A Shore Thing
The fresh, salty air beckons New Englanders to the coast like clockwork this time every year. The allure is magnetic from the moment you glimpse the blue vistas, sandy beaches, and craggy shores. Here–among the whitecaps and the sun-soaked shoals–is where life is meant to be lived.
To bring you the best of the coast, we trekked up and down our shores. You'll find favorite inns, seafood dishes so delicious your lips will smack with pleasure, hidden beaches and hiking trails that you won't find on tourist maps, and views worth the trip all by themselves. We've also discovered coastal bike paths that will take your breath away (even if you're not pushing the pedals), ocean-culled treasures to stash in your travel tote, and the perfect way to spend a seaside afternoon, whether you're an art lover or a wine connoisseur–or both. So jump in and soak up the good life.
Singing Beach Clean, silky sand that's purportedly been known to “sing” when walked upon meets the brisk blue-gray Atlantic coast at Singing Beach. Rock croppings jut mysteriously out from the sea in the distance, and an orange lifeguard chair stands in sharp relief. Make the journey here more simple by stashing your vehicle and taking the commuter train from North Station (Rockport Line) to Manchester and walking, or steal a visit during the week, when the beach is least busy. [Beach Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea, 978-526-2019]
Duxbury Beach This serene stretch of barrier beach is home to several protected species of wildlife, including the piping plover and the least tern. Owned by the nonprofit Duxbury Beach Reservation, the beach and its surrounding dunes are a top priority of the town's conservation efforts. Visitors who truly appreciate its beauty–the soft, almost-white sand, the sea grass waving in the breeze, the ocean views–will want to help keep it pristine, too. [Canal Street, Duxbury, 781-934-2866]
Plum Island Named for the plums that proliferate in the area, this 6.3-mile-long barrier island off the coasts of Newburyport, Newbury, and Ipswich has several relatively secluded beaches. Inexpensive, informal parking lots are scattered throughout the northern part of the island, and all are a short walk from the sand and water. [Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, 6 Plum Island Tpke., Newburyport, 978-465-5753]
Good Harbor Beach Rather than bemoan the lack of parking at this spotless half-mile stretch of sand, come early enough to get a spot. The limited access is a good thing, as far as anyone who's on the beach is concerned, since it thins out the crowds. Lifeguards keep sharp eyes on the water, and the exploration-worthy tidal inlets, salt marshes, and dunes make this a family-friendly place to spend the day. [Route 127A, Gloucester, 978-281-9790]
Reid State Park and Popham Beach Maine isn't all rocky coast or crowded beaches. Map out a different route and you'll find Reid State Park and Popham Beach. If you like unmarred beaches, dunes, and pine forests, both of these parks are ideal–Reid State Park especially, because it also has a protected swimming lagoon that's great for wading. Visit Popham Beach, 27 miles away in Phippsburg, at low tide, and you can walk out to picturesque Fox Island. [Reid State Park, 375 Seguinland Rd., Georgetown, ME, 207-371-2303; Popham Beach, 10 Perkins Farm Ln., Phippsburg, ME, 207-389-1339]
Gooseberry Beach The Rhode Island coast is dotted with plenty of
sand dunes, but real insiders take pride in pitching an umbrella at the more secluded inlets that you won't find in the tourist guides. Gooseberry Beach is a prime example. Located off tony Ocean Drive, this charming stretch of shore is sheltered from the ocean currents to provide gentle waves–an ideal setup for little tykes and grownups alike. [Ocean Drive, Newport, RI]
*Food en Route
The Back Eddy It might look like a clam shack from the outside, but this Horseneck Beach favorite has a menu whimsically sophisticated enough to satisfy any food lover. The fried seafood plates are steps above the greasy-spoon norm, featuring fresh New Bedford scallops and handcut fries. Dessert options change weekly but always include a selection of savory ice creams from Cambridge's beloved Christina's. [One Bridge Rd., Westport, 508-636-6500]
The Lobster Shack With its cluster of picnic tables perched on the rocky shores of Portland Harbor next to Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, the Lobster Shack has lured diners since the 1920s. The lobster roll here is heavenly: a lightly toasted bun, mounds of sweet meat, and just a smudge of mayo. The menu also includes crab rolls and plenty of traditional fried seafood grub plus burgers and hot dogs for the kids. [225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth, ME, 207-799-1677]
