The Thrifty New England Traveler is a blog of VisitingNewEngland, a web site that features real New England travel stories told by a lifelong local.

6 Low-Key Summer Vacation Travel Things to Do Near Boston

We are in the middle of summer vacation – yay! The bad news is, of course, that more traffic jams occur en route to beaches and popular attractions.  If you are not up for the crowds and seek something more low-key, we have uncovered six summer vacation travel things to do not too far from Boston that are always fun, affordable, convenient and away from the Boston, Cape Cod and Hampton Beach traffic.

While it’s true that some of New England’s greatest summer travel attractions are worth sitting in traffic to get to, sometimes you just have to say “The heck with it” (or something stronger), and just stay local. We have always found these simple, yet fun destinations as a great alternative to the great big, summer travel crowds…

Go out for some barbecued foods

Picture of Commonwealth BBQ, Wrentham MA

Do you love BBQ foods, but don’t feel like firing up the grill this weekend? Commonwealth BBQ in Wrentham, Mass., is a fantastic roadside shack that should should satisfy your BBQ food cravings. The aroma of smokers at this south of Boston drive-in gives visitors a hint from from the start that authentic south of the Mason Dixon Line BBQ foods will saturate your plates and satiate your and appetites. The meats are pit smoked over hard woods for several hours, and the results are nothing short of fabulous. Recommendation: the Wampum Sampler that serves two to three people for $35.95. It includes more than five lbs. of food with pork, brisket, chicken, sausage, a half rack of St. Louis ribs, fries, sweet fries, beans, cole slaw, veggies and cornbread. Amazing! Commonwealth BBQ is about an hour drive from Boston.

Commonwealth BBQ is located at 659 South St., (Route 1A) in Wrentham, Mass. Tel. (508) 384-9676. Web site:

Enjoy an ice cream stand

Image of Bubbling Brook ice cream stand, Westwood MA

There’s something “so summer” about going out to the local ice cream stand. Bubbling Brook in Westwood seems to best catch the essence of that seasonal experience with the order-at-the-counter format, picnic benches, a pleasing little brook, surrounding farmland and ice cream that makes you wish this place was open year-round. Yes, the crowds go against the theme of this article here, but it’s not exactly like a six-mile Cape Cod backup at the Bourne Bridge. We’ve never had to wait for more than 15 minutes, which is nothing compared to waiting a whole winter season to wait for this place to open. The ice cream is fine, the overall summer ice cream stand experience even better. Plus, Bubbling Brook has a nice, small restaurant with great fried food and homemade daily specials. Recommended ice cream: any of the the “Brook Blast” soft serve ice cream selections with fruit and candy mix-ins. Regarding just a regular ice cream flavor, go with the Heavenly Hash. This flavor — once made famous by Sealtest — is increasingly hard to find in Massachusetts. Heavenly Hash is made with vanilla and chocolate ice cream filled with white vanilla marshmallow swirls, chopped almonds, and dark chocolate chunks. Bubbling Brook is about a 45 drive from Boston.

Bubbling Brook is located at 1652 High St. Westwood, Mass. (tel. (781) 762-9860. Web site:

Relax at the park

Picture of Colt State Park, Bristol RI

Colt State Park in Bristol, R.I., isn’t like most other parks, and that’s a good thing. This 464-acre park with beautiful landscaping and sweeping, picture-perfect panoramic Narragansett Bay views offers four miles of bike paths along the bay, more than 400 picnic tables at six groves, 10 playing fields, abundant groomed fruit trees and other colorful plant life, and an open-air chapel-by-the-sea — perfect for an ideal coastal New England wedding. What a great place for a picnic, kite flying, a refreshing stroll, bike riding, or just a chance to commune with Mother Nature. Admission is free, too!  Bristol is about an hour and 15 minute drive from Boston.

Colt State Park is located on Route 114 in Bristol, R.I. (401) 253-7482

Go see the flowers

Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

Located in one of Massachusetts’ most picturesque small towns, the Bridge of Flowers will no doubt please flower-lovers and probably even those that are indifferent towards looking at plant life. The former trolley bridge features 400 ft. of more than 500 varieties of flowers, shrubs and vines with great views of the Deerfield River! Added bonus: within a five minute walk of the Bridge of Flowers, you will find 50 or so glacial potholes at Salmon Falls in the downtown district. The glacial potholes range in size from six inches in diameter to 39-feet across. Wow, how often do you see that?! Shelburne Falls is about a  two-hour drive from Boston.

The Bridge of Flowers is located off Wilson St., downtown. More on Shelburne Falls

Get wimpy at an independent bookstore
An Unlikely Story bookstore, Plainville MA
Jeff Kinney, author of the famous Diary of a Wimpy Kids book series, recently opened An Unlikely Story bookstore in his hometown of Plainville, Mass. The building is beautiful with an impressive bookstore, cafe and event space. Formerly Falk’s Market — which fell into blighted disrepair after its closure many years ago — An Unlikely Story has brought back to life the cornerstone commercial center of downtown Plainville by honoring the building’s history. With a front porch, lots of wood decor touches, and a real community feel, it’s easy to get a good read on this place right away — that is, the store is fantastic! An Unlikely Story is about an hour drive from Boston.

An Unlikely Story is located at 111 South St., Plainville, Mass. Tel. (508) 699-0244. Web site:

Share your love of New England on

York, Maine Gift Corner

Nubble Lighthouse 8X10 unframed photo print

Long Sands Beach throw pillow

Nubble Lighthouse white sweatshirt

Long Sands Beach 8X10 unframed photo print

Nubble Lighthouse two-sided throw pillow

York Harbor throw pillow

Nubble Lighthouse wall clock

Twilight at Sohier Park unframed photo print

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