New Bedford, Massachusetts: Rich history, off-the-boat seafood and a vibrant cultural community have made this coastal city New England’s newest getaway hot spot.
The best things in life are often unexpected. At first glance, the city of New Bedford, located on Massachusetts’ South Coast, looks a lot like any working class coastal city in New England. Red-brick mills line its waterfront, the busy harbor crammed with scallop boats. But take a stroll through New Bedford’s lively downtown and it won’t take long to realize that you’ve come to an extraordinary place.
Made famous by Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” New Bedford was the wealthiest city per capita in America at the whaling industry’s height in the 19th century. Throughout its history, the city has also been known as a manufacturing center, with textiles, fine glassware and other goods produced in its factories.
One of the best ways to get a sense of that history is to make a stop at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Located opposite the harbor on Johnny Cake Hill — in what is now part of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park — the museum is home to a treasure trove of maritime artifacts, including paintings, a half-scale whaling ship and an impressive collection of scrimshaw. The museum is also dedicated to educating visitors about species conservation, making it a great place for families with curious kids.
Home to an ever-growing cultural scene, including live theater, music and the visual arts, New Bedford’s downtown offers a number of galleries and unique shops — you won’t find chain stores — including the swanky Travessia Urban Winery, where a tasting flight is
just $6 and all of the wines are made on-site from grapes grown in southeastern Massachusetts.
Just outside downtown, foodies can treat themselves to a shopping spree at Sid Wainer & Son, one of the country’s largest purveyors of gourmet dry goods and artisanal cheeses. Fans of television remodeling shows won’t want to miss New England Demolition & Salvage, which features hundreds of claw-foot bathtubs, vintage light fixtures and stained glass windows saved from older homes.
Other fantastic side trips include a visit to The Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum, the home of a former whaling captain on stately County Street, and The New Bedford Museum of Glass on Wamsutta Street which houses a large collection of art glass.
As one of the nation’s busiest working ports since the nation’s inception, New Bedford has always featured an ethnically and culturally diverse population. Today the city is home to the largest Portuguese-American community in the country, a positive influence on the menus of the city’s restaurants. In addition to fresh seafood — especially scallops right from the decks of the harbor’s boats — specialties including Portuguese kale soup, crusty homemade breads, and pizza topped with pineapple and linguica sausage abound. All this great food is both delicious and affordable, with the average price of entrees in New Bedford well below what you’ll find in most other New England cities.
To fully experience what New Bedford has to offer, you’ll want to stay overnight. Owned by New Bedford native Al Saulniers and his wife, Suzanne, The Orchard Street Manor B&B is a lovely inn located just minutes from the harbor and downtown. In addition to a comfortable homelike setting, guests are treated each morning to Al’s wonderful homemade muffins. Visitors also can enjoy the collection of art and antiques that the Saulniers have gathered over decades of world travel. Perhaps the best thing about The Orchard Street Manor, however, is Al himself. Truly enthusiastic about his city, he is an incredible source of historical and anecdotal information that you’ll be hard pressed to find in any book.
Other accommodation options in the city include a few other inns and a new 82-room harborside hotel.
Just a two-hour drive from the Merrimack Valley, New Bedford’s friendly people (strangers will often say hello), incredible history, waterfront location and affordable prices make the city a must for weekend travelers.
Destination New Bedford
New Bedford Whaling Museum
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
Travessia Urban Winery
Sid Wainer & Son
New England Demolition & Salvage
The Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum
The New Bedford Museum of Glass
The Orchard Street Manor B&B