Welcome to Massachusetts! The Bay State was one of the first English colonies in North America, and it played an important role in early U.S. history. Among other things, Massachusetts is known for Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving and creatures of the sea.

It’s no surprise that Massachusetts has always been a magnet for history buffs, but its beautiful coastline also attracts beachgoers, nature lovers and recreational sailors.

Take a trip to Cape Cod to check out the local arts scene or one of many historic sites. Are you a sports fan? So are Massachusetts natives — they put the “fan” in fanatic.

Read more about Massachusetts and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.

(State Dept./J. McCann)

A different kind of water park

Sign up for a whale-watching tour off the coast of New Bedford! And while you’re at it, visit the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park to learn how the region was shaped by its whaling industry in the 1800s.

Today, whale watchers come to New Bedford to see a variety of whale species, including humpback whales. Weighing in at about 33,000 kilograms, these massive mammals are hard to miss. Remember to bring a raincoat!

Humpback whales are often spotted off the coast of Massachusetts. (© AP Images)

Boston’s bites

In addition to Boston cream pie, the city of Boston is known for its baked beans. The dish is made with pinto or navy beans, plus molasses and pork. Created in the Colonial period, the dish became so popular that Boston has been nicknamed “Bean Town” ever since.

Boston baked beans are made with molasses and pork and are cooked overnight. (Thinkstock)

The birthplace of basketball

Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (© AP Images)

The game of basketball was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education teacher. He nailed peach baskets to two railings, 3 meters above the ground, and instructed his students to throw a soccer ball into the baskets. It’s clear that the game has evolved since then! Now you can attend a Boston Celtics basketball game at Boston’s TD Garden Arena or visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Catch a game …

… and maybe a ball, at Boston’s Fenway Park. This baseball stadium, one of the oldest in the United States, is home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the infamous “green monster” — a 11.33-meter wall in the stadium’s left field that was given this name because it is rare for balls to be hit past it.

Down by the sea

Two of Massachusetts’ most famous coastal resorts are Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, a pair of affluent summer colonies south of Cape Cod. Nantucket, designated a National Historic Landmark District, is described by the National Park Service as the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town.” Martha’s Vineyard, an island accessible only by boat or plane, encompasses harbor towns and lighthouses, sandy beaches and farmland.

And don’t miss Provincetown, located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod. It’s known for its beaches, harbor and vibrant art scene. Also, check out Ipswich, a coastal town in Essex County. Ipswich is known for its clams — celebrated annually at the Ipswich Chowderfest — and for Crane Beach, which includes sand dunes and a wildlife refuge.

Provincetown, Massachusetts, as seen from the harbor (Argos’ Dad/Creative Commons)

Experience history … or whatever floats your boat

America’s history starts with resettling refugees. In 1620, about 100 Puritans left England to escape religious persecution and landed at Plymouth Rock roughly a year later. During their first year in the New World, the Pilgrims faced harsh weather. But with the help of American Indians who taught them how to live off the land, they were able to survive. To celebrate making it through the winter, the Pilgrims and American Indians jointly held the first Thanksgiving, which has since become a national holiday.

What was it like during Colonial times in Massachusetts? Find out at Plimoth Plantation, a re-creation of the homes and lives of Colonial Pilgrims and Native Americans.

Pilgrim life is re-enacted at Plimoth Plantation. The Mayflower II replica ship is docked and on display (left), an American Indian shows how a “mishoon,” or canoe, is made (top center), people dressed in Colonial attire pose for a Thanksgiving photo (bottom center), and a woman talks through a cooking demonstration (right). (Courtesy of Plimoth Plantation)