Not that long ago, there was only one way to get from Boston to the Cape. In its heyday, Route 53 was a critical connector between the city and the South Shore, but especially the Cape and the Islands. As a result, unique roadside businesses and other attractions sprouted up along the 22-mile route that cuts through Hingham, Norwell, Duxbury, Pembroke, and Weymouth among other South Shore communities. With the completion of the larger Route 3 in the early 1960s, Route 53 lost its vitality to the region but a number of its cool, quaint stops remain today, as well as some new spots catering to savvy locals.
“This place was built on people passing through on the way to the Cape,’’ says Tom Pierce, owner of Bongi’s Turkey Roost, which has sold turkeys in its Duxbury location since 1947. “This used to be the only place to get to the Cape so there’d be a traffic jam out front on Friday afternoons and Sundays.’’
Partly because of its length, Route 53 makes for the perfect day trip, and there’s something for everyone and every season. The offseason might be the best time to explore the road because, even though Route 3 dominates headlines, Route 53 Cape traffic can be tough as well. Here’s a sampling of five places to check out on a jaunt on one of New England’s classic back roads.
A unique nautical wonderland
After a long run in Quincy and Boston dating back to 1967, the Lannan Ship Model Gallery (483 Washington St., Norwell, 617-451-2650, lannangallery.com) moved to its new Norwell location in February 2017. This is a dream stop for any fan of antiques, nautical memorabilia, and New England history. Perhaps the most impressive items in the gallery’s collection are the museum-quality ship models.
A quirky turkey destination
At Bongi’s Turkey Roost (414 Kingstown Way, Duxbury, 781-585-2392, www.bongis.com), they’ve pretty much exhausted the different ways you can use a turkey. The poultry purveyor started as a chicken seller in Quincy but has been selling turkeys in the same Duxbury location since 1947. There were originally numerous turkey farms dotting the South Shore but Bongi’s has withstood the test of time and while they no longer raise turkeys on site, still come for fantastic grub. Turkey pot pies make for great take-home meals during the winter, and fried chicken with the fixings is a big hit for those heading to the Cape in the summer.
A pretty Pembroke pit stop
Just off Route 53 in Pembroke sits Canoe Club Preserve (75 Washington St., Pembroke, www.wildlandstrust.org/trail-canoe-club). A scenic boardwalk winds its way through tidal marshes and pockets of forest, making for a great way to stretch your legs as you work your way down the route. Numerous species of flora and fauna can be found in the preserve, and if you’re looking for more trails, you can drive 2 miles up Route 53 to Willow Brook Farm.
A quick taproom trip
Barrel House Z (95 Woodrock Road, Weymouth, 339-201-7888, www.barrelhousez.net) opened in 2016 and has quickly become a destination for local craft beer lovers. The brewery offers around a dozen unique creations at any one time in its tasting room, with names like “Townie Strong Irish Ale’’ and “Bamboozled by Hops.’’ Barrel House Z also hosts live music, trivia contests, and game nights.
A quaint place for local eats
In terms of great roadside grub and a cozy stop, you won’t do better than Strawberry Fair Restaurant (14 Pond St., Norwell, 781-878-7878, www.the strawberryfair.com). This popular local watering hole harkens back to a classic New England farmhouse. Even the outside waiting area resembles a front porch. Strawberry Fair caters to its fair share of road-trippers and puts an emphasis on local, fresh ingredients. The menu consists mainly of diner fair with an upscale twist, with the “breakfast pizza’’ open-face omelette and cornbread french toast serving as highlights.