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Cape Ann, Massachusetts

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Did You Know … ?

  •  The fried clam was invented in Essex in 1916.
  • Gloucester is America’s oldest working seaport (1623).
  • Rockport’s Paper House was created from newspapers, originally as the builder’s hobby.
  • More than 4,000 schooners were constructed in Essex.
  • Manchester-by-the-Sea added words to its name to distinguish itself from Manchester, N.H.

Of shipbuilders and artists

Cape Ann is a small, rocky piece of real estate in northeastern Massachusetts on the Atlantic Ocean. It has a rich maritime history, a history that contributes to its attractiveness for tourists.

Tourists may revel in that past in nautical-themed museums, on the Gloucester Maritime Trail, on the hunt for 200-year-old lighthouses or aboard historic sailing vessels.

Alternatively, for those simply interested in 21st century life on the New England coast, options include boat charters for fishing or sailing, sightseeing cruises and whale watching excursions, quality time on a beach and fresh seafood at dinnertime.

More simply, the cape and its 25-mile coastline is a scenic and relaxing place for a getaway, whether for romance, for family togetherness or outdoor activities on the not-too-extreme side — biking, hiking and kayaking. The area is suitably equipped with diversions such as antiques outlets and other shops, festivals, theaters and art galleries. The Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester has attracted creative types since the early 19th century.

Cape Ann, which forms the northernmost point of Massachusetts Bay, is only 30 miles northeast of Boston. The list of destinations on the cape is short, as follows:

  • Essex, a small scenic town that was called the shipbuilding capital of America in the 19th century. Modern visitors cruise the Essex River and haunt Essex’s antiques shops and seafood eateries.
  • Gloucester, America’s oldest working seaport. It’s particularly appreciated for its harbor and as the place to go for rewarding whale watching cruises. Visitors also seek out art galleries, museums, restaurants — and beaches.
  • Manchester-by-the-Sea, a picturesque harbor town and the quietest of the Cape Ann destinations. The low-key site appeals to a slice of the traveling public with its own roster of restaurants and shops, plus the Singing Beach (that’s its name, not what it does).
  • Rockport, known as a quaint coastal village, but with the added substance of fine dining, one-of-a-kind shopping and the beaches. It is home to one of the country’s odder attractions — a house made from paper.
  • Dogwood Commons, a village deserted in 1830. There is little here except hiking trails with names like Briar Swamp and Whales Jaw.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Get a look at Essex from your kayak on the Essex River.
  • Charter a suitable vessel and go sailing from Gloucester or Rockport.
  • Sign up for a workshop at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. You may learn about wood finishing or something else that is in some way related to building ships.
  • Take in the sights of Cape Ann from the seat of a bicycle.
  • Go deep-sea fishing, or choose a charter service to take you out for a session of saltwater fly-fishing.
  • Charter the schooner Ardelle, which sails from the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, for a birthday party, an anniversary or other event.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Book your visit for October and enjoy the fall colors. Bring your own kit and paint the scene.
  • Do a little research, collect the maps, then make the most of one of Gloucester’s self-guided walking tours. Choices are the Rocky Neck Historic Art Trail and the Gloucester Maritime Trail.
  • Make it a point to look for the lighthouses as you drive the coast of Cape Ann.
  • See American folk art at Cogswell’s Grant in Essex. Or, seek out the Renaissance art at Gloucester’s Hammond Castle Museum, and get a look at the building itself. It is a castle in the medieval style, overlooking the ocean.
  • Take a harbor cruise at Gloucester. Make that a sail aboard the schooner Thomas E. Lannon. Help the crew raise the sails — if you are so inclined. Choose a whale watching excursion as well.
  • Eat fried clams at Woodman’s in Essex, where the first clams were fried nearly a century ago.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Attend theater presented by the Gloucester Stage Company.
  • Come to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester at sometime close to sunset, camera in hand, to capture arty isolated landscapes. Also, point your camera in the direction of Manchester by-the-Sea’s picturesque harbor.
  • Look for a house made entirely of paper. It’s in Rockport.
  • Enjoy a narrated cruise along the Essex River.
  • Zero in on the area’s maritime traditions at the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, which boasts a working marine railway for moving wooden vessels into the center for repairs. See the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, as well.
  • Get some culture at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in summer.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce at