10 Attractions to Safely Visit in Historic Seaside Gloucester, MA

Eastern Point, one of the outdoor attractions in Gloucester, Massachusetts, an ideal driving-distance destination this summer (photo courtesy of Discover Gloucester).

Looking for destinations that you can drive to, but bring you to some level of paradise, escape, revitalization? Gloucester, Ma., fits the bill, especially in these times: It is a charming beach destination where you can spend the days outdoors, rejuvenating in the fresh sea air.

With Massachusetts under a phase II reopening (coordinated with New York and the Northeast region), visitors will find hotels and motels adhering to rigid state and American Hotel & Motel Association standards (motels are particularly popular because you can just drive up to your own door); restaurants serving outdoors; and retail shops (eight people per 1,000 square feet, or 40 percent capacity, which in many cases means just one or two shoppers at a time.  Customers will be handed gloves and there is no try-on).

And though you can’t go whale watching, cruising, or visit museums or theme parks yet, there are still wonderful attractions to discover.

Elizabeth Carey, executive director of Discover Gloucester, offers these suggestions:

10 Gloucester Destinations You Can Safely Visit This Summer

Known as “America’s oldest seaport,” Gloucester was the largest fishing port in America in the second half of the 19th century and one of the top five ports in the world at that time. In addition to its contributions to the fishing industry, Gloucester also produced granite in nearby quarries as well as a thriving art community. Founded in 1623, the city is less than one hour north of Boston, directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Gloucester is one of four communities (Essex, Rockport, and Manchester-by-the-Sea are the other three communities) that make up the Cape Ann region.

Stage Fort Park: Site of the landing of the first settlers in 1623, Gloucester became the second permanent settlement of the early Puritans in the New World, preceded by Plymouth in 1620. Enjoy the park with over 25 acres of natural beauty, including our beaches and spectacular views of the harbor and beyond. The Welcoming Center will be open to visitors to assist with brochures, maps and guides. Stage Fort Park is part of the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway.

Ravenswood Park, Gloucester: Explore a shrouded landscape of hemlock groves, a magnolia swamp, and other trees species where you’ll find remnants of Colonial habitation. Ravenswood Park offers 600 acres for solitude and quiet contemplation of nature. With 10 miles of carriage paths and trails that meander through the park, you can find plenty of room to picnic, bird watch, walk and simply appreciate the outdoors. You don’t want to miss trekking to the overlook to Gloucester Harbor or traversing the boardwalk through the Great Magnolia Swamp, home to native Sweetbay Magnolias. The reservation is located along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, part of the congressionally designated Essex National Heritage Area. The area’s extensive historic, cultural and natural resources tell the story of the region’s role in the nation’s early settlement, maritime trade and industrialization. Trails: 10 miles of trails and former carriage roads. Moderate hiking. Carriage roads are covered with dense crushed stone and are generally wheelchair accessible. When to visit: Year-round, daily, sunrise to sunset. Allow a minimum of two hours.

Wicked Tuna Captains and Vessels: In March 2020, Wicked Tuna premiered its 9th season on National Geographic TV. This “monstah” of a show landed in 2012 and brought viewers around the world to America’s oldest seaport. The show features five local bluefin tuna fishing captains who share their real-world tales and trails of the fishing industry here. Fans travel here hoping to meet the captains, see their boats, buy Wicked Tuna gear and see all that the city has to offer. You might even catch a glimpse of one of the captains in town. Their vessels are docked throughout our inner harbor.

Rocky Neck Art Colony:: America’s oldest continually operating art colony since 1850, Gloucester has played a vital role in America’s art history. Artists such as Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, John Sloan, Stuart Davis and Edward Hopper have all captured the light of Gloucester, as our many artists do to this day. This quaint neighborhood is a lovely area to stroll, shop and get up close and personal with many artisans who showcase their work with pride. You can catch some beautiful water views and enjoy an ice cream cone, fresh seafood or a nice iced cold beverage along the way.

