This Southcoast town is on a long and narrow plot by the Taunton River, at the head of Mount Hope Bay.
In 2022 Joe Biden visited Somerset to deliver a speech about climate change. The location was no coincidence, as until recently Somerset’s southern tip was commanded by the immense coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station, which went offline in 2017.
Somerset was incorporated in 1790, and in the town’s north end you can get a feel for those early days.
Lined with lofty mature trees, the Somerset Village Historic District brims with venerable public and residential architecture, and has the museum for the Somerset Historical Society.
Just across the water is the city of Fall River, with a magnificent fleet of WWII vessels anchored next to the Braga Bridge at Battleship Cove.
1. Southcoast Open Air Market (SOAM)
With as many as 100 vendors, Somerset’s seasonal farmers’ market runs every Saturday, May through October.
The philosophy at SOAM is fresh, local, and handmade, and thousands of people from neighboring communities flock to this event at Chick Marchand Memorial Park (first Saturdays), and Slades Ferry Park (other Saturdays).
There’s a massive and ever-changing assortment of handmade items, fresh produce, local meats, and temping prepared foods.
Live music is an essential element of the market, with two acts on the bill each week, and you can even bring your pup to the doggie play area.
2. Somerset Historical Society
To get in touch with Somerset’s past, the Somerset Historical Society runs a museum in the Somerset Village Historic District in the town’s north end. This is housed in the Colonial Revival former Village School building.
Inside, you can browse a number of exhibit rooms, like the Indian Room, with the largest collection of Native American artifacts in southern Massachusetts.
The Hathaway Room is an insight into 1930s domestic life, with a furnished dining room, parlor, and kitchen, while you can discover Somerset’s industrial history in the Tool Room, featuring a 200-year-old lathe, and the Pottery Room showcasing Somerset’s ceramics trade with many valuable pieces.
3. Somerset Creamery
This family-owned creamery has three seasonal ice cream stands, two of which can be found in Somerset, at 1931 Route 6 (G.A.R Hwy), and 146 County Street. Somerset Creamery dates back to 1937, and continues to craft its homemade ice cream the old-fashioned way.
New batches are made daily, using the freshest ingredients, and many of the recipes introduced by founders Vic and Mary Spanick some 90 years ago.
The creamery has a reputation for its fantastic waffle cones, which are also baked fresh every day. For a taste of southeastern Massachusetts, be sure to get a scoop of Cranberry Bog, which is cranberry flavor ice cream with raisins, walnuts and dark chocolate.
4. Pierce Beach & Playground
When we put this list together, this riverfront park in Somerset’s north end had just been given a few improvements. Pierce Beach has been a summer attraction for decades, with a sheltered sandy swimming area and lifeguards on duty mid-June through Labor Day.
There’s a fee for both residents and non-residents, while Somerset senior citizens and veterans can visit for free. New playground and picnic areas have also been installed in the last few years, along with a new Big Red Slide.
Thirty feet high and sixty feet long, this slide has been adored by local kids since 1988, and after the original fiberglass structure started to deteriorate in the 2010s it was replaced with a stainless steel version, unveiled in 2021.
5. Somerset Village Historic District
Over 110 acres in Somerset’s north end, this leafy historic district preserves the center of the town at the turn of the 19th century.
The oldest Georgian-style houses here are more than 300 years old, while prominent public buildings include the 1804 Somerset Baptist Church (363 High St), in the Federal style, and St. Patrick’s Church (306 South St), built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1873.
Home to sea captains in the 19th century, Somerset Village was a shipbuilding center well into the 20th century, and you can still find interesting vestiges of this industry on the waterfront.
6. Battleship Cove
We’d be remiss to talk about this stretch of the Taunton River and not mention the incredible assemblage of WWII naval vessels anchored on the opposite bank.
Less than ten minutes from Somerset, Battleship Cove is the largest collection of WWII museum ships in the world.
There are eight ships awaiting you here, the largest of which is the showpiece USS Massachusetts, launched in 1941 and highly active throughout the war, without a single member of the United States Navy being killed while aboard.
Also ready to be boarded is USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (1945), the submarine USS Lionfish (1943), and the German corvette Hiddensee, built at the Petrovsky Shipyard in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1984.
7. Fall River Heritage State Park
Encompassing Battleship Cove is an urban waterfront park with a lot going on, and plenty of reasons to make the five-minute crossing in the summer.
Much of the programming is focused on the Hudner Memorial Building, hosting everything from changing art and historical exhibits at the Community Gallery to hands-on workshops and dances.
There are benches all along the boardwalk so you can gaze awestruck at those battleships, framed by the Braga Bridge. At the south end is the Fall River Carousel, built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in 1920, and an ice cream stand close by.
