Just south of Boston, Quincy is a city with 27 miles of shoreline and a special role in the early history of the United States.
This is the birthplace of John Adams (1735-1826) and his son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the second and sixth U.S. presidents.
John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also born in Quincy. And like him, the city’s history is entwined with the influential Quincy family, which was prominent in political life in Massachusetts for centuries.
Quincy was the site of the country’s first commercial railroad and the original Dunkin’ Donuts, while the Fore River Shipyard built a long line of U.S. Navy ships in the 20th century.
You can dip into all the different chapters of Quincy’s story at attractions and monuments like the Adams National Historical Park, the Josiah Quincy House and a heavy cruiser museum ship at the docks.
1. Adams National Historical Park
In the middle of Quincy you can visit the birthplace of not one but two U.S. presidents.
The attractions at Adams National Historical Park can only be seen in a certain order, beginning with the visitor center, with exhibits telling you all you need to know about the Adams family.
This is followed by a trolley trip to the historic and lovingly preserved buildings in which John Adams (1735) and John Quincy Adams (1767) were born.
After that you’ve got Peacefield (1731), the palatial home of four generations of the Adams family, and the summer White House for both presidents.
An undoubted highlight is the Stone Library, containing 14,000 volumes that were owned by John Quincy Adams.
2. United First Parish Church
Built from local granite and considered one of the finest Greek Revival places of worship in New England, the United First Parish Church was completed in 1828 and remains Quincy’s focal point.
A church has stood at this very spot since as long ago as 1639. Construction of the current building was funded by the Adams family, and much of the granite came from their own quarry.
Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams worshiped here, and are buried in the family crypt, along with First Ladies Abigail Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams.
This makes it one of only two churches in the United States to contain a presidential tomb. The church and crypt can be seen on a guided tour, with an engaging and friendly guide. One interesting detail is the Adams’ preserved pew, marked with a plaque and ribbon.
3. Quincy Quarries Reservation
This 22-acre park is on the site of Quincy’s granite quarries, which were active up to 1963. These have a compelling story, as the source of the stone for Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument, built from 1825 to 1843.
To transport the stone, the construction engineer Gridley Bryant (1789-1867) built the first commercial railway in the United States, using horses to pull the granite three miles to the Neponset River in Milton.
Since closing, the quarries’ vast slabs have become a go-to for rock climbing, as well as a canvas for graffiti artists, all complemented by stirring views, which become spectacular late in the day.
The preserved incline section of the Granite Railway, can be found at the north side of the park on Granite Rail Ct.
4. Quincy Historical Society & Museum
Given Quincy’s influential role in the early history of the United States, a trip to the local historical society is a must. The building is significant, as the former Adams Academy, a school from 1872.
This was established with a fund created by John Adams decades before. And long before that, John Hancock was born on this very land in 1737.
The Adams Academy has a Gothic Revival design, and is built from local Quincy granite. As well as figures like John and Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams and John Hancock, the museum charts 400+ years of history.
There are exhibits on Quincy’s Native American heritage, its famous shipbuilding and granite quarrying industries, as well as its rich tradition of entrepreneurship, as the place where Dunkin’ Donuts and Howard Johnson’s were founded.
5. Wollaston Beach
The longest beach on Boston Harbor is right here in Quincy, arcing gently for 2.3 miles.
Wollaston Beach is part of the Quincy Shore Reservation, which was designated in 1899, while the beach became a destination in 1908 with the completion of Metropolitan Boulevard, between Fenno St in the east and Atlantic St in the west.
There’s a promenade behind for the entire length of the beach, with views up to the Boston skyline, and out to the islands in the harbor. In summer this is a go-to for joggers, dog walkers, families and couples out for a stroll, with a line of seasonal seafood spots to choose from.
6. Josiah Quincy House
Also in Quincy’s fine assortment of historical homes is the country residence of merchant, planter and revolutionary leader Josiah Quincy I (1710-1784).
He was the first in a line of six distinguished Josiah Quincys, who were prominent in social and political life in Massachusetts for generations.
Once as large as 200 acres, this property had been in the family since 1635, and the current Georgian house was built in 1770.
Noteworthy details include the fine classical portico, and the rare hipped monitor roof with a Chinese fretwork balustrade.
Visiting the Josiah Quincy House you’ll learn about the tireless preservation efforts of Eliza Susan Quincy (1798-1884) to turn the house into a trove of Quincy family history.
Josiah Quincy I was known to have helped George Washington by observing the British fleet in Boston Harbor. An outstanding exhibit to that effect is a report, scratched by Quincy onto a pane of glass on October 10, 1775.
7. Dorothy Quincy Homestead
You can continue to indulge your interest in Quincy’s past at the oldest surviving home of the Quincy family.
The Dorothy Quincy Homestead was built in 1686 by Edmund Quincy, and subsequent changes and expansions have created a fascinating mix of Colonial, Georgian and Victorian architecture.
On the original Quincy farm, the house is a National Historic Landmark, and served as a home for five generations of Quincys.
On a guided tour you’ll get an insight into the family, John Hancock, the settlers at the Massachusetts Colony, the Revolution, portraiture and women’s issues.