Man at the Wheel Statue: The statue, also known as the Gloucester Fisherman Memorial, presides over Stacy Boulevard at the edge of Gloucester Harbor. Sculpted by artist Leonard Craske and modeled after a local fisherman, the monument was completed in 1925 in honor of Gloucester’s 300th anniversary. It has become the symbol of the city and a place to remember the 10,000-plus men lost at sea during the city’s long history. Their names are recorded on memorial plaques surrounding the structure.

Visit Eastern Point, the southern tip of the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern portion of Gloucester Harbor. Poet T.S. Eliot summered here for 20 years (“The sea is all about us,” he wrote in “The Dry Salvages”), and painter Winslow Homer lived at the lighthouse for a time. Come sunset, it’s easy to see why. Get a better look by walking or fishing on Dog Bar Breakwater, a quarter-mile stretch of granite blocks built in 1904 to keep ships from running aground and to shelter Gloucester Harbor from storms, which offers panoramic views of the water and shorelines.

Maritime History:  Nearly 400 years of history and innovation are written in the streets and buildings of this town. Wander the downtown Harbor Walk or visit Maritime Gloucester (Phase 3) to learn more about Gloucester’s past and present as one of America’s important fishing towns. Walk along the harbor to view working vessels and pleasure craft. Or get on the water, with your own vessel or a chartered fishing excursion or water shuttle. Being a mariner in Gloucester allows you to view the city and coastline from a new perspective.

Harborwalk for the best views from every angle in town. The 1.2 mile path traverses through town between The Gloucester House and Stage Fort Park. Make sure to stop at the Fisherman’s Memorial (famous for the statue and sobering list of fishermen who died at sea) and the Fishermen’s Wives’ Memorial. The walk is defined by 42 granite pillars which tell the stories of important people and events of Gloucester’s history.

OutDoor Dining: Here are a few restaurants that are providing out-door dining that coincides with the Massachusetts regulations as we enter Phase 2, but for a more comprehensive list, visit the site.

Minglewood Harborside for large portions, several gluten-free choices, tons of open space for families, and attentive service.

Mile Marker One is a beautiful setting right along the Annisquam River. You can sip a cocktail and enjoy their menu selections while watching the activity on the river.

Castle Manor Inn Restaurant on Essex Avenue offers outdoor dining under a tent surrounded by the perfectly groomed landscaping at the inn. Laura and Don are gracious hosts.

Check out Blue Collar Lobster for downtown water views and great seafood. Amazing array of choices on the menu to bring to your outdoor table. The restaurant is walking distance to many shops, museums, boat tours, and the Harborwalk path. And if you see Lenny, whose family has owned the restaurant since it opened in 1957, ask him to pull up a seat – he’ll be glad to share local folklore and history.

1606 Restaurant at the Beauport Hotel for outdoor seating on the waterfront and distinctive takes on traditional favorites. The stunning views are the perfect ambience for date night and special celebrations. Children are welcome. The outdoor patio has a large deck with comfortable seating. An outdoor fireplace and blankets are available should your evening get cooler.

Shopping: Gloucester’s charming Main Street features some favorite recognized brands, along with many unique locally made items handcrafted by resident artists and craftsmen -antiques, art, pottery, books, jewelry, toys, clothing, shoes, home goods and souvenirs for that one of a kind item to take home. Food lovers will also delight in the offerings in Downtown from charming coffee shops, to unique olive oils, fresh pasta, chocolate and cheese, homemade Italian bread and pastries to Wicked Tuna tee shirts.

DiscoverGloucester.com is a great resource for “charting” a trip to the area. There are comprehensive lists of lodging options (from motels and hotels, to inns and bed and breakfasts, to campgrounds and vacation rentals) to lists of activities for every hobby and interest (both indoor and outdoor!)

Discover Gloucester, discovergloucester.com, 978-675-1818.

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