The north shore in Massachusetts has a long and fascinating maritime history along with beautiful beaches, delightful architecture, and plenty of cultural events. Along with historic homes and coastal towns, there is a lot of natural beauty and breathtaking views in the north of Boston region. The Massachusetts North Shore is great for summer weekend excursions in New England because it is so easy to reach from Boston. Here is a handy guide to the North Shore Massachusetts towns and the best North Shore Massachusetts beaches that you do not want to miss.
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North Shore in Massachusetts
The North Shore in Massachusetts is only a short drive from Boston making for cool day trips from the city as well as a great weekend excursion in Massachusetts. Reaching the North Shore of Massachusetts is easy even without a car because the MBTA commuter rail from North Station in Boston reaches many of the North shore communities.
The Massachusetts North Shore consists of the area between Boston and the New Hampshire border which includes Essex County, parts of the Merrimack Valley and Cape Ann. The North of Boston region is full of quaint towns, coastal villages and farmland. It was one of the first areas in the United States to be settled by the English colonists.
North Shore Massachusetts Towns
Make sure to do some or all of the 90 mile Essex Coastal Scenic Byway for beautiful scenery and a chance to drive through some of these North Shore MA towns. There are some 30+ North Shore towns sprinkled in this area and we have selected a few of our favourite North Shore communities.
This North Shore regions is great place to explore slowly because the commuter rail lines from Boston means that many locals also come out to this popular tourist destination. Note that around Halloween, Salem can become a really crowded area.
Salem is one of the most famous towns in New England, thanks to its grim past involving witch trials which has been immortalised in film and books. Although people visit because they are curious about the town’s dark history, Salem MA has so much more to offer.
Salem has beautiful architecture, interesting museums, great food, and lots of shopping opportunities. Embark on a Salem ghost tour, visit the Peabody Essex Museum, or take a Salem trolley tour to get the true Salem experience. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is run by the National Park Service.
Close to the border of New Hampshire, Newburyport is the birthplace of the US Coastguard.
Newburyport is especially popular during the summer when the town comes alive over weekends with a slew of cultural events like art walks and performances. The town has a long maritime heritage and the Custom House Maritime Museum is a popular attraction for those looking to learn more about this fascinating past.
Nearby Plum Island is popular for its beautiful beaches and Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
On the tip of Cape Ann of North Shore Massachusetts is an inviting little fishing town that has long been a haven for artists and vacationers.
Rockport has a fishing shack located in its picturesque harbor, called Motif No. 1, that is said to be the most painted building in the country. One of the best hidden gems in Massachusetts is the Paper House, a summer home made entirely out of old newspaper.
Here you can spend your days browsing galleries or boutiques, or simply laze away on one of the town’s beautiful beaches. Rockport has great seafood and ice cream options as befitting a coastal Massachusetts town.
America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester, one of the North Shore towns, has long been associated with fishing. The 2000 biographical movie, A Perfect Storm, with George Clooney and Boston’s own Mark Wahlberg, is set in Gloucester. In Gloucester, you’ll see the iconic statue, “The Man At The Wheel” which is a tribute to all the fishermen lost at sea while plying their trade.
Go whale watching or take a relaxing cruise of Gloucester Harbor to get the best view of the town. The town also has a very distinct landmark, Hammond Castle, a 20th-century Massachusetts castle that recreates the grandeur of a medieval castle.
Essex is a charming inland town most famous for being the birthplace of fried clams which was invented at Woodman’s of Essex Restaurant in 1914. It also has a lot of beautiful colonial architecture and antique stores. Within a mile of each other there is supposed to be 25 antique stores in Essex!
North Shore Massachusetts Restaurants in Essex
Antiquing requires hard work to keep your concentration going. Essex also has a very dense concentration of North Shore Massachusetts restaurants!
The best fried clams on the North Shore are still reputed to be at Woodman’s and at J.T. Farnhams also in Essex and nearby at The Clam Box in Ipswich MA. Obviously for research purposes we tried a fried clam face-off between all three North Shore Massachusetts restaurants. For the sake of thoroughness, of course.
Woodman’s holds a special place in our heart because our kids loved Grown Ups, a 2010 movie that has a scene set there.
The Clam Box has the best sauce to accompany the fried clams out of the three restaurants.
Located on the Essex River, J.T. Farnhams had the best view of them all.
There are other great local restaurants beyond just fried clams but be prepared for lots of seafood goodness.
North Shore Massachusetts – What To Do
The North Shore in Massachusetts is full of great things to do. Some of our favourites are the museums and the Massachusetts state parks. The maritime history alone is worthy of making your New England bucket list.