8. Auclair’s Market
Across the road from the County St location for Somerset Creamery there’s an independent grocery store that has thrived since 1918. Auclair’s Market was founded by a Canadian immigrant who toiled in Fall River’s mills to save up to open his own business.
Auclair’s Market was originally in Fall River, but was relocated across the Taunton River in the second generation, while the current store was opened in 2000 by the founder’s grandson, Denis and his wife Dorothy Auclair.
For more than a century the store has been known for its butcher counters. Think top sirloin, beef rib roasts, a range of boneless hams, poultry, and their famous gray corned beef.
The deli counters are also a big draw, with a delectable array of cold cuts and cheeses, and all kinds of prepared foods, from salads to rotisserie chickens, dinner pies and a range of specialty smoked items like pulled pork.
9. Simcock Farm
Five minutes away in Swansea, this fourth generation working farm has a much-loved ice cream stand serving award-winning Gifford’s Ice Cream.
You’ll have more than 40 delicious varieties of hard ice cream to choose from, along with frozen yogurt, sorbets and sugar-free options.
There are picnic tables round the back , and part of the joy of Simcok Farm is seeing barnyard animals like donkeys, goats, sheep, miniature horses and miniature cattle.
The farm also hosts seasonal events, attractions and activities, like hayrides, a corn maze, a sunflower maze, PYO pumpkins, and summer cruise nights.
10. Factory of Terror
In spooky season another good reason to head across the Taunton River is for this haunted house, billed as the best in New England.
Appropriately set in a gloomy industrial building, the Factory of Terror adds new scares to its labyrinthine trail with each season, bringing a faithful crowd back year after year.
The year we wrote this article there were several ingeniously designed encounters, including a zombie that appears from a portal to another dimension.
The make-up, props, and the performances from the characters all add to the immersion, and there’s a gift shop at the end for a grim memento.
11. AMF Somerset Lanes
Ideal for birthday parties, league play, family outings or a no-stakes game with friends, AMF Somerset Lanes is the town’s local bowling alley.
There are 40 lanes at this large facility, with a variety of specials available on weeknights, including unlimited bowling on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for a low set price.
You’ve also got an arcade, a pro shop, a lounge area and a sports bar, serving flatbreads, sliders, wings, burgers, and pouring a range of local beers.
12. Lizzie Borden House
Fall River was also the home of “that” Lizzie Borden (1860-1927), associated with one of America’s most infamous unsolved murders. After an extremely public trial, she was acquitted of the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother.
The crime took place at the elegant house at 230 2nd St, befitting members of late 19th-century Fall River high society. This property has been a bed & breakfast and a macabre tourist attraction since the mid-1990s.
Among other options, you can stay in the bedrooms of Lizzie and her sister Emma, or in the room where the body of Abby Borden (John V Morse Suite) was found.
For a tour, the best time to come is in the morning or early afternoon, when you can view the entire house for a complete overview of the events of August 4, 1892.
13. Braga Bridge
The bridge carrying the I-195 over the Taunton River between Somerset and Fall River first opened in 1966, and has been embraced as an icon, looming over the world’s largest warship museum.
For people making the drive to Cape Cod, the immense steel structure is a dramatic landmark, and was repainted dark blue in 2010 in favor of the original lime green.
At more than a mile, the Charles M. Braga Jr. Memorial Bridge is one of the longest in the state, and was designed to accommodate the river’s busy shipping lane, with a clearance of 135 feet over the water.
14. Swansea Town Beach
From the south end of Somerset you can reach this public sandy beach in Swansea in under ten minutes. Swansea Town Beach faces south and has a view that stretches for miles into Mount Hope Bay.
As with Somerset’s beach there are lifeguards on duty, mid-June through Labor Day, and a parking fee is charged ($5 for residents, and $8 for non-residents at the time of writing).
The beach is a delight, with a long sandy bay complemented by a grassy area for picnics, restroom facilities and a playground. The beach is on a shallow gradient, so the water is warm at the height of summer, and you can walk out for almost a mile at low tide.
15. Taunton River Trail
By the time you read this, it may already be possible to walk or ride a bike northward next to the beautiful Taunton River from Somerset to Taunton along a 22-mile rail trail.
When we went to press, a two-mile stretch of the proposed trail was taking shape close by along the abandoned railroad right-of-way through Sweets Knoll State Park.
Until recently, this 56-acre space in Dighton has received little investment, but there’s much to love. The Taunton River has been designated a National Wild & Scenic River, and is the only major coastal river in New England to flow freely, without a dam.
You can get down to the riverside, and hike on the wooded knoll that rises from the banks. As you’ll see at the kiosk this was an important pre-contact Native American site, while the vestiges of old stone walls are a reminder of forgotten waterfront industry.