They can be iconic and familiar to everyone, or known by just a select few.
They can feature the Atlantic Ocean — the South Shore is replete with spectacular seaside locales — but also can be land-locked.
For people seeking a quick getaway, it is easy to get lost in the presence of a breathtaking vista. Here are the five that we consider the best of the best south of Boston.
On a crystal-clear late spring day, the view from atop Great Hill in North Weymouth at Great Hill Park was great. And about to get even greater.
John MacLeod, a construction supervisor and project manager for Weymouth, was overseeing park upgrades approved by the Town Council last October, funded by revenue from a new meals tax.
The work, part of $400,000 in improvements at three parks, included clearing away some brush that interfered with the view, building a handicapped-accessible observation platform, and improving a picnic area.
MacLeod said he expects the work to be completed by July 1, in time for the town’s Independence Day fireworks display on July 3. Great Hill offers a front-row seat for the festivities.
Even without fireworks, there are commanding views of the Harbor Islands, the Wessagusset and George Lane beaches, the Fore River, and the Boston skyline beyond.
Great Hill has been a landmark since the first European settlers arrived in what was called Wessagusset in the early 17th century.
In 1885, the town of Weymouth and the Weymouth Historical Society published “A Historical Sketch of the Town of Weymouth 1622-1884,” which said there are only two hills of prominence in the town.
“Great Hill, on the shore of the bay, and King Oak Hill, about two miles further south. From the summits of both are to be seen some of the finest views in the state,” wrote Gilbert Nash, recording secretary of the society.
The hill, he wrote, “was a landmark to the early voyagers about Massachusetts Bay, and has since served the same useful purpose to their successors.”
Where the river runs
The headwaters of the North River are in Hanson, and the river flows under State Street into Hanover, through Pembroke, Norwell, and Marshfield before emerging in Scituate, forming a natural boundary between towns.
It is a truly scenic river, and has been declared so by state law. In 1978, the Legislature passed The Scenic and Recreational River Protective Order for North River, and gave the North River Commission the power to oversee anything on the river and as far as 300 feet from the river’s shores.
Judy Grecco, administrator for the commission, said her agency has played a major role in controlling development along the river, preserving its natural beauty.
The North River and South River meet and enter the Atlantic Ocean between the Third and Fourth Cliff areas of Scituate’s Humarock section, and this area offers the most spectacular views on the river.
At 2000 Main St. in Marshfield, Mass Audubon operates the North River Wildlife Sanctuary. The river winds along its northern boundary, and its fields, oak forest, and salt marsh attract an array of birds, while seals are often visible from the riverside platform.
Hilltops and bogs
The Blue Hills Reservation, operated by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, offers world-class vistas all around its 7,000 acres in Milton, Canton, Braintree, Quincy, Randolph, and Dedham.
There are unimpeded 360-degree views from atop three of the Blue Hills: Great Blue, Bucks, and Chickatawbut.
Great Blue offers the Eliot Observation Tower at its 635-foot summit, which on Columbus Day weekend offers a panoply of blazing fall colors as far as the eye can see, from one of the highest points along the East Coast.
But two people who are closely involved in the day-to-day working of the park have a more intimate, year-round favorite: the boardwalk around Ponkapoag Pond in Canton.
“You’ll be walking along and you don’t realize where you are, just seven miles from the city,” said Lieutenant Tom Bender, South Coast district ranger for the DCR. “You’re on a bog floating on the water. It’s kind of special.”
Judy Jacobs, executive director of the Friends of the Blue Hills, said she also finds it a peaceful place for reflection.
“You can lose yourself in there,” she said.
Echoes of shipbuilding
As a member of Congress, John Quincy Adams promoted legislation that provided $5,000 to construct the Ned’s Point Lighthouse in 1837, during Mattapoisett’s run as a significant shipbuilding harbor.
The iconic structure — one of the smallest remaining working lighthouses on Buzzards Bay — has picturesque Mattapoisett Harbor as its backdrop, and in high summer is a popular spot for wedding photos and camera-toting tourists.
And while Ned’s Point reigns supreme, longtime Mattapoisett resident Carol Loughlin said the area boasts other superb views, many to be had just driving along Mattapoisett Neck Road.
“We love the area where the Mattapoisett Rail Trail begins at Mattapoisett Neck Road,” she said. “It’s a great place to picnic.”
For something offbeat, she advises a visit to “Salty,” the 38-foot-tall sea horse at the intersection of Route 6 and North Street, built by the owners of the Dunseith Sea Horse Gift Shop to snag travelers to Cape Cod before Interstate 195 was built.
Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted has left his mark on so many green spaces in eastern Massachusetts that it is hardly surprising to find an example of his work in this area.
World’s End, managed by the Trustees of Reservations, is a 251-acre Hingham coastscape with rolling hills, rocky shorelines, and sweeping views of the Boston skyline.
The 4 miles of tree-lined carriage paths designed by Olmsted were part of a subdivision that had been planned for the property, and now make fine walking trails.
The property also is right for picnicking, jogging, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, or simply enjoying nature and the outdoors.
For Meghan Connolly, the trustees’ education and interpretation coordinator, the vista in the Rocky Neck area of the property — just up the hill past the ice pond — is a favorite.
“You come around a bend and emerge from the understory onto an open rock cliff where you can see both of the islands, the strip of land that attaches them, and the skyline behind it,” she said.
Her remarks sum up what makes all of these sites special.
Rich Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.