Chartered as long ago as 1640, Braintree is a South Shore town that once included Quincy in its boundaries.
That means some pivotal figures in the early history of the United States were born within Braintree’s original limits, among them John Adams, John Quincy Adams and John Hancock.
Another important person born in Braintree was the military engineer General Sylvanus Thayer (1785-1872), who was responsible for reorganizing West Point into the academy recognized today.
Thayer’s birthplace is in the care of the Braintree Historical Society and has period rooms decorated as they would have been in the year of his birth.
Braintree is also home to the massive South Shore Plaza, the largest mall in the region and one of the largest in the country.
1. Blue Hills Reservation
On the granite slopes In the west of Braintree is one of the largest undeveloped spaces in Greater Boston.
The Blue Hills Reservation is a 7,000-acre state park containing a long chain of peaks that reaches its highest point at the 635-foot Great Blue Hill.
Only a couple of minutes from South Shore Plaza you’ll find the eastern trailhead and parking lot for the blue-blazed Skyline Trail, which takes in several summits including Blue Hill, for awe-inspiring vistas of the Boston skyline.
In all there are 125 miles of trails in the reservation, and the sections south of I-93 and west of Route 28 are primed for mountain biking.
2. General Sylvanus Thayer Birthplace
The anchor for the Braintree Historical Society campus is the birthplace of Sylvanus Thayer (1785-1872).
An advocate of engineering education, he is remembered as the “Father of West Point”, becoming superintendent of the academy in 1817 and establishing a curriculum that has partly endured to this day.
The Sylvanus Birthplace was relocated to this plot on the Town Hall Mall in 1960, and is a 2 ½-story saltbox house, built in 1720 by Sylvanus’s grandfather, Nathaniel Thayer.
The building gained its current appearance around 1800, and about two thirds of the timbers are original.
Inside are preserved period rooms from the year of Thaye’s birth, and exhibits documenting the railroads, military history and industry in Braintree, in particular the handheld fan-making trade in the 19th century.
3. South Shore Plaza
Next to the Braintree Split interchange on I-93 is the largest mall in New England, and one of the 16 largest in the United States.
In the Simon Property Group, South Shore Mall opened as an outdoor shopping center in 1961, and was enclosed by the mid-1970s and greatly expanded in the early 90s.
At the last count there were almost 200 tenants here, a small selection of which included Nordstrom, Sears, Macy’s, Target, Primark, Apple, Gap, H&M, Hollister, J. Crew, LEGO, Loft, Old Navy, Sephora and The North Face.
The food court is in great shape, and has a branch of the beloved local chain Pizzeria Regina, with locations for Red Robin, Chipotle, California Pizza Kitchen and The Cheesecake Factory found elsewhere.
For a movie, the AMC Braintree 10 is on the other side of Route 1 at the South Shore Place shopping center.
Since this was all one town until 1792, Braintree’s history overlaps with the neighboring city of Quincy, dubbed the City of Presidents.
At the Adams National Historical Park you can visit the birthplaces of second president John Adams (1735-1826), and his son, sixth president John Quincy Adams (1767-1848).
This is just one of numerous historic sites connected to the Adams and Quincy families, including Founding Father John Hancock (1737-1793), whose birthplace is the site of the Quincy Historical Society.
Quincy also has a beautiful shoreline, with the 2.5-mile Wollaston Beach facing the Boston Harbor Islands and backed by veteran eateries for lobster rolls and fried clams.
5. Washington Street
This thoroughfare runs north to south down the spine of Braintree, from the town line with Quincy all the way down to Holbrook.
The northern half of Washington Street threads through two local commercial areas at Braintree Square and South Braintree Square.
The latter, at the intersection with Peart St, is bursting with independent restaurants for pho, sushi, Thai, diner food, Italian, South Shore-style bar pizza and breakfast food.
Washington Street also passes in front of the Town Hall, fronted by the Town Hall Mall, an historic strip of greenery for outdoor events like the summer farmers’ market.
6. United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum & USS Salem
East Braintree is on the Weymouth Fore River, and from 1883 this was the first site for the Fore River Shipyard, which relocated to Quincy Point in 1901.
The yard mostly built ships for the U.S. Navy, and was invaluable to the nation’s WWII effort after production had been ramped up in 1938.
One boat launched from the shipyard was the Des Moines-class heavy cruiser, USS Salem (1943), which is now docked as a museum ship on the Fore River.
You could spend hours exploring the labyrinthine bowels of this 700-foot ship, and will stumble upon exhibits relating to the shipyard, model ships, historic weapons and artifacts from more than 100 U.S. Navy cruisers.
7. Braintree Farmers’ Market
The Town Hall Mall is the apt venue for a farmers’ market, setting up on Saturdays, 9 – 1, mid-June through mid-October.
This is a bustling community event organized by volunteers and with lots of activities and entertainment throughout the season.