Joe's Meat Shoppe When this tiny storefront opened 20 years ago (July 4, 1984, to be exact), it wasn't technically known for its sandwiches. It was, as the name suggests, a meat shop, selling hamburger, prime cuts of beef, and chicken to individual customers and restaurants. But word of mouth spread, and locals started flocking here for basic combinations made with the best ingredients. Today, the menu lists some 30 sandwich varieties, plus daily specials. The most popular–homemade chicken salad, roast beef, turkey, and barbecued chicken–aren't fancy, but who needs the fuss when it tastes this fine? [229 Atlantic Ave. (Rte. 111), North Hampton, NH, 603-964-6152]
Clam Box For more than 60 years, this North Shore institution has been dishing out fried clams, shrimp, and scallops along with traditional sides of fries and onion rings. And the menu has barely changed: As the owners say, they didn't invent the fried clam, they just perfected it. They make a mean tuna roll, too, and a bite of the succulent lobster sandwich more than satisfies. [246 High St., Ipswich, 978-356-9707]
Dysart's TruckStop If there ever was a pit stop worth pulling over for, this is it. Founded in 1967, the family-run eatery serves up some of the best regional homemade meals north of Portland. Inside you'll find truckers saddled up alongside lawyers in suits chowing down on the fried shrimp and seafood platters. Even Maine's governor has been known to stop in. You can feel free to roll through at any time–this roadside restaurant stays open 24 hours. A stack of the blueberry pancakes or Texas toast fuels those late-night drives. [530 Coldbrook Rd., Hermon, ME, 207-942-4878]
Beal's Lobster Pier There's only one acceptable way to eat lobster in Maine: on a picnic table, out in the sun, with a side of clams and mussels. And if it isn't messy, you're not doing it right. At Beal's in Southwest Harbor, you can rest assured that you'll be treated to an authentic meal that stops at nothing short of absolute freshness. Diners handpick their meals from a tank and watch as lobstermen reel in their pots. Now you're eating like a true Mainer. [182 Clark Point Rd., Southwest Harbor, ME, 207-244-3202]
Annabelle's Natural Ice Cream Annabelle's is proud to use all-natural ingredients–fresh cream, no additives or artificial colors, the whole nine yards. But that's not the only reason patrons have been flocking to this seaside shop since 1982. Flavors such as cashew caramel cluster, New Hampshire-pure maple walnut, peanut butter fantasy, and Maine berry deliver rich, creamy goodness and a mouthful of tantalizing textures. The frozen yogurts and sorbets are top-notch, too, but the ultrarich, ultradecadent ice cream here gives you a good reason to splurge. [49 Ceres St., Portsmouth, NH, 603-436-3400, www.annabellesicecream.com]
Evelyn's Drive-In Given the fact that Rhode Island is almost completely surrounded by water, it's no surprise that it's home to one of the best clam shacks. Hungry seafarers pull up by the boatload to Evelyn's with the promise of perfectly fried clam cakes and stuffed-to-the-gills lobster rolls. But everything on the menu delights–including the clam chowder, stuffed quahogs (a Rhode Island specialty), and succulent shrimp. Just don't bother asking for directions–instead, keep your eyes peeled for the bright-red vintage Coca-Cola sign. Or just let the buttery aroma lure you here. [2335 Main Rd., Tiverton, RI, 401-624-3100]
*Inns on the Sea
White Barn Inn An enclave of understated luxury, this inn garners endless praise from its fiercely loyal clientele. The reason? It could be the cozy, cushy rooms, decked out with niceties like fluffy robes, Molton Brown lotions, fresh flowers, and sumptuous linens (not to mention butler-drawn baths). Or it could be the ever-changing menu of inspired cuisine at the inn's restaurant. Perhaps it's the flawless, friendly, and unobtrusive service that makes White Barn guests feel so utterly relaxed and pampered. [37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk, ME, 207-967-2321, www.whitebarninn.com]
Inn at Castle Hill With only 10 light and airy rooms–each individually decorated and charmingly named–this inn feels like a private residence, not an impersonal hotel. And what a residence it is. The 2,100-acre Crane Estate was once the summer home of Chicago fixture king Richard T. Crane Jr. Guests enjoy a continental breakfast and afternoon tea, as well as access to the beach. A stay here is a true respite from the hectic lifestyle–there are no televisions or radios in any of the rooms. [The Crane Estate, 280 Argilla Rd., Ipswich, 978-412-2555, www.theinnatcastlehill.com]
Winnetu Inn & Resort Since its opening a few years ago, the Winnetu has been a prime destination for Vineyard vacationers with gourmet sensibility. But good taste reaches a new level here now that star chef Ed Gannon (formerly of the Four Seasons) and his wife, co-manager Michelle (of the Catered Affair), have come on board to churn out regional seafood for the inn's revamped restaurant, Lure. Book a reservation now, before New York foodies descend upon the island. If you need an excuse to work up an appetite, hit the tennis courts, go for a dip in the heated outdoor pool, or take in a yoga class next to the ocean. [31 Dunes Rd., Edgartown, 508-627-4747, www.winnetu.com]
