Predominantly Portuguese New Bedford (pop. 95,032) is remembered as a capital of the whaling industry back in the days when spermaceti candles and whale oil lamps were necessities, not antiques. The city’s harbor at the mile-wide mouth of the Acushnet River was home port for the East Coast’s largest commercial fishing fleet until nearly two decades of flagrant overfishing brought the industry to collapse. The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park showcases the cobblestone streets and brick facades, virtually unaltered since Herman Melville shipped out of here in 1840 aboard a whaler bound for the Pacific.
For a good orientation, drop by the well-stocked visitors center (508/996-4095), at the corner of William Street and North 2nd Street, and join one of the free hour-long guided walking tours. Before or after a stroll around town, head to the top of Johnny Cake Hill and visit the excellent New Bedford Whaling Museum (508/997-0046, daily, $17). Scrimshaw (carved whale ivory), tools of the whaling trade, historic photos, special maritime exhibits, and an 89-foot ship model are a few of the artifacts found in the not-to-be-missed museum collection maintained by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. Across the street from the museum, the gorgeous little Seamen’s Bethel, dedicated in 1832 and featuring a pulpit shaped like a ship’s bow, was featured in a chapter of Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick.
Diner fans will appreciate New Bedford’s offerings too. The easiest diner to find is Angelo’s Orchid Diner (805 Rockdale Ave., 508/993-3172), on old US-6, a 1953 O’Mahony serving solid short-order cookery enlivened by—you guessed it—a Portuguese influence.