Until recently, everything we knew about Scituate came from an episode of HGTV’s “My Lottery Dream Home.” The show featured a Massachusetts woman who won big bucks and bought an oceanfront property there. Host David Bromstad, who lives in Orlando, was besotted by this slice of coastal Massachusetts, with its foamy surf and gray-shingled cottages. Scitu-what? We couldn’t have pinpointed this South Shore town on a map.
It isn’t just us. Typically, the shore-hugging homes and restaurants here are filled by long-time local folk, plus summer residents and their guests. Tourists? Not so much, says Judy Byrne-Ariel, a Scituate resident for 50 years, who’s on the board of directors of the Scituate Visitors Center. “Scituate has been off the radar of tourists simply because we have never presented ourselves as a travel destination,” she explains.
That’s not for lack of activities. Located along the soon-to-launch South Shore Irish Heritage Trail, Scituate (population around 19,000) has five beaches, four rivers, a brewery, hiking trails, an historic tavern, several independent shops, fresh seafood, and fishing tours aplenty. This summer, new restaurants and new harbor cruises have joined the mix. New plaques now outline Scituate’s Cultural District, and the harborfront has been revitalized. Plus, planning a visit will be easier soon, when the new Scituate Visitor Center website goes live.
One reason you might’ve missed Scituate: Although the town is about halfway between Boston and Cape Cod, no highways run through it. You’ll meander off Pilgrims Highway (Route 3) for about 20 minutes, through neighboring Marshfield or Norwell, to get here. But it’s a nice, leafy drive once you exit the highway. You could also take the MBTA commuter rail to Greenbush or North Scituate, but you’ll be pretty stuck without a car.
Get your Irish on
Did some Irish pop up in your 23andme profile? You’ll feel right at home: Scituate has been designated as the most Irish town in America. Data from the US census found that the town is home to a higher concentration of people who trace their heritage to Ireland than any other place in the United States —nearly 50 percent of residents claim Irish ancestry. According to the New England Historical Society, Irish immigrants began arriving in Boston during the Irish potato famine, starting in 1842. Daniel Ward, an Irish immigrant, headed south and started collecting seaweed, a trade called mossing, in the 1850s in Scituate. Others followed, and built Victorian mansions along the coast that still stand today.
Mossing involved using heavy rakes to scrape Irish moss, or red algae, off the seafloor at low tide. The moss was used as a thickening agent and stabilizer in some medicines, plus ice cream, beer, wine, and in the textile trade. A good sea-mosser could gather 1,000 pounds of the stuff a day, according to the historical society. While that industry is long-gone — the last commercial moss farmer, Lucien Rousseau, died in 1983 — Scituate’s identity as an Irish-Catholic enclave remains. To get a sense of the town’s past, stop into the Maritime & Mossing Museum (www.scituatehistoricalsociety.org) at 301 Driftway, currently open on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m.
Given its deep connection to Ireland, Scituate will be a stop along the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail (www.ssiht.com), running from Weymouth to Plymouth and set to launch next March. Narratives will tell the story of Irish immigrants who built a new life in America. Cape Verdeans, “who have contributed in a large way to our fishing industry,” are also well-represented in Scituate, Byrne-Ariel says. A harborwalk, starting at Cole Parkway, is lined with panels that highlight Scituate’s maritime history.
In typical summers, Scituate hosts celebrations galore. Events such as Paddle Parade, Heritage Days, and Friday Night Fish Fries add to the small-town vibe. Some of these are still pending for 2021. “I would describe the soul of Scituate as ‘Hometown America,’” says Byrne-Ariel.
The town has four village districts, North Scituate, Greenbush-Driftway, Scituate Harbor, and Humarock, the smallest. Humarock is an interesting place — it’s a 3-mile peninsula that stretches into Cape Cod Bay, lined with summer homes (and lots of signs that say “private” and “no parking”). You get the sense that everyone knows each other and that these beach cottages get passed on from family member to family member — not a lot of “For Sale” signs here.
