Affectionately known as “The Other Cape,” Cape Ann can be found on the North Shore, 30 miles northeast of Boston. It consists of three towns and one city — Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, and Gloucester — and got its name from the Pilgrims who migrated up to the area after landing at Plymouth Rock, naming it after England’s Queen Anne. Picturesque and rich in history, according to many, Cape Ann is Massachusetts’s best-kept secret.
The area offers everything you need and want in a New England summer destination: great seafood, beaches, and boats. In addition, each community has its own charm and things to offer:
Manchester-by-the-Sea is the quiet — and often forgotten — Cape Ann community because it doesn’t house any major attractions. However, the area is unique because it is accessible by commuter rail. Bostonians can take the train to Manchester-by-the-Sea, get off downtown, and take the walking path to Singing Beach, a beautiful and often-uncrowded beach.
Essex, once the shipbuilding capital of America, is home to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum and the famous Woodman’s restaurant. Woodman’s (woodmans.com) has award-winning chowder, fried clams, and more, and claims to be the inventor of the fried clam!
Rockport, once a fishing village, offers great shopping, restaurants, and art galleries in addition to beautiful beaches. Peter Webber, senior vice president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce (capeannchamber.com), says the town’s Bearskin Neck is one of the most popular spots on Cape Ann. Home to quaint shops, galleries, and restaurants, Bearskin Neck is a great spot to spend the afternoon with the family.
Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport, is famous for its beaches and key role in the fishing industry.
For those interested in getting out on the water, Webber says there are many ways to do so, from taking a harbor tour, kayaking on the Essex River basin, or going on a whale watch. If it’s raining, there is still plenty to do in the area, including many museums to visit, such as the Maritime Heritage Center, The Paper House Museum, and the Essex Shipbuilding museum. The Paper House (paperhouserockport.com) — made entirely (inside and out) of paper — is located off the beaten path in Rockport but is worth the trip.
There are also great parks, such as Stage Fort Park, perfect for families who want to spend the day. It offers two smaller beaches, a picnic area, and walking trails. Webber also suggests that families check out the farmers markets that each community offers throughout the week. There are plenty of area restaurants and many can be found along the waterfront where families can enjoy watching the boats while eating.
Here are five must-sees:
The Beaches of Cape Ann
There are nine public beaches on Cape Ann. The two most popular and family friendly beaches are Wingaersheek and Good Harbor (see above).both are located in Gloucester and offer parking, concessions, bathrooms, and showers.
Singing Beach in Manchester is accessible by the commuter rail from Boston. Parking along the beach is limited to residents but there are some free parking spots that you can snag if you get there early. Bathroom facilities are clean and there is a concession stand.
Maritime Heritage Center
23 Harbor Loop, Gloucester
Admission: Adults $8, Seniors/
Military $6, Youth $4,
Children (under 4) free.
Maritime Gloucester is an indoor/outdoor museum on the waterfront with interactive exhibits related to maritime heritage of Cape Ann. They offer camps in the summer (including drop-in camps) for kids in elementary school through high school. College internships are also available.
Located a mile offshore Rockport, Thatcher Island is rich in history. The island is home to the only operating twin lighthouses in America (see above) and is currently a wildlife refuge. The island is open to the public from mid-June through September and children over the age of 6 can climb the towers (with an adult).
Stage Fort Park
24 Hough Ave., Gloucester
You can bring the family and spend the entire day at this historic park, home to two lifeguarded beaches, playgrounds, and picnic areas. The park also offers walking trails, public bathrooms, blueberry picking, outdoor concerts, and more. Dogs are welcome but must be leashed.
Hammond Castle Museum
80 Hesperus Ave., Gloucester
Admission: Adults $10, Seniors (65+) $9, Children (ages 6-12) $8
The medieval-style castle was built in the 1920s by inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. as a wedding gift for his wife. One of America’s premier inventors, Hammond produced over 400 patents (second only to Thomas Edison in number of patents) and the ideas for more than 800 inventions.
The castle grounds are located along the shoreline and visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds and castle. There is also a museum on site. During July and August, guests can take candlelight tours on Thursday nights. July 18-19 is a two-day Annual Ren Faire that includes crafts, food, storytellers, knights, musicians and more. Purported to be haunted, Hammond Castle was the focus of an episode of the Syfy series Ghost Hunters and has long drawn the attention of paranormal buffs.
Note: Hammond Castle could be difficult for those with physical challenges or restrictions. According to its Website: “As much as we would like to be otherwise, Hammond Castle Museum, being a very old historic structure, is not handicapped accessible. There are stairs entering the property from our parking lot and numerous stairs once you are inside. Please bear this in mind before planning a visit.”
Plan your trip
From Boston: 46 minutes (36 miles)
From Worcester: 1 hour, 24 minutes (83 miles)