By Courtney Scott, on October 17, 2015

Musts on the Massachusetts North Shore

I have to admit, I didn’t know very much about the North Shore of Massachusetts until I traveled there. I had to consult a map to even see where it was in relation to Boston. I was surprised to discover that this collection of charming coastal towns is only an hour drive from downtown Boston! Now, having spent several days exploring the North Shore, I can confidently say it is the ideal place to get your fix of maritime culture, fried clams, and New England vibes, with the added benefit of less tourists than Cape Cod or Nantucket.

As you plan your visit to the North Shore, here are the essential things to do, see, and eat.

Must-do activities

Lobster fishing in Gloucester. After arriving in the fishing town of Gloucester (pronounced “Glaw-sta” in Massachusetts), head to the harbor and meet father-and-son team Kevin and Kellen O’Maley on board their boat, the Connemara Bay. They will take you out for a day of immersive lobster fishing. Don’t expect to sit back and watch them do the work. This is an all-hands-on-deck experience, where you’ll learn all the steps of catching “bugs,” from filling the bait bags, to sizing and tagging your lobsters, to resetting the traps.

After a morning of hard work, you are rewarded with a couple of the lobsters that you helped catch, which you should promptly bring over to the nearby Lobsta Land restaurant where they will cook them up for you.

Apple picking at Russell Orchards. Family-run Russell Orchards was opened in 1920 and is a local favorite for apple and berry picking, but it’s much more than that. The central barn at the orchard has daily wine tastings, a cider mill, and to-die-for treats like their famous cider donuts. I bet you can’t eat just one! Beyond the barn you’ll encounter a cast of adorable animals like Darryl the pig, baby donkeys, and ducks to feed. Make a day of Russell Orchards and leave plenty of time to see it all.

Must-eat food

Fried clams at Woodman’s of Essex. Many say that fried clams were invented at Woodman’s of Essex. As the story goes, in 1914 Bubba Woodman got a tip from a friend to use his brand-new Frialator to deep-fry the clams he had been selling at his roadside clam shack. He did. They sold like hotcakes.

Viewfinder Tip: The historic Essex Street Inn is within walking distance to Newburyport’s restaurants, shops, and waterfront.

Today, that clam shack has transformed into one of the most iconic restaurants in Massachusetts, and serves up crispy fried clams by the plateful to a line of hungry clam lovers. The clams are made with the original recipe, using cornmeal as the breading rather than flour. Get extra “tarta” sauce and dip to your heart’s content.

Newburyport restaurants. When I arrived in the town of Newburyport, I thought it looked like we were entering a movie set. It’s a quintessential New England town, with two main streets lined with small boutiques, inviting restaurants, and people strolling along at an unusually slow pace for this New Yorker! Based on the restaurants alone, I recommend making this your home base for North Shore exploration. Book a room at the Essex Street Inn, and make reservations each night for a new restaurant. Try Ceia Kitchen + Bar for the charcuterie, Loretta for the crab cakes, and Brine for the oysters and crudo.

Must-see attractions

The Crane Estate. The Crane Estate is the crown jewel of Ipswich, a 2,100-acre estate with the most magnificent mansion at its center, Castle Hill. The historic property, which was once the private summer home of the Crane family, now hosts many weddings, events, and tours.

While some might say the most impressive aspect of the estate is the home itself, I think the Grand Allée is simply magical. It’s one-and-a-half miles of great lawn that gracefully rolls its way down to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Perfectly manicured and beckoning for you to run barefoot down it, this is a sight to be seen. 

Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester. Gloucester is home to one of the oldest, continuously working art colonies in the United States, the Rocky Neck Art Colony. It’s a picturesque peninsula where Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper used to paint during summer, and today a thriving community of artists lives and works here. I recommend a walking tour to visit the galleries, restaurants, and even meet some of the artists.

What’s your favorite thing to see in Massachusetts?