Weekapaug Inn When you really want to get away from it all, the last thing you need is to be surrounded by a sea of humanity. At least that's the thinking among the bluebloods who frequent the exclusive Weekapaug Inn every year. A closely guarded tradition among Brahmin society, this preppy summertime spot is steeped in Camelot-era character. Families loll on the beach by day (nannies in tow, of course) or take in a game of lawn croquet before rolling up their seersucker sleeves for clambakes or cruising into nearby Watch Hill in the vintage Aston Martin. Some might call it the summer playground for the rich and famous, but we would never be so indiscreet. [25 Spray Rock Rd., Weekapaug, RI, 401-322-0301, www.weekapauginn.com ]
Wentworth by the Sea Tucked away on New Castle Island, the Wentworth has been around since 1874. But it wasn't until last year that the property became a Marriott resort and spa. Which means a new caliber of pampering is now at hand. Most of the 161 guest rooms and suites feature water views, the full-service spa offers reflexology and reiki massage, and guests have access to the Wentworth by the Sea Country Club and Marina. The only conceivable reason to leave the island is for outlet shopping in nearby Kittery. Not in the market for cut-rate khakis? Bag some R and R poolside at the inn instead. [588 Wentworth Rd., New Castle, NH, 603-422-7322, www.wentworth.com]
Vanessa Noel Hotel If English rose patterns and frilly curtains are too cozy for your comfort, book a stay at the sleek and modern Vanessa Noel Hotel. Simple elegance resides in this tiny eight-room hotel, owned and operated by couture shoe designer Noel. (Her shop is in the lobby.) Plush sophistication comes in the form of Philippe Starck fixtures, custom-made Frette sheets and towels, flat-screen plasma televisions, and Bulgari toiletries in each room. The first true boutique hotel to hit Nantucket, this modern concept for room and board is perhaps one of the most fashionable spots to cool your heels on the island. [5 Chestnut St., Nantucket, 508-228-5300, www.vanessanoel.com]
Black Point Inn The Black Point offers the best of rugged Maine in its most refined state. The 84-room inn is close to two beaches, near bays for kayaking and fishing, and nestled alongside one of the Northeast's most renowned PGA golf courses. Wondering if the digs will satisfy your discriminating taste? George W. has been rumored to hit the sack here when he can't make it back to his family's Kennebunkport compound for the night. [510 Black Point Rd., Scarborough, ME, 207-883- 2500, www.blackpointinn.com]
Essex River Basin Adventures Even inexperienced paddlers can sample the pleasures of sea kayaking by exploring the salt marshes, tidal estuaries, and surrounding beaches (Crane and Wingaersheek) of the Essex River Basin. Try the three-hour introductory tour ($47 per person), the two-hour sunset tour ($37), or the mystical three-hour moonlight tour ($54), offered for a few days around each full moon during the summer. Seasoned kayakers can head out with a guide for longer open-water treks to Plum Island or the misnamed Misery Island. Instruction, kids' programs, and group charters are available. [One Main St., Essex, MA, 978-768-3722, www.erba.com]
Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery Somehow the stars and climate aligned to create a swath of rolling-green coastal land from southeastern Massachusetts into eastern Rhode Island, perfect for producing vineyards that hold their own against those of northern France. Westport's is New England's largest vineyard, and its wines (especially the sparkling varieties) are the region's most acclaimed. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For a $5 fee, you can sample six varieties and take home a Westport Rivers wine glass. Still thirsty? Buzzards Bay Brewing (98 Horseneck Rd., 508-636-2288) creates old world-style lagers and ales just around the corner. [417 Hixbridge Rd., Westport, 508-636-3423, www.westportrivers.com]
Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center On a summer evening, patrons of Rockland's galleries are likely to spill onto Main Street, avidly discussing a recent exhibition or opening. As the flagship museum in town, the Farnsworth features canvases by Thomas Sully, Thomas Eakins, Fitz Hugh Lane, Frank Benson, and Maurice Prendergast, to name a few. Its Wyeth Center houses works by “America's first family of art” with pieces by N. C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth. [16 Museum St., Rockland, ME, 207-596-6457, www.farnsworthmuseum.org]
