Chappaquiddick accident occurred here, as well as the tragic plane crash that ended the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and her sister. The island is thick with both charm and dark energy. Still, this is an island I would like to return to and spend more time exploring.

Day 6: P-Town
It’s our last day and farewell dinner. I’ve opted out of the whale watching cruise and dunes exploration to spend the day poking around Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. Sometimes you just need a day of serendipity when traveling — and that’s the one thing often missing from group travel. I headed to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum where I chatted with another visitor, Mark. Turns out we shared a very good friend in common — 3,000 miles away! Mark and I wandered the town and I got a good dose of local gossip over Russian oysters (Wellfleets with sour cream and caviar) at Lobster Pot Restaurant and a glass of wine while Mark regaled me with stories of the town he knew so well. For a brief afternoon, I felt as if I belonged. 

Later at the hotel, we chowed down for our enormous, last-night lobster feed, with clams and mussels and corn on the cob. I had bonded with two wonderful women from Virginia and felt a special connection to Shirley, whose husband had worked for the State Department. We embraced as we said goodbye. Isn’t that what life is about? Memories and connections — and I took home both, feeling quite pleased in the end. 

The respected tour company offers trips around the globe including North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Antarctica. Knowledgeable guides with insider tips, excellent meals at local restaurants and roundtrip car service all contribute to this century-old outfit’s success. Islands of Massachusetts land tour from $1,999 per person/double occupancy. 800.528.0531,

Traffic on the 405 can cause significant delays for travelers en route to Los Angeles International Airport. One hassle-free way to start out (and end) your journey is the Hyatt Regency LAX. This freshly renovated hotel is within spitting distance of the airport, with modern rooms, airport shuttle, parking and an amazing staff (not to mention fab scallops in the restaurant). The Regency Club lounge even serves complimentary breakfast, snacks, hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Park your car at the hotel and take a shuttle to and from LAX. Hyatt Regency LAX, 6225 West Century Boulevard, Los Angeles, 424.702.1234,

A luxurious bedroom in Newport’s Marble House showcases the opulence and extravagance that came to define the Gilded Age.

Gingerbread cottages are a trademark of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

Plimoth Grist Mill at the living history museum of Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts.


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