date published: August 18, 2003

AT THE HELM—The Fisherman’s Memorial stands guard over Gloucester Harbor.

Discover the coastal charm and alluring enclaves along Massachusetts’ North Shore
by Matthew Karr

Boston’s fast-paced environment can be overwhelming at times, but for an easy escape, one simply needs to look north. Spanning the route from Boston towards New Hampshire via Route 128 North or the MBTA’s commuter rail service, the North Shore is comprised of a collection of towns that are a testament to New England’s charm and beauty as well as the area’s rich cultural history. Miles of scenic coastline with stunning ocean views, beautiful beaches, fishing ports, boating marinas, museums and lighthouses maintain the area’s quaint coastal legacy as one of the country’s first settled areas. Here is a selection of some North Shore towns and what they have to offer.

In the early 17th century, Salem forever sealed its identity as The Witch City thanks to the fabled Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The events actually took place in what is now the adjoining town of Danvers (then called SalemVillage), but countless books, plays and films have revisited the hysteria that erupted and the circumstances that led to the public hangings of 19 people. Although a sad chapter in colonial history, Salem-ites are keenly aware of the more popular, fictional images of witches and their potential kitsch value. Shoppers delight in what feels like a year-long Halloween party or delve into the mysteries of the occult. And while neither image has a direct association with the trials the area is known for, history buffs will not leave unsatisfied.

Witchy Women ‚ The city is full of witch-related shops and attractions that are, in fact, historically accurate. The Salem Witch Museum (refer to listing, page 49) pays homage to the city’s tragic past, exploring the myths and startling truths about the trials. There’s also the Witch Dungeon Museum (16 Lynde St., 978-741-3570), offering a live reenactment of a witch trial adapted from the 1692 historical transcripts.

The Sailors of Salem ‚ The maritime history of Salem plays the largest role in how the area looks today and is an excellent antidote to Salem’s witch obsession. For an overview, visit the Peabody Essex Museum (refer to story, page 30), created by the area’s elite merchant sailors, who sought a place to displays treasures culled on their voyages to Africa and Asia. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site (174 Derby Street, 978-740-1660) also explores Salem’s legacy as a center of merchant shipping and how the ocean helped shape the town’s destiny.

Historic Sites ‚ The House of Seven Gables (54 Turner St., 978-744-0991), made famous in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s homonymous book, showcases 330 years of Salem’s history in its museum and historic buildings. The Gables, a National Historic District, boasts a spectacular seaside garden, the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England, as well as its distinction as Hawthorne’s boyhood home.

Proudly known as America’s oldest seaport, fishing has been Gloucester’s leading industry since 1623. As home to one of the last surviving commercial fishing fleets in New England, this is a working city first. Yet in recent years the city has become something of a tourism mecca thanks to the bestselling book and 2000 Hollywood blockbuster The Perfect Storm, a true story of a Gloucester fishing vessel lost at sea in a terrifying Nor’easter. Situated on Cape Ann, Gloucester also boasts some of the North Shore’s prettiest beaches (see sidebar on page 28.) But to really understand its pulse, do as the locals do and get out to sea.

Schooners ‚ Tied to Gloucester’s fishing history is its appreciation of the schooner. The tall ships that used to carry fisherman out to work at sea, ferry mostly leisure-seekers these days. But every August this proud tradition is celebrated with the Gloucester Schooner Festival (see sidebar on page 29.) You can go for a sail yourself on board the Thomas E. Lannon (Schooner Sails at the Gloucester House Restaurant, Rogers Street, 978-281-6634). A striking reproduction of a Gloucester fishing vessel of yore, the 65-foot tall ship departs from Seven Seas Wharf on four excursions daily and for special event sails, including music and dining cruises, storytelling sails and Friday lobster bakes.

Adventures at Sea ‚ If sailing on a schooner isn’t authentic enough, Gloucester’s fishermen will gladly bring guests along on deep-sea fishing excursions. There are countless companies that provide such trips including Anne Rowe Charters (located on Seven Seas Wharf by Schooner Sails, 978-283-2046). The trips are pricey and depart early (between 5 and 7 a.m.), but offer up to six hours of fishing for cod and haddock.

Rockport’s picturesque waterfront and numerous galleries are the perfect setting for a retreat from the city. The town can feel like a step back to simpler times, while at the same time catering to the summer swell of out-of-towners. A self-described seacoast village, Rockport is steeped in a rich seafaring and art history, and shares this tradition willingly with its visitors.

Window Shopper’s Delight ‚ Bearskin Neck, a narrow peninsula at the edge of town, has perhaps the highest concentration of gift shops anywhere. It’s comprised of several winding alleys and cobblestone streets crammed with galleries, restaurants, antique shops and ancient houses, ending in a plaza with an amazing view of the harbor. The areas most famous landmark, known as Motif No. 1, is a barn-red shack that once served as a fish warehouse. Its distinct positioning against the coastal backdrop has made it one of the most frequently painted and photographed objects in all of New England.