Manchester-by-the-Sea Sarah Jessica Parker left her City for a spell when she came to Manchester-by-the-Sea, along with Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Stiles, and William H. Macy, to shoot State and Main, written and directed by David Mamet. The wacky, comedic satire of the show-biz industry portrays a group of egotistical actors who arrive in a quaint, small New England town to shoot a movie. Manchester-by-the-Sea provided the right angle with antiques shops, restaurants, and even an independent bookstore (Manchester by the Book) not unlike the one portrayed in the film.
Gloucester It didn't take long for the producers of The Perfect Storm to figure out that the best place to film this seafaring drama was, of course, the town where the story actually began. Where else would they have found a more authentic working fishing community? A bar as hard-edged as the Crow's Nest (978-281-2965)? Extras with perfect North Shore accents? In addition to its famous fishing industry, Gloucester showcases local and international artists at the North Shore Arts Association (978-283-1857), puts on six plays a year with the Gloucester Stage Company (978-281-4099), and dazzles diners with unexpectedly creative and contemporary cuisine at chef Nick Speros's 197 East Main (978-282-4426).
Camden, ME Paving the way for the first steamy prime-time soap opera (Peyton Place, the series, which aired on ABC from 1964 to 1969), the movie Peyton Place managed to be slightly sexy but not too offensive, garnering nine Academy Award nominations, including one for star Lana Turner. Although the book of the same name was based on Gilmanton, New Hampshire, where famed writer Grace Metalious lived (and died, at a young age, from liver disease), Peyton Place was filmed on location in Camden, a town that still has an abundance of old-fashioned New England charm. Art galleries, shops, and cozy cafés fill the town's main byways, and there are impressive views of Penobscot Bay around almost every corner.
Cadillac Mountain With sweeping views of the hills of Acadia as well as Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Cranberry Islands, this summit of the highest peak on the North Atlantic seaboard (1,530 feet) is a spectacular spot from which to watch a sunrise–assuming you can get up early enough to catch the rays. The challenging South Ridge trail offers views for much of the hike so you don't have to wait until you reach the pinnacle for a photo op; parking is available roadside. [Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, ME, 207-288-3338]
Eben's Head This is the place to go for jaw-dropping sunsets with a dash of pounding surf. But getting here isn't easy. Isle au Haut is accessible only by mailboat (decidedly not a car ferry). Don't look for a village filled with quaint shops and eateries: This is a quietly rugged place. Lodging options include camping at the Duck Harbor Campground (207-288-8791) or staying at the Keeper's House (207-367-2261) or the Inn at Isle au Haut (207-335-5141). Whichever you choose, you'll have to book well in advance for the peak summer season. [Acadia National Park, Isle au Haut, ME, 207-288-3338]
Ocean Trail and Otter Point A less strenuous–though likely more crowded–Acadia jaunt, this 1.8-mile trail winds along the craggy shore from Sand Beach all the way to the Otter Point Cliffs, a favorite destination of rock climbers. At Thunder Hole, about halfway to Otter Point, velvet waves tumble into jagged rocks, producing a truly thunderous (and wondrous) experience. It's most deafening at high tide and on choppy days. There's a large parking area at Sand Beach, just off Park Loop Road. [Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, ME, 207-288-3338]
Halibut Point On a clear day, this vantage point affords glimpses of Crane Beach in Ipswich, the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast, and Mount Agamenticus in Maine. During a storm, the view is spectacular, as waves pound the rocky coast. About 2.5 miles of easy walking trails snake through the park, a portion of which is maintained by the Trustees of Reservations. [Halibut Point State Park, Gott Ave., Rockport, 978-546-2997]
Marshall Point Light This lighthouse has inspired artists and photographers from the region and around the world. N. C. Wyeth had a studio nearby, and the light was a popular subject of lithographer Stow Wengenroth. It even made a cameo appearance in the film Forrest Gump as the endpoint of Tom Hanks's character's triumphant cross-country run. Its position on Penobscot Bay, at the entrance to Port Clyde Harbor, makes this a unique spot from which to gawk at land and sea. A small museum inside exhibits local artifacts relating to the fishing industry, including early lobster traps made out of tree boughs. [Port Clyde Harbor, near St. George, ME, www.lighthouse.ccmarshall ]
*Riding the Ocean
Go for a spin on five of the best New England bike trails.