We would need a whole article to detail everything sold at the market, but for an outline there’s local fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meats, granola, eggs, honey, flowers, plants, preserves, sauces, cheeses, maple syrup, fresh roasted coffee, pickles, cookies, bread and pies.
You can also choose from a cosmopolitan array of food to go, like Colombian-style arepas and lamb kabob bowls, while later in the year there’s an adorableThanksgiving market in front of the Town Hall.
8. Pond Meadow Park
Built for flood protection in the 1970s, the 20 acre pond at the heart of this park is on Smelt Brook, which flows northwards and joins the Monatiquot River.
The pond is couched in 320 acres of woodland, laced with miles of color-coded trails, including a 1.5-mile paved loop around the water.
The paths can be surprisingly steep, and wind through forests of birch, sumac, pine, maple, sassafras and cedar, occasionally passing sizable granite boulders.
By the pond you’ll catch sight of turtles in summer, and if you’re here for fishing then bass, bullhead, pickerel, sunfish and bluegill are the main species.
9. Gilbert L. Bean Barn and Mary Bean Cunningham Resource Center
On the same campus as the General Sylvanus Thayer Birthplace is a colonial-style barn that was raised in 1975 as an accompaniment.
This structure has a post and beam construction, replicating the style of early American barns in the 17th and 18th centuries. Inside, you can peruse a variety of artifacts harking back to colonial Braintree.
The Mary Bean Cunningham Resource Center is an extension that was completed in 1995, housing the historical society’s library and resource center, as well as providing a climate-controlled space for its considerable collections.
10. Sunset Lake
Surely one of the prettiest local spots is this town-owned, 58-acre lake on the south side of Braintree.
Framed by waterfront houses and apartment complexes, the lakeshore is dotted with little parks and recreation areas, as well as Braintree High School to the northwest.
On the eastern shore is Sunset Lake Beach and Park, open for swimming and sunbathing in the summer months.
The bandstand on the beach hosts a weekly concert series in summer, with shows on Tuesday nights in a wide range of genres throughout the season.
Southeast, at the corner of Pond and Washington Streets is the picturesque Furlong Park, with flowerbeds, little lawns, ample tree cover and a small picnic area.
11. Watson Park
This 22-acre park is on an attractive stretch of the Monatiquot River, with views of anchored yachts and a line of grand houses on the Weymouth side of the river.
At Watson Park you can get onto the Monatiquot River Walk, which continues along the bank for a mile, leading downstream through stands of oak and sumac to sandy Smith Beach.
The park also features the Petersen Splash Pad, open daily from the start of July to the end of August, although proof of residence was required at the time of writing.
The Monatiquot River Walk traces the opposite bank too, linking with the Weymouth Landing Access Ramp, which is in a small park area.
12. Widowmaker Brewing
This fast-growing craft brewery is in an industrial park just off I-93 and close to the Blue Hills Reservation.
Widowmaker Brewing moved into this brick building in 2017 and has since grown into a 15-barrel brewhouse with more than 400 barrels of fermentation space.
There are a dozen beers on draft in the tap room, and Widowmaker’s best-sellers are hoppy IPAs like Blue Comet, Almost Home and Ecstasy of Gold, along with the drinkable Dive Bar Devil (Lager) and the Spike the Punch (Sour).
The taproom is open Wednesday to Sunday, and there’s a different food truck for each day, offering lobster rolls, burgers, choripan, chicken sandwiches and much more.
13. Braintree Town Forest
An superb community resource, these 130 acres of hilly woods can be found in the south of the town.
Like the Blue Hills Reservation, Braintree Town Forest is strewn with granite boulders that were deposited on higher ground by glaciers.
Cranberry Brook passes through the eastern and southern portions of the forest, and while the surrounding roads are in a quiet residential zone so there’s little traffic noise on the trails.
At the Peach St entrance you’ll find a kiosk with trail maps and interesting details about the forest’s flora and fauna.
14. Braintree Municipal Golf Course
Owned and operated by the town, this course is one of the most affordable on the South Shore, and is always in excellent shape considering the green fees.
Something to note about this muni is the almost constant presence of water, especially on the back nine where the Monatiquot River comes into play on a testing first few holes.
You may also be caught out by the sloping greens, so it’s a good idea to study the course tour before picking your shots if you’re a first timer.
The signature hole is the par 3 16th, which marks the first of a few less challenging holes to close out your round. There are separate rates for residents and non-residents, although the differences are negligible on weekdays if you play early or after 4 pm.
15. Hollingsworth Park
A place for active recreation, this park has an attractive setting along the wooded bank of Farm River, which drains the nearby Great Pond.
Hollingsworth Park is a familiar destination for Braintree parents with children in little league teams, and there’s a series of five ballfields here.
These range from Duffy Field for tee-ball to the lighted Brooks Field, which is used for all majors league games (ages 10-12). For families there’s also a fantastic playground at the park, which was finally renovated in the 2010s after almost 40 years.