Art Escape ‚ Rockport has long been a favorite hangout of photographers, painters, jewelry designers and sculptors, and has captivated such art-world heavyweights as Winslow Homer and Fitz Hugh Lane with its tranquil setting. Throughout Rockport, locally and nationally celebrated art is displayed at more than two-dozen galleries and art houses. The Rockport Art Association (12 Main St., 978-546-6604) sponsors special events, exhibitions and shows and is open daily year-round.

Outdoor Activities ‚ Halibut Point State Park (Gott Avenue, 978-546-2997), to the north of town, protects the natural beauty that surrounds Rockport. It has a staffed visitor center and several walking trails to enjoy the tidal pools, water-filled quarries, and rocky coastline. Guided tours ($2.50 per person) run on Saturday mornings in the summer.

Located in the heart of the North Shore, Ipswich boasts a diverse landscape that includes marshes, dunes and beaches, uplands, forests, fields and farmland. The Ipswich River runs through town from a fresh source 45 miles west and empties into the ocean, a perfect spot for a leisurely canoe trip. And in case you work up an appetite exploring the great outdoors, Ipswich is known for its abundance of great seafood eateries.

Outdoor Activities ‚ Ipswich has many beautiful spots for hiking, trail walks, and bird watching. Willowdale State Forest (Topsfield Road, 978-887-5931) and the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (87 Perkins Row, Topsfield, 978-887-9264) both offer great wilderness escapes for experienced and novice outdoorsmen alike.

Quick Eats ‚ Ipswich is famous for its shellfish and The Clam Box (246 High St., 978-356-9707) has served up some of the best New England has to offer for more than 60 years, propelling itself to local landmark status. Another Ipswich mainstay, the 1640 Hart House (51 Linebrook Rd., 978-356-1640), was built just 20 years after the Pilgrims first landed, and features fine dining in a quaint, colonial atmosphere.

History ‚ The Olde Ipswich Tours company (8 Herrick Dr., 978-356-5163) gives guided tours of historic Ipswich, which has more 17th century homes than any other town in America, as well as magnificent oceanfront estates and a bounty of scenic vistas. If you’d rather take a piece of history back home with you, High Street Antiques (129 High St., 978-412-1857) showcases 15 antique dealers in one group shop, each proffering an impressive collection of New England-style antiques—the perfect way to remember your visit to Massachusetts’ North Shore.

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For locals, it may be hard to believe that suburban Revere was once the premier resort destinations in the country, brimming with amusement park rides and dozens of seaside hotels. At the center of it all was Revere Beach (Revere Beach Boulevard, 617-727-4708), now the oldest public beach in America (circa 1896) and a National Historic Landmark. Those resort days are long gone, replaced by the honky tonk charm of fast-food joints like Kelly’s Roast Beef, but the beach still exists and lifeguards are on duty all summer.

If you’re looking for something a little more picturesque (we’re talking wide, white sand beaches and cool blue ocean surf), head to Cape Ann and points north. Crane Beach (Argilla Road, 978-356-4351) in Ipswich features a gorgeous, four-mile stretch of sand. Rolling dunes, a modern refreshment stand and an incomparable view make this one of the most popular beaches around. Plum Island (978-465-5753) in Newburyport is located in a National Wildlife Refuge and boasts hiking trails that meander through the dunes and marshes. There’s six and a half miles of beachfront and plenty of birdwatching as well. Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach, pictured above, (Thatcher Road, 978-281-9790) boasts a large offshore island that you can walk out to during low tide, while Wingaersheek Beach (Atlantic Street, 978-281-9790), also in Gloucester, boasts climbing rocks and cool tide pools that are popular with kids. The unique Singing Beach (Masconomo Street, 979-526-2000) in Manchester-by-the-Sea has earned its moniker from the squeaking sound that’s created by beachgoers walking across its squishy sand. Parking is limited, so we advise that you take the commuter rail. —C.W.


Anyone who’s seen the movie The Perfect Storm already knows that Gloucester is synonymous with the sea. As the oldest seaport in America, the Cape Ann town’s fishing industry is as storied as America itself, and nothing is more of an integral part of that tradition than the schooner. Once the primary mode of transportation for those who dare battle the sea for their livelihood, the schooner has seen its heyday pass, but its legacy has never been forgotten.

The 19th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival, August 29–31, celebrates this tradition by attracting vessels large and small from ports as far away as Maine and New York for three days of fun and festivities culminating in the annual Mayor’s Race. Ships ranging from 19 to 125 feet in length—some more than 200 years old—descend on Gloucester Harbor hoping to claim the Esperanto Cup in the main race held on Sunday, August 31. That top prize trophy has been awarded to the heavyweights of schooner sailing since the first International Fishermen’s Races sailed in 1920.

As Gloucester’s major marine event, the festival features plenty of entertainment for landlubbers, including art exhibits, music, food, and a lighted boat parade and fireworks display on August 30 at 7:30 p.m. Then Sunday at 9 a.m., the grand Parade of Sail cruises past the Boulevard promenade along Route 127. Led by Gloucester’s own Thomas E. Lannon, a replica of a traditional 1903 schooner, the parade ushers the large schooners into competition and allows modern-day fishermen and boat enthusiasts alike a chance to pay their respects to the fishing vessels of a bygone era.
Refer to Current Events. —M.K.