Best Things to Do on Boston's North Shore

Experience the Best of Gloucester, Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Newburyport

June on the Massachusetts North Shore
The beaches north of Boston are a spectacular choice for New England family vacations in June.

Kim Knox Beckius

The Massachusetts North Shore is a New England coastal region that holds many surprises for visitors, all within an hour of Boston. Get a place to stay in Marblehead, Salem, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Ipswich, Newburyport, or Salisbury and make it your base of operations to explore all of the North Shore.

Here's a quick look at some of the most memorable adventures you can have on Boston's North Shore, along with tips on planning your vacation to this stunning coastal area.

01 of 08

Sail Aboard a 65-Foot Schooner

USA, Massachusetts, Cape Ann, Gloucester, Maritime Center pier with Schooner Columbia at dawn during annual Gloucester Schooner Festival
Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

A trip around Gloucester Harbor aboard the schooner Thomas E. Lannon makes for a relaxing outing that gives you spectacular views of the coast from the water. You'll sail past photo-worthy lighthouses, lobster boats, and other Gloucester landmarks on the 65-foot wooden schooner, a replica fishing boat built in 1997 by owner Tom Ellis. It sails from Seven Seas Wharf in Gloucester daily from late June through August and weekends from early May through late June and from September through the second Monday in October.

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02 of 08

Dine at the Top of a Lighthouse

The Newburyport Rear Range Light in Newburyport is the only lighthouse in America with a dinner table at the top. For a tax-deductible contribution to the Lighthouse Preservation Society, you'll enjoy incredible views and a memorable meal while helping to protect America's fragile and beautiful lighthouses. The cozy dinner table for two or four, a popular spot for marriage proposals and special occasions, is yours for up to five hours, and your server will deliver any food and beverages you wish to order from seven local restaurants. Most dates are booked far in advance, so it's important to plan ahead if you hope to enjoy this one-of-a-kind dining experience. A few words of caution: You'll need to climb steep steps and a metal-rung ladder to reach the top of the lighthouse, and there are no bathrooms up there.

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03 of 08

Hold a Sea Star in Your Hands

This photo shows a seascape in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Photo courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism via Flickr Creative Commons

Gloucester is America's oldest seaport, and at Maritime Gloucester, diverse displays, including many interactive exhibits, allow visitors of all ages to explore the waterfront and its marine life and history. Watch a boat builder at work, set out aboard a schooner, observe the bustle of activity at the State Fish Pier, learn about the riches that lie offshore, and peer at tiny sea creatures on computer monitors connected to digital microscopes.

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04 of 08

Feast on Fried Clams

Fried Clams on the North Shore

Kim Knox Beckius

In July 1916, Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman took a friend's suggestion and tossed some clams dipped in evaporated milk and corn flour into his potato chip fryer. "Essex Fried Clams" sold like hotcakes that Fourth of July, and the rest is Yankee culinary history.

At Woodman's of Essex, where more than 50 members of the Woodman family still make sweet, tender, and delicious fried wholebelly clams using Chubby's reliable recipe, you'll enjoy casual dining and a taste sensation that has drawn customers for generations. Be sure to sample the clam chowder and steamers here, too. The North Shore's Ipswich clams, hand-harvested from the muddy tidal flats of the Essex River, are unparalleled.

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05 of 08

Squeak Your Feet on the Singing Beach

Singing Beach in Manchester by the Sea

The Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea is named for its unusual sand, which squeaks or "sings" beneath your feet. You won't produce a tune by simply strolling along the sand (and it's not very musical when wet), but if you shuffle and scuff your feet on the dry sand with a bit of authority, you will, indeed, produce a distinct squeaking sound.

A few hints:

  • Arrive early; the beach's parking lot is usually full by 11 a.m., even on weekdays
  • Take commuter rail from Boston to Manchester; the Singing Beach is just under a half-mile walk from the station
  • Head to the Singing Beach in the off-season: before Memorial Day or after Labor Day (but keep in mind the parking lot is reserved for town residents only during the off-season)
  • Check the Gloucester Harbor tide chart before your visit because more of the beach is underwater at high tide
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06 of 08

Meet the Artists at the Rocky Neck Art Colony

Ice Cream Gallery at Rocky Neck Art Colony.
Richard Cummins Getty Images

John Nesta takes his paints and canvases outdoors, even in the wintertime, and captures the drama of Cape Ann seascapes. Elynn Kroger's paintings are abstract and complex, but they nevertheless reflect the colors and flow of the coast. Joseph Flack Weiler's black-and-white photographs capture New England's ethereal beauty, and Judy Robinson-Cox's eye-catching and humorous color photos she dubs "Lilliputian Landscapes" feature tiny plastic people in unusual settings.

There are three dozen artists who welcome visitors to their galleries at Gloucester's Rocky Neck Art Colony, and chatting with them about their work and inspiration is as much a part of the experience as strolling in and out of each studio and shopping for everything from affordable gifts to singular works to adorn a home or workspace. While their work may be divergent, these artists share a passion for place and a desire to make their creations accessible to a larger audience.

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07 of 08

Shop for Vintage Jewelry and Antiques in Essex

 There are more than 30 antique shops along Route 133 in Essex, a North Shore town that's just a 45-minute drive from downtown Boston.

At the eclectic White Elephant Shop in Essex, customers can rummage through bins of affordably priced pins, earrings, and necklaces from the past. The White Elephant also has antique books, paintings, furniture, and collectibles.

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08 of 08

Spy on Shorebirds

Parker River Wildlife Refuge Birds
Kim Knox Beckius

Plum Island ​is home to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a terrific birding spot with its own pristine beaches to explore. On busy weekends, you'll need to arrive early because there is a limit to the number of vehicles that can enter the protected property. In the summer, you'll be able to spot magnificent shorebirds without leaving your car. Parker River Wildlife Refuge is also a great place to observe songbirds during spring and fall migrations.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.