Museums in the North Shore Towns
On the Crane Estate, you have to visit Castle Hill, a Tudor Revival mansion set on 35o acres some of which is seafront (see Crane Beach below). Currently owned by the Trustees of Reservations, it was built in the Roaring 20’s as the summer home of the Crane family, wealthy industrialists from Chicago.
The city of Salem has lots of great museums including the Peabody Essex Museum which has a massive collection of art and architecture in its possession. You can visit The House of the Seven Gables made famous by the 1851 book of the same name by American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Witch House Museum, the home of the judge who oversaw the infamous Salem Witch Trials, is the only place in Salem that exists from that period.
Nature in the North Shore Towns
Go whale watching from the North Shore of Massachusetts. Companies like 7 Seas Whale Watch and Cape Ann Whale Watch take you from Gloucester to the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary located in the Atlantic Ocean between Cape Ann and Cape Cod.
View coastal wildlife from the Essex River Cruises which leaves from Essex and goes through the salt marshes along the coast. They can even arrange a private cruise and clambake for you!
Enjoy the Massachusetts state forest and parks in the greater Boston area. Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, Halibut Point State Park is a former granite quarry from back in the day when Cape Ann supplied the world with granite. There’s also Maudslay State Park in Newburyport which runs along the Merrimack River. Harold Parker State Forest in Andover offers swimming, boating and fishing.
Farms in the North Shore Towns
Early colonists settled the Mass North Shore towns before they went further west to places like Springfield Massachusetts in search of more farmland. Farming is still happening in this region. Two of the best farm shops are Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury and Russell Orchards in Ipswich.
Cider Hill Farm offers pick your own fruit options, community events and really good freshly made cider donuts! There is a giant chicken house to entertain the kids.
Russell Hill Orchards is similar but has more farm animals in a barnyard setting to entertain the kids.
North Shore Massachusetts Beaches
North Shore Massachusetts has over 30 miles of coastline with some very nice beach locations sprinkled in between the rocky shore. The warmest water temperature at the North Shore Massachusetts beaches are in August.
Being so close to a major city like Boston, you do need to worry about pollution at some Massachusetts North Shore beaches around the towns of Revere, Lynn and Swampscott. Although some North Shore Massachusetts beaches like King’s Beach MA in Lynn and Lynn’s Back Beach do not have the best water quality, you can still enjoy beautiful views, cycling and walking.
You also need to keep an eye out for parking fees at the Massachusetts North Shore beaches which can be a real killer if you don’t have a resident permit.
This is one of the best North Shore Massachusetts beaches for little children as the beach has plenty of rock pools and tide pools to explore. The sandy beach and crystal-clear waters are simply idyllic but the boulders scattered around give it character. The ocean here has gentle waves and the low tide seems unusually long as the water remains shallow for a long time.
Beautiful things often come in small packages, as is the case with this rugged Manchester-by-the-Sea beach. Its peculiar name is derived from the sound that the sand makes when you walk on it in the right conditions. It is only half a mile long but the unspoiled surroundings and views are second to none.
Operated by the Trustees of Reservations, Crane Beach on the Crane Estate in Ipswich Bay is popular for its acres of sand. One of the best beaches in Massachusetts, Crane Beach is also wheelchair accessible and the beach has a floating wheelchair for people who need assistance.
Not only is it a massive beach, but it also has 5 miles of dune hiking trails. Boating and birding are other popular activities.
Good Harbor Beach
Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester is popular with families because there is plenty to do. There are tidal pools to explore and good waves for boogie boarding. In low tide, you can walk to Salt Island nearby. The sunset views are spectacular.
Plum island has its own stunning beaches as well as the Sandy Point State Reservation. Some properties even have private beaches. Keep an eye out for the marvelous birdlife that calls the Parker River Wildlife Refuge home.
Salisbury Beach State Reservation
This sprawling beach begins at the Merrimack River mouth and stretches for nearly 4 miles to the border of New Hampshire. There is plenty of space to grab your own patch of sand far from others or enjoy long, uninterrupted walks on the beach.
Other Massachusetts North Shore Beaches
Nahant Beach is typical of New England, with grass on the dunes and the view of the town in the distance is captivating. The beach offers plenty of activities like a place to jog or cycle and it is quiet enough to just sit back and relax and enjoy the sea breeze and fresh ocean air.
Also located in Rockport, Front Beach is an easy walk to Rockport’s cafes and restaurants. There’s metered parking as well as parking lots which offer shuttle buses to the beach.
North Shore Massachusetts Map
To help you with planning a North Shore in Massachusetts trip, here’s a handy North Shore Massachusetts map showing you the North Shore towns and the Massachusetts North Shore beaches mentioned above.
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