Why Plymouth Rock Is New England’s Biggest Tourist Trap


Have you ever been to a tourist trap? A scam of a site, something over-hyped and talked about until it can’t possibly be worth it? The sort of thing you walk up to, snap a photo of and curse as you walk back to your car?

I saw one just the other day. It was Plymouth Rock, the lump of granite that supposedly marks the spot where a ragged band of English religious refugees washed up on Massachusetts’ shores.

It was such an awful disappointment, and here’s why.

There’s just nothing to it. You know why they call it Plymouth Rock? Because that’s all it is. A rock, covered by a little pavilion, guarded by a small rail. The day I visited, a historian was standing nearby, not doing much of anything.

Tourists, including me, would walk up, take a look, take a photo… and then shrug. There it is, I thought, if that’s actually the rock. Questions of authenticity were not assuaged, at least for me, by the fact that 1620 has been stamped into the stone and the sandy footing on which it rests has been manicured like a Japanese rock garden.

It reminded me of other totems to which we travel, only to tick them off our list. Old Faithful is one, the Statue of Liberty is another. You’ve heard so much about them, had them drilled into your head as an essential piece of American lore, heard grandiose promises about the meaning they hold. And yet nobody seems to actually enjoy them. When you visit, you visit to click the camera shutter and to say, “Oh yeah, I went there on vacation and saw it. Great time!” when you’re at a backyard barbecue with those neighbors you don’t really like. That’ll show ‘em.

Was it totally the worst thing ever to go see Plymouth Rock? Of course not. I’m sort of humble-bragging about it with this post! But there was so little happening aside from the rock itself-a few ice cream shops, a couple of t-shirt stands-there seemed little reason to visit Plymouth but to see the disappointing rock.

I could be wrong about that last bit. But I didn’t leave time to explore Plymouth. I was just there to see its Rock.