Hike, eat, repeat
This is a coastal town, so of course you’re thinking “beach.” But beaches are a sticking point here, and we’re not talking sticky sand. To snag one of the 200 parking spots at Peggotty Beach, a pleasant half-mile scoop of hard-packed sand, visitors must purchase a one-day, nonresident parking sticker for $20 at the Harbormaster’s Office (100 Cole Parkway), for use on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. You can get around this if you’re willing to park in downtown Scituate Harbor and walk (about a mile) to Peggotty Beach. There’s also a small, pebbly beach at Old Scituate Lighthouse (see below) with parking (yay!) and a jetty. The other local beaches have resident parking only, or no parking at all, although “anyone can walk onto any beach in town at no cost,” Byrne-Ariel notes. (Note to the reader who always asks: We are told that the beaches offer portable restrooms in summertime.) Town officials are looking into offering bus service from the T stations to local beaches, a visitor-friendly move, but that’s not a reality right now.
Scituate Harbor is dandy for strolling, though. Park at the wharf, or street-side, and start with a coffee and a scone at Lucky Finn Café (www.luckyfinncafe.com) and wander in and out of small specialty shops along Front Street like Joye (www.joyegifts.com) and Expressions (www.expressionsscituate.com), purveyors of artisan-made goods, Goodie’s II (antiques), Native (indigenous tribal folk art and jewelry; www.shopnativeonline.com), and Harbor Light Toys & Candy (www.harborlighttoys.com). (Independent shops are sprinkled throughout Scituate’s neighborhoods, along with your typical CVS and Dunks.)
Feel like signing up for a fishing charter or boat excursion? Book a tour in Scituate Harbor. We hear good things about Captain Don Campbell of Labrador Fishing Charters (www.labradorfishingcharters.com).
Tucked behind the businesses on Front Street is a Scituate staple, Mill Wharf Restaurant (www.millwharf.com). Located at the site of an old mill, this one is open for lunch and dinner, with a raw bar, indoor seating, and outdoor dining on the water. There’s a more casual lounge upstairs. Lump crab cakes ($16) are a signature dish, and not your usual preparation; the crab is mixed with corn, bacon, tomato, and scallions, served with corn-and-cream beurre blanc.
Walk off lunch with a ramble at the Old Scituate Lighthouse, located a short drive from downtown on Cedar Point. One of seven properties maintained by the Scituate Historical Society (www.scituatehistoricalsociety.org), the 1½-story, c.1810 lighthouse is the 11th oldest in the nation and remains lit. Occasionally, the light tower is open to visitors. Another lighthouse, Minot’s Ledge Light, stands about 1 mile off Scituate Neck.
Or head for a trail at one of Scituate’s Conservation Land & Trails properties. We liked 334-acre Driftway Conservation Park (www.scituatema.gov), located about 1½ miles from Scituate Harbor, not far from the Greenbush MBTA station. A boardwalk and a series of short trails wind through woodlands and alongside salt marshes, with nice views of the Herring River.
Then there’s that other kind of liquid — beer. A Scituate native, Matt Elder, is the founder of Untold Brewery (www.untoldbrewing.com), opened in 2017. The taproom is situated in a renovated c.1852 schoolhouse, if you please, and they’ll school you in all things related to craft bee-ah. At this combination brewery/taproom/patio (where leashed dogs are permitted), they serve a rotating and diverse selection of IPAs, pale ales, lagers, fruited sours, and stouts.
For dinner, the time-honored choice is the Barker Tavern (www.barkertavern.com). This handsome historic building includes elements that date back to 1634, they say. Open for dinner only, this one has an old-school (in a good way) feel and menu. Seafood is a mainstay here; there’s a raw bar and a seafood casserole with lobster, shrimp, and scallops topped with a buttery Ritz cracker stuffing ($42). Besides the tavern’s main dining room, there’s the more casual Eli’s Pub.
While most guests from the Boston area will likely come for the day — ”We envision a good part of our tourist traffic to be day-trippers,” Byrne-Ariel says — you can spend the night if you time it right. There’s an inn in the ‘hood, the 29-room Inn at Scituate Harbor (www.innatscituate.com; rates from $199.) We say ‘time it right’, because Scituate’s only inn books up quickly on summer weekends. But you could luck out during the week. The inn has a heated indoor pool, and views of Scituate Harbor and the lighthouse from every room.
A sign in the inn’s lobby reads: “Perfectly situated.” Pop on down and see if you agree. Maybe you’ll even do some house-hunting yourself, after you’ve scratched off that winning lottery ticket.
For information, visit www.scituatema.gov.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org