Among the 18th-century furniture and wall hangings, a standout curiosity is Hancock’s Chariot. This was crafted in England in 1777, and presented to John Hancock after being captured by Americans at sea.
8. Blue Hills Reservation
The Quincy Quarries Reservation is at the tip of 7,000 acres of preserved nature draped on high ground across several different communities, including Quincy.
Of the 22 Blue Hills, the tallest is Great Blue Hill, at 635 feet. This and several other peaks can be conquered along the 3-mile Skyline Trail, zigzagging along the ridge, with Boston’s silhouette to inspire you as you go.
In fact the reservation has 125 miles of trails, winding through a diversity of habitats, from upland forest to marshlands, and depositing you at landmarks like the Chickatawbut Observation Tower, a CCC project from the 1930s.
In winter the Blue Hills become a destination for cross-country and downhill skiing, with a 60-acre ski area. In summer, families make for the picturesque Houghton’s Pond Recreation area, with a welcoming beach and swimming area.
For an educational visit, swing by the top-notch Blue Hills Trailside Museum, loved by families for its numerous rescued live animals.
9. USS Salem & the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum
To get a handle on Quincy’s naval and shipbuilding history you can board this 700-foot Des Moines-class heavy cruiser, laid down right here in 1945 at the Fore River Shipyard.
On a self-guided visit there’s a mix of preserved ship features and museum exhibits to take in. Original areas include the admiral’s and captain’s bridge, a gun turret, crew quarters and main deck.
The exhibits on board cover the Fore River Shipyard (1883-1989), an extensive model ship collection, militaria and weapons from the Revolutionary War to the present, artifacts relating to U.S. Navy cruisers, and much more.
10. Tony’s Clam Shop
In that string of beloved seafood places by Wollaston Beach, Tony’s Clam Shop has been on the scene since 1964. Remarkably the founder, Tony, is still involved in the day-to-day at this family operation.
What began as a humble takeout stand now has a greenhouse, expansive patio and seating for 100+ patrons.
Since you’re on the South Shore, you have to get the lobster roll, with a generous half-pound of fresh lobster on a toasted bun, either with light mayonnaise or warm with melted butter.
The clams, always big and juicy, also deserve your attention, whether you go for strips, fritters or steamed.
11. Hancock Cemetery
Established in 1640, this burial ground is important as the last remainder of the area’s earliest settlement.
Hancock Cemetery, named for John Hancock’s father, Reverend John Hancock (1702-1744), was Quincy’s primary burial ground until the mid-19th century, and the city’s most important civic leaders and residents were interred here.
These included John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams and Louisa Adams before they were relocated to the crypt of the United First Parish Church.
Looking around you’ll understand Quincy’s status as a center for granite carving, and can chart the history of funerary art, from Colonial skulls and wings to classical motifs of the Federal era.
Naturally there are a lot of Quincys here, but one of special note is Colonel John Quincy (1689-1767), grandfather of Abigail Adams, and for whom both the city and 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams were named.
12. Squantum Point Park
Quincy’s regenerated Squantum Peninsula is the site of the city’s old shipbuilding yards, as well as Naval Air Station Squantum, active from WWI to 1953.
By the mouth of the Neponset River, the state-owned park that took its place has preserved almost 3,000 feet of the old runway, along with docks that once belonged to the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation.
Squantum Point Park is somewhere to get downtown to the waterfront, enjoy the sunset, gaze across the harbor and maybe drop a line. The trails here connect with the Marina Bay promenade to the east, and the two-mile Quincy RiverWalk, hugging the Neponset River.
13. Boston Harbor Islands National State Park & Recreational Area
Standing in front of Quincy Bay you can see a big chunk of the harbor’s 30+ islands and peninsulas.
You’re tantalizingly close to a world of secluded beaches, campgrounds, coastal trails, abandoned harbor defenses, nature-rich tide pools, scenic picnic spots, lighthouses and an intact Civil War fort.
This is best approached from the water, and fortunately the MBTA ferry offers an extended service in the summer. From Quincy, a convenient trip is to catch a boat from neighboring Hingham to beautiful and historic Peddocks Island.
This is home to the long defunct Fort Andrews (1898-1947), and was used as a shooting location for Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island (2008).
If you cross the harbor, the Marina Bay Ferry shuttles from Squantum Point to Boston and the town of Winthrop at the north end of the harbor.
14. Thomas Crane Public Library
If you need a quiet moment, a worthwhile stop in downtown Quincy is the city library, which has the second-largest municipal collection in the state, after Boston Public Library.
As another connection to the Quincy Quarries, the library was funded by the family of important stone contractor Thomas Crane, and the original wing dates to 1882.
This fine building deserves your time as it was designed by none other than Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), whose name became a byword for the Romanesque Revival style.
Inside you can admire the floor-to-ceiling tiers of shelves and ornate stained glass. The grounds were laid out by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).
15. Marina Bay
On Squantum Peninsula there’s a Nantucket-style harbor development that took shape in the 1980s and 90s.
Long before that time this site was home to a United States naval shipbuilding yard and the Naval Air Station, Squantum, which closed down in 1954. The new development mixes offices, townhouse and apartment units with shopping.
There’s a pretty boardwalk, with several dining options and a trail that continues into neighboring Squantum Point, for more dreamy views over Boston Harbor.