Marblehead Rail Trail Once spurs of the Eastern Railroad Company, these two linked paths are as mellow as a bike trail can get. The five-mile southwestern arm extends to the Swampscott line and ends a few blocks from Marblehead Beach; the three-mile northwestern branch ends at the mouth of the Forest River at Salem Harbor. Park near the corner of Anderson and Bessom streets.
Falmouth Shining Sea Bike Path Expect stunning views of Vineyard Sound and quiet moments at Oyster Pond on this four-mile path, which takes you from Woods Hole to Falmouth minus traffic snares. Pick up the trail on Locust Street just west of Route 28.
Acadia National Park Carriage Roads, Maine John D. Rockefeller Jr. originally developed this 45-mile network of carriage roads on Mount Desert Island for his personal use. Now many of his design touches have been restored, including cedar signposts and 16 unique stone-faced bridges. Be sure to visit Eagle Lake, one of those gotta-see-it-to-believe-it spots. The hilly terrain can be difficult, but it's worth the effort to experience all that pristine nature. Start your pedaling at the far end of the Acadia National Park visitor center parking lot.
South Portland Greenbelt, Maine New England's shoreline isn't all shady marshes and pounding surf. This five-mile asphalt path is part of the proposed Maine-to-Florida East Coast Greenway, and a perfect way to see one of the region's best coastal cities, Portland. The Greenbelt stretches along the eastern side of Portland Harbor, offering glorious views of downtown across the water and the South Portland Rose Garden, a must-see for bloom enthusiasts. Parking is available at Bug Light Park and Willard Beach.
East Bay Bicycle Path, Rhode Island This 14.5-mile path offers breathtaking views of Narragansett Bay as it passes through charming Rhode Island towns and neighborhoods such as Riverside, home of the 109-year-old Looff Carousel, and Warren, where you can usually see clammers digging in the muck. Hit the beach at Colt State Park before unwinding at a waterfront bistro in Bristol. To reach the start of this trail, take Exit 4 (Riverside) from I-195 East, follow the road about half a mile, and turn right into the parking area. –Greg Lalas
Bring a little of the New England coast closer to home.
Whether it's freshly picked lobster packed to go, delicate sea glass, or ocean-infused apothecary products, these surf souvenirs are a shore way to remember your travels.
Maine Fresh crabmeat sold by the container at Rich's on Bass Harbor (207-244-3485); cold smoked salmon from the Sullivan Harbor Farm on Route 1 in Sullivan Harbor (800-684-3216); today's catch by the crateful, overnighted to you by William Atwood Lobster in Spruce Head (207-596-6691) or Harbor Fish Market in Portland (207-775-0251).
New Hampshire Photographs that perfectly capture the sea vistas by Jerry
and Marcy Monkman (603-457-6798); Shoals Pale Ale from the seacoast at Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth (603-436-4026).
Massachusetts Exquisite sea glass treasures from SeaGlassWear (781-235-3480); ice cream from Christina's ice cream, by the pint from the Back Eddy (508-636-6500) or at 1255 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-492-7021).
Rhode Island Clam-cake mix and fresh jars of quahogs from Rhode Island Quahog Company in Newport (401-848-2330); sea salts and cool aloe mist from high-end beauty maker Farmaesthetics in Portsmouth (800